Home Theater Rear-Projection HDTVs HD-ILA Rear-Projection HDTVs
Written by Bryan Dailey   
Saturday, 01 September 2007

If you are in the market for a rear-projection TV, chances are you have heard the terms DLP, LCD, SXRD and maybe HD-ILA. DLP’s commercials brag about “millions of tiny mirrors” that produce an HD picture with a spinning color wheel. Although the color wheels in single-chip DLP sets are getting faster and have more segments than they did just a few years ago, I believe the more moving parts that a TV has, the greater the chance for errors, such as the “screen door” and “rainbow” effects, as well as long-term maintenance problems. LCD direct-view TVs are currently the hottest thing on the market, but rear-projection LCD TVs never gained popularity and had a soft picture and weak black levels.

Sony’s current rear-projection technology is called SXRD and is a three-chip micro-display technology that uses liquid crystals instead of individual mirrors. JVC has their own “flavor” of this liquid crystal on silicone technology, called HD-ILA, which is used in their line of rear-projection HDTVs and front projectors.

The $2,995 61-inch JVC HD-61FN97 HDTV features three HD-ILA chips, each with 1920x1080 resolution, meaning there are a total of six million pixels in each set. JVC has had “1080p” television sets, but up until these fifth-generation models appeared, there were no native 1080p sets that would accept a 1080p signal from a source such as a Blu-ray player or next-generation HD DVD player. This is the first JVC rear-projection line that accepts 1080p at its native rate. There are also 56-inch and 70-inch models in this line, all with the same inputs and specs other than screen size. The FN series has gold connectors on the back and RS-232 inputs, whereas the slightly lowerpriced FH series does not, but they share the same specs otherwise.

Speaking of screen size, the 61-inch JVC has slimmed down over previous models, mainly due to a much smaller bezel around the screen. Previous JVC models had a large band around the screen that was well over an inch thick. This series has only about a quarter inch of black space, resulting in overall dimensions of 55-and-one-quarter inches wide by 40 inches tall and 19 inches deep. Despite the large screen size, the TV has a weight of only 99 pounds. The 56-inch version weighs 91 pounds and the 70-inch weighs 157 pounds.

Inputs are quite abundant on the HD-61FN97 with the only notable shortcoming being the fact that there are only two 1080p-compatible HDMI with HDCP digital inputs. If you don’t have an external HDMI switcher and have more than two HD sources, there are two component video inputs. To save space, JVC piggybacked composite and S-Video onto analog inputs one and two, so they are shared with the component cable inputs. Additionally, input number three can accept composite, S-Video, or a 15-pin VGA signal. The VGA input is a great option for connecting your computer directly to the TV to use as a computer monitor, but the fact that it’s on the back of the set, rather than under a hidden front door flap, makes such that I never found myself compelled to pull my TV out of the cabinet to hook up a VGA cable once I had gotten my system set up and installed into my wall unit. If you plan to use a computer on this TV frequently, I suggest hooking up a long VGA cable to the back in advance and coiling up the wire behind the TV, so you can easily pull it out when needed. Another option, if your computer supports it, would be to use a DVI to HDMI adapter. A Macbook Pro is capable of outputting a 1920x1080 signal to the JVC, whereas the VGA input will only accept up to an 800x600 resolution.

A cable card slot rounds out the back and allows you not to use a cable box. However, I have found cable card slots to be used quite infrequently. Most people with big screen TVs who are cable subscribers opt for the combination cable box/DVR, so that they can record shows in HD to watch at a later time.

Last but not least, on the back of the set, there are two FireWire I/Os, one RF antenna input, one RF for digital cable and ATSC signals, one monitor output with S-Video and composite video, a stereo audio output, and a digital optical audio output. For those of you with a video camera who want to plug in to the TV temporarily, there is a set of composite video jacks on the right side of the set that are easy to access.

The technical features of the set include single tuner, picture-in-picture and, if another tuner is used from a cable box or satellite receiver, the user can view two shows at the same time. To access this feature, JVC labeled their remote control with the very confusing button “Twin.” I think “PIP” or “picture in picture” might have been a better choice, but nonetheless, it has this useful feature that is loved by sports gambling addicts around the world. An internal tuner allows you to pick up over-the-air HD and standard-def channels, should you desire.

From a picture control standpoint, the JVC offers a bevy of features, most of which my calibrator opted not to use, but more on that later. The “Natural Cinema” mode automatically activates the 2:3 pull-down circuit when necessary, to smoothly convert film material that was filmed at 24 frames per second to 30 frames per second video. As a user, you will not need to change any setting for this, as the TV automatically senses when this circuit needs to activate and, when using the car race test scene on the Silicon Optix HD DVD disc, this TV’s 2:3 pull-down ability was very good.

New to this model is the inclusion of an adjustable iris for improved black levels, if adjusted properly in conjunction with the contrast control. JVC calls this iris control “Advanced Super Cinema Mode.” Internally, JVC touts the performance of their GENESSA “D.I.S.T” (digital image scaling technology) chip. According to JVC, this 32-bit, “turbo”-powered chip detects and seamlessly up-scales all SD sources (480i and 480p) and all HD sources (720p or 1080i) and displays at 1080p.

Other picture control options include JVC exclusive 5 Point Color Management, Intelligent Noise Reduction Circuitry, Block Noise Suppressor, Mosquito Noise Suppressor, 3D Y/C Digital Comb Filter w/ Component Cross Color Eliminator, Motion Adaptive Dynamic Gamma Correction and Digital Noise Clear Circuitry.

The remote is the same as it has been for the previous models of JVC TVs. It’s backlit and decent, but I’d recommend a programmable remote like a Logitech Harmony, so you can disregard many of the normally unnecessary buttons on the factory remote. Just keep it handy in case you need to do some tweaking to the TV.

In terms of built-in audio, the JVC is not bad at all. Two 10cm Oblique Cone Speakers with 10 watts per channel, JVC “Maxx Bass” technology and an AC-3 Digital Audio Decoder make for a TV that sounds quite good when you just want to plop down on the couch, turn the TV on and don’t want to hassle with listening through your full theater system. I found I do this most often at night when I don’t want to wake the neighbors.

As you would expect with a TV this size, the box it comes in is huge, but despite its awkward size, two able-bodied people can easily carry the TV. I wouldn’t suggest trying to bring it up a large stairway without professional help, but the entrance to my house has only a few small steps, so I was able to bribe a friend into helping me with this. We were able to get the set into my house, out of the box and in the place where my previous JVC model was in a matter of 15 minutes.

The connections on the back are clearly labeled and the included instruction manual is quite easy to follow. One important thing that anyone with a rear-projection TV should note is the importance of having the set on some kind of back-up battery system. If the power to your house goes out and you have a rear-projection TV (or front projector for that matter), the bulb can burn out instantly from overheating if the internal fan turns off. Whether you opt for a $99 APC battery back-up, or a $2,500 Pure Power APS power conditioner, which features battery back-up, I recommend you get something for your set. Also, you should never unplug the set until the fan has gone through the full cool-down cycle.

Now with the TV set up and about 40 hours of watching under the bulb’s belt to burn it in, it was time to calibrate the TV.

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.

The Downside
In a world of rapidly growing HDMI-equipped sources, having only two HDMI inputs is too few. Satellite receivers, DVRs, Blu-ray players, HD DVD players, DVD players, and the upcoming XBox Elite are all potential HDMI sources. Due to the lack of HDMI inputs on my set, I installed a PureLink HS-42A, a killer device that has alleviated the problem. However, ultimately, I would have preferred to be able to plug all of my HDMI sources directly into my TV and do all of my video switching there.

The fact that the set lacks HDMI 1.3 inputs is a bit of a bummer, too, but it’s hard to pick fault with this, because very few, if any, TVs have this feature yet. HDMI 1.3 is touted as having the huge advantage of being able to carry the bandwidth necessary for a new technology called Deep Color. In layman’s terms, this increases the amount of colors available on a TV from millions up to billions. The increase in available colors decreases the annoying visual anomaly called contouring. Contouring occurs on video when a color moves from dark to light, such as the glow around the afterburners of an airplane that is facing the camera. The transition from dark to light may involve billions of different shades of a color and, if the TV can’t fully resolve these transitions, then the result will be ringed “steps” as the color goes from dark to light or vice versa. Very few TVs have this feature, so it’s hard to knock it for not having this, but the fact that my Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD player does have the ability of playback in Deep Color mode makes me long for a monitor that has this ability.

The slightly inaccurate green sounded like a big problem when my calibrator told me about it, but the set gives enough color controls for a skilled calibrator to compensate for it. I think that is what might have given the set its over-vibrant picture, but by toning the overall color saturation down, the end result is a picture that makes me quite pleased. To some purists, this may be too big of an issue: inaccurate green is being compensated for by the other color settings.

My last gripe with the set is the fact that, although it has a tremendous amount of inputs, and there are four totally programmable video modes (Cinema, Game, Custom and Standard), each of the video inputs shares the same picture settings. If you used three or four different inputs on your TV and needed to tweak the picture a little for each of the inputs, you could simply assign one of the four programmable video modes to each of the inputs, but then it becomes a terribly confusing mix and match game. The previous model JVC I owned had its own set of four video modes for every individual input and would remember what mode I left it on last. Fortunately for me, all of my sources, from my HD Dish Network DVR to my Sony PS3 and Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD player, are all high quality and my calibrator found the happy medium with a setting on the standard mode that really doesn’t need tweaking. The way I configured my system was to have the standard setting for daytime viewing with lots of ambient light and the “dynamic” setting for when the room is darkened.

With the way that technology moves so quickly, any set you buy is going to be practically out of date the day you get it. Once the 30-day price match time period for any HDTV set you buy is over, I suggest you don’t look at prices of TVs for a while or you are going to drive yourself insane. With its recent price drops, the JVC HD-61FN97 1080p native set is one of the best "bang for your buck" big screen TVs out there right now. A new generation is coming along, but there aren’t enough radical leaps in technology with the upcoming JVC sets to give me buyer’s remorse.

Despite the slight inaccuracies of the color green in the set, a good calibrator can dial the set in so that only the most educated of eyes would notice any issues. The improved black levels in this generation of JVC sets is where the TV really shines compared to its predecessors. I think the picture and contrast of this TV set it apart from the similarly-priced DLP TVs I have seen and rivals the most expensive Mitsubishi and Samsung DLPs. What really sold me on it was a side-by side display with a Sony KDS-A2000, both playing a Blu-ray disc of Ice Age. I simply liked the sharpness and contrast of the JVC HD-ILA technology better.
Manufacturer JVC
Reviewer Bryan Dailey
Diagonal Screen Size More than 56-inches
Native Resolution 1080p

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