JVC DLA-HD350 Projector Review - 1080p D-ILA
JVCís latest D-ILA projector finally hits the UK and Phil Hinton gets an exclusive first look.
It seems like an age since I first set eyes on the pre-production DLA-HD350 back in August, but finally we have a full production model here for review. The HD350 is the new entry level projector from the company which offers a number of improvements over the DLA-HD1 it replaces.
The most obvious difference from last years HD1 and HD100 is the sleeker body and offset lens. When side by side with the outgoing models, length from front to back is similar, but the HD350 is slimmer. The actual dimensions measure in at 365 x 167 x 478mm (W x H x D) and weight is a reasonable 11Kg. The new lens layout is offset to the left when looking directly at the projector, but this shouldnít cause too many issues in set up, due to the slim width of the unit. This time around the lens has an electronic cover which opens and closes when powering the machine on and off. This will save it from any dirt and dust build up, especially when ceiling mounted. The drawback with this approach is that the lens is slightly recessed so that if you decide to add an anamorphic lens, extra care will be needed. The new design also changes internal cooling with air flowing in through the front and out through the left hand side panel, so careful positioning will be required to avoid overheating.
The HD350 uses D-ILA technology sporting three 0.7Ē full HD 1920 x 1080 panels with a 17 element lens system in 15 groups with 2 ED (extra-low dispersion) lenses. The glass looks impressive and an upgrade on the previous model, which should allow for a sharper image with less light spillage. The main concern with using three panels is convergence but putting up a quick test pattern allowed me to see that this was almost bang on with about half a pixel difference between left and right. If you find that the drift is further than this there is full horizontal and vertical adjustment for each RGB panel to get it as aligned as possible. On our review sample it looked as close to perfect as we could get and the effect was not visible beyond a couple of feet from the screen. There was no sign of edge bleed either on text or fine lines, so congratulations to JVC - convergence is not an issue here.
Another change with this new chassis is that the inputs are now situated on the right side of the HD350. These include two HDMI v1.3 slots, one component, composite and s-video, plus an RS232 control port. Sadly there are no signs of a 12 volt trigger or VGA/PC input. However the HDMI ports do include a new and very welcome screw connector for a more secure fitting. Finally there are remote sensors situated on the front plate and rear side of the unit to allow better response to the remote control signals.
Moving on to the remote and it has been given a slight redesign over the outgoing models. Now backlit, the controls are well laid out with quick access keys for all the major functions, such as brightness, contrast and colour temp for example. The menu and navigation keys are centrally situated and quite responsive to commands. However one slight complaint I have, and maybe I expect too much for a £3500 projector, is that the remote is very 'plasticy'. I feel that JVC could push the boat out slightly and give us a more substantial remote unit.
So it was time to power up the unit (a process that takes around 3 minutes from switch on to the main screen selection) and we examined what control we have over the picture and set up processes. First we have the lens shift controls along with zoom and focus which are now remote controlled over the manual design of the HD1. Set up is fairly easy and focus is surprisingly very responsive and sharp. This was problematic with the pre-production models we examined, so itís nice to see that focus is solid and accurate on the production machines.
Moving on to the main menu screens and we are greeted with a new design layout and greater control over the picture set up than on previous models. However itís not all great news as we found that the implementation of features such as greyscale control was very strange Ė more later on that particular subject. There is also a lack of a colour management system (CMS) on the HD350 and again this is an oversight in our opinion. However other set up options are well implemented and easy to get through quickly.
The main picture selection menu allows control over 5 picture set up selections ranging from, Cinema 1, Cinema 2, Natural, Stage and Dynamic (ouch), plus three user selections. This is followed by the main controls for brightness, contrast, colour and tint. The next main selection is the colour temperature which allows selection of 5800k, 6500k, 7500k, 9300k, and High Bright plus three custom selections.
The implementation of these controls is quite frustrating when you start to explore what you can and canít affect. For example if you select 6500k (which should be to standard), the gain controls for the high end are unavailable. So after measurement you have no way to fix the mix in the high end. Even adjusting the low end doesnít help matters. So that leaves you with selecting custom and that introduces another very frustrating implementation of the greyscale controls. Whereas the Sony HW10 offers this at temperature points like 5800k, 6500k and 9300k, the JVC is set to 9300k for all three custom presets. Not the end of the world but then you have the gain controls again which this time are accessible, but set at maximum zero point. So when you measure the greyscale you will find that red is about 20 percent down in the mix and obviously temperature is 9300k. To fix this issue you are forced to work backwards and reduce the points until you can successfully hit the correct mix and temperature for D65. This was a very awkward way around the problem and a better designed and more common implementation would be better in my opinion. Greyscale calibration ended up taking about 2 hours bouncing back and forth between high and low points because of the frustrating layout.
The next menu selection is the gamma control which has a number of selections at set levels, or you can go for a custom input. The preset is for 2.2 gamma and following other calibration moves, this actually hits that point fairly easily. This is one area where JVC engineers have managed to make the implementation easy to use.
The final new feature on the HD350 picture set up menus is the aperture control points, where three selections are available. We saw something similar on the Sony HW10 recently, but it had full control over the 0-100 range. Here the HD350 allows full, mid and low (3,2,1) to be set and in a light controlled room it allows excellent options to get the screen brightness as close to perfect given only three options. I found that low was acceptable after calibration for our reference room and measured a real world contrast of 6998:1 which was pretty astounding. In mid I managed a reading of 5972:1 and full at 5171:1 which bodes well for on screen performance.
Other menu options that will appeal are a new anamorphic stretch selection for use with a suitable lens and screen, and of course the new HQV picture processing.
The HD350 uses the HQV Reon-VX processor which is finding its way into many of the new projectors we have tested recently. There are not that many manual controls over what the HQV chip does, but in all honestly there is no real need for many.
So after our overview of the features of the DLA-HD350, how will it stand up to our testing? Well thereís only one way to find out..
Out of the box and calibration
For me the most important point of any display review is to actually measure its performance out of the box. There is no other way to see exactly what a display is doing or how it has been designed to display its images. Only with objective data available can we confidently tell you, the reader, exactly what the display is capable of and how accurate its performance is. And considering our philosophy of having our displays reproduce what the director intended, there is no other way to fully review a display product.
So with this in mind, we first need to know how close the display can reproduce the Rec.709 HD standard and how good the greyscale mix is with the out of the box settings. For this we measure each picture mode provided to find the exact settings available, and which ones get close to D65 and Rec.709. So what did we find out about the DLA-HD350 and its basic settings?
The first thing to look at is the spectral scan of the light energy from the 200 watt UHP lamp. UHP is an ideal bulb to use in most projectors as it offers a consistent and long life performance, but colour energy is sometimes not where we would like it for accurate images. Looking at the HD350 and it readings, we can see that it is has a 'peak and trough' look to it. Looking between blue and yellow and then yellow and red, it appears there are filters being used in the design. This will produce a bright image but cuts some of the subtle green and red energy which would suggest an over saturated look. Plus yellow has a large spike which will reduce colour accuracy.
Using the Cinema 2 and 6500K settings as our preferred out of the box selections we can see the effects of the spectrum below in the CIE chart which I found was almost identical to the measurements I had taken from the companyís HD100.
Oversaturated primary colours are a trait of the previous JVC models and it appears that the HD350 follows that trend here. Green and reds are well off on the Rec.709 triangle looking very saturated and even blue is not quite perfect. The secondary colour points are however not that far away. Now again JVC only see fit to provide a CMS (Colour management system Ė RGBCYM) on their more expensive DLA-HD750 model, so we are limited with what we can do to correct this wide gamut performance. Looking at the greyscale out of the box and the 6500k preset, while not that far away, is still not as close as we would like to the actual D65 standard.
Gamma faired a little better but again not quite where we would want things for an accurate performance. I am surprised that after all the feedback JVC have been given from not only AVForums members, but enthusiastsí worldwide, they have failed to implement a more accurate colour gamut to the HD350. The end result out of the box is rather disappointing and I am surprised that JVC have failed to give this entry model the correct tools to improve things. Itís all very well having a more expensive machine in your line up, but that doesnít mean it should have all the basic controls that the HD350 needs. Other manufacturers have projector line ups which offer full CMS controls across their range so they can all get to accurate points. It doesnít take away value from the more expensive machine as it should have improvements in other picture areas like better lenses and processing.
I know that the guys at JVC UK listen to the feedback they get from our reviews as well as the enthusiasts who buy these projectors, so I just hope that they see sense and provide the necessary tools in all their models in future.
One thing the DLA-HD350 does offer us this time around is the chance to finally get the greyscale performance perfect and try and make the best of a wide gamut situation.
As you can see above, after many trials and tribulations (see my earlier comments about the colour temperature controls), I managed to get a greyscale that tracks from 20IRE to 100IRE perfectly with a maximum deltaE of no more than 1 across the board. This is impressive and will allow for a more accurate temperature to images on screen. It also managed to bring in the secondary colour points some what, but there is simply nothing we can do about the oversaturated primary colour points. Gamma was a lot easier to tame and I managed a desired 2.2 point across the board easily. So after all that, just how well does the DLA-HD350 perform?
Picture performance in the best out of the box settings
Once I had found the best out of the box settings it was time to do some subjective assessment of the picture performance, using our measurements as a guide. I started with a favourite SD DVD of Gladiator (Region 1) and fed the DLA-HD350 an interlaced signal.
The first thing that hit me was not the colour accuracy of the projector but the dynamic range and black levels. JVC are famed for their fluid blacks and the HD350 certainly doesnít disappoint in this regard. Blacks are inky deep but with plenty of shadow detail and depth to be admired. Indeed watching 2.40:1 material was impressive as the black bars disappeared in our light controlled room. Putting it up against the HD100 (a pioneer re-badge model) with the same material gave me no differences in performance with the images looking the same, and with the same sharpness, too. And indeed, they both gave very similar images in terms of colour accuracy, so I could conclude with this test in our room; both machines look very similar in terms of performance.
The over saturation of primary colours does show itself within the images, with a yellow and red push most frequently seen. The deserts of Ridley Scottís Gladiator highlighted this issue with a yellowish haze being seen which took away some of the feeling of the scene. Faces also tended to exhibit redness, almost like a blush of red makeup from time to time, but it was not all bad news. Indeed I found the performance of the HD350 in the out of the box settings to be very similar to the Mitsubishi HC700 we reviewed a few weeks ago. Both have a very similar colour gamut to each other and this was seen quite easily in test footage. However the real star point for the HD350 is its contrast and black level performance.
This is more apparent with HD material in the guise of Dr Jones in his fourth adventure to find the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The images produced from the HD350 are sharp and detailed, but at the same time they evoke a sense of watching a film projector. Itís hard to describe, but there are no unwanted artefacts and the image is free from any external noise, providing it with a silky, yet sharp feel. Good image depth is a JVC trait and it is here in abundance. The sheer depth of field on offer is certainly a step up over competing models such as the HC7000. Itís this extra dynamic range of the JVC that makes the images feel lifelike and three dimensional. Where other models I have tested lately look good and have a sense of depth, the JVC is just in a different league in this regard.
Things do improve that bit more with a corrected greyscale, and this is where I feel that the HD350 gets a leg up over the HD100 we compared it with. Although the HD100 did allow a greyscale calibration, it was rather basic in that there is only one set of controls to do the entire range. Here on the HD350 I was able to get it super flat across the board and that just brought a little bit more detail and image depth over the HD100.
Thereís no doubting that JVC have the right recipe for industry leading black levels and dynamic range in its new entry level model, but those inaccurate colours certainly cause some issues which pegs back the overall splendour that we could achieve. The issues with facial red blush effects and a yellowness that seems to stand out more than we would like, slightly detracts from the overall image quality. Donít get me wrong, it is not a disaster in any way whatsoever. It's just disappointing when there are times during certain scenes where the colours suddenly feel fake. And to top it off, it wouldnít have added any real development costs to add in CMS and THX modes that had already been developed for the HD750 (due for review here very soon).
One issue that did turn up now and again with previous models was an issue with screen uniformity, causing bright corners on black or dark scenes. We ran the HD350 for 37 hours from new and did not see this issue at all. Indeed screen uniformity was very good on this projector with no colour shifts or other problems being present.
I am pleased that JVC have stepped up the dynamic range and black performance on its entry machine, which now competes at the same performance level as the outgoing HD100. Itís a good job too because it's a completely different projector market from last year. All the main players have upped their game and are offering performance that in some areas (such as colour accuracy) can better the HD350. However, JVC stays half a step ahead for the time being with its revolutionary blacks moving forward ever so slightly.
But there are some things I find frustrating and unnecessary from this projector. After taking a year to try and develop something special, I feel slightly let down that there is no CMS mode and no accurate preset available out of the box for the HD350. It feels almost like JVC wanted the new high end model (HD750) to have all the features to make it more appealing. But if you look around the ranges from other manufacturers (such as Epson and Sony), you will see that they do offer that control in all their models. Had the HD350 development team taken this on board I would likely be handing JVC yet another Reference badge. But sadly, it just fails to hit this point due to its lack of control in colour accuracy.
Given the overall performance and that stunning depth of field and dynamic range the JVC is still a real contender in todayís even more competitive mid-price market. If you can live with the slight problems of colour inaccuracy (like the HD1 and HD100), you will be rewarded with black levels and image quality that is still stunning to behold. But as the market is moving and performance from so many new models seems to be catching up quickly (and doing better in some areas), the HD350 just fails to hit that reference point for us. However we still feel it offers the best black performance and contrast levels, meaning we highly recommend that if youíre in the £4k and under market, you would be advised to get a demo. We think you will be suitably impressed. The HD350 is a fine performing projector that reaches levels only seen in models over £5k in the last year.Pros:
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New entry point D-ILA projector
Suggested price: £3,500
Reviewed 2nd December, 2008 by Phil Hinton
To get the best out of your TV or projector, consider getting it calibrated.