JVC DLA-X7 DILA 3D Projector Review
So can JVC yet again produce the Reference goods with the DLA-X7? Phil finds out..
JVC have yet to drop the ball when it comes to producing some of the finest HD consumer projectors on the market. And that is no mean feat in a market that is constantly changing with manufacturers battling to make their next model the best yet. Since the introduction of the HD1 to the consumer market, JVC have consistently pushed performance levels and features to build on what was a spectacular entry to the home projection market back in 2006/2007. Last year the DLA-HD950 and the high-end DLA-HD990 seemed to have added only small increments to the outgoing DLA-HD750, but this year’s DLA-X3, DLA-X7 and high-end DLA-X9 introduce all new chassis, claimed higher contrasts and of course 3D Playback.
While the addition of 3D is arguably necessary in today’s market place, manufacturers have to take into account that their quests for 3D picture perfection should not have any impact on the core abilities of 2D picture quality. We have seen one manufacturer completely redevelop their plasma line for 3D and that has had some negative effect on the 2D picture as a whole. So, the JVC will have to perform at a higher level than previous generation with 2D and also produce excellent 3D to retain their current ‘reference status’ in this reviewer's opinion.
We have compared the DLA-X7 in direct comparison with its main rival for features and price point, the Sony VPL-VW90ES as well as testing against the outgoing Reference DLA-HD990 machine we have had in our review room for the past 12 months. On top of that we have performed extensive testing of the calibration capabilities built into this year’s model and fully tested the 3D capabilities of its 3D playback in various configurations to fully check crosstalk and other possible issues. Our testing took us over 6 weeks in isolation and in comparison tests, with quite a few movies and test sequences in-between. In fact you could say that both the Sony VPL-VW90ES and JVC DLA-X7 have been put through the most rigorous testing regime yet with each adding about 100 hours to their bulb lives! And, yes, it has been an enjoyable experience…the full in-depth review follows after the summary.
The JVC DLA-X7 continues the lineage of outstanding home projectors from the company. The new design is slick and build quality is very good. The lens has been moved back to a central position on the Chassis and the connections for your sources are now where they belong on the rear panel. There are also new features on board that make operation easier such as two anamorphic modes for those who want to use a third party lens. Now you can leave the lens in place all the time and take advantage of the new scaling options on the projector. This will certainly save you money when it comes to not requiring a lens sled in your set up. The only downside is that with 3D material the X7 disables the anamorphic modes.
In terms of set up and ease of use the JVC wins again with excellent flexibility. Plus its vast number of picture set up profiles will appeal to most users who perhaps don’t want to go down the whole professional calibration route, or want to do it themselves. The DLA-X7 offers excellent performance with the THX mode as well as more accurate colour profiles like Standard which mirrors the Rec.709 HDTV colour standard. As you can see in our recommended set up options further down in the review, you can get some fantastic out of the box results which just adds to the X7 plug and play ethos. For those more advanced users there are also quite a number of calibration options with Colour Management, Gamma and white balance controls being available. We did find a few niggles and bugs within the software as it stands at the moment and have already had a meeting with JVC who have told us there will be a fix for those users who want full control over those options, which don’t quite work fully at the moment. Although there are bugs they don’t affect the actual performance of the X7 as it stands if you use the presets or take care with a calibration. Plus the DLA-X7 will be one of the first projectors to use the CalMAN 4.2 one button press calibration software available soon, which just adds to the flexibility of the projector.
So does the DLA-X7 manage to produce 2D image quality that betters last year’s models? Yes it does and even compared to the £10k top end DLA-HD990 from last year it manages to fulfil the same contrast and dynamic range advantages of that model. Added to this are the best native black levels on the market with superb shadow detail and image depth. Plus the X7 continues with the D-ILA filmic image quality added to accurate as intended colour performance to give it some of the most appealing images on the market. Although we won’t be living with the projector this year, we did put 100 hours on the bulb to fully test the capabilities and stability of the image and were impressed with the results we saw. We should be spending longer with the DLA-X9 but for those who want a better idea of long term performance, check out the owners thread in the projectors forum.
Finally we have the party piece for 2011 and that is 3D playback on the DLA-X7. This really is a head turner and the fact that it is easy to set up and produces images that are relatively crosstalk free is fantastic. I really was on the fence with 3D as a technology, even after reviewing a raft of 3D TVs this year and living with a Panasonic VT20 plasma. But when it comes to an image that is over 90 inches, takes up your field of view and offers a performance to rival the best plasmas for crosstalk and ghosting performance - I was smitten. It is not crosstalk free and depending on content there will be subtle instances visible if you go looking for it, but to be honest it’s subtle and the X7 offers some compelling 3D images that no plasma will ever match for scale and total immersion (at this price point anyway). I need to be careful here as I am starting to sound like a 3D convert…
The DLA-X7 is almost double the price of the entry level DLA-X3 reviewed by Steve last week and many will be wondering if it is worth the step up to the X7. And just like last year and the year before that it will come down to how much you think the step up in image quality and features is worth to you. There are many who will go with the DLA-X3 and add in a VideoEQ Pro or Lumagen Mini for the calibration options and still save some money on the price of the X7. However, there are advantages to be had with the DLA-X7 for those who will be able to take advantage of the increased native contrast performance and the accurate presets and calibration controls. Plus the X7 will also add in the one touch CalMAN 4.2 interface in a few weeks.
So, overall the DLA-X7 once again proves that JVC are still just at the reference end of the home cinema projection market and still offer some of the best images under £10k in the market. Added to that the new 3D playback options, full calibration flexibility and increased native contrast and we have our new reference point. Make sure you go and demo the X7 in the best possible viewing environment or ask your dealer for a home demo and experience for yourself just how good the new JVC is.
Design, Setup and Connections
The first thing that hits you about the DLA-X7 and its brothers in the range is the new chassis design and layout. We have gone back to the central lens mount configuration that just looks more composed and sturdy than the off axis approach of the previous models over the last two years. The chassis is also a little wider and a good deal chunkier than last year’s models which seem to give a sense of higher build quality being employed. The air vents are again set to the left and right hand-side with the video connections now appearing at the rear of the chassis.
The DLA-X7 is thankfully only available in the black finish which is ideal for rooms where critical viewing will take place. The top of the chassis is also button free this year which make the X7 look a good deal better when ceiling mounted; the menu buttons are now at the rear of the machine. The overall design is a little sharper and less rounded than previous models, giving the X7 an imposing and industrial look which I personally really like. The lens is also a little larger than seen on previous models although the automatic lens hood cover is still employed during switch on and switch off to protect against dust when the projector is not in use. There were a few complaints from owners that the noise made by this cover didn’t sound correct on such an expensive projector, but as you will want to warm the unit up for half an hour before any critical viewing, I don’t see the noise as an issue. This year’s model still makes a bit of a noise on opening and closing, but again I don’t see that as an issue overall.
Looking at the connections available and it might seem a little stingy that we only get two HDMI connections for HD sources, yet in most home cinema set ups that will be more than enough. Also positioned on the rear panel is the 3D transmitter interface connection, component input, RS232C control port, PC/VGA input along with triggers for controlling lenses and screens. There is also a LAN connection and the menu controls including a power button are also positioned on the rear plate.
The DLA-X7 not only has a new chassis but the light path and optics have also seen an upgrade. The lens uses a large-diameter, all-glass lens system with 17 elements in 15 groups including an ED (extra low dispersion) lens element. This provides the JVC with sharp images and improved focussing with fewer instances of chromatic aberration and colour bleeding or haloing. There is also a fully manual aperture control with 16 steps which allows perfect set up in most rooms. There is also a new bulb and cooling layout within the chassis with the UHP lamp offering 160w of output in normal viewing modes and 220w in high mode which is automatically switched on when selecting 3D mode for extra brightness. In normal lamp mode the X7 is whisper quiet with an audible increase in fan noise when high mode is activated. However, while noisier in high mode the JVC is still quieter than some other competing models and noise is not a deal breaker in any way.
The new black remote offers an excellent design that is very easy to use and immediately intuitive. It keeps roughly the same layout as last year’s model with the addition of 3D mode and a neat anamorphic button should you be using the X7 with a third party lens. The anamorphic mode also adds in a new 16:9 scaled mode so you can leave the anamorphic lens in position and move between scope and 16:9 material. This works really well and reduces the need for a lens sled which would save quite a bit of money. The only downside to this is that in 3D mode anamorphic controls are disabled.
THX 3D On-board
Obviously the unique selling point for this year’s JVC projectors is the 3D playback capabilities of all the models in the line-up. The only major difference between the DLA-X3 and the DLA-X7 and X9 is that the two higher models are certified by THX for 3D playback making them the world’s first projectors to be certified in this way. The THX mode needs to be selected in the 3D playback mode for you to benefit from the corrected colour balance and luminance output.
The THX mode is also based on the cinema specification for colour timing that is used within Hollywood at the moment, which is 5 foot lamberts at the screen. By basing the preset mode on these specifications the image retains most of the colour temperature and timing data and helps retain detail in the shadows and within objects. However, the obvious downside to this approach for some will be the darker image produced with the glasses in place and the reduced brightness of the THX image; but it does mirror exactly what you are seeing in 3D cinemas following the guidelines that do exist. In a batcave environment this works well and it does retain colour balance and detail far better than the brighter 3D picture modes, even if images are a little darker than the standard 3D mode. However, even between Steve and myself, both strict purists, there are arguments about what is the best approach with Steve going with brighter images and sacrificing colour balance and me tending to try and stick closer to the THX method and losing some brightness. Of course, I am right *cough*.
With the DLA-X7 it is simply a case of setting the projector up correctly in terms of positioning as you would with any such installation, connecting up your 3D Blu-ray player and the sync transmitter and away you go. There are no adjustment modes for any of the 3D parameters as the X7 just works perfectly out of the box providing nice 3D images with little crosstalk, but more on picture quality later. It should be mentioned this is a far cry from the Sony VPL-VW90ES which did need careful set up and even then struggled to compete when producing 3D images.
As mentioned, the DLA-X7 at this moment in time ships with the 3D sync transmitter and two pairs of glasses in the box, but this offer is not expected to last for long. If you need extra pairs of glasses they are a little on the expensive side at over £100 and at the moment there is a shortage of stock, it would seem. You could buy third party glasses such as the xpand series, but some feedback on forums suggests the filters are darker than those used on the JVC glasses, something we haven’t been able to confirm at this time. What we can say is that the filtering on the JVC glasses is far lighter than on the Sony sets and as such they are letting much more brightness through the lens. This goes some way to explaining the better drop in brightness on the JVC compared to the big drop on the Sony.
One slight drawback we did notice using the JVC sync transmitter was that it floods the room with IR signals and as such can in some cases affect remote controls. I found this when trying to adjust volume levels on my Onkyo TX-NR5007 receiver as the Onkyo remote struggled to work when the JVC was in 3D mode. While this can be a little annoying we did not have issues with glasses losing sync. With the Sony we didn’t have the same problems with IR flooding, but did have a few issues with glasses sync. So although the JVC floods the room, it does so to stop any unwanted sync issues with the glasses. With that in mind, I am not as concerned as I initially was.
Finally the DLA-X7 will take most of the popular 3D formats and play them back no problem, be it frame packed Blu-ray or side by side from Sky 3D. It is also capable of playing back top/bottom material. When using Sky 3D for example you will have to enter the 3D menu to manually change the 3D mode as the Sky box has no 3D flag to switch the projector in auto mode.
Menus and set up
As you would expect from a flagship product the JVC menu system is full of options for picture control and set up. The menus keep their familiar look from previous years but add in a few new features.
Looking at the main menu first and we have a few new options to consider straight away. First of all we have the picture mode settings and these range from Film, Cinema, Animation, Natural, Stage, 3D, THX and two user options. According to JVC the ‘Film’ mode tries to replicate a film stock look through a Xenon lamp, with ‘Cinema’ mode trying to replicate the DCI standard. Animation is self-explanatory with wide colours; ‘Natural’ is supposedly for dramas and ‘Stage’ for music videos and live productions. THX is the preset that mirrors the industry standards for video reproduction in the home, as the director intended. The two user presets are for manual calibration and change to ISF or THX day and night if set by a professional calibrator using the pro calibrator interface.
Next we have the colour profile setting which allows you to choose the colour gamut for your selection in the picture mode box. Under ‘Film’ you have the choice of ‘Film 1’ and ‘Film 2’ which replicate different film stocks such as Eastman Kodak and Fujifilm Corporation. ‘Cinema’ gives us three choices around the DCI standard and which gets wider as you get higher. ‘Animation’ gives us two Anime settings that are wide and over saturated along with ‘Standard’ which mirrors Rec.709 standards. ‘Natural’ gives us four colour profiles including Standard, Video, Vivid and Adobe RGB for photography users. ‘Stage’ has its own colour profile called Stage and also allows you to use the Rec.709 Standard profile. For ‘3D’ you get the Standard preset, a 3D selection and a Vivid colour profile. What is interesting with the 3D Vivid mode is that it seems the best balanced of the three options as the other two look overly green when the glasses are worn. Finally the ‘THX’ colour profile is greyed out and called THX. This is a little anomaly we will discuss later. Users will also hear a loud click as the projector moves between certain picture modes as a colour filter is moved into the optical engine block and out again, depending on what preset you are selecting. This is perfectly normal but may cause concern for those not expecting to hear such a loud click in the first place.
After this step we select our Colour Temperature selection, also known as white balance. Here we can select a preset ranging from 5500k to 9300k or we can select a custom setting and base it on one of the presets such as 6500k. This custom mode allows fine tuning of the control to correct the Greyscale/White balance of the image. After selecting your Picture Mode, Colour Profile and Colour Temperature the next step is to set the gamma level. Yet again JVC give us far too many choices here with a ‘Normal’ selection, plus A thru to D and then 1.9 to 2.6 in numbered selections. What we did find like last year was that setting the Gamma at say 2.3 would actually give you a measured result of 2.2 and so on. The lettered selections were all s-curve results of varying degrees and strength and ‘Normal’ measured just over 2.1 for its curve.
The final new control is the Dark/Bright level which does what you would expect and changes the low end and high end luminance response. I have no idea why this is included (along with the Black level preset on another menu page) as you should be able to set these parameters easily with the front panel controls and gamma selection using the appropriate test patterns. All I found was that they introduce clipping in the worst case and affected the gamma settings made elsewhere. So, again I have no idea why JVC thought these would be good controls to add. Finally on this menu we have the now standard front panel controls (Brightness, Contrast etc.) and the advanced menu selection.
In the advanced menu you have Sharpness, Noise Reduction, Custom Gamma, Colour Management, Clear Motion Drive, Lens Aperture and lamp power. The Sharpness control should be set carefully as even slight adjustments start to add in subtle ringing to the image. This may appear to give a sharper image but what you are actually doing is covering up detail by adding in the ringing. Time taken to get this correct will result in a more detailed image, not a sharper one. We would like to see a day when this control is killed off, as it is the biggest killer of picture detail when inexperienced users ramp it up thinking they are getting more sharpness and detail. Next I will jump to the Clear motion Drive selection as we get a whole series of options available over last year’s version. It is correct to assume that the lower settings are far more subtle than in the past but they still create some interesting side effects, with the higher settings making things look like video and adding that soap opera effect. These controls are certainly a love it or hate it option and I left it switched off the entire time I used the DLA-X7.
Lens aperture is a function to allow you to dial down the image brightness to match your environment and light conditions. For example in a bat cave environment you would likely have the aperture closed down as low as -15, but in a room with more ambient lighting you might want it fully open. It is nice to have the choice and no sign of a dynamic Iris to be seen, which is good in my opinion. The Lamp power setting allows you to use the projector in the 160w normal setting where the fan noise is low and the lamp brightness matches a darker room environment, whereas you are likely to have it in full mode (220w) when watching 3D to get more light on the screen.
The Custom Gamma controls are based on a similar set up to last year and allow full control over the gamma curve for RGB and white. Using this control you will need a meter and software as used in a normal professional calibration to dial in your preferred gamma curve. This control should act along with the greyscale in very small amounts, but we found that this year’s version impacts on the white balance too much and it is very difficult to adjust the controls correctly to get the desired curve result without messing up the greyscale too much. Sadly it looks like this software has far too coarse controls and acts completely differently to the same feature on the DLA-HD990. We found that setting the profile to 2.4 offered the best compromise to get gamma tracking well.
The same can also be said for this years updated Colour Management System in its present guise. Just like the DLA-HD750 we appear to have some bugs within the software with the operation of the CMS and its results. Now I want to make it clear that while there are bugs here, which I know will get fixed after speaking with JVC direct about this, it is also possible to dial in a gamut that offers correct performance without any issues with linearity or saturation issues, if done correctly and without large inputs to the CMS. Obviously the CMS is a major selling point of the DLA-X7 for a small, but growing band of video purists who want to dial in the very best performance, so we need one that works correctly without causing any issues that will affect picture performance.
The first major annoyance with the CMS is that when you enter a slider command to move a point (be it saturation, brightness or Hue) the CMS and the image on screen (usually your colour window) disappears for a second into blackness. If you are taking continuous readings at this point it is likely that your meter is going to go nuts, as are the tables and graphs you are working on. It really is a major annoyance and you have to revert to single measures and single steps in adjustments. I am surprised that JVC would make such a fundamental error with this. Next is the introduction of Orange along with our well established primary and secondary colours. Are JVC doing a Sharp and adding an extra element?! Nope, but I am also struggling to see how this could have been added and the reasoning behind it. It is, of course, a flawed attempt to offer some control over skin tones, but can JVC provide us with the co-ordinates of Orange? Of course they can’t as it doesn’t exist in normal practice, so again we have to ask why? We found that using a colour profile close to Rec.709 produced good results as we were making minimal adjustments of the CMS controls, but with anything wider and we start to see some issues with linearity of the saturation in some cases. I was unable to reproduce exactly what some owners have reported with their own calibrations which was severe under saturation, but there is something not quite right with larger inputs with the CMS. Again this and other feedback from owners has been fed back to JVC for a fix.
What will be possible once the software has been finalised and fixed is the opportunity to use CalMAN 4.2 to do one button press calibration on the X7 and X9 and we are hoping this will be available when we review the DLA-X9 next month. So there are some bugs in the software as it stands for the CMS and Gamma controls, but even with that you can still get a calibration where the issues don’t appear and they stay correct. I guess with introducing a new chassis, issues were bound to be found and thankfully this one doesn’t kill the performance and is more of an annoyance for those who want things to work smoothly and quickly. We are also confident on the comments received from JVC UK that a fix will be made as soon as possible.
Finally the last major feature to talk about is the screen adjustment selection now available with the X7. This allows you to use a look up table HERE to pick your screen type and you then enter the code to the projector. This will then set the out of the box white balance controls to try and match your screen surface the best it can. This is a neat feature that will help again in getting the best possible match out of the box. It is based on a calibration technique that requires an offset between the projector and screen to be measured and inputted to the software so a calibration can be tailored exactly to the room and screen. So this approach while never as accurate as a proper calibration does allow a few % extra out of the box in performance.
Out of the Box Measurements and settings
In this section of the review we measure every possible picture set up option to find the out of the box settings that give an image which is close to the industry standards for HD colour and white balance. This allows users to select the same presets and then adjust the brightness and contrast controls for their viewing room. These results were measured from the projector to take out any effects of the room and screen. Our testing facilities include a fully light controlled cinema room with dark walls, ceilings and black screen wall and this allows the best possible measurements to see the full potential of the projector. Obviously there will be slight variances between each unit of this model and the room used by a consumer is likely to also affect the actual performance of the image produced. This is why we also recommend to get the best out of the projector being tested the end user considers professional THX/ISF calibration and using the projector in the most suitable room possible to get the very best out of it.
THX Mode - Out of the box
Starting with the THX mode we can have a quick look at how it measures after 100 hours of use. The THX mode is a one button press to get an image that is supposed to be as close as possible to a calibrated image towards the industry standards. The problem with such presets, especially on a bulb projector is that over time the characteristics of the bulb can affect the results of the picture on screen. Don’t get me wrong this is a very useful tool for the majority of users who will not pay for a professional calibration, and whilst not perfect it should give those users a good onscreen representation of the Blu-rays they watch.
As we can see the Greyscale which is the backbone of any image (the black to white performance in steps of grey which should have no colour cast) is a little off on the X7. I suppose this is to be expected with such pre-calibrated modes on a projector but it looks like JVC and THX have changed the red energy in the mode this year. Last year there was a lack of red in the greyscale (see our reviews of last year’s models) which gave a yellow cast to images in the THX mode, so it looks like this year they have tried to correct this issue. On screen there are no immediate issues and probably only the most trained of eyes would spot the errors in moving pictures on most material. The CIE results of the colour gamut are also very good with very few major issues like over saturation. Indeed I would be surprised if anyone would really notice any issues unless in a side by side comparison. So, while not perfect on the graphs the THX mode, even after 100 hours of use is very good indeed. Only Gamma gives a slightly disappointing result, especially for a dedicated room, with a result that falls below the 2.2 reference point and in a dedicated room we would be looking for closer to 2.3 or 2.4 ideally. But can we find any set up selections that give even better out of the box results, it’s not like we have a lack of choice on the X7.
Cinema and custom presets - Out of the box
After some experimentation with various picture modes, colour profiles and gamma settings we found that the following gave us a more positive out of the box setting. I must stress that no two projectors will ever perform exactly the same in terms of results, but the following results were obtained after 100hrs use. We used Picture mode: Cinema with Colour Profile: Standard along with Gamma: Custom selection 2.4 and Colour Temp: 6500K we got the following results.
The first thing that I noticed was that the THX colour Temperature mode in the THX preset is a separate setting and when compared to the standard 6500K selection in the custom modes the results are quite different. Here Red is lower in comparison with Green and Blue tracking just under the 100% target line. Again it is not perfect in terms of how it looks on the charts but looking at the DeltaE errors of under 3 and a vastly improved Gamma performance for dedicated rooms, I would probably recommend users try this selection if THX looks too washed out in gamma terms. The CIE colour gamut results in Standard mode are also better again than the THX preset and with such low DeltaE errors, users will be hard pushed to see any major issues and indeed, on screen the performance with actual film content was very good. So some interesting results here and it’s time to play with the calibration controls.
As I mentioned in the menu section above there are a few niggles with the actual implementation of the CMS and Gamma controls. The CMS blinks when inputs are added which is a real annoyance and with any major adjustments there are strange looking results. But with a little care and attention, until such time as there is a firmware update, we can get pretty good results.
With Greyscale first the controls this year are a little more coarse than those on the DLA-HD990 last year but after a few sweeps back and forth we managed to get excellent results with DeltaE errors well under 1 and gamma tracking pretty well at 2.25 to 2.3 without any adjustment made using the Gamma tools. The reason there was no Gamma manipulation is again due to some niggles with a bug in the software as it stands with too much interactivity between the gamma inputs and the greyscale. Again this will hopefully get sorted soon with firmware and the actual results obtained here are almost perfect and even ‘golden eyes’ would be hard pressed to notice any errors in the image with film material. Indeed, the results are fantastic when added to a projector like the X7 with its fantastic dynamic range.
The Colour gamut results are also excellent with no issues with saturation or luminance errors as we only made small incremental adjustments with the CMS. The most eagle eyed will notice that apart from improved greyscale the calibrated results are not a million miles away from the best out of the box results and this points to some excellent work by JVC with their presets this year. Even with 100 hours on the bulb the calibrated settings and presets hold up very well. Like I have mentioned there are issues that JVC have to fix with the CMS and Gamma controls and at this point the CalMAN 4.2 interface is still being developed, but we expect that to happen within a few weeks. And it is important to note that these issues DO NOT affect the performance in the preset and calibrated modes above, it is just a nice to have a fix for those who want the full capabilities of the CMS for other gamuts like SMPTE-C. I am not going to penalise JVC for the issues as they have already said there will be a fix available and it doesn’t affect things for at least 98% of eventual users as the projector stands now.
Steve went into quite some detail with his DLA-X3 review about the JVC video processing and I have to mirror his findings here with the X7. The scaling and de-interlacing tests with the HQV SD benchmark disc produced excellent results on the X7 with no obvious issues with ringing or detail loss. The X7 passed all the revolving motion adaptive tests with only slight jaggies at the extreme edges, and the X7 also managed to produce fine detail without moiré or line twitter being introduced even with the most difficult material. Cadence detection of 3:2 NTSC and 2:2 Pal film and video material was also not an issue with the X7, even with the Spears & Munsil disc and its mixed format tests.
With HD material it was much the same with excellent results in the HQV tests and 24p playback without any introduction of induced judder. Even with fast moving camera moves with fast moving action on screen the motion resolution of the X7 is a step up on even last year’s HD990 in terms of image blur and resolution loss, with only the most difficult of scenes causing issues of too much blur being introduced.
Finally the Clear Motion Drive technology has been updated for the new projectors and now offers more options. These features will be useful for those users who watch a lot of video material and sports, especially popular with our American cousins who tend to use their projectors for more TV sports viewing than perhaps we do in this country. For those users they will find useful options here that will add fluid motion to those materials and it will be up to the end user as to what suits their viewing preferences. With film material I would warn against using the CMD even in the lowest settings as it does change the motion of film and makes things look like they are shot on video cameras, completely ruining the experience in my view. Again it is a love it or hate it technology that is certainly down to the end user to experiment with. One final feature under CMD that will be useful to owners of large NTSC DVD collections is the Inverse Telecine option that takes 60hz DVDs and reformats them back to 24p using a 3:2 pull down process.
Picture Quality – 2D
So, after all that, just how good does the DLA-X7 perform picture wise when set up correctly? Well you will not be surprised to hear that image quality is of a reference standard with industry leading black levels and dynamic range. In our review room with a throw of 13ft on to our 110” Screen Excellence Vista curve screen with Enlighter 4K material, image brightness was brilliant with excellent screen uniformity. We had no issues of bright corners and the dynamic range on offer is quite breathtaking when you consider that it is native with no use of a dynamic iris. Blacks are deep and fluid with plenty of shadow detail that adds a nice depth to images where required. There is fantastic gradation of black levels like the opening of ‘Sunshine’ on Blu-ray as the ship turns to block the sun and we suddenly can see plenty of detail in even the darkest areas of the image. Indeed star fields in Sci-Fi movies are usually the area where projectors can suffer producing depth and mixing the brightness of the stars against the black of space. With the X7 these types of images capture all of those contrast changes and maintaining a deep black and crisp white level.
When compared to the DLA-HD990 on the same screen in the same room, the similarity of performance is quite telling and points to a step up with the X7 compared to the HD950 of last year. Of course bear in mind that these comments are based on testing in perfect black out conditions and zoom ranges so we can eek the very best out of these machines. Results will vary depending on the room they are used in and anything but a bat cave will add some contrast loss against what we can obtain here in our review room. That’s not to say the X7 doesn’t stand up to ambient light and still produce an very nice image that still beats the vast majority of its competitors with perhaps a couple of exceptions at the same price point. Indeed, the Sony VPL-VW90ES in 2D mode produces an image and black level that does get very close to the X7 in the same room and circumstances when we tested it against the X7. Only the ultimate native dynamic range and black levels of the X7 give it a slight advantage over the VW90ES which requires the use of an iris to compete, and when switched off, it is still close but not quite at the absolute same level. But as always I would encourage those interested to test them both in the best conditions you can and make your own mind up.
Colour performance is also quite sublime with the X7 with the new accurate picture presets to thank for that. Images really do match the source material to give you a very cinematic and accurate look, where detail jumps off the screen. Skin tones are accurate without any issues being added and there is certainly no need for that CMS Orange control. Image detail is also helped immensely with the native contrast and dynamic range of the projector where there is a real three dimensional feel with material. And even with the most stylised of material, such as Spielberg’s ‘War of the Worlds’ with it’s over bleached and blown out whites and crushed black just looks stunningly filmic. The X7 matches the HD990 nearly every step of the way in side by side comparison and when you consider that the 990 was nearly £10k new this time last year, which is some achievement. So as you can probably tell at this stage I was extremely impressed…
Picture Quality – 3D
Like Steve mentioned in his DLA-X3 review, I have reviewed quite a few 3D TVs over the past 12 months and also have a Panasonic VT20 as a reference screen in the TV testing room, yet I have never really warmed completely to the 3D cause. I guess a lack of quality material available has put a bit of a dampener on things added to the small size of the TV screens. Even the 65inch models have failed to convince me into being enthusiastic of the technology. But just like Steve, it wasn’t until I had 3D on the projection screen that it really grabbed me and suddenly, I got it.
What really impressed me with the JVC X7 was the fact that set up was simple and I had no issues with connecting a 3D Blu-ray player, setting up the transmitter on top of the projector and pressing play. The JVC glasses switch on and off automatically when a signal is received and there is no need for faffing around with settings menus, like you have to do with the Sony VPL-VW90ES. Indeed, we spent quite a few hours testing and retesting the Sony because it does need careful set up to try and get an image with the least amount of crosstalk present. But even then, the Sony simply couldn’t touch the JVC in terms of 3D performance which was a shock, to be honest. Where the Sony needs to be pampered with careful set up which never gets rid of the ghosting and crosstalk issues completely, the JVC X7 produces the goods straight out of the box and with far less of the side effects the Sony has.
So it must be perfect then? Well, no, not quite. There are still instances of crosstalk if you go looking for it and with side by side material such as Sky 3D it is more prevalent. But I put that down completely to the way the Sky material is broadcast and the fact you are blowing the image up to 90inchs and more. Even on the VT20 plasma Sky 3D material has more crosstalk than other 3D sources and the VT20 is the best device I have seen yet for crosstalk suppression. But you will notice that I referred to going looking for crosstalk and ghosting with the X7 and that is certainly the case, it very rarely jumps out at you with the vast majority of sources I tried in 3D. That is certainly not the case with the VW90ES. Comparing both with the excellent AVATAR disc the first disadvantage of the VW90ES is the fact you are watching a darker image to get rid of the excessive ghosting and crosstalk that never fully disappears. Switching to the JVC, even in THX 3D Mode (which is the darkest of the presets available) the JVC was not only brighter through the glasses, but crosstalk was virtually non-existent. Scenes where there are characters in the background was where the issues of crosstalk varied markedly between the two projectors. On the Sony, the faces of those characters were doubled up because of the crosstalk present and as such the ghosting added a real softness and unclear image of those characters. Switching to the X7 and that issue was completely gone with sharp looking faces and minimal issues. This was quite a surprise and before I am accused by Sony owners of not setting it up correctly, you will have to trust that every set up option was explored at some length over weeks of testing and retesting. We would not post such results unless they were real issues that were not fixable by simply setting up the projector. I have to say I honestly wasn’t expecting the JVC to be quite as good as it turns out to be. When you then look at the ease of use of the JVC in set up and results you have to ask where Sony has gone wrong, here. Don’t get me wrong, I'm not saying the Sony is a complete disaster in 3D mode. It just falls short of the performance the X7 gave us during the testing process. Indeed, I ended up watching all my 3D Blu-ray discs on the JVC and found myself getting more impressed and involved with the technology. There are some big visible differences with the lenses used in the JVC glasses compared to the Sony models. With the Sony glasses you have quite a dark filter added for use with the projector, yet the JVC filter is far lighter and thus allows more light through to the viewer, making the JVC light drop with the glasses far less than the Sony models.
There are a couple of different picture settings you can use with the JVC in 3D mode. The first is the THX preset as this is the world’s first certified projector by the company. In this mode the light drop is more than the main 3D modes but colour balance and detail levels are far better and more film like in appearance. This is an area where Steve and I disagree as I prefer the THX mode in a bat cave viewing room as I like the more natural colour balance. But Steve says he is prepared to lose some of that colour balance accuracy for more brightness through the glasses. This is quite a valid point as you do need more light with 3D material to get the full effect and without any solid standards in place for playback in the home it is going to come down to personal preference in most cases. With the X7 you have the choice of 3D, Standard and Vivid colour profiles under the 3D picture mode settings. I found that with 3D and Standard there was certainly more brightness to the 3D image with the glasses on, but there was also a very obvious green colour cast to each of those settings. I actually found that by selecting the Vivid 3D profile it added back red energy to the image to make it far more balanced (but still far from perfect colour balance wise). And that is the main issue at this moment in time with the 3D standards for home viewing, it is very much about getting as much light as possible and trying hard to try and have some resemblance of colour accuracy.
It’s impossible for me to say if the 3D performance of the X7 is worth the extra outlay over the DLA-X3 and if there is any performance gain with the X7, as I haven’t had the chance to compare them, yet. However, what we can see is that you do have a few more options to dial in a more accurate image in colour terms with the X7 in 3D mode.
What living with the DLA-X7 has done for me is open my eyes to big screen 3D and that is quite an achievement for the projector, as I was very much on the ‘not that bothered’ fence with 3D beforehand. When good 3D takes up your field of view and is well executed with a full surround system it really is a new immersive experience to have at home. Sadly in terms of content there are more bad examples than good, but that may very well change as this year moves on.
I’m waiting for the DLA-X9 with baited breath now after seeing just how good this X7 is.
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The range of different colours that a device can accurately capture. The more colours, the wider the colour gamut.
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THX Certification and THX mode
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Mid range D-ILA full HD 3D Projector
Suggested price: £6,500
Reviewed 20th February, 2011 by Phil Hinton
To get the best out of your TV or projector, consider getting it calibrated.