What is the JVC Z1?
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 & Control
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.
Features & Specs
The firmware update had made no difference to the out-of-the-box measurements.
The firmware update had made no difference to the calibrated measurements.
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.
JVC DLA-Z1E Video Review
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.
- 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 Review
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 levels
2D Picture Quality
3D Picture Quality
Picture Quality Out-of-the-Box
Picture Quality Calibrated
Ease Of Use
Value For Money
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