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JVC HD-61FN97 HD-ILA HDTV Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 September 2007
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As with my previous 720 native JVC set, I had this TV calibrated by David Abrams of Avical. According to Abrams, most of the color settings were good to excellent, with the one notable exception being the green. He tweaked this a little to compensate for the green being off and, once he was done with his adjustments, I couldn’t see any noticeable flaws in the color, but I did note the set seemed a little overly “vibrant” compared to my old set. This may be a function of starting over with a completely fresh bulb, so what I did, under the watchful eye of Abrams, was back down the color control a touch to bring what I consider a more film-like look to my set.

Surprisingly, the TV’s brightness was a little low out of the box, clocking in at about 62 foot lamberts of light at 10 feet in my fairly darkened room, and the post-calibration number ended up being 70. In my previous model, it was out of the box at nearly 200 and, by backing it down, I was able to get more detail in very light objects such as snow capped mountains and it also extended the life of my bulb. In the three-plus years I had the set, I never had to replace the internal lamp. However, I know several people with the same set who went through two bulbs each in the same period of time. It goes to show you that not only does calibration make your set look better, chances are good that you will increase the life of your bulb if the set is way too bright out of the box and is backed down correctly by your calibrator.

One of the steps that David does in the calibration process is to check the focus of the projector inside of the set. He carefully removed the HD-61FN97’s front panel where the speakers are and was able to reach under the screen and find the lens. After several minutes of reaching around to find the focus knob in order to fine-tune the picture, he realized that the focus ring had been glued down. Abrams had documentation on this set that clearly shows the focus ring being adjustable, but decided that perhaps at a certain point in this TV’s product cycle, JVC decided it was better to align the projector at the factory and then glue down the focus ring so it could not be screwed up in shipping.

This sounds like a good solution, and it probably is for the great percentage of people who do not opt for professional calibration, but I’d have liked to have made 100 percent sure that the projector is in focus. From the test patterns I saw during the calibration process, the lens was in focus, but we really couldn’t tell if we could have made it a few percent better.

Despite all of the hoopla that JVC makes about all of the noise reduction and gamma control, my final calibrated settings had the iris set to 00, the Color Temperature set to “low,” the Color Management set to “off,” the Dynamic Gamma set to “off” and the Advanced Smart Picture set to “off.” The bottom line is that the more processing that is done to a picture, the more noise and garbage it will introduce, negating any positive benefits the filters may provide.

Movies and Television
With its cartoonish violence and dramatic cinematography, the modern war epic 300 (Warner Home Video) on HD DVD is one of the best demos I have seen in years. The film is based on graphic novelist Frank Miller’s fictitious retelling of the ancient Battle of Thermopylae. The director, Zack Snyder, didn’t go for realism as much as he went for surrealism and the payoff, visually and viscerally, is huge.

As the Spartan army, led by King Leonidas (brilliantly portrayed by Gerard Butler), arrives at the narrow cliffs of Thermopylae and first witnesses the Persian army, lined up by the hundreds of thousands with more coming via huge ships in the bay, the amount of detail on the screen is nothing short of mind-blowing. CGI has come a hell of a long way since the days of slightly awkward dinosaurs roaming around Jurassic Park and Jabba the Hutt slithering around on the dirt in a spaceship hangar on Tatooine.

The Spartans are essentially outnumbered 300 too 1,000,000, but they get their first victory when the seas turn rocky and the Persian army’s ships start crashing into the cliffs. When the first hand-to-hand battle begins, the effectiveness of the Spartans’ “wall of shields” against the onslaught of Persian soldiers provides for some jaw dropping fight scenes. Mowing through the Persians, the audience is spared no expense in terms of graphic detail. The Spartan swords rip through the bodies, faces, arms and legs of the less skilled Persian warriors, and the action is brutally beautiful on the JVC HD-61FN97. The sharp points of the spears, the nicks and dings in the Spartan shields, and the deep, dark blood on the ground shed by so many Persians is all there to see in full 1080p glory.

When the first wave of Persian soldiers is taken out by the Spartans, an eerie calm comes over the battlegrounds. But soon the sky begins to darken as tens of thousands of arrows are launched toward the Spartans. The effect onscreen is again spectacular, as arrows rain down on the Spartans. They huddle together in a circle with their shields overhead, looking collectively like a turtle with its legs and head hidden inside for protection. The smoothness of the arrows against the light sky is exceptional. No jagged lines are visible as the arrows fly across the screen in large arc. There are no notable motion artifacts, such as those that are visible on many plasma and LCDs with slow refresh rates.

To test the set's black level performance, I chose the M. Night Shyamalan thriller The Sixth Sense (Buena Vista Home Entertainment). I recorded this film in HD from Starz HD on my Dish Network Vip622 HD DVR. As it was broadcast in 1080i, this was a perfect chance to see how well the JVC's internal scaler would de-interlace the picture up to 1080p and how its black level performance was on a fairly dark film.

I cued the film up to the scene where young Cole, played by Haley Joel Osment, sees the ghost of a young girl in a tent in his darkened room. On standard-definition DVDs through my first-generation JVC, the details in the darkened room, such as the crown molding in the hallway and the shadows of the red velvet curtains on Cole's makeshift tent, were so nondescript that they actually turned into splotchy, digital artifacts. Even with an HD feed, an older-generation set like the HD-61Z757 suffers. On the HD-61FN97, there were no points where I saw detail loss in the picture, because it couldn’t differentiate between the many shades of black and gray in this scene. Moving on to the funeral of the young girl, filled with mourners wearing black suits and overcoats, the HD-61FN97 was again able to resolve the subtle shades of black and gray in the wrinkles, lapels and buttons of the funeral attendees.

Back when I reviewed the HD-61Z757, I was impressed with the high-definition performance at the time, but the standard-definition picture was absolutely horrible. The fact is, there is still a great deal of amazing content – FX Network's show The Shield being the most notably excellent – series that simply isn’t available yet in HD. Using an episode from this season, I watched the mid-season cliffhanger of The Shield. Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) and his right-hand man Shane Vendrell have grown apart. In a very intense scene, they meet on a darkened street and Shane hands Vic a packet that contains photocopies of handwritten documents outlining every single crooked deal these two police officers have touched. Shane tells Vic that the originals are locked away in a safe place, and if Vic ever tries to hurt anyone in Shane’s family, the documents will be released to the Feds and the party will be over for Vic and the rest of the corrupt cops on the Los Angeles strike team.

The show is shot on film with a very fast-paced style and a lot of hand-held camerawork that would look spectacular in HD. However, I was happy to find a dramatic improvement on this TV’s standard-definition performance vs. its older predecessors. As Vic is flipping through the documents, Shane’s handwritten text would have been tough to read on my previous JVC, whereas now it was quite legible. This dark scene does a little bit of splotchy blacks, but this is true of most standard-definition programming, even on the best TVs. This, too, was much less of a problem on this set, compared to its older brother. You still are not going to be blown away by any standard-definition programming, but I give the HD-61FN97 a “thumbs-sideways,” whereas before it was definitely a thumbs-down.

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