JVC HD-61Z575 D-ILA HD Monitor

I've been a fan of Liquid Crystal on Silicon technology for some time now. It has the potential to take the better aspects of DLP and LCD and fuse them into a bright, high-resolution hybrid. Unfortunately, there are two main reasons why you don't see more LCOS products on the market. The first, and perhaps the most important, is the inability for anyone to efficiently mass-produce lots of working chips. At CES 2004, Intel announced that they were getting into the LCOS chip-making business. If anyone could make LCOS chips on the cheap, Intel could. Well, they couldn't. This is just fine for JVC, who has been making LCOS products for years under their D-ILA (Direct-drive Image Light Amplifier) moniker.

The second issue—and the one surely to be fixed first—is getting the end result to actually look good (a novel concept). Enter the HD-61Z575. Coming in at well under $100 per screen inch, the HD-61Z575 takes a stab right at the heart of the microdisplay market. I hate the term microdisplay, but it seems to have caught on, despite my (and other people's) misgivings.

Blinded by the Light
Like most LCD-based RPTVs, the HD-61Z575 uses three panels—in this case, three 1,280-by-720 LCOS panels (if you want to know how LCOS works, check out the GearWorks column in the August 2004 issue). There aren't that many connections on the back of the simple yet attractive cabinet, but it should be enough, as long as your system doesn't have too many sources. Disappointingly, there's no integrated HDTV tuner.

When I fired up the HD-61Z575, the first thing I noticed was the blinding light. Searing a 16:9 box into your retinas seems to be the HD-61Z575's primary goal. After a brief setup process, this TV measured 166 foot-lamberts. To put that in perspective, movies at your local theater are around 15 ft-L (if you're lucky), and a bright direct-view TV could be upwards of 50 ft-L. Even some of the brighter microdisplays barely break 100 ft-L. And, because LCOS doesn't burn-in like plasma or CRT, it can do 166 ft-L all day long every day until you need to replace the bulb.

What can you do with this much light? You can use the HD-61Z575 as a flashlight. It only weighs 98 pounds, so shining it around isn't too difficult if you work out, as I do. Try doing that with a 61-inch plasma. (The last one of those we had in for review weighed almost as much as I do. I lied about working out.) The end result of having the light output of an arc welder is a contrast ratio that's pretty good for a microdisplay. Having such a high full-on contrast-ratio number offsets a fairly poor full-off number. At 0.215 ft-L, the HD-61Z575's black level is on par with most plasmas and LCD-based RPTVs—that is to say, not great. In a dark room, in a dark scene, I could certainly see that the blacks were a shade of bluish-gray (more on this later). In most scenes, especially bright ones, your irises have contracted so far that the blacks seem quite black. During the day or with room lights on, this TV still looked great and would probably only be washed out by a supernova in your living room or close proximity to the sun.

Because LCOS is still a liquid crystal product, it's forced to block an active light source. It's extremely difficult to completely block the light from the lamp. While not only creating a grayish black, many liquid crystal devices create a colored tinge in the deepest blacks. The HD-61Z575's deepest blacks have a visibly blue tint; however, in most scenes, it was barely noticeable. This could be due in part to a gradual increase in color temperature from the image's fairly accurate bright parts to its darker ones, even after calibration.

Real-World Testing
With test patterns, the HD-61Z575 did pretty well. It didn't pick up the 3:2 sequence fast enough for me to see it on Video Essentials' Snell & Wilcox Zone Plate test pattern. It did, however, pick it up with actual video material (albeit slowly). With the gray-ramp test on VE (title 18, chapter 6), the HD-61Z575 was surprisingly smooth for a digital display. There was some slight noise in parts of the gradation, but overall it was excellent. The screen, like many RPTV screens, adds a slight amount of shimmery grain, but not enough to be annoying.

Gladiator was my first pick to test real-world video content. I use this disc so much that my original copy's center (where the lovely case holds its death grip on the disc) cracked away and made the disc unplayable. Some would say this is a sign for me to find new test material; I saw it as a sign to get a new disc. At the end of chapter 12 is a flyover of Rome and the Colosseum. With lots of diagonal lines and fine detail, this is an excellent scene to test deinterlacers and scalers. The HD-61Z575 did a passable job with this scene, creating some jagged edges and stair-stepping. It was about average for a TV's internal processing. When fed a decent progressive-scan image, the JVC's scaler still left some artifacts, but not many. Not surprisingly, I got the best image when I fed the TV a native 720p signal from an upconverting DVD player with a DVI output (converted to HDMI).

High-definition is where this TV truly impressed me. While it looks fine with DVD material, it takes on a different character with HD. The image had a smoothness to it that wasn't there with DVDs (with or without upconversion). Yes, HD normally looks better than DVD, but the improvement here was above and beyond the norm. The image was almost filmlike in its smoothness, just without any graininess. Rarely does a digital display have this ability or exhibit this little extraneous video noise.

What would make this TV perfect? Two things. A built-in HDTV tuner would be nice. (By the time you read this, JVC's HD-61Z795, with a built-in ATSC tuner and a CableCARD slot, will be available for an additional $500.) Mostly, though, a lamp with a high and low setting would put this set over the top. At 25 percent brightness, the HD-61Z575 would still be putting out 40 odd ft-L and have a truly impressive black level. Is it that easy? Not at all, but I can dream, can't I?

With all that said, would I still recommend the HD-61Z575? Honestly, yes. The picture quality with HD is worth the price of admission. Its black level isn't going to impress people in a dark room watching Aliens or some other dark movie; however, when watching HD movies or HD football on a Sunday afternoon, this TV will look quite good.

This was the first LCOS product that I've reviewed that shows that the second of my two LCOS caveats isn't a caveat anymore.

• Light output that you could tan by
• Smooooooth HD

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