Not long ago (Issue 64), I reviewed the HD-52G786, JVC’s 720p HDILA RPTV. I liked the high brightness of that model, but I didn’t find it to excel in any other areas, though it was a generally competent performer. On the downside, its blacks were not good and really held the entire set back.
Enter the 1080p version, and what a difference! I’ll tell you right up front: This one’s a different animal and a real contender for the best RPTV on the planet.
Since many features are the same, I won’t dwell on the similarities— only the differences. Check out Issue 64 (www.avguide.com) for details about the earlier set’s features that also apply to this model. Like the vast majority of 1080p sets this year, the HD-56FH96 upconverts all scan rates to 1080p, but it can’t actually accept a 1080p signal (not that you could find one except perhaps from a very high-powered home-theater PC).
Like its sibling, the HD-56FH96 is a true high-end RPTV with digital tuner, PC input, and CableCARD slot, but this model has two HDMI inputs instead of one. There is no media card slot (for viewing digital photos); you’ll have to get the 70-inch version for that.
Like the 720p set, this model also has HD EZ FILL to assure a full screen with any broadcast, four video presets, a signal-level indicator for tuning digital stations (important), and a button to select either digital or analog off-the-air channels, preventing them from mixing when channel surfing. These are neat and useful features often missing from other sets. Advanced audio features are missing from the audio menu and can only be accessed with the SOUND button on the remote.
One new feature that seems useful is called V1 SMART INPUT. If you plug your various component and S-video sources into your surround receiver and connect the receiver’s component and S-video outputs to the set’s Component 1 and S-video 1 inputs, respectively, the set will detect which connection has a signal as you switch sources with the receiver.
More technical features include a true 1920x1080 pixel structure with an HD-ILA light system, fifth-generation scaler, 5-point color management, and (hurrah for JVC) a 3-step iris for improving black level. There are four different noise-reduction circuits, operated, in part, by the DIGITAL VNR and MPEG NR controls in the user menu. The clock sets itself automatically with a signal embedded in the PBS broadcast signal.
As with the 720p set, I found the owner’s manual to be sketchy and the remote cluttered. To its credit, the remote is backlit (though the LIGHT button is impossible to find in the dark), and the buttons used for typical operation (except changing inputs) are intuitive and fairly easy to find. Changing inputs was a royal pain in the neck, requiring sequential button pushes and long waits to scroll through the list.
One serious drawback is in the video-memory design. Most inputs don’t have separate memories for user video settings (COLOR, TINT, etc.). Change settings on one input and you’ve changed them on most others. The component inputs do have a separate memory, but the tuner and both HDMI inputs must share. To work around this, you can assign the THEATER picture mode to your DVD player (component connection) and set-top box (HDMI), then assign STANDARD mode to the tuner to get independent picture adjustments.
Unfortunately, STANDARD mode exhibits nowhere near the accuracy of THEATER. Its color temperature, even in the LOW setting, is over 14,000K (way bluish), and because it has “enhanced” contrast, the detail in darkest grays is missing. An ISF calibration can correct STANDARD’s color-temp idiosyncrasy (though you’ll still have some contrast enhancement); calibration can also perfect the THEATER mode by removing a slight greenish tint.
The 720p version of this set nearly knocked me off the couch with light output when I first turned it on. The HD-56FH96 is still the king of light among 1080p sets, but it’s not quite as bright as the 720p model. Initially, it starts up in DYNAMIC mode; I could find little use for that. STANDARD mode was still bright enough for viewing on the surface of the sun but didn’t look nearly as cartoonish. It might be okay for viewing in bright environments, but this mode exhibits a very bluish color temperature and crushed blacks, although edge enhancement and noise are far less evident than with the 720p set.
THEATER mode’s color temperature is close to the D65 industry standard (sometimes with just a bit of a greenish bias). It also lowers the overall light output some and adjusts the iris to its most closed position for a noticeable drop in black level. If you think it’s not bright enough, you can increase CONTRAST up to +6 with no white crush and only a shift toward blue in the brightest whites. Turning it down significantly, however, is sometimes a problem. Black-and-white movies in a dark room often required setting CONTRAST to minimum, and even then it was too bright. THEATER mode might not impress you when you first switch from STANDARD, but give yourself some time to get over STANDARD’s excesses of brightness and bluishness.