JVC DLA-Z1 4K Laser Projector Review
JVC finally deliver native 4K and laser but at what cost?
What is the JVC Z1?Over the last decade JVC have been quietly carving out a niche for themselves in the projector market with a range of machines that are famous for delivering the best black levels and contrast ratios around. The DLA-X7000 is a good example of how far JVC have pushed their bulb-based projectors with eShift to add a higher resolution experience from 4K sources, a wider colour gamut and even support for High Dynamic Range (HDR). However until now none of JVC's projectors have actually been native 4K, leaving that area of the market exclusively to Sony and models like their VPL-VW550ES. That is until now because with the arrival of the DLA-Z1 JVC now have a native 4K projector of their own.
If that wasn't enough it also uses a blue laser light source which promises increased brightness, longer life and greater consistency compared to the traditional bulb. The new projector also includes active shutter 3D, a very wide colour gamut and support for HDR 10 and Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) which means it should be able to handle whatever content you're watching apart from Dolby Vision. However this does all come at a cost, an eye-watering £35,000 price tag to be precise. There may also be another cost because in this new HDR arms-race of increased brightness, JVC's projectors are in danger of losing the one thing that made them so special in the first place – those blacks. So let's set the JVC Z1 up and find out.
Please Note: The DLA-Z1 received a firmware update immediately after this review was completed which apparently was intended to specifically address the poor contrast performance we highlighted at the time. We therefore arranged for the unit to be returned in early June with the new firmware, so that we could re-evaluate the performance in light of these potential improvements.
Design, Connections & ControlLet's get one thing out of the way right from the start, the Z1 is big, really big. Although the basic chassis design is very similar to JVC's bulb-based projectors with a central lens and grilles on either side, it's as though the Z1 has been injected with a massive dose of steroids. The chassis measures 500 x 235 x 720mm and weighs in at 37.5kg, making it a two-man lift. We had to fashion a special projector stand for the purposes of this review and we'd be lying if we didn't admit that on more than one occasion we checked the stand to make sure it was stable under the enormous weight of this projector and it also made adjusting the feet tricky.
Clearly the Z1 is aimed at the custom install and large venue markets and as such it offers a number of different installation options including ceiling mounting (once you've removed the feet), although you will need a serious bracket to support it and a reinforced ceiling for that matter. The design is all about function rather than form, so the chassis uses a simple matte black finish that will be ideal for the kind of environments into which the Z1 will be installed. Otherwise it's a minimalist look with the only signs of design flair a metal trim around the outer rim of the lens and a centrally mounted brushed metal strip along the top, onto which all the various logos have been added.
The build quality is obviously excellent and the Z1 is constructed like a tank, which at least goes some way to explaining the hefty price tag. The laser light source is cooled via cold air drawn in through one vent and hot air expelled through the other and when we say hot, we mean hot. If we had been conducting this review in the winter there would have been no reason to turn the heating on in our home cinema, that's how much hot air the Z1 was expelling via the vents. That also means that it's quite noisy, around 30db in the low laser mode and considerably louder in the mid and high settings. Of course in a large venue or a custom install with a hush box and air conditioning that won't be an issue but in our home cinema the Z1 made its presence felt.
What was impressive, and another reason for the the cost of this projector, is the lens which is entirely composed of glass. This is often one of the most over-looked parts of a projector but high quality glass is expensive and this is an area where JVC have obviously paid a great deal of attention. The images produced by the Z1 were absolutely pin sharp and the use of an all glass lens assembly also means that there's no danger of warping caused by the heat the Z1 produces. Strangely considering the Z1's flagship status, it doesn't have the motorised lens cover found on JVC's other high-end projectors but perhaps it was felt to be an unnecessary feature for the semi-professional market.
The firmware update was apparently meant to improve the Z1 in terms of its noise level but as far as could tell the new software made no difference – this is still a noisy projector and one that produces a lot of heat.
At the rear of the projector are some basic controls in case you've either misplaced the remote or are halfway up a ladder and need to quickly access the menu system. These controls are for on/off, menu. navigation, enter and back. All the connections are also at the rear and here you'll find two full 18Gbps HDMI 2.0b inputs with support for 4K, HDR, HLG, Rec. 2020 and HDCP 2.2. There is also an RS-232 serial connector (D-sub 9-pin) and an Ethernet port (RJ-45) for system control, a trigger (mini jack, DC12 V/100 mA) along with a USB Type-A port for service updates. Finally there's a connector for the optional active shutter 3D synchro emitter (3-pin mini-DIN).The Z1 comes with exactly the same remote that JVC supply with their higher-end projectors and that's not a bad thing as it's a well designed and effective controller. The remote sits comfortably in the hand, includes a backlight which it a vital feature on any projector controller, and can be used easily with one thumb. The remote has all the buttons you'll need including on/off, menu, back and navigation controls, as well as HDMI 1 and 2 and direct access to the Natural, Cinema and HDR picture modes. There's also direct access to the Info page, the Lens Control and various calibration controls, as well as three modes for different setting memories.
The Z1 reminds you of a regular JVC projector on steroids and is built like a tank
Features & SpecsThe headline feature on the Z1 is its 0.69" native 4K D-ILA 10-bit device, which actually uses the full 4K resolution of 4096 x 2160 pixels. This is actually a slightly different ratio to 3840 x 2160 Ultra HD content so bear that in mind when setting up the Z1. The other big feature is the BLU-Escent laser light source that JVC claim can deliver dynamic light source control, a peak brightness of 3,000 lumens and 80% of the Rec. 2020 colour gamut. The use of a laser light source not only means a brighter and more consistent image without the dimming associated with bulbs but also a much longer lifespan of approximately 20,000 hours according to JVC. The Z1 uses a new lens system incorporating an 18-element, 16-group all-glass 100 mm diameter lens and five ED lenses to reduces chromatic aberration and colour fringing. The Z1 can support a 4K signal up to 4K60P 4:4:4, 4K60P 4:2:2/36-bit, 4K24P 4:4:4/36-bit at 18 Gbps bandwidth, along with HDR 10 and HLG.
The Z1 also includes THX Display Certification for both 2K and 4K resolutions, as well as ISFccc Certified Calibration Controls for a professional calibration. There's also an auto-calibration function that uses exclusive JVC software and an optical sensor. The Z1 supports 3D although surprisingly considering its price, JVC don't include the PK-EM2 3D synchro emitter or the PK-AG3 active shutter 3D glasses. The Z1 includes motorised lens controls (focus, zoom and shift) which can adjust by +/-100% vertically and +/-43% horizontally, making setting up the projector a lot easier once you've physically installed it. The JVC can produce a screen size from 60" to 280" and there's also a lens memory feature that allows you to save different aspects ratios for those using a scope screen. The lens memory was particularly impressive with a silky smooth operation as it changed from one setting to another. The Z1 uses 0.4W in eco-standby mode and 1.5W in regular standby mode and it draws a massive 750W when actually in operation and using its brightest settings.
The lens memory was as smooth as silk, as you'd expect from a semi-professional projector
Out-of-the-Box ResultsThe Z1 has the same selection of picture modes that are available on JVC's current high-end bulb-based projectors, so you get Natural, Cinema, HDR, Film, THX and User modes (six in total). If you're spending £35,000 on projector then you really should be getting it professionally calibrated but otherwise the THX or Natural modes will get you closest to the industry standards (D65 and Rec. 709) for standard dynamic range content. The Z1 is very bright, so we also found ourselves setting the LD Power to low and closing down the lens aperture, it also includes Dynamic CTRL that dynamically adjusts the brightness depending on the image but we'll come back to this later and we left it off for testing. All our measurements were done with a Klein K-10A colour meter, a Murideo Fresco Six-G pattern generator and CalMAN Ultimate calibration software.
The firmware update had made no difference to the out-of-the-box measurements.
We said that THX and Natural can get you close to the industry standards but not that close as you can see from the graph above. The Z1 arrived having already been calibrated to a degree in terms of the colour temperature controls (the sample had been doing the rounds at various demos for a while now so there was no need to run it in) but as soon as we reset the colour temperature controls the amount of red was immediately obvious in the image. We'd like to see a projector at this price point deliver a more accurate out-of-the-box image but then it's probably a moot point because any Z1 should be professionally calibrated when it is installed. The menu includes options for various gamma settings and the 2.6 setting actually measured at 2.5 but this was ideal for our pitch black room.The out-of-the-box colour performance would actually be very good were it not for the fact that the entire colour gamut is being skewed by the excess of red in the greyscale. Thankfully the Z1 has a two-point white balance control which should enable us to correct the greyscale and there is also a colour management system that will allow us to fine-tune the colour performance.
The out-of-the-box performance could have been better but a projector this expensive should always be professionally calibrated
Calibrated ResultsIn terms of the calibrated measurements we used the Natural picture mode with the 6500K colour temperature, the 2.6 gamma and the Rec. 709 colour profile. We then corrected the colour temperature using the two-point white balance control and then fine tuned the colour gamut with the colour management system.
The firmware update had made no difference to the calibrated measurements.It was actually very easy to bring the red down using the two-point white balance control and we quickly had an excellent greyscale with equal amounts of red, green and blue across the entire range. The obvious red tinge was gone and there was a smooth transition from black to white in even shades of grey. The errors (DeltaEs) are all below two and most were below one, so we were extremely happy with this result. The gamma was also still tracking 2.5 and overall we couldn't fault the Z1's calibrated greyscale and gamma performance.As we expected, once we had removed all that red from the greyscale, the colour gamut immediately fell into line. All we then needed to do was fine tune the colours using the colour management system, although there wasn't actually much adjustment required. As you can see, now that the greyscale has been calibrated the colour temperature is smack in the middle of its target for D65 and the colours themselves all track their targets very closely at 25, 50 and 75%. As with the greyscale and gamma, we were very happy with the colour accuracy on the Z1 after calibration.
HDR ResultsWhen it comes to High Dynamic Range, the projectors that we have tested to date have been very hit and miss with some being able to deliver nearly 100% of DCI-P3 but all of them struggling to deliver the peak highlights required for HDR. As a result HDR images can often appear dim as the projector struggles to tone map static metadata that is often graded at 4,000nits down to the projector's own peak brightness of 100nits. Just how good your projector will be with HDR will depend on the model, the size of your screen and how the content was originally graded. However given the Z1's use of a laser light source, with its wider colour gamut and higher peak brightness, we would expect the HDR performance to be significantly better than other projectors that we have reviewed.
JVC's claims of a peak luminance of 3,000 lumens were well founded and measuring directly from the lens the Z1 was outputting 140nits, 170nits and 235nits in Low, Mid and High LD Power modes respectively with the iris wide open. We actually found that for HDR content we used the Mid setting rather than the High setting because the difference wasn't that great in terms of peak brightness but blacks were more acceptable and whilst the Mid setting wasn't quiet it was a lot less noisy than the High setting. The Z1 delivers a great performance in terms of HDR with an accurate greyscale and good tracking of the PQ EOTF, except where the JVC begins to roll-off.In their promotional literature JVC claim that the Z1 can deliver 80% of the Rec. 2020 colour gamut and we actually measured it at 82%, which is simply the largest colour gamut that we have measured to date. As a result the Z1 not only covers more of the Rec. 2020 colour gamut than any other display but is also able to accurately track the colours at their 25, 50 and 75% saturation points – very impressive.
Since the Z1 can cover 82% of Rec. 2020 it shouldn't come as a surprise to discover that it can also deliver 100% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut, regardless of whether we measure using the 1931 or 1976 graphs. This is important because content isn't graded using Rec. 2020, it's graded using DCI-P3 and then delivered using the Rec. 2020 container. That's what the graph above shows, the DCI-P3 colour gamut within the Rec. 2020 container and the Z1 is the first display we have measured that can accurately deliver DCI-P3 from 0 to 100% saturation across all three primary and all three secondary colours.
This year you'll be hearing a lot about colour volume, which is essentially the colour gamut a display can reproduce and its peak brightness combined to create a three dimensional space or volume. We have just received the latest beta version of Calman 2017 which now includes the ability to measure the colour volume of a display in a number of different ways. This is still a work in progress and when the final version is available we should be able to represent the colour volume in a nice graphical form but at the moment we can talk about the basic measurements.
For the purposes of this review we started by measuring the Relative Colour Volume, this takes the display's own peak brightness and measures the colour volume relative to that peak brightness based on the CIE L*a*b* colour graph and 140 data points. For the Z1 we got measurements of 183% against Rec. 709, 123% against DCI-P3 and 83% against Rec. 2020, which is what we would expect given the size of the JVC's native colour gamut. However these measurements aren't taking into account the peak brightness of the content, so you could say that really you should be measuring at 10,000nits or at least 4,000nits, which is currently the maximum peak brightness at which content is graded.
For this reason Dolby have been recommending testing a display's capabilities against the Perceptual Colour Volume which uses the PQ EOTF out to 10,000nits and the Rec. 2020 colour gamut measured using the ICtCp colour graph which takes into account human visual perception. This measurement uses 393 data points and delivers a number expressed in Millions of Distinguishable Colours (MDC). So a theoretical display that could deliver 10,000nits of peak brightness and 100% of Rec. 2020 would be able to deliver 997 million distinguishable colours or an MDC number of 997. The Z1 produced an MDC number of 246, which shows how limited its peak brightness actually is compared to brighter displays like TVs. As a comparison the Sony XE93 delivered an MDC number of 441. Colour volume will remain a controversial subject until the industry bodies agree an established method of measuring it but until then we'll try to provide as much information as possible in our reviews.
The firmware update had made no difference to the HDR measurements.
Thanks to its laser light source the Z1 delivered the largest colour gamut we've measured to date
JVC DLA-Z1E Video Review
Picture QualityThe Z1 makes for an interesting projector in terms of reviewing its picture quality because it does so many things well but is let down in a couple of key areas. Let's start with what it does well and thanks to the native 4K D-ILA device and high quality all-glass lens the images it produces are absolutely pin sharp. In fact feed it a genuine 4K image like the Ultra HD Blu-ray of The Revenant and the level of detail is astonishing, especially when you're sat close to the screen. Once you move further away it's less obvious compared to say a JVC projector using eShift but it's still clearly a highly detailed image. The additional pixels available to the video processing means that it is also able to scale Full HD content with remarkable precision so recent Blu-rays like Rogue One and Moana looked incredible as well.
The colour accuracy was also superb, especially after calibration, with Rec. 709 content looking excellent. Once again both Rogue One and Moana looked marvellous, with the colourful animation in the latter appearing particularly impressive. The combination of the video processing scaling to a higher resolution panel and the excellent colour accuracy was the perfect reminder go how good regular Blu-ray can look. At least that is until you actually watch an Ultra HD Blu-ray and see how incredible the wider colour gamut appears on the Z1. Since the projector is rendering 100% of the DCI-P3 colour space and tracking it very accurately we were left looking at some the most realistic and nuanced colours we had ever seen. Whether that was the red in Deadpool's suit, Scarlett Johansson's golden blonde hair in Lucy or the greens and browns of the forests in The Revenant.
The other area where the Z1 impressed was in terms of it brightness, specifically when it related to 3D and especially HDR. If you're watching standard dynamic range content then, depending on how large your screen is, you'll probably find yourself selecting the Low LD Power setting and closing down the iris but for 3D content the additional lumens means that you're watching bright images with plenty of depth and absolutely no crosstalk. Watching Moana in 3D was a revelation and a reminder than when the display is capable and the film well made, the 3D format can still be amazing. However it was with HDR that the additional brightness really came into play and although the Z1 can't deliver the kind of peak brightness that a TV can it was easily the best projected HDR image we had seen from a consumer projector.
In fact when you combine the native 4K D-ILA 10-bit device, the huge colour gamut and the increased brightness, it's with HDR that the Z1 really shines. We watched the new Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and the images were often breathtaking, with the Z1 reproducing every pixel of detail, every nuanced colour and a bright image with great highlights. This was particularly obvious in a nighttime scene where the headlights of cars reflected off the wet street in a way that was more realistic than we can ever remember seeing before in a projected image. HDR on projectors has often been a bit underwhelming but not so on the Z1, which shows just what the format is capable of if you have deep enough pockets.
So where isn't the Z1 as impressive? Well 4K or not, this is still a D-ILA device so the motion handling wasn't as good as some other projector technologies and there was some smearing on fast camera moves. JVC do include their Clear Motion Drive (C.M.D.) but we would never use this with film-based content and in general the motion handling on the Z1 was perfectly acceptable. There's also a feature called Motion Enhancement but engaging it didn't actually seem to make any difference. However even without using C.M.D. or Motion Enhancement, the Z1 handled the constantly moving camera in Fantastic Beasts surprisingly well. We also noticed that the Z1 still includes Multiple Pixel Control (MPC) despite the fact that it's native 4K D-ILA device means it doesn't use eShift. Instead what the MPC control on the Z1 is doing is enhancing, smoothing and reducing noise in both Full HD and Ultra HD/4K sources. We were happy to experiment with the enhancement aspect when scaling 2K content but avoided it with native 4K material.
Finally we get to the really disappointing aspect of the Z1 and that's the black levels and contrast performance. We never thought that's a sentence we'd write about a JVC projector but in their pursuit of brightness they seem to have raised the black floor in the process. The result is a black level that's more akin to a DLP projector rather than a D-ILA model. We suspected that something was up when looking at the specifications, where JVC claim a contrast ratio of infinity to one. That figure is clearly based on using the Dynamic CTRL function that literally turns the laser light source off on a black screen but that's hardly representative of actual viewing material and we calculated the real contrast ratio at a far less impressive 9,000:1.
The level of shadow detail reproduction was also disappointing, again more like a DLP than a D-ILA projector, and as a result the Z1 lacked those deep blacks that give an image depth and the shadow detail that is needed to enjoy those deep blacks. Whilst the black levels were poor with SDR content it was compounded by the increased brightness with HDR material, although you may consider that an acceptable trade-off for the improved HDR performance. The end result was that for all the positives of the Z1, there was a feeling that something was missing. Of course some people might prefer the brighter image and in an environment with light coloured walls it would be less of an issue, but it's definitely disappointing for a £35,000 JVC projector. The Z1 is clearly aimed at larger venues, hence the increased brightness, but for smaller home cinemas there are projectors like JVC's own X7000 that can deliver superior blacks and contrast ratios for a fraction of the cost.
When we first reviewed the Z1 we were disappointed by the black levels and contrast performance of the projector. This was especially true when it came to standard dynamic range content (SDR) and as a result the Z1 didn’t perform as well as other JVC projectors in this area. We’re pleased to report that the recent firmware update has improved the performance of the Z1 in this area, resulting in black levels that are much closer to what we’d expect from a JVC projector. The sheer brightness of the Z1 means that it will never be able to deliver the blacks with which owners of the X7500/X9500 are familiar but they are now closer to the kind of black levels seen on the X5500.
The increased brightness of the Z1 means that it will always have an elevated black floor compared to the X7500/X9500 but then those projectors can’t get anywhere near the Z1 in terns of high dynamic range (HDR) performance. The contrast ratio has been improved to a more respectable 30,000:1 and whilst this might not be as impressive as the contrast numbers of the X7500/X9500, it certainly brings the Z1 closer to the kind of performance we expect from a JVC projector. When you consider the brightness of the Z1 we doubt that JVC could lower the black floor further without seriously curtailing the light output and considering the projector is intended for larger screen sizes that would seem counter-productive.
In addition to the improved black floor and contrast ratio, the latest firmware has also addressed the lack of shadow detail. As a result the performance was much improved with SDR content and all the positive factors such as image detail and picture accuracy now combined with an improved black level and better shadow detail. The washed-out blacks and shadows plagued by murky greys are now replaced with deeper blacks a more defined performance in the areas just above black. When it came to HDR content the increased luminance does elevate the black floor but that is an acceptable trade-off when you consider the brighter highlights and superior tone mapping.
The Z1 produced some very impressive HDR images but for a JVC its black levels disappointed
- Sharp 4K image
- Very bright
- Extremely wide colour gamut
- Great HDR performance for a projector
- Good greyscale and gamma
- Accurate colours
- Poor black levels and contrast ratios
- The chassis is huge
- Puts out a lot of heat
- Cooling is noisy
- Very expensive
JVC DLA-Z1 4K Laser Projector ReviewThere's no denying that the JVC DLA-Z1 is an impressive piece of technology and the use of a native 4K D-ILA device and a high quality all-glass lens meant it delivered the sharpest images we have seen from any projector. The use of a blue laser light source is equally as impressive, producing incredibly bright images and the widest colour gamut that we've measured to date. The Z1 is seriously big and built like a tank, with all the features you'd expect from a high-end JVC projector. It's annoying that as this price point JVC don't see fit to include a 3D emitter and glasses, nor is there a motorised cover over the lens, but the Z1's lens memory function is definitely superior to the ones included on their bulb-based projectors.
The Z1 was certainly capable of delivering some lovely images, with accurate greyscale and colours after calibration and a staggering amount of detail. The video processing was excellent and the motion handling was also good, whilst the added brightness resulted in superb 3D images that were devoid of any crosstalk. However it was with HDR content that the Z1 really impressed, thanks to the native 4K panel, the increased brightness and the wider colour gamut the HDR images were the best we'd seen from a projector. However there was something missing from all of this, those famous JVC black levels were gone and the contrast performance and shadow detail was poor for a projector from a company that has always set the bar in the past.
The sheer size of the Z1 isn't the only thing to contend with, it also puts out a massive amount of heat and it's noisy, especially in its brighter settings. Of course the Z1 is aimed at the custom install, large venue and semi-professional markets where size, weight, heat, noise, black levels and cost are less of an issue. In that sense the Z1 certainly delivers but it would be very hard to consider it suitable for your average home cinema, even if you had the necessary budget. As a statement of intent from JVC the DLA-Z1 is certainly impressive and hopefully we'll soon see the technology trickle down to cheaper models. However at a price of £35,000 we really can't recommend that anyone actually buys one because you can get almost as good and in some respects better for a lot less.
Thankfully a recent firmware update has improved the black level, contrast ratio and shadow detail of the Z1, bringing its performance in these areas more in line with other JVC projectors, even if it still doesn’t reach the deep blacks of JVC’s best consumer projectors. However the Z1 now strikes a sensible balance between the brightness requirements of a semi-professional projector and the contrast performance we have come to expect from JVC. The use of a laser light source and a native 4K chip, combined with the improved firmware, results in some of the most impressive projected images we’ve seen. You will still need deep pockets to buy one and the projector is only suitable for larger venues and custom installations but, thanks to the improvements made by the new firmware, we’re now happy to award the JVC DLA-Z1 a Recommended badge.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels8
2D Picture Quality8
3D Picture Quality9
Picture Quality Out-of-the-Box8
Picture Quality Calibrated9
Ease Of Use8
Value For Money7
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