JVC DLA-X790R D-ILA Pro­jec­tor

More from less? by Thomas J. Nor­ton

Sound & Vision - - CONTENTS - By Thomas J. Nor­ton

PRICE $6,000

ONE OF THE KEY FEA­TURES OF the Ul­tra HD for­mat is 4K res­o­lu­tion. But to date, the cat­a­log of true na­tive 4K home theater pro­jec­tors—those with imag­ing chips fea­tur­ing a min­i­mum of 3840 x 2160 pix­els with­out re­ly­ing on any pixel-shift­ing tricks—is pretty thin. JVC has the laser-lit DLA-RS4500K at $35,000, and Sony has its own pre­mium mod­els above $10,000. But if you’re look­ing for some­thing priced more af­ford­ably, you’re cur­rently lim­ited to Sony’s new VPL-VW285ES ($5,000) and VPL-VW385ES ($8,000).

Be­yond this, if you want a UHD-friendly pro­jec­tor, you’re look­ing at so-called “pixel-shifters,” which flash up suc­ces­sive frames of video from lesser-res­o­lu­tion imag­ing de­vices in an ef­fort to achieve higher sub­jec­tive res­o­lu­tions. A hand­ful of pro­jec­tors now use DLP’s lat­est 4K chip, which de­liv­ers all the sig­nal in­for­ma­tion in a full UHD sig­nal to the screen in two half-frames. We’ve tested two mod­els to date with this chip, in­clud­ing the bud­get-priced Op­toma UHD65 (De­cem­ber 2017 and soun­dand­vi­sion.com), but nei­ther de­liv­ered rec­om­mend­able con­trast per­for­mance.

JVC’s pro­jec­tor of­fer­ings in the lower price range also use pixel shift­ing, which the com­pany refers to as its e-shift tech­nol­ogy. JVC’s sys­tem, first used some years ago and now on its fifth gen­er­a­tion as e-shift5, uses three 1080p-res­o­lu­tion D-ILA LCOS imag­ing de­vices to bring res­o­lu­tion up to some­thing be­yond full HD but not quite to full 4K. An e-shift pro­jec­tor starts by pro­cess­ing the 8+ mil­lion pix­els in a 4K source down to 4 mil­lion. Half of these are dis­played first on the pro­jec­tor’s 1920 x 1080 imag­ing chips. The re­main­ing half are then shifted di­ag­o­nally by less than a pixel and dis­played a

frac­tion of a sec­ond later—so fast that the eye blends the two blocks to­gether and per­ceives the re­sult as greater than the pro­jec­tor’s na­tive 1920 x 1080 res­o­lu­tion. Among the most no­table im­prove­ments over the last-gen­er­a­tion e-shift, JVC says, is that the sys­tem now an­a­lyzes all of the pix­els in the orig­i­nal 4K source be­fore pro­cess­ing down to the crit­i­cal 4 mil­lion pix­els for each frame, al­low­ing it to re­tain im­proved sharp­ness and de­tail. The e-shift fea­ture is on by de­fault with any 4K in­put but can be turned off for in­puts of 1080p or less.

The sub­ject of this re­view is the mid­dle sib­ling in the JVC Pro­ci­sion line’s new three-model range for 2018: the DLA-X790R, which sells for $6,000. Above it is the DLA-X990R, which at $8,000, of­fers marginally im­proved bright­ness and con­trast ra­tio specs ver­sus the DLA-X790’s rated 1,900 lu­mens and 130,000:1. The step-down DLA-X590R, at $4,000, of­fers 1,800 lu­mens and a rated con­trast ra­tio of 40,000:1. Du­pli­cate mod­els are of­fered in JVC’s pro­fes­sional Ref­er­ence line se­ries, and a sev­enth 2018 model, a lim­it­ededi­tion high-end pro­jec­tor in a red cabi­net, serves to honor the 20th an­niver­sary of the com­pany’s D-ILA tech­nol­ogy.


The DLA-X790R may not have true 4K im­agers, but na­tive res­o­lu­tion isn’t ev­ery­thing. In­stead, this model of­fers more fea­tures—and per­haps bet­ter per­for­mance in ar­eas be­yond res­o­lu­tion—than it oth­er­wise might if it had to ab­sorb the cost of true 4K chips at a sim­i­lar price. Its fea­ture set is long in­deed, even a bit over­whelm­ing.

To be­gin, the pro­jec­tor sup­ports both the HDR10 and HLG (Hy­brid Log-Gamma) ver­sions of high dy­namic range (HDR), though not Dolby Vi­sion (we know of no home pro­jec­tors to date that sup­port the lat­ter). Its two HDMI in­puts are HDCP 2.2 com­pli­ant and can ac­cept a full 18-gi­ga­bit-per-sec­ond band­width. That means that it can do Ul­tra HD 4K sources at 60 hertz in HDR and 10 bits—though such ma­te­rial re­mains rare, there are mur­mur­ings from some Hol­ly­wood cre­atives that more will be com­ing. The RS-232 and

LAN in­puts are de­signed for wired con­trol of the pro­jec­tor, not for video sources. But the pro­jec­tor’s wire­less re­mote con­trol is com­fort­ably sized, well or­ga­nized, and back­lit.

The 265-watt lamp is rated for a life of 4,500 hours (in Low mode) or

3,500 hours (High mode). I sus­pect you’ll feel the need for a re­place­ment sooner than that, par­tic­u­larly if you watch a lot of HDR ma­te­rial. The cool­ing fan is barely au­di­ble in Low mode. In High (def­i­nitely rec­om­mended for HDR), you’ll hear it in a quiet room, but I didn’t find it ob­tru­sive, par­tic­u­larly with au­dio play­ing. There’s also an Eco se­lec­tion in the menu, but it has noth­ing to do with the lamp or the in-use power con­sump­tion. When en­gaged, it shuts off the pro­jec­tor af­ter 20 min­utes of de­tect­ing no source sig­nal.

Re­gard­less of lamp bright­ness, no pro­jec­tor can equal the peak

HDR lev­els achieved by a flat-panel dis­play. But even a small in­crease in peak lu­mi­nance is wel­come for those HDR high­lights. This pro­jec­tor’s pre­vi­ously men­tioned 1,900 lu­mens is said to rep­re­sent a 10 per­cent in­crease over that of last year’s sim­i­lar model. But lu­men ratings should al­ways be taken lightly, and they should never be com­pared be­tween man­u­fac­tur­ers (who will very likely rely on dif­fer­ent mea­sure­ment tech­niques).

The lens is fully pow­ered for zoom, shift, and fo­cus, with lens me­mories for sav­ing multiple set­tings. You can select one of two auto iris modes to im­prove black level and con­trast be­yond the chip’s na­tive ca­pa­bil­i­ties, or you can choose a man­ual iris set­ting. There’s also a pow­ered lens cover, as well as two anamor­phic stretch set­tings (ver­ti­cal or hor­i­zon­tal) for users who have an out­board anamor­phic lens.

Last but not least, 3D fans will ap­pre­ci­ate that the lat­est JVC pro­jec­tors still do 3D. But nei­ther the ex­ter­nal 3D sync emit­ter or 3D glasses are in­cluded with the pro­jec­tor.

Con­trols and Setup

The DLA-X790R is both THX cer­ti­fied and ISF li­censed. There’s a ded­i­cated THX Pic­ture Mode for HD/SDR (stan­dard dy­namic range) sources, and one or more of the Cus­tom Pic­ture Modes can be con­verted into cal­i­brated ISF modes and locked.

The con­trols are ex­ten­sive and a bit in­tim­i­dat­ing, even for an old pro like me. While the ba­sic pic­ture menu looks sim­ple enough, each se­lec­tion has sub­menus that ratchet up the op­tions. There are nine Pic­ture modes, in­clud­ing the five User modes and one HDR mode. Each Pic­ture mode of­fers a range of Color Pro­files. If you tally each User mode and its own se­lectable set­tings, there are, by my count, 102 dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of Pic­ture modes and Color Pro­files.

For­tu­nately, it’s safe to ig­nore most of them, par­tic­u­larly if you choose to give the pro­jec­tor a pro­fes­sional cal­i­bra­tion. I set­tled on two op­tions for SDR (THX and Cin­ema) and one for HDR (sim­ply la­beled HDR). Many of the oth­ers are clearly for pro ap­pli­ca­tions—and with­out cal­i­bra­tion, they pro­duced pic­tures on con­sumer con­tent sources that ranged from so-so to Looney Tunes.

The JVC of­fers a full color man­age­ment sys­tem (CMS), along with gain and off­set con­trols for white bal­ance. The Gain and Off­set set­tings are uni­ver­sal across all SDR modes; you can’t, for ex­am­ple, use dif­fer­ent Gain and Off­set set­tings for THX and Cin­ema. But you can use dif­fer­ent set­tings be­tween SDR and HDR modes.

There are con­ver­gence ad­just­ments (over­all and zone) to fine-tune the align­ment of the red and blue im­ages with the green. But our sam­ple was well aligned out of the box, so I never needed them. An­other op­tion I didn’t use was C.M.D. (Clear Mo­tion Drive), a mo­tion-smooth­ing fea­ture in the Blur Re­duc­tion menu.

A Low La­tency se­lec­tion, in­tended pri­mar­ily for gam­ing, ended up hav­ing more than the ob­vi­ous use for me. I was hav­ing dif­fi­culty get­ting good lip sync with any of the au­dio de­lay set­tings of­fered on my Oppo UDP-203 Ul­tra HD Blu-ray player. Turn­ing on Low La­tency cured this,

though it de­feated the Clear Mo­tion Drive. (No loss there for me, given my in­cur­able Soap Opera Derange­ment Syn­drome.) Ac­cord­ing to JVC, the Low La­tency mode has no ef­fect on the qual­ity of the pic­ture (color, res­o­lu­tion, etc.), and I nei­ther saw nor mea­sured any.

First Take

The JVC passed both 3:2 HD and MA (mo­tion adap­tive) HD in our stan­dard HD/ SDR video tests, but it failed 2:2 HD. The JVC won’t ac­cept a na­tive 480i in­put, so the SD tests were ir­rel­e­vant. It passed both luma and chroma res­o­lu­tion but clipped both above white and be­low black. It will pass be­low black and above white if the In­put Level con­trol is changed from Auto (the de­fault) to En­hanced, but the lat­ter re­sulted in odd set­tings for the Bright­ness and Con­trast con­trols, to­gether with a paler im­age of­fer­ing re­duced HDR pop and con­trast. The En­hanced set­ting did pro­duce bet­ter clip­ping re­sults on test pat­terns, but over­all I pre­ferred the vis­i­ble re­sult in the Auto po­si­tion.

The new catch­phrase for gamma is EOTF (Elec­tro-Op­ti­cal Trans­fer Func­tion). And for HDR, we have a new form of EOTF, called PQ (Per­cep­tual Quan­ti­za­tion). As has of­ten been the case in the HDR-ca­pa­ble pro­jec­tors I’ve tested so far, with stan­dard mea­sure­ments the PQ curve skews darker than the ex­pected PQ shape. Flat-screen TVs typ­i­cally don’t have this is­sue. Some ar­gue that this is merely a re­sult of the fact that pro­jec­tors can’t pro­duce, on a pro­jec­tion screen, any­where near the peak light out­put of a good Ul­tra HDTV. This is cer­tainly true, but with a proper setup on a screen of do­mes­ti­cally ac­cept­able size, none of the pro­jec­tors I tested looked sub­jec­tively dim in HDR. The JVC, how­ever, does of­fer three con­trols in the Gamma menu (Pic­ture Tone, Dark Level, and Bright Level) that al­low the PQ curve to be tweaked dur­ing cal­i­bra­tion un­til it mea­sures closer to the shape we com­monly as­so­ci­ate with the HDR PQ we rou­tinely find on an HDR-ca­pa­ble Ul­tra HDTV.

I al­ways rec­om­mend a pro­fes­sional cal­i­bra­tion for a pro­jec­tor, par­tic­u­larly for a pricey one. But you should put some hours (100 to 200) on the pro­jec­tor be­fore you sched­ule one, as it takes time for a pro­jec­tion lamp to set­tle in. I made all of the ob­ser­va­tions be­low af­ter I’d per­formed com­plete SDR and HDR cal­i­bra­tions, with more than 100 hours on the lamp.


The first things you can’t miss about the DLA-X790R are its su­perb blacks and shadow de­tail. This should come as no sur­prise if you’re fa­mil­iar with JVC’s pro­jec­tors. When the pic­ture fades to black in a dark­ened room, it’s very near true black even af­ter your eyes ad­just to the dark. You’ll still be able to make out the screen from the sur­round­ing void

(un­like the case with an OLED TV, where the screen com­pletely dis­ap­pears with such a source).

But I feel con­fi­dent say­ing it would be hard to find any true 4K or pixel-shift­ing 4K pro­jec­tor that can do bet­ter. Most do worse.

On 1080p sources, the pic­ture looked sub­tly sharper to me with e-shift5 de­feated, so all of my ob­ser­va­tions here about the JVC’s HD/SDR per­for­mance were made with it off. I be­gan my view­ing with an an­i­mated fea­ture. An­i­ma­tion al­most al­ways looks good, but not al­ways this good. And an­i­ma­tion is a good test for vivid (if not al­ways nat­u­ral) color and de­tail. It’s nearly al­ways crisp—so if it isn’t, you know that the er­ror is not in the source. Frozen looked amaz­ing on the JVC, with bril­liant color and res­o­lu­tion that could hardly be bet­ter even if the disc and dis­play were both true 4K.

An­i­ma­tion rarely has many dark scenes, but both Prometheus and Harry Pot­ter and the Deathly Hal­lows: Part 2—two of my fa­vorite black-level tor­ture tests—are loaded with them. To date, I know of no pro­jec­tor that can sort them out bet­ter than this JVC—and only a few flat-screen TVs (mostly OLEDs) that can do bet­ter. Both of these discs looked richly sat­u­rated, with black lev­els and shadow de­tail that most pro­jec­tors can’t ap­proach.

For an older ti­tle, I chose Apollo 13. Flesh­tones here were a bit too rosy (this ap­peared to be a disc is­sue).

But back­ing off to –15 on the Color con­trol helped dra­mat­i­cally with­out vis­i­bly com­pro­mis­ing any other colors. See­ing this ti­tle on the DLAX790R was spectacular and like watch­ing it for the first time. The ref­er­ence-qual­ity launch se­quence, the dark of outer space, and the cramped in­ti­macy of the space­craft’s interior left me with vir­tu­ally noth­ing to crit­i­cize.


The JVC will au­to­mat­i­cally switch be­tween your cal­i­brated SDR and HDR set­tings when it sees an HDR source. This in­cludes chang­ing from Low to High lamp modes as re­quired. On my Ste­wart screen, the JVC peaked out at ap­prox­i­mately 145 nits, or about 42 foot-lam­berts, in HDR. As with most other pro­jec­tors, this can’t equal the full HDR ex­pe­ri­ence of a good flat-panel HDTV. But that much peak bright­ness can still gen­er­ate de­cently bright high­lights, all the more im­pres­sive given my 8-foot-wide screen. And while the color gamut from most cur­rent con­sumer dis­plays is still well short of the ul­ti­mate goal of the UHD for­mat, you’re un­likely to com­plain about the UHD color you’ll get from the JVC. I know I didn’t.

I watched all or part of 15 dif­fer­ent Ul­tra HD Blu-rays for this re­view, and all but a few pro­vided com­pelling view­ing; again, I’ve not seen bet­ter from any other pro­jec­tor at or near the JVC’s price. The best of the discs— Guardians of the Gal­axy: Vol. 2, The Great Wall, War for the Planet of the Apes, and (yes!) Trolls—knocked my socks off, with vivid im­ages, crisp de­tail, and bril­liant color (though

Apes is more sub­dued than the oth­ers). At least six more of the other discs didn’t dis­ap­point in any way. This in­cluded Billy Lynn’s Long Half­time Walk, which the JVC dis­played in its na­tive 60 Hz, HDR, with YCbCr 4:2:2, 10 bit color. If those num­bers mean lit­tle to you, they sim­ply mean that the JVC can dis­play any 4K source with its at­ten­dant ben­e­fits in­tact—apart from the use of pixel-shifted res­o­lu­tion en­hance­ment rather than full 4K, as well as the

UHD color-gamut lim­its that all UHD dis­plays re­main sub­ject to. (No dis­plays can yet reach full BT.2020 color, and no pro­jec­tor I’ve yet tested can achieve full P3 color lim­its within the UHD for­mat’s BT.2020 con­tainer.)

You might well as­sume that pixel-shifted 4K from a na­tive 1080p pro­jec­tor is inevitably in­fe­rior to true 4K us­ing na­tive 4K imag­ing chips. But the vis­i­ble res­o­lu­tion from this pro­jec­tor seemed to hold noth­ing in re­serve as I sat 12 feet from my 8-foot-wide screen. I at­tribute this not only to the clev­er­ness of JVC’s e-shift5 but also to what ap­pears to be a su­perb op­ti­cal path and lens.

If I have a reser­va­tion about the JVC’s HDR per­for­mance, it’s that the blacks in HDR con­tent some­times crushed very low-level shadow

de­tail—not of­ten or se­ri­ously enough to be a ma­jor is­sue, but enough to mention. In Life of Pi there’s a shot in chap­ter 21 (at 1:23:46) where Pi is shown in deep dark­ness. On the JVC, the de­tails in his face came close to dis­ap­pear­ing, with only his eyes clearly vis­i­ble. This was not a prob­lem on LG’s E7 OLED, sug­gest­ing that the is­sue was not in the source. Rais­ing the JVC’s Bright­ness con­trol by a few steps helped, but not com­pletely.

And more than a few scenes in the first episode of the UHD Blu-ray of West­world looked crushed and were also bet­ter (though not per­fect) on the LG OLED. In­de­pen­dence Day Resur­gence in HDR was also fre­quently too dark, though in the same set­tings the orig­i­nal In­de­pen­dence Day was, iron­i­cally, one of the best-look­ing HDR discs I’ve watched—and pos­si­bly the best­look­ing cat­a­log ti­tle to date.

Nev­er­the­less, the is­sue I just de­scribed was only a mi­nor and fleet­ing con­cern on a lim­ited num­ber of discs. I had more jaw-drop­ping mo­ments in UHD/HDR with this pro­jec­tor than with any other pro­jec­tor I’ve yet re­viewed.

A Mo­ment for 3D

My 3D test­ing was brief. The 3D im­ages, via early ver­sions of JVC’s ex­ter­nal 3D trans­mit­ter and glasses, were fairly dim, even with the pro­jec­tor’s Pic­ture Tone con­trol turned up to max­i­mum (do­ing the same with the Con­trast con­trol pro­duced glare, de­graded color, and near-clip­ping). But on the lim­ited ma­te­rial I watched that has pro­duced 3D ghost­ing in the past, I saw none.


The JVC DLA-X790R isn’t flaw­less. But its over­all per­for­mance with black level, shadow de­tail, bright­ness, color, and res­o­lu­tion makes it the best sub-$8,000 pro­jec­tor I’ve yet tested.

The DLA-X790R’s lens is set up with pow­ered zoom, shift, and fo­cus.

JVC’s back­lit re­mote is un­clut­tered and well or­ga­nized.

With HDCP 2.2-com­pli­ant HDMI in­puts, the JVC does Ul­tra HD at 60 hertz and 10 bits.

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