Olevia 747i LCD 1080p Television Review

For a relatively new brand, Olevia has made a fast start. When I attended the launch of its new assembly plant in Ontario California recently, I was impressed by the efficiency of the operation, not to mention the gutsy move to open an assembly plant in the continental U.S. rather than, say, just across the border in Mexico. This says a lot about the confidence that Olevia, and its parent company Syntax-Brillian Corporation, has about its future.
When Michael Fremer reviewed the Syntax-Brillian 6580iFB03 65" LCoS rear projection television back in August, he described a picture "so good I looked forward to seeing it every time I turned on the set." Syntax-Brillian's bread and butter, however, is not in rear projection; but rather in Olevia's flat panel LCD designs.

The 1080p Olevia 747i ($3,999, 47" diagonal) is the top of the company's wide range of LCD displays (there's also a smaller, 42" 7 Series model, the 742i). Can it live up to the standards set by its bigger, more expensive RPTV siblings?

The World is Flat
With a net weight of 128 lbs. without its (included) stand, the Olevia 747i is astonishingly heavy for an LCD flat panel. LCDs tend to be lighter than plasmas of equivalent size (Pioneer's Elite PRO-FHD1 50" 1080p plasma weighs in at a svelte 88 lbs, though it does lack a built-in tuner and speakers), but that isn't the case here. If you plan on hanging the Olevia on the wall, you'd better choose a very strong mounting bracket and a very sturdy wall.

While the bottom-mounted speakers keep the width of the set narrow, they do give it a slightly chunky appearance. Not to worry: the speakers can be removed and mounted on the sides using an optional conversion kit, or even left off entirely. You could even use the onboard digital amps (rated at 26 Wpc, though no response or distortion is specified) to drive external speakers if you choose (the speaker leads are readily accessible). I don't know of any competitor that offers this much flexibility.

When it comes to features more significant than size, weight, or form factor, Olevia didn't pinch pennies with the 747i. The fun starts with their decision to use the Silicon Optix Realta HQV video processor. Based on Teranex technology, the Realta's pixel-based scaling and deinterlacing (including the all-important 1080i-to-1080p conversion) largely eliminates video processing as a limiting factor in picture quality—at least at the current state-of-the-art.

According to Olevia, each set leaves the factory with its 6500K setting correctly calibrated to 6500K, with measurements made across the full brightness range, not just at a single point. I saw the calibration "tent" on my factory visit. A dark environment is used for calibration so that non-contact measuring devices can be used. The Olevia tech with whom I spoke said that they do not use contact devices—those suction cups fitted with sensors that are the staple measuring device of most calibration techs. He argued that the pressure from the cups—which are often held securely in position by hand—subtly distorts the front surface of the screen and affects the readings. I'm sure this will be a controversial claim, but it does indicate Olevia's dedication to detail.
In addition to two antenna inputs and the usual video and S-Video connections, there are three component (Y-Pb-Pr) inputs (one of them on a VGA/computer style connector), and two HDMI connections. There is also an RS-232 jack. The firmware is upgradeable via a USB port. The set does not have a CableCARD slot. (The current CableCARD format has been falling out of favor because it does not offer two-way interoperability for such features as program guides and pay-per-view).

Most of these connections are located at the rear of the set but readily accessible from the side when the set is mounted on its stand. The two RF (antenna) inputs, digital audio outputs (both coaxial and TosLink optical) for use with the set's onboard ATSC tuners, L/R analog audio outs, a subwoofer output, and a headphone output are located further around back, facing down. (Placing the headphone jack around back, facing down, is an odd choice for a feature that needs to be readily available after installation.) As with all flat panel displays, none of these jacks are easily accessible in a wall mount. In that situation all connections should be made before positioning the set on its wall bracket.

While Olevia specifies only a single digital audio output, I found two (TosLink optical and coaxial) and changed the listing in the specs at the end of this review accordingly.

The 747i also includes two onboard, over-the-air, Clear QAM ATSC/NTSC tuners. You can display two HD stations simultaneously.

The only manual that came with my sample of the 747i was on a CD-ROM. While this might be useful in some circumstances, I find a printed manual far more useful. (You could, of course, print out all 79 pages of the CD-ROM manual, using your own paper and ink!)

The Usual, and Not So Usual, Suspects
I'll conserve bits here by not going into the usual list of features found in most sets—things like channel setup, Parental Control, aspect ratios, channel guides, PIP/Split Screen, etc. While there are no arcane features such as a slot for viewing the contents of a digital photo card or a printer for printing them, the set offers all the special features and any sane TV viewer might need.

The Olevia also provides an unusual way of presenting and controlling these features. The set's on-screen display starts with a figure of a rotating wheel in the upper left hand corner of the screen. It looks like one of the spinning drums in a slot machine. There are four surfaces on this indicator, for four different submenus: Picture, Audio, Screen, and Setup. The Up and Down buttons on the remote's navigation section rotate the wheel to the submenu you desire, while the Left and Right select the option you want within that submenu. Once there, the Enter button calls up the adjustment control for that option.

This arrangement is clever, but for me too clever by half. It does have the benefit of keeping the screen clear of clutter while you're navigating through the options. But it didn't feel intuitive. And with some of the options I was never quite sure if I had turned them on or off. As far as I could tell, a red border around an item indicated it was on, and a green border indicated off--not at all intuitive to my way of thinking.

For most parameters you may enter different settings for each input, but some settings operate globally or near-globally. For example, the color temperature setup you choose for HDMI will apply to both HDMI inputs.

One serious ergonomic shortcoming is that while your changes to the video settings are accompanied by an on-screen "slider" indicator with a marker above it showing the last saved setting; there are no number designations for the settings. If you dial in a reasonably satisfactory setup but want to experiment further, the lack of such numbers make it difficult to return to your original settings. And as soon as you exit the menu for a particular setting—brightness, for example—the marker moves to the new position.

Apart from the usual picture adjustments, the Picture menu includes a Lighting control that adjusts the image for a dark, medium, or bright room (I used Dark Room for virtually all of my watching). The color temperature control provides both factory and User settings for 6500K and 9300K. The User adjustments provide both high (Gain) and low (Offset) adjustments for red, green, and blue. (The lack of number designations for the settings described in the above paragraph also applies to the user menu's color temperature adjustments, which is certain to drive calibrators up the wall.)

An oddly named "Idea" submenu includes controls called Black Level Extender, White Peak Limiter, and Contrast Enhance. The On/Off status of these three controls, which had relatively subtle effects, were hard to determine from the on-screen indicators. I solved that problem by leaving the Idea menu Off. It didn't help that the function of these controls (and a few others, as well) weren't well described in the manual. The description of the White Peak Limiter, in particular, read like an outtake from Borat: "To limit the signal amplitude varying degree resulted in brightness over saturation."

The remote control's buttons are backlit, though with the common limitation that the labels for the actual functions of many of the controls are on the body of the remote and therefore not illuminated. Some controls are well located and comfortably sized, but others are too small and too close together for error-free operation. On the upside, many of the set's more frequently used functions may be accessed directly from the remote rather than going into the sometimes frustrating, main on-screen menu system. The remote may also be programmed to operate up to seven additional components by inputting the appropriate codes.

Syntax –Brillian devotes a page in the owner's manual to the subject of dead pixels. They allow up to 12 bad pixels, and will exchange a unit when a set is delivered with more than that, but they cannot guarantee that the replacement unit will be 100% free of the problem. At least they are up front about this. No manufacturer can guarantee a perfect complement of pixels, though some choose to ignore the issue altogether. (I have almost never experienced a bad pixel in a review sample, and saw none in this one.)

I usually prefer to get the negatives out of the way first in a review, and the Olevia does have a few shortcomings. The first was not surprising. The set's deep blacks simply aren't very deep. Uniformly dim scenes have too much medium gray and too little black. The under deck scenes that open Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World lack punch. If you're a fan of Dark City, or film noir, this may not be the set for you.

Fortunately, such scenes are relatively rare in most movies, though there are more of them in modern films than older ones. Blame today's faster film stocks, which encourage cinematographers to shoot in available light. Whenever such scenes turn up, most LCDs, including the Olevia 747i, look like they are overlaid with a gray fog that lightens the scene and obscures shadow detail. But if the scene has enough bright highlights to give the eye a reference, you don't notice this "gray fog" as much. But it's still there; those highlights simply mask it a bit. And shadow detail remains marginal at best. The Olevia is a little worse in this respect than the two most recent high-end LCD displays I have reviewed, the Sony BRAVIA KDL-46XBR2 and the JVC LT-46FN97, but it's in the same ballpark.
While Olevia specifies a 178-degree viewing angle, both horizontal and vertical, it's a tad optimistic. (According to Olevia, that spec comes from the panel manufacturer, LG Phillips.) While the image is still watchable at a fairly wide angle, the image starts to lighten, the contrast drops, and the colors fade when you're only slightly off-axis. From a comfortable viewing distance, three on a couch centered on the set should have no problem enjoying the picture. But the middle will still be the "money seat."

There are some minor uniformity issues. I saw no discolorations on the screen: The black and white HD DVD transfer of Casablanca looked beautiful, with a subtle but appropriate sepia shift and no odd, irregularly tinted blotches. But I did see some dark, vertical, ghostlike bands on some material at mid brightness levels, both on test patterns and on large areas of solid color, like deep blue sky. They weren't easy to spot on most programming, however, and even when I was looking for them I seldom saw them. And on a full black screen there were small, slightly brighter areas in the bottom corners. Again, I never noticed this with program material.

But for the most part this set produced stunning images. It was no surprise that with its Silicon Optix video processing the Olevia passed all of my usual scaling and deinterlacing tests with flying colors, scoring from very good to excellent on all of them. Every cadence test on my HQV Benchmark test disc was smoothly reproduced—again, not surprising since this test was produced by Silicon Optix to show off the capabilities of its processing solutions.

The Olevia's three optional noise reduction settings were also useful, minimizing noise while doing little damage to picture's resolution. Most of the time I recommend leaving this noise reduction feature Off, but it's effective if you ever need it.

If there's one word I could choose to describe the Olevia's picture, it would be silky. It never lacks for detail, but the image is so smooth that the resolution never seems forced. It has a natural degree of pop and vividness. Less, it's true, than you'll see from a good plasma display, but not everyone finds the vividness of plasma to his or her liking. Yes, you can make the image on the Olevia less natural with a poor setup, but it's to the company's credit that it doesn't give you the traditional picture "modes" offered by other manufacturers, modes with names like Vivid, Gamer, Dynamic, etc. What Olevia does give you is an excellent picture out of the box and the controls needed to make it even better.
High-definition from my cable system on the Olevia ranged from satisfactory to superb. Such a range of quality is not unusual with any program source, but if you see a great looking HD program on the Olevia, you'll know it. I have some of this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on my HD DVR, and it's beautifully reproduced on the Olevia, with gorgeous color, natural flesh tones, and a sharp but natural image. And the set will do justice to a good HD movie transfer, as well. About a Boy is an odd movie, but it has a surprising number of reference quality images. The 747i got it all, including scenes inside a supermarket with its well-stocked rows and stacks of small, brightly colored, crisply detailed merchandise.

The Olevia earns top marks for HD sports, too. LCDs have a reputation for slow response time, which causes motion smear. I watched more than my fair share of football on this set and was never bothered by motion smear. I'm sure it's there, and if viewed side-by-side-by-side with, say, a CRT, it probably wouldn't be hard to spot. But viewed and judged on its own, whatever motion smear the Olivia might have never bothered me.

Even standard definition DVD looks beautiful on this set. Jurassic Park III has always been a great video transfer, the best looking of the Jurassic Park series. It also has many scenes of bright green foliage that can be tough on digital displays. The Olevia did a great job keeping those greens realistic. It also handled the rest of the transfer with ease, edging very close to the look of a high-definition source in depth, detail, and color.

The recently released DVD of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest may not be high-definition either, but that doesn't mean it looks soft. Its bright scenes are given a first-rate treatment on this set. Even most of the dark scenes, and there are plenty of them here, fare reasonably well because they are lit in a way that adds highlights to important details. And while a few of the darkest scenes look too gray, you can always follow what's going on.

Mediocre program material, which includes much of today's standard definition, analog cable offerings, looked okay on the Olevia. The set didn't work miracles with such material, but most of it was at least tolerable. Nevertheless, as you get more accustomed to HDTV and even the best DVDs on this set, you'll definitely find yourself less drawn to TV Land reruns of Green Acres and Gilligan's Island.

I recently reviewed the 46" JVC LT-46FN97 LCD flat panel set, and it was still on hand in the early stages of this review. Compared to the Olevia, the color of the two sets was so close (after calibration) that I wouldn't want to have to choose between them. On bright and medium bright scenes the two sets look similar in contrast. The Olevia was a bit more vivid, three-dimensional, and lush, but it was a very close call. On darker scenes, however, the JVC pulled slightly ahead, with marginally darker blacks and better shadow detail.

The Olevia is not without flaw. It suffers from some of the weaknesses typical of most LCD sets: poor black levels and less than optimum off-axis performance. But it does have excellent color, great detail, an image that is both compelling and easy to watch for hours on end. It's a worthy flagship for a brand that I suspect we'll be hearing a lot more about in the future.

Outstanding color
Fine three-dimensionality with crisp detail
Video processing second to none
Two HD tuners

Mediocre blacks and shadow detail
Image deteriorates noticeably when viewed much off-axis
On-screen menus can be frustrating
Article Continues: Specifications

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