JVC HD-61FN97 HD-ILA 1080p RPTV

JVC developed LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) technology for television years ago so it should be no surprise that JVC's considerable experience with this technology, which they call D-ILA or Direct-drive Image Light Amplifier, has recently produced a product with few peers. Last year the first JVC 1080p LCoS RPTV came out, and JVC has since taken to calling these sets "HD-ILA." Whatever the name, last year's JVC 1080p set was widely considered one of the top two available. Sony's SXRD rear projectors (different name, same basic technology) probably offered the stiffest competition.

LCoS is, in most respects, a step up from LCD and is threatened only by the best DLP products in rear projection TV. While DLP has some advantages of its own, the "rainbow" artifact caused by the spinning color wheel sometimes eliminates that technology as an option for those who are sensitive to it, see it regularly, and are annoyed by it.

The HD-61FN97 is a 61" 1080p RPTV that retails for $3,299. While very similar to last year's model, the new set can accept 1080p sources over HDMI (anticipating Blu-ray and HD DVD discs) and has a continuously variable iris control rather than the three-step iris switch of the past. The iris also changes dynamically depending on the brightness of the image unless Dynamic mode is selected. An optical iris, which "stops down" light output in much the same way a camera's iris does, is essential for getting dark blacks from current LCoS technology. JVC's other premium features have been retained with refinements here and there, promising a set that's again at the very pinnacle of what's available in a self-contained big screen TV.

Make no mistake, this RPTV might not hang on the wall, but it can humiliate most flat panel LCD and plasma displays in many important respects. Read on and see how it does this and whether it might or might not be the best RPTV of the year. Hint: It can look real, real good.

Important Features
The HD-61FN97 is one of three very similar 61" sets in JVC's line, which differ slightly in cosmetics and a handful of features. 56" and 70" sizes are also available. The slightly cheaper FC designated models don't have PC and center channel inputs. The slightly more expensive FH series includes an RS-232C input, which is needed for certain custom installations. The media card slot (for viewing digital photos), which was previously on the 70" sets, is no longer available.

All models include both analog and digital tuners plus a CableCARD slot. CableCARD allows you to receive digital cable without having to rent an annoying cable box, which also can potentially degrade the HD picture. Missing, however, is the free program guide that some manufacturers provide—a serious omission if you use CableCARD, since the cable provider's on-screen channel guide won't be available without their set-top box. And CableCARD doesn't allow the use of features that require two-way communication, such as purchasing pay-per-view movies or events.

Connectivity is very good with twin HDMI and component inputs. Also included is an i.LINK (IEEE 1394) input. In the past, these have been useful mainly for D-VHS recorders (that almost nobody owns), but in the future the potential exists for i.LINK to be used with HD DVD and Blu-ray recorders when or if we see them here in the States.

A smooth, detailed, noise-free picture was one of the best attributes of last year's JVC 1080p RPTVs. Some of this was undoubtedly due to the 5th generation GENESSA picture processing, which is retained. Also retained are five-point color management and four noise reduction circuits. You'll also still find the V1 Smart Input, which could be incredibly useful if your surround receiver does your video switching and outputs S-video and Component video separately. This set will detect which input is hot and switch between them automatically.

Other premium features often missing from cheaper sets include: Antenna Level, for tuning digital stations, the ability to enable either digital or analog off-the-air channels and prevent them from mixing when channel surfing, a lighted remote, and a Sleep Timer button on the remote control itself.

Remote control peculiarities include the aspect ratio control being called HD EZ Fill, video presets being called Video Status, and some audio controls being accessed using the Sound button while others are available only in the main menu system. Film mode, which engages 3/2 pulldown, is also accessed only via the remote button labeled Natural Cinema. Also, I would have placed the button that activates the remote's backlighting on the side rather than hidden away in the clutter of the other buttons. What good is a backlit remote if you can't find the button to light it up?

At the top of my list of operational annoyances is the painfully slow scrolling required to select video source inputs. Recommendation: In addition to the hard-to-find INPUT button, how about three customizable input buttons, all alone near the top, and the ability to assign any three inputs to those buttons? JVC did inform us that direct input selection was indeed possible by programming it into an aftermarket universal remote, though exactly how that's done wasn't explained. Channel surfing speed is bragged about but surfing digital channels was still rather slow to average, with Mitsubishi clearly the speed surfing leader.

I can't remember enjoying a built-in sound system on a modern RPTV as much as this one. While certainly no alternative to a separate home theater sound system, it was much better than most with unusual fullness (MaxxBass turned on) and clarity.

The front of the set has no controls or inputs. They're on the lower right side. A faint blue "smile" appears at the bottom of the picture when the set is powered up. Fan noise was more noticeable than some other sets and the owner's manual is a weak translation with numerous misleading and useless descriptions.

Initial Out-of-the-Box Viewing Impressions
Having been impressed by a number of samples of last year's JVC sets that I encountered both in magazine reviewing and calibrating for customers, I was all set to be blown away when I plugged in this latest JVC. It didn't happen. As the bulb broke in over a period of a few hours, things seemed to improve but I still didn't get anywhere near a world class HD picture. Selecting Theater mode (said to be 6500K color temperature) helped considerably, and also traded excess light output for better blacks and color rendition, but it still wasn't there. Dropping the color control to 0 to look at the black & white picture revealed a distinct overall greenish tint. This deviation from a neutral, untinted, black, gray, and white considerably hurt overall color rendition when color information was added back to the picture. Fortunately, it's correctable. Since none of last year's sets I'd encountered had suffered from this much of the greens, I couldn't help but wonder if maybe this particular sample wasn't representative, since grayscale consistency from set to set remains a problem for virtually all manufacturers.

Other viewing modes such as Standard and Dynamic are very bright, but suffer from excessive bluish tint to the black and white picture, which tends to wash out colors and rob the picture of beauty. JVC provides a LOW and HIGH position for the color temperature control, but in Standard and Dynamic, neither LOW nor HIGH is even close to the ideal D65 point that gives best color reproduction.

JVC seems to have missed the mark a bit with its factory default video settings and factory grayscale setup, which will just about guarantee that when you see this set on the showroom floor, it won't be looking anywhere near its best.

Tweaking for Best Picture
After watching for a while and making measurements, I cured the greenish tint by calibrating the set's grayscale to D65 (6500K) in Theater mode using my LightSpex spectroradiometer (see Technical section). I then made some rather large adjustments to the factory default setting of brightness and a smaller one in color. The picture was transformed! Rarely do sets benefit this much from ISF calibration and user level video adjustments. Color rendition became remarkable and the picture became absolutely beautiful and totally involving.

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