Design and Features
The lens is positioned to the left side of the front facia when looking from the front of the unit, with an air intake to the right side. Connections for sources are positioned on the right hand side of the chassis with the exhaust port on the right side. The lens is the same large diameter all-glass system with 17 elements in 15 groups including 2 ED (extra-low dispersion) lenses that is found in the HD950. This includes remote controlled and motorised lens shift capabilities with +/-80% Vertical and +/-34% Horizontal adjustment available, plus zoom and focus control. Also present are controls for pixel adjustment of the three D-ILA panels used to make up the image. Most units will have a slight half pixel deviation which is normal for such an approach and will not affect image quality to any great degree. Should there be a larger uniform shift then the controls should be able to compensate for this; however of all the JVC units I have seen none have had any major issues with alignment.
What makes the JVC models different from every other projector at this price level is the lack of a dynamic iris. The design of the DILA panels and the wire grid approach enables a fixed aperture which eliminates any stray light from lowering the possible contrast available. The obvious advantage is the lack of any iris getting in the way of consistent image levels. And just like last year, we are given some control over the aperture in manual steps (1-3) to suit the environment you use the projector in. Light output of the HD550 is claimed to be 1000 lumens with a native contrast claim of 30,000:1.
There are some new features making their debut on the HD550 and they are interpolation techniques for fast moving and standard definition material. The first is inverse telecine which is a reverse 3:2 pull down system for use with NTSC standard definition material. This takes 60Hz DVD or video material and reconverts it to 24fps and then doubles this to 48fps for playback through the projector. This feature will obviously appeal to those with large Region 1 DVD collections. The other new system is Clear Motion Drive (CMD) which is a frame interpolation system for use again with fast moving material like sports and with standard definition DVD. This will also work with 60Hz or 24fps High definition material if required, although it is not necessarily advised. There are two settings, a low and high option along with the important off switch. The system uses what JVC claim is an advanced frame interpolation algorithm that inserts intelligent frames within the material to help with motion and crisp looking images by shortening the sample and hold of each frame by half and adding a newly created frame in-between.
Sadly where the DLA-HD550 varies from its bigger brother (the HD950) is in the most important area of image accuracy and calibration control. There are very limited calibration controls provided on the HD550 and gone are the THX and ISF certification. Plus there is no THX picture preset available. This seems to be a case of providing a sell up point for the higher end model, but in our opinion JVC are missing out on a trick or two with the HD550 and image calibration. We will discuss this in more detail later.
Where the HD550 does win is with the new screen adjustment tool for use with various screen material types such as grey screens for non-light controlled rooms. The screen adjustment mode will provide some basic help in matching the projector to the screen used. This will never be as good or as accurate as a professional calibration, but it is a basic tool with three possible selectable options that can help some users. The HD550 also gets a newly designed remote control that matches its big brothers with the same key layout (minus the THX selection) and silver finish. It's still a plastic affair, but it is well laid out and intuitive to use with a backlight for use in the dark. The selection of individual inputs this time around makes using the projector for switching sources faster than last years variant. The last thing I will mention is that the HD550, just like the HD950 and last years machines, still take an age to handshake over HDMI and can get tiresome after a while of flashing blue screen.
So in rounding up our physical look at the projector we come to the connections on the right side of the chassis. Here we find two HDMI V1.3 slots along with legacy S-Video and composite plugs, a set of three RCA components and a D-sub connector. There is an RS232C control port for custom installation use, but sadly no 12V jacks are supplied on this entry model.
With our sources now connected and the projector aligned we can move on to the menu systems.
Menus and Set Up
Moving to the Greyscale set up controls (Colour Temperature or sometimes referred to as white balance) we are given the same control as the higher end model. Again JVC have followed the feedback from last year's models and have added a correction value point which improves on the 9300K starting point from the HD350. If you want to correct both the Gain (80ire) and Offset (30ire) points on the greyscale you will need to choose the custom selection and then check the correction value at 6500k. (Remember you can only correct the greyscale using an accurate meter and software, it cannot be done by eye. Doing it by eye will add in more issues and errors than you can possibly correct.)
Moving to the Gamma tool and we have custom options to adjust the separate RGB channels or white at various points along the curve that match up to the greyscale. Using the control is only really useful with an accurate meter and software, so you can add correction to your gamma curve. It's also a case that other picture settings can affect your desired results, with greyscale being the obvious example. However the tool is most welcome and easy to get your head around using software and measurements. There are a number of preset gamma curves, none of which follow the industry standard 2.2 curve (apart from normal). Moving to the advanced menu we have a sharpness set up tool which includes a fine detail enhancement slider. Depending on the source you are feeding the projector will open up the Noise Reduction and CTI settings or grey them out. Finally we have the CMD functions of low, high and Off. There is no colour management system on the DLA-HD550.
Another option available in the menu system is the anamorphic stretch mode that scales the 2.35:1 image by stretching it to remove the back bars and then with the use of an out board anamorphic lens system, the image is displayed correctly on a 2.35:1 screen. I tried both the JVC bespoke Schneider lens system and the budget CAVX lens with the HD550 and the stretch function worked flawlessly with the Anamorphic Lens adding that immersive experience (providing you have a 2.37:1 screen).
Other selections in the menu system are set once and forget in nature. So, we move on to measuring the performance of the DLA-HD550 out of the box.
Out of the Box Measurement
The result obtained here is almost identical to the HD950 but with one small difference and that's a higher wavelength result pointing to JVC's claimed extra lumens from the HD550. Apart from this the results are fairly typical for a UHP consumer projector with green pushed more towards yellow and two filters used between the primary wavelengths.
Moving to the out of the box settings and I found that all the provided picture presets resulted in the now famous wide gamut of previous JVC units. Apart from the HD750, HD950 and HD990 the picture presets on JVC models from the HD1, HD 100 and HD350 have exhibited wide, oversaturated colour gamuts in all picture presets and that continues with the HD550. After measuring each and every option the best out of the box settings were the User options for Preset, Colour Temperature (set at Custom 1 and 6500k) and Gamma (Custom 1 set at 2.3). Here are the results.
Starting with the Greyscale results and we can see that out of the box the DLA-HD550 provides us with quite a stunningly good performance in the User Custom 1 mode (set at 6500k). Delta E errors are under 2 and this can be regarded as excellent with all three colour track appearing uniform and only very slightly away from where we want them. Gamma is also well behaved and hovering around the 2.2 mark in an S-curve shape. I have to say I am mighty impressed with this result and it shouldn't take too much to get it perfect using the provided Colour Temperature controls in the menus.
What is not so appealing is the colour gamut performance which is wide, over saturated and we have no way to fix this. This means that although our picture backbone – the greyscale – is very good with no obvious colour cast to the image, the colours on screen will not look correct. We have big errors in the Hue and Saturation results, most noticeably for Red and Green primary colours and Yellow. What is perhaps more encouraging is that the extremely important Luminance points (brightness of the primary and secondary colours on screen) are not over blown; in fact they are quite subdued and have errors under 4 Delta. What this means in laymen's terms is that although the colours will look oversaturated and have hue errors, they will not appear over bright or bleed/band.
As you can see we have managed reference level results for the Greyscale and Gamma by using the provided tools together. This is important and why Gamma access, in the way that JVC allow manual adjustment, is very welcome. Our error points (Delta E) will be unseen by the eye providing an excellent back bone to our images and offering the intended look in terms of depth and detail levels.
However, and I am about to rant here dear reader, colour point performance with such a wide gamut is really not acceptable in my opinion on such an expensive projector. What saves the HD550 is the tame brightness levels (for all primary and secondary points) that do not add any further problems to the oversaturated colours and hue errors. In this case, and as you will see below in the picture area, it is possible to live with these issues as long as you know they are there and provided you accept the errors.
But when JVC's competition such as Epson, Panasonic and Sony offer some form of Colour Management System along with at least one accurate picture preset for the Rec.709 (HD and Pal) colour gamut, you have to ask the question of JVC. Why? I have been feeding back to the company for about two years now that their entry level projector should have at least one accurate THX like preset. I can understand that the company may fear putting such a preset or CMS in the HD550 or entry level projector as it then is seen to compete with their higher end unit. But on the other hand their competition does just that, from the entry level to the high end. Had the HD550 been given an accurate preset, or better still a CMS, then we would most likely have our new reference point projector for the £4k and under price point in the market. The HD950 would still have sold just as well with its higher contrast and picture performance. A missed opportunity in my opinion and one that is slightly frustrating as we are repeating ourselves for another year.
So with a Reference level Greyscale and Gamma performance and a disappointing colour gamut it's a mixed bag for the HD550.
Video Processing and Clear Motion Drive
The idea of CMD is that it reduces the sample and hold effect (in milliseconds) and inserts new intelligent frames in between the real frames to improve motion and detail. Sadly, just like the HD950 before it, the CMD functions here do not work very well with 24p material introducing artefacts on a regular basis, with backgrounds following moving objects. It's the same story with other film and video material but to a slightly lesser extent than with Blu-ray. The technology really is a love it or hate it experience and makes film material look sped up with the 'soap opera' digital camera look. I have read forum posts where people enjoy this kind of effect, but I suspect that video purists like me will have the feature switched off all the time. The HD550 plays back 24p at double frame rate with the CMD switched off and this is perfect in my opinion with no induced judder. Like they say, the choice is yours…
This impacts on the picture quality but some will probably never notice this error, or they will accept it given the other strengths of the projectors picture quality. If you are used to an uncalibrated image with its vivid and strong colours you will probably enjoy the images from the HD550. If you want to see your material as intended and mastered, then things are not quite perfect in colour terms. Skin tones can look a little on the rosey side and there is also a yellow tone with the out of the box greyscale, but only very slight. One area where the colour errors will be very noticeable is with primary heavy material such as something like Moulin Rouge with its strong reds, or with sports footage where the green hue and saturation makes grass look unnatural.
There is no way to really tame this effect either by turning down the colour decoder (main colour control) as that will add in greater errors, especially with the greyscale which will introduce more chance of a colour cast in out of the box settings. However, one thing that the HD550 does have going for it over the HD350 is the luminance (brightness) of the colours. Here they are subdued in a way that oversaturation and hue errors are not further enhanced or over exaggerated. It's very possible that some will accept this and live with it, and to be honest I have seen far worse examples of wide gamuts spoiling the image. Here the HD550 is very watchable and nothing really jumps out, you just notice that colours in some scenes are not realistic or natural in the way an accurately set gamut would convey things.
So, lets turn our attention to the other attributes of the image and be blown away with yet another dazzling native contrast performance. The HD550 picks up where the HD350 left off and provides a rich, deep and extremely detailed image. Blacks are rich, fluid and deep in a way many other projectors could only dream about. Yes, it's not as dynamic as the higher end HD950, but then you expect that to be the case before going in with the HD550. However, at its price point of under £4k nothing else comes close to the JVC for its black level and image depth and detail. Challenging dark scenes which have lesser projectors showing blocks of black with no detail or depth are the type of scenes that the JVC laps up. The texture of the D-ILA image with no signs of pixels and a smooth highly detailed dynamic range still out smarts almost all its rivals. Only the Sony VPL-VW85 can do better, and that is £1500 more expensive. So, you have to ask how much better does the HD550 perform over the outgoing HD350. Sadly I have not been able to get hold of the HD350 to test them side by side, so I cannot give a definitive answer. To me its very close, with the wider gamut possibly better controlled due to its subdued luminance level of colours.
- Industry leading black levels at the price point
- Excellent dynamic range and cinematic images
- Reference level greyscale quality when calibrated
- User mode is superb out of the box for Greyscale accuracy
- Excellent picture processing from the HQV Chipset
- Excellent new remote control
- Full anamorphic control for external lens
- Slick design of the chassis
- Off switch provided with CMD mode
- CMD system is flawed and doesn't work with 1080/24 material and looks odd with any film based content
- Wide Colour Gamut that cannot be corrected
- No Colour Management system
- No Accurate to the standards (Rec.709) picture preset
JVC HD550 D-ILA Projector Review
So, even with its inherently wide colour gamut, the HD550 is still a first rate projector that is still out performing its competition with a high native contrast and black level performance and the competition have come a long way in the last two years.
The JVC DLA-HD550 takes up the mantle left by its out going model and adds in some newer features such as CMD and screen adjust. It offers an excellent out of the box greyscale and gamma performance. Its super quiet and gives class leading native contrast and black level performance. Images look deep and detailed in the darker reaches with only the wide colour gamut producing some concerns in terms of saturation and hue errors. Faces can appear a little sun burnt or overly rosy and sadly there is no way to resolve this. However, for those wanting vivid images that are not completely accurate, but pleasing to their eye, will not find any issue with the HD550. Overall, even with the slight issues this is still the projector to beat for overall image quality at the price point and as such its highly recommended you go and see one.
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