AVForums gets up-close and personal with JVC’s entry level DLA-X3 3D projector
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IntroductionOver the past four years JVC has released a series of projectors that have offered both remarkable performance and incredible black levels; not only have they managed to achieve these results without resorting to dynamic iris trickery, they have done so at very competitive price points. It is no wonder then that their efforts have been rewarded with a hatful of Reference badges here at AVForums and no surprise to see a great deal of excitement being generated when JVC announced their 2011 line-up because on top of the usual performance expectations all three would include 3D capability. JVC’s new range starts with the entry level DLA-X3 at £3,500 and moves on to the DLA-X7 at £6,500 and DLA-X9 at £9,500, with both of the latter projectors including THX and ISF certification and a full colour management system. Considering that the Sony VPL-VW90ES recently reviewed by Phil also costs £6,000 the DLA-X3 is quite simply the cheapest 3D projector currently on the market. The question is can the DLA-X3 measure up to its illustrious predecessors and how good is its 3D performance compared to projectors nearly twice its price?
Design, Setup and ConnectionsThe first thing that you notice about the DLA-X3 is that JVC have returned to the look of their original DLA-HD1 and DLA-HD100 projectors. Whilst the new design retains the gloss black chassis and motorised lens cover, it now incorporates a more angular look and the lens is once again centered rather than off to one side as it had been on more recent models. In addition, as with the earlier models, there are exhaust vents at the front and intake vents and connections at the rear. Personally I never really liked the design of JVC’s recent models and much preferred the look of my DLA-HD100 so I’m very happy that they decided to return to that original design. Of course a lot of this is down to personal taste but I definitely prefer having the connections at the rear and a centered lens seems more sensible and makes installation much easier.
The second thing that you notice about the DLA-X3 is that it is big, much larger in fact than any previous JVC model, especially in terms of width. It actually measures in at (W x H x D) 455mm x 179mm x 472mm and weighs a hefty 14.7kg so whilst this may be JVC’s entry level projector they haven’t skimped on the build quality. The DLA-X3 includes a 220W UHP mercury lamp that can produce a claimed brightness of 1,300 lumens and I assume that the increased size is mainly related to additional cooling for this brighter bulb. The increased brightness is obviously intended to address the issue of dimness with 3D content caused by the glasses but as an added benefit it increases the overall brightness of the DLA-X3 with 2D material as well; this is a definite benefit because previous JVC models were a little lacking in this department. However despite all this additional brightness, size and cooling, the DLA-X3 remains impressively quiet; I measured an NC reading of 24 in Cinema mode which is below the threshold of 25 for a [tip=THX]THX[/tip] certified home theatre.
The DLA-X3 utilises three 0.7” Full HD D-ILA panels as well as a high performance 2x zoom lens with a large diameter all-glass lens system with 17 elements in 15 groups including 2 ED (extra-low dispersion) lenses. There is a motorised focus, zoom and shift feature which allows for flexible installation with a +/-80% vertical and +/34% horizontal powered lens-shift function. The DLA-X3 also includes a new optical engine resulting in a claimed native contrast ratio of 50,000:1, as well as the latest version of JVC’s Clear Motion Drive. Of course the most interesting new feature on the DLA-X3 is the addition of 3D capability, which it achieves using the frame sequential method combined with active shutter glasses.
The rear connections of the DLA-X3 include two HDMI v1.4a connectors as well as component and composite video input using RCA plugs. There is also an RS-232C control port for custom installation but no D-sub 15 pin connector for use with a PC or a LAN socket for network control, these only come with the DLA-X7 and DLA-X9. JVC has also finally dropped the legacy S-Video connector but they have added a 12v trigger terminal, something that was missing from last year’s DLA-HD550. Finally there is a remote terminal for connecting to an external light receiver and a 3D Synchro terminal for connecting the DLA-X3 to the PK-EM1 external 3D emitter.
The backlit remote control follows a similar layout to the remotes of last year’s models but it now comes in black with a soft rubber feel. I really like JVC’s remote design, it is easy to use, comfortable to hold and has all the controls you could ever want to access available on sensibly laid out buttons.
As part of the package the DLA-X3 comes with the PK-EM1 3D emitter and two pairs of JVC’s PK-AG1 active shutter glasses. The Sony VPL-VW90ES uses a 3D emitter that is integrated around the lens itself but the DLA-X3 and its big brothers the DLA-X7 and DLA-X9 use a separate emitter that is connected to the previously mentioned 3D Synchro terminal at the rear. The emitter is quite small so I placed it on top of the DLA-X3 and bounced the signal off the screen, whilst this might not be esthetically pleasing it did produce an effective IR signal over a wide area. I believe Phil has experienced some issues with the emitter swamping other IR controls but I had no such problems in my home cinema. I assume that JVC's reasoning behind not integrating the emitter into the projector itself is to allow for more flexible installations.
I found JVC’s active shutter glasses to be among the best that I have experienced to date. The are large enough to wear over normal glasses and yet light enough to be comfortable for long periods of time. The lenses are quite big which helps when you’re looking at a large screen but at no point did I ever experience flicker or find them fatiguing to wear. The glasses are battery powered but don’t need to be switched on, they just detect the signal from the emitter and turn on automatically. I didn’t have any problems with the glasses detecting the emitter, turning on or synching with the 3D material so whilst additional glasses might be expensive at £160 they do at least work properly.
Setup of the DLA-X3 couldn’t be simpler and in my case I just placed it on my projector mount, zoomed the image to the size of my screen and adjusted the focus. My mount is aligned relative to the exact centre of the screen and if you can I would always recommend this approach. However if you can’t then you can just use the DLA-X3’s vertical and horizontal shift to correctly align your image. A word of warning, you should never use the keystone adjustment when setting up your projector; it will add unnecessary scaling and ruin your high definition image. I noticed on the JVC website that there was a firmware update (v1.2) to address some 3D Blu-ray compatibility issues so I installed this before I continued with the review. The process was quite straightforward and involved downloading the firmware onto your laptop and then connecting to the projector using a USB to mini-USB cable. There is a small panel at the rear next to the HDMI connectors, it can be accessed by removing two screws and behind the panel is the mini-USB socket.
MenusThe menu system on the DLA-X3 is essentially the same as the one used on last year’s models which is good because the menu system employed by JVC is excellent; it is sensibly laid out, intuitive to use and easy to read. There are six main pages within the menu hierarchy, Picture Adjust, Input Signal, Installation, Display Setup, Function and Information.
The Picture Adjust menu contains all the controls relating to the image and includes obvious ones such as Picture Mode, Contrast, Brightness, Colour, Tint, Colour Temperature and Gamma selection. Of the various Picture Modes available I found Cinema to be the best choice for 2D movie watching and 3D to be the best for 3D movie watching. Initially I left the Contrast, Brightness, Colour and Tint controls at zero and I selected Custom1 for the Colour Temperature and I selected Normal for the Gamma. The Custom1 selection for Colour Temperature claims to be set at 6500K but there are controls to adjust the white balance should this prove not to be the case.
There is also an Advanced section within the Picture Adjust menu and this allows you to control Sharpness, Noise Reduction, Custom Gamma, the Clear Motion Drive (CMD), the Lens Aperture and the Lamp Power. I found that the best setting for Sharpness and Detail Enhancement controls was zero and I turned off the Noise Reduction controls as well. I also turned off the Clear Motion Drive function as I find that this just adds an unpleasant ‘video’ quality to film based material and is just one of those unnecessary features that every projector and TV is saddled with these days. I left the Lens Aperture at the middle setting but once the bulb ages and dims you can open that out more and I left the Lamp Power at Normal.
The Input Signal menu allows you to adjust settings for HDMI, COMP., Picture Position, Aspect (Video), Mask and Progressive. The HDMI option includes a setting for the dynamic range fo which the default setting is Standard (16-235). Other controls within the HDMI option include Colour Space which should be left on the default setting of Auto and 3D Format which should also be left on the default setting of Auto. In this setting the DLA-X3 will be able to detect which type of 3D it is receiving, Frame Packing, Side by Side or Top and Bottom. The Aspect (Video) should be set to 16:9 and Progressive left on the default setting of Auto.
The Installation menu gives you access to the Lens Control, Pixel Adjust, Installation Style, Keystone, Anamorphic, Screen Adjust and Black Level. The Lens Control can be used when installing the DLA-X3 and the Installation Style relates to whether the projector is at the front, rear or on the ceiling. The Pixel Adjust function allows you to adjust each colour by increments of one pixel in cases of mis-convergence. As it happens my review sample the three colours were perfectly aligned but it can be a useful function in cases where they aren't. As mentioned previously the Keystone function is best avoided, I left he Black level at zero and Anamorphic adds horizontal and vertical stretch for use with an anamorphic lens. Finally the Screen Adjust setting is designed to optimise the DLA-X3 with different types of screen but personally I just left it off.
The Display menu allows you to adjust the Back Colour, Menu Position, Menu Display, Line Display, Source Display, Logo and Language. All these controls can be left in their default setting unless you have a strong need to change the location of the menu itself or not see the 'D-ILA' logo when you turn the DLA-X3 on.
The Function menu allows you to control the Trigger, the Off Timer, the High Altitude Mode and the Lamp Reset. Finally the Information menu shows you which Input is being used, what the Source is, whether there is Deep Colour and the Lamp Time.
Out of the Box MeasurementsFor these tests it is important to establish which settings are best suited to provide images that are as close as possible to industry standards; so after some testing I chose the following settings for the DLA-X3: Preset - Cinema, Colour Temperature - Custom1, Colour Space - Standard and Gamma - Normal. As I mentioned in the menu section I found that the Brightness, Contrast, Colour and Tint controls should all be left at zero. Finally I chose Standard for the HDMI setting, set the Sharpness control to zero and turned off all the noise reduction filters and the Clear Motion Drive.
As you can see from the graph the greyscale performance of the DLA-X3 was very good with green and blue tracking close to the 100 target and red just above, resulting in an error (DeltaE) of below 3 for all IRE points. The lines themselves are straight which is also good and means that calibrating the greyscale should be quite easy. For our TV reviews we use a gamma target of 2.2 but the ISF and THX recommend a gamma of 2.4 for projectors in a light control viewing environment. The DLA-X3 actually tracks at around 2.3 so this is an ideal setting for most home cinema setups. Overall this is an excellent greyscale performance and should suit most users.
Unfortunately the colour gamut isn’t as impressive as the greyscale with quite large hue errors in all the primary and secondary colours as you can see in the DetlaH bar chart. In addition red is oversaturated as you can see from the DeltaC bar chart. The luminance (brightness) errors relate to the undersaturated measurements which you can see in the Gamut Luminance bar chart. Here the majority of colours are undersaturated which is a good thing because although the colours have hue errors and are oversaturated in some of the colours the image itself won’t appear bright or bleed/band. In all fairness these measurements are a big improvement on the wide and oversaturated colour gamut that Phil found when he reviewed the DLA-HD550 but I still think that JVC could provide a more accurate preset. With no colour management system (CMS) on the DLA-X3 there is very little that calibration will be able to do to improve this performance.
Calibrated ResultsIn this section we use whatever calibration controls are available in order to bring the DLA-X3 as close as possible to industry standards. In this case there is a two point white balance control that can be used to calibrate the greyscale and set the colour temperature to the D65 industry standard. Unfortunately as I mentioned in the previous section there is no CMS on the DLA-X3 which will limit any opportunities to further calibrate the colour gamut.
As I suspected the straight lines shown in the out of the box greyscale measurements made calibrating the greyscale very easy. A couple of adjustments to the white balance controls at 80IRE and 30 IRE quickly resulted in all three colours tracking around the target line of 100. After calibration all the errors (DeltaE) were less than 1 and most were less than 0.5; errors that low are indistinguishable to the human eye and as such this is an absolutely reference performance.
By calibrating the greyscale accurately there are minor improvements to the colour gamut and as you can see on the CIE chart above the colour temperature is now spot on D65. Unfortunately further adjustments weren’t really possible because the Colour and Tint controls didn’t improve the situation, in fact if anything they made it worse and JVC has again decided not to include a CMS on their entry level model. Now as I mentioned in the previous section the colour gamut is an improvement over the very wide gamut displayed by the DLA-HD550 but if JVC are going to continue to omit a CMS they really must provide a preset that accurately replicates the industry standard colour gamut of Rec.709. Phil commented on the lack of a CMS in his DLA-HD350 and DLA-HD550 reviews and I will raise the same point as he did in this review. Why when most of the competition include some kind of CMS on even their entry level projectors does JVC still refuse to? It’s a shame because had JVC included a CMS, the DLA-X3 would have received a reference badge but instead we are left repeating the same arguments for another year.
Video ProcessingAs I have come to expect from JVC projectors the HQV video processing was excellent and the DLA-X3 passed every one of our standard tests. Using the HQV benchmark test DVDs the DLA-X3 was able to fully reproduce the SMPTE colour bar tests for both PAL and NTSC, correctly scaling the full 576i and 480i images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. With the video deinterlacing tests the results were also excellent, the DLA-X3 reproduced the rotating line without producing any jaggies except very slightly at the most extreme angles. In the motion adaptive deinterlacing test the performance remained superb with all three moving lines being reproduced correctly with only very slight jaggies on the bottom line. The DLA-X3 also had no problems in resolving all the fine brickwork in the detail tests on both the PAL and NTSC discs.
The DLA-X3’s performance was equally impressive with the film detail test, correctly locking on to the image resulting in no aliasing in the speedway seats behind the race car. In the cadence tests the DLA-X3 also performed flawlessly, correctly detecting the 2:3 (NTSC - USA/Japan) format as well as the 2:2 (PAL - European) format. The DLA-X3 also had no problems with the test displaying film material with scrolling video text, the text was always clearly readable without any shredding.
The DLA-X3 also performed superbly in the tests on the HQV Blu-ray using high definition content. With the player set to 1080i the DLA-X3 correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests and showed excellent scaling and filtering performance as well as good resolution enhancement. With 1080i material the DLA-X3 had no difficulties in showing video text overlaid on film based material and also handled 24p content without any problems.
As I have mentioned in previous reviews the Spears & Munsil disc has a handy test for checking the peak white and black video level settings. As I mentioned in the section on menus the default setting for HDMI is Standard where the video levels are set to 16 to 235 but as the name suggests this was clearly clipping peak white from 235 to 255. There is an option called Enhanced where the video levels are set from 0 to 255. This brings back peak white but also shows black detail below video level 17 which we don’t want either. There is a final option called Super White which is intended to provide video levels from 16 to 255 which would be ideal. Using my test disc I could see that there was detail up to video level 255 and nothing below video level 16, so I would recommend choosing this option.
Finally there is JVC’s Clear Motion Drive which is their attempt to create additional frames using frame interpolation and thus improve motion and detail. Features like this are very much a matter of personal taste but as a video purist I hate them and wish manufacturers would stop including them on their products. All the CMD does is ruin the film like quality of movies and make them look like video; my advice is to leave it off. There is however one useful function within the CMD option and that is Inverse Telecine. This function uses 2:3 pull down on film material encoded at 60Hz in order to reproduce the original 24p frame capture and thus reduce judder. If you have a large collection of NTSC DVDs you might find this function useful.
Picture Quality - 2DThe combination of the reference greyscale, black levels and dynamic range, coupled with the excellent video processing and increased brightness resulted in a truly breathtaking 2D performance by the DLA-X3.
Using the wonderful demo footage from the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray as a starting point I was amazed at the dynamic range on display. The images were far brighter than I was used to from my DLA-HD100 but the blacks were still excellent and the shadow detail was superb. I watched a lot of darker reference material including ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘I Am Legend’ and the DLA-X3 handled it all with ease, producing a rich, deep and wonderfully detailed images. The blacks had a depth and a fluidity that you just don’t see from other projectors at this price point and as with other JVC projectors the native contrast is incredibly impressive. Perhaps it was because of the perfectly aligned panels or the increase brightness but I was amazed at the level of detail on display, however the texture of the D-ILA image meant that there were no signs of pixels and the DLA-X3 retained a beautiful film-like quality. The DLA-X3 also handled motion well which has often been a weakness of D-ILA projectors, especially when compared to DLP projectors.
As I mentioned in the calibration section my only area of concern related to the colour gamut but I was pleased to see that any errors were not immediately obvious. Certainly if you were used to a perfectly calibrated image you could spot minor errors but overall the colour performance was quite good and definitely an improvement on the DLA-HD550. Skin tones looked natural as did the grass and sunflowers in the S&M disc so I think most people will be very happy with the colour performance despite the lack of a CMS. Overall the 2D performance of the DLA-X3 was genuinely excellent and at this price point nothing comes close to it.
Picture Quality - 3DI know I’ve made this point in previous reviews but it is so important that I feel I should make it again, when it comes to 3D size does matter! I have reviewed seven 3D displays to date and aside from the 85” Panasonic VX200 and the 65” Panasonic VT20 I have found myself largely apathetic towards the third dimension. However from the moment the opening shots of 'Avatar' filled my screen with a dense and deep forest I was completely captivated. For the first time watching a 3D movie became an event akin to going to the cinema, in fact for reasons that I’ll return to later I would say it was even better.
I have seen a number of 3D projectors at trade shows and they have always seemed too dim but there were no such problems with the DLA-X3. The added lumens really pay dividends here and in 3D mode I was entranced by the brightest and best 3D images I have seen to date. Whilst there is no question that you sacrifice some colour accuracy when using the brighter 3D preset, that’s a sacrifice I’m prepared to make. The only downside to selecting the 3D preset is that the brighter image means more cooling and as a result the projector becomes a little louder. I found the brighter 3D images had far more impact than they did at the cinema and for that reason alone I much preferred watching films on the DLA-X3. Another reason for watching 3D movies at home is that I get to watch them in the correct ratio - I went to see ‘Sanctum’ at my local Odeon and the staff there managed to project a 1.85:1 movie onto a 2.35:1 screen thus cutting off the tops of peoples’ heads and the subtitles.
The other area where projectors have struggled is with regards to crosstalk and here again the JVC proved to be a very capable performer. I’m not suggesting that the DLA-X3 is completely free of crosstalk but I found instances of it rare and never was I drawn out of the experience because of it. I also feel that crosstalk is often dependent on the content, carefully mastered films such as ‘Avatar’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’ seemed to be almost completely free of crosstalk whilst ‘Monsters vs Aliens’ appeared to suffer from it more often. In fact most of the films that I watched appeared to be crosstalk free and the only other film where I noticed crosstalk was in the first half of ‘Bolt’, although the second half was also largely free of the phenomenon. I think that very bright images can be a cause of crosstalk as they bleed through the LCD lenses on the glasses, having said that 'Ice Age 3’ was free of crosstalk and there is obviously a lot of white in that. The DLA-X3 also handled motion in 3D very well, this is another area where other projectors I've seen have struggled.
Whilst watching ‘The Polar Express’ I noticed that if you looked at the edges of the screen your eyes could become confused, presumably because there was only the left or right image depending on whether it was the far left or far right. This only happened with ‘The Polar Express’ but I guess it explains why when Disney released ‘A Christmas Carol’ (also directed by Robert Zemekis) they used floating masking at the edges of the image to prevent any eye confusion.
Whilst watching the whole of ‘Avatar’ I found the 3D element revolutionised my viewing experience and I found myself being drawn into James Cameron’s carefully composed images and for the first time really appreciating his artistry. One interesting side effect of 3D is that I began to notice more detail in the image as my eyes took in all the additional depth information. This is without doubt reference standard 3D and by the end of the film I was a total 3D convert. It is unfortunate that currently there are very few live action movies actually shot with 3D cameras but Resident Evil: Afterlife is one of them. Now I’m not saying it’s a great film but the 3D is used very creatively and it turns an average movie into a highly entertaining experience. In both cases I was never aware of any loss of brightness or crosstalk whilst watching the films and I found myself completely immersed in the environments they created.
There are a number of other areas where I was equally as impressed by JVC’s implementation of 3D. First of all I like the fact that JVC haven’t bothered with any kind of gimmicky 2D to 3D conversion feature. Secondly I like the way that the glasses just detect the signal from the emitter and turn themselves on. Thirdly I found the glasses comfortable to wear even for long periods and not once did I have problems with synching or flicker. Fourthly whilst the 3D menu on the DLA-X3 is very minimal there was no need for any 3D controls, you just left the 3D option set to Auto and the disc started playing, the glasses turned on and the projector displayed a lovely, bright and largely crosstalk free 3D image. Finally the set up was easy, just plug in the emitter, connect your 3D Blu-ray player and insert a disc, it was as simple as that. The only thing the DLA-X3 doesn't do for you is automatically select the 3D preset but hopefully you can press one button on te remote.
Personally I think JVC have hit a home run with the DLA-X3 and I never thought when I saw ‘Avatar’ at the movies in late 2009 that just over a year later I would be watching the same film in glorious 3D in my home cinema. I’m now a massive 3D convert and I’ve already watched the ten 3D movies I own and I’ve been searching the internet for any more - sadly lack of content remains a problem. I stand by my earlier comments about 3D, I still think it will struggle to achieve mass market acceptance, I still think passive is the best approach for smaller displays and I still think that 3D gaming is more likely to drive the market than Sky or Blu-rays. However when it comes to watching 3D movies there really is no substitute to a ten foot screen and for the first time I genuinely don’t want to give a review sample back.
- Industry leading black levels at this price point
- Excellent dynamic range and contrast ratio
- Reference greyscale performance when calibrated
- Excellent out of the box greyscale performance
- Superb 2D images with a very ‘filmic’ look
- Bright images, even in 3D mode
- Excellent 3D performance with very little crosstalk
- Well designed and comfortable active shutter glasses
- Excellent video processing
- Clear Motion Drive can be turned off
- Full anamorphic control for an external lens
- Inclusion of a 12v trigger terminal
- Well designed remote and menu system
- Excellent build quality
- Very competitive price
- Over-saturated standard colour gamut
- No industry standard (Rec.709) preset
- No Colour Management System
JVC X3 D-ILA 3D Projector Review
The DLA-X3 is a worthy successor to both the DLA-HD350 and DLA-HD550, retaining many of their impressive qualities whilst improving on some others. The build quality is excellent and the redesigned chassis with a central lens is a definite improvement in my opinion, whilst the excellent remote and intuitive menu system fall into the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” category. The 2D performance is quite exceptional, producing wonderfully bright and dynamic images that offer a superb film-like quality. As one would expect from JVC the black levels remain the best I have seen at this or most other price points and coupled with the increased lumens and superb contrast ratio the resulting images are just breathtaking. In addition the DLA-X3 offers excellent video processing and passed every test I threw at it with ease, resulting in an impressive performance with both standard and high definition material.
In fact when it comes to 2D performance the DLA-X3 only really has one weakness and it’s the same problem encountered with the DLA-HD350 and DLA-HD550, the standard colour gamut is slightly over-saturated. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the DLA-X3 included a colour management system (CMS) to calibrate the colour gamut accurately but once again this is missing. Of course at this price point it might be unrealistic to expect a CMS but at the very least JVC could include an industry standard (Rec.709) preset. It should be stressed that although the colour gamut is slightly over-saturated, it probably won't be noticeable to most people and doesn’t adversely affect the overall performance which remains excellent.
Of course the most interesting aspect of the DLA-X3 is the addition of 3D and here the projector was nothing short of a revelation. I have often commented on the need for large images in order to truly be immersed by 3D in the same way as you are at the cinema and the DLA-X3 proved my point. Projected on to the big screen in my home cinema I found myself completely drawn in to the viewing experience and coupled with the greater brightness I even found it preferable to the 3D I have seen at the movies. Perhaps most importantly there was hardly no crosstalk to distract you from your viewing experience and what little I saw was generally content related rather than any weakness in the DLA-X3‘s performance. Quite simply the DLA-X3 offers some of the best 3D performance I have seen to date and whilst the Panasonic 85VX200 plasma was equally as good, that costs £42,000 and can’t fill your field of view.
The 2D performance alone would be enough to highly recommend the DLA-X3 but add in the excellent 3D capability and at this price point the DLA-X3 becomes a definite Best Buy. In fact I thought the DLA-X3 was so good that I immediately bought one to replace my trusty old DLA-HD100 and I guess you can’t get a better recommendation than that.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels10
2D Picture Quality9
3D Picture Quality9
Ease Of Use9
Value For Money9
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