Ok, let me see if I can make some sense of these notes; after all, I did my viewing last night and am trying to recall my experience the following morning. Let me also warn you in advance: you all already know me to be, shall we say, thorough in my posts. This one will not prove to be any different. In fact it is likely to be my longest observation to date.
Let me start by getting some of the particulars out of the way: as I've stated previously, this is my second sample of the 42HDS69. I returned the first set over the flicker issue and did not fool around with tweaking it too much, because I knew I would try at least one more set of this model, to see if I had just gotten a bad one. This set has a production date of 08/06 and software version V0115.0001, which I am assuming to be the most up to date.
Now, I'm going to introduce a new topic, in that in the Service Menu there are also two other version items listed, and to my knowledge no one has ever discussed what they represent or what everyone's versions are. My M306H3 is V02.15 and my ADJ.REV. is V00.24. For those of you who don't already know how to do it, you get into the Service Menu by pressing Menu, Menu, 8, Enter, quickly, twice in a row; I encourage feedback about what others settings are and intend to ask Hitachi exactly what this software represents and if it could have any bearing on our issue (Jason, do you know?).
I did all of the following testing using my Denon DVD-1920 upconverting player, however I am currently outputting at only 480p, using component cables (I plan to get an HDMI cable ASAP so I can run more tests in 1080i). The player was connected to Input 5 and the Aspect Ratio was set on 16:9 Standard 1. Also, my set was at 76 hours on its 100-hour break-in period.
I started viewing with what I considered to be flat settings: Contrast, Brightness, Color, and Sharpness all set at 50%, Tint even, Color Temp STD, Black Enhancement OFF, Contrast Mode NORMAL, Noise Reduction OFF, and Auto Movie Mode ON.
First, before I even starting viewing a movie, I took the opportunity to view the panel, powered on, with no signal (it should be noted at this time that the viewing was done in absolute pitch dark). The Black Level of the image was steady and uniformly dark, which would indicate the issue does not lie in the static panel itself (like a lens with a bad power supply in an RPTV). I did notice that the Menu is leaving considerable IR at 76 hours in, so owners take serious heed of the 100-hour warning.
The first movie I loaded for viewing was the Collector's Edition of Jackie Brown. I've always found the disc to be a good test for this flicker issue and a good-looking transfer to tweak against. I wanted to leave settings at 50%, but tweak things like Color Temp, Black Enhancement, Contrast Mode, and Noise Reduction to sight, as the consensus is that possibly the flicker can be eliminated or at least lessened, by a particular combination of these settings. So I wanted to set these items to what looked best to my eye and then see where to possibly change them, to see if I could lessen the effect of the flicker.
To set the image to my eye, I used Chapter 3 from the CEJB disc. One of the things that I believe makes this disc a good test for this set is that a lot of the chapters have long, dark lead-ins to allow you to look for flicker and dark-level performance. One of the first things I observed is that in these dark lead-ins, the set display was overwhelmingly green/gray and incredibly pixilated. Pausing during these lead-ins made the image look like the blacks were a floating, gaseous, green/grey Swamp Monster. I had watched scenes from this disc several times on my first sample and I don't ever remember being struck by the ugliness of the image; perhaps there is a difference in the samples, perhaps it is because this sample is not 100-hour broken in yet, or perhaps it is due to the different DVD player (the 1920 was replacing a Denon 1730, which in theory was supposed to produce a "better" image). More on this greenish pixilation later.
Pausing on this ugly, green patch, I decided to play with settings to see if I could eliminate or lessen the issue. Moving Black Enhancement to Medium actually did lessen it and provided a good, dark, black level, but of course it led to a certain loss of Contrast detail, so I left it at OFF for continued testing.
Chapter 8 of CEJB is a particularly good torture test, as, at about 1:30 into the section, the scene has lots of lighting up and down and eventually ends up in the dark, only lit by peripheral light coming in through a window. Again, I noticed a ton of greenish, floating, pixilation during dark scenes and lead-ins, and there was the Contrast adjustment issue, but no strobing effect (which I need to distinguish between the two as that becomes an issue later). During this scene, I could pause the image and as the white pause would leave the screen, count 3 distinct steps down in darkness. I tried changing the Black Enhancement level to Medium again and still could sense 3 steps down during the test. Chapter 9 also has a very long (like 4 seconds) lead-in and again, I cold reproduce a 3-step down contrast adjustment.
As this disc looked so terrible, on this second sample, that I deemed it not to be a good test title, I decided to move to a known entityThe Fifth Element (not SuperBit). Of course, we all know this to be an exemplary beautiful transfer, but the first thing I noticed was that the blacks seemed very washed out with this disc. That led me to inquiry about any Black Level setting on my DVD player (I remember my old Pioneer Elite DV-37 having several Black Level adjustments, including IRE, which dramatically impacted the picture). Indeed, my player also has a Black Level setting and the default was ON, which as described in the manual makes dark parts brighter. I turned if OFF and it was like the equivalent of a Black Enhancement or changing Contrast Mode to Dynamic, but I liked taking it out of the hands (for the moment) of the sets processor and making sure it had a good, dark signal to at least start with.
I flipped through the first couple of chapters on TFE, which I left in Letterbox, and noticed that when I paused and let the pause disappear from the image, that the black letterbox bars did not flicker or Contrast adjust as long as there was regular picture information in the scene; in other words, whereas the set Contrast adjusts in all-black scenes, it will not if the overall picture has plenty of light in it (at least with this title).
Of course we are all familiar with the famous Chapter 10 scene and there is a reason. Paused at :53, this is an exemplary test for accurate Flesh Tones and using this, it is my opinion that STD is the only acceptable Color Temp to accurately reproduced skin tones. Paused on both the close-ups of Milla Jovovich's face, and the City scene where she leaps off of the building, the image was steady, with no flicker or strobing, and of course the image was very vivid.
The film does not have much dark content, but I think Chapter 23 makes a nice test. Right at the beginning of Ch. 23 (I know we all have this film), for a split second, there is no light in the image, as the door to the hotel room is closed. Even just a second in, it opens up and there is light in the image from the door. Interestingly, I noticed my normal 3-step down in darkness paused right at the beginning of the chapter, but if I step slightly forward, where the door is cracked even just a little bitnow that there is light in the image, when I am paused, I do not notice the step-down in the Contrast adjustment.
Watching this Chapter 23 scene, the Blue was just too pronounced to even stand, so I did move the Color down to a more acceptable 40% for the rest of the testing. Also, at this point, I did decide to start experimenting with Day-Normal v. Night v. Day-Dynamic modes. There is no question, as discussed previously, that there is a difference between these modes other than just their saved, user settings. With all modes set the same way, there was little detectable difference between Day-Normal v. Night, but Day-Dynamic does effect the Contrast differently; and keep in mind, this is Day-Dynamic mode, but with Contrast Mode set to Normal, not Dynamic. It is almost as if this mode compensates for the fact that it assumes you are going to be in Dynamic Contrast Mode. Others have said that this mode takes advantage of a Hitachi feature in that it clamps or limits Contrast at a different level than the other 2 modes. I actually started to prefer the look of Day-Dynamic, but without the Dynamic Contrast Mode on, and watched the transition between Chapter 22 to 23 of TFE one frame at a time.
I still noticed the gaseous, greenish/grey, pixilation in many of the dark scene freezes, so I tested all 3 modes (Day, DD, Night) with both Dynamic Contrast Mode on and off and I noticed, for the first time, a shimmering or strobbing or pulsing effect that I believe others have reported as their flickering issue. Sorry guys, I do not remember which combination (in this instance) that caused the shimmer or strobbingmy note says w/Dynamic, so I'm not sure if that was Day-Dynamic mode or one of the modes with Dynamic Contrast Mode on.
These first 2 discs looked so relatively bad on my second set that I had to take a look at something I knew should look amazing, just to make sure I wasn't dealing with a sample that was completely off the wall. IMO, any of the Pixar titles are almost like cheating when demo-ing a set; they are sooo bright and sooo free from artifact as to give a false sense of a really good picture; they make em all look good!
I popped in Finding Nemo. I was back in Night mode and at the beginning of the film, there is a black lead-in where I paused and noticed like a 5-step darkening when my pause button went away; for some reasons I could count even more graduations than before. The disc actually looked amazing though. Chapter 3 is a great demo and the Color, Contrast, Black Levels all looked good (like I said, hard to get it wrong with this disc). I also considered Chapter 5 to be a good test, for my gaseous, floating colors; in Chapter 5 there is a scene where almost the entire right side of the image is filled with water. With the graduating shading of blue, you might expect to be able to see some floating color reproduction, but the scene looked surprisingly good.
OK, enough cheating. I looked for a new title to demo. I looked for something I thought to be a good transfer, vibrant, crisp, but not animated, with perhaps challenging Contrast issues. Eureka...Corpse Bride makes a very nice test disc. Let's start at the beginningthe Warner Brothers logo, in its sort of brown & cream incarnation, proved to bring out an obvious strobing when paused. IMO, this is caused by the feature Hitachi talks about with the processor anticipating the best adjustments as the picture progresses. It was like, with the DVD paused on the logo, it was reading information ahead and trying to decide what settings to adjust to and it was confused, going back and forth, and like I said, causing an obvious strobe or flicker (not to be confused with a measured Contrast adjustment or step-downthis was light/dark in a rapid, random pattern). I was able to recreate the issue several times, in both Day-Normal and Night modes, but it was not noticeable, to my eye, in Day-Dynamic. (I also see in my notes at this time that it occurred to me that switching DN/DD/N modes is a good test for those of you that do not have the disappearing pause feature like I do. That is, if you're in a completely black scene, switching DN/DD/N modes will temporarily put light in the image and then fade away in a few seconds, thus allowing you to see if your set steps down the Contrast adjustment to compensate for the absence of that light)
Right after the logo introduction, there is a dark lead-in and I noted that the darks look solid and constant, not at all gaseous, which was a good sign. I noted at this point that I think this set is susceptible to the old Garbage In/Garbage Out adage; that is, it can look very good given a good feed, but it can look very bad otherwise (at least this second sampleI did not notice it so much in my first).
Pausing on that dark lead-in after the logo, I again noticed 3/4/5 step-downs of Contrast in both DN and N mode, but only 3 countable steps in DD. A very good test that I found on CB is Chapter 3, about :14 in; as they enter the castle and the butler closes the door, it casts a dark shadow over the room. If I pause there, as the pause button disappears, I can see the image take 1 step-down in Contrast; so its like with the pause in image, 1 step lighter...with the pause out of image, 1 step darker. This I don't mind at all and could live with. I did also try the test with both Contrast Mode set to Off and Dynamic and both took the 1 step down, but I noted that with Dynamic mode On the step seemed more subtle perhaps.
I also noted that Contrast Mode in Normal kind of cast a greenish tint on these shadowy blacks, whereas the Dynamic mode really seemed to clean them up a bit. Chapter 6 of CB is a also a good test of what I'd call image or maybe color stability; the lead-in I noted was a little warbly in that (if memory serves) this scene fades in to some very extreme, bright colors and it is almost as if the set is having a tough time making the transition, and you see the image is kind of adjustingwarbling. However, I also noted, that once the scene is in, the Color and especially resolution are AMAZING and crisp!
I also tested in Chapter 11, which is a bit of a torture test as the scene goes from a bright, rolling fire, into an image entirely cast in blue, shadowy moonlight. I noted that the set seem to definitely be having a hard time holding steady blacks and I think this is indicative of a slight strobe or flicker (again, not step-down Contrast adjustment). I tested this transition at the beginning of Chapter 11 using all 6 combinations of DN/DD/N modes, with both Dynamic Contrast Mode set On and Off. My notes are that strobing was least noticeable in Night mode, both with DCM set On and Off, and most noticeable in DN with Dynamic mode On.
Well, that's it. I'm not sure if that really helped anyone else or not. They're just my observations, using my equipment, and my discs, so of course YMMV (and IMHO, and FWIW, and all the other acronyms apply). I know the notes and observations are a little scattered, and its true, I did not test EVERY combination of settings (I think the permutations go into the billions), and I cannot document all the nuances that I witnessed during the actual viewing, but I think this experiment allowed me to make a few conclusions about this set:
- First, I noticed some real differences between my first and second sample. I don't recall EVER seeing that horrible greenish, gaseous, floating issue in the dark scenes (and trust me, obviously, I spent a lot of time in there) with the first set. This is either because this set has not reached its 100-hour break in, or I have a bad set, or there is a real variance in the TVs production. I found it disheartening, as I cannot continue to just replace and replace this set until I find it to be right; at some point, you have to feel some consistency with the product to have confidence in it.
- Second, I think the sets strong point is its resolution. Although I read some debate about 720p v. 1080i, I think bottom-line is I agree with the argument that more pixels is more pixels and this set can look great when fed the right signal (I have noted several times that my 1080i HD STB looks vastly superioragain, given the right feedthan my DVD player at 480p. Now, even though that stands to reasonand I can't wait to test the set with my player upconverting to 1080i, and will give it the chance to do soit shouldn't be exhibiting many of the problems it does just because it's being fed 480p). I think when owners say the set looks amazing, they are referring to its resolution; I find that the Black Levels and Color accuracy leave a lot to be desired and of course that has been measured and reported elsewhere as well.
After all of this viewing (and BTW, when I was done my panel had 82 hours on it; now granted, I took about a 2 hour break during and let my break-in DVD spin to help with some of the IR that I noticed, but that still means I spent about 4 hours with this testing) I also took a look at information on the Net about Hitachi sets, previous and current gen, 720p v. 1080i and Hitachi's weird pixel count in the 42HDS69 (1024 x 1080), and the ALiS panel set. I know most on this forum are trying to find a reason to believe and hold onto their sets, and I have been accused by some as being too negative, but I have to tell ya I did not read a whole lot that was positive about Hitachi, the color decoding, ALiS, or this resolution choice.
I agree, none of that means a whole lot and that in the grand scheme of things the PQ is all that matters, however I think most of us have buts in our PQ assessments: the set looks great butthe colors are a little off; the PQ is great butI have this Contrast adjustment/strobing and/or flicker issue. And for me, another but is that I see so much difference between my first and second sample (unfortunately, all of the bad stuff from the first oneand then some), which is off-putting.
This post is certainly long enough as it is, so I'm not going to beat a dead horse; I'm going to clamp it here (lol) and open it up for the inevitable debate that will follow. I welcome it. After all, I only did this to try and make my own determination about what was going on with the set and only shared in hopes that it might help others. I'm not sure if it really does that, but I figure it's like TV; if you don't like the show, then just turn the channel.
FWIW, I think that part of the issue most of us face is that this is our first Plasma. So these issues are hard to sort out because we are not sure if it is just Hitachi, or are other/most Plasmas like this to one extent or the other, will another set or brand be any better, as we have nothing to compare it to. We observed other brands and sets in some store and decided which one we thought was best for our budget. But I'm assuming no one had the chance to give their set the kind of workout I just put mine through before they bought it. Besides, who even knew what to look for before?
I posted earlier I would buy a Pioneer in a New York minute if I thought the PQ was as good or better as the 42HDS69, and didn't exhibited any of the drawback issues. But that I couldn't be sure of that either. Well, for me guys, I think it's worth the chance. I'm going to ride my set to its 30-day return date (10/11) and see if we don't come up with this miracle Hitachi Engineering is promising usthat keeps the PQ excellent and eliminates all contrast/flicker/strobing issues (yes, I could live with the supposed inaccurate color reproduction). However, barring that miracle, I will probably opt to exchange my 42HDS69 for either a PDP-4360 or 4270. The way I look at it, at least I will have something to compare it against, and I can decide if it is better or worse. If it's better, then I'll be happy I decided to take the leap; if it's worse, and all Plasmas turn out to have their trade-offs, then I can always come back to the Hitachi; after all, they're not going up in price.
OK, you may flame menow.