Syntax-Brillian 6580iFB03 1920x 1080p 65" LCoS HDTV

My late father-in-law fought in the Pacific theater during World War II, and afterwards refused to buy Japanese-made products. That's why he owned an American made Curtis Matthes console television, he proudly told me. I didn't have the heart to tell him the guts were sourced from NEC—something I discovered when I removed the back cover to perform a decidedly non-ISF fix on the all-green, out of focus, un-centered picture he'd been happily watching for years.

Judging by automobiles and other "big ticket" sales, despite all of the flag-waving in the aftermath of 9/11, most Americans appear to be more loyal to their pocketbooks than to the "Made In America" tag.

The LCoS chip or "panel" is manufactured by Syntax-Brillian (Brillian holds the trademark on term "LCoS"). It's shipped to China where it is assembled into light engines. These engines are then shipped back to the U.S. where, starting in September 2006, sets destined for the North American market will be assembled into finished televisions in a factory in Ontario California—a factory staffed by Americans but wholly owned by a Taiwanese consortium. (Ah, the wonders of Globonomics!—Ed.)

And at a time when industry prognosticators claim the end is near for the RPTV market as "flat panel" display prices move towards parity with rear projection sets, the Tempe, Arizona-based Syntax-Brillian Corporation has chosen to manufacture and market a 65" LCoS-based RPTV with a full 1920x1080 pixel count that, at $8,000, is probably the most expensive available. The price puts the set just a couple of thousand dollars short of Sony's $10,000 VPL-VW100 SXRD (LCoS)front projector and a few thousand higher than Sony's now out of production and soon to be replaced 60" KDS-R60XBR1 that I reviewed last year. While $2,000 in the specialty audio marketplace is the price of a mid-performance phono cartridge or even a pair of meter long interconnects, in the television market these days it's the cost of a second HDTV.

My thought going into this review was that in order to be competitive in this tough, price driven marketplace, Syntax-Brillian has to offer superior Ferrari-like performance and Lexus-style customer service and dependability (once upon a time I could have used two American car manufacturers for my analogy). A free ISF calibration is included in the purchase price so the set really costs around $7,600. Alternatively, every other set sold actually costs $400 more than the purchase price of the hardware alone, should you elect to have an outside calibration performed (which Ultimate AV strongly endorses for any high-performance display).

The Set
Instead of going with something like Sony's attention demanding, floating screen with its metallic, wrap-around industrial design, Brillian chose to house its technological wonder in a nondescript, flat grey/black chipboard cabinet that, properly spun, could be described as "understated." The cabinet's been designed to "melt into the woodwork" literally as well as figuratively, with the designers providing the means to make the set easy to build into a wall. It's also compatible with the high-end touch panel controllers manufactured by companies such as Crestron. Both are smart ideas because I suspect the distribution channel will lean heavily toward the custom install market. In my installation, the 122-pound set sat atop an antique toy chest in my living room where it definitely didn't call attention to itself. That pleased my wife and so pleased me.

The grinning front panel control panel consists of seven teeth-like push buttons set into oval lips. Once you see it as a mouth the set always smiles at you. There are buttons for volume up/down, power, channel up/down and navigating the menu system. Analogous to where Greg Allman grew that tuft of facial hair resides a pair of LEDs that monitor nine set functions that I won't explain here. And below that is a door hiding a set of convenience S-Video/composite, analog audio A/V inputs.

The first unusual item you'll spot on the rear panel is a lone DVI-HDCP input. For a modern television set to have but one DVI input and zero HDMI inputs tells you that this set's design, at least in terms of connectivity, is a bit long in the tooth. Syntax-Brillian, however, claims the DVI input accepts a native 1080p/60 signal, something not all HDMI equipped 1080p displays can do.

Syntax-Brillian will tell you that most end-users switch inputs from their receiver or pre/pro anyway, so one DVI connector is sufficient, and that HDMI compatibility remains too "iffy" to be all that useful. From what I keep hearing from "the field," these may be valid points. There's no excuse, however, for a lack of a FireWire port in an $8,000 television! If you wish to record over-the-air ATSC HD to D-VHS, an HD hard drive, or some future recordable HD disc format using the set's internal tuner, you are out of luck. The ATSC antenna input will also accept non-scrambled QAM cable signals but there is no CableCARD port (no great loss). (Regarding Syntax-Brillian's claims that most users switch inputs in an AVR or pre/pro, I'd note that HDMI switching is just now becoming prevalent in newer models. This TV could be replaced by a new model before HDMI switching becomes ubiquitous enough to make such an assumption on such an expensive TV!—Tech Ed.)

In addition to the lone DVI input there are pairs of S-Video/composite and 480p/720p/1080i component inputs, as well as a 15-pin VGA PC video input, and a 480i component video input. Syntax-Brillian suggests using the interlaced output of your DVD player to take advantage of the set's built-in Pixelworks deinterlacer, which also functions with the S-video and composite video inputs. There are both Toslink and coaxial digital audio outputs for the ATSC tuner.

The set's built-in audio system includes left and right channel speakers, each featuring a 6" woofer and 1" cloth dome tweeter. These drivers are sourced from a very high-end supplier. They are easily the most ambitious, best-sounding built-in speakers I've ever encountered in a television. Too bad there are no switchable "direct in" speaker terminals on back so they can be used as a center channel powered by your receiver or multi-channel amplifier.

The Software
This television is a video tweaker's fantasy date. I tend to think of tweakers going for front projectors more than RPTVs, whereas I think of buyers of this set as "set it and forget it" types. So while I'm not sure just how many buyers will be making use of the myriad of setup options, I'm impressed that they're here. (It's probably also a boon to the calibrators hired by Brillian to dial the sets in that the necessary adjustments are easily accessible.—Tech Ed.)

I'm not going to go through the whole setup routine, so let's just say the 6580iFB03 (couldn't they come up with a more imaginative name?) is highly configurable and designed to make using it easy and pleasurable once you've completed the setup. However, be prepared to see the "please wait" hourglass icon more often than you'd like when switching digital over-the-air channels and performing some other operations. The Brillian-designed illuminated learning/programmable remote also gets high marks for usability and functionality.

Thanks to a very logically designed menu system (and the most informative and useful instruction manual I've yet encountered), using the set's basic functions is easy. The set offers individually calibrated "Day" and "Night" picture settings for each input and eight image size configuration choices including an "exact pixel" mode for computer use that bypasses the set's internal processing/scaling. There are six PIP modes, one of which will let you display two HD images simultaneously.