One of the biggest developments in rear-projection TVs is how small they’re getting—in terms of cabinet depth, that is. The big CRT-based giants of old were well over 20 inches deep, whereas most of today’s so-called “microdisplay” models (based on DLP, LCD, or LCoS technology) are usually 16 to 18 inches deep. This trend continues with super-slim designs, including JVC’s D-58S998, which sports a depth of less than 11 inches. Does it deliver the goods in terms of picture quality? Mostly yes, with a few caveats.
The HD-58S998 is based on a three-chip LCoS design that JVC calls HD-ILA (High-Definition Direct-Drive Image Light Amplification). Like DLP, LCoS is a reflective technology with better blacks and less space between pixels than LCD. The screen measures 58 inches diagonally and delivers a pixel resolution of 1920x1080, de rigueur for today’s big-screen HDTVs.
The cabinet’s shallow depth and flat back allow wall mounting, a first in the RPTV category. All connections are made at the side, and if the set is mounted on the optional matching stand ($500), the cables can be routed through it so they effectively disappear.
As with most TVs these days, the remote is a back-lit universal type that can control up to four components other than the TV. Although the buttons are illuminated, in a dark room it was still hard to read labels on the body of the handset. The button layout is ell-organized and not terribly cluttered, and the remotes.
The menu system is a different story. All menu items are strung together in one long sequence of pages; you can’t select one of the main menus directly. To get to a particular control, you must scroll up or down through all the pages. At least the system returns to the point at which you last exited, and the menu disappears when you’re using the picture controls (Color, Tint, and so on) to tweak the image.
Speaking of which, the picture controls are associated with picture modes, not inputs. This makes it nearly impossible to set up the TV for different source components, especially since the two picture modes of most interest for movies and TV—Theater and Standard—produce very different colors even though the picture controls are set to the same values. (For more on this, see my Adjustment Notes online.)
As I was setting up the TV with test patterns, the first thing I noticed was that straight horizontal lines in the upper half of the screen were, in fact, not straight—they curved up toward the sides. JVC agreed that the set wasn’t working properly after the engineers saw a few photos I took. The company sent me a second TV, which had the same problem. Fortunately, it wasn’t usually visible in movies and TV programs.
Playing movies, I was immediately impressed with the rich, velvety character of space in the Star Wars movies I use to gauge how well a TV reproduces black. On the best TVs, blacks are, well, black—not the dark gray you see on lesser sets—which makes the picture more lifelike. The JVC did an outstanding job in this department.
Detail on Pirates of the Caribbean was very good—dust in the drawer where Elizabeth has kept the gold medallion for many years and chipped paint on the Black Pearl’s bow maiden were surprisingly sharp coming from a DVD. However, the ropes in the ships’ rigging were often outlined in white, an artifact called “ringing.” It wasn’t severe, but it was noticeable.
With the Color and Tint controls set properly using test patterns, the color balance seemed skewed a little toward green, so I nudged the Tint control toward red, which made the color more natural looking. Trees and other green vegetation also looked less overblown. Subtle details in dimly lit scenes—such as the texture of the dungeon walls—were more clearly visible than many TVs can manage.
Switching to HD DVD, U-571 looked fantastic, with exceptional detail in the asphalt road leading to the Navy shipyard. The ringing artifact was still visible on a few sharp edges, but it wasn’t nearly as evident as it was on the Pirates DVD. Again, shadow detail was better than most TVs can manage. Once I tweaked the Tint control, colors were lifelike and natural, including the red Nazi insignias. I saw no contouring (bands of solid color) in the underwater shots with subtle gradations of sea green.
Watching a golf tournament on CBS HD, the large expanse of grass was still a bit over the top color-wise, but skin tones and other colors looked fine. And detail was excellent—I could make out every face in the crowd in the background.