JVC DLA-X3 3D Projector Reviewed

JVC DLA-X3 3D Projector Reviewed

HTR reviewer Adrienne Maxwell puts the JVC DLA-X3 3D projector through a series of tests to see what it is capable. While the projector has very pleasant highs, it did have a few moments where it stumbles.

JVC-DLA-X3-keyart.jpgA debate rages–nah, let’s dial that back to “exists” – in home entertainment circles as to whether 3D in the home is really necessary. Perhaps the one category where 3D capability makes obvious sense is the front-projection market, since that category best replicates the experience of going to the movies. If people embrace 3D in the movie theater, then they’ll embrace it in the home theater, right? JVC is clearly banking on that to be true, as six of the eight projectors in the company’s 2011 line are 3D-capable.

Additional Resources
• Read more video projector reviews by Home Theater Review’s staff.
• Explore pairing options in our Projector Screen Review section.
• Look for 3D-capable Blu-ray players in our Blu-ray Player Review section.

The DLA-X3 (and its professional-market counterpart, the DLA-RS40) is the entry-level model in the 3D line. With an MSRP of $4,499.95, this D-ILA projector has a 1080p resolution and a rated 50,000:1 native contrast ratio, and it features the HQV Reon-VX processing chip, 120Hz Clear Motion Drive, two anamorphic lens modes, a 220-watt UHP lamp, and motorized zoom/focus controls. JVC has opted to go the active 3D route with its projectors: The DLA-X3 uses frame-sequential technology, in which the projector alternately flashes a full-resolution left-eye and right-eye image. Active 3D requires special glasses that contain shutters that open and close in sync with the signal to direct the appropriate image to each eye. In this case, you also need a 3D signal emitter that connects to the projector and communicates with the glasses. JVC includes neither the glasses nor the emitter in the DLA-X3’s package. The PK-EM1 signal emitter costs $79, while the PK-AG1 glasses cost $179 each.

Stepping up to the DLA-X7 ($7,999.95) or DLA-X9 ($11,999.95) will get you THX and ISF certification, as well as a higher contrast ratio, a more advanced lens aperture system, and more thorough color management. The top-shelf X9 has a listed 100,000:1 contrast ratio and includes two pairs of glasses and the 3D signal emitter (as it should for a $12,000 projector), plus a longer warranty of three years, compared with two years for the DLA-X3.

JVC_DLA-X3_3D_projector_review_2_shot.jpgSetup & Features
In its design and build, the DLA-X3 certainly feels like a more substantial piece than you’ll find in the entry-level, sub-$3,000 category. It’s a beefy unit that measures 17.9 x 7 x 18.6 inches and weighs about 32 pounds, but the high-gloss-black finish lends a bit of elegance to distinguish it from your basic boxy design. The lens is mounted in the center of the unit, and two curved ventilation ports run along each side. Buttons for power, input, menu, and navigation are located on the back–next to a connection panel that includes dual HDMI 1.4a inputs, component video, RS-232, a 12-volt trigger, a remote control port, and a port to connect the optional 3D signal emitter. The connection panel lacks lower-resolution analog ports like S-video and composite video, and it also omits the PC input that you get on the higher-end X7 and X9 (the step-up models also add a LAN port for network control). The DLA-X3 has a motorized lens cover that automatically opens when you power up the projector and closes when you shut it down. The included remote control is fully backlit and has a clean, logical layout. You get dedicated input buttons, as well as direct access to many of the most desirable picture controls.

Physical setup was incredibly easy in my room, thanks to the DLA-X3’s motorized 2x zoom, motorized focus, and generous lens-shift capabilities (+/-80 percent vertical, +/-34 percent horizontal). The projector also has adjustable feet, onscreen patterns to aid with position/focus, and horizontal/vertical keystone correction, and you can configure it for front or rear projection and a ceiling or table mount. I placed the unit on an equipment rack about 4 feet high, directly behind my seating area, 14 feet from my 75-inch-diagonal Elite Screens theater screen.

The DLA-X3 lacks some advanced picture adjustments found in the step-up models, but it still provides the essentials to fine-tune the image–beginning with nine picture modes (three of which are user modes). No, you don’t get the THX mode found in the X7 and X9, but I found that both the Film and Cinema modes provide an excellent base image. Within each mode, you can choose between 10 preset color-temperature options (from 5500K up to 9500K, plus a high-brightness mode) and access RGB gain and offset controls to tailor the white balance. There’s also a solid selection of gamma presets and custom options. The DLA-X3 offers two ways to adjust the projector’s light output: You can select between a Normal and High lamp mode and precisely adjust the lens aperture (with 0 being wide open and thus the brightest, -15 being the darkest). The one area where the DLA-X3 is a bit lacking is in color management. This projector does not include the seven-axis system found in the step-up models, which lets you independently adjust all six color points plus orange; rather, you can only choose between Normal, Wide1, and Wide2 color spaces. I stuck with the Normal mode for 2D content, as I found it to produce the most natural-looking color.

JVC’s 120Hz Clear Motion Drive includes five different options, and the user manual kindly explains what each one does. Modes 1 and 2 insert black frames between existing frames to reduce motion blur, while Modes 3 and 4 use varying degrees of frame interpolation to reduce motion blur and film judder. There’s also an Inverse Telecine mode that’s designed to reduce judder by first deconstructing the 60Hz film image back to the original 24 frames and then converting it to 120Hz. Leave the CMD control off (which it is by default), and the projector simply duplicates frames to get to 120Hz.

The DLA-X3 has three just aspect ratios: 16:9, 4:3, and a Zoom mode for non-HD sources. A separate Mask control lets you add 2.5 or 5 percent overscan, if desired. The projector also offers two anamorphic modes, for use with a separate anamorphic lens that allows you to view 2.35:1 films with no black bars on the top and bottom. Mode “A” stretches the image vertically, and mode “B” squeezes it horizontally.

Finally, there’s 3D setup. As I mentioned above, you need to connect the optional 3D signal emitter to the DLA-X3 in order to communicate with the glasses. This is an IR-based emitter that has a 3-meter cable that allows you to position it for optimal communication. Unlike other glasses I’ve used, the PK-AG1 glasses don’t have an on/off switch; just put them on when the 3D signal appears on screen, and you’re good to go…which is convenient but seems like it would quickly drain the battery. Then again, given how often people will likely forget to use an off switch, it’s probably a push. Also different from the 3DTVs I’ve tested, the DLA-X3 does not automatically switch to a special 3D picture mode when it detects a 3D signal. You have to manually switch to the 3D picture mode, if you wish to use it. This mode is set by default to the High lamp mode and brightest lens aperture to improve brightness, which is compromised by the shutter glasses. It also has a slightly higher color temp to compensate for the glasses’ yellowish-green tint. Of course, you can adjust these and other parameters, just as you would with a 2D image. The only function you cannot access is Clear Motion Drive, which is locked in the off position. The DLA-X3 does not include any advanced 3D adjustments, such as the ability to change the image depth or perspective. It also lacks the 2D-to-3D conversion found in many 3DTVs, although I’ve been less than impressed with that feature thus far.

Performance
This was an easy review to do because the DLA-X3 is just an easy projector to like. A houseguest arrived right around the time I set up the JVC, and we watched the Salt Blu-ray disc (Sony Pictures) before I had even performed basic picture adjustments using Digital Video Essentials (DVD International). All I did was switch from the default Natural picture mode to the Film picture mode and cue up the movie. I often found my thoughts drifting away from the film itself and landing on, “Man, that’s a nice-looking picture.” Rich contrast with excellent blacks. Great detail. Natural color. A clean image. Of course, when I did get around to that DVE disc, I was able to make some quick adjustments that resulted in an even better-looking picture.

Read more about the performance of the JVC DLA-X3 3D projector on Page 2.

JVC_DLA-X3_3D_projector_review.jpgJVC’s D-ILA projectors are known for their contrast and black level. Most DLP and LCD projectors achieve higher contrast ratios by using an auto iris that constantly adjusts to suit the content being displayed on the screen. The iris opens wide during bright scenes to improve light output and squeezes during dark scenes to improve black level, which unfortunately also limits the brightness of any brighter objects in that same scene. JVC’s D-ILA technology (a form of LCOS, or liquid crystal on silicon) doesn’t use an auto iris, so there’s no limiting or subtle shifting of image brightness and no sound of an auto iris doing its job. With Salt and with my standard arsenal of black-level demos from The Bourne Supremacy (Universal), Flags of Our Fathers (Paramount), Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Buena Vista), and Casino Royale (Sony Pictures), blacks looked wonderfully dark, while bright objects remained bright–thus equaling a great contrast ratio and an image with wonderful richness and depth. As for black detail, I switched from the Film mode’s default “B” gamma preset to the Normal gamma preset: I felt the B setting was a bit too dark and diminished some black details, while the Normal setting struck a better balance, revealing a lot of fine black details while not being too light.

Even in its Normal lamp mode, the DLA-X3 produced a good level of brightness for my 75-inch-diagonal, 1.1-gain, matte-white screen. In a completely dark room, the image had plenty of pop and saturation; in fact, during a couple of quick dark-to-bright scene transitions, I found myself squinting. I was even able to watch HDTV content with the room lights on without having to switch to the brighter lamp mode. This is a plus because the High lamp mode is much louder, while the Normal mode is pleasantly quiet.

In the color realm, the DLA-X3’s Normal color space is the closest to accurate, actually leaning more toward subdued than oversaturated. I personally appreciated the naturalness of the color palette; combined with the generally neutral color temperature and accurate skintones, it gave the image a pleasantly realistic, lifelike quality. However, some users may find the Normal mode to be too muted, in which case they can switch to the Wide1 color space and get more color saturation and punch. Serious videophiles who want spot-on Rec 709 color points may want to move up to the X7 and utilize the seven-axis color management system to precisely customize each color.

The Reon-VX chip delivers in both image detail and processing. Blu-ray, HDTV, and upconverted SD sources had an excellent level of detail, and the projector passed all of my 480i and 1080i deinterlacing/processing tests. I occasionally saw some digital noise in low-level areas, but for the most part the projector renders a clean image. With Clear Motion Drive turned off, the DLA-X3 showed a fair amount of motion blur in test patterns from the FPD Benchmark Software BD. The motion resolution pattern showed blurry lines down to DVD level. The weaker CMD options (Modes 1 and 3) cleaned up the lines to HD720, while the stronger CMD options (Modes 2 and 4) produced mostly clean lines to HD1080. I don’t like the artificially smooth look of frame interpolation, so I tend to avoid such modes; but I will say that the weaker mode (Mode 3) is pretty subtle in its implementation. The Inverse Telecine mode didn’t appear to do much in the way of reducing judder. Interestingly, the two black-frame modes add a slight flicker or pulsating effect that you might notice in brighter scenes and static menus. It’s less noticeable in Mode 1 than Mode 2, but I ultimately preferred to just leave CMD turned off.

Finally, I switched over to 3D content and the 3D picture mode, and I used my standard demo scenes from Monsters vs. Aliens (DreamWorks), Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (20th Century Fox), and Monster House (Sony Pictures), as well as DirecTV 3D content. At first, the image seemed a bit flat and washed out, lacking that fantastic contrast I saw with 2D content. I decided to switch from the High lamp mode to the Normal lamp mode, leaving the lens aperture at its brightest setting. This provided noticeable improvement. The High mode is not significantly brighter than the Normal mode anyhow, yet the difference in black level is meaningful enough to hurt overall contrast; even though the common thinking is that a brighter mode is best for 3D, I felt the picture benefited more in overall saturation to turn the lamp down. Also, the subdued color of the Normal color space was even more muted through the 3D glasses; switching to the Wide1 color space helped breathe more saturated life into the image. With these minor changes out of the way, I was able to sit back and enjoy the 3D picture, which had fantastic detail and an excellent sense of depth. I definitely concur that 3D is better on a bigger screen; the DLA-X3’s sense of three-dimensionality was much more effective than I’ve seen with the smaller 3DTVs I’ve reviewed. I also found it easier on my eyes and brain, as the larger screen made it easier to simply take in the 3D effects without struggling to reconcile them within the smaller frame of a TV. I saw virtually no crosstalk with the DLA-X3, as well.

JVC_DLA-X3_3D_projector_review_overhead.jpgLow Points
Light output could be a concern if you have a relatively large screen. While the DLA-X3’s brightness was sufficient for my screen size and type, this projector isn’t as bright as some of its competitors. Those of you who have screen sizes over 90 inches may want to move up to the X7, especially if you plan to watch a lot of 3D content.

Speaking of 3D, the fact that the glasses and emitter cost extra will add to the bottom line. If you go the passive 3D route, the glasses are cheaper, but the projectors currently cost more. I encountered some compatibility issues that are specific to DirecTV subscribers. The projector was unable to show the ESPN 3D channel (channel 106) and Panasonic’s Cine3D on-demand channel (channel 104) because DirecTV has opted to broadcast these channels in side-by-side 720p and 1080p, respectively. Neither of those formats is mandated in the HDMI 1.4a spec; they are optional, and apparently JVC did not opt to support them. I got error messages on both channels, telling me that the TV does not support these resolutions. Any limitation to the already limited amount of available 3D content is disappointing. I’m not sure if this is something that could be fixed through a firmware update on JVC’s part. From what I’m seeing online, the problem is not limited to JVC displays, but it is the first time I’ve encountered it. Also, if you’re planning to use an anamorphic lens system, it’s worth noting that the two anamorphic modes don’t work with 3D content–although that can be accomplished with an outboard processor.

Competition and Comparison
The “entry-level” 3D projector category doesn’t have a lot of members yet. Sharp’s XV-Z17000 and Sony’s brand new VPL-HW30ES are currently the DLA-X3’s main rivals, and we have yet to review those models. You can learn more about projectors in general by visiting our Video Projectors section.

Conclusion
The JVC DLA-X3 is first and foremost an outstanding 2D projector – with good 3D performance thrown in, to boot. It’s ideally suited for someone who has a modest-sized screen and plans to watch a majority of content in a light-controlled environment–although it will also deliver the goods for the occasional daytime sporting event. Its $4,500 MSRP lands it in somewhat of a middle ground between the entry- and mid-level categories. The DLA-X3’s native contrast and black level give it an advantage over most entry-level projectors and rival that of the more expensive mid-level offerings. It’s a great choice for someone who wants a big step up in performance without a big step up in price.

Additional Resources
• Read more video projector reviews by Home Theater Review’s staff.
• Explore pairing options in our Projector Screen Review section.
• Look for 3D-capable Blu-ray players in our Blu-ray Player Review section.

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