HP Pavilion md5880n Media Server Reviewed

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Reviewers are loath to admit it, but just like everybody else, they have prejudices that can influence how they approach testing a product. I know in my case I didn't think an HP high-definition display was going to make my eyes pop out: after all, I know them for their computer products, and the remote has a decidedly "PC-ish" look to it. But it's good that I'm not too old to learn new tricks because, when you think about it, HP is the one that developed the "wobulation" process now used to enable a 1080p signal for their, as well as others', DLP displays. Plus, their having come from the computer side of things means a stricter and less forgiving attitude when it comes to performance, which is borne out by this display's ability to accept a true 1080p input--making it future-proof against the arrival of Blu-ray players. Actually, now that I think of it, this display does a lot of things right.

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• Read more video server reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com.
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Installation
Let's start with the physical setup: rather than reaching around in the dark trying to find the connections, they're all right up front behind a massive drop-down panel (which is where you remove/replace the bulb). The display is designed with a small tunnel in the front for temporarily snaking in a camcorder or game console connector--a larger tunnel underneath and in the back allow you to bring up the cables from behind. Plus, so you can see what you're doing, the input section features a light, which turns off when the front panel is clicked closed like a refrigerator door. This results in a clean look that is also very easy to modify when desired.

As for inputs, there are plenty: HDMI (2); Component (2); multiple S-Video, composite, and audio inputs/outputs/digital out; VGA; and a CableCARD interface--plus inputs for the built-in ATSC TV tuner.

Turn Me On
After turning on the set, there is a short wait until the screen lights up to full brightness, which extends evenly from edge to edge. The first thing to do is remove the factory settings, go through the various menus, and modify the view--I always turn off all enhancement settings, as I feel they adulterate the image. However, the display's "Dynamic Black" setting can increase apparent contrast, while the "Dark Video Enhancement" setting is helpful with DLP's known darkness issues--using either is valid should the addition be pleasing to the viewer.

The remote's compass pad and return key (get the computer reference?) make navigation simple and intuitive when accompanied by onscreen information and help text. Specific alterations consist of the normal things, such as tint, contrast, and the like. More useful is the ability to tailor the results to specific inputs, along with color correction capabilities and customization of the color temperature (though most will find "normal" or "high" to their liking).

The remote operates all functions and has universal capabilities for processing other devices as well. There is no illumination, but the main controls are large enough to find even in dim light. Switching from one video source to another is easy--there's even a screen showing snapshots of all the sources--and you can rename the various inputs to avoid those "senior moments." You can also alter the screen size format, and it's an easy click from "normal" to "wide," along with variations.

The front-mounted internal speakers are fine for listening in moderately noisy environments since they're driven by 85 watts. Stereo separation is reasonable, and using the quasi-surround feature seems to pump up the volume a bit, perhaps helped by the internal subwoofer. The use of the digital out might not seem important, but this can be a simple solution for those getting audio delays in their HD broadcasts, when audio is going directly from the source to an amplifier rather than the display (since the audio going out from the display to an amplifier puts video/audio closer time-wise).

It's All about the Video
Now when you get down to the real nitty-gritty, it's all about how the display looks when it's driving images, right? Well, I'm glad to report that HP got it right because HD is absolutely stunning on this screen. The 58-inch is large enough to provide a big image, and the 1080p resolution means you can be closer to the display and still see it being film-like compared to a 720p set. We all know how good hi-def can be, and this set reaffirms that with every HD signal I tossed at it--from satellite using HDMI to Component via D-VHS, both at 1080i (thankfully, D-VHS will soon be replaced with one of those HD DVD players). Standard definition also comes through without incident, although it can be a bit blockier on occasion due to the content's age. For example, I Love Lucy in black-and-white was a bit hazy in parts, while the A-Team exhibited a bit of softness and some color mushiness that was no surprise. In general, SD material is more than just watchable, and it's intriguing how quickly one adapts to the lower resolution and just concentrates on the show. But as has been the case with other sets recently reviewed, a small line of demarcation appears on both vertical sides of the image in 4:3 mode--enlarging to widescreen helps this to blend in. From all of this, it's becoming more evident that a video scaler is something you really need once you start trying to show off standard definition on large hi-res displays--either that, or learn to expect and accept that SD can look anywhere from good to just plain bad.

However, regular DVDs tend to look just as good on these 1080p displays, if not better, as they do on 720p ones. My reference disc has long been Starship Troopers--not because it looks good, but just the opposite: the far from great transfer breaks up if the display can't handle it. That wasn't the case here as the HP handled the HDMI-inputted video far better than a "well-known" brand that I had been looking at in a comparable size just last week. Watching movies on this display is definitely a must.

Final Take
Again, I emphasize that I'm proud of having been able to rise above my prejudice that a "computer company" can't produce a quality home theater display in comparison to established CE makers. The HP Pavilion blows that out of the water and adds a number of nice touches--such as the illuminated front panel and user-friendly interface, which walks owners through as needed--without "talking down" to them (the manual even notes how to run the built-in diagnostic). No, there's no built-in digital recorder or memory card slot, but there are nice touches, such as using a color temperature that will provide a more pleasing overall look and making it possible to remove and replace the front screen if need be. Added to everything else, it gives you a display that needs no apologies for just how well suited it is for your home theater--today as well as tomorrow.

HP Pavilion md5880n 58" 1080p MicroDisplay TV
58" 1080p 1920 x 1080 16:9 Widescreen
12,000:1 Contrast Ratio
Integrated Stereo Speakers
60.0 x 38.0/19.0"
117 lbs.

MSRP: $3,499


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HTR Product Rating for HP Pavilion md5880n Media Server

Criteria Rating

Performance

3.5

Value

3.5

Overall

3.5

Disagree with our product rating? Email us and tell us why you think this product should receive a higher rating.


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