When most folks hear the name JVC, they probably think of D-ILA rear-projection TVs (and maybe VCRs). But JVC also markets LCD flat panels, such as the 46-inch LT-46FN97 reviewed here. With 1920x1080 resolution, it proves that this is more than an RPTV company.
The input complement is ample, with two HDMI, two IEEE1394, two component, one VGA, two S-video, three composite, and one ATSC/digital cable RF for the built-in tuner. Also included is a CableCARD slot (but, surprisingly, no TV Guide On Screen) and an RS232 port. Video processing is handled by fifthgeneration DIST (Digital Image Scaling Technology) with Genessa Picture Processing, which scales all input signals to 1080p. However, the set cannot accept a 1080p signal. Other processing features include dynamic gamma correction and several types of noise suppression. Dynamic brightness/contrast functions, called Smart Sensor (which responds to the amount of ambient light) and Smart Picture (which responds to the average picture level), can be minimized by disabling all the various “enhancement” controls, but it doesn’t seem to be completely defeatable.
One very useful feature is a 1:1 pixelmapping mode called Full Natural for 1080-line HDMI signals. Even when this mode is engaged, however, I counted three pixels cropped from the right and one off the top. Far more importantly, the set reverts to Full (that is, overscanned) every time you power the set off and back on or change discs, making it a pain to use effectively. This is a major flaw.
The nonilluminated remote is fairly large and chunky. It’s an old-style universal type with slider switches that let you select two out of four possible devices to control. As usual, there are no direct input-selection buttons; the Input button displays a list of inputs, and switching inputs is very slow. The menu system is very poorly designed. The four main menus (Picture Adjust, Sound Adjust, Clock/Timers, Initial Setup) are all strung together in one long sequence of pages; you can’t select one of the main menus directly. The only way to get to a particular control is to scroll up or down through all the pages until you get to the one you want. This is totally bogus. At least the system returns to the point at which you last exited.
As usual, the outof-the-box condition was too bright and too blue, with significant edge enhancement and dynamic brightness and contrast. After TPV video specialist David Abrams tamed the beast, things looked a lot better. In particular, the color primaries were closer to accurate than most sets we’ve seen in recent memory. However, he also discovered that the set cannot display below-black information at the HDMI inputs, making it more difficult to set the black level.
Starting with the HQV Benchmark DVD, detail looked fine, and low-angle diagonals were better than most, though they still exhibited some jaggies. There were also jaggies in the waving flag. In the noise clips, MPEG NR didn’t do much, but Digital VNR did—the Max setting cleaned up the noise quite well, but it also softened the picture to an unacceptable degree. The set’s processor never picked up 3:2 pulldown from the DVD at 480i. It did pick up 3:2 at 1080i from HD DVD, but it took one to two seconds; this was also true of bad edits. The black-andwhite frequency response was fine out to the highest frequency, but the color channels were rolled off, especially vertically. Moving on to DVDs, the shadow detail was pretty good at the beginning of Moulin Rouge in Christian’s apartment. Black level was decent—the letterbox bars came close to disappearing from my consciousness. The vibrant colors of that movie were faithfully represented, and the detail was quite good as illustrated by the flying pan across the rooftops of Paris.
The same was true of Pirates of the Caribbean: color and detail were excellent, and there was no apparent contouring as the ship emerges from the fog at the beginning of that movie. Shadow detail was pretty good in Elizabeth’s bedroom and in the dungeon as the prisoners try to entice the dog to bring them the key to their cell.
HD DVDs looked fabulous for the most part. The color and detail on Batman Begins were top notch, including the elevated train moving through Gotham and the chipped paint outside the opera house stage door just before Bruce’s parents are killed. The shadow detail in the Bat Cave was quite good, though I can’t say the same for some other scenes, which exhibited undifferentiated dark areas devoid of picture information. This could have been due, at least in part, to the lack of belowblack, which could make certain scenes suffer.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is another movie with vivid, highly s aturated colors, at least in the scenes within the Wonka factory; outside the factory is much more monotone and drab. In both cases, colors were rendered with aplomb, and the detail was exquisite as illustrated by the bricks in the buildingsand the long shots of the factory complex. I watched a bit of Blazing Saddles, which is mostly a very bright movie with little dark material. As with the other titles, color and detail were excellent. I also noticed that the off offaxis performance was much better than most LCDs I’ve seen lately, and picture stood up to ambient light just fine, as most LCDs tend to.
Overall, I’m impressed with the LT-46FN97. Despite the relatively low peak contrast ratio we measured (675:1), the picture did not strike me as washed out, perhaps because the black level is lower than many LCD flat panels. The color primaries are spot on, leading to exceptional color reproduction, and the detail is excellent, especially with 1080i material (at least when the 1:1 mode is engaged, which you must remember to do every time you turn the set on and play a new disc—a real bummer).
Other than that, the only real complaint I have is with the user interface, which needs some serious work to bring it into the twentyfirst century. If you can get past that, and remember to engage 1:1 mode every time you play an HD DVD or Blu-ray disc, this is a worthy LCD flat panel. T