JVC HD-61FN97 HD-ILA 1080p RPTV Page 2
The first screen includes all of the usual picture controls (TINT, COLOR, etc). PICTURE refers to the contrast control and adjusts how bright the very brightest parts of the picture can go. I usually used the center (0) setting in a dark room, but you can go as high as +20 before crushing whites. BRIGHTNESS controls how dark the very darkest parts of the picture can go (black level). This control had to be reduced from 0 (default) to -20 to –25 for best picture from my DISH satellite receiver, though Toshiba's HD-A1 HD DVD player (also @ 1080i) looked fine at 0. In no case did a source seem to agree with conventional PLUGE test patterns designed to adjust brightness, and turning on Dynamic Gamma always demanded even lower brightness settings. DETAIL is the sharpness control and was ideal at the default "0" (center) with higher settings adding excessive edge enhancement. The IRIS has a small degree of adjustability with its lowest setting best for dark room viewing (gives darkest blacks) and higher settings allowing more light output for brightly lit rooms.
The second screen begins with COLOR TEMPERATURE (HIGH/LOW). The note here is that both HIGH and LOW in Theater mode are very different from HIGH and LOW in any other mode. The ideal 6500K of Theater mode LOW isn't even approachable in Standard or Dynamic—a major oversight discussed more in the next section.
COLOR MANAGEMENT, according to the user manual, is to "ensure dull colors are compensated to produce natural hues." Hmmm. What could that mean? It didn't seem to change either color test patterns or colors in a real-world picture.
DYNAMIC GAMMA is another subtle enhancement that is often difficult to detect. On dark scenes, it helped differentiate things just above black. This might be most useful when viewing in a brightly lit room. ADVANCED SMART PICTURE monitors the picture level and prevents the set from blinding you in bright (think snow) scenes. CRT and plasma sets automatically drop in light output on bright (especially white) scenes that fill the screen due to power supply limitations. Flat panel LCDs and microdisplays (like this JVC) don't. Since this set is capable of substantial light output, such a feature is very welcome for dark room viewing. A full screen white field at 100fL on a 20" LCD would look bright, but the same full white screen at 100fL on a 61" display like this, especially in a dark room, would be blinding. Older CRT based RPTVs struggled to hit 12fL with the whole screen lit!
DIGITAL VNR (Video Noise Reduction) is disabled for 1080p inputs. With other scan rates, I found it to be effective in Auto with most kinds of noise, but at a price. As an example, pans across an athletic field with this feature engaged produced a smeared, blurry look to grass (particularly noticeable with HD broadcasts). Because of this (not so subtle) artifact, I generally left it off. Fortunately, this set didn't have a noise problem and seldom needs noise reduction.
MPEG NR (noise reduction) is useful for removing mosquito noise from some sources. Its effect was subtle and side effects unnoticeable so I usually left it on.
And that's all you can tweak, folks!
Biggest Design Oversight
You've heard us preach for years about the importance of a separate memory of video adjustments for each input. This is essential because video sources always vary, particularly in brightness (black level) and color saturation. If your set has only one video memory, you'll have to tweak BRIGHTNESS and COLOR (and maybe more) each time you switch from your DVD player to your cable or satellite box. In spite of this potentially major inconvenience, most manufacturers still just don't seem to get it, in spite of the fact that this is a very old problem.
Some sets "sort of" give you separate video memories by allowing you to customize the various factory modes (like Standard, Dynamic, and Theater) then letting you assign one of those modes to each source. In effect, that would give you at least three separate memories. It's not as good as separate memories for each input, but it would be good enough if these modes all looked (or could be adjusted to look) alike. Unfortunately, the displays from several top brands that work this way feature a Theater or Movie mode that can be made to look better than the others. With Samsung RPTVs for example, the Movie mode has more accurate grayscale and colors and less edge enhancement, but you can only effectively use it with one source.
With this JVC, Theater mode has a considerable edge in grayscale accuracy that cannot be duplicated in any other mode and you can use it with two sources (and with separately customized settings for each), but only provided that one source is HD and the other source SD. The digital tuner is always considered HD, even on standard def stations, so if you use the tuner, have an HD satellite box in HDMI-1 and an HD DVD player in HDMI-2, you'll have only one video memory for brightness, contrast, color, etc. that must be shared by all three sources. This will probably compel you to assign two sources to far less accurate modes (like Standard and Dynamic), which will give significantly less than optimum color rendition. If you only have a standard definition (480i or 480p) DVD player and an HD set-top box, then you'll have enough separate memories and you don't have a problem.
JVC could have minimized this shortcoming had it only seen fit to allow the D6500K color temperature to be selected not only in Theater mode but also in Standard and Dynamic modes.
In Theater mode in a dark or relatively dark room with a correctly calibrated grayscale and user controls set properly, this JVC produced an outstanding HD picture. While absolute black wasn't as dark as some, dark scenes were still rendered cleanly and with surprising detail. It was difficult to throw an HD source at this set that didn't look good, and it remained remarkably consistent from channel to channel using the DISH satellite receiver. Many times I caught myself saying, "darn, this thing looks good." Accurate color rendition was one of its major strengths, but a clean, smooth picture devoid of most video noise and yet outstanding in detail was surely another.
Jay Leno's studio set (particularly his desk, which was a very different color on Sony's SXRD-based KDS-R60XBR2 rear projector, review pending) was reproduced with outstanding realism. The VOOM HD channels (now on DISH Network) were unusually captivating and I've seen many of those shows on a variety of current sets. Black and white movies on VOOM's Film channel were distinctly greenish before calibration, but looked fine afterwards. On the Monsters channel, Killer Klowns from Outer Space looked so good I almost didn't notice how dumb (or was it just tongue-in-cheek?) it was. In this movie, color saturation within dark scenes would have tripped up most, if not all, flat panels. Actually, that was one of the best "teen terror" flicks I've seen but I'm not about to tell you what they eventually found that would kill the dreaded klowns. OK, I can't hold back. A bullet or even a pin prick to their big round red noses!
Using the excellent built-in ATSC (off-the-air) digital tuner, our local Channel 11's HD news broadcast, which has a reddish-looking studio set, looked great. TVs that have poor color decoding and accentuated red (fairly common) don't fare well on this HD broadcast. JVC's color decoder is extremely accurate and totally free of the dreaded "red push." But it wasn't just the over-the-air HD broadcasts that looked good. Standard definition broadcasts were sometimes smooth and clean enough to almost trick you into thinking they were HD. While that doesn't mean all your satellite and cable channels will dazzle you, it does probably mean that this set will make lousy, compressed channels look as good as any of its competitors. Some of this might be due to the fact that JVC hasn't built in gobs of ugly edge enhancement like some manufacturers.
The ultimate "show off" source for this set is Toshiba's HD-A1 HD DVD player. Playing HD DVDs via component at true 1080i (much different from 1080i from upconverting DVD players) looked incredible and using an HDMI connection was a bit better still. HD DVD is so refined and revealing, it actually drew attention to subtle screen artifacts at close viewing distances. The high gain screen of an RPTV, essential for viewing in bright environments, always limits the picture quality compared to what is possible with a good front projector and a high quality, low gain screen. Even so, The Chronicles of Riddick, a sci-fi film now on HD DVD, was sharp and clean enough on this JVC to even make the naysayers and the "I'll wait till it gets cheaper" crowd think hard about getting into HD DVD right now.
Overall, while several "warts" appeared in my technical measurements, the JVC still managed a picture that was often hard to fault, though it didn't do so initially. Compared to the latest Sony SXRD on hand, the KDS-R60XBR2, the JVC sometimes looked more natural, particularly in color rendition, but always suffered from lighter blacks and less striking contrast, in spite of the fact that the level of black wasn't subjectively much poorer than the Sony when scenes faded to black and no picture was on the screen. And, while the JVC was plenty bright for most conditions when fully tweaked in Theater mode, the Sony could go significantly brighter with no loss of color fidelity or increase in black level. The Sony could also look a bit sharper, but due only to various (defeatable, fortunately) enhancement circuits, certainly not any actual resolution advantage. And the Sony has lots more tweaky video controls for the enthusiasts to play with. But now I think I'll stop, lest I (mistakenly) give the impression that these are huge, deal breaking differences that should automatically influence your purchasing decision.
The JVC HD-61FN97 remains in the top tier of currently available RPTVs. Its competition from Sony (SXRD) excels mainly in real world contrast and the best Mitsubishi sets excel slightly in vivid color, but the JVC excels (after calibration and in Theater mode) in producing a picture with unusually natural colors and hues and unusually low video noise that was often at least as compelling in the overall viewing experience.
Light output in Theater mode is somewhat limited and the other (brighter) modes are significantly less accurate, which could give the competitors a color advantage when room lighting is up high. There are also a few factory oversights (discussed above) working against it that could be a significant inconvenience. In spite of all that, I found myself watching this set without reservation even though the latest Sony SXRD was in the room and available to watch as well. While that doesn't mean I thought the JVC was superior, it does proclaim it close enough (and with strengths of its own) that I seldom went to the trouble to change connections around just to watch the Sony.
Stunning picture on this JVC? You bet, once it's adjusted properly, though not necessarily right out-of-the-box. Think some fancy flat panel will beat this set on movies? Think again.
Randy Tomlinson is an independent ISF-certified calibrator in the Atlanta area and can be contacted via his Web site at www.advancedtechservice.com