What is the JVC DLA-N7?
The N7B is the mid-range model and retails for £8,499, which puts it directly up against Sony's £7,999 VPL-VW570ES 4K SXRD projector. These new models are JVC's first 'affordable' native 4K projectors, not counting the ultra-high-end DLA-Z1 laser projector. They include a host of new features including Frame Adapt HDR (dynamic tone-mapping) and the recently added Theatre Optimiser. So is the N7 the best projector under ten grand? Let's find out.
Editor’s Note: JVC has followed up last year’s v3.10 firmware update with another major and free release. The v3.50 firmware updates the menu structure, adds additional settings and the new Theatre Optimiser feature. In this update of our original DLA-N7 review, we address this latest firmware release.
The build quality and overall finish remain excellent, as does the quality of the all-glass lens. However, unlike the DLA-X7900, there's no motorised lens cover and, instead, you get a hard plastic cap that clips over the outside of the lens assembly. We don't use this lens cover because repeatedly putting it on and off is a hassle and might damage the outer edge of the lens.
The projector sits on four large adjustable feet, which allow you to level the projector if you plan on stand mounting, although you also have the option of ceiling mounting with a suitable bracket. Despite the similarities in terms of design with previous JVC projectors the N7 is much larger, measuring 500 x 234 x 495mm (WxHxD) and weighing 19.8kg.
Connections & Control
The buttons are positioned around centrally located menu and navigation controls, with additional keys for power, source, info, input, lens control, and memory settings. There are also shortcut buttons for accessing key controls in the menus such as picture modes, colour profile, gamma settings, C.M.D., MPC, and the advanced menus.
Features & Specifications
The N7 supports High Dynamic Range (HDR), specifically HDR10 and Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) content, and JVC has added new features including Auto Tone Mapping and Frame Adapt HDR. The former automatically adjusts the settings based on the values of the metadata, such as Max CLL and Max FALL, so that HDR content can be tone mapped and projected at the optimum quality for various HDR images with different brightness levels. The latter analyses the video signal and dynamically adjusts the tone mapping on a scene-by-scene or frame-by-frame basis.
The N7 uses 10-bit panels (although it has processing at up to 18-bit equivalent), and has a claimed brightness of 1,900 lumens (using a 265 W ultra high-pressure mercury lamp). It also has a BT.2020 mode with a wide colour gamut that JVC claims can cover more than 100% of the DCI-P3 colour space. In addition, the N7 has a claimed contrast ratio of 80,000:1 and a claimed dynamic contrast ratio of 800,000:1.
The N7 includes JVC's Clear Motion Drive (C.M.D.) frame interpolation feature which supports 4K 60p (4:4:4) signals, along with Motion Enhance which is designed to optimise the driving of the D-ILA panels according to the motion of the image, thus reducing motion blur. There's also a Low Latency Mode, which suppresses display delay for a faster response when receiving signals from PCs and game consoles.
Other features include the Multiple Pixel Control (MPC) image processor, a six-axis colour management system, and an ISFccc (Certified Calibration Controls) mode. There's also an Auto-Calibration Function that uses exclusive JVC software and a third-party optical sensor to optimise the greyscale, gamma, colour space and colour tracking.
The N7 will automatically switch to the HDR mode when an HDR10 or HLG signal is detected, and the info page displays the MaxCLL and MaxFALL mastering data available for some HDR content. There are nine storable Installation Mode settings, which include Lens Control, Pixel Adjustment, Mask, Anamorphic on or off, Screen Adjust, Installation Style, Keystone, Pincushion, and Aspect.
Finally, the N7 supports active shutter 3D, which uses a wireless RF (radio frequency) transmission system for 3D viewing. However, you will need to buy JVC's separate PK-EM2 3D Synchro Emitter (which plugs into the back of the projector) and some PK-AG3 3D Glasses (or equivalent), in order to actually enjoy 3D content.
Review Update: The new v3.50 firmware fundamentally revises the menu structure and changes the layout of the Picture Adjust page. At the top is the Content Type which can be selected automatically using the Auto Picture Mode Select feature found on the Input Signal page. This allows you to select the default picture mode for SDR (2D), SDR (3D), HDR and HLG, with the projector automatically selecting the chosen picture mode when it detects the specific signal.
There’s a new More Settings sub menu, where the Lamp Power, Aperture and basic controls like Contrast, Brightness, Colour, Tint and User Name Edit can be found. The Picture Adjust page also includes options for Colour Profile (which now automatically switches to the optimal setting based on the content’s colour gamut information), Colour Temp., Gamma, HDR Processing (with HDR content), Theatre Optimiser (with HDR content), HDR Level (with HDR content), MPC Level and Motion Control (Low Latency, C.M.D., and Motion Enhance).
The Installation page looks the same, but the Screen Setting sub-menu has been changed. In this section you can not only select the Screen Adjust code for your specific screen, but also set the Screen Size (16:9 diagonal measurement) and Screen Gain. This information is used by the new Theatre Optimiser feature. You can add these settings for each Installation Mode, so for wider aspect ratios like 21:9 you need to calculate the diagonal measurement based on the width of the image and the corresponding 16:9 screen size. Since there is now more information related to each Installation Mode, including a degree of processing, it now takes about 30 seconds to switch from one Installation mode to another.
Review Update: The majority of the new features found in the v3.50 firmware are related to HDR, but before updating your N7 make sure you make a note of any calibration settings because these will be wiped during the firmware update.
However, any adjustments made previously using the JVC Projector Calibration Software will remain unchanged by the firmware update. Annoyingly though, the new v1.10 software now only works with the SpyderX (Elite/Pro) and X-rite i1 Pro2. So anyone with a Spyder5 (Elite/Pro) will no longer be able to use that meter with the v1.10 software.
First of all, the N7 is fairy slow to boot-up, taking 55 seconds to get to the D-ILA logo and a further 10 seconds to get to a blue screen. That's slightly slower than previous generations, although they weren't exactly fast either.
On the plus side, the HDMI handshaking is a bit quicker, although still slow compared to many other displays. However, the N7 had no trouble detecting any signal I sent to it such as 4096 x 2160 and 3840 x 2160 resolutions, along with SDR, HDR, and 3D content.
The fact that the D-ILA chips are 4096 x 2160 is worth mentioning because it means that with 3840 x 2160 content (which is what you'll actually be watching) you either need to use the lens controls to expand the image up to fill the screen or use the Zoom option in the Aspect section of the Installation Mode sub-menu.
This feature scales the image to fill the 4096 x 2160 panels, but if you do choose the Zoom function bear in mind that it's applying scaling and thus loses some fine detail due to the processing. This is obvious using test patterns but harder to spot with normal content. Having said that, we'd recommend expanding the image to the correct aspect ratio rather than using the Zoom option, thus ensuring the 4K image uses every single pixel precisely.
The new generation of JVC projectors allow you to create individual Installation Modes for different aspect ratios, which can be easily accessed via a dedicated button on the remote. These modes go far beyond just using the lens controls to save a specific aspect ratio, you can also customise the pixel adjustments, masking, anamorphic settings, screen adjustments, Installation Style, keystone and pincushion adjustments if necessary (although it's best to avoid the latter two because they also introduce processing that will affect the actual resolution).
The N7 is pleasingly quiet in operation, measuring at just 20dB in low lamp mode and 28dB in high lamp mode. Since this is a native 4K projector there's also no e-Shift device and thus no noise being caused by the device physically moving incredibly fast in front of the lens.
The N7 uses a 265W lamp and has a claimed brightness of 1,900 lumens, which is the same as our previous X7500 reference projector. The brightness appears comparable, but the contrast performance isn't as good as the earlier generation. The N7 has a claimed contrast performance of 80,000:1, while the X7500 has a claimed contrast ratio of 130,000:1. The best we measured the N7 at is about 70,000:1, which is fairly close to JVC's claimed numbers, but we immediately noticed that the contrast wasn't quite as good as the X7500.
Having said that, the N7 still has a better contrast performance than the 4K competition and the contrast ratios on the most recent generations of JVC e-Shift models have been amongst the best ever delivered by any projector. The move to a different panel was always going to affect the contrast, and at least JVC are honest in the specifications.
There's always the dynamic iris for those looking to boost the contrast, and we found this worked very well with no audible noise or obvious artefacts caused by the iris opening and closing. I didn't feel the need to use the dynamic iris with SDR content, but opening the iris out completely and using the Auto 2 setting did prove useful with HDR content.
Standard Dynamic Range (SDR)Once we had set up the projector, selected and tweaked the Natural picture mode, and set the lamp and manual iris for our room and screen, the results were superb. The quality of the all-glass lens and the native 4K panel resulted in impressively details images, even from upscaled high definition sources. The recent Arrow Blu-ray of Waterworld looked stunning on the N7, with richly defined colours, deep blacks, excellent shadow detail, and plenty of fine detail. There's no denying that like previous JVC projectors, the N7 delivers a gorgeous film-like performance.
We deliberately watched parts of the Blu-ray version of Passengers, so we could compare the HDR performance later and, once again, the N7 delivered the goods. The image was highly detailed, the blacks and shadow detail were excellent, and the colours appeared natural. The motion handling was also very good, although it appeared to be identical to previous generations of JVC projectors in that regard: neither better nor worse. While it is true the previous X7500 has a slightly better contrast performance, overall we preferred the performance of the N7 with its gorgeous big screen images.
High Dynamic Range (HDR)As with the SDR performance, the N7 really impresses when it comes to HDR content. We measured the wide colour gamut at 72% of Rec.2020 and 99% of the DCI-P3 colour space. The HDR colour temperature was very close to D65 (and can be tweaked using the calibration controls), while the HDR gamma uses ST.2084, both of which are correct for HDR10 content.
The problem with HDR when it comes to projection is that a projector can never hit the kind of peak brightness numbers that are possible with a TV. However if the tone mapping is applied correctly that shouldn't be an issue. For the N Series, JVC has included new HDR features not found on its previous projectors. These features are designed to produce a better HDR experience, and include Auto Tone Mapping and Frame Adapt HDR.
Auto Tone Mapping
The Auto Tone Mapping feature was included on the N Series from launch, and is designed to read the metadata on HDR content and then set the Picture Tone, Dark Level and Bright Level controls accordingly. There is also a sliding control for the Mapping Level, which adjusts the brightness depending on the size of screen you are using. The default setting is based on a 100" screen, so if your screen is smaller or larger, then you may need to adjust the mapping level accordingly.
This feature works reasonably well, but isn't always able to read the metadata on 4K discs (Disney, Fox and Paramount in particular), so with a film like Overlord the image is too dark by default and you need to use the Mapping Level to boost the brightness of the image. In these examples you can also manually set the tone mapping depending on whether the content is graded at 1,000 or 4,000 nits (assuming you know). JVC provides recommended settings for both peak brightness levels in the manual, but you may find some experimentation is necessary.
When the N7 is able to read the metadata the results are often impressive. We watched the Ultra HD Blu-ray of Passengers, which uses a 4K digital intermediate, and the increased level of detail was evident when compared to the Blu-ray. The blacks appeared deep, and there was excellent shadow detail, while the peak highlights were suitably bright. The colours were also superb, with the wider colour gamut delivering a more saturated but also more nuanced image.
We also watched the IMAX movie Journey to the South Pacific and the BBC's Planet Earth II, and in both cases the native 4K HDR sources were often stunning, with some amazing images. Since these documentaries use a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, we turned the Mapping Level back to zero, but needed to move it up when watching 2.35:1 content like Passengers or Ready Player One.
Frame Adapt HDR
Aside from not being able to read the metadata on some discs, there is another problem with this approach. When metadata is available the projector is set-up using static information, which means the settings apply to the entire film. Obviously the brightness of the image changes during the course of the film, with some scenes darker than others. As a result if the tone mapping is based on a single set of data, you might find some scenes are too dark or brighter scenes are clipping.
As part of the latest 3.10 firmware, JVC has added a new feature called Frame Adapt HDR. This feature analyses the incoming HDR video signal and dynamically adjusts the tone mapping accordingly. In addition the accuracy of the projector's gamma processing has also been improved, from 12-bit equivalent to 18-bit equivalent.
Frame Adapt HDR now appears as a picture mode option, and the projector will automatically default to it when it recognises HDR content. Under the Frame Adapt HDR mode you have a choice of four HDR Levels: Auto, Low, Medium and High. The Auto level is the default and the best choice, but if the HDR content is generally bright then you can use Low (also useful for small screens), while the Medium and High settings are good for average or dark screens (while the High level is also good for larger screens).
There's also a control for HDR Processing, and here you have a choice of Static, Frame by Frame and Scene by Scene. The names are fairly descriptive here: the Frame by Frame option changes the tone mapping on a frame-by-frame basis, and the Scene by Scene option does it on a scene-by-scene basis. The Static option essentially works the same as the Auto Tone Mapping feature. Frame by Frame is the default setting and seems the best choice.
Finally there's an option called Cinema Filter with a choice of Normal or Wide. If you select wide then the projector uses the wide colour gamut filter to deliver 100% of DCI-P3. This option is not available on the N5 because it doesn't have the wide colour game filter. Normal is the default setting, but we switched to Wide because even though the filter does reduce the light output slightly, we get the full benefit of DCI-P3.
This new Frame Adapt HDR feature is awesome, and we go as far as to say that it delivers the best projected HDR images we have seen to date. Rewatching Passengers and the HDR images look even better, and the same goes for Ready Player One, Journey to the South Pacific and Planet Earth II. The image simply looks better balanced, with deep blacks and plenty of detail in the shadows. At the same time the brighter scenes look perfectly rendered, without any clipping. A projector can never fully compete with a TV, but for projected HDR this is simply stunning.
However what's really impressive is how the N7 now handles more challenging material. First of all the lack of any static metadata is no longer a problem, but also the fact the projector is now analysing the signal on a frame-by-frame means that very dark or bright scenes are also handled properly. When we put Overlord back on after the firmware update, the image now looks fantastic, with the film's numerous night scenes reproduced correctly so that you can actually see what's happening without having to fiddle with settings in the menus.
The addition of Frame Adapt HDR is a real coup for JVC, showing that the manufacturer is still innovating when it comes to big screen projection. What's even better is the new firmware is free and will be included with new purchases, while existing owners can simply download and update their projectors.
Review Update: The main new feature included with the v3.50 firmware is JVC’s Theatre Optimiser, which retains 18-bit gamma processing, and intelligently adjusts the tone-mapping based on the appropriate brightness for a specific installation and environment. To do this it uses the information set in the Screen Settings section of the Installation menu (Screen Adjust, Screen Size and Screen Gain), along with the throw distance and the hours on the lamp to fine tune the Frame Adapt HDR based on the brightness of the image. Always remember to press the set button after changing any of the Screen Setting info, this allows the Theatre Optimiser to process the data and perform the necessary calculations. The Theatre Optimiser has three settings Low, Mid and High, with Mid being the default setting.
If you don’t want to use the Theatre Optimiser you can turn it off and just use the HDR Level instead. JVC has now expanded the number of brightness level settings in this feature from Auto, Low, Mid and High to Auto, -2, -1, 0, 1 and 2. The HDR Levels are not available when the Theatre Optimiser is set to on.
While the latest firmware release adds a number of new features, it's less of a game changer than the previous v3.10 update. That first major update added the Frame Adapt HDR which brought dynamic tone-mapping to a projector range (N5, N7 and NX9) for the first time. The result was a significant improvement in HDR tone mapping, and the best projected HDR images we had seen to date.
Theatre Optimiser is more subtle in its refinements, although we do feel it improves the dynamic tone-mapping by bringing out greater detail in the darker and brighter parts of the image. Of course this is based purely on memory, since we can't do a direct comparison between the v3.10 and v3.50 firmwares. Generally we use the mid or occasionally the high setting, but for the best results a bit of experimentation is required. Sadly, even with Frame Adapt HDR and Theatre Optimiser, HDR still isn't a simple set-up and forget option.
This isn't the fault of JVC or the projector, but rather the result of projection's inherent limitations when it comes to HDR. A projector isn't very bright, especially compared to a TV, and thus effective tone-mapping is essential. In order to optimise the tone-mapping, the projector needs as much information as possible. The frame-by-frame analysis of the incoming HDR signal and the added screen settings info all help, but the projector also reads the mastering information included in the static metadata on the disc – the more, the better.
Unfortunately some studios only include the minimum and maximum data, but not the average number. As a result the image can often look too dim, probably because the projector is using 4,000 or 10,000 nits as the peak number, but has no other metadata and in actual fact the average peak brightness is perhaps 600 or 700 nits. As a result Jaws looks superb on the mid setting, but appears slightly clipped with the high setting. Conversely A Few Good Men appears slightly dim in mid, but really pops beautifully with the high setting.
If you don't want to use the Theatre Optimiser and prefer the HDR Level instead, you now have five rather than three settings. According to JVC, the -2 setting equates to a tone map with 600 nits as the clip point, -1 uses 400 nits, 0 uses 300 nits, +1 uses 200 nits, and +2 uses 150 nits. The Auto mode is designed to automatically adjust the brightness to an appropriate level based on the mastering information (MaxCLL/FALL).
However we did notice that the Auto setting, which we primarily used with v3.10, now appears much darker with v3.50. As a result we generally found the +1 setting, or sometimes +2 setting, worked best. As with the Theatre Optimiser you will find that some experimentation is required depending on your screen, room and the disc you're watching. However, watching Bram Stoker's Dracula with an HDR Level of +1 looked superb, with wonderfully deep blacks, rich colours, plenty of detail in the copious shadows and some nice pop to the occasional highlights.
3DWhile 3D might be effectively dead when it comes to TVs, there's still plenty of support amongst projector manufacturers. As a result the N7 does support 3D, although you will need to buy the 3D Synch Emitter and some RF glasses separately.
The 3D images on the N7 are completely free of any crosstalk and incredibly detailed, while the projector is certainly bright enough. However there's no dedicated 3D picture mode, which means you essentially have to make one yourself. After creating a custom 3D mode we popped on Avatar, and found the images to be bright enough even in the low lamp mode. Switching to Ready Player One, the results are equally as impressive. Despite this being a fairly frenetic film, the N7 handled the fast-moving images with skill, retaining plenty of dimensionality.
- Impressive 4K images
- Awesome HDR performance
- Reference level of image accuracy
- Superb set of features
- Excellent remote and menus
- Solid build quality
- No motorised lens cover
- No dedicated 3D picture mode
JVC DLA-N7 4K D-ILA Projector Review
However what really impresses are the new HDR features, with Frame Adapt HDR dynamically adjusting the tone-mapping based on the incoming video signal, and the Theatre Optimiser intelligently adjusting the tone-mapping based on the appropriate brightness of your screen. The result is the best projected HDR we have seen to date.
This projector isn't small, nor is it cheap, but it's definitely worth it. Our only real complaints are a shoddy lens cover and lack of a dedicated 3D mode, but otherwise the N7 is hard to beat and the best in its class.
What are my alternatives?The obvious alternative is the Sony VPL-VW590ES, which you can pick up for £6,999, or the Sony VPL-VW790ES, if you can afford £11,999. The Sonys are good 4K projectors, but we can't help feeling the company has failed to fully innovate due to a lack of competition. Sony was first to market with native 4K projectors, and it appears the company has been happy to coast on that monopoly for the last few years.
However the arrival of JVC's N Series changes all that, and these new projectors are better built, better specified and better performing. JVC may have taken longer to reach the market with native 4K projectors but it was worth the wait, and the company's policy of retaining the same models but offering annual free firmware updates definitely gives JVC the edge.
If you want native 4K but are on a tighter budget, then you could go for the JVC DLA-N5 at £6,499. You get all the same features, aside from a wide colour gamut filter, and although the N5 isn't quite as bright and the contrast ratio isn't quite as good, the chances are you won't notice the difference. Alternatively you could get the Sony VPL-VW270ES for £4,999, but you lose a lot of features with that model.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels
2D Picture Quality
3D Picture Quality
Picture Quality Out-of-the-Box
Picture Quality Calibrated
Ease Of Use
Value For Money
Our Review Ethos
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