Hitachi's projectors to date have tended to be reasonably well received, offering a cute mix of user-friendliness, attractive pricing and decent pictures. But unlike many of its predecessors, the new Illumina PJ-TX10 is completely designed with the home cinema groupie in mind. So does it have that extra little something that separates the merely good from the great?
The TX10 invites with a truly lovely, highly curvaceous body that's far more detailed and original than any of its rivals without becoming prissy. The tasteful white finish finishes the job off perfectly.
Unusually for a projector, the TX10's connections are tucked away under a drop-down panel so as not to uglify those looks when the TX10's not in use. Nice. Included among the hidden sockets are component video inputs, RGB inputs (not Scart, though), S-video input, composite video input and a standard 15-pin PC jack.
First up, Hitachi reckons the TX10 can run with just 26dB of noise, making it - to our knowledge - the quietest LCD projector yet tested. Second, its contrast ratio is quoted at 800:1 - very impressive by budget LCD standards.
The TX10 also gives you four slots for storing your own picture setup preferences, gamma adjustment, red/green/blue adjustment, noise reduction and progressive scan for improving interlaced sources. It can also take progressive sources and is compatible with high-definition signals.
A 'whisper' mode, meanwhile, reduces brightness to keep fan noise low (this is when you'll enjoy that 26dB noise level).
The remote is sensibly laid out and benefits massively from a backlight system to help you in dark rooms. The TX10 also does almost everything possible to make setup a doddle, the standout touches being a 2:1 optical zoom system, a short-throw lens, a vertical/horizontal image shifter, keystone correction and a simple zoom/focus ring arrangement round the lens. More in-depth tinkering is easy too, thanks to the well-designed onscreen menus.
Hitachi's efforts to optimise the TX10 for movies pay off admirably. Particularly striking compared to some of its rivals here is its brightness. There's a really satisfying lustre to the image that helps it leap out of the darkness to involve you more in the action.
Even better, the brightness is delivered without messing up the contrast. It should be stressed though that to maintain this contrast you shouldn't really run the projector on its maximum screen size from 3m or more away.
Of the four LCD projectors in this group test, only the Sony HS3 can challenge the Hitachi's black level performance. As ever, this knocks on into creating more vivid colours and that all-important sense of image depth, which separates the strong projectors from the weak. Edges are neatly defined, too, colours are natural in tone as well as vibrant and fine detail levels are good.
Negative points include sporadic traces of that old LCD bugbear of visible panel structure and a curious effect whereby dully lit scenes seem slightly more imbalanced in terms of brightness than we would expect. Also composite video feeds look frighteningly worse than RGB/component feeds - so don't use them!
The TX10 is easily Hitachi's finest budget projector yet. What makes this model such a winner is the aplomb with which Hitachi has juggled all the budget market's crucial elements - price, features and performance.
In fact, should you look up 'entry-level projector' in the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary you would probably find a picture of the gleaming Hitachi TX10!