JVC LT-46FN97 1080p LCD Flat Panel Television Page 3

I did all of my critical viewing for this report with the set in its Theater Pro Video Status mode, with the color temperature control set to Low. I wanted to do a full calibration prior to critical viewing, as I normally do, but did not receive workable information from JVC for accessing the service menu in time to make our deadline. Fortunately, the Low color temperature setting was reasonably accurate. I've measured better, but it did not compromise the set's otherwise exceptional performance. If I receive usable service menu access instructions, the calibration results will be posted here in the near future.

Through the Looking Glass
On high-definition cablecasts I was immediately impressed by the JVC's relaxed, natural-looking images. It displayed few of the usual limitations of LCD displays. Its blacks weren't as deep as the best plasma flat panels or microdisplay rear projection sets, but it rarely reminded me that I was watching an LCD. I also watched more than a few football games during my time with the JVC without ever thinking about image blur. Yes, I'm sure it was there, because I did see it on very rapid scrolls across the screen, either horizontally or vertically. It was most obvious on white titles against a black background, but harder to spot on more complex images. In several weeks of viewing, with all types of program material, I rarely gave it a thought.

The JVC's off-axis performance was good. Move much beyond 45-degrees or so and you'll begin to see some pink discoloration (more visible on black and white program material than color). But most viewers will not notice it, particularly if they use the included swivel stand. And neither white field uniformity (which introduces subtle tints to some parts of the screen but not others) nor banding (stair-step transitions from lighter to darker areas and the reverse, when smooth gradations are called for by the source) were obvious. I did see some banding on test patterns, but it was no worse than average for a digital set. False contouring was rare.

What wasn't rare was the overall quality of the image. Yes, really poor analog stations looked two-dimensional and sometimes noisy (though as noted earlier the set's noise reduction helps with this). But good analog stations looked fine, digital standard definition stations often looked very good, and the best high-definition came very close to that "looking out the window" ideal.

The best standard definition DVDs, as they often do on a relatively small screen, challenged high-definition sources in image quality. My favorite test DVD, Charlotte Gray, looked superb. The JVC ran neck and neck with some of the best video projectors I've had in-house with respect to color (slightly glowing greens but no worse than most digital displays), detail, and lack of artifacts and video noise.

Only in its blacks and shadow detail does the JVC come up a bit short. Although the best LCD displays—and this JVC certainly belongs in that category—continue to improve, LCD has more ground to make up than other current digital display technologies before it can challenge the venerable CRT in these characteristics. Nevertheless, I was only rarely distracted by the gray fog that often pops up in dark scenes on digital displays, and LCDs in particular. The opening scenes in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World showed more than a trace of this, but I could still follow the action. As LCDs go, I would rate the JVC's performance on dark scenes as above average, but this is still the set's most noteworthy limitation.

Beyond that, however, I had few complaints. And when I moved on to HD DVD, things turned even shinier. Those who argue that you can't see the superiority of high-definition on a relatively small screen are simply wrong. True, on a relatively small screen you can't see tiny details from a normal viewing distance. But when the entire image is in crisp focus (in contrast to DVD where details at medium and long range are fuzzy), you can sense you are watching that something out of the ordinary. Even at my 10' viewing distance, the best HD DVDs really took off on the JVC.

I've used Phantom of the Opera often in previous reviews. One of the first HD DVDs, it remains one of the most delicately detailed high-definition discs out there. Check out any of the scenes that take place in the grand lobby of the opera house, including chapters 13 or 20. Even the tiniest details you can make out from a typical viewing distance are crisp. True, if you sit too you can see that they look just a little soft, but that's likely a limitation of the source (in a complex chain running back from the pressing plant to the lenses used in the original photography), not the JVC.

The JVC's detail stands up to scrutiny on other HD DVDs as well. Robin Hood looks amazing for a film over 50 years old. The opening titles are so crisp they could have been shot this year. The vivid Technicolor hues pop out of every scene, especially Will Scarlet's bright red accoutrements, cleverly camouflaged against Sherwood Forrest's rich greenery. I doubt if the film looked anywhere near as good in its original theatrical release as it does on the HD DVD/JVC combo. There is some visible noise, but that's understandable given the film's age.

Stereophile editor John Atkinson once referred to images of fish as the videophile equivalent of audiophile recordings. True enough, I suppose, but when they look as good as True Blue, (an HD DVD released by Toshiba in Japan but not available in the U.S.) I'll suffer through it. Not that there is much suffering involved here; this video-sourced material looks stunning on the JVC.

Conclusions With the possible exception of the newest 1080p plasmas just starting to appear- and currently going for twice the price of comparably sized LCDs- the JVC LT-46FN97 is as impressive a flat panel display as I've seen. Two other contenders, the Sony BRAVIA KDL-46XBR2 and the Pioneer Elite PRO-1130HD, were not on hand for a direct comparison. But when both are set up for the best image, the JVC produced slightly deeper blacks than the Sony, with comparable brightness and marginally more accurate color points. But the JVC has a less sensitive HD tuner, less flexible setup controls, an inferior remote, and more mundane styling than the Sony. The Sony will also accept a 1080p source directly. The Pioneer PRO-1130HD plasma has the best blacks and punchiest image of the three sets, plus an outboard processor that may be more convenient in some systems. But it also has a weak HD tuner, bandwidth that's less than the optimum 37.1MHz in HD, lower resolution at 1280x768, and it costs $2,000 more.

Certainly there will be developments down the road that will bring LCD displays closer to the CRT ideal of super inky blacks and super high contrast ratios. But in the world of today's flat panel displays, the JVC LT-46FN97's combination of performance and value is hard to beat.

Highs and Lows

Bright, colorful, sharp image
Good blacks for an LCD
The Smart Input facilitates source hookup and switching

Slow input switching
So-so remote control
Slightly insensitive HD tuner
Will not accept a 1080p source