Sony VPL-VW285ES vs. JVC DLA-X790R

Sound & Vision - - TEST REPORT - By Thomas J. Nor­ton

Since the Sony VPL-VW285ES I re­viewed in Fe­bru­ary/March (avail­able at soun­dand­vi­sion. com) was still on hand while I was re­view­ing the JVC DLA-X790R, a brief com­par­i­son with the JVC was im­pos­si­ble to re­sist. At just $5,000, the VPL-VW285ES is the least ex­pen­sive na­tive 4K pro­jec­tor Sony has yet re­leased. But it does sac­ri­fice some fea­ture con­tent to achieve its price—no­tably any sort of me­chan­i­cal iris to im­prove black lev­els be­yond the dy­namic con­trast en­hance­ment in­cluded with this model. At $1,000 more, the JVC adds a dy­namic iris but sac­ri­fices the Sony’s na­tive 4K res­o­lu­tion for en­hanced 1080p res­o­lu­tion with 4K sources via e-shift5 tech­nol­ogy.

To per­form the com­par­i­son, I linked the two pro­jec­tors to my Oppo UDP-203 Ul­tra HD Blu-ray player through an AVPro 4K-ca­pa­ble split­ter. I had to make a few tweaks to get the two pro­jec­tors to match as closely as pos­si­ble, in­clud­ing turn­ing the Sony’s Con­trast En­hancer to High for SDR sources (dur­ing my re­view, I had used Low for SDR and Medium or High for HDR). Af­ter that, the two looked re­mark­ably sim­i­lar on HD/SDR ma­te­rial, though not iden­ti­cal. The dif­fer­ences var­ied a bit from scene to scene. Some­times, the Sony looked bet­ter; other times, the JVC. A con­trast-en­hance­ment fea­ture like the Sony’s is typ­i­cally dy­namic in na­ture and could ac­count for that. The JVC doesn’t have such a con­trol, nor did it ap­pear to need one, though it ben­e­fit­ted from its au­to­matic iris func­tion. In any event, with­out its Con­trast En­hancer, the Sony couldn’t keep pace with the JVC.

HD/SDR

Watch­ing Un­bro­ken, I marginally pre­ferred the Sony’s color; it was a lit­tle less warm on flesh­tones. But the JVC was ar­guably sharper, if not by much. Yes, the 1080p JVC pro­jec­tor nudged the full na­tive 4K Sony on this disc— with the na­tive 2K source dis­played on the JVC

with its e-shift5 turned off, and the source

up­con­verted by the Sony to its na­tive 4K imag­ing chips.)

There was much greater dis­tance be­tween the two in terms of black level as viewed on fades to full black or in very dark scenes: The JVC was clearly the king here. In black ar­eas on oth­er­wise bright scenes, though, they edged much closer. There are two pos­si­ble rea­sons for this, nei­ther un­der the di­rect con­trol of ei­ther pro­jec­tor. My room, while fully dark­ened, isn’t to­tally black, par­tic­u­larly the ceil­ing. But prob­a­bly more sig­nif­i­cant is this: With a pic­ture that’s par­tially dark and par­tially light, the bright ar­eas force your pupils to nar­row, thus mak­ing them less sen­si­tive to the dark ar­eas. Still, the JVC of­ten looked a lit­tle richer than the Sony even on brighter scenes, and while Un­bro­ken isn’t a pris­tine trans­fer, I’d have to give the win here to the JVC by a nose.

The dif­fer­ences were more dif­fi­cult to see and de­scribe on the an­i­mated Frozen. The depth of the JVC’s blacks rarely showed up di­rectly here, but it still helped en­hance the over­all im­age, ren­der­ing it slightly richer than the Sony’s. But not by much, and the Sony of­fered a bit more de­tail. This was hard to spot ini­tially but was some­times vis­i­ble in char­ac­ters and ob­jects that were dis­tant and small but well fo­cused. Flesh­tones also looked a bit smoother than on the JVC. While one might ar­gue that such slick­ness also made char­ac­ters’ faces look sub­tly plas­tic and ar­ti­fi­cial (which, of course, they are), it also made them a shade more di­men­sional and pleas­ing. This was more than likely the re­sult of the Sony’s finer pixel struc­ture. Sony wins here, by a dif­fer­ent nose.

On Prometheus, I no­ticed slight but clear dif­fer­ences in color be­tween the two pro­jec­tors. (I had seen this in Frozen as well, though it was less ob­vi­ous there.) The JVC was a lit­tle cooler, the Sony warmer. But this might have been noth­ing more than a re­sult of cal­i­bra­tion, and I didn’t find the HD/SDR color dif­fer­ences to be sig­nif­i­cant. The black lev­els, how­ever, were. It was im­pos­si­ble not to see that the Sony’s blacks and shadow de­tail couldn’t keep up with the JVC’s in this film’s many dark, gloomy cave scenes. It was a clear take for the JVC, and not a sub­tle one.

UHD/HDR

In my re­view of the JVC, I men­tioned a dark scene in Life of Pi (chap­ter 21, at 1:23:46) where Pi’s face is ob­scured, ex­cept for his eyes. The Sony did pro­vide more de­tail in his face here—but in the process, it light­ened up the dark im­age enough to give it a slightly blanched look. The JVC made up for this one odd scene with con­sis­tently su­pe­rior blacks.

Even with the Sony’s HDR Con­trast con­trol bumped up to near max­i­mum, it couldn’t match the JVC’s HDR punch. Yes, the JVC could some­times edge closer to vis­i­ble clip­ping, but this was rarely dis­tract­ing. Over­all, I have to give the nod to the JVC. But the Sony is still a first-rate pro­jec­tor, and it’s a not in­signif­i­cant $1,000 cheaper. And of course, it’s na­tive 4K.

Sony’s VPL-VW285ES of­fers a finer pixel struc­ture than the JVC...

...while JVC’s DLA-X790R ex­hib­ited bet­ter con­trast and black level.

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