JVC has never been grouped among the most respected high-end HDTV manufacturers, but the company is making a bid for more props with the release of televisions that, judging from the spec sheet, have everything in common with the elite brands of the world. Its HD-56FN97 56-inch LCoS rear-projector was one example, and another is the LT-40FN97, a 40-inch LCD that anchors the company's higher-end 1080p series. This set offers an extensive list of features along with 1080p native resolution, and indeed, it can display every detail of 1080i HDTV sources. Its picture quality does fall a bit short of that of the other high-end LCDs we've tested recently, however, exhibiting less aplomb in dark areas, along with a bit more blue. Nonetheless, the JVC LT-40PN97 is among the least expensive 1080p models available, and this, in addition to its strong feature set, should be enough to win some converts. Basic black is the color scheme on the JVC LT-40FN97. A glossy black frame surrounds the screen and sits atop a matte-black bottom section that houses the speakers. A blue light illuminates to indicate that the TV is on, and another lights up the JVC logo--thankfully, they can both be dimmed and turned off. The set is a bit more staid in appearance than many of its competitors, but we don't have any complaints with the way it looks. This 40-inch LCD measures 39.4x29x12.8 inches including stand, and it weighs 68.2 pounds. If you want a two-tone look, you can go for the otherwise identical LT-40FH97.
Our design complaints begin with JVC's remote and menu system, which the FN97 shares with past JVC televisions. The bland, gray clicker is completely backlit, but we found its crowd of similarly sized buttons difficult to navigate. Button placement is far from logical in many cases: the useful Aspect key, for example, is stashed way up at the top near the power button, while the nearly useless Guide is given a prominent spot near the directional keypad.
JVC's menu system looks like something from a mid-'80s VCR, not a modern HDTV. While its contents are easy enough to understand, we didn't like that navigating from section to section required scrolling downward through menu after menu. We were also frustrated by the time it took to switch from one input to the next, especially considering that you can't jump over unused inputs. As a 1080p display, the JVC LT-40FN97 boasts a native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, the highest available today, and enough to display every detail of 1080i HDTV sources. All other sources, whether HDTV, DVD, standard-def, or computer, are scaled to fit the native resolution.
JVC equipped one of its highest-end LCD TVs with a decent selection of conveniences, beginning with a picture-in-picture mode that displays two images simultaneously on the screen. You can press the Freeze button to cause the action to stop in one window and continue in a second. There's an ATSC tuner on board for receiving HDTV channels over the air, as well as a CableCard slot for tuning digital and HDTV stations via cable without a box, a rarity among even high-end HDTVs these days. JVC doesn't include an EPG such as TV Guide, however, so you might miss having the ability to select channels from a grid.
Like many late-model 1080p LCDs, the JVC HD-40FN97 offers an aspect-ratio mode that allows it to display the entire image without overscan or scaling. JVC calls this mode Full Native, and we recommend using it with 1080i sources unless you see interference along the edges of the picture. Annoyingly, however, the set did not stay in All Native mode after we switched inputs; instead, it reverted back to the default Full, which meant we had to constantly remember to switch back. Three other modes are available with HD sources along with four aspect-ratio modes for standard-def sources.
There are four picture presets: Standard, Dynamic, Theater, and Game. The Theater mode, which can also be activated by pressing the dedicated Theater Pro button, provided the best picture quality for darkened-room viewing. There are two color-temperature presets, of which Low comes closest to the standard--although surprisingly, given JVC's good track record with other sets, it wasn't nearly as accurate in this case (see Performance below). We appreciated the flexible backlight control, labeled Energy Saver mode, because when reduced, it allowed the set to achieve a deeper shade of black. We didn't like the fact that the JVC lacked true independent input memories. Yes, you can adjust the picture parameters--contrast, brightness, color, and so forth--within each preset mode, but they must remain the same across all of the inputs except one. Strangely, the settings for the second HDMI input can differ from the rest.
JVC also includes a few advanced picture adjustments, most of which we disabled for critical viewing. Dynamic Contrast and Smart Picture both change the picture on the fly so we left them off, while Color Management simply seemed to add more saturation to blue, so we left it off, too. We also turned off Smart Sensor, which changes the picture depending on ambient room lighting, and left the noise reduction controls deactivated--as usual they should be engaged for low-quality sources.
Around back, there's an ample supply of inputs, and while a few of them double up, we liked that the two HDMI inputs warranted their own dedicated input slots. Input slot 1 offers a choice of component, composite or S-Video; Input 2 includes S-Video or composite-video; while Input 3 has component, composite, or VGA-style PC. One of the HDMI inputs merits an analog audio input (to get audio from DVI-to-HDMI connections), and there's an unusually complete monitor output section with composite and S-Video along with stereo audio. The rest of the input bay includes a pair of FireWire (IEEE-1394) ports, two antenna inputs, and an optical digital audio output.