JVC's remote control is a busy, confusing affair, and it has remained unchanged for the last several years. Its design and layout leave a lot to be desired, but thankfully, it is fully backlit, making the inevitable search for the key you want easier in a darkened room. On the other hand, the internal menu system is relatively straightforward, although there are a multitude of pages, so you must scroll vertically to find all of the functions. Like most high-end rear-projection HDTVs the JVC HD-56FN97 boasts a native resolution of 1080p, which is the highest available today. There are a total of three HD-ILA chips, one each for red, green, and blue, each with 1,920x1,080 discrete pixels. This arrangement differs from that of DLP-based 1080p displays, which generally use a single chip and a color wheel to produce red, green, and blue. The JVC's 1,920x1,080 pixels exactly match the resolution of 1080i and 1080p HDTV sources and should deliver their every detail (see the Performance section below for more). Other sources, including 720p HDTV, DVD, and standard-def television, are scaled to fit the pixels.
This top-of-the-line HDTV is equipped with quite a few convenience features. There's single-tuner PIP, labeled Twin on the remote, which when combined with another tuner from a cable box, for example, will give you the ability to watch two programs simultaneously. A CableCard slot is onboard for those who want to bypass a cable box, although you'll also lose the programming grid, because the JVC lacks an EPG such as TV Guide. Of course there is an ATSC tuner for the reception of local off-air HDTV broadcasts. The number of aspect ratio choices is about average: four with standard-def sources and three wih high-def.
JVC offers a handful of picture-enhancing features, including an adjustable iris. This, in conjunction with the contrast control, will increase or decrease the light output of the display. A Natural Cinema mode engages or disengages the important 2:3 pull-down circuit. Unlike most other manufacturers that offer three preset color temperatures, JVC offers only two: High and Low, with Low coming closest to he broadcast standard.
Although it does offer four picture presets that can all be adjusted, we were disappointed that the HD-56FN97 didn't follow up with true independent input memories. The only way to customize your sources differently for each input is to remeber to associate one of the four modes with the input in question, which is a much less convenient solution.
Connectivity options are quite generous on the HD-56FN97. Two HDMI inputs head up the list of the most important video connections, with two component video inputs running a close second. As with some other HDTVs, the JVC doubles up on some of the inputs, although the HDMI ports merit their own dedicated input slots. Inputs 1 and 2 can be used for composite, S-Video, or component-video sources. Input 3 can be used for composite, S-Video, or a 15-pin VGA connections from a computer (1,024x768 maximum resolution). 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 round out the connections on the back panel. Finally, there is a side A/V input, with composite video only on the right side of the chassis.
JVC also makes an of rear-projection HDTVs. The main differences between the two are that the FN models include gold-plated A/V inputs and an RS-232C port to work with custom installation. The company's FB series, meanwhile, is exactly like this HD-56FN97 except that it's silver rather than black. As we mentioned at the outset, the JVC HD-56FN97 didn't deliver quite the picture quality we've seen on some of the best 1080p big screens this year, although it certainly held its own. It turned in an excellent black-level performance, and details were very sharp. Color accuracy, on the other hand was just OK, with the JVC's primary color of green being the major culprit.
Out-of-the-box performance of the JVC HD-56FN97 was better than many high-end RPTVs after we simply selected Theater Pro mode and Low color temperature, the best starting point for those concerned with getting optimum picture performance. We also reduced the Iris control all the way. For our full user-menu picture settings, click the Tips & Tricks link above.