JVC DLA-HD100 1080P 3-Chip D-ILA Front Projector Reviewed

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jvc_hd100_hdila.jpgWith the newest JVC DLA-HD100 front projector, we see the tenth generation of their well-known Digital Reflective Imaging Light Amplification system (D-ILA), similar in principle to Sony's SXRD light engine technology. The three 0.7-inch D-ILA chips making up this light engine represent the world's first commercially available 1080P front projector to achieve a "native" (reported) 30,000:1 contrast ratio, capable of creating deep and detailed blacks that are reminiscent of great 35 millimeter film prints viewed under ideal conditions. The "native" part indicates that no automatic iris mechanism is used to achieve this outstanding result. Most other top-end front and rear projectors rely on this little iris trick to improve black levels and contrast ratio by effectively changing the overall light levels while also crushing the grayscale, resulting in blacks that are slightly bleached out in the brightest scenes, while also causing lightly saturated colors to appear duller in dark scenes. The overall effect from all this is to distort the picture and make it appear more attractive - you wind up losing out on so much of what your HD sources are really capable of offering. Not so here with this new DLA-HD100, which sports 600 ANSI lumens of brightness, ultra-wide XYZ color space compatibility and full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080P (2.07 mega-pixels).

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You can create images from 60 inches up to 200 inches from this 25.6 pound, slightly-larger-than-a-slide-projector-sized wonder of the modern home theater era. Its input apron features two HDMI 1.3 jacks, one component and one "S-video jack, and also allows for a generous number of modern and legacy formats to be played back with ease (thanks to a built in Gennum Scaler), including 480i up to 1080P at 24, 30, 50 and 60 fps. The two-times motorized zoom lens (with an all-glass assembly, featuring 16 elements in 13 groups) allows for a vertical offset of +/- 80 percent and a horizontal offset of +/- 34 percent, making it easy for installations that are way off-center to feature nearly square geometry on screen. All this, and the DLA-HD100 is still priced at $7,999.95 MSRP.

There are a lot of choices today when it comes to front projectors. It is easy to buy an expensive projector, only to find its imaging capabilities superseded by something new after only a short time. However, JVC has significantly raised the bar for what can and should be expected from a 1080P projector at this price or any other. First, there is the outstanding (reported) contrast ratio of 30,000:1, which immediately allows one to experience low-level details of texture and shading in a very new and tangible way (excepting those who have owned or witnessed three-gun CRT front projectors, like the Sony G90, properly set up and calibrated way back in the day, before the projector fell out of calibration). Second, all glass lens elements (from Fujinon) offer vastly improved color, contrast and detail over the plastic lens elements used throughout most of the industry and previously employed by JVC. Third, the three-chip D-ILA light engine has been optimized to show very little screen door effect. It is immune to rainbow distortion seen in single-chip DLP projectors in all price ranges. Fourth, the sophisticated calibration controls truly allow a level of adjustment that is rarely seen or possible anywhere else. In the hands of a trained SMPTE specialist, they can produce picture quality and accuracy that is normally only seen with the very top-end professional cinema projectors, like the Sony SRX-R220 or the Barco DP-2000.

Fifth, the internal Gennum VXP scaler allows for most new or legacy video formats to be displayed easily and quickly, and for individual user settings to be automatically recalled for each and every format input. Sixth, a thoughtful inclusion is a vertical stretch feature designed to be used with an external third-party anamorphic lens, giving the end user an opportunity to duplicate scope aspect ratios of 2.39:1 using a wide screen, and achieving actual resolution and light level improvements of 33 percent. Seventh, the intake and exhaust fans are both located on the front of the unit on either side of the lens. This means that, for the first time, one can literally back the projector all the way up to touch the back wall without causing it to overheat. So you can pretty much bring this new JVC DLA-HD100 home, have it hooked up and projecting in a matter of 15 minutes if you want. Home movies and still photography from your laptop have never had it this good.

While the contrast ratio is superb, it comes at the expense of light output, which at 600 ASNI lumens (300 lumens after 600 hours of use) is about on par with projectors costing half this much. Therefore, to take advantage of all that contrast, one must watch in a totally blacked-out and light-treated theater, preferably on a screen smaller than 96 inches wide (excepting for the use of an external anamorphic lens, which allows one to go as wide as 128 inches). Having a generous lens offset always has the consequence of sacrificing perfect geometry. Most can live with the slight pincushion distortion that occurs when the projector is mounted at one extreme or another (instead of smack-dab center), but don't be surprised if the news crawl at the bottom of CNN doesn't appear perfectly straight in anything less than a perfect installation. The internal Gennum VXP scaler is not quite as good as previous efforts by Faroudja, but it also costs a bit less and is more forgiving as a whole. But don't expect to see quite the same level of resolution when the picture gets moving really fast, for instance, during a football, baseball or hockey game. If you plug all your new HDMI sources directly into the projector (instead of through a receiver), you'll soon discover that two are just not enough. A third HDMI input should have been made available, either in place of the RS232c control port, or in place of an access panel, both of which are right next to the existing HDMI inputs. While I love being able to back the projector up all the way to the rear wall, the fan noise coming from the front vents (at 25 dB SPL) can be more noticeable in certain rooms than others. Maybe next time JVC can put the vents on the sides.

Read about the high points and the low points of the DLA-HD100 on Page 2.

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