JVC HD950 DILA Projector Review

Can JVC pull off Reference status for a third year in a row?

by Phil Hinton
Home AV Review

19

Reference Status
JVC HD950 DILA Projector Review
SRP: £5,500.00

Introduction

Well it's that time of year again. The boxes of new projectors start to pile up as all the major manufacturers unleash their new models just in time for the dark nights to set in. In the next few months we will, of course, be covering the vast majority of the new units, but in something of an un-expected exclusive, the brand new JVC DLA-HD950 turned up this week. It would be a shame not to put it through its paces.

There will be three models from JVC this year, the entry model is the DLA-HD550 which will replace the outgoing HD350. Then we have the DLA-HD950 replacing the outgoing HD750, which happens to be our current reference projector, so the HD950 has much to live up to. Finally, we will see the first high-end projector from JVC in the UK. The DLA-HD990 will launch in November in limited numbers and offer a few advantages over the HD950 such as a slightly improved contrast ratio. Of course, we will bring you full reviews of those other new models in the fullness of time, but let's get stuck into the DLA-HD950.

Design and features

Looking at the chassis of the HD950 you would be forgiven for thinking it looks identical to last years models, and that's because it is. The theory here is obviously 'if ain't broke, don't fix it' and indeed the sleek black lines are certainly a pleasure to look at. The only way to tell the projectors apart will be by looking at the model number on the unit or at the connections, and even then the HD950 and HD990 will be identical in that regard. So, what we have here is a repeat of last year's sculpted chassis with the lens slightly off-centre on the front plate and the connections on the right side of the unit (looking from the front). I have to say that after living with the HD750 over the last year and putting it up against other projectors sent for review, I am hard pressed to think of any that look better or more compact in size. So I certainly approve when it comes to design. The DLA-HD950 measures in at ( W x H x D) 365 x 167 x 478mm and weighs 11.2 Kg.

JVC DLA-HD950

Moving to the lens and what we have is a large diameter all-glass system with 17 elements in 15 groups including 2 ED (extra-low dispersion) lenses. The light path is the same design as last year and promises a claimed 50,000:1 native contrast performance. Convergence of the three DILA 0.7 inch full HD 1920 x 1080 panels can be an issue if misaligned, however JVC UK check each machine by hand to make sure they pass for accurate convergence and there is also a menu option to re-align the pixels. Like the out going model the HD950 has full remote controlled lens shift capabilities with +/-80% Vertical and +/-34% Horizontal adjustment available. The zoom and focus controls are also motorised and remotely controlled here.

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 (1-15) to suit the environment you use the projector in. Light output of the HD950 is claimed to be 900 lumens.

There are some new features making their debut on the HD950 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. We will fully test this technology later in the review.

JVC DLA-HD950

The HD950 also features full THX certification with the added THX picture preset which is pre-calibrated for the Rec.709 colour space and d65 white balance. This follows the industry standards for HD (and Pal SD) playback and should produce image quality out of the box to match the TV and Film studio content. In theory you should never need to use any of the other picture presets available to see the content as it was intended to be seen. We are huge fans of this approach and we will measure and check just how good it is later in the review.

With the projector also sporting a full 3D colour management system (CMS), white balance controls (for greyscale calibration) and a Gamma editor feature, the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) have seen fit to certify the HD950 to ISFccc standard. This is not a picture preset but rather a seal of approval from ISF that a suitably trained and certified calibrator (or dealer/installer) will have all the controls available to perform a full professional calibration to industry picture standards. Why is this required? Well even though we are huge fans of the THX picture preset and how it attempts to get as close as possible to the industry standards out of the box, it is not a flawless approach. The reason is that the manufacturer when they pre-calibrate do not know what room, screen, sources or environment the projector will be used in. These issues can impact (quite severely in some cases) on image accuracy, so having the projector professionally calibrated by your dealer or one of the ISF technicians out there is recommended. There really can be big improvements in image performance and accuracy.

And while we are on the subject of projection screens we need to focus on why they are important. With so many various materials available, along with varying gains and colours (like grey screens such as a firehawk) it is important to not only calibrate correctly to those, but JVC have also added a neat feature that helps with getting it right if you can't do the calibration. 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. As always (and when spending the type of money you will buying the HD950,) we recommend putting at least 10% of the budget to hiring a professional calibrator, or finding a dealer who will do it as part of the deal, just make sure they are ISF or THX video certified).

Moving to the connections available on the HD950 and we have almost everything we need to add this projector into most systems. There are two HDMI v1.3 slots, one set of component RCA jacks, legacy s-video and composite connections and a D-Sub connector for PC use. If the projector is to be used in an automated system there is one 12V jack and an RS232C port. It would have been nice if JVC had added a couple more 12V jacks (i.e. for anamorphic sled and masking options).

Finally we come to the newly re-designed remote control unit. Whist it is still a plastic affair, the layout is better than the outgoing models. Instead of flicking through all the input connections to find your source, we now have source direct buttons to pick what we want easily. Plus the picture preset buttons are now fully represented with a button for each on the lower part of the projector. Under those options we also have direct access keys to the main picture elements (such as gamma) and finally the menu and selection keys are centrally based on the remote face, with a backlight button. Wrapping up the new look is a silver finish to the remote face. I have to say that after using the HD750 remote for the last year, this new layout and access keys are a welcome addition that makes life easier.

Menus

Like a lot of things with the DLA-HD950, the menu layout is identical in looks to last years model, but with some newly added features (which we suggested in the 2008 model review) added on the HD950.

JVC DLA-HD950

First up is the main menu which houses the important picture controls and presets along with the manual lens aperture. There is a new addition to the picture presets this year in the shape of Cinema 3 which JVC say is perfect for animated material. Again, personally we only need one preset properly calibrated for all material, but I can see why JVC have added this. The remaining picture presets feature, Cinema 1, Cinema 2, Natural, Stage, Dynamic, THX and two User selections. As you can see the THX picture preset returns on the HD950 and is a welcome and valuable preset to have, we will go into that in more detail below.

Other controls on this menu screen include the font panel controls (Brightness, Contrast, Colour etc) along with selectable Colour Temperature (white balance) controls and Gamma, plus the advanced sub menu selection.

JVC DLA-HD950

Moving to the Colour Temperature (white balance) menu and we meet the first of the suggested options we asked for last year that have been implemented. The custom selections on the HD350 & HD750 last year all had a default of 9300k and the controls were subtractive. This is ok but we thought that using a benchmark of 6500k and having controls that worked from 0 in the + and – positions would be quicker, easier and better. Well, that's exactly what JVC has given us with the HD950 and it works all the better for it. 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.)

JVC DLA-HD950

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. Its 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 Colour Management System (CMS) controls that are identical to the HD750 and very easy to use with that meter and software. Again, don't attempt to adjust the CMS by eye. With a projector this good we would recommend learning advanced calibration with the correct tools, or hiring a professional calibrator. (Or leave the menu options and set the preset to THX mode!).

JVC DLA-HD950

The final new feature I want to cover in the menus is the Clear Motion Drive (CMD) frame interpolation technology that you can set to Low, High or Off. For all 1080/24fps material we would suggest that this is set to off. The reasons are explained in full later in the review, but we found the extra frames being introduced added severe artefacts. JVC also recommend that CMD is not used with 24fps or film based material.

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. There are also options for using the 12V trigger to do whatever function you like in an automated system. Other selections in the menu system help with initial set up of the unit and are set once and forget options.

Out of the Box Measurement

We start our measurements with a look at a Spectral scan of the energy available from the UHP lamp. This is a standard test and you can compare this with other projectors we have reviewed.

JVC DLA-HD950

This is a typical results for a UHP lamp with blue and green energy higher than red. Green is also pushed into the yellow energy wavelength and there are filters in use which are highlighted by the severe dips.

Because there have been some changes to the picture presets available on the HD950 I want to cover them in some detail. Previous JVC projectors (including last years HD350 and HD750) had extremely wide colour gamut's in all the various presets with only the THX option on the HD750 getting anywhere close to the correct standards. This resulted in all the images in those presets having over saturated colour levels which looked un-natural. In the HD350 (and previous models) there was no way to correct that with calibration and it became the Achilles heal of those projectors which excelled in other areas of picture performance. Of course we reported this back in to JVC from day one with the HD1 and stated in the feedback we would like to see more controlled presets available that are closer to the industry standards. So, have JVC listened?

Looking at the Cinema 1 preset first and we are greeted with a tamed colour gamut as we suggested and also a white balance that is close to D65. This is a huge step in the right direction with picture presets and although it's not perfect, the gamut is no longer wide of the mark by the same margins as previous models. Plus, if this has been carried over to the HD550 (replacement for the HD350), it will make plenty of people happy – we will have to wait until we get a sample to check but fingers crossed!

JVC DLA-HD950
JVC DLA-HD950

So, as you can see from the Gamut in Cinema 1 the results, while not perfect, are certainly an improvement. Yellow is out in terms of saturation by some margin and is probably an attempt by JVC to get the hardest secondary colour to stand out in the image. The greyscale is also not that bad with blue a touch high, giving whites a blue look and skin tones a slight yellow tinge. This is s step in the right direction and although its not going to be used by owners of the HD950, it could be more important for the HD550 if it follows suit.
Moving to the newest picture preset on the HD950 and it's a rather strange addition. JVC say it is aimed at computer game and animation fans and you can see why. We have the original wide colour gamut appearing one last time and a greyscale and gamma response that is pushed for bright and in your face images.

JVC DLA-HD950
JVC DLA-HD950

As you can see the Cinema 3 gamut mirrors previous JVC models and the less said about the greyscale results the better. Obviously JVC want this preset used for games and animation, but this is a slightly misguided approach in our opinion. Using a correct to the standards preset, animation and (to a lesser extent) games will be shown as they are intended to be. However, there is nothing wrong with JVC giving you the choice, and now you know what the new preset looks like.

And finally we have the best out of the box setting to use, which after a quick set up of the main controls (Brightness, Contrast, etc), the THX preset is nothing short of extremely impressive!

JVC DLA-HD950
JVC DLA-HD950

As you can see from the results the greyscale in THX mode is not quite bang on the money, but the errors are also very small with DeltaE under 3. This means that unless you have the most critical of eyes, and you don't see the slightly green cast, the errors should be not as noticeable in the greyscale. Moving to the colour points and gamut and after three re-measures to triple check the results, the graph looks incredibly accurate for a preset. This is exemplary performance and I was mightily impressed. Later we will look at what the on screen results look like. However, here is one small caveat. These presets are fantastic and a great way to get as close as possible out of the box to see the HD950 at its best. But there will be slight differences between units due to the fact it is set up on a production line and component tolerances. Plus, the room and source components you use, along with the screen will affect the end results. In terms of the reviews here we measure from the projector (as that is what we are testing), however when you use it in your room, the walls, ceiling, screen and source components will all have an effect on the final image. But saying all that, it is a fantastic option to have on a display and the results from the projector are first class.

Calibration

With all the out of the box presets explored in detail it was time to look at performing a professional ISF calibration to see just how accurate we could get the HD950. As we have all the tools we need and the projector is now certified by the ISFccc program you would expect things to work correctly and produce excellent results. However, if you cast your minds back to the review of the HD750 last year you will remember that not everything was a bed of roses and the CMS didn't work correctly. After our reporting last year, JVC issued a firmware fix that solved the problem and I'm pleased to report that the CMS here works just as well. In fact the User selections for the calibration while wide is set in such a way that bringing everything in correctly and quickly is very straight forward. The results are reference level. Have a look.

JVC DLA-HD950
JVC DLA-HD950

Looking at the Greyscale first, and this result is outstanding for a consumer grade display and we are looking at error levels we rarely see because they virtually don't exist. A lot of the fine tuning was helped with a Gamma tool system that had such fine controls that we managed exceptional results. And for those looking at the bottom and top ends of the gamma curve, those slight blips are actually caused by my preferred brightness and contrast settings for the room. I'm extremely satisfied with the greyscale. Looking at the Rec.709 colour points makes for great reading. As you can see, we managed to get as close as possible to the correct co-ordinates for xy (Saturation and Hue), but Luminance (Y) is also as good as it gets. The THX preset is good but with its flaws as I have mentioned. Our professional calibration here just makes the hard work (more than 6 hours) worthwhile, the results are very rare for a consumer display at any price level!

Video Processing

The good news continues with the HQV chipset in the HD950 managing to pass every test for standard definition and High Definition material. Scaling performance is very good and de-interlacing works without exception. Cadences for standard definition all pass for normal tests and really I just couldn't trip up the JVC with anything I threw at it.

Clear Motion Drive

Don't confuse CMD as part of the normal video processing on the HD950. With CMD switched off everything works fine and dandy. However, the introduction of a frame interpolation technology has to be explored and we fully tested the system here with every possible piece of test material, interlaced, progressive, video based and film content. 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.

JVC DLA-HD950

Above is an image showing what CMD does to 1080/24fps material. Now, JVC do state that you shouldn't use it with this frame rate and it shows clearly why. It is exactly the same with film based material at that frame rate with artefacts and backgrounds following fast moving objects around the screen. It also has a nasty sped up look to film based material at any frame rate which kills the cinematic feel. Give me slightly blurred, fast moving film-like images over this kind of digital mess, any day. After all, when you move your head to follow something fast in the real world, is everything perfectly sharp and in focus?

Moving to interlaced and progressive material at 50 and 60Hz rates and things do clear up, especially with video based content. However, the artefacts do still present themselves on screen but are not as frequent as with the 24fps material. Film material at 50/60Hz still has that sped up 'Soap Opera' look with CMD switched on.

So, we can see why JVC felt the need to add CMD as every other manufacturer is also introducing this kind of technology and we can't hold it against them, even if it looks bad. As we strive for the most realistic and cinematic results at home, it is with great relief that the HD950 ships with CMD switched off; and the off button is easy to find. Because of that we will overlook the CMD function when it comes to the final marks as we can switch it off and forget it ever existed. And no, our unit wasn't faulty or broken or needing a firmware upgrade as CMD looks just like every other technology based on frame interpolation. It's a band aid that is not really needed for the HD age. Not here, anyway.

Picture Quality

Finally we get to sitting down and watching some film and TV material on the HD950 and it's all good news. First of all, everyone will want to know how it compared with our reference HD750 in the review room, and to put you all out of your misery, there is nothing obvious between the two projectors in calibrated settings.

JVC DLA-HD950

Both offer exceptional cinematic images with nothing that stands out on the new projector to make it substantially better or worse in picture terms. The differences are with the technology added and the updated picture menus and calibration controls (ISFccc). You can also add in the CMD system (if you must) as an added feature and the new screen adjustment mode. And that's it, it's an evolutionary not a revolutionary step – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that as the HD750 was superb and the HD950 builds on that for another year.

Moving to the picture performance and I have to say that the out of the box THX preset (with basic set up for the room and screen), is exceptionally good. It looks very accurate with everything as it should be. Natural colour and skin tones, combined with a stunning dynamic range and black level make you wonder how things could get any better. However, do bare in mind the issues I explained above about out of the box settings.

JVC DLA-HD950

There is also not much I can add for the calibrated performance. At £5,500 this projector is a huge bargain that offers calibrated results that match what you would find in the professional field. Everything looks film-like and natural, colours are rich and properly match the mastered material you watch, and the black levels are deep, fluid and highly detailed in the shadows - there's no black crushing or missing shadow details here. It looks as good as anything under £20k in the market and at its price level, it is THE reference machine to beat.

Yes, there has been lots of hype for the last few years with the JVC models, but it is fully justified on these results. The JVC image is not a digital image, and by that I mean it doesn't look falsely sharp like some DLP projectors. Instead you get all the sharpness and detail, but in an image that, for some reason, looks refined and film-like – not soft. Add in perfect colour and greyscale and you can see why I am happy to dish out the Reference badge again. Just do me a favour and make sure you do the ground work with preparing your viewing room and a calibration to allow the JVC to shine!

The only slight issue to mention here is that some people claim to see the sample and hold effect on the JVC projectors which can make things looked blurred to them. These reports are like those for single chip DLP projectors in that some see it and others don't. It's not an issue I would normally mention as I don't see it, but I have to cover all the bases for you.

JVC DLA-HD950

The other subject that enthusiasts will look at is panel convergence and our sample had about half a pixel of blue high (horizontally) and less than that on red low. This is impossible to see from normal seating and doesn't cause any issues with colour fringing on fine lines. I'm an old CRT projector owner so bad convergence is something I wouldn't live with. The HD950 manages this fine and they are hand checked by JVC UK to make sure they do not have obvious and visible issues. There is a pixel adjustment tool in the menus but in our case they were not fine enough to get results perfectly white, but then again there is no way to technically do that. A half pixel error is fine and doesn't add any obvious issues to images or text.

Verdict

10
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Industry leading black levels at the price point
  • Huge dynamic range and cinematic images
  • Reference level picture quality when calibrated
  • THX mode is superb out of the box for image accuracy
  • Full Calibration tools available and ISFccc certified.
  • 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

Cons

  • CMD system is flawed and doesn't work with 1080/24 material and looks odd with any film based content

JVC HD950 DILA Projector Review

JVC have yet to drop the ball in the home cinema projector market. For the last two years they have produced projectors that offer extreme performance at very reasonable money, well, excellent value if the truth be told. There is a hype that follows the JVCs these days, and let's be honest, if they had tripped up here, we would have had the results and review to say so. The product deserves the accolade of reference projector and this is based on performance long before the price is considered. Yes, it's not a huge improvement on the HD750, it adds in some new menu layouts and CMD, but let's face it there was nothing wrong with the HD750 and it's been our reference machine for the last year. So, it was going to take something very special to move things forward in any huge jump, but the HD950 takes the mantel of this year's reference projector (for now anyway) and the price point just makes that even better. Yes, it's a lot of money and you might be lucky and grab a HD750 before they all disappear for less money, but you have to pay something for quality products and looking at the bigger picture, nothing comes close at this moment in time.

There will be a higher end HD990 model but this really will be a limited edition machine and we need to wait to see if there is any massive step forward. It will more likely be a refined version of the HD950 and to be honest I'm struggling to see what they can do to make that even better. Maybe a contrast boost? We wait for our review sample but it doesn't affect the HD950 and its results here.
The DLA-HD950 is a worthy replacement for the HD750 - if not a huge leap - it just makes things easier to set up and get to that excellent image quality quicker. JVC do it again by introducing a reference level projector that replaces the best dynamic range and picture quality at the price with exactly the same ingredients in the new model.

Reference Status

Scores

Features

10

Ease Of Use

10

Build Quality

10

Value For Money

10

Verdict

10

2D Picture Quality

10

Video Processing

10

Image Uniformity

10

Greyscale Accuracy

10

Colour Accuracy

10

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels

10
10
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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