JVC DLA-X970R D-ILA Projector Reviewed

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JVC DLA-X970R D-ILA Projector Reviewed

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JVC-DLA-X970-225x129.jpgJVC has been nothing if not consistent when it comes to its Procision line of e-shift projectors. Since introducing the first e-shift models back in 2011, the company has released updated versions every 12 to 18 months to keep up with the rapid evolution of the 4K market. Over the past few years, the line has consisted of three models: the lowest priced X5, the mid-level X7, and the top-shelf X9. In January, the latest upgrades arrived; the DLA-X970R ($9,999), the DLA-X770R ($6,999) and the DLA X570R ($3,999). We've covered the X5 and X7 series in years past, so this year JVC sent us the top-shelf X970R. I won't call it the flagship because that honor now belongs to JVC's Reference Series DLA-RS4500, a native 4K projector that uses a laser light source, is rated at 3,000 lumens, and sells for $34,999.

In comparison, the DLA-X970R is a steal at $9,999. This is a D-ILA (aka LCoS) projector with a rated light output of 2,000 lumens and a rated native contrast ratio of 160,000:1. It features an auto iris to improve dynamic contrast, Clear Motion Drive technology to reduce motion blur and film judder, and active 3D capability with the addition of an optional 3D emitter and glasses. In stepping down from the Reference Series to the X970R, you lose the laser light source and the native 4K resolution; as you probably already know, e-shift projectors are technically 1080p projectors that employ pixel-shifting technology to improve pixel density and simulate 4K detail. Just like with last year's models, all three 2017 Procision projectors accept 4K input signals and support the HDR10 High Dynamic Range format. The X770R and X970R models add support for the wider DCI-P3 color gamut, as well as THX certification. Improvements to this year's Procision line include a modest step up in brightness (a 100-lumen increase for each model), the use of full-bandwidth 18-Gbps HDMI 2.0b inputs to ensure the passage of 4K/60p 4:4:4 signals, and the addition of a low-latency mode for gaming.

As you can see from that list of improvements, JVC isn't exactly trying to reinvent the wheel with this new Procision generation. For that reason, many aspects of this year's review of the DLA-X970R will be similar to last year's review of the DLA-X750R, although there are a few minor differences of note in terms of overall performance. JVC has made one key improvement that makes this year's models a better choice for UHD fans. What is it? Well, you gotta keep reading to find out.

Setup and Features
The DLA-X970R is a more substantial piece of hardware than all the tiny, portable, high-brightness home entertainment projectors that are growing in popularity these days. It measures 17.88 by 7 by 18.5 inches and weighs 34.4 pounds--which is identical to last year's model and on par with competitively priced models from Sony and Epson. The projector has a glossy black finish and features a center-mounted lens with an automatic lens cover. It uses a 265-watt NSH lamp with a rated lifespan of 4,500 hours in the low lamp mode; fan vents run along each side of the projector. In its low lamp mode, the X970R is pleasantly quiet; even in a silent room, it draws little attention to itself. When you switch to the high mode, fan noise definitely gets more noticeable, but it's still not excessive.

The only video inputs on the back panel are the dual 18-Gbps HDMI 2.0b inputs, both with HDCP 2.2 copy protection. There are no analog video inputs, and the projector does not accept a 480i resolution. Other connection options include RS-232, a 12-volt trigger, a LAN port for network control, and a 3D Synchro port to attach the optional 3D emitter. Around back is also where you'll find buttons for power, input, OK, menu, back, and navigation.

The supplied IR remote control is the same one that has accompanied previous JVC projectors. It's a full-sized, fully backlit remote that provides dedicated buttons for each picture mode and the ability to quickly access picture adjustments like gamma, color temp, color profiles, lens memory, and more. The X970R features motorized lens control, so you can adjust the 2x zoom, focus, and lens shifting (+/-80 percent vertical and +/-34 percent horizontal) using the remote. The combination of the motorized controls and the generous zoom/lens shifting made the process of positioning the X970R's image on my 100-inch-diagonal Visual Apex drop-down screen very simple. The projector supports an image size between 60 and 200 inches diagonally.

The X970R has the full complement of advanced picture adjustments that one would hope to see in a higher-end model. As a THX-certified projector, it includes THX picture modes for both 2D and 3D. Other picture-mode options include Film, Cinema, Animation, Natural, HDR, and five User modes. Did you catch the new one on the list? That's right, JVC has added a dedicated HDR picture mode set for BT.2020 color and ST.2084 gamma; best of all, the projector automatically switches into that mode when it detects an HDR signal. If you read my review of last year's DLA-X750R, you might recall that setting up the projector to display HDR content properly was no simple task. Even though the projector manually switched to the correct gamma mode for HDR, the picture did not look correct and required that I input specific picture settings that I had to track down through JVC support. This year's HDR experience was totally plug-and-play, and the DLA-X970R worked fine with all three UHD Blu-ray players I had on hand: the OPPO Digital UDP-203, Samsung UBD-K8500, and Sony UBP-X800 (link tk). Also, JVC has added support for the HLG High Dynamic Range format that will most likely be used for TV broadcasts. It does not support Dolby Vision.

Advanced picture controls include multiple color temperature presets, as well as RGB gain and offset controls; four color profiles (standard, video, reference, BT.2020) and a full six-point color management system; multiple gamma presets and the ability to create custom gamma settings; high and low lamp modes; blur reduction tools (Clear Motion Drive and motion enhance); 3D settings (parallax and crosstalk cancellation controls); and the ability to choose between two auto lens apertures or manually adjust the aperture in 15 steps. For most of my tests, I used the manual aperture, since the JVC has such a high native contrast ratio anyhow. But I did experiment with the auto options and found that they were quick and silent in their functionality; I didn't see any unnatural brightness fluctuations and could barely hear the automatic lens adjustment.

The MPC (Multi Pixel Control) menu is where you can enable or disable the e-shift4 technology. Turn it off to get a straightforward 1080p image; turn it on to enable the pixel shifting. When you input a 4K signal, MPC is locked in the on position. The MPC menu includes independently adjustable controls for enhance (sharpening), smoothing, and noise reduction, and there's a helpful before/after tool to see what difference these controls can make.

The X970R has three aspect-ratio options (4:3, 16:9, and Zoom), as well as an anamorphic lens mode, a masking function, and the ability to store up to 10 different lens memories. The "Pixel Adjust" function allows you to align the pixels if necessary. If you notice color around the borders of objects, it means the D-ILA devices are out of alignment. My review sample looked fine out of the box.

As always, I begin each performance assessment by measuring a display's various picture modes to see which one is the most accurate out of the box--using my Xrite I1Pro 2 meter, CalMAN software, and DVDO iScan pattern generator. As was the case with last year's DLA-X750R, the X970R's THX mode was the closest to HD reference standards. Color accuracy was excellent: all six color points had a Delta Error way below three, with yellow being the least accurate at just 1.28 (an error number below three is considered imperceptible to the human eye). The color balance was generally neutral, leaning slightly red with darker signals and slightly bluish-green with brighter signals. The one parameter that was not as accurate as it was in last year's model was the gamma, which averaged a fairly light 2.0 (we use a target of 2.4 for projectors; the higher the number, the darker the gamma). This resulted in a maximum Delta Error of 6.74 for the grayscale.

I discovered that the reason for the lighter gamma is that projector's input signal automatically defaults to the "Enhanced" setting that shows a full 0-255 signal (as opposed to the standard 16-235 signal). The simple act of either switching to the "Standard" input signal mode or properly adjusting the X970R's brightness and contrast controls (using test patterns from a disc like Video Essentials) produced a darker gamma that tracked closely along the 2.2 curve. But to get even closer to the darker 2.4 curve, I had to use my meter and CalMAN software. The THX picture mode does not let you choose between multiple gamma presets like the other modes do; there's only one preset called THX. You have to use the advanced tools (picture tone, white level, and dark level) to customize your preferred gamma. I also used the RGB gain and bias controls tighten up the color balance, and I did only the most minor tweaking of the color management system--since the color points were already so accurate. After calibration, the DLA-X970R had a maximum grayscale Delta Error of just 1.88 and a gamma average of 2.31.

As I mentioned, this year's models are only slightly brighter than last year's. The THX mode's default light output, with a full-screen 100 percent pattern on my 100-inch 1.1-gain screen, was about 30 foot-lamberts (and I kept it close to that after calibration). Compare that with 28.3 ft-L in last year's X750R. The brightest picture mode is the Natural mode, at about 52 ft-L in the high lamp mode. For those who plan to do some viewing during the day or in a room with modest ambient light, the Natural mode is a great option. It measured quite close to the THX mode in its color balance, and the color points were also very close to reference standards--with blue being the least accurate at a Delta Error of 3.13. I used the Natural mode to watch HDTV shows and sports during the day; and, with the blinds in the back of the room opened halfway, I was still able to enjoy a nicely saturated, nicely detailed image.

On the flip side, the DLA-X970R is a true theater-worthy projector that serves up a lusciously dark black level and offers very good shadow detail. I compared the X970R with my older Sony VPL-VW350ES native 4K projector using black-level demo scenes from Blu-ray discs like Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Flags of Our Fathers, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and Gravity, and the JVC clearly produced a deeper black level and a richer overall image contrast, with a greater sense of depth.

When comparing this e-shift4 projector to the native 4K Sony, I struggled to see any difference in detail (both with 1080p and UHD Blu-ray discs) on my 100-inch screen. If your screen is notably larger, perhaps the difference between e-shift4 and native 4K will be more apparent. JVC's MPC control gives you a nice degree of flexibility to tailor the image to your taste: If you want an image that seems more detailed, you can turn up the Enhance control, which really does a nice job of producing a sharper-looking picture that emphasizes the finer details without adding excessive edge enhancement. It's a bit like the improvement that DARBEE Visual Presence offers. However, the Enhance tool also makes the image look a bit more grainy. If, on the other hand, you prefer the smoother, noise-free look that LCoS projectors are so good at rendering, you can leave Enhance set to zero and turn up the Noise Reduction control a bit. I struck a balance between the two was very pleased with the results.

Click over to Page Two for more on this projector's performance, as well as Measurements, The Downside, Comparson & Competition, and Conclusion...

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