Design and Features
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-HD990 measures in at ( W x H x D) 365 x 167 x 478mm and weighs 12.2 Kg.
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 the HD950 but has been hand picked from the production line and promises a claimed 70,000:1 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. Again this is where the HD990 excels with great care taken over the alignment of the three panels. Like the HD950 it 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 HD990 is claimed to be 900 lumens. Now, JVC hinted that some extra tweaking is done to the wire grid and that is what produces that extra amount of native contrast. But, when pushed, JVC wouldn't divulge exactly what they do to achieve this performance boost.
Like the HD950 and HD550, the high end HD990 debuts the company's frame interpolation technology dubbed Clear Motion Drive. The first part of the processing 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.
The HD990 (like 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 HD990 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 we recommend having the projector professionally calibrated by your dealer or one of the many ISF technicians available in the UK. There really can be big improvements in image performance and accuracy by having the HD990 professionally calibrated.
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 HD990,) 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 HD990 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 (HD750) model. 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.
With the HD990, JVC also sent their bespoke anamorphic lens solution to try out with the projector (and the HD550 I also had here for review). This £5,000 extra is designed and distributed by Genesis Technologies and other dealers for use with all the JVC models. However, it is most likely that this system will be employed with the high end projector as part of a custom installation job. The unit itself consists of a heavy ground plate that the projector sits on and attaches to via the feet. Next is an electric motor unit with 12V trigger switch and power socket that sits to the front right of the plate (looking from the front of the projector). This connects to an arm that holds the Schneider Anamorphic lens unit and moves this to the projector lens for scope films and away again for 1.85:1 material.
There are plenty of positioning tools to make sure that the lens lines up correctly with the projector and screen so that side effects by using a lens can be controlled and eliminated during installation. I have to say that after correct set up which takes a good couple of hours of fine tuning and tweaking, the quality of image on offer is stunningly sharp and detailed. I use a Screen Excellence Vista Curve 2.37:1 screen at 110inchs in the review room here and the totally immersive experience provided by an anamorphic lens is stunning. Is it worth the extra £5,000? Well I guess that comes down to the user likely to buy such an expensive projector and lens unit. But in terms of ease of use and performance, the lens solution gets top marks.
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 HD990 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.
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 HD990 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.)
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.
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.
Out of the Box Measurement
Starting with the UHP bulb spectrum we see an almost identical read out to the HD950 reviewed earlier. This has the usual traits of low red energy and green towards yellow with two filters between the primary wavelengths.
The picture presets and various set up options were covered in detail in the HD950 review and the same results hold true for the HD990 here. The one exception is the THX mode which we normally recommend as the best out of the box preset to use. Here are the measurements of the THX preset.
The first thing that eagle eyed readers will notice with the results above is that the THX mode is rather under-saturated compared to the target points on the CIE chart. I am unable to give any reasons why that might be the case with the HD990 and not the case with the HD950. As explained in great detail above, the THX mode is a preset that tries to cover all the bases and is not infallible to being slightly out. This can also be seen with the greyscale results which whilst acceptable and better than any other picture preset, are not quite to the desired level. So will this have any impact on the picture quality? We will explain more below.
So with an ISF badge attached to the chassis and all the calibration controls we need, it was time to give the HD990 an ISF calibration and see what the results are.
As you can see the results match the HD950 in terms of achieving reference quality picture accuracy to the Industry standards for film and TV playback. Error levels as such that they will be unseen by the majority and images should look as they were mastered. Again, top marks to JVC for allowing the projector to have such great calibration features. So I guess it's now time to watch some material.
Clear Motion Drive
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 HD990 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.
Blacks are a smidge deeper yet shadow details do remain visible and prominent. The usual reference scenes I use for testing (King Kong BD Chapter 48) allow the HD990 to offer plenty of detail in the darker areas of the image and face texture and detailing (along with slight shadows) look excellent. I even compared the HD990 to the Sony VPL-VW85 and it excelled in offering a more rounded and accurate image with consistent black levels over the Sony. (The Sony is, however, £4k cheaper). The fact that the THX mode was slightly out when measured didn't affect the viewing experience with any major issues and most users will be extremely happy with this preset. The calibrated performance was sublime as expected.
So, is the extra performance worth the extra outlay? Well we start to get into the realms of diminishing returns when we cross that kind of question. There is no doubt the HD990 has that little bit more picture quality on tap over the HD950 and the Sony, it's visible and easy to see. However, the HD990 (like the other two projectors) needs to be set up and calibrated correctly along with the right light controlled environment to provide its absolute best in image terms. Potential owners need to think very carefully about how the HD990 is going to be used to get the absolute best performance from it. It will come down to how much the extra cost means to the individual customer over the HD950. In terms of performance gains, well they are there so a demo will be a must.
- Industry leading black levels
- Huge dynamic range and cinematic images
- Reference level picture quality when calibrated
- THX mode is good 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
- CMD system is flawed and doesn't work with 1080/24 material and looks odd with any film based content
JVC HD990 D-ILA Projector Review
The HD990 is a statement product designed for high end home cinema and custom installation. It requires the best surroundings and a light controlled room. It will be a limited availability item that adds a certain rare appeal, and it has the extra performance level over the HD950.
It will be down to the individual to say whether the HD990 (and added lens system cost) is worth the extra outlay for the performance gains that they will likely attain. Because of that the HD990 will be a rare and limited beast, but it does add to the already reference performance of the HD950 and is one of two projectors that now offer exquisite performance under £10k. If you get the chance, go and see one for yourself and you will be surprised at the quality on offer!
Ease Of Use
Value For Money
2D Picture Quality
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels
Our Review Ethos
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