It seems that now, every big name manufacturer has a high-def LCD TV with a Full HD 1080p panel, a Digital tuner, and enough HDMI inputs to meet people's needs. Recently we've seen the big names announce displays with faster interpolated frame rates, built-in PVR functionality, and USB connectivity. With this in mind, it's fairly refreshing, albeit perhaps superficial, to see JVC revisit one of the key attractions of the Flat Panel TV: slimness.
JVC's new "Super Slim" design allows the 46" LCD panel of the LT-DS9BJ to fit into a remarkably svelte exterior. Upon unboxing the unit, we were indeed impressed with its depth - or lack thereof. At around only 3.5cm thick, it's impossible to argue that the display doesn't live up to its design promises. Better yet, the bezel which frames the LCD panel is also delightfully skinny, which gives the impression of a larger screen, and one which you can squeeze into a tighter space, at that. Despite being finished in gloss black (a design trend which is all too often prone to fingerprints, scratches and ambient light reflections), the bezel’s tiny width means that our eyes were on the sizeable panel almost all of the time.
The bottom of the TV features a speaker bar, which slopes inwards and creates a somewhat bevelled look. Above this is a thin silver strip, with a sleek brushed metal appearance. On the right of this strip are labelled touch-sensitive zones, which allow the user to navigate menus, change inputs, and of course power on or off, all without using the remote control. Positioned just under the JVC logo is a discrete blue LED, which can be turned on or off in the TV's menus (but is fortunately never blindingly bright).
Around the back, connectivity is entirely standard, with three HDMI inputs and an RF input positioned on the back of the unit facing downwards. This configuration allows the TV to be mounted as close to the wall as possible. However, if you’d like to make use of the two SCART connections, Component Video inputs, or the analogue Stereo Audio outputs, then you’ll need to remove a small plastic door from the back, and mount the TV farther forward from the wall to leave room for some extra cabling. We wonder why JVC couldn’t instead place these connections facing outwards to the sides, rather than back to the wall, to really maximise its appearance when mounted. This said, in many setups, the downward-facing HDMI inputs and aerial connection may be all that's required.
Satisfied that the display certainly looked the part, we hooked it up and turned it on. After a few minutes of Digital TV auto-tuning, we were able to access the Picture settings menu. Our review sample arrived with the Picture Mode set to “Bright”, which presented the incredibly vivid, blue-tinted image that we’ve come to expect from uncalibrated displays. Changing this to “Soft” presented an immediate improvement, toning down both the light output of the panel and also applying the “Warm” Colour Temperature. The standard "Picture" menu allows the user to adjust the Backlight, Contrast, Brightness, Sharpness (although not fully), Colour, and Colour Temperature preset, which is a fairly standard selection of basic adjustments. Of course, there was still work to be done to acheive maximum video performance, so we ventured deeper into the menus.
Most of the additional tweaks found in the Features sub-menu are best left disabled, but it's worth explaining which each of these (sometimes cryptic) settings does. Digital VNR is a noise reduction option with quite subtle effects. DigiPure is an interesting option which demands a further explanation, which follows later. Movie Theatre is JVC’s name for Film Mode detection, and has Auto, On, and Off settings (Auto will, in theory, maximise performance, and we evaluated how well it worked later).
The misleadingly-named Colour Management option really doesn't allow management at all, and simply changes the saturation of certain colours - it's a simple On/Off option, not a full-blown Colour Management System. Picture Management is a small Gamma tweak, which superficially gives the image a richer look, but makes the display less accurate. Smart Picture and Dynamic Backlight apply on-the-fly tweaks depending on the video content and room conditions, but we left these features off for complete control over the image.
MPEG Noise Reduction selectively softens the picture in an attempt to combat the blocky appearance that we’re used to on overcompressed digital video sources (Digital TV broadcasts being the most obvious example). Most of these sources are simply beyond repair, but some might find the setting useful. Finally, the 4:3 Auto Aspect feature allows you to choose one of two modes to re-format older 4:3 material to the Widescreen panel, and of course the all-important option to present such programmes with their original picture shape with black side-bars.
The remote control that JVC include to navigate through all these options is lightweight, and quite flimsy feeling. Some of the buttons, especially the directional navigation buttons and the Volume and Channel keys, have an unsatisfying “clicky” feeling to them. We sometimes had to ensure that we were pointing the remote quite close to the TV’s sensor in order for it to react to commands. Fortunately, once pointed correctly, menu navigation was relatively fast – not lightning-smooth, but certainly not irritating. The remote control features Mute, AV Input Select, Aspect Ratio, Programme Guide, Teletext, and Subtitle buttons, all of which were relatively well placed.
As usual, the Electronic Programme Guide for the TV’s built-in digital tuner was a little more sluggish, but despite this, the overall experience wasn’t frustrating.
It’s a pity that, despite the numerous (mostly non-useful) tweaks offered in the menus, there are no easily accessible Greyscale controls (or a Colour Management System, for that matter) present on this display. Both of these options would allow for the JVC to be fully calibrated and to display the most accurate, lifelike picture possible.
Calibration - Before and After
The following graphs and charts show what sort of performance the JVC was able to give with only a basic calibration performed. In other words, we configured the Brightness, Contrast, Sharpness, and other menu controls to their optimum settings. The results are good, but since it's not a full calibration, there's still some work to be done. Most noticeably, there is still an excess of blue in the image, indicated by the slightly high colour temperature and the visible blue bias in the RGB chart.
|Colour temperature out of the box||RGB out of the box||Luminance out of the box|
Although this setup provided decent Greyscale results, we once again have to reiterate the benefits that a full calibration brings. As there are no user-accessible Greyscale controls, we had to venture into the Service Menu to put the LT-46DS9BJ through this process. Again, we have to remind readers that this is a potentially risky procedure which really is the territory of an experienced calibrator with appropriate equipment.
After adjusting the appropriate RGB controls in the service menu with the help of a probe and calibration software, we sat back and admired the considerably improved result, but not before noticing that the service menu includes two other adjustments: SHARPNESS and CORING. We took note of these for later.
As this TV doesn’t feature any sort of Colour Management System, we weren’t able to fully fine-tune colour reproduction. Fortunately, this was certainly commendable to begin with. We're used to seeing TVs with highly exaggerated greens and reds, which weren't much of an issue here.
After calibrating Greyscale, and making some slight adjustments to the Saturation and Hue controls (the latter of which is typically greyed out in the User mode), the colour reproduction edged that little bit closer to perfection, in spite of the lack of full controls. Calibration data follows.
|Colour temperature calibrated||RGB calibrated||Luminance calibrated|
We broke out some industry-standard discs to test the Film Cadence Detection and Deinterlacing functionality of the 46DS9BJ's video processor chip. We also took notes to comment on the quality of the effectiveness of the "DigiPure" function.
The "Rotating Bar" and "American Flag" tests on the HQV Test Disc allowed us to confirm that the JVC's image processing chip was doing a great job of hiding jagged edges in standard-def, interlaced material. It's not at the top end of the performance table, but there are more expensive displays which fare worse here. In real-world tests, such as viewing Freeview TV channels, we were also pleased with the performance in this area. Diagonal markings on a football pitch, for example, looked like diagonal markings, rather than stair-stepped pixels.
The Film Cadence tests were less inspiring: the TV didn't properly handle either of the 2:2 Cadence tests on the disc (it did, however, manage the American-style 3:2 NTSC test on that version of the HQV Disc). This meant that the "Movie Theatre" option in the TV's menu wasn't actually doing anything, unless American-style video was being input. Users who want the best possible quality from their collection of UK discs, though, will have to connect an Upconverting DVD player which can process this content correctly, as the JVC can't manage on its own.
As for the promised explanation of the DigiPure image processing option: normally, when we encounter picture processing features such as this one, our first instinct is to disable them, as they typically go against our desire for an accurate picture. We couldn't recommend enabling the DigiPure function 100% of the time, but its underlying principles show a lot of promise. It does two things - let's start with the good: the function renders Coloured areas of the picture in a more intelligent way (in tech-speak, it enables enhanced Chroma Upsampling). Why is such a feature good? Because almost all video has lessened colour resolution, which results in vivid colours close to one another appearing blurred. The DigiPure function does a sometimes remarkable job of correcting this colour bleed, by intelligently analysing the full-resolution Brightness component of the picture, and remapping coloured pixels accordingly.
So, what's the catch? Well, for whatever reason, enabling the DigiPure function does more than just enable this Chroma Upsampling feature; it also adds extra Sharpening to the image, something we don't want. After the TV had been fully calibrated, the extra Sharpening was minimal, but without this luxury, it was more severe to the extent that we were put off using the DigiPure feature. A question to JVC: why combine these two image processing functions? Your chroma upsampling feature is something we'd love to see more of in the future, but please keep it on its own.
Basic Calibration performance - SD
To gauge the sort of the results the average user can expect from a display which has not been fully calibrated (but rather configured to give the maximum quality possible from the user menus). We set the Brightness, Contrast and Sharpness settings optimally, and disabled most of the additional processing features. We also toned down the light output of the panel by lowering the Backlight setting. Crucially, we also selected the Warm colour temperature, which, although not ideal, was nearer to spec than the Cool and Normal modes, both of which cast a frosty-looking blue tint over the picture.
With standard definition content, things were beginning to look rather good. The more detailed DVD titles and a sensible viewing distance gave us results that were headed well in the right direction. Although we were fairly satisfied, one thing still bugged us, and that was the TV's Sharpness control. Even set all the way to the left (at its minimum position), the JVC's video processing chip was still adding Sharpening to the picture (this is called "non-defeatable edge enhancement"). For standard definition, a little bit of added Sharpening can sometimes be useful, but we were irritated that JVC weren't giving us full control over this option.
Basic Calibration performance - HD
We then switched over to some highly detailed 1080p Blu-ray Disc content, and were disappointed to see that the pixel-crisp on screen menus were being displayed with horizontal glowing, again due to the Sharpness control. Although we could tolerate this effect on lower resolution video, we were disappointed to see it here. High-Def sources, especially on a premium format such as Blu-ray, already feature enough detail on their own, so any such picture processing is best left off.
As a result, some of the better looking Blu-ray titles still looked good, but took on a harsher appearance. The good news is that we were able to defeat the Sharpness option later on in the review process, but this involved entering the TV's service menu - not something we can honestly recommend for the average viewer.
Picture Quality: Calibrated
The SHARPNESS and CORING controls we found in the service menu came in handy here. Although the standard menu doesn't allow the user to see an Unsharpened picture, these hidden controls did. So, with these settings, as well as the hidden Greyscale controls configured optimally, we put our measuring devices away and used some real-world material to test the JVC LT-46DS9BJ's ability to entertain. We used a copy of Sony Pictures' Vantage Point on Blu-ray, which features a detailed video encode sourced from a digital intermediate. We chose the "Full Native" aspect ratio mode on the TV, to show every single pixel of the video without any unnecessary scaling. We also had our Blu-ray Disc player output 24p video, and were happy to see that the JVC reproduced this correctly, without judder.
The overall quality was good, but not entirely free of some familiar LCD TV issues. Although the motion resolution was relatively good for an LCD display, we noticed some of the darker areas of the picture would leave slight trails. For example, in a busy, shaky-cam crowd scene, one actor's black hair left orange after-images on his face as the view quickly moved around.
During darker scenes, the black level was decent, but not up to the standards of most Plasma displays. JVC's user menu allows the Backlight intensity to be raised or lowered to better suit ambient light conditions, and we decided to lower it in cases such as these. Unsurprisingly, it was in a dark viewing environment where the JVC's blacks were at their least optimal. During standard lighting conditions, we noticed that the viewing angle, another potential pitfall with LCD TVs, was good. The picture was at its best viewed face-on, but viewing from the sides presented only a slight wash-out.
Switching over to the other end of the expected image quality spectrum, we did some channel-surfing and watched some Freeview channels. The image quality was much better than we were expecting, and the highly compressed, blocky Digital TV pictures were not too unpleasant once we sat a little farther back from the TV. Defeating the Sharpness control also helped make compression artefacts look that bit less jarring.
The TV's built-in speakers were just as we expected from a flat panel display: serviceable for light TV viewing, but not really recommendable for serious movie watching. The TV's Sound menu gives the user control over Bass, Treble and Stereo Balance, as well as JVC's "Hyper Sound" and "MaxxBass" features. The former of these two options created a slightly more distant, airy sound, whereas enabling the latter on its lower setting at least manage to make the speakers sound superficially richer. There's also a separate "3D Cinema Sound" submenu which contains Virtual Surround, Bass Boost and Auto Volume features, which we configured to be as unobtrusive as possible.
With a basic calibration performed, JVC’s ultra-slim display gave decent results. We were especially pleased with the accuracy of it's out of the box colour reproduction, which is ahead of several other LCDs. Regardless, the sharpening enforced by the user menus is bad video practice and really isn't a good way to treat the user, whether they appreciate the display's sleek design (arguably its selling point) or not. In spite of this, the display showed promise, so we entered the calibration stages with an open mind.
It's just as well, because a full calibration really coaxed the LT-46DS9BJ out of its shell. Correcting the Greyscale, as always, removed the icy blue tint and presented a much healthier looking image. There is no CMS (Colour Management System) on this display, but we found that the already excellent colour accuracy improved further. Best of all, some service menu adjustment cured the Sharpening issue, producing a beautifully clear image. It's just a shame that these lengths are required for control over such a basic and important adjustment.
Ultimately, we were pleased with the picture that our ultra-slim JVC finally produced. It's possible to buy LCD displays with a superior black level, which don't force unwanted picture processing on the viewer through their user menus, but few of them are likely to come in such an appealing and space-saving design. If you're more aesthetically-minded, or if you're dead set on squeezing a larger display into a smaller space, then the JVC LT-46DS9BJ is a beautifully designed 1080p HDTV which is certainly worth a look. Just remember that it can have its image quality raised higher than the user menu controls allow.
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