The JVC DLA-X9 is for all intents and purposes very much a DLA-X7 in looks and menu functions as well as the features available. The X9 is the top end model and as such it uses the top end components from the production line – the best lenses, the best chipsets and some tweaks here and there to up the contrast output. This gives the projector an edge over the lower two models with a higher visible contrast boost, slightly better black levels and shadow detail along with sharper images from the lens used and convergence of the D-ILA chips that is spot on. But, is it all worth £3k more than the DLA-X7? I have a feeling we are walking into the world of diminishing returns.
Because of the fact that the X9 is, in fact, just an X7 but with better components on board I felt that there was no point in going over the set up, connections and menu areas yet again for this review. Instead I have concentrated on the actual performance differences from the measurements onwards and have recapped the areas where both models are identical. The full review follows the summary and scores.
Design and Connections
The first thing that hits you about the DLA-X9, and its brothers in the range, is the new chassis design and layout. We have gone back to the central lens mount configuration that just looks more composed and sturdy than the off-axis approach of the previous models over the last two years. The chassis is also a little wider and a good deal chunkier than last year’s models which seem to give a sense of higher build quality being employed. The air vents are again set to the left and right hand-side with the video connections now appearing at the rear of the chassis.
The DLA-X9 is thankfully only available in the black finish which is ideal for rooms where critical viewing will take place. The top of the chassis is also button free this year which makes the X9 look a good deal better when ceiling mounted; the menu buttons are now at the rear of the machine. The overall design is a little sharper and less rounded than previous models, giving the X9 an imposing and industrial look which I personally really like. The lens is also a little larger than seen on previous models, although the automatic lens hood cover is still employed during switch on and switch off to protect against dust when the projector is not in use. There were a few complaints from owners that the noise made by this cover didn’t sound correct on such an expensive projector, but as you will want to warm the unit up for half an hour before any critical viewing, I don’t see the noise as an issue. This year’s model still makes a bit of a noise on opening and closing but, again, I don’t see that as an issue overall.
Looking at the connections available and it might seem a little stingy that we only get two HDMI connections for HD sources, yet in most home cinema set ups that will be more than enough. Also positioned on the rear panel is the 3D transmitter interface connection, component input, RS232C control port, PC/VGA input along with triggers for controlling lenses and screens. There is also a LAN connection and the menu controls including a power button are also positioned on the rear plate.
The DLA-X9 not only has a new chassis but the light path and optics have also seen an upgrade, and on this model they are the top 5% of what the production line manufactures. The lens uses a large-diameter, all-glass lens system with 17 elements in 15 groups including an ED (extra low dispersion) lens element. This provides the JVC with sharp images and improved focussing with fewer instances of chromatic aberration and colour bleeding or haloing. There is also a fully manual aperture control with 16 steps which allows perfect set up in most rooms. There is also a new bulb and cooling layout within the chassis with the UHP lamp offering 160w of output in normal viewing modes and 220w in high mode which is automatically switched on when selecting 3D mode for extra brightness. In normal lamp mode the X9 is whisper quiet like the X7 with an audible increase in fan noise when high mode is activated. However, while noisier in high mode, the JVC is still quieter than some other competing models and noise is not a deal breaker in any way.
The new black remote offers an excellent design that is very easy to use and immediately intuitive. It keeps roughly the same layout as last year’s model with the addition of 3D mode and a neat anamorphic button should you be using the X9 with a third party lens. The anamorphic mode also adds in a new 16:9 scaled mode so you can leave the anamorphic lens in position and move between scope and 16:9 material. This works really well and reduces the need for a lens sled which would save quite a bit of money. The only downside to this is that in 3D mode anamorphic controls are disabled.
THX 3D On-board
The THX mode is also based on the cinema specification for colour timing that is used within Hollywood at the moment, which is 5 foot lamberts at the screen. By basing the preset mode on these specifications the image retains most of the colour temperature and timing data and helps retain detail in the shadows and within objects. However, the obvious downside to this approach for some will be the darker image produced with the glasses in place and the reduced brightness of the THX image; but it does mirror exactly what you are seeing in 3D cinemas following the guidelines that do exist. In a bat cave environment this works well and it does retain colour balance and detail far better than the brighter 3D picture modes, even if images are a little darker than the standard 3D mode.
With the DLA-X9 it is simply a case of setting the projector up correctly in terms of positioning as you would with any such installation, connecting up your 3D Blu-ray player and the sync transmitter and away you go. There are no adjustment modes for any of the 3D parameters as the X9 just works perfectly out of the box providing nice 3D images with little crosstalk, but more on picture quality later. It should be mentioned this is a far cry from the Sony VPL-VW90ES which did need careful set up and even then struggled to compete when producing 3D images.
For more information regarding the 3D set up see our review of the DLA-X7.
Menus and Setup
Looking at the main menu first and we have a few new options to consider straight away. First of all we have the picture mode settings and these range from Film, Cinema, Animation, Natural, Stage, 3D, THX and two user options. According to JVC the ‘Film’ mode tries to replicate a film stock look through a Xenon lamp, with ‘Cinema’ mode trying to replicate the DCI standard. Animation is self-explanatory with wide colours; ‘Natural’ is supposedly for dramas and ‘Stage’ for music videos and live productions. THX is the preset that mirrors the industry standards for video reproduction in the home, as the director intended. The two user presets are for manual calibration and change to ISF or THX day and night if set by a professional calibrator using the pro calibrator interface.
Next we have the colour profile setting which allows you to choose the colour gamut for your selection in the picture mode box. Under ‘Film’ you have the choice of ‘Film 1’ and ‘Film 2’ which replicate different film stocks such as Eastman Kodak and Fujifilm Corporation. ‘Cinema’ gives us three choices around the DCI standard and which gets wider as you get higher. ‘Animation’ gives us two Anime settings that are wide and over saturated along with ‘Standard’ which mirrors Rec.709 standards. ‘Natural’ gives us four colour profiles including Standard, Video, Vivid and Adobe RGB for photography users. ‘Stage’ has its own colour profile called Stage and also allows you to use the Rec.709 Standard profile.
For ‘3D’ you get the Standard preset, a 3D selection and a Vivid colour profile. What is interesting with the 3D Vivid mode is that it seems the best balanced of the three options as the other two look overly green when the glasses are worn. Finally the ‘THX’ colour profile is greyed out and called THX. This is a little anomaly we will discuss later. Users will also hear a loud click as the projector moves between certain picture modes as a colour filter is moved into the optical engine block and out again, depending on what preset you are selecting. This is perfectly normal but may cause concern for those not expecting to hear such a loud click in the first place.
After this step we select our Colour Temperature selection, also known as white balance. Here we can select a preset ranging from 5500k to 9300k or we can select a custom setting and base it on one of the presets such as 6500k. This custom mode allows fine tuning of the control to correct the Greyscale/White balance of the image. After selecting your Picture Mode, Colour Profile and Colour Temperature the next step is to set the gamma level. Yet again JVC give us far too many choices here with a ‘Normal’ selection, plus A thru to D and then 1.9 to 2.6 in numbered selections. What we did find like last year was that setting the Gamma at say 2.3 would actually give you a measured result of 2.2 and so on. The lettered selections were all s-curve results of varying degrees and strength and ‘Normal’ measured just over 2.1 for its curve.
The final new control is the Dark/Bright level which does what you would expect and changes the low end and high end luminance response. I have no idea why this is included (along with the Black level preset on another menu page) as you should be able to set these parameters easily with the front panel controls and gamma selection using the appropriate test patterns. All I found was that they introduce clipping in the worst case and affected the gamma settings made elsewhere. So, again I have no idea why JVC thought these would be good controls to add. Finally on this menu we have the now standard front panel controls (Brightness, Contrast etc.) and the advanced menu selection.
In the advanced menu you have Sharpness, Noise Reduction, Custom Gamma, Colour Management, Clear Motion Drive, Lens Aperture and lamp power. The Sharpness control should be set carefully as even slight adjustments start to add in subtle ringing to the image. This may appear to give a sharper image but what you are actually doing is covering up detail by adding in the ringing. Time taken to get this correct will result in a more detailed image, not a sharper one. We would like to see a day when this control is killed off, as it is the biggest killer of picture detail when inexperienced users ramp it up thinking they are getting more sharpness and detail. Next I will jump to the Clear motion Drive selection as we get a whole series of options available over last year’s version. It is correct to assume that the lower settings are far more subtle than in the past but they still create some interesting side effects, with the higher settings making things look like video and adding that soap opera effect. These controls are certainly a love it or hate it option and I left it switched off the entire time I used the DLA-X9.
Lens aperture is a function to allow you to dial down the image brightness to match your environment and light conditions. For example, in a bat cave environment you would likely have the aperture closed down as low as -15, but in a room with more ambient lighting you might want it fully open. It is nice to have the choice and no sign of a dynamic Iris to be seen, which is good in my opinion. The Lamp power setting allows you to use the projector in the 160w normal setting where the fan noise is low and the lamp brightness matches a darker room environment, whereas you are likely to have it in full mode (220w) when watching 3D to get more light on the screen.
The Custom Gamma controls are based on a similar set up to last year and allow full control over the gamma curve for RGB and white. Using this control you will need a meter and software as used in a normal professional calibration to dial in your preferred gamma curve. This control should act along with the greyscale in very small amounts, but we found that this year’s version impacts on the white balance too much and it is very difficult to adjust the controls correctly to get the desired curve result without messing up the greyscale too much. Sadly it looks like this software has far too coarse controls and acts completely differently to the same feature on the DLA-HD990. We found that setting the profile to 2.4 offered the best compromise to get gamma tracking well.
The same can also be said for this years updated Colour Management System in its present guise. Just like the DLA-HD750 we appear to have some bugs within the software with the operation of the CMS and its results. Now I want to make it clear that while there are bugs here, which I know will get fixed after speaking with JVC direct about this, it is also possible to dial in a gamut that offers correct performance without any issues with linearity or saturation, if done correctly and without large inputs to the CMS. Obviously the CMS is a major selling point of the DLA-X9 for a small, but growing band of video purists who want to dial in the very best performance, so we need one that works correctly without causing any issues that will affect picture performance.
The first major annoyance with the CMS is that when you enter a slider command to move a point (be it saturation, brightness or hue) the CMS and the image on screen (usually your colour window) disappears for a second into blackness. If you are taking continuous readings at this point it is likely that your meter is going to go nuts, as are the tables and graphs you are working on. It really is a major annoyance and you have to revert to single measures and single steps in adjustments. I am surprised that JVC would make such a fundamental error with this. Next is the introduction of Orange along with our well established primary and secondary colours. Are JVC doing a Sharp and adding an extra element?! Nope, but I am also struggling to see how this could have been added and the reasoning behind it. It is, of course, a flawed attempt to offer some control over skin tones, but can JVC provide us with the co-ordinates of Orange?
Of course they can’t as it doesn’t exist in normal practice, so again we have to ask why? We found that using a colour profile close to Rec.709 produced good results as we were making minimal adjustments of the CMS controls, but with anything wider and we start to see some issues with linearity of the saturation in some cases. I was unable to reproduce exactly what some owners have reported with their own calibrations which was severe under saturation, but there is something not quite right with larger inputs with the CMS. Again, this and other feedback from owners has been given to JVC for a fix.
What will be possible once the software has been finalised and fixed is the opportunity to use CalMAN 4.2 to do one button press calibration on the X7 and X9. So there are some bugs in the software as it stands for the CMS and Gamma controls, but even with that you can still get a calibration where the issues don’t appear and they stay correct. I guess with introducing a new chassis, issues were bound to be found and thankfully this one doesn’t kill the performance and is more of an annoyance for those who want things to work smoothly and quickly. We are also confident on the comments received from JVC UK that a fix will be made as soon as possible, however, at the time of this review we still have not heard anything back.
Finally the last major feature to talk about is the screen adjustment selection now available with the X9. This allows you to use a look up table to pick your screen type and you then enter the code to the projector. This will then set the out of the box white balance controls to try and match your screen surface the best it can. This is a neat feature that will help again in getting the best possible match out of the box. It is based on a calibration technique that requires an offset between the projector and screen to be measured and inputted to the software so a calibration can be tailored exactly to the room and screen. So this approach while never as accurate as a proper calibration does allow a few % extra out of the box in performance.
Out of the Box Measurements
We used the Cinema preset here, with the standard colour gamut selection and 6500k white balance. Some may find that decision strange, however after measuring the THX preset we found the first selection to produce a more accurate greyscale and colour gamut result. Obviously in most cases with displays the THX preset would usually provide the most accurate out of the box performance, but JVC have excelled themselves with the built-in standard colour gamut and 6500k white balance. We put 150hrs on the X9’s bulb before any measurements were taken as we looked at the light fall off and bedding in characteristics in response to some comments online about abrupt changes.
Looking at the greyscale first and what we have here for an out of the box preset is very good indeed. Although the tracking is not flat, it is within deltaE errors of under 3 which should be unperceivable to the eye. Indeed, using a number of test patterns we were unable to see any obvious errors in grey that would likely be seen by the majority of viewers, unless subjected to a side by side comparison. Gamma also tracked fairly well with only the high-end of the image starting to look a little washed out. But again, for an out of the box preset after 150hrs on the bulb, this points to a well-designed picture profile.
Moving to the colour gamut and again the X9’s standard preset holds up extremely well for an out of the box selection with an excellent gamut performance which again has extremely low delatE errors visible. The slight errors in green, yellow and magenta saturation are unnoticeable with real world viewing material and most importantly the gamut luminance results are almost bang on. We always measure at 75% stim and as such we always check for issues within the results that may become apparent such as under saturation at lower or higher levels, but we saw nothing detrimental and after 150hrs on the bulb, this was again astonishing for an out of the box preset. We have only seen results like this on the very best of consumer displays from the likes of Sim2 and Pioneer in the past, so the X9 has managed to offer out of the box performance that really is first class. There is not a lot we are going to be able to do with a full calibration to better results that in the most part are already error free to most eyes.
As I already hinted at above, the X9 after 150hrs on the bulb produces some of the best out of the box images we have seen for some time out of a consumer device. It is so good that most of the errors that are present, will be below the threshold of most viewers in actually seeing them. But as always it wouldn’t be an AVForums review if we didn’t play around with the controls present to get even better results towards the industry standards.
With the greyscale calibration it was difficult to get much better than the out of the box results due to the coarse nature of the controls available, which are subtractive in the high end. With deltaE errors well under 1 for the majority it was more a case of trying to correct the midrange area of the image and improve the slight wash out with the gamma. Here we managed to get the Gamma to track flat at 2.2 (by using the 2.4 selection) and some fine tuning of the coarse controls. Again, it was difficult to add much more to what was a reference level of performance to start with, but with gamma now fixed, the higher end had some depth back again.
Moving to the colour gamut and again we used a wider gamut selection and then the CMS to move the primary and secondary points back to Rec.709 coordinates. Again, we were not able to add a great deal of improvement to what was an excellent out of the box result, but we did improve the saturation of the secondary colours and got the primaries bang on. DeltaE errors were also now non-existent - or close to it - and there were no errors that would be visible with normal material on screen. Again, we were mightily impressed with the X9 performance here and again this was with 150hrs on the bulb.
With HD material it was much the same with excellent results in the HQV tests and 24p playback without any introduction of induced judder. Even with fast moving camera moves with fast moving action on screen the motion resolution of the X9 is a step up on even last year’s HD990 in terms of image blur and resolution loss, with only the most difficult of scenes causing issues of too much blur being introduced.
Finally, the Clear Motion Drive technology has been updated for the new projectors and now offers more options. These features will be useful for those users who watch a lot of video material and sports, especially popular with our American cousins who tend to use their projectors for more TV sports viewing than perhaps we do in this country. For those users they will find useful options, here, that will add fluid motion to those materials and it will be up to the end user as to what suits their viewing preferences. With film material I would warn against using the CMD even in the lowest settings as it does change the motion of film and makes things look like they are shot on video cameras, completely ruining the experience in my view. Again it is a love it or hate it technology that is certainly down to the end user to experiment with. One final feature under CMD that will be useful to owners of large NTSC DVD collections is the Inverse Telecine option that takes 60hz DVDs and reformats them back to 24p using a 3:2 pull down process.
Picture Quality – 2D
The first thing I did notice about the DLA-X9 over the X7 was the sharpness on offer and the lack of convergence issues. Where the X7 was slightly out by half a pixel on our review sample (well within specification and doesn’t affect viewing at normal seating distances) the X9 had no visible errors in convergence. Again, this will vary slightly from sample to sample due to the production cycle these projectors go through, but this also highlights perhaps the better quality control on this higher end model. The lens, although the same as in the X7, is picked from the top 5% of those made and again this was apparent with a better sharpness to images over our review sample of the X7. I also thought that the overall image just had a little more refinement with slightly better blacks, slightly better shadow detailing, a noticeable mixed contrast scene boost and sharper images overall.
The X9 does boast a higher contrast figure in its specifications over the X7, however I feel this is where the diminishing returns aspect of the projector starts to bite. Yes, if set up correctly and at a reasonable throw distance and in the best possible surroundings there is a difference in the image contrast, most noticeably in the lower end (we humans always notice more detail in dark areas of an image than the peak white areas). In our test room we did see a difference between the two and the X9 managed to produce a very compelling image that also superseded the HD990 from last year (that we also had to hand to check against). Is it £3000 plus better? In our room, if I had the money and went with the sharper lens and slightly better picture depth and subtlety, then yes, perhaps I could make that decision.
However, I can see it being a harder decision when funds are perhaps tighter or not at all if the surrounding would compromise any real world improvement between the X9 and X7. Sorry, just being realistic here. Could you get better with an X3 and using an off board scaler for calibration? You could get some great results with that approach, but in ideal surroundings the X9 would still produce the more convincing performance in my opinion. Is it worth the extra? That’s your call!
Picture Quality - 3D
The 3D THX mode was also identical to the X7 with a decent attempt made at colour balance within images, albeit with slightly less lumens than the other modes. In straight 3D picture mode I did think, like the X7, that there was a visible green tinge seen in the standard colour profile, with Vivid ironically enough looking more natural as it added in the missing red tones of the standard profile. However, none of these modes offer anything approaching accurate colour balance, just like almost every other 3D display (with perhaps the exception of the £30K Sim2 which can be calibrated correctly). So with 3D it does come down to getting as many lumens as possible and trying to find a preset that adds some resemblance of accuracy if at all possible and in this case I resorted to the 3D profile and swapping between vivid and standard until I was happy. Until we get a way of calibrating the image to the glasses (which can vary from one lens to another on the same pair!) it’s a case of finding what is suitable to you and enjoying the experience. No lectures on image accuracy will wash with 3D as it stands.
With a projector like the DLA-X9 it is all about image accuracy, sharpness and contrast performance and as such the 3D aspect of the projector is not an area where you will be able to make those kinds of judgment calls on image quality. It is a nice to have feature as almost 97% of your viewing is going to be 2D and the X9 excels at that!
- Class leading black levels
- Excellent sharpness from the lens
- Excellent convergence
- Superb dynamic range
- Stunning shadow detail
- Reference colour and greyscale out of the box
- Excellent calibration controls
- Reference level images in the right surroundings
- THX certified for 3D and 2D
- Excellent 3D performance for its class
- Video processing is top notch
- Full Anamorphic modes
- RS232 and triggers
- Quiet operation in 2D modes with normal lamp
- Software bugs still present in calibration controls
- CMS still blinks
- Orange selection in CMS not needed
- Needs to be installed in ideal bat cave surroundings for absolute best image performance
- Slightly noisy in 3D lamp mode
- Cost is harder to justify for some over the X7
JVC X9 D-ILA Projector Review
Without doubt the JVC DLA-X9 is an outstanding 2D projector that produces the type of image quality that many AV enthusiasts crave. It has industry leading black levels, stunning shadow detail, superbly accurate colour performance and fantastic dynamic range. On top of all this it also adds full HD 3D playback using the active shutter system which offers a nice added feature to the already stunning 2D performance. It is without doubt a reference level product that offers reference level image performance. However there are some caveats to all this praise.
First of all the DLA-X9 uses the same chassis, menus and features of the X7, in fact it is an X7 with the exception that it uses the top 5% of the components available from the JVC production lines. This can be seen in the image performance, with sharper looking images, slightly better contrast and dynamic range with a slightly better black level and shadow detail performance. However, to see these differences the X9 and X7 need to be installed in the best possible surroundings to get their full potential on screen. Put them in a magnolia coloured room with the curtains closed and there will be little to tell them apart. A quality projector like the X9 needs the best possible set up to fulfil its promise of stunning images.
So that has to bring us onto the part about diminishing returns. Is the X9 capable of offering £3k worth of image improvements against the X7? This is where the lines blur and it really comes down to how deep your pockets are and where you intend to install the projector. If you have the budget and are putting it in a properly designed home theatre the answer would probably be yes. However, if that is not the case then perhaps there will be that reality check to make.
However, saying all that, I have had a real blast using the X9 where its images have been nothing but breath-taking to behold and savour. It really is a class leading model that offers the kind of performance you would expect from the top of the range model. Is it worth the extra outlay against the X7? Only you can answer that one, but for us it is rather special indeed.
3D Picture Quality
Ease Of Use
Value For Money
2D Picture Quality
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels
Our Review Ethos
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