“Black levels, a key component for an excellent picture, were”
- Gorgeous 1080p; 120Hz LCD HDTV
- Expensive; two-piece system needs your buy-in
One of the hottest HDTV trends is slimming down already skinny flat-panel televisions. At CES 2009, there were loads of prototypes of ultra-slim plasma and LCD TVs, shrinking overall thickness from around 4 inches to one or less. Hitachi is in the vanguard of this trend with its much-publicized 1.5-inch-thick series of LCD HDTVs, which are available today. Now, is a supermodel-thin set the way to go, or is an “obese” 4-incher the answer? Hitachi sent us a 37-inch UT37V702 to find out…
Features and Design
There’s no getting away from it – the UT37V02 is a beautiful flat-panel set. With its anthracite pearl crystal frame, curvy stand, and thin screen, it definitely looks like it belongs in an expensive loft setting, or in a Hollywood flick featuring folks with martini glasses in hand chatting with European accents. It just reeks of money. (Now if only the economy would rebound so people could buy those fancy apartments and HDTVs, things would be wonderful!).
The secret to Hitachi’s good looks is a bit of engineering legerdemain. That attractive 1.5-inch thin screen is actually a monitor, which means all the key – and bulky – electronics are in a separate box. This is like taking a ride in the wayback machine, since the legendary Sony Profeel monitors from the early ‘80s did the same thing – except back then a 37-inch LCD screen was almost as fantastic an idea as some of Dr. Walter Bishop’s ravings in Fringe. In fact, we owned a “huge” 25-inch CRT-based Profeel and used a separate Proton MTS tuner to receive about a dozen analog over-the-air channels using rabbit ears. Quaint, no? Since this is 2009, the Hitachi is a 1080p display with a 120Hz frame rate, placing it in the upper performance ranks of LCD models. In fact, it’s one of the very few 1080p 120Hz 37-inch models. And, of course, there are zillions of digital channels to watch onscreen—without rabbit ears.
The monitor portion of the Ultravision is very nicely styled, with its gray frame and unobtrusive, non-lit logos on the bottom. There is a cool blue accent light when you power up, and a chrome accent bar. The surprisingly good integrated speakers are located in a row on the lower bezel. The screen unit measures 36.87 x 23.87 x 1.56 (WHD, in inches) and weighs 32.1 pounds. It’s slightly more than the touted “1.5” thickness, but pretty darn close. If you’re not hanging this on the wall, you’ll need shelf space of at least a foot to handle the built-in stand. One of the really attractive things about this screen is the fact it can also be mounted on an optional floor stand, so it can be real architectural statement befitting that $1 million loft.
Since this is a two-piece unit, most of the jacks found on thicker flat panels are on the separate electronics box called the Audio Video Center (AVC08U). There are only a few on the screen itself, including one HDMI, analog RGB and RS232C, along with a 3.5mm stereo input for computers. Since everyone has more components than this, you’ll have to connect the AV Center, which is attached by a supplied HDMI cable if you purchase a “kit.” This box measures 11.75 x 2 x 8.5 (WHD, in inches) and has a sophisticated look that matches the screen. There’s only a power on/off button on the front, along with a silver accent, while the rear has a typical assortment of inputs/outputs (3 HDMI plus one for the link to the screen, 2 component, digital audio out and a pair of analog inputs). The AV Center has a built-in digital tuner so you can get local HD channels if you connect an antenna.
There are a number of basic controls tucked under the bottom of the screen including menu, input, volume and so on. You’ll never use them, as the remote will be your key interface (more on this in the Performance section). There are no other inputs, so forget about quickie game or camcorder hookups—you’ll have to use the AV Center. And – bummer – there’s no SD card slot for viewing JPEGs or AVCHD video clips.
The UT37V702 comes with the basics along with the screen, stand and AV Center when you buy the two-piece package. You’ll get an OK multi-language manual, remote with batteries, power cord, HMDI cable plus various screws and cable cushions and straps.
Once everything was unpacked it was time to assemble the system and put it through its paces…
Hitachi Ultravision UT37V702
Performance and Use
Although the Ultravision’s installation flexibility is welcome, we just used the supplied, non-swivel stand. Connecting the Audio Video Center and power cords was relatively simple, although the screen inputs are vertical instead of the typical horizontal (more PC monitor-like). This makes a wall mounted install less complicated, and the screen can be tighter to the wall. However, it takes a bit of finessing to get the HDMI and AC plugs in. You’ll only do this once, so it’s no big deal.
To test, we connected a Verizon FiOS cable box and a Panasonic DMP-BD30 Blu-ray Disc player via HDMI to the UT37V702’s AV Center. Upon powering up, we were immediately jarred by the ugly FiOS video but this too was no surprise – or a major tragedy. The set’s default picture setting is dynamic, which boosts the brightness so much as to be unwatchable. A quick tap of the picture mode button on the remote got us to natural, and all was right with the world; TV programming looked fine. There’s also a Cinema mode for watching movies; deeper in the menus is a game mode.
For the vast majority of viewers, the natural and cinema modes will be accurate enough; they’ll be happy with the results. Like all other flat panels, you can tweak the Hitachi until your eyes bleed and fingers go numb. It has most of the parameters found on top sets but the Pioneer Kuro and Sony XBRs offer more, such as gamma control and ISF options. We popped in a DIY disk to see if we’d make many changes to these main modes, and although we did, it wasn’t too far from the factory settings.
The supplied remote has a very straightforward layout, with key controls readily available. It has the ability to learn the codes of four components such as your cable or satellite box, BD player, receiver and so on. The remote is not nearly as sexy looking as the television, which is something lacking on almost all high-end HDTVs, including Pioneers and Sony XBRs. We definitely would like to see LCD readouts and touch controls, but you’ll have to go elsewhere to find them (Harmony, Pronto et al.). As you well know, better LCD HDTVs feature a faster 120Hz frame rate to eliminate blurring of subjects such as basketballs heading for the hoop. The Hitachi did a fine job with a recent Tennessee-Florida contest, mogul skiing along with some hockey games, and we didn’t see any annoying “comet trails” for other action material.
Black levels, a key component for an excellent picture, were—in a word—excellent. In fact, they were very close to the Sony XBR recently reviewed, which has some of the best black levels of any LCD HDTV other than those with LED backlighting. Working off of this solid foundation, the rest of the colors were as accurate as you’d want. Everything just looked right. The “Battle For Narnia” scene from the The Chronicles of Narnia BD disc was terrific, with nice reds, and the Witch was as white as she should be. The fast frame rate handled the leaping animals with no difficulty. The dim atmosphere of The Dark Knight BD disk was replicated nicely. Close-ups of The Joker’s makeup during the classic interrogation scene were also outstanding.
This set has an anti-reflective screen that works really well. We viewed the screen under a variety of lighting (including fluorescents,) and hardly a reflection could be seen. In other words, no worries watching this one in a bright room. The panel also uses a more efficient, longer lasting EEFL ((External Electrode Florescent Lamp) backlight compared to the usual CCFL (Cold Cathode Florescent Lamp). Bottom line? This is very good looking picture that will please practically everyone.
Sound quality was also good, although the simulated surround does not have the presence of SRS TruSurround XT used by other companies. There are 12 watts of total speaker power, which is good enough for a smallish room.
To be honest, the Hitachi Ultravision UT37V702 at a list price of $2,799 is very 2008 (before the financial crash). It’s a beautiful-looking television that’s as stylish as can be. Hello, Wall Street Masters of the Universe. Picture quality is excellent, with deep blacks, solid sound and overall it just works well. That said, $2,799 for a 37-inch LCD HDTV is far too expensive in an age when Wal-Mart and Costco rule, while Neiman-Marcus and Saks are on life support. We’re all for thin screens, but to our minds, it really doesn’t matter once you’ve made the move from CRTs to plasma or LCD if your HDTV is four- or 1.5-inches thick. It’s still flat, and relatively thin. However, the $2,799 list price is totally bogus. This is 2009, in the depths of a recession, and a quick search found the screen alone for under $1,000. Who said economic downturns were all bad? Buyer beware: make sure you get the AV Center with the screen otherwise you’ll have very few inputs. It costs an additional $200 or so. Caveat emptor – for real. By comparison, you can pick up a 37-inch 1080p Samsung HDTV for under $900 (without the 120Hz frame rate,) but it does have an integrated digital tuner and inputs. Also note that at CES 2009, several companies – including Vizio – announced 37-inch 1080p 120Hz HDTVs for delivery later this year.
We liked the Ultravision overall, and if the stimulus package kicks in and you’ve got a little extra cash to make a statement, by all means do so—just don’t brag too loudly.
- Very good 1080p screen
- Excellent black levels
- 120Hz handles sports/action well
- Attractive thin display, stand
- Decent sound for a small television
- Expensive; make sure it comes with AV Center
- Limited inputs, no SD card slot
- Could have more picture adjustment options
- Remote should have LCD readouts