The JVC DLA-X90 is the top end model from the company and like past generations, it uses the top five to ten percent of components from the production line to offer the best possible performance. Because of this, JVC claim that the contrast performance is increased over the DLA-X70 with deeper blacks and sharper images using the best of the lenses available. Convergence is also claimed to be better with the three D-ILA chips and by using the best parts JVC are basically taking the X70 and making it the best it can possibly be with a new model number. Of course with such an approach the DLA-X90 is priced higher than a ‘normal’ X70 and is aimed at those enthusiasts and installers who want the very best performance available. What we are talking about here is diminishing returns but are the differences large enough to account for the extra costs involved?
If you have seen any of the marketing from JVC this year you will have seen the term 4K used in describing the performance from the E-shift technology used in both the X70 and X90. Let’s just clear that one up right from the start. The X70 and X90 are not 4K projectors. They cannot accept native 4K material and they also cannot display native 4K material as 4K. Sadly JVC have let the marketing division get a little carried away with the E-shift technology and have done nothing but cause confusion with consumers. We will go over the performance of the E-shift technology below, but rest assured there is nothing that is 4K involved here, other than the marketing.
So, does the DLA-X90 warrant the price hike over the DLA-X70 in performance terms and is it worth the extra outlay?
Design and Connections
The design is large in size with a wide and chunky body which feels heavy and well built. Indeed, build quality is excellent and adds to the looks of what is a serious piece of kit. Unlike the X30, this model does keep the motorised lens cover which helps keep dust out of the optics when not in use. This might not be a feature to make or break a sale, but it is nice to see that costs are not being cut for the premium models. The lens is once again positioned in the centre of the chassis which makes installation easier and the connections are around the back, where we like them. There is not much else we can really discuss about the design of the body that we haven’t already covered in detail in the X70 review.
The connections available are identical to the X70 which gives us two HDMI ports, 3D transmitter interface, component inputs, PC/VGA socket along with RS232C control and two triggers. There is also a LAN connection and the menu controls including a power button are also positioned on the rear plate.
The remote control supplied with the DLA-X90 is again almost identical to last year’s handset which is a long and slim affair with a logical key layout that is easy to learn quickly. The remote sits neatly in the hand with the important every day button presses within easy reach. Whilst it is a plastic remote, it doesn’t feel cheap and we never had any issues with sync between the handset and projector. Some of the keys have changed location with new additions replacing older and less used options from previous generations. For example there are now three keys all dedicated to the lens functions such as Lens Control, Lens Memory and Anamo (anamorphic), where the same keys were for CMD and Lens AP on last year’s model. The old Aspect and Anamo keys have also been replaced with two direct 3D controls, giving instant access to the 3D menus.
Well it is a technology jointly developed with Japanese broadcaster NHK that pixel shifts an image to try and double up the resolution on screen, using a traditional 1080p display device. The image of the X90 is shifted half a pixel on the diagonal to achieve this, but it does not add or create any new detail in to the image, that would be impossible. The net effect of this technology is that images on screen should appear sharper and movement should be smoother, without over sharpening edges and adding ringing. We will fully test this in the review. We know that this feature can be switched off in the service menu of the projector and we have tested that. As the service menu entry is not encouraged and E-Shift works with 2D images out of the box as sold, that is how we will test the projector here, as sold. Note that E-shift only works with 2D images and is not used with 3D content.
The next welcome addition to the JVC DLA-X90 is the new lens memory shift feature, once the preserve of just Panasonic in the projector world, we have witnessed both JVC and Sony add their own versions to their new models. On the JVC it is a fairly easy method of set up and memory save for 16:9 and then 2.35:1, and then selecting which you require via the menus and waiting on the image being processed for shift, zoom and focus. The JVC version is the slowest of all three systems I have reviewed recently, but that is no bad thing in my book as it gets the positioning and focus right on each change.
You do have to exit the menu after each move, which some users may find to be a chore, but it didn’t really cause us any issues here. As a scope screen owner I see these features as a welcome addition and it allows ease of use, over the expense of an anamorphic lens and sled system. Obviously there are pros and cons to both approaches but we didn’t find any issues with brightness drop or pixel structure with the zoom. The addition of these features allows enthusiasts perhaps put off with the potential costs of adding a third party lens the ability to finally have scope and 1.85:1 material in the correct ratios, and the use of a scope screen. Of course it also allows those with restricted room width to try a constant image approach with the various memories available for storing screen sizes.
Other features to be advanced for this year’s model is an increase in claimed contrast ratio to 120,000:1 using updated D-ILA light path techniques, plus, a claimed 1200 lumens brightness. Plus the Clear Motion frame interpolation system has also received an update which is claimed to improve the motion smoothing over 4 different modes and without artefacts. We found that the first two modes worked in a reasonable manner without too much of a soap opera effect, but artefacts were still present. As with all these types of frame interpolation and motion systems it will be down to the end user to assess how useful these modes are personally.
In terms of 3D the new glasses are claimed to offer a brighter image with better sync capabilities and better colour balance. The emitter is the same type of unit as seen last year with the X9 which attaches to the chassis via the 3D sync socket on the rear connections panel. We didn’t have any issues with the emitter or glasses syncing together correctly and no issues with lost sync or flicker. The new glasses are a slightly different design to last years, with an on/off switch and USB charging and a clearer filter on the lenses which is not as yellow as last year’s tint. Comparing the light input between the old and new models, it is clear that the newer glasses offer slightly more brightness and less of an issue with colour balance with image preset selections. Are they more comfortable? Well this is definitely a personal preference issue as I did find them a little more uncomfortable compared to last year’s glasses, but I have also heard the exact opposite point of view, so it is best to leave this one to your preference.
One slight drawback we did notice using the JVC sync transmitter was that it floods the room with IR signals and as such can in some cases affect remote controls. I found this when trying to adjust volume levels on my Onkyo TX-NR5007 receiver as the Onkyo remote struggled to work when the JVC was in 3D mode. As with last year’s model the new X90 is THX certified for 3D playback with a picture preset selectable in 3D mode which approximates the THX standard of 3D, which itself mirrors the colour timing at 5ftl used in cinema playback. With 3D it is all about the brightness of the image and the THX mode is rather dim when compared to the 3D specific picture preset. However, this does help with masking the slight issues with crosstalk. I would also mention here that in the 3D mode there is excessive sharpness applied out of the box that can introduce moiré issues. Users should set the sharpness as per usual to reduce these possible issues.
Menus and Setup
The main menu starts with the picture mode to be selected and these include Film, Cinema, Animation, Natural, Stage, 3D, THX and five User selections for custom calibration settings. We then have the Colour Profile which relates to the colour gamut used. For example Standard tracks the industry standard of Rec.709, whereas other settings offer wider gamut results. These wider gamuts are adding extra colour saturation and brightness to the primary and secondary points, which do not exist in mastered 8 bit material we watch on Blu-ray where the standards used, are Rec.709. Using these other colour profiles is certainly a subjective choice for the end user, but if you want colour to be close to how it should look and as intended, then THX and Standard are the selections to use here. Next we have the Colour Temperature selections where we have choices of presets or to manually calibrate the greyscale. Out of the box the 6500k selection gets fairly close to D65 and can be further manipulated to achieve a perfect greyscale track with a meter and software.
Next we have the Dark/Light selection slider which I was a little down on last year in our review. However, this control and the new Picture Tone sliders do have a use with image presets such as the THX Picture Profile, which locks out adjustments in the advanced menus and custom selections. But with the Picture tone control we can reduce the greyscale errors using the sliders in a crude manner, which does work at reducing errors. Again the use of a meter would be advantageous here and as such, we would just calibrate a User mode, but if what we have found with the THX preset measurements is the same for the majority of sample of the X70, then some reduction of the red channel would reduce errors and make the greyscale even more accurate. The Dark/Light control can also be used to balance out the gamma as well in a similar manner. This is far from ideal and we would always advocate proper calibration, but if a user wanted to get the THX mode closer and without the means to do a full calibration, these two controls allow this, whereas the advanced controls are switched off in THX. So, perhaps for some users these controls will be useful. The final controls on the main menu are the front panel adjustments (Contrast, Brightness, etc.) and then the selection for the advanced menu.
Moving to the advanced menu we have further useful picture adjustments, which will be available or not in certain picture mode selections. These range from the Sharpness controls, Noise Reduction and the custom Gamma controls. We also have access to the colour management system which is a full 3D CMS and which has again been improved it is claimed, over last year’s example. Also here in the Advanced menu are the CMD selection modes for the frame interpolation processing, along with a demo mode if required. The MPC control is for the E-Shift feature and as you would imagine, it increase and decreases the effect of the sharpening. Finally we have the manual lens aperture which has 15 stops and the lamp power settings.
The major controls we are looking for when calibrating the X90 for the best possible image quality to the industry standards are the Colour Temperature Custom selection, Gamma custom selection and the CMS custom system. All three controls have had bugs present in previous generations of the JVC models, but we can report that we found no issues at all using the available controls to calibrate the projector. Whilst the colour temperature controls are on the coarse side it is still perfectly easy to get reference results and the same can be said for the custom gamma controls should you choose to use them, and the CMS had no obvious issues. JVC are certainly tying to provide a good quality suite of picture controls and in our testing and measuring we haven’t found anything to cause us concern.
Other menu settings to be aware of are the set up options for us with the Lens Memory function where you can save, edit and name your memory settings. These features are straight forward to use and you should have your settings saved quickly. We also tested the accuracy of the lens memory and found that it got the positioning correct on each change which is impressive.
Looking at the greyscale results first of all and on the RGB balance graphs we can see that the results are good. From 20IRE up the errors of tracking are no more than 5% either side of our ideal mix rate of 100% which produces Delta Errors (those visible to the eye) of 5 or less. This is very good and only the keen eyed would notice any colour tint to the greyscale. The only issue we have is a slightly disappointing gamma curve where luminance is high which means that the image is a little washed out. When viewing actual movie and TV material on screen the error in the greyscale is unseen, with gamma being a little more obvious. There is no option to change Gamma in the THX mode but we found that similar results were seen with the User set up explained above, but the Gamma could be set higher without introducing any other delta errors, so this would probably be more ideal for users.
The colour gamut in the THX mode, measured on the CIE chart, gives us another good result for an out of the box preset. Green is a slight concern as it is undersaturated against the ideal co-ordinates along with a slightly high luminance result for Blue. There is also a slight hue error with Magenta and Cyan but most of these errors are unseen with on-screen material. In most cases viewers would not necessarily notice the understaturation of green, but it is visible on some material. However, overall for an out of the box preset the THX mode is very good. As mentioned the other settings that can be used measures the same for the standard colour profile.
Looking at the greyscale first we can see that we are able to get excellent results with Delta Errors under 1.5 which is not visible to the eye. Gamma also now tracks better to our reference point for reviews of 2.2 however, if using the X90 in bat cave surroundings you may want to go for a higher (darker) gamma curve of 2.4 or so. But overall we are happy with results here which produce an excellent greyscale with no visible tint.
There have been some slight issues in the past with the JVC Colour Management System(CMS) where care had to be taken to get good results that also tracked in a linear manner. With the X70 and now the X90 we didn’t find any issue using the CMS to bring in a desired result for Rec.709 which is ideal. We didn’t find any issues with over or under saturation with the results obtained here which we consider as reference level.
Video Processing Tests
Moving to HD sources and again the X70 handled 24p images with ease and again without induced judder and with 1080i sources we again saw no issues with the projector's performance. The CMD feature however needs to be used with care as it does introduce image artefacts and the dreaded soap opera effect the higher the setting you use. This kind of video processing feature is very much down to the individual user’s preference. In our opinion we left CMD switched off for HD playback.
Picture Quality – 2D
The point of the X90 is to give you the absolute best image performance by using the best components from the JVC production line which they claim increases the contrast to 120,000:1 for on/off. In our bat cave cinema room there was a visible difference in dynamic range and contrast between the X70 and X90, but this is also down to the environment in allowing us to see this slight difference in ideal conditions. As soon as ambient light is added to the equation (or reflective walls) the contrast advantage soon disappears as you would expect. With this in mind the X90 really does need the best surroundings to get every last drop of performance on screen. This alone will probably make up the mind of those looking at the real differences between the X70 and X90.
Colour performance, even in out of the box settings (standard colour or THX) was excellent with very natural and accurate looking skin tones and colour accuracy. With reference level grayscale calibration added to the mix with colour points bang on Rec.709 and ideal luminance levels, the X90 offers one of the most compelling 2D images available at any price. Blacks are deep and detailed while highlights are well controlled in mixed scenes where image balance is first class. Depth with shots on screen can at times be breathtaking in clarity and the improved motion and sharpness with the X90 is excellent. Comparing to the X70 there is a visible and perceptible difference in the image, but, the question at this point will be about the price difference and if it is worth it. That question will need to be answered by the individual and how much they value what is probably best described as diminishing returns. If you want the best model and you have the ideal surroundings to take advantage of the X90 then it will be a tough choice. Let’s just say I have made more time over the last 6 weeks to watch movies than I have done for a long time. I don’t really want to give it back.
Picture Quality – 3D
With big sound and big images, 3D really is a new home cinema experience and the X90 does a good job with all the negatives that ultimately come along with this new format. Image brightness always suffers when switching to wearing the glasses and if you are going for correct colour balance with a calibration then the brightness drop is quite significant. The advantage is good colour balance and natural looking skins tones as well as good image detail but light output is down to around 80% of light thrown away between the glasses and screen. Not so bad in a bat cave, but some users will find that is just too much of a down side, and while I always preach image accuracy, I would tend to agree that this is too dark. Moving to higher lamp mode and a less than perfect picture mode there is a big change in image dynamics and brightness which makes the 3D pop from the screen. Obviously the downside to this is clipping in the image, especially with bright detail and colour tones are unrealistic. But, I would imagine that most casual viewers would opt for the brighter image and ignore the obvious issues with clipping and colour balance. Until there are better standards in place for 3D playback it will certainly be down to personal preference with this content. But overall, the X90 offers excellent levels of enjoyment with 3D content but with the occasional instance of crosstalk or ghosting with some difficult content. If 3D is high on your agenda I would recommend a full demo of the X90 so you can weigh up the reference 2D performance and the 3D performance that has a few small issues which may annoy some viewers.
- Reference black level performance
- Reference colour and greyscale
- Excellent shadow detail performance
- Excellent out-of-the-box performance
- Excellent calibration controls
- Lens Memory for 2.35:1 screens
- E-Shift improves motion
- Excellent sharpness to the image
- Stunning 2D picture performance
- CMD adds artefacts and a soap opera look to motion
- Crosstalk visible with some 3D content
- Performance step up and price over the X70 is hard to warrant unless used in perfect environment
JVC X90 D-ILA Projector Review
Only the introduction of 4K native movies with DCI colour specification would beat the best from JVC and others in the home cinema market, but this at the moment is a bit of a red herring. For a start there is no native 4K movie delivery device for the consumer market and no studios have publicly acknowledged any such system coming along any time soon. Then you have the bandwidth for delivering native 4K content with such a wide native colour gamut. Again, just that one fact alone puts the suggestion that we will see 4K movie content for home consumption within the next 18 months on the back burner. Then you have the fact that only one home projector has a native 4K panel and a price tag almost twice that of the X90, so you soon realise that we will have to wait a little longer than most enthusiasts would like for 4K.
So, that brings us on to the JVC marketing claims that the X70 and X90 are 4K when they are not. I understand how marketing departments and the industry at large work when it comes to having the biggest number attached to their products and to be fair to JVC, they are usually pretty conservative with these things. However, with E-shift they have gotten a little ahead of themselves by suggesting these projectors are 4K. They don’t accept native 4K content, the chipsets used are just 1920 x 1080 resolution and all the technology does is create a second HD image slightly offset to give the impression of any increased resolution. It does look sharper without adding any obvious ringing but there is no extra detail available – that would be impossible. Is E-shift any good? Well I didn’t find it distracting in any way and it did seem to provide acceptable sharpness with no obvious side effects and motion was improved. It an interesting feature that does everything I have discussed but it has nothing whatsoever to do with 4K resolution or accepting 4K resolution movies. I would be the first person in line for any 4K delivery system and displays capable of resolving native content but even with the buzz at CES for this technology, it still has hurdles to overcome and those will take time before it will materialise for the consumer market. So, I wouldn’t personally be sitting on the fence at the moment or turning my back on what is available right now.
So, with that out of the way, is the DLA-X90 worthy of its price point and performance? Well that is going to come down to the individual and where the X90 is going to be installed. In a home cinema room that has ideal wall colours with room treatment and complete light control, you will get every last ounce of performance from the X90 and reap the benefits of its larger contrast and lens sharpness. It then comes down to how much the individual puts on the worth of this and the price difference between the X70 and that is something we can’t answer within a review. There is no doubt that in our reference room that is treated and light controlled the differences were visible and appealing, giving an excellent image that was absolutely compelling to watch. The addition of the lens memory shift is also a real benefit for those who want to have a 2.35:1 screen in their cinema room and whilst it is not the fastest projector we have seen at changing between ratios, it is still a great feature to have.
So, overall, used in the right system and environment the X90 certainly carries on from the reference level performance of the DLA-X70 and adds some advancements in image quality. Whether the differences make sense to buyers will no doubt come down to the age old demo, demo, demo. But as a high-end product the JVC X90 offers superb performance and really should be seen in the best surroundings. Reference level, but with the obvious caveats.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels
2D Picture Quality
3D Picture Quality
Ease Of Use
Value For Money
Our Review Ethos
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