It doesn't take a genius to realize that, all things considered, most TV shoppers would rather have a flat-panel television than one that takes up more than a few inches in the depth dimension. That simple fact will probably lead to the eventual extinction of rear-projection HDTVs, but for now big-screen flat-panel televisions still cost a few hundred dollars more--at least--than an RPTV of the same size. And rear-projection TVs aren't going down without a fight.
JVC, Samsung, and Sony have all announced slimmer versions of their big-screen projection sets for 2007, and JVC's 58-inch HD-58S998 is the skinniest of the bunch. It's kind of amazing to see this rear-projection set from the side and realize there's a lamp and a mirror and all of the other projection accoutrements packed into its 10.75-inch-deep cabinet. Engineering prowess aside, however, the real proof is in the picture, and the HD-58S998 demands a sacrifice for that small depth. It has a hard time maintaining a straight horizontal line across the screen; the left side--and to a lesser extent, the right--bow upward an unacceptable amount, which becomes especially obvious when the set displays program grids, tickers, or other graphic elements. The JVC HD-58S998 gets a lot of other picture quality aspects right, and its styling is among the best we've ever seen, but the crooked picture spoils its chances against the toughest competition.
From the front, the JVC HD-58S998 looks like a typically sleek, modern-day HDTV, and in fact it's one of the most attractive examples we've seen yet. We love that the bezel along the top and sides of the screen's edge measures a mere 1/3 of an inch wide (!), even thinner than that of the former thin-bezel champ, Mitsubishi's WD-65831. That sliver of a bezel allows this 58-inch set to occupy just 51.5 inches of width. As is par for the RPTV course, the area below the screen is significantly chunkier and glossy black, interrupted only by a big JVC logo and a cool-looking power indicator that can be disabled--a boon for home theater fanatics who demand a minimum of superfluous illumination. All told, the HD-58S998 is probably as compact as any 58-inch RPTV could be, measuring 51.5x37.9x10.8 inches, and weighing a feathery 115 pounds.
From the side, the HD-58S998 looks more like a flat-panel TV than a rear-projection set. JVC sells a wall-mount kit for this TV, model TS-CP01WG ($399 MSRP). You can also choose a matching, 16-inch-deep stand, the RK-CSLM8 ($329), which is designed to take full advantage of the set's slim profile. In another move designed to allow users to slide the HD-58S998 directly up against a wall, all of the "rear" input jacks are instead located in a recessed bay on the TV's right side. Access to the lamp is likewise available on the left side.
JVC has a new remote this year, and we liked the redesign for the most part. There's plenty of room on the large wand, the button groups all seem logical, and the presence of direct-access keys for the five inputs is a big improvement over last year's design, which forced you to cycle one-by-one through the inputs. We also liked the full backlighting, which is becoming uncommon even among high-end TVs as manufacturers look for cost corners to cut. Our biggest gripe is the ease with which we confused the inner ring of buttons around the main OK key that control cursor movements with the buttons in the outer ring, which include Menu and Aspect keys. The remote can command up to five other pieces of gear.
The only fly in the HD-58S998's otherwise delicious design soup is JVC's menu system. It's the same one we've been complaining about for years, with page after page of scrolling through dot-matrix-style text that lacks any contextual explanations. Maybe the company will get around to updating it next year.
JVC also sells a 65-inch version, the HD-65S998.
JVC offers a somewhat disappointing selection of picture tweaks for this level of HDTV. First off, while there are four different picture modes, each of which is fully adjustable, they're only independent for the two HDMI inputs. The picture settings on all of the other inputs are shared across those four modes; for example, your setting for brightness in the Theater mode for component input 1 has to be the same for component video 2. This arrangement limits your ability to customize the image somewhat, but it should only affect hard-core picture adjusters.
A smattering of extra adjustments joins the usual contrast and brightness controls. There are just two choices for color temperature--Low and High, with Low coming closest to the standard--and there's no way to tweak the color temp further. A Color Management control is said to enhance dull colors, but it didn't have any effect we could discern, so we kept it turned off. There are two controls said to adjust the picture on the fly, Dynamic Gamma and Automatic Gain Control, but we left them off for testing purposes since we set the brightness and contrast controls ourselves. A control called Natural Cinema affects 2:3 pull-down processing and should be left in the default Auto most of the time. Finally, there's a pair of noise reduction controls (see the Performance section for their effects).
The list of conveniences starts with a Twin view function that allows you to watch two channels or sources at the same time. It's pretty limited however; you can't watch the two HDMI inputs at once and can't engage Twin view with 1080p sources, for example. Naturally, JVC includes an ATSC tuner. We counted three aspect ratio choices for high-def sources and four for standard-def sources.