By today’s standards, the Hitachi UltraVision LE46S704 feels like a like a no-frills television. You can plug in a flash drive and enjoy your photos, but not your music or videos. This 46-inch HDTV has no networking or Internet capabilities whatsoever. That may seem like a reasonable limitation given the $1300 price (as of September 20, 2010), but the HDTV’s problems with fast-moving images seem less excusable.
The LE46S704 performed at its best in our image quality tests when the people on screen stood still. It did reasonably well in our Wheel of Fortune test, where there is plenty to look at but movement is limited; the picture was clear, with good skin tones and fine details.
But the set behaved differently in our Blu-ray Mission: Impossible III test. Here both the people and the camera seldom stop moving. In a scene where Tom Cruise runs up a brick wall, the judges noted horrible pixelation all around him. One judge praised the excellent motion fidelity in the dark scenes, but the dark scenes in that segment of the movie are relatively static.
Similarly, judges observed jumping building floors and blurred parallel lines in moving camera shots from The Dark Knight, as well as flicker in our diagonal panning test, and a billboard that behaved like an animated GIF in our baseball clip.
The LE46S704 certainly looks great in profile. Measuring less than 2 inches from front to back, this is a very flat flat-screen TV.
Unfortunately, that thin profile may have contributed to the difficulty we had in plugging sources (such as a DVR, a DVD or Blu-ray player, and cables) into the LE46S704. The ports on the back of the TV are in a recessed area, and they face down,which makes plugging anything into them unduly difficult. At least they’re situated near the left side; setting up the system would have been even more of a challenge if they inputs were in the middle if the back. To Hitachi’s credit, several ports–including all four HDMI connectors–are on the left edge iof the television, permitting very easy access. But because of the TV’s thin body, even the comparatively simple task of plugging a cable into one of these well-located inputs can be a bit awkward.
Like the vast majority of current HDTVs, the LE46S704 has an initial-setup wizard built in. The small on-screen menu you get when you press the Menu button isn’t pretty, but it’s readable and behaves properly; on-screen descriptions of the various options would have made it even better. The remote’s Input button brings up a list of the TV’s inputs, with the active ones (those with something plugged in and turned on) highlighted. When use the remote’s arrow buttons to navigate this list, however, the scrolling doesn’t skip the nonactive inputs.
The arrow buttons are surprisingly small, but their recessed layout makes them easy to find with your thumb. Overall, the LE46S704 has an exceptionally well-designed remote, with many large, well-placed buttons. The slim design helps make holding it comfortable. It’s programmable and backlit: Press any button and they all light up.
Like its smaller sibling, the 42-inch Hitachi UltraVision LE42S704, the LE46S704 completely lacks networking capabilities. There’s no ethernet port, no Wi-Fi, and no option for watching Internet video.
You can plug a flash drive into the set’s USB port and view your photos individually or in a slideshow. But you can’t play music with your slideshow. In fact, you can’t play music or videos off of your USB device, at all.
That might be just as well, though. The LE46S704’s audio capabilities barely qualify as acceptable. There’s too little power behind the sound, even with the volume turned all the way up. And the pseudo-surround feature never helped the audio system sound like more than two-track stereo.
Even the best TV speakers can’t compete with a separate, home-theater sound system; but this set wouldn’t compete with the cheap stereo I had in college.
On the positive side, the Energy Star-compliant LE46S704 will help you keep your electricity bills down. In PCWorld tests, the television used an average of 62 watts while on; that’s impressively low for an LCD TV, even one with LED backlighting. In standby mode, it used so little power that it didn’t even register on our meter. (It must use some, though, or you wouldn’t be able to turn it on with the remote.) Energy features include a light sensor that adjusts the backlight for ambient light, and an option for switching the TV off if the remote control hasn’t been used for 3 hours.
But if you can’t kick back and enjoy a football game or an action movie without seeing swirls of pixels dancing around moving objects, what’s the point? The LE46S704 is a fine HDTV if you just want to watch the news. But for anything more visually or audibly demanding, it doesn’t hold up.