JVC DLA-X790R D-ILA Projector
More from less? by Thomas J. Norton
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.
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.