This may be the dawn of the 3D TV era (and high noon for connected sets), but many people still don’t care about getting 3D or Web content on their sets. They just want a nice-looking, big-screen set that delivers good video and audio for their over-the-air, cable, or satellite TV, and movies on DVD or Blu-ray—without costing a fortune. The Hitachi UltraVision LE42S704 caters to this crowd: At this writing it was expected to ship for about $900, a good price for a super-slim 42-inch LED TV—even one equipped with an edge-lit panel (as opposed to direct-array lighting, which tends to be found on high-end LCD TVs). But while the LE42S704 held its own against more-expensive sets in many of our juried tests, it stumbled significantly in its handling of motion-heavy scenes.
The LE42S704 overcame its motion rating of Fair (not a surprisingly low mark for an HDTV with a 120Hz refresh rate that has to compete with some 240Hz and even 480Hz sets) to achieve an overall rating of Good, thanks to solid scores for brightness/contrast and skin tone. It managed a grade of just Fair for details and sharpness, however.
Judges remarked on some distracting jiggling of lines of tall buildings in aerial shots of Hong Kong in The Dark Knight and of bricks in a brick around the Vatican in a scene from Mission: Impossible 3 (both on Blu-ray Disc). Overall, though, they deemed the LE42S704’s handling of Blu-ray content to be very good. The set received mixed marks for its handling of over-the-air HDTV, with sports clips in particular drawing criticism for motion artifacts and unimpressive color fidelity. But again, no one rated the set worse than Fair for any attribute. It may not be the best choice for viewing sports programs and other shows with lots of fast movement, but it ably handles most other content.
The LE42S704 looks very similar to most other flat-screen sets on the market today, with a slim black bezel and Hitachi’s brand name in a (thankfully dimmable) light on the bottom edge. Hitachi provides four HDMI inputs—fairly common on current sets—but it skimps otherwise, with only one component input and one composite input (plus a cable/antenna port, a D-sub port for PC hookups, an audio input for PCs or DVI devices, analog and optical digital audio outputs, a USB port, and a headphone jack). The placement of ports isn’t ideal: Several of them—including the cable/antenna hookup—face downward, which makes screwing cables into them difficult.
A standard first-time setup wizard guides you through the usual options: home versus store-display mode, language, date/time, cable versus over-the-air antenna, and channel scanning. The on-screen menus appear in a box in the upper left corner of the screen, and a transparency control lets you avoid obscuring the image beneath the menus. Unfortunately, the type is on the small side and a is bit hard to read. As with most sets, you can tweak only the options available for the currently selected video source, which means that you can’t deal with channel options if you’ve switched to a game console input, say.
Hitachi’s image controls start with a half-dozen preset picture modes (dynamic, standard, movie, game, pro-day, pro-night) along with a custom preset that lets you program brightness, contrast, color tint, and other variables. The pro-day and pro-night settings are customizable with additional controls that you can access through a calibration menu. Tweakers might find the image-adjustment tools somewhat skimpy, but for many people they will be more than adequate.
Other on-screen menu options cover audio adjustments, channel setup and labels, parental controls, sleep timer settings, energy-consumption levels, closed captioning, and HDMI-CEC setup (for controlling other HDMI-connected devices using the set’s remote). Hitachi’s manual helpfully devotes a couple of pages to codes for infrared settings of other manufacturers’ devices.
The standard-size Hitachi remote is easy to use, with plastic buttons that light up when pressed. It provides several buttons at the top for specific video sources—TV, DVD, PVR/VCR, Sat/Cbl (satellite/cable), and AVR (audio-video receiver). Underneath those buttons are the usual numeric keypad and on-screen menu navigation buttons, a row of context-sensitive colored buttons, and a handful of buttons for commonly used functions (input, aspect ratio, picture mode, favorite channels, energy savings settings, and closed captioning). These functions approximate the options you’d get in an on-screen quick menu, which the Hitachi doesn’t have. At the bottom of the remote are fast-forward, pause, rewind, and other buttons for controlling external devices.
One disappointing aspect of this set is its meager support for multimedia on a USB flash drive. You can view only JPEG images; there’s no support for video or music, so you can’t even play music while viewing your photos. That’s too bad because the set’s audio system—a three-speaker setup (two 5-watt speakers and a 10-watt speaker)—is worth listening to if you don’t have a home-theater audio system), with good simulated surround-sound, robust volume capability, and decent audio adjustment controls including four presets and a bass-boost setting.
Hitachi does well in the energy-efficiency department: In our tests, the LE42S704 used, on average, just 57 watts per hour in our tests, the lowest of any set we’ve evaluated recently.
Hitachi provides a 59-page printed manual (attached to a 53-page version in Spanish) that explains all of the HDTV’s settings and functions quite clearly, along with a helpful one-sheet quick setup guide (printed in color). At this writing, we couldn’t yet download the manual and spec sheets from Hitachi’s Website (the company promises that the download option is coming soon); a firmware upgrade (which you must transfer to the set via a USB flash drive) was already available, however.
Overall, the Hitachi UltraVision LE42S704 delivers a solid set of basic TV features, good picture quality, and surprisingly strong audio at a reasonable price (especially factoring in its low energy consumption), making it worth considering if you’re on a budget and willing to live without Internet connectivity.
[For details on our testing method, and a description of what our lab results mean, read “How we test HDTVs”.]