Editors' note (March 4, 2010): The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of 2010 models. The review has not otherwise been modified. Click here for more information.
The Apple iPod phenomenon has invaded not only your ears, but also your car, your home audio system, and now your television. JVC's LT-P300 series is one of the only TVs on the market designed specifically to work with iPods and iPhones, allowing you to charge your iPod and play back music, videos, and photos via the TV. JVC's integrated dock goes a step beyond the dongles and docks found on AV receivers such as the Pioneer VSX-1019A-HK and TVs such as the Panasonic TX-LX1 series because it actually folds out from the front of the TV, for a seamless integration that should please convenience-conscious Apple fans. The looks of the television do not hew to the company's strict design cannon of flat planes and rounded corners, but given its decent picture quality and good-enough feature set, that's probably the only thing that will deter folks seeking the most Apple-friendly TV available today.
Series note: We performed a hands-on evaluation of JVC's 46-inch LT-46P300, but this review also applies to the 42-inch LT-42P300 and the 32-inch LT-32P300. The three screen sizes share identical specifications and should have very similar picture quality.
The LT-P300 series dares to look different, but that's not necessarily a good thing. Much like an old JVC minisystem, or some of the more ostentatious examples of the company's car stereos, it's heavily illuminated. Two wands of bright blue light shine from the iPod dock mounted below the middle of the screen toward the edges, fading completely before they get a third of the way there--although, bizarrely, the two tapered light fixtures extend all the way to the edge, so most of their length remains dark. The closed face of the dock bears a diamond-shaped blue power indicator, and when it opens and you insert an iPod a pair of small blue bars appear to either side, and flash when the TV and the 'Pod are establishing communication. Yes, the illumination can be turned off or dimmed.
With dock closed and lights off the panel mostly resembles your standard glossy-black LCD, aside from the angled, inset speaker grilles below the screen, which are halved by the light fixtures. A matching, nonswiveling stand is also unremarkable.
The other obvious difference between the JVC and other HDTVs is the dock itself. Pull at the edge of its closed faceplate and it pops open and down like the soft-eject cassette door on that old minisystem, revealing the connector that plugs into a range of iPods or an iPhone. The dock's placement is extremely convenient on the front of the TV and, compared with an external dongle or iPod adapter for a component, much sleeker. A separate dock adapter--a piece of plastic between the iPod and dock, which JVC didn't include it since different iPods require different-size adapters--is recommended for the best fit but not entirely necessary.
Integration of the dock is well-thought-out. As soon as you insert your iPod it begins charging automatically, and remains charging regardless of whether you access its content or whether the TV's power is turned on or off. To get to that content, the easiest way is to hit the "iPod" button on the TV remote, which brings up a simple menu system that allows navigation to all of the iPod's normal music categories, including artist, album, song, genre, and composer, as well as audiobooks and podcasts. There's a shuffle option right on the main menu that shuffles all of the music on the iPod. Videos get similar category treatment: movies, music videos, TV shows, video podcasts, and rentals. Dedicated transport keys on the remote let you pause, rewind, and fast-forward videos and music.
You can also operate the iPod using its own control system, be it the touch screen of an iPhone/iPod Touch or the scroll wheel of a conventional iPod. The only real reason for doing so is to access digital photos stored on the iPod, a function that's not available using the TV's on-screen iPod interface. You can initiate a slideshow as normal on the iPod and the images display on the big screen, and you can skip between images using the remote's fast-forward and rewind keys. Running additional slideshows is again handled via the iPod's controls.
The remote control itself is a large affair that we liked for the most part, mainly because of the direct input selection keys and plenty of separation between buttons. However, we're not fans of the dual rings of identical-size buttons around the main "OK" button since they're easy to confuse; we pressed "back" instead of the right cursor button, for example, on numerous occasions. The clicker can command four other pieces of gear, but it's not illuminated.
The bare-bones, text-only menu system's chief virtue is the capability to display nearly every picture settings onscreen at the same time, and we also liked the one-line explanations for various menu items. Some users might not appreciate the relatively small font, however.
The iPod dock allows all of the functionality described above, and is compatible with most late-model iPods for music, videos, and slideshows. Check out JVC's compatibility chart for a full list of compatible iPods. iPods not listed, mainly older ones, are not compatible, although our testing with an iPhone went well despite the fact that it's not on the chart and the company doesn't "officially" support it. You can't display other content (such as apps, the browser or e-mail) from your iPhone or iPod Touch on the big screen, and some older iPods won't output video.
Additional functions include the capability to sync the iPod with iTunes by connecting your computer via USB (we didn't test this function) and setting the timer to wake up the TV to play music from the iPod at a certain time. You can also listen to music from the iPod while watching a program on TV, to basically replace the TV audio. Audiobook playback speed is adjustable (slow, normal or fast), and you can adjust the aspect ratio and picture settings during video playback. We also appreciated that the TV's audio outputs (both analog and digital) fed iPod audio to external devices, allowing you to play iPod music via the TV through your home theater system, for example.
In addition to being an iPod dock, did we mention the LT-P300 is also a television? Its feature set is entry-level by today's standards, lacking a 120Hz refresh rate or any non-iPod interactive features. Picture settings are also quite basic, starting with the four adjustable picture modes that are the same across input types (so the Contrast setting, for example, is the same in Theater mode for all three HDMI inputs) as opposed to independent per input.
The LT-P300 offers five aspect ratio selections with HD sources, including one called "Full Native" that allows 1:1 pixel display of 1080i and 1080p sources without overscan. Unfortunately, the TV doesn't stay set in this mode, instead resetting to the default "full" mode with its 3 percent overscan when powered-off. Four modes are available with standard-definition sources.
Other features are absent for the most part. The JVC lacks picture-in-picture, you can't freeze the onscreen image and there's no dedicated energy saver mode (although the TV is quite efficient without one). We would have liked to see an option (offered on Sony sets for example) to allow the screen to go totally dark, thus saving significant power. Such a feature would be particularly useful for times when you use the iPod for just music and don't need to see the song information, for example.
Connectivity on the LT-P300 is subpar. Unlike most flat-panel HDTVs, it doesn't include easy-access AV inputs on the side or front (just a USB port for digital photos stored on thumbdrives). That's a shame since those connections make it easy to quickly make temporary connections. Around back you'll find an adequate selection of jacks, starting with three HDMI ports. The analog inputs share the remaining two input slots, and unfortunately if you want audio you can't use more than one at a time (you can select between the various video inputs shared by these two slots, but they all have the same audio inputs). One analog input offers a choice of composite, S-Video, or component-video. The second offers composite-video, component-video, and VGA-style analog PC (1,024x768 maximum resolution). There's also an RF input for antenna and cable, as well as an optical digital and analog stereo audio.