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JVC LT-FH/N97 review: JVC LT-FH/N97

JVC LT-FH/N97

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David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg

David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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9 min read

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.

6.9

JVC LT-FH/N97

The Good

Accurate primary colors and color decoding; delivers every detail of 1080i sources; solid feature set includes CableCard and picture-in-picture.

The Bad

Reproduces a lighter shade of black than other high-end LCD TVs; relatively inaccurate color temperature in dark areas; PC input has limited resolution; cannot accept 1080p sources.

The Bottom Line

Although not quite up to the picture-quality standards of the stiff 1080p competition, the 40-inch JVC LT-40PN97's price and feature set still make it worthy of consideration.
Intro
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.

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.

The HDMI inputs of the JVC LT-40FN97 were incapable of accepting a 1080p input from our Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player, which is unusual, since nearly every 2006 1080p HDTV we've tested can do so (this capability wasn't as common last year, however). We don't consider lack of 1080p compatibility a huge deal since few 1080p sources are available, and it's nearly impossible to tell the difference between 1080i and 1080p anyway. We were disappointed that the PC input could handle only 1,024x768 resolution, which is pretty low for a television with 1,920x1,080 pixels. There are also no front- or side-panel inputs for quick connections.

The JVC HD-40FN97 exhibited acceptable picture quality for a high-end LCD, although it wasn't in the upper echelon of the breed. It handled all of the detail of 1080p sources, and its color was relatively accurate, although it was compromised by bluer color temperature in dark material. The JVC also delivered a lighter shade of black than did a few high-end LCDs, which caused its picture to lose some of its impact, although black levels were still deeper than on many models.

We began by setting up the LT-40FN97 in our dark lab and adjusting the picture controls accordingly. The Theater Pro mode provided a good starting point, although we reduced the backlight control all the way to get as deep a shade of black as possible and modified the JVC's light output to around 35 footlamberts--comfortable for our lighting situation. Even in the Low color temperature mode, the set evinced a relatively blue grayscale in dark areas, a surprise since JVC is usually very accurate in this mode. We did calibrate the color temperature using service menu controls, but we weren't able to improve it much over the defaults (see the Geek box). For our full user-menu level picture settings, check out Tips & Tricks above.

We were able to directly compare the JVC LT-40FN97 to competing sets, including the Samsung LN-S4096D, the Sharp LC-46D62U, and the Westinghouse LvM-47W1, all 1080p LCDs, along with the Panasonic TH-50PH9UK, a 50-inch plasma. Watching the excellent-looking Aeon Flux Blu-ray disc via the Samsung BD-P1000 at 1080i, we noted that the JVC delivered decent black levels for an LCD, about on the same level as the Westinghouse, but that black areas of its picture weren't quite as deep as on the others. The letterbox bars, the black of Aeon's skin-tight jumpsuit, her blue-black hair, and even her eyeball as she examines the drink in her cell--all appeared slightly lighter than on the Samsung and the Sharp, but still dark enough to satisfy most viewers.

The difference in black levels was less noticeable overall, however, than the difference in color. The JVC did have accurate color decoding, and its primary colors were perfectly acceptable, but the third ingredient, color temperature, was less than ideal in dark areas, tending toward too much blue. We noticed, for example, when Aeon sat in the circular window before the night sky, it appeared an unrealistic shade of blue instead of the lighter blue-gray we saw on the Panasonic. Her shaded skin was tinged a bit bluer than it should have been in this scene, and we noticed this touch of pallor in other areas where she appeared in low light. The black of the letterbox bars also appeared relatively blue.

In its favor, the JVC LT-40FN97 rendered plenty of detail throughout the film, keeping up with the rest of the 1080p displays easily. The strands of Aeon's hair were always visible, and when she almost falls into the blades of grass, their edges appeared razor-sharp. The texture of the lawn appeared realistic and natural, as did the stone walls of the garden. According to our Sencore HD signal generator, the JVC resolved every detail of a 1080i signal as long as it was set to Full Native mode. It's worth noting however, as we have with other 1080p 40-inch LCDs, that for most viewers the difference between 1,366x768 and 1,920x1,080 native resolution is very difficult to discern, and the JVC LT-40FN97 was no exception. When we looked very hard at the JVC from a close seating distance of about 6 feet, we did see slightly more sharpness in highly detailed areas such as hair and grass compared to the Panasonic plasma's picture, but again, the difference was slight and became more so when we moved further back.

Compared to the other LCDs, the JVC held its own when seen from angles other than straight on. The image did wash out slightly from off-angle, especially in dark areas, and it seemed to do so slightly more than the Samsung's and the Sharp's, but overall it wasn't a big difference. Of course, the image on the Panasonic plasma didn't change when seen from off-angle, although its big panel of glass reflected much more ambient light than did the JVC's matte-plastic screen. We also noticed that the upper-right corner of the JVC appeared lighter than the rest of the screen, a uniformity issue that became apparent in many dark scenes, such as when Aeon skulks behind the curtain of the theater.

We also checked out how the JVC handled 480i standard-def sources by connecting it to a standard DVD player via component-video and viewing some of the tests from the HQV disc. The set exhibited average standard-def performance by this measure; it resolved every line of standard-def and looked detailed enough as long as sharpness was set at midlevel. It didn't do a very good job of smoothing jagged edges from diagonal lines, however, and it engaged 2:3 pull-down detection--providing Natural Cinema wasn't turned off--relatively slowly, if accurately. Watching some of the disc's noisy low-quality video, the Digital VNR cleaned up the image nicely, as long as it was set to Min. The Max setting softened the picture noticeably, so it should be avoided along with Auto, which tended to choose Max anyway. The MPEG NR setting, for its part, didn't seem to have much of an effect at all.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 7,956/6,357K Average
After color temp 8,201/6,558K Poor
Before grayscale variation +/- 412K Good
After grayscale variation +/- 404K Poor
Color of red (x/y) 0.647/0.329 Good
Color of green 0.274/0.595 Average
Color of blue 0.144/0.056 Good
Overscan 0 percent Good
Black-level retention All patterns stable Good
2:3 pull-down, 24fps Yes Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Yes Good

6.9

JVC LT-FH/N97

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 6
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