In recent months, LCD projection technology has improved greatly, with new panels available which are capable of displaying higher contrast images than ever before. Since the CEDIA 2005 expo, we have seen several new LCD home theater projectors featuring exceptional contrast performance and affordable pricing, all of which are giving DLP projectors a run for their money. Hitachi's new Ultravision HDPJ52 represents another elegant option for light-controlled home theater use, and it proves to be one worth a closer look.
Specifications. 1200 ANSI lumens, 7000:1 contrast, native 16:9 widescreen format, 1280x720 resolution 3x LCD panels.
Compatibility. HDTV 1080i, 720p, 480p, 480i. Full NTSC / PAL / SECAM.
Lens and Throw Distance. 1.60:1 manual zoom/focus lens. Throws a 100" diagonal image from 9.3 to 15 feet.
Lamp Life. 2,000 hours.
Connection Panel. One composite video, one S-Video, one set of YPbPr component inputs, one 15-pin VGA connector, one HDMI connector, an RS-232C port and a 12V trigger.
Installation Options. Table mount, rear shelf mount, ceiling mount.
Warranty. One year.
With a 1.6x zoom lens and extensive lens shift ability, the Hitachi HDPJ52 should be a breeze to mount for most people. For a 100" diagonal 16:9 image, the HDPJ52 can be mounted anywhere from 9.3' to 15' away from the screen, and the zoom lens will take care of the rest. Furthermore, the lens shift allows a total movement range of 2.5 screen heights vertically and 1.5 screen widths horizontally. In percentage form, that means that, from dead center, the image can be shifted upwards or downwards 75% of the screen height, or horizontally 25% in either direction. This makes for an impressive range of lens shift, which will make it easy to install in a variety of room configurations.
The menu system on the HDPJ52 can be somewhat confusing when trying to find advanced settings. Organization could be better, and some settings and controls are seemingly hidden away in the hierarchy of other options. For example, the HDPJ52 has several preset picture modes, and there is a button on the remote to cycle through them - but to access them through the menu, you must go to the absolute bottom of the menu selections and switch to the "Easy Menu". The mode selector is not available in the Advanced menu at all. To customize gamma or color temperature, you must press "enter" on one of the custom settings, though there is no indication that you must do this. We advise you to sit down and actually read the manual before using this projector, as it will make it a lot easier.
Despite this, the degree of customization available on the HDPJ52 is worth noting. Rather than having you choose from a selection of gamma curves, for example, the HDPJ52 allows you to adjust the gamma curve to your liking, and save up to four different settings. The same goes for color temperature and general user memory. When all of these are combined, it makes for a highly customizable image.
The "lens mask" option adds horizontal black bars to the image, which are adjustable up and down independent of one another. We found this feature to be most useful while watching broadcast material, specifically broadcast HDTV, since these signals occasionally have extraneous lines of "noise" at the top or bottom of the image. Using the "lens mask" feature, you can simply mask off the top and bottom noise artifacts without using overscan to scale your image and losing the benefits of native 720p. This is an interesting and attractive feature, and one that we've not seen on competitively priced alternatives.
The remote on the HDPJ52 is small, black, and ergonomically pleasing. There is a backlight activated with a button press, and the activation button glows in the dark - a nice touch. Aside from the usual direct access buttons for aspect ratio cycling, iris control, and source switching, Hitachi has included another nice feature. Rather than dedicate buttons to pulling up the menu items for brightness, contrast, and color, these are adjustable via +/- buttons on the remote control itself, bypassing the menu completely.
Instead of labeling by lamp modes, the HDPJ52's different operating modes are labeled by fan modes. "Whisper" mode runs at a very quiet 24dB of audible noise, which is bordering on inaudible. While "Normal" mode is noticeably louder, it is not loud enough to cause distraction in a theater environment. However, one important thing to note is that switching to "normal" mode only results in 15% more ANSI lumens, so if you need more light, it might be better to simply open up the iris further instead.
For normal viewing, the color temperature setting labeled 7500K on the HDPJ52 was actually within 100 degrees of perfect 6500K on out test unit from 40 IRE to 80 IRE. Despite the mis-labeling, this setting produced rich, well-balanced color that needed no adjustment for comfortable viewing. Likewise, hue and saturation were factory-set set at optimal levels. So despite the fact that color on the HDPJ52 highly adjustable, we found it to be at its peak right out of the box, and no recalibration was needed to get a very fine, well-balanced picture.
If you watch many black and white films, changing the precalibrated color temperature selection to 6500K nets an average color temperature closer to 5400K, which is actually ideal for the viewing of older black and white films.
Lamp life on the HDPJ52 is 2,000 hours, which may seem a bit low when compared to other projectors in this price range. However, Hitachi is selling the replacement lamp for only $250, while many home theater projectors' replacement lamps cost between $350 and $400. Lamp replacement is an issue that comes up in every projector's life, so knowing the replacement cost and planning ahead will make life easier.
The HDPJ52 is rated at 1200 ANSI; however, when set up for a darkened theater environment it produces about 300 ANSI lumens, as do many other home theater projectors on the market. The projector has a manual iris system that ranges from 1 (small opening) to 10 (large opening), and in video mode with the iris all the way open lumen output was around 350 ANSI. However, you lose a lot of contrast performance at this setting, so we would recommend leaving the iris between 4 and 7.
Contrast is rated at 7000:1, and the HDPJ52's performance with dark scenes on DVDs does not disappoint. We found that setting our test unit's iris to 6 created a nice balance between light output and black level, and at this setting shadow details showed very good separation. Black level is likewise quite solid, and better than several competing units in this price range. When using a video game console as a source, however, we preferred to open up the iris further, as the extra brightness is beneficial in this application. With the iris set to 9 or 10, playing video games on the HDPJ52 was an enthralling experience.
These days, there are very few "bad" projectors. Many new home theater projectors produce rich, three dimensional images, and without a basis for comparison it can be hard to tell them apart. It often takes a side-by-side comparison to reveal the subtle differences between the latest crop of projectors, so we put the HDPJ52 heads-up with both an updated sample of the BenQ PE7700 (old review here) and the Epson PowerLite Cinema 550 (review here).
The BenQ PE7700 is marginally brighter than the HDPJ52; at comparable settings it measures 400 ANSI lumens to the HDPJ52's 300 ANSI. While the extra 100 lumens is nice, it is a relatively small difference.
When viewed individually, both the PE7700 and the HDPJ52 have excellent contrast and black level, while shadow details are clearly visible. However, once seen head to head, the superior performance of the HDPJ52 becomes clear. While black levels are comparable, the HDPJ52 holds a clear edge in shadow separation and overall contrast performance.
With regards to color, the HDPJ52 clearly overtakes the PE7700. Color is rich and natural, with better saturation. Whether watching animated material or live actors, scenes seemed to pop off of the screen, and objects looked vibrant and life-like.
The Hitachi HDPJ52 has significantly less fan noise than the PE7700, and "Whisper" mode lives up to its name. There was no noticeable screendoor effect on the HDPJ52 from normal viewing distances. The lens shift and superior zoom range of the HDPJ52 give it an edge in mounting options, while the PE7700's lack of lens shift may make installation more difficult for some users.
The BenQ PE7700 is a good, solid home theater projector. When we reviewed it eight months ago, we gave it a very good rating. However, when compared to the HDPJ52, it becomes clear just how much better the new LCD projectors are as compared to their predecessors. The industry continues to move forward rapidly, with ever-improving price/performance.
The bigger competitive challenge for the HDPJ52 is the Epson Cinema 550. The Cinema 550 is a much brighter projector, measuring in at up to 950 ANSI lumens, while the maximum we were able to squeeze from the Hitachi HDPJ52 was around 500 ANSI. However, at settings optimized for dark room home theater, the HDPJ52's 300 ANSI lumens are an easy match for the Cinema 550's 240 ANSI lumens.
Black level on the Cinema 550 is slightly superior to that on the HDPJ52, and the HDPJ52 cannot quite match the Cinema 550's performance on shadow detail either, though it does come very close. Detail in dark scenes on either projector is excellent, but the Cinema 550 maintains an edge in this regard.
On our test units, the HDPJ52 had a more natural color balance, but we need to reserve comment at this point due to the panel alignment problem on our Cinema 550 that we noted in the review that affected both color and sharpness in portions of the image.
The Cinema 550 and HDPJ52 have similar zoom and lens shift capabilities, with the Cinema 550 having greater lens shift latitude and the HDPJ52 having a slightly longer zoom range. The feature sets on these projectors are similar, and offer many customization options for fine-tuning your image.
The HDPJ52 and Cinema 550 are both impressive projectors at the leading edge in terms of price/performance. The Cinema 550 can put out more light at the sacrifice of some image quality, which makes it more suitable for multipurpose home entertainment. However, the HDPJ52 offers home theater performance that rivals the 550 and incorporates some features the 550 does not have. Depending upon your needs, either one of these projectors is capable of making you extremely happy with your selection.