I’ve had several adventures over the years working with manufacturers and their occasional faulty products that end up in my possession. But this latest adventure with Hitachi is the new leader of the pack in the “You’re kidding me, right?” category. No, Hitachi is not kidding. Hitachi knows that at least one (and very likely more) of their 4K UHD TV models can’t lip sync, they don’t know how to fix it, and they couldn’t care less about it. Hitachi even attempted to get me to sign a confidential agreement on the matter in return for the purchase price of my TV. I would rather blog about it (apparently) and reserve the right to take other action.
The first company that I recall hitting my blacklist decades ago was Sony for being too expensive to repair (even though they make some decent products). After that came all Korean companies for generally building crappy products across the board (although, to be fair, some Korean companies appear to be doing much better these days on the QC front). All the dirt-cheap, knock-off type stuff coming out of China these days is simply scary and not worth touching — even at 1/10th the price of quality junk — unless there is no other viable option.
Hitachi, however, was once upon a time (back in the CRT days) my favorite TV brand for being affordable and well made. Later, they made some well-known plasma sets; then, seemed to have disappeared at the beginning of the cheap LED days (they probably didn’t quit the TV market but so it seemed from my perspective). Now, Hitachi has become visible again… but who are they now? You decide.
So, what’s my story?
About a year ago I needed a new medium-size TV for a small space. I wanted 4K possibly, if it was affordable, but mostly I wanted real 120Hz because 24 fps content makes my head hurt in action scenes and, especially, in camera panning. (So, yes, I like motion enhancement even though, admittedly, the resulting “soap opera effect” is a bit weird. I found it takes about 3 or 4 months to retrain the brain that 30 fps and higher can be fiction too. This is somewhat important because it has meaning in the rest of the story.)
Anyhow, the Hitachi LU43V809 was the only reasonable option I found that was in my size and price range that claimed 120Hz display and 240Hz backlight (affordable because it wasn’t also a “smart TV” — I would rather buy something like a Roku than pay an extra $50 for a smart TV where the smarts quickly outdate). Most TVs these days are 60Hz displays but advertise their backlight frequency of 120Hz or 240Hz in the biggest font. (The LU43V809 may actually be 60Hz/240Hz… but that’s another story… I’m happy enough with whatever it is in this regard.)
What I’m not happy with, however, are lip-sync issues — especially when the audio runs ahead of video. Ack! Nature trains us to be more tolerant of audio delays than with audio before the event (because sound travels much slower than light). Research from the experts shows the same:
Recommended Tolerances -Sound delayed +Sound advanced ITU BT.1359 1998: -30 ms +22.5 ms ATSC IS-191 2003: -45 ms +15 ms EBU R37 2007: -60 ms +40 ms ITU: undetectable: -100 ms +25 ms ITU: detectable: -125 ms +45 ms ITU: unacceptable: -185 ms +90 ms
I would be happy with any of those recommended limits, even double them. The problem, however, is that my 4K Hitachi is about +100 ms at best and up to +1000 ms at worst! Mostly, it feels in the +200 to +400 ms range. I haven’t done any scientific measurements, I don’t have equipment for that, but I work with timings and delays in this range often enough that I believe I have a fairly good feel for it. Besides, it shouldn’t take a scientific measurement to know something’s wrong when all your TV content looks like it’s filmed in another language and dubbed into English. We all have thousands of hours of video-watching experience, right?
What’s going on in the TV, technically, is that anything that slows down the video processing also makes the lip sync worse. This is because the TV is not buffering the audio and/or is not paying attention to the audio/video sync signals. Thus, the variances in video-processing lag from various video types equate to the variances in lip sync I am seeing. HD content takes longer to process than SD. 1080p more than 720p. 4K more than HD, etc. Then, turn on the motion enhancement (interframing) up to the highest setting and the video lag pretty much doubles. That +200 ms with 720p is now +400 ms, +500 ms with 4k is now +1000 ms, etc. Turning off all other video enhancements (and HDMI-CEC as well) showed no noticeable improvements.
Thus, I find myself constantly flipping between: (1) less video lag but more video judder and flicker; and (2) more video lag but no detectable judder and flicker. Either way, if I want to watch content on this 4K Hitachi, I have to ignore any lip movement.
So, why didn’t I return the TV right away?
Good question. Complicated too. Primarily, I was too busy with the happenings of life to get around to it. And the big issue I had to get around to addressing was: Who was at fault and why? The complication was that I had also bought a new Roku, my first Roku, and I was primarily using the Roku with the TV. Given all the problems the Roku 4 has, it was the most likely suspect at first. Some Roku channels exhibited lip-sync worse than others (ABC being the most unwatchable). And, indeed, rebooting the Roku [ROKU = Reboot Often or Kill a Unicorn = Reboot Our Krappy Unit] sometimes did improve the lip-sync even though it didn’t ever fix lip-sync to acceptable levels… just more acceptable sometimes versus other times.
It wasn’t until several months in (too late to return the TV now) that I finally found time to heavily test other sources with the Hitachi. DVD, Blu-ray, and laptop content all came through with similar lip-sync troubles regardless of HDMI port or cable. The Blu-ray content being among the worst. Given all that, I looked for a firmware update from Hitachi. Surely, there must be one for something this obvious. No updates.
And then it happened. I found the test that Hitachi appears to hate me for. I tested the antenna channels. Bazinga! The antenna channels (1080i) are even worse than the Roku channels. The antenna test proves absolutely that the primary lip-sync problem lies within the TV, making Hitachi the sole responsible party.
The Warranty Adventure
When I made my warranty claim with Hitachi America, they were surprisingly quick and easy about sending out a repairman with a new mainboard. I only had to repeat myself twice in email — once when I made the claim, and once more when they responded asking what’s wrong. (Why does customer support always do this? Not listen the first time.) Normally, I have to go through more of a grilling process of who I am, what’s my blood type, and how do I really know the problem belongs to them. So, looking back, the ease at which they sent out a repairman is a little suspicious compared to other reports about Hitachi I’ve read online.
When the repairman arrived (not a Hitachi employee but a contractor) he told me that he had done some research online the night before and saw several reports of the same problem, with no known fix. (I have since looked for those reports but can’t find them; so, I don’t know what tech boards he might have been reading or what models of Hitachi, exactly, he was looking at.) I told him I would be surprised if a new mainboard fixed it, unless it’s a new version, because it looks to be more likely a firmware problem. He agreed with that skepticism expressing his own. We checked the two boards and their numbers and they were identical. And, sure enough, no change to the lip-sync problem with the new board. (Both the LU43V809 and the LU55V809 have pretty much the same mainboard, so beware.)
The repairman agreed that it was like watching video dubbed from another language and called Hitachi to report that the issue wasn’t fixed. He was on hold long enough that he had to give up and have his staff report it from the office.
I then waited a few weeks for Hitachi to report back and finally contacted them again. This was their reply:
The service center stated that it may be your software that would need to be updated and after that is done you would need to reach out to your cable company because the issue is not the TV.
And my response:
That makes absolutely no sense. I have no cable service and the service man agreed that is was obviously the fault of the TV since antenna content was just as out of sync as any other content. So, tell me please how a non-existent software update (because Hitachi offers none — I’ve checked) or a non-existent cable company can fix a TV that can’t even display an antenna channel correctly?
If the service center mentioned a software update it would only be because Hitachi needs to write one to address the issue because simply swapping boards is not fixing it — something we talked about. Call them back and get you information in order.
And, now, finally, curiously, the previously-expected runaround begins:
We do not have an software update on this TV but can you please try to hook up another device to the TV to see if the same problem persist. We have replaced the only part that could cause this problem to happen. Can you please try hooking up a DVD player, gaming system or fire stick to see if the issue still continues even if it is on a different source.
Thank you for the quick reply. I have mentioned several times already that there is a lip sync problem regardless of source: antenna, DVD, Blu-ray, Roku, and laptop. I have tested all of these many many times. Even in my last email I stated “antenna content was just as out of sync as any other content.” I just keep emphasizing the antenna because it is what definitely proves the fault is in the TV. …
We will look into this internally for you and as soon as I have an update I will contact you with further instructions.
A day later from Hitachi:
I have looked into this internally for you and at this point, We have replaced the part that would have fixed it. We see the Tv has purchased in august, unsure if the issue was happening then or at the begining of febuary. The mainboard is brand new and has updated software, the only other thing that can pay a part would be something in the source that was changed sometime when thelip sync started. We have done everything under the warranty now you would need to see if the retailer will take the unit back.
Hitachi stopped responding to me after that.
After three weeks of no response from Hitachi, I contacted the Attorney General for my state. At first, Hitachi gave the AG the same runaround they gave me about having met their warranty requirements. I reminded the AG (for some reason I needed to) that replacing one faulty part with another faulty part does not remotely meet any warranty obligations. Furthermore, that because Hitachi tried once — and only once — to fix the TV, this can only mean that they don’t know how to fix it and are now trying to reduce cost and cover up their incompetence.
The relevant blurb from Hitachi’s warranty:
This Hitachi display product (the “Product”) is warranted to be free from defects in materials and workmanship beginning on the date of purchase by the original owner and continuing for the duration of the applicable time periods specified below. If the Product is found to be defective, Hitachi will repair or replace (at Hitachi’s option) defective parts at no charge, subject to the conditions of this Limited Warranty.
Hitachi knows all of their parts for this TV are defective. They know that they (or, perhaps, their Chinese maker of this set) screwed up somewhere in the design. Sure, Hitachi tried once to repair the TV in a just-in-case attempt to shut me up, and then quickly gave up trying to fix it and tried to shove this back on me, as my fault, when I didn’t shut up.
Anyhow, after Hitachi tried stalling the AG a couple times, Hitachi eventually sent me a miserly offer to buy back the TV (purchase price only, no tax coverage) and included this sneaky paragraph in the release agreement:
D. I understand and agree that Hitachi’s offer, and my acceptance, of the Payment constitutes a confidential, onetime resolution and compromise of a disputed claim that has not been fully investigated or evaluated by Hitachi, and that Hitachi denies all liability therefor. …
Sleazebags. I rejected Hitachi’s offensive offer and am now onto plan C. I don’t know, maybe my silence can be bought in situations where other penance has been paid, but Hitachi isn’t sorry about any of their mistakes.
So, why aren’t there more complaints?
Another excellent question. Most customers, I believe, are like my wife and don’t care much about the lip-sync problem, and/or they don’t care enough to complain. Most users also leave their TVs primarily at the default settings, and this TV defaults motion enhancement to off where the lip-sync problem is least noticeable. Furthermore, most probably don’t have much access to 4K content yet, where lip-sync problems would also be more noticeable. There is also a minority who use a home theater receiver where the audio can be synchronize by other means. And, finally, with the customers who have complained, Hitachi can easily dismiss them by claiming it must be the connected device and not the TV (like Hitachi tried to do with me).
The lip sync issue is only the worst of it. After that, the other problems hardly seem worth mentioning such as the idiotic tuner programming. It is also laughable that the safety feet, should you choose to install them, don’t fit quite right because Hitachi got the dimensions wrong.
In summary, I feel Hitachi is doing their best to punish me for leveraging the antenna-channel test — as well as for not returning the TV sooner and, thus, making this warranty claim. Hitachi is also doing everything they can to avoid having to admit, in plain English, that they don’t know how to fix this model of TV… because, well, if they did that, they then might have to start honoring all those other claims they denied based on maybe the fault being in the connected device and not the TV. What a sleazy and corrupt company (and probably not unlike many others in today’s selfish world). I’m shopping for a replacement TV (or “display”) now, but it’s tough knowing to which company to turn.