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Hitachi UltraVision HDPJ52

Mar 1, 2006 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer

Dual-Iris controls aid projector’s production of rich blacks and grays.


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Do you find that it's sometimes hard to get excited about yet another new projector? Maybe that's especially true of three-panel LCD; it is the most mature digital projection technology and doesn't bear the novelty of pocket-sized units or the panache of being the latest thing. Still, three panels can produce a very nice picture. So when a manufacturer takes a fresh look at how to implement it best, there's still something to get excited about.

That's the case with Hitachi's new HDPJ52. Yes, in many ways this is simply the next-generation follow-up to the older PJ-TX100 (abroad the HDPJ52 is actually called the PJ-TX200). It shares much of the same design and feature set, and the native WXGA (1280×720) resolution. But Hitachi offers very thoughtful configuration options that give both experienced installers and novices the ability to optimize picture quality. More interestingly, the projecor now features a Dual-Iris design that can produce better blacks, better detail in shadows, and a better picture in different ambient light.

PROJECTOR BASICS

The HDPJ52 is primarily a video projector, as opposed to a data projector, and its design reflects that inside and out. Hitachi has kept the same curved-front chassis of the previous model, except now it's a sleek black. The HDPJ52 can be a showpiece on a tabletop or blend into the décor of a darkly lit viewing room. A wonderfully large glass lens (for a projector at this price) dominates the front of the chassis and includes both vertical and horizontal lens shift for convenient installation. Focus and 1.6X zoom aren't powered, but the manual rings are smooth.

Connectivity is limited, and that's certainly a function of the low price. It has one 3×RCA component, one S-Video, one RCA composite, and one HDMI. So unless you have an HDMI DVD player (maybe you should anyway), multiple high-quality connections from, say, a DVD and HD cable box would be awkward. The HDPJ52 does have a 15-pin RGB for video content (yes, and data) from a personal computer, as well as a nine-pin control port and a trigger jack. There is no audio processing or audio connectivity in the HDPJ52, which is appropriate given that most video sources would be connected to a dedicated audio system.

Yet, as limited as the ports on the back might be for a typical install unit, the internal menu and configuration options seem boundless. Better still, since the options are smartly hierarchical, there is nothing to overwhelm the less sophisticated user. For example, there are, of course, a number of settings presets for typical viewing that do the configuration for you: Normal, Cinema Low, Cinema High, Music, and Sports. Novices can also tweak those presets or adjust any number of specific parameters — like the obligatory brightness, contrast, color, tint, sharpness, etc. — by going to an Easy Menu that's similar to the standard options of many projectors.

On the other hand, experienced users will find extensive controls for gamma and color temperature. Sure, there are presets for those, too, but also full individual control of red, green, and blue in each of three ranges: low, mid-tones, highlights. And you can save four different custom settings as new presets. In addition to lens shift, there are three built-in test patterns too, to help perfect the image, as well as auto-sensing or manual HDMI signal mode adjustment (16-235 or 0-255). There is no overscan on HDMI, although you do have position control and a digital shuttle to create it if you like. And you can save your own custom startup splash screen (for example, installers could display their company logo; screening rooms and other organizations could show “property of”; the home user could vainly splash “Joe's Theater” on startup).

DUAL-IRIS

Even with all the wonderful configuration options, the HDPJ52's Dual-Iris design is its most intriguing feature. There are two iris controls — a lens iris and a lamp iris — and neither is completely new by itself. The lens iris, a feature on many other projectors (including Hitachi's previous model), is a simple menu setting (1-10) that allows more or less light out of the projector in order to optimize the image for different viewing conditions or viewer predilections. The lamp iris (Panasonic has a similar feature) adjusts automatically to the overall brightness of the scene, changing continually as scenes change. In darker scenes, the Auto-Iris closes to allow less light to reach the LCD panels. The advantage is that it allows the LCDs to use a wider range of colors and grays within those darker scenes (see “Picture This,” p. 24).

Hitachi lists a contrast ratio for the HDPJ52 at 7000:1. That's as silly as just about any other contrast ratio statistics you'll see today. Sure, I got reasonably close to that, but not without cranking the brightness all the way with the lens iris full open on the white measurement and turning both all the way down/closed for the black measurement. Of course, that sort of measurement has no real-world practicality.

On the other hand, there's plenty to like about the HDPJ52's ability to create very nice blacks, shadows, highlights, and, yes, good contrast. I'd put a more practical contrast ratio measurement at about 500:1 and that's very good for an LCD projector. It might be a lot higher if the brightness were anywhere close to the 1200 ANSI lumens of the Hitachi specification. My measurement, with brightness turned all the way up and the lens iris wide open, was only about 800 lumens — but closer to the 500-600 range when set up more appropriately for comfortable viewing.

And that's really where you'll get a much better-looking image, with the lens iris turned down to at least 7 (10 being full open) in a light-controlled room. Setting the Auto-Iris function on “Auto 1” makes the picture even better because it darkens the blacks and grays while still keeping a nice level of detail in darker scenes and full brightness in lighter scenes. (“Auto 2” goes too far and makes everything black and muddy.) The caveat to the Auto-Iris is a clicking sound that can be very overt if the projector is positioned on a wooden tabletop or other resonating surface. Otherwise, the HDPJ52 is wonderfully quiet with low fan noise, particularly in “Whisper” mode.

Overall, the picture quality is very good. Colors are very good and similar to other latest-generation LCD models (magenta leans toward blue), although Hitachi's extensive user controls offer a slight advantage in generating realistic and/or eye-popping colors. And the Dual-Iris features add a nice richness.

Best of all, you can probably find a HDPJ52 for between $2,000 and $2,500, and that's a nice price for the picture quality. I'd like to see Hitachi get a lot closer to the 1200 lumens and then allow the user to back off from that using the lens iris feature. Of course, it's hard to argue too much when it's intended for viewing in a controlled environment.


PRODUCT SUMMARY

Company: Hitachi USA
www.hitachi.us/tv

Product: UltraVision HDPJ52

Pros: Excellent picture for the price, rich blacks and grays, excellent menu options for either pros or novices.

Cons: Limited connectivity, brightness a little low.

Applications: Home theater, corporate video (vs. data) presentation.

Price: $3,999


SPECIFICATIONS

Native resolution: WXGA (1280×720)

Brightness: 1200 ANSI lumens

Contrast: 7000:1 full on/off

Configuration: 3×0.7" LCD panels

Light source: 150W UHP lamp

Lens: Manual focus, F=1.7-2.4, f=20-31.9mm, lens shift (vertical and horizontal)

Zoom: Manual 1.6X optical zoom

Inputs/Outputs: HDMI-HDTV input, D-Sub 15 RGB input; composite, component, S-Video; RS-232C interface

Projection Distance: 2.6-45.1ft.

Screen Size: 30"-300" diagonal

Keystone: Vertical

Dimensions: (H×W×D) 4.4"×13.4"×11.8"

Weight: 10.4lbs.

Warranty: One year parts and labor



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