JVC HD-61FH96 1080p HDTV Page 2
I actually called this number late on a Sunday morning. I got through to tech support (in India, it sounded like) in 10 minutes. But when I asked if the set would accept a native 1080p source, I got a rather strange answer (through the IEEE 1394 input—which won't be a likely delivery format from any possible future 1080p source).
Because my ultimate overall impressions of this set are so positive, I'll begin with the two aspects of its performance that were less than sterling. Contrast ratio, for one. Again, most of the time the images I experienced on the JVC were so punchy and lifelike, so demanding of my attention, that blacks and shadow detail weren't a factor. But throw on a very dark scene with inherently low contrast and things start to look a little gray and muddled. I never ran across a scene in which I couldn't follow what was happening. But there were enough dark scenes that looked less impressively real than on the best digital displays I've seen that this has to count as the JVC's major shortcoming.
Also, a trace of excess green remained in the JVC's picture even after calibration. This was almost imperceptible, but I did note before calibrating both the JVC and HP sets that the HP had a more noticeable green shift. After calibrating both, the tables reversed. This came through most clearly in the Ascot scene from My Fair Lady, recorded to HD DVR from an HDNet Movies cablecast. The costumes are all bright white and gray, and some of the white fabrics had the subtlest hint of green through the JVC. I doubt if I would have noticed this without a side-by-side comparison with that HP set, which portrayed those whites as sparklingly clear-white as I'm sure the filmmakers intended.
But the JVC's color was so superb, and this single flaw so subtle (and not evident on most program material), that I couldn't bring myself to list it as a "Low" in our "Highs and Lows" summary. And apart from these two limitations (which took more time to write up than the time I spent noticing them during my 100 hours or so of watching this set), the HD-61FH96 is a striking piece of work.
Even high definition material is variable in quality, which the JVC clearly demonstrates. But even at its worst, high definition programming on the HD-61FH96 is so compelling that you'll find yourself watching—and enjoying—programs on this set that you never would have thought you'd make time for. Its images are vibrant and vital, with rich, deep colors, crisp detail, low noise, and contrast that on most material is surprisingly effective, my above criticisms notwithstanding.
One of the secrets of the JVC's great picture is its relatively modest light output, at least in the Theater mode I used for nearly all of my viewing. Yes, if you really want to get a tan while watching reruns of Baywatch, this set will oblige. Just switch to any other mode, particularly Vivid, and lay on the sunblock. But in Theater mode, though still a bit brighter than I'd prefer, its roughly 50 foot-Lamberts of output are nearly optimum. (This is only marginally brighter to the eye than the 30fL maximum I consider ideal for a rear projection set with good contrast in a dim or darkened room.)
Even without excessive brightness, the JVC's high definition images were, at best, very close to the proverbial "looking through a window." Sunlit scenes looked genuinely sunlit. The image "popped," though never in an unnaturally glossy way.
While any commercial rear projection set sacrifices some fine resolution due to the inherent texture of its high gain screen, you wouldn't know it from the JVC. The detail was amazing. Remember all those fine costume and set details in Shakespeare in Love, the ones that jumped out at you in the theater and even in the (still near-reference quality) DVD? Your jaw will hit the floor when you see them on a properly set up and calibrated JVC.
Other well-produced HD programming was so similarly impressive that my search for criticisms beyond those already mentioned got nowhere. My efforts to watch a wide variety of material were frequently interrupted because I got co caught up in each program that it was a chore to move on to another. That, in the final analysis, says it all.
Oh Yes, Standard Definition
Standard definition cable programming looked as variable as you might expect, but on average was quite watchable. I did find that Dynamic Gamma, one of those features I never used on high definition or DVD material, did sometimes help in adding a degree of needed punch to the mix.
DVD, while only rarely as gripping as high definition on the JVC (not an easy thought for someone whose DVD collection has long since passed 1000 discs), was still closer to HD than to that SD cable feed. Both Snow Falling on Cedars and Batman Begins are good transfers of very dark films. Both looked fine on the JVC, apart from the very darkest scenes. Batman Begins is the softer of the two, and this was clearly visible. Neither is brightly colored, but the subtle shading of the films, particularly Cedars, was well reproduced.
Computer animation is, of course, made to order for digital displays. If you want to see vivid colors, just pop in Madagascar. This film looked so punchy, bright, and three-dimensional on the JVC that it could easily have been confused with a high definition source. (The film is also one of the funniest of the 2005, at least for those, like me, with a slightly deranged sense of humor.)
• Despite the set's large, 61-inch screen size, neither the pixel structure nor significant artifacts were visible from a 10-foot viewing distance. The image did not appear overwhelming or visually compromised at this distance, though subtle variations in the quality of different high definition programs could be seen, and the limitations of standard definition cable programming were hard to ignore
• The set lacks the usual PIP (picture-in-picture) feature, but does have a Twin setting in which two images may be displayed side-by-side in a manner similar to POP (picture –outside-picture). An Index feature also shows 12 channels (from an RF input only) side-by-side to help you select which one to watch.
• The set was very slow in changing from one input to another. OK, it was only a couple of seconds, but when you're used to nearly instantaneous switching, it feels like the set has frozen up and is about to give you the blue screen of death. There is no direct input selection; you must cycle through the input menu to get to the one you want. This further aggravates the slow input switching, since the set pauses for a couple of seconds at each input selection as you work your way around-the-horn.
• The remote control is a mixed bag. It can also control a VCR or a DVD player, but is a code-reader only (no learning functionality). Coming directly from reviewing the HP 1080p set with its superb remote control, I found the JVC's remote fiddly and, at first, confusing to use- it has too many small, similarly sized buttons. But it's certainly not a deal-breaker. It's backlit, and like all remotes in my experience it does become more familiar, and thus easier to use, over time.
• The fan, which is needed in all digital microdisplays to cool the lamp, was just audible from my seating position in a quiet room. A subtle midrange hum was the main component, more prominent than the usual rushing noise. Neither sound was significant in a 13' x 17' room with program sound set to any normal listening level.
• The lamp is rated (but not guaranteed) for a life of 7500 hours, at a current replacement cost of $250.
• The JVC's most obvious market competitors are the new SXRD sets from Sony. While I have not viewed them side-by-side, with both sets fully calibrated (the only way to definitively compare any two sets), nor have I spent as much quality time with the Sony's as MF, who reviewed it, my measurements suggest that the Sony sets are superior in two respects: peak contrast and black level. Otherwise the sets are very competitive. Both are premium-priced sets, with the JVC somewhat more expensive than its 60-inch Sony rival. But that reflects retail prices only, not potential discounts.
I have no reservations whatsoever in strongly recommending the JVC HD-61FH96. It produced images that were among the best I've seen from the newest generation of HD sets. Whether or not this can be credited to its full 1080p pixel structure, I can't say for certain, but it's a terrific accomplishment. Your friends, family, and the long-lost relatives and strangers who show up at your Super Bowl party will thank you.
It would, however, be remiss of me to not mention that come next summer, JVC will introduce an updated model, the HD-61FN97. The newer set will address the only significant shortcomings of the current one with a new, dynamic iris for better blacks, contrast, and shadow detail. It may also be slightly less expensive.
Yes, these are indeed interesting yet complicated times in the video display business.
Highs and Lows
Punchy image with rich, satisfying color and crisp detail
Superb image geometry and convergence
The pre-calibration color temperature in Theater Pro is reasonably accurate
The remote control and owner's manual could be better
The HD tuner is less sensitive than the best we've seen
Contrast and shadow detail are unexceptional