The TV's Settings menu has more options than a pan-Asian takeout joint. I could scroll through letters and numbers to create custom input names, position the picture horizontally and vertically, and access advanced picture settings like gamma and color-temperature controls. If all that sounds like gobbledegook, relax: HP also provides four one-touch presets for quick picture customization. I mostly used the Studio preset for my tests since it eliminates as much processing as possible, and I loved that I could customize it (plus the other three presets) for each of my sources.
PICTURE QUALITY The Machinist stars an emaciated Christian Bale as guilt-ridden insomniac Trevor Reznik, and its menacing, ultra-dark tone came across splendidly on the big screen. Black and near-black areas looked richer and notably less noisy than I've seen on other microdisplay TVs, with shadow details and especially color accuracy preserved even in the dimmest areas. Many DLPs render near-black with a green or blue tinge, but not the HP. This is one set that handles dark scenes very well.
I did spot what we geeks call the "rainbow effect" a few times in my darkened theater. In one instance, instantaneous flashes of color trailed the white names in the credits and the reflections of the skyline lights in a window as Bale rolled a dead body up in a rug. This artifact is endemic to DLP RPTVs because of their color wheels and wasn't particularly bad on this set (indeed, many viewers never notice rainbows). I also saw tiny stationary specks caused by the set's high-gain screen, which became more apparent in white areas even with contrast greatly reduced. This effect, which comes with the territory on big-screen TVs, was slightly worse than on some sets I've tested but not a big deal.
Minor gripes aside, I really liked the HP's picture with DVDs, especially in 1080i format via my player's HDMI output (480p images from the component-video output were noticeably softer). The image appeared sharp and very clean, relaying every bone in Bale's tortured body and every pore in the big-toothed Ivan's grinning head. The individual pixels making up the picture were indistinguishable from normal viewing distances, and at no time did I detect any "screen door" grid. This smooth image is a hallmark of the wobulation technology used in 1080p DLP chips. (See "Pixel Magic: How TI Puts the 1080p in DLP".) The HP also had plenty of reserve to blast out bright pictures in almost any lighting environment.
Watching standard broadcasts from my 10-foot viewing distance, I appreciated the manual's admission that the set can't do much for low-quality sources: "The best viewing distance is about 9 to 25 feet, but personal preferences vary widely. For prolonged viewing of standard-definition TV channels, the upper end of this range might be more comfortable." I never expect a standard-definition picture to look good on screens this big, and like all HDTVs, this HP is happiest showing off clean HDTV.
HDNet's presentation of high-def highlights from the space-shuttle launch looked almost hyper-real. When the astronauts suited up I could discern numbers in the archaic-looking console gauges, and I made out a small human figure reflected in the glass helmet of the Japanese astronaut. As the morning sun illuminated the launchpad, I watched white-suited techs walking among the gantry's sharply defined struts on the bottom levels. The combination of high resolution and strong contrast really made the sunrise pop. Test patterns revealed that the MD6580n could resolve nearly every line of a 1080i HDTV source, making it the second-most detailed RPTV I've tested. (The $13,000 Sony Qualia 006, a 1080p LCoS HDTV, is the first.)
The shuttle launch made a spectacular demonstration of detail, but hungry for more color I turned to a DiscoveryHD screening of HD Traveler set in Ireland. The opening sweeps over a lush green meadow showed off the HP's excellent saturation. The grass looked fresh and realistic beneath the overcast sky, and the grayish blue water just beyond the jagged shoreline reflected the clouds beautifully. In standard travelogue fashion, the program cut from helicopter shots of the landscape to people - in this case pale to ruddy-skinned Irish folk making music. I spotted subtle differences in the light arms and freckled, apple-cheeked faces of a quartet of young female fiddlers. And a close-up on a craggy old man revealed variations in his deep red nose and slightly paler temples. The HP's natural color rendition topped off its excellent overall performance.
BOTTOM LINE Put simply, HP's MD6580n produced the best DLP-based rear-projection TV image I've seen yet, and in many ways its picture compared favorably with that of the much more-expensive Sony Qualia 006. If its rookie effort is any sign, HP should have no trouble successfully making that long trip from the home office to the living room.
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