The EM55FTR ain't your father's JVC HDTV. For one thing, JVC TVs are no longer manufactured by JVC, which licensed the brand to Taiwanese TV manufacturer AmTRAN and its U.S. subsidiary, AmTRAN Video Corporation, based in Irvine, California. Don't worry, JVC still manufactures its acclaimed projectors but, like many other companies in recent years, could not sustain its TV business.
The EM55FTR also isn't priced or distributed like your traditional JVC HDTV. In my experience with JVC TVs over the years, I found that the company served up some good performers that were simply priced too high for the market. Even before flat-panel pricing took a tumble, JVC models demanded a premium and, much like Hitachi, the company's TV presence diminished as prices did the same. AmTRAN's JVC TVs fall at the opposite end of the spectrum - they are aggressively priced to move. (Interestingly, AmTRAN also manufactures some of the TVs offered by another company known for aggressive pricing - Vizio - and these new JVC models are certainly priced to compete directly with that brand.) The new JVC Emerald Series includes screen sizes from 42 inches ($479) to 65 inches ($1,299), with the 55-inch EM55FTR carrying an MSRP of just $749. It's currently selling through Costco at $649.99, and that statement tells you a little something about its distribution path, which is targeted less at the big-box retailers and more at the warehouse clubs, at HSN/QVC, and at regional AVID dealers.
What does that $650-$750 get you? The EM55FTR has a 1080p resolution, a claimed 120Hz refresh rate, and a Direct LED backlight system. This isn't a smart TV per se; rather, AmTRAN calls it a "connected" TV, as the box includes a Roku Stick that you can connect to the TV's MHL-compatible HDMI port to enjoy Roku's vast assortment of Web-friendly channels. There's no 3D capability, no voice/motion control, no integrated camera, and no smartphone control app - none of the bells and whistles that can add to a TV's bottom line. At the end of the day, the EM55FTR is all about price, Roku, and performance. The question before us today: is that the correct order in terms of the TV's priorities? This was to be my first go-round with a JVC TV since the transition and, frankly, I didn't know what to expect. I kind of assumed I'd see a level of performance befitting that low price and a warehouse distribution path, but I came away pleasantly surprised.
The EM55FTR uses the Direct LED backlight method, in which a grid of LEDs is positioned behind the screen, much like the full-array LED backlighting used in top-shelf TVs. However, the Direct LED approach uses fewer LEDs and does not include the zone dimming that allows you to independently adjust each LED zone's brightness based on the content being displayed. The Direct LED approach results in a slightly thicker cabinet design than the popular edge-LED approach, although the EM55FTR's depth is still just 2.72 inches and its weight is 38.6 pounds without the stand. The EM55FTR's aesthetic is simple but stylish, sporting a gloss black finish (with a matching, non-swiveling stand) and only about a half inch of bezel around the screen's top and sides. The cabinet houses two down-firing 15-watt speakers. The supplied remote control is pretty straightforward in its layout, putting a combination of black and gray buttons on a non-backlit base.
The connection panel includes three HDMI inputs, which is one more than you'll get from some competitors at this price. The side-facing HDMI port supports MHL, and that's where you'll attach the supplied Roku Stick. A shared component/composite input and RF input are also onboard, as is a USB port for playback of photo files. Optical digital and stereo analog audio outputs are included to pass the TV's internal audio, including Roku content, to a receiver, soundbar or other audio system.
Beyond basic picture adjustments like contrast, brightness, color, and tint, the EM55FTR has a few advanced adjustments to fine-tune picture quality: three color temperature presets and a custom mode, with RGB offset and gain controls to dial in a more accurate white balance, noise reduction, and an Adaptive Backlight that automatically tailors the backlight level to suit the onscreen content. Absent are selectable gamma presets and a color management system to adjust the hue, saturation, and brightness of each color point. Also missing is the ability to adjust the method of blur reduction that corresponds to the claimed 120Hz refresh rate; many 120Hz TVs include multiple settings to choose the type of frame insertion (black frame insertion, repeating frames, or frame interpolation) and/or choose from multiple levels of "smoothing" to reduce film judder.
Instead of investing a lot of resources into developing a smart TV platform from the ground up, AmTRAN has wisely partnered up with the king of streaming media platforms, Roku. All you have to do is plug the supplied Roku Stick into that side-facing HDMI input and switch to the TV's "Roku" input to get access to Roku's whole arsenal of Web apps, including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, Hulu Plus, M-Go, Spotify, HBO Go, and many more. In fact, you don't even have to use the remote's Input button to switch to the Roku input; just hit the remote's Home button and go right to Roku. For those who are familiar with the minimalist Roku remote control, those same buttons have been incorporated along the top of the JVC remote, so you can very easily switch to and navigate Roku as if it were a completely integrated smart TV service. If, like me, you already have a Roku box elsewhere in the house, all you have to do is sign in to your account and get access to your customized channel lineup. For those who are new to Roku, it couldn't be any easier to get started. And, if you like to stream personal media files, Roku includes channels like PLEX and the Roku Media Player that support a variety of formats (the TV's own USB port supports photo playback only). This Roku "connected TV" approach makes a lot of sense for manufacturers of lower-priced TVs (Hisense also showed off a Roku-ready model at CES). Why invest all that time and money into trying to keep up with the Samsungs and LGs of the smart TV world when Roku is already a trusted and respected name in the category that delivers most of the big-ticket services that people want?
Click on over to page to for the Performance, the Downside, the Competition and Comparison and the Conclusion . . .