Essex's outside chances of promotion took a hit as Michael Carberry helped Hampshire compile a large total on day one of the LV= County Championship clash at the Ageas Bowl.
Carberry narrowly missed the chance to celebrate his inclusion in England's Ashes squad with a century but his 85 helped his side reach 398 for eight by the time stumps were drawn.
Essex captain James Foster, banking on the wicket causing early problems after winning the toss, was left frustrated as Hampshire made light work of an easy-paced wicket in a match the visitors must win with a healthy return of bonus points to stand any chance of promotion.
Foster forsook his normal place behind the stumps to allow Ben Foakes the chance to keep wicket and even took a catch at mid-on to remove Liam Dawson but Hampshire had no problems building a healthy total even after losing captain Jimmy Adams to a catch by Tom Westley at slip off Sajid Mahmood.
Dawson and Carberry put on 86 for the second wicket before Mahmood, making a rare championship appearance, induced Dawson to become only his third victim of the summer.
Former Lancashire and England bowler Mahmood later conceded four fours in an over to Vince and finished with the unflattering figures of 2-80 from 12 overs, handing Hampshire another 12 runs in no-balls.
James Vince, attempting his fourth first-class century in as many matches, helped Carberry add 100 for the third wicket with Carberry accelerating only after reaching an unusually dogged half-century.
Just when his century seemed assured the 32-year-old pulled a short delivery from part-time spinner Greg Smith to midwicket where Tymal Mills held a spectacular diving catch two-handed.
Carberry, who had earlier straight-driven Smith for six, also hit 13 fours in his 152-ball innings and his departure at 227 for three heralded a short spell of success for Essex.
Smith, who is better known for his medium pace, removed Sean Ervine to a catch at the wicket, bowled Michael Bates at 298 and then won a lbw verdict to dismiss Matt Coles.
In between at 290, Graham Napier had Vince lbw in the 69th over for 82 and with Smith's successes at the other end, Hampshire were 304 for seven.
But Adam Wheater, who left Essex last winter when they would have preferred to have kept him, was joined by Danny Briggs in an eighth-wicket stand of 88 as Essex failed to capitalise after breaching the middle order.
At the close of the first day Wheater had hit nine fours and a six off Smith, who ended with creditable figures of 4-47 off 17 overs but it was Hampshire who were firmly in the ascendancy.