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 . . .