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INTRO

If you haven't yet plucked up the courage to join the home cinema revolution the latest Hitachi Opus TVs might just help you to make up your mind

 

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If your idea of a home cinema system is a stack of complicated-looking boxes and loads of extra speakers, connected together by a rat's nest of cables, think again. That was certainly true of the early days when only committed and well-off enthusiasts strayed into what used to be dangerous territory. The home cinema revolution has been a lot like the development of satellite TV and the days when you needed specialist knowledge, not to mention a healthy bank balance, are long gone.

 

Hitachi are the latest manufacturer to market what's become known as a 'one-box' system, and before you ask, the box in question is the packing carton, not the contents. The box system contains literally everything you will need to set up your own home cinema, including of course the TV, which in this case is one of Hitachi's Opus sets, the C2574TN which has a 59cm (25-inch screen). This model, and its two stablemates (C2874TN, C2984TN, 66 & 68cm screens) all have on-board Dolby Pro-Logic decoders, and come supplied with all the necessary additional speakers and cables. The set we're looking at costs around 900, and now is a good time to buy as you will also get six-months worth of free movies from Blockbuster and Ritz video rental shops.

 

First the TV, it's a stylish stereo set with the main speakers set into narrow panels either side of the screen, there's a built-in sub-woofer around the back so all things considered, even without the surround sound feature, it looks and sounds quite good. In addition to a NICAM decoder, for receiving terrestrial TV broadcasts in crisp digital stereo, it has a fastext teletext system for rapid page access, comprehensive on-screen menus for initial set-up, picture and sound adjustment. There's a convenient front-mounted AV terminal (S-Video in, composite video in and stereo audio in), for temporary hook-ups with other items of video equipment, including of course, camcorders. Around the back there's two SCART sockets, so you can connect a VCR and satellite tuner (both preferably stereo models) without any problems, in addition there's a set of sockets for outboard speakers.

 

The TV comes with two pairs of outboard speakers, two for the main stereo channels and two for the rear surround-sound channel, these should be placed behind the viewing position; this is the minimum configuration for a Dolby Pro-Logic system, but anyone buying this set would be well-advised to obtain an additional speaker, to carry the front-centre dialogue channel (the speaker should be a shielded type, to avoid colour 'staining' on the screen). Without it the set will generate what's known as a 'phantom' image, using its own stereo speakers, which is simply not as good; it's rather like buying a car with an eight-cylinder engine, and only using six of them. Considering the relatively low cost of speakers for this application Hitachi are being a bit mean not supplying one as standard.

 

Pro-Logic systems need to be carefully set up to get the best results, the 2574 has the obligatory white noise sequencer (common to all Pro Logic systems) and the aim is to balance the speaker levels, using the controls on the remote handset, so they sound equally loud. The 2574 has a number of additional audio features including 'hall' effect, which generates a spatial sound by introducing a short delay into the audio coming from the rear speakers, and 'matrix', a pseudo surround effect which can be used to beef up ordinary stereo material.

 

Initial set-up procedures couldn't be simpler, if you use the set's 'easitune' system which automatically scans through the broadcast bands, tuning in and storing each channel that it comes across. Manual tuning involves a little more effort but anyone who has tuned a VCR or reasonably recent TV shouldn't have any problems. Names or idents can be allocated to each channel, these will appear every time the channel is changed. The on-screen displays and menus are very clear, and fairly easy to follow, once you've got used to the symbols and graphics. Setting and storing picture and sound  parameters is also fairly straightforward, though it's advisable to keep the instruction book handy at all times. We have only one operational criticism; there's no front-panel channel indicator. Now, it may not sound like much of a problem, but there are times when it is useful just to look up and see what channel you're on. It's one of those facilities that you only miss when it's not there...

 

PERFORMANCE

There's absolutely no problems with the picture performance, it is crisp, well-defined, colours look natural and lifelike and the image is correctly aligned. NICAM stereo is sharp and background noise levels so low as to be of no consequence. The on-board speakers have a reasonably broad range but the stereo soundstage is fairly narrow, fine if the viewing position is no more than two or three metres from the screen but the external stereo speakers make all the difference.

 

The Dolby decoder works well, a little too well in fact and the system really needs some form of manual input level control as non-Dolby material leaks through onto the rear speaker. Much of the time it's not a problem and on occasions it sounds quite good but it can be irritating as on poor or noisy signals loud buzzes and clicks can be heard coming from the rear speakers.

 

Dolby performance from off-tape or off-air material is generally very good, though of course much depends on the nature of the source, and not all films shown on TV or satellite are broadcast with their original Dolby-encoded soundtrack, moreover hardly any broadcaster 'flags' their programmes at the beginning, to show it has a surround-sound soundtrack.  The Pro Logic decoder works best on heavily-engineered blockbuster material, where there's plenty of ear-catching effects, and we definitely recommend the use of a centre-channel speaker. It's not, perhaps, as good as some component decoders at deciphering more subtle sounds, though that could be a consequence of not being able to set the input level. If you've not heard Dolby Surround before you should be very impressed with the 2574, and some programmes, like The Simpsons, or Start Trek TNG, will never seem the same again, in boring old stereo...

 

VERDICT

An effortless way into the home cinema for anyone confused and confounded by the jargon, and troubled by the apparent complexity of alternative methods. The results are very good indeed; purists might quibble over the absolute precision of this particular decoder, but anyone wanting to get the most from their satellite system and stereo VCR would be well-advised to get down to their nearest Hitachi dealers and hear one in action.

 

FACT FILE

Make/model:        Hitachi C2574TN     

System price:       900

Address:               HITACHI SALES (UK) LTD, Hitachi House, Station Road, Middlesex UB3 4DR.

Telephone 081-849 2000

 

VERDICT

Sound                          ****       

Picture             *****

Ease of use                        ****

Features                        ****

Value for money                ****

 

Outstanding one-box solution for home cinema

 Buying Satellite Rating:   90%

 

System:  PAL, 625-line single standard, Screen size: 59cm (25-inches) FST Audio: NICAM stereo; 10watts centre, 2 x 5w surround, 2 x 10w main stereo, 1 x 15w sub woofer (RMS) Sockets: RF/aerial in, 2x SCART AV, 5 x 2-pin DIN speaker; front: headphone, S-Video (mini DIN), AV in (phono), Power consumption: 90 watts Dimensions 701(w) x 520(h) x 464(d)

 

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R.Maybury 1993 0610

 


 

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