You've heard me and plenty of other reviewers say it: so far, the benefits of 4K/Ultra HD have been difficult to discern in the TV realm, where affordable screen sizes just aren't large enough to see an obvious step up in detail from a normal viewing distance. We talk about how 4K makes more sense in large-screen front projection, but true 4K isn't exactly cheap (or plentiful) in that realm, either. Sony's lowest-priced consumer 4K projector is the $15,000 VPL-VW600ES, and projector manufacturers like Epson, BenQ, and Optoma haven't even entered the 4K space yet.
As for JVC, the company's Procision lineup of consumer-oriented projectors - the DLA-X900RKT ($11,999.95), DLA-X700R ($7,999.95), and DLA-X500R ($4,999.95) - is designed to bridge the gap by accepting native 4K signals and using a technology called e-shift3 to simulate a 3,840 x 2,160 resolution using the projector's three 1080p D-ILA devices. No, it's not true 4K, but is it better than 1080p?
I received a sample of the lower-priced DLA-X500R. This D-ILA projector (D-ILA is JVC's version of Liquid Crystal on Silicon, or LCoS has a rated light output of 1,300 lumens and a rated native contrast ratio of 60,000:1. JVC projectors have long been touted for their deep black levels and good native contrast, which is why I was somewhat surprised that the company felt compelled to add an auto iris this year and quotes a dynamic contrast ratio of 600,000:1. Clear Motion Drive is available for blur and judder reduction, and this is a 3D-ready projector, with the sync emitter and active-shutter 3D glasses sold separately.
The DLA-X500R is obviously the most compelling of the e-shift3 projectors from a value standpoint, and its $5,000 asking price gives it an interesting market position - far below high-end projectors from the likes of Sony, SIM2, and Runco, but still a step above the crowded field of sub-$3,500 1080p projectors from Epson, Sony, Panasonic, BenQ, and even JVC itself, which sells the 1080p DLA-X35 for $3,499.95. Does the DLA-X500R's performance merit the step up in price? Let's find out.
The DLA-X500R certainly has the size and build of a higher-end projector, weighing in at 32.3 pounds and measuring 17.88 by 18.5 by 7 inches. It's your basic black-box design, with a center-mounted lens, vents along both sides, and controls on the back panel. The input panel sports just two HDMI 1.4 video inputs, with no analog options. That's one less HDMI input than you'll find on a number of new lower-priced projectors - which won't be an issue if you're routing video sources through an AV receiver or preamp but could be problematic if you prefer to feed your video sources directly into the projector. In my case, I did all evaluations with a Dish Network Hopper DVR and Oppo BDP-103 universal player going directly into the projector, but my standard HT setup sends everything out of a Harman/Kardon receiver.
RS-232, Ethernet, and a 12-volt trigger are also located on the back panel, as is the 3D Synchro port to attach the optional $100 PK-EM2 3D emitter (which is slightly larger than a USB thumb drive and communicates with the $169 PK-AG3 glasses via RF). A 230-watt NSH lamp is used, and JVC quotes a rated lamp life of 4,000 hours in the low lamp mode.
The supplied remote is fully backlit and has a clean button layout, with direct access to lots of picture adjustments. It lacks dedicated input buttons, but come on...there are only two inputs, so scrolling through them via the single Input button is hardly a time-consuming task. JVC also offers a free smartphone app for projector setup and control.
Unlike most of the lower-priced competitors that sport manual lens adjustments, the JVC's zoom, focus, and horizontal/vertical lens shifting can all be adjusted via the remote, which makes it easier for one person to set up and focus the projector. The healthy 2x zoom and lens shifting (+/-80 percent vertical, +/-34 percent horizontal) certainly help simplify and speed up the setup process. During my review time, I mated the projector with two different 16:9-shaped screens: first with the ceiling-mounted, drop-down, 100-inch Visual Apex VAPEX9100SE screen and then with the fixed-frame, 90-inch Screen Innovations Zero Edge Pure White 1.3 screen mounted on the wall about two feet farther away than the Visual Apex model. In both cases, without moving the JVC from its perch atop a gear rack in the back of my room (about 14 to 16 feet away from the screens), I easily sized and positioned the projected image in a matter of minutes. The DLA-X500R's throw ratio is 1.4:1 to 2.8:1. All four feet are adjustable, and keystone and pincushion adjustments are also available.
The Aspect Ratio menu only includes options for 4:3, 16;9, and Zoom, but elsewhere in the setup menu, you will find an Anamorphic mode to mate the projector with an anamorphic lens and 2.35:1-shaped screen. The DLA-X500R also allows you to set up and save up to five lens memories; so, you can use the focus, zoom, and lens-shifting tools to configure different screen shapes for different sources.
In terms of picture adjustments, JVC has included all of the important controls. As I mentioned, there are five picture modes (Cinema, Anime, Natural, Stage, and User); the X500R lacks the THX and ISF modes found in the higher-end Procision models. Advanced adjustments include: incremental color temperature from 5500K to 9500K, with a high brightness mode and three custom modes in which you can adjust RGB gain and offset; four gamma presets and three custom modes with selections from 1.8 to 2.6, plus picture tone and dark/bright level controls to further fine tune the gamma; a seven-point color management system to adjust hue, saturation, and brightness of the six color points plus orange; two color profiles (Cinema and Natural); two lamp modes (Low and High); two auto iris modes, plus the ability to manually adjust the lens aperture; and four Clear Motion Drive options (Off, Low, High, and Inverse Telecine). The Low and High modes employ frame interpolation to reduce film judder, producing that smoother look with film sources.
The e-shift3 models have a special set of picture adjustments labeled MPC, for Multi Pixel Control. Within this setup menu, you can choose to enable or disable the 4K e-shift3 feature. Turn it off to get a straightforward 1080p image; turn it on to use e-shift. And what does e-shift3 do exactly? Well, here's a link to JVC's description, with diagrams. Basically, e-shift3 creates sub-frames and shifts them by a half pixel diagonally "to achieve four times the pixel density of the original content." The A and B sub-frames are created from different pixels within a native or upconverted 4K signal. Technically, the size of each pixel isn't really any smaller, but the image is "denser." The MPC menu includes controls like enhance (sharpening), dynamic contrast, smoothing, and noise reduction to further fine-tune the e-shift3 image, and there's a helpful before/after tool to see what difference these controls can make. The e-shift3 function is available with 1080p and 4K content, but not 3D.
Finally, the DLA-X500R includes a simple pixel convergence tool to ensure that the three D-ILA devices are in proper alignment. My review sample was in pretty good order out of the box, but I did find take a few minutes to fine-tune the alignment and found the process to be quite easy.
Click on over to Page 2 for the Performance, the Downside, Competition and Comparison and the Conclusion . . .
I spent a few days doing some casual movie-watching through the JVC before I measured and calibrated it, and the one thing that stood out to me was how much brighter this projector is than previous JVC offerings I've tested. As I said, JVC models have always excelled at black-level performance but were best suited for a completely dark viewing environment because of low light output. In contrast, this model is bright enough to produce a respectably saturated image with room lights turned on. JVC attributes this improved light output to the sixth-generation D-ILA devices, which have a 40 percent smaller pixel gap.
In fact, the projector's default settings seem to scream, "Hey, look at me. I can be bright, too!" All of the picture modes default to the brighter lamp mode, and all were set in gamma modes that are better suited to bright rooms and brighter content. When mated with my 100-inch, 1.1-gain Visual Apex screen, the Cinema mode's default settings produced about 28 foot-lamberts with a full-white test pattern. The maximum light output I was able to get in the User picture mode with lamp brightness, aperture, and color temp cranked to high levels was about 34 ft-L. Granted, that doesn't compare with the 64 ft-L I got from the Epson Home Cinema 5030UBe, but it does give the DLA-X500R more flexibility than previous JVC offerings to perform in a room that doesn't have complete light control.
Of course, the flipside to that image brightness is that, out of the box, the JVC projector isn't optimally configured for dark-room movie watching. I could tell that, even with the new auto iris engaged, the DLA-X500R's Cinema mode was not producing the depth of black that the projector was likely capable of, and I found that the higher default gamma numbers revealed a lot of noise in low-light scenes, in darker-colored backgrounds, and in light-to-dark transitions. So, it was time to dial in some more theater-worthy numbers and run through a full calibration.
Of the five picture modes, the Cinema and Standard modes measure the closest to reference standards out of the box. (See our article "How We Evaluate and Measure HDTVs" for more information on the calibration terms used here.) The Natural picture mode actually had the lowest gray scale Delta Error (7.68), the most accurate color points (blue was the least accurate, with a Delta Error of just 4.0), a maximum light output of about 22.6 foot-lamberts, and a gamma of 1.77. The Cinema mode's grayscale Delta Error was 8.12 (with a color balance that slightly emphasized green), the color points were a little further off the mark (with cyan the worst at DE8.27), light output of 28.2 ft-L, and gamma of 1.95.
Because of its slightly darker gamma, I opted to use the Cinema mode for calibration, and I was able to achieve very good results, thanks to the abundant controls at my disposal. It took some patience and time investment on my part, but the end result was a gray scale DE of just 2.14 (anything under three is considered imperceptible to the human eye), a perfect 2.4 gamma, and all six color points falling under the DE3 target. The color management system worked, but it didn't work as precisely as I would've liked in order to achieve optimal balance between hue, brightness and saturation of each color. I went with the Natural color profile (color space), as it measured the closest to accurate and needed the least adjustment. If you prefer a little more pop and punch in your color, the Cinema color profile produces a slightly larger color gamut.
To calibrate the projector for a completely dark room, I switched to the (very quiet) Low lamp mode and adjusted the lens aperture to maximum to get about 13.7 ft-L on my Visual Apex screen. This brightness level, combined with the more accurate gamma, eliminated the noise issues I had seen before calibration, and overall I found both Blu-ray and HDTV images to look quite clean.
When properly adjusted, the DLA-X500R produced a wonderfully dark shade of black and very good black detail in demo scenes from Gravity, The Bourne Supremacy, and Flags of Our Fathers. Add in the improved light output and the addition of the auto iris to more precisely tailor light output to suit the exact content on the screen, and the result was an image with exceptional richness and contrast. Even basic HDTV content like the opening black-and-white sequence of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon had excellent depth and dimension. When compared directly with the Sony VPL-HW30ES that I use as a reference projector, at similar brightness levels, the JVC produced notably darker blacks. The difference was not subtle, especially in the star-filled skies of Gravity, where the black areas retained great depth while stars were clearly articulated in the sky.
In the area of detail, the DLA-X500R served up a very crisp, clean picture with excellent sharpness in the finest details. When I mated the JVC with the Screen Innovations Zero Edge 1.3-gain screen, which is labeled a "4K screen material" due to its ultra-fine granularity, a great Blu-ray transfer like Kingdom of Heaven looked exceptionally sharp and detailed. I must confess, though, that even with e-shift3 engaged, I could not discern a significant improvement in detail compared with the Sony 1080p projector (which also uses LCoS technology - which I like precisely because it can render such a crisp, clear picture). In some direct A/B comparisons between the two projectors, there were some instances in Flags of Our Fathers and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl where the finest background details seemed just a bit sharper and more defined through the JVC, especially when I set the MPC Enhance (sharpening) control to a higher level. But the improvement was a subtle one.
The DLA-X500R accepted an upscaled Blu-ray image sent at 2160p/24 from my Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player without issue. I also hooked up the new DVDO AVLab TPG 4K test pattern generator (review coming soon) and confirmed that the JVC could accept 4K at 24, 30, and 60 frames per second. Keep in mind, though, that the DLA-X500R's two HDMI inputs are only v1.4 (not 2.0), so the 4K/60 signal is limited to 8-bit, with 4:2:0 subsampling. This isn't a concern right now, but it is a limitation down the road, if/when we see a wider variety of UHD source content at higher frame rates and bit depths. The pattern generator also includes several one-pixel patterns to test for a true 4K resolution, and not surprisingly the JVC didn't accurately render these patterns.
JVC sent along the optional 3D emitter and glasses so that I could evaluate the projector's 3D performance, which proved to be excellent. The increased light output, combined with that great image contrast and detail, made for beautiful 3D imagery, and I saw no ghosting or crosstalk in Life of Pi, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and my favorite demo scene, the floating spoon in chapter 13 of Monsters vs. Aliens.
Finally, for those of you who are especially sensitive to motion blur or like the smoothing effects of frame interpolation, the High Clear Motion Drive mode did a very good job of preserving motion detail in my FPD Benchmark test patterns, but its smoothing effect is quite exaggerated. Meanwhile, the Low CMD mode didn't seem to offer much improvement in the area of motion resolution, but its smoothing effects were more subtle and, in my opinion as someone who doesn't like frame interpolation, more tolerable.
The DLA-X500R is a bit slow to switch between different resolutions, and its video-processing chip did not perform as well as others I've tested. For one thing, this projector does not accept a 480i signal at all. Honestly, if you're still using a 480i DVD player, you'll get no sympathy from me. However, this could be a concern if you use a cable/satellite box that's set to output each channel at its native resolution (which is how I prefer it, but alas my Dish Network Hopper doesn't support that function). You'll need to set SDTV channels for 480p if possible, but then you're forced to rely on the set-top box's deinterlacing, which probably isn't very good.
With the Spears and Munsil 1080i cadence tests, the DLA-X500R correctly detected a 1080i film cadence (although it was slow to do so), but it failed at 1080i video and other cadences like 5:5 and 6:4. What that means is you probably won't see too many artifacts in film-based 1080i HDTV shows, but 1080i concert videos on TV or Blu-ray may have a lot of jaggies. I recommend you mate this projector with a Blu-ray player, AV receiver, or external scaler that handles all of the upconversion on its end and feeds a single resolution to the projector.
I really don't hold it against this $5,000 projector that it does not display a true 4K resolution, but JVC's emphasis on the 4K-friendliness of the Procision lineup forces us to make that point abundantly clear. E-shift3 may not make that big of an improvement in detail compared with 1080p, but it certainly doesn't do any harm, either. Now, if we were talking about the $12,000 DLA-X900RKT, then I'd say you should seriously consider whether to step up to the aforementioned Sony VPL-VW600ES true 4K projector at $15,000.
Speaking of 4K-friendliness, while this projector will accept native 4K content up to 60fps, it does not contain HEVC decoding or built-in Web apps to accommodate 4K streaming from Netflix or the like. The HDMI inputs are v1.4 not 2.0, and the projector also lacks a USB port to accommodate a 4K server, should some manufacturer choose to go that route with a universal 4K playback device.
Competition & Comparison
As I said in the intro, the $5,000 DLA-X500R falls in a middle ground, price-wise -- below higher-end 4K projectors like the Sony offerings and above a crowded field of sub-$4,000 projectors. Its primary competition likely comes from those priced below it. In the LCD realm, Epson's Home Cinema 5030UBe is that company's highest-end consumer-oriented LCD projector, priced at $2,899. Panasonic's PT-AE8000U is priced around $2,500. In the DLP realm, BenQ offers the W7500 DLP projector for $2,799, and Optoma sells the HD91 LED projector for $3,999.
The Sony VPL-HW30ES SXRD (LCoS) projector that I used for comparison now sells for $2,599; as I saw, the JVC has a huge advantage in black-level performance. Arguably the primary competitor to the JVC is Sony's newer 1080p model, the $3,999 VPL-HW55ES, which also uses LCoS technology and includes the 3D emitter and glasses.
JVC's own DLA-X35 1080p projector sells for $3,499.95; while I have not personally reviewed this model, I have seen reviews stating that the black level on the X35 does not quite rival the higher-end JVC Procision models.
What's the final verdict on the JVC DLA-X500R? It totally depends on whether you're in the market for some type of 4K bridge device or just a high-performance 1080p projector. If you're looking for a 4K-friendly projector that completely anticipates the future of 4K content and will see you through that transition, there are some issues with the DLA-X500R's connectivity that will give you pause. If, on the other hand, you're shopping for an exceptional 1080p 3D projector that's going to do a wonderful job with the Blu-ray and HDTV sources you're watching right now, then the DLA-X500R is an absolute success. The DLA-X500R's performance merits the step up in price over many of those sub-$4,000 models. The combination of a superior black level and improved light output, alongside the excellent detail and natural color, makes for a truly gorgeous big-screen image. Major kudos to JVC for preserving what we already love about their projectors (i.e., black level and contrast) while adding more flexibility (i.e., light output) to suit a wider audience.