At the CEDIA 2011 show in Indianapolis, there was a major announcement that shook the consumer video space - Sony had a consumer-grade 4K projector dubbed the VPL-VW1000ES. Retailing for a hair under $25,000, the VW1000ES represented the most affordable, true 4K experience a diehard videophile could hope for. Not to be outdone, though perhaps overshadowed, JVC also announced a couple of 4K products, only unlike Sony's product, JVC's offerings weren't exactly 4K. JVC's two new "4K" projectors utilized a sort of pixel sleight of hand in order to achieve what JVC dubbed "4K Precision." Though one could argue (and I did) that JVC was somewhat misleading in their use of the term 4K, there was no getting around the simple fact that the JVC projectors cost a fraction of the Sony. More importantly, there is still no consumer 4K content, making both JVC's and Sony's 4K claims difficult to quantify. On paper and if you follow post-show reports, Sony walked away from the CEDIA show the clear winner, with JVC being dubbed "Faux K" by yours truly. But was I wrong?
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JVC's new consumer flagship reviewed here is the DLA-X90RBU, which at $11,999.95 is the most expensive in the line that includes two other models, the $7,999.95 DLA-X70RBU and the $3,499.95 DLA-X30BU. All three models are D-ILA designs, a JVC staple, and are 3D-enabled. However, only the X70RBU and X90RBU feature JVC's e-Shift or "4K Precision" scaling capability. So what exactly is e-Shift? e-Shift is what it sounds like, an electronic shift of the displayed pixels where it effectively upscales the incoming 1080p (or SD) signal and offsets the duplicate pixels to simulate a 4K-like resolution or, in this case, QFHD (3,840 x 2,160). Does this make the X90RBU a 4K projector? No, it is still a 1080p projector and will always be one, despite its 4K Precision claims, but this isn't an all together bad thing as I would find out.
Looking past the e-Shift aspect of the X90RBU's performance specs, there's still a lot to like about its HD capabilities. For starters, it is THX, THX 3D and ISF certified, meaning it possesses the necessary image controls and calibration picture profiles (that are not calibrated out of the box) for each that can be finely tuned and saved to memory for the utmost image fidelity and long-term enjoyment. The X90RBU is also an active shutter 3D-enabled projector and, unlike other projectors on the market, it comes standard with the appropriate emitter and two pairs of active shutter glasses. The benefit of active shutter over passive in the projection realm means you can utilize any type of screen on the market today, as opposed to one optimized for polarized or passive glasses. This in turn could save you money, which is a good thing when discussing a roughly $12,000 projector.
Another new feature to the X90RBU is its inclusion of lens memory. The X90RBU's lens is motorized and, because of this, its final positioning, including focus, can be saved for later use. This feature comes in handy for those who are fans of both 1.85:1 aspect ratio content and 2.35:1, for it allows you to essentially set the lens to maximize both in a dual screen setup and then save them to memory to be recalled at the touch of a button. A quick practical example of this would be if you had a dual format screen such as the Elite Osprey screen, which possesses both a 16:9 and a 2.35:1 screen in one enclosure. Lens memory would allow you to zoom the image out until the black bars usually associated with 2.35:1 content fall above and below the projection surface, aka the white part, but also allow you to have a setting for the smaller 16:9 screen as well. Cool and, again, potentially money-saving, for it's a way to do Cinemascope without having to resort to using an anamorphic lens attachment, which can get costly.
Aside from some of the newer features, the usual JVC niceties are present and accounted for. In terms of its raw specifications, the X90RBU boasts 1,200 ANSI Lumen rating, 120Hz processing, 120,000:1 contrast (dynamic), as well as a myriad of picture, lamp and calibration modes. Input options include two HDMI (1.4a), a component, Ethernet, RS-232 and PC. There are also 12-volt triggers, as well as the 3D emitter port. A detachable power cord is standard.
The X90RBU remote is all JVC all the time, in that it looks and functions much like every other JVC remote I've encountered over the years. It's fully backlit at the touch of a button and is slender enough that it fits comfortably in hand, yet it isn't too long to make it unwieldy when operating it with a single hand. As with JVC's reputation for calibration control, their remote control is topnotch and among the best you're likely to find.
I've been a JVC customer for years now, so integrating another one into my system, even one as new as the X90RBU, was relatively easy. The X90RBU is substantially larger than my reference Anthem LTX-500 (a rebadged JVC), at 18 inches wide by nearly seven inches tall and 18.6 inches deep. It's also heavier at a stout 33 pounds, making it just light enough to hang on my own, but hefty enough that I should've employed the help of a friend. If you've never hung a projector before, the X90RBU definitely qualifies as one you won't want to tackle solo. Better yet, have your dealer or installer do it for you. To secure the X90RBU to my ceiling, I relied on my trusty Sanus VP1 projector mount. I connected the X90RBU to my Integra DHC 80.2 AV preamp via a 30-foot run of Transparent's Performance Series HDMI, which just so happens to be 4K-capable, though the JVC itself is not a true 4K projector.
My Integra was fed HD and SD source material via my newly constructed HTPC using the Media Center software JRiver. While HTPCs and integrated graphics have come a long way in recent years and even months, I still believe in and use dedicated graphics cards or GPUs in my HTPC builds, which in my case meant a Galaxy GeForce GT 520 using NVIDIA technology. I also utilized my Sony BDP-S580 Blu-ray player for single-disc application and tests. All source components were connected to my Integra pre/pro using one-meter runs of Monoprice high-speed HDMI cables. My screen of choice for the duration of this review was a 100-inch tab-tensioned matte white screen from Dragonfly. The Dragonfly matte white surface has a gain of 1.2, giving it a little "pop" over that of, say, a neutral gain screen, but not so much that it overly enhances or changes the visual experience.
Once the projector was securely fastened to my ceiling and the requisite connections made, I aligned the center-positioned motorized lens, using a series of built-in grids and test patterns (another JVC staple), before employing the help of my friend and THX-certified calibrator Ray Coronado of SoCalHT to help dial in the JVC's picture. JVC has built a reputation, both in the consumer and pro worlds, for excellence when it comes to their level of control and ability to be made "dead nuts," as Ray puts it in terms of their image accuracy. Using the Spectracal CalMan software and C6 meter (with adjustment tables applied), we began to calibrate the X90RBU to SMPTE standard. Out of the box and in its THX picture mode, the X90RBU is close, though with some minor brightness and contrast adjustments, we were able to increase its light output by several foot lamberts, so that it fell well within SMPTE guidelines. From there we began the process of adjusting the CMS, which in both our collective experiences has been a process that is largely drama-free. For whatever reason, the CMS controls for the X90RBU seemed to be counter-intuitive, reacting in ways that defied logic - for instance adjusting, say, cyan resulted in a global brightness shift rather than a single color one. We were about at our wits end and ready to bust out my DVDO Duo, which also has full CMS control and doesn't suffer from the problems that plagued the X90RBU when we learned of a firmware update that corrected the anomaly. We've both since spoken to a number of other calibrators who had the same initial impression we did, but have changed their tune following the firmware update. Those of you who may consider purchasing the X90RBU following this review should have nothing to fear, for the errors described above should be but a distant memory with newer units. After what seemed like forever and following the news of an update, we were able to make the JVC accurate within an inch of perfection on my screen and in my room, which was nice, seeing as how our last calibration session, one involving the Sony 4K VW1000ES, didn't end as well.
Following the calibration of the X90RBU, I set out to find its e-Shift control, only to discover no control existed - at least, not at first. In order to test JVC's "4K Precision" claims and e-Shift as a whole, I felt I needed to be able to turn it on and off. If you just go by what the manual and JVC shows you on the onscreen menus, this seems an impossibility, which proved not to be true. However, in order to disengage the X90RBU's e-Shift feature, you must enter the projector's service menus, which JVC doesn't tell you how to do, so I will. By quickly pressing "up," "down," "right," "left" and then "enter" on the directional key pad, you can pull up the projector's service menus. Paging over to the third and final page will reveal an option called MRC, which is the e-Shift feature. I'm not sure why it's called MRC, but it does turn the e-Shift functionality on and off. While JVC may be cross with me for divulging this service menu information, I'm glad I was told about it for, as it turned out, my review unit's e-Shift was turned off! I might have done this whole review with the understanding that I was experiencing e-Shift, when in fact I hadn't. Not good, but a problem that was easily remedied and something you may want to double-check for yourself. While you're in the service menu, you may be tempted to screw around with other options or settings - don't.
With everything buttoned up and ready for action, it was time to see what the X90RBU could do.
4K versus "FauxK" (e-Shift)
Some of you may have already read my review of the Sony VPL-VW1000ES 4K projector and noticed that, despite its bleeding-edge technology and true 4K DNA, I came away less than impressed. The reason for this was simple: there is more to 4K than mere resolution. In fact, increased resolution beyond what we already have is difficult to discern unless your home theater has the ability to host a screen in excess of, say, 120 to even 150 inches or more. Even then, from proper viewing distances, it's hard to see. However, because all that the consumer manufacturers seem fixated on at the moment is 4K's resolution, testing these so-called enhancements is easy. When viewing 4K content through the Sony 4K projector, the image was nicely appointed and extremely detailed and sharp. You're going to have to take my word for it, because Sony is only making 4K content available to those reviewers who have been granted an audience with the VW1000ES, however short that period may be. On a side note, Sony was quick to remove the VW1000ES from my possession when they learned of my plans to do a head-to-head with JVC's X90RBU. Since there is no 4K content as of yet, both the Sony and the JVC are nothing more than 4K upscaling projectors.
Read more about the performance of JVC's DLA-X90RBU on Page 2.