At CEDIA this past fall, JVC announced (and has subsequently released) a new firmware update for its current generation 4K projectors, bringing with it a massive improvement in HDR performance through real-time, frame-by-frame, DTM (dynamic tonemapping) software. While there, I was able to demo a beta version of this software through the company's $18,000 DLA-NX9 projector (also sold as the DLA-RS3000 depending on geo-location and market). To say the least, I was very impressed.
Those who've been to trade shows know that demos are rarely given under ideal lighting. While JVC did a commendable job removing as many setup issues as possible, the demo left me wanting to see how this projector would look under more controlled conditions in my own theater. Sealing the deal for me to ask for a review unit was JVC's announcement that all existing native 4K models would carry over into 2020.
Those familiar with the home theater projector market will know that JVC is a firm believer in economies of scale. This is key in how JVC has historically offered such high performance at competitive price points. This means the NX9, despite costing twice as much, shares a lot in common with the previously reviewed RS2000/DLA-NX7, including most of the internal hardware, video processing features, input and output options, and even the chassis. So, instead of repeating a lot of the same information readers can find in my RS2000 review, I want to focus on what differentiates the NX9 and how these changes affect usability and performance.
Among the upgrades offered, and arguably the biggest, is a far more impressive lens. In fact, the lens found in the NX9 is the same one used in JVC's far more expensive laser-based 4K projector. Compared to the lens found on the NX7, the NX9's is 35 percent larger in diameter and features an upgraded aluminum barrel. It utilizes 18 all-glass elements set in 16 groups, with five of these elements featuring low dispersion optical coatings to prevent issues with chromatic aberration. It also offers a slightly shorter throw ratio of 1.35 to 2.70 and adds a wider range in shift capabilities, which are now specified as ±100 percent vertical and up to ±43 percent horizontal.
While a sharper-looking image may be the most visually apparent consequence of this lens, it helps the NX9 achieve much more. JVC claims the design and quality of this lens make it far more efficient. This aspect, combined with what JVC claims are hand-selected components, helps achieve an extra 300 lumens of brightness (2,200 total) and a 20 percent increase in on/off contrast performance (up to 100,000:1 native and 1,000,000:1 dynamic), despite the NX9 using the same 265-watt lamp and light engine found in the NX7.
In practice, I found this lens gave me more control to get a tighter focus on screen. That's not to say getting a good level of focus wasn't possible with the lens found on the RS2000/NX7, but the motorized control system for this lens has finer steps of adjustment, which meant I was able to get a nearly perfect level of focus. What's more, this focus performance stretched out almost all the way to the edge of my screen. These finer steps in control also meant that the lens memories I use to switch between aspect ratios on my scope screen were recalled with better precision.
Another noteworthy advantage of the NX9 over the NX7 is 8K resolution through JVC's proprietary pixel-shifting "e-shift" system. Like previous generation e-shift enabled D-ILA projectors, the NX9 optically shifts its image up and over a half pixel every other frame in order to create a higher resolution image. The difference here is that the two subframes that overlap each other to create the single higher resolution image are no longer 1080p as they are with older JVC projectors; they're 4K. These subframes are generated by analyzing video upscaled to 8K by the projector.
While many consider this feature nothing more than a marketing gimmick, only included for first-to-8K bragging rights, I found that it actually does make a noticeable difference in image quality. Similarly, the NX9 is the first native 4K projector to receive THX certification, with the projector getting a dedicated THX picture mode.
Since I reviewed the RS2000/NX7, several firmware updates for all three of JVC's new native 4K projectors have been released. With these updates, JVC has added the aforementioned DTM software in the most recent v3.10 firmware. Improvements in software stability and efficiency have occurred as well, with the most noticeable side effect being faster boot times. Additionally, JVC added a new anamorphic scaling mode, making its 4K projectors compatible with Panamorph's Paladin DCR anamorphic lens. Lastly, JVC has upgraded the auto-calibration software, with it now supporting a wider selection of meters.
So, what do these upgrades mean for image quality? In short, the NX9 delivers the absolute best image for movies that I've personally seen from a home theater projector and, in my opinion, is only potentially beaten out by two other projectors consumers can purchase at the moment. But these other projectors, the Sim2 HDR DUO PLUS and Christie Eclipse, will set you back six figures.
Besides these two, there are other projectors available past the NX9's asking price. But I would argue you're trading important image quality traits, such as color and contrast performance, for more light output. What's so appealing about the NX9 is that it strikes an extremely impressive balance with its image, with nearly all of the constituent parts reaching either class-leading or reference levels of performance. Because of this, I think the NX9 offers a strong value proposition at its asking price.
After only minor tweaks to achieve an accurate REC709 calibration, I measured the NX9's output at up to 1,820 lumens. These are class-leading figures for a high-contrast projector in this price range and represents a 13 percent increase over the RS2000/NX7 I previously reviewed.
After placing the optional P3 color filter into the light path, which boosts color saturation for HDR content, I measured the NX9 to cover 99.7 percent of the P3 color gamut after calibration. What's more, this boost in color performance only cost my review sample five percent of its light output. This is half of what I measured the RS2000/NX7's loss to be. This drop in light output is visually imperceptible, so using the filter for HDR content is a no-brainer.
We still haven't reached the point where every title available in Ultra HD offers a meaningful difference in image detail over its 1080p counterpart. However, if extra detail is present, the NX9 will show it. Looking at single-pixel Ultra HD test patterns revealed remarkable performance, with the NX9 rendering them as close to perfect as I've seen. This means the NX9 is capable of displaying an honest Ultra HD image true to the source, something competing projector brands at or below the cost of the NX9 currently fail to achieve.
In practice, movies shot at 8K and mastered in 4K, such as Mortal Engines and Midsommar on Ultra HD Blu-ray, were absolutely breathtaking through the NX9. Closeup shots of actors' faces and their clothing were impressively detailed, and I felt as if I could make out every pore and fiber. Outdoor wide shots were impressive, too, allowing me to make out detail in objects incredibly far away.
Enabling the NX9's 8K e-shift system for these films added an extra sense of solidity and analog-ness to the image. Standing within a foot of my screen, the NX9's image showed no pixel structure at all, making the projected image look like the best analog film you've ever seen.
But I'd argue this isn't 8K e-shift's most impressive trick. I found that it was 1080p content scaled to 8K that made for the most impressive improvement. I use the Blu-ray versions of The Lord of the Rings trilogy for most of my equipment reviews because of the familiarity I have with them. Through the NX9's 8K e-shift system (using madVR to scale the Blu-ray to Ultra HD first), these films have never looked better.
Lately, I've felt the CGI in this trilogy is starting to show its age. But upscaling it to 8K seems to round out a lot of the low-resolution textures the CGI has, making it far more palatable, especially when presented on a large projection screen. Then, add into the mix the solidity and analog nature e-shift inherently brings to the table, and these films took on a whole new personality and were presented in the most cinematic fashion I've yet to experience from any display. If this is just a glimpse of what native 8K can do for lower-resolution video, then sign me up!
Moving on to contrast performance, this is another area where the NX9 excels. With its iris fully open and its lens set to minimum zoom, I measured a native on/off contrast ratio of 37,016:1. Enabling the dynamic iris boosted this number to a staggering 462,700:1. This constitutes a 23 percent increase in native contrast over the RS2000/NX7, and more than two and a half times the dynamic contrast. Despite such a large dynamic contrast multiplier, the dynamic iris on the NX9 is programmed extremely well. Only on rare occasions could I tell the projector had a dynamic contrast system in use.
In practice, not only did video content have a darker level of black, it combined with the extra light output available to give dark movie scenes jaw-droppingly good dynamic range. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and Blade Runner 2049 on Ultra HD Blu-ray were some of the standout titles showing off these traits. These movies have a lot of extremely dark sequences, but the NX9 rendered them convincingly, with excellent shadow detail, realistic color, and pop.
Part of this excellent performance can be attributed to the NX9's new DTM software for HDR content. Instead of relying on (often incorrect) static metadata, which forces the projector to tonemap the entire movie for bright content that may only be present in the movie for just a few frames, often making the entire movie too dark in appearance, JVC's DTM software uses the metadata when present as a starting point, then tone maps each individual frame and dynamically adjusts the image to maximize apparent brightness, color saturation, and contrast. Shadow detail is also improved through upgraded 18-bit gamma processing designed specifically for this new software. Additionally, this software can be used with any HDR10 source, not just for Ultra HD Blu-ray discs.
I chose to use the High setting for almost all of the HDR content I watched, which is the most aggressive mode available, because it gave the biggest boost in apparent image brightness and dynamic range. I noticed no issues with clipping, something many tonemapping solutions suffer from, with colors remaining consistently natural in appearance. Once you've set your chosen mode, the software requires no additional tweaking, which should be very appealing to a lot of consumers. It allows you to set it and forget it.
With that said, outboard video processors from Lumagen and madVR still offer a noticeable improvement in DTM performance overall, but JVC's software is leaps and bounds better than the previous "Auto-Tonemapping" solution offered. This sets JVC firmly ahead of competing brands for built-in tonemapping performance. This is an important aspect that buyers should be aware of because out of all of the display types currently available, it is projectors that need the most help with HDR.
Comparison and Competition
I would argue that the NX9's closest competitor is JVC's own DLA-RS2000/NX7. But, as evidenced by my measurements, the NX9 performs objectively better in most areas of its image. Whether this is worth twice the price is up to you.
Sony's VPL-VW885ES, priced at $19,999, offers the NX9 some competition as well. This native 4K projector's standout feature, by comparison, is its laser light source. In my opinion, this would be the most compelling reason to choose the 885ES over the NX9. But, in doing so, you'd be giving up a lot in the process. The NX9 offers more calibrated lumens, a lot more on/off contrast, a far better lens, 8K resolution, better HDR through DTM, and it's more affordable.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the JVC DLA-NX9 and found the improvements it offers over the RS2000/NX7 to be easily noticeable. In my opinion, the NX9 throws the best overall image quality for movies one can get from any current consumer home theater projector under $100,000, and offers what can only be described as one of the most cinematic movie-viewing experiences available today.
Yes, the price is a bit intimidating, but when you consider the staggering overall performance and features the NX9 has, especially against what competing brands currently offer, I think the asking price is fair.
• Visit the JVC website for more product information.
• Check out our Front Projector Reviews category page to read reviews of similar products.
• JVC DLA-RS2000 Projector Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.