JVC HD-52Z575 HD-ready rear-projection D-ILA monitor

JVC's first foray into fixed-pixel, rear-projection TVs a few years back was a big, embarrassing disappointment. The D'Ahlia, as the product was called, was introduced at a gala Times Square press extravaganza. The sets on display used Direct-drive Image Light Amplifier (D-ILA) technology, JVC's variant of liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS).

The D'Ahlia was technologically advanced compared to almost everything else on the market, but it looked like an old-school CRT RPTV, with a big, deep, bulky cabinet that weighed almost 300 pounds. Worse, the picture didn't look all that good, and the screens of all the demo units were sprinkled with black pixels—a problem, we were told, that would be fixed in actual production units. As I remember, the 61-inch, 16:9 model cost more than $10,000, and I'm told that only 1000 were ever made.

JVC may have been the first major company to have problems with LCoS production, but it wouldn't be the last. Toshiba was forced to take its LCoS RPTV off the market, apparently because Hitachi couldn't provide enough good chips. Thomson (RCA) also abandoned a much-hyped LCoS model. So when a press event introducing JVC's latest series of D-ILA–based rear projectors was suddenly canceled last spring, I and many other consumer-electronics reporters became suspicious. JVC claimed that the shipping container filled with sets destined for the press event was damaged in transit. But the event did take place a few weeks later, on June 24, when we were treated to a debut that more than made up for the D'Ahlia debacle.

The new sets on display, the 52-inch HD-52Z575 ($4495) and the 61-inch HD-61Z575 ($5499), had crisply executed, modern industrial designs and, more important, impressive picture quality. These sets produced perhaps the brightest images any of us had ever seen on a microdisplay-driven RPTV. This was due to a variety of reasons, among them a new triple-chip design that doesn't require a color wheel to create its silky-looking, unusually stable, almost analog-like picture.

In any case, JVC's technology was neither DLP nor LCD, and therefore looked different from all of the tabletop competition based on those engines. Reviewers clamored for samples, and I was lucky to get one of the first: a 52-inch HD-52Z575 HD-ready monitor. Integrated versions (the HD-52Z795 and HD-61Z795) with built-in ATSC tuners and CableCARD slots, not available then, are on the shelves now for $500 more than the HD-ready monitor versions.

JVC refers to the new line of RPTVs as HD-ILA, which delineates the home-theater marketing orientation for these sets, as opposed to the professional line of front projectors. All HD-ILA sets use three separate 1280x720 chips, which the company claims produces higher-contrast, flicker-free images that are brighter and more natural than DLP, LCD, or plasma. JVC also claims longer display life, thanks in part to a stable, inorganic alignment film for the liquid-crystal layer.

JVC's challenge was to produce a triple-chip consumer set that could compete with LCD and single-chip DLP in the more price-sensitive under-$6000 segment of the RPTV market. To do this, JVC partnered with Aurora Systems, which produced the all-digital silicon back-plane and driver technology that JVC has mated to its own vertically aligned Nematic liquid-crystal technology—in other words, liquid crystal on silicon, or LCoS.

The resulting chip has a 93% fill factor (the percentage of the chip that actually reflects light) with an extremely small pixel pitch (the gap between pixels) of 12µm and a high aperture ratio (the ratio of light applied to the chip vs. reflected light). All of these factors help account for the HD-52Z575's brightness and its freedom from "screen-door" artifacts.

Unlike DLP, D-ILA needs no space between pixels to allow for mirror movement (there are no mirrors), nor are there nonreflective hinge points, as in early DLP chips. JVC claims that D-ILA has a faster response time than conventional LCD as well as a more accurate gray scale, the latter due to a 10-bit digital drive system that the company credits for a host of other technical and visual advantages. The light source is a user-replaceable, high-pressure mercury lamp.

As anyone can attest who has compared different DLP RPTVs, how the technology is implemented is almost as important as the chip itself. To get the best performance from its chip, JVC uses a fourth-generation proprietary scaler to upconvert all sources to 720p, a four-point color-management system, a defeatable, motion-adaptive dynamic gamma-correction circuit, a proprietary 3:2 pulldown technology, and a variety of other features, each of which has its own RAIWRH (Ridiculous Acronym I Won't Repeat Here).

Functions, Features, Setup
Weighing around 84 pounds with a depth of only 16 inches, the tabletop HD-52Z575 is easy to position. Its black bezel and muted silver chassis make it easy to look at as well, but industrial design is a matter of taste.

The rear-panel AV inputs include HDCP-compliant HDMI digital plus three analog, two with component and S-video, and three with composite. A center-channel input jack allows the HD-52Z575's internal speakers to be used for the center channel—a good idea, since someone at JVC decided that a well-sculpted rear end and a sleek profile were more important than an integrated center-channel speaker shelf. The set's 2-inch top ledge is a precarious perch for a center-channel speaker. Samsung got this right on its HLN467W DLP set (reviewed in the September 2004 issue) by providing a generous molded outcropping to accommodate a center speaker; JVC should do likewise. A side panel features S-video, composite, and analog audio inputs.

As usual for such sets, there are many features, including a built-in NTSC tuner, PIP functions, various sound options using the built-in speakers and amplifiers, and many others that few readers of Ultimate AV will ever use.

JVC's interactive audio and video setup and onscreen menu systems are easy to use. The video adjustments include all the usual suspects, including Color Temperature; the Theater Pro setting is, supposedly, 6500 kelvins. Each video input retains its own settings. There's a digital noise-reduction feature, as well as Natural Cinema (3:2 pulldown), color management, and dynamic gamma options. When ISF calibrator Kevin Miller did his thing, we found that the HD-52Z585's overall picture performance was better when all of these features were turned off.

The backlit (!) universal remote is ergonomically efficient and easy to use, and video inputs are individually selectable; you don't have to toggle through all five to get where you want to go.

Silky-Smooth Picture
Out of the box and adjusted using Digital Video Essentials, the HD-52Z575 produced a surprisingly CRT-like picture compared to other fixed-pixel displays I've seen—I mean that as praise. The overall texture was silky, creamy, more believable and natural-looking than the crisp presentation of DLP sets I've seen. Images had greater 3-dimensionality, weight, and, especially, solidity than I'm accustomed to seeing from fixed-pixel displays. Transitions had a more natural flow, with fewer "false contouring" artifacts, yet the picture was also sharp and detailed. There was far less video noise and background busyness compared to the Samsung HLN467W I reviewed in the September 2004 issue. Black levels, while not as good as a CRT's, were more than acceptable, dark scenes revealing sufficient detail to avoid a cartoony picture, and dark/light transitions handled in a way noticeably superior to what I'd seen from the Samsung.