Technology

A Far-from-Picture-Perfect JVC Set


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Editor's Rating: star rating

For the price, the LT-42X898 HDTV should offer a better picture and be easier to use—starting with getting it out of the box

Growing up, I remember seeing a lot of the JVC brand in people's homes and on store shelves. I've been somewhat puzzled as to why I haven't seen that same ubiquity in recent years from the Japanese company's high-definition televisions.

But if the 42-inch LT-42X898 HDTV set is any indication, the answer is abundantly clear. Despite heavy competition from the likes of Sony (SNE), Sharp, and Samsung, this relatively pricey LCD model is sorely deficient in everything from ease of use to the thoughtful software it takes to succeed in the marketplace.

Priced at $2,600, the LT-42X898 is a full-HD set with 1080 progressive resolution. Like many in this class, the set doesn't lack for ports to plug in components. But some of those inputs are shared with others, so your choices are more limited than it would seem at first blush.

Input Madness

The rear of the set boasts three HD multimedia inputs for Blu-ray players, high-definition TiVos, and newer cable and satellite set-top boxes. However, you won't be able to use one of these HDMI inputs at the same time as either the VGA port for a computer hookup or the input for a composite component such as a VCR. There's also an output for digital audio to feed the sound to a stereo system; a USB port to connect cameras directly to the TV; and a single connection for analog cable or an over-the-air antenna for digital broadcasts.

Layout becomes a problem with the other inputs. The two component inputs for HD set-top boxes, the aforementioned PC input, and the one S-Video and two composite connectors all sit behind the bezel on the right side. This poses a cable-management nightmare for customers who'd like to hang the TV on the wall and still neatly bunch or hide the cables. More puzzling still, the set's control panel is also tucked away behind the set, facing the wall, so that you'd need to either be a contortionist or memorize which of the buttons handles power, inputs, and volume.

Below Expectations

Even the hassle it took to get the unit out of the box exposed JVC's limited knowledge of basic user-friendly design. Many manufacturers now offer lift-away boxes that let you grab the set from its base, but I had to reach down into the box to pull the 52.8-lb. set and its attached stand from the snug container. While not heavy, it's awkward if there aren't two people performing this task as recommended.

With the glossy black set turned on, the text on JVC's menu system looks more like a high school class project than the professional graphical interface I would expect for the price. Worse, the process of adjusting the picture controls is the least intuitive I've encountered in at least two years.

There are six preset picture configurations such as "theater," "dynamic," and "standard." The good news is that users who like to tinker beyond the presets can still adjust picture details such as contrast, tint, color, and brightness. The set also features a built-in sensor to dynamically adjust the picture depending on what type of ambient light it detects. But there are no memory options to save your own customized configurations to suit a particular device, such as your TiVo.

Mean Green

In terms of picture quality, the LT-42X898 sits squarely in the middle of the pack. Despite considerable tweaking, I could never settle on a configuration I thought looked both natural and realistic on the screen—whether I was watching remastered versions of the original Star Trek series with an Xbox 360 HD DVD player, regular analog Comcast cable programming, or the Blu-ray DVD of Michael Clayton with a Dell XPS 420 desktop PC.

The color green in particular looked oversaturated for my tastes, trending toward blue. This was especially noticeable in a Michael Clayton scene where he's racing up a hill to check out a horse just before his car blows up. Many other primary colors tended to look soft, giving images an out-of-focus look. As such, professional calibration is a must with this TV.

The set also features "full native" software to deliver full HD resolution without the additional processing that can introduce artifacts in the picture. But annoyingly, you have to switch this software back on each time you turn the set on or switch to another input. And while many LCD manufacturers have gone to great lengths to improve viewing quality from oblique angles, the JVC was one of the worst performers I've seen in this regard at this price level.

All in all, I was disappointed. To offer a 42-inch set at such a lofty price with so many usability issues makes the LT-42X898 a set I can't recommend.

Edwards is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau.

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