JVC DLA-X7 D-ILA 3D Projector Page 3
The DLA-X7 provides additional adjustments that let you custom tweak its gamma curves far beyond using the Gamma Correction Values. But it’s tedious to implement a full custom curve from top to bottom, and you need the appropriate test tools. I could write a book about what was involved in calibrating this projector to track the 2.3 curve I eventually arrived at (we’re talking about weeks of trial and error). The short of it is, it shouldn’t be this difficult, and the DLA-X7 only looks its best when you go this extra mile. This isn’t a deal breaker for most users, but the DLA-X3 doesn’t have this issue at all. Select a 2.3 gamma for that projector, and it tracks right around 2.2 (2.4 tracks around 2.3, etc.). That’s close to ideal, and that projector looks nice and punchy that way. So why doesn’t the more expensive DLA-X7 perform the same way? I informed JVC of this issue but at press time hadn’t received a response.
Other examples of new and not at all improved menu oddities include Film Tone, which you can only use with the Film Picture Mode. The manual explains that this lets you “reproduce the intensity of the exposure image.” Uh, right. Of Dark/Bright Level, which is separate from Brightness and Contrast, the manual cryptically claims that this adjustment “compensating [sic] darkness/brightness of an area.” An area on the screen, or another zip code? Who knows? Last, buried in the Installation menu is a Black Level setting, which is again separate from the Brightness control. The manual indicates that this “sets the black level when used indoors.” Wow. OK. I ignored or left these things off, but you get my drift. The user menus have been highjacked with unnecessary clutter features, and the manual makes these things clear as mud.
And… Finally… the Ecstasy
If it weren’t for the low gamma tracking, I’d be mostly pleased with the DLA-X7’s out-of-box THX mode performance. It’s unfortunate that the default Standard HDMI setting is still engaged in THX mode and still results in clipping of above-white and below-black signals. But when I set HDMI to Enhanced and manually adjusted Brightness and Contrast, it solved the problem. The THX gray scale is linear, if just a little too red, and not far off. While I’d choose slightly oversaturated colors over the THX mode’s slightly undersaturated colors, the color gamut is respectably close to the standard. Still, I chose to use the User Modes and roll my own with gray scale, color, and gamma. As you can see from HT Labs Measures, painful as they were to obtain, the measurements are beyond reproach. They’re far better than I could achieve with my DLA-HD750, so kudos to JVC for that. It might take inordinate time and effort, but the end result is undeniably superb.
This first-generation 3D projector would have made my day by simply being as good as JVC’s previous designs and adding 3D. But this projector’s 2D performance was subtly but noticeably improved in some important areas compared to my DLAHD750. First, the pixel focus and overall image sharpness were definitely superior, which I welcome. This three-chipper still won’t fool anyone into thinking it’s an über-sharp single-chip DLP, but it never left me wanting for a smidge more sharpness or clarity the way the DLA-HD750 sometimes did. D-ILA’s most salient weakness is a contouring type of motion artifact induced by horizontal motion at certain panning speeds. It’s never been something that consistently distracted me living with the DLA-HD750, but I’m still pleased to report that this issue is greatly diminished in this design. I can find test patterns that reveal it to a degree, but I never saw it on program material. Last, while the full-on/full-off contrast ratio in HT Labs Measures shows significant but not overwhelming improvement over the DLA-HD750, the difference is more noticeable with program material. The black floor looks blacker, and the contrast looks simply amazing—the best I’ve seen yet in my room or any other with any projector.
Light, bright computer animation is a marvel on almost any really good display (animated titles certainly exploded off the screen here). But the most challenging darker film/live-action Blu-ray transfers like The Social Network and Inception really shined on the DLA-X7, with immense but natural detail and striking dimensionality. When the black foundation is this strong, the dark sequences show the rich shadow detail and well-balanced contrast, and it never wavers. Inception has a lot of mid-brightness scenes that would challenge a dynamic iris system, but it looked sensational here. Light layers of film grain were consistently revealed, as were subtle variations in sharpness from shot to shot in even the best transfers. This is truly exceptional 2D performance, and it’s superior to the JVC projector I’ve been living with for two years. And then there’s 3D…
To the Third Power
For 3D material, I used the 3D Picture Mode and 3D Color Profile, with an 8500K Color Temperature setting (to compensate for the shutter glasses) and the A Gamma curve, which had the best blacks and contrast. The lamp was on High, and the iris was wide open. On 2D test patterns, this produced over 22 ft-L on my 92-inch-wide screen before accounting for the loss of brightness due to the glasses. While calibration for 3D would no doubt knock things up a notch, the image in these settings was excellent, and even the color wasn’t distracting. To not put too fine a point on it, 3D looks simply amazing on this first-generation projector. Yes, the 3D image is dim, nearly as dim as theatrical 3D. But unlike the commercial cinema, my home theater room is pitch black, without a lighted exit sign to rob the image of punch. The DLA-X7 looked so sharp and detailed, and its 3D effects are so convincing, that it blows away what you’ll see from most commercial Digital Cinema 3D. It’s bested only by dual-projector IMAX digital 3D, and even there only in terms of brightness and absolute scale.
Stacey Spears of Spears & Munsil High-Definition Benchmark fame came over early in the test period with some 3D test patterns on a hard-drive device, including some crosstalk tests that he and Munsil are developing. According to Stacey’s tests, the DLA-X7’s crosstalk performance was comparable to a Panasonic 3D plasma he has in his lab, which is very good. On the same tests, the DLA-X7 tested better than the DLA-X3. Early in the review period, the DLA-X7 didn’t show ghosting artifacts with Universal’s Despicable Me on Blu-ray 3D, which were very visible on the DLA-X3. However, as I was writing the review much later, with over 150 hours on the projector, some ghosting was evident on Despicable Me and a few other Blu-ray titles I’d watched previously without seeing artifacts. I can’t explain that, but I have witnesses in both cases, so it’s not just me. The overall 3D performance is still excellent, but I will be watching this oddity over time and will post a follow-up if more changes become visible.
The Blu-ray 3D reviews I’ve written in recent issues were all based on viewing with the DLAX7, so you can take those reviews as additional commentary on this projector’s 3D performance. Just as I was wrapping this review, Disney’s Tangled arrived on Bluray 3D for review, and I have to say I was floored. The animated characters looked more vivid and occupied the space on the screen more convincingly in all directions. The entire viewing experience was improved by being in 3D, subtly perhaps, but undoubtedly effectively. Compared to the soft, unfocused 3D presentation I saw theatrically, this was like seeing a whole new movie. 3D might not improve every title, and some of the films converted to 3D in postproduction are poor and unconvincing, or just underwhelming in general. But transfers like this are why I need to have 3D at home as a movie enthusiast. It made an already terrific movie presentation just a little better, and certainly better than it was in the movie theater.
The Tough Comparison
Kris Deering and I live close to each other and spend a lot of time together looking at and listening to gear we both review. So it was natural that Kris and I would directly compare JVC’s DLA-X7 and DLA-X3. We had both projectors in his room, on his 120-inch-diagonal Stewart StudioTek 130 screen after we’d calibrated both projectors to the nines. We matched the light output of both projectors using our reference Minolta LS-100 light meter and went to it. We made our comparisons before Kris added the Lumagen video processor to his system that he references in his review. While the DLA-X7 measured higher in contrast, we saw no difference in black floor or contrast with real pictures. I couldn’t pick between the two projectors in terms of detail or any other important picture parameter beyond color. The DLA-X3 doesn’t include a color management system. While its out-of-box color is very good and pleasing to the eye (more so than JVC’s older pre-CMS projectors), the calibrated DLA-X7 clearly takes a lead there. However, thanks to its superior outof-box gamma, it’s easier to get a superlative picture from the DLA-X3. When we switched to 3D, the DLA-X7 again pulled ahead with less ghosting, but the DLA-X3 isn’t a criminal offender there by any stretch. I think all of this says more about the DLA-X3’s insane value proposition than it does about the DLA-X7. But I have to acknowledge that a user who won’t go the full calibration route will get an outstanding picture a lot easier with the DLA-X3—and have a lot of money left over to upgrade other areas of his system.
The JVC DLA-X7 projector eventually became more than I’d hoped for, even if it was harder to get all the way there than I’d expected. I’m being very nitpicky to the point of curmudgeonly, but I blame JVC for that. I’ve lived with their previous projectors for the last three years, and they’ve set my bar high. Indeed, the only caveat in my otherwise enthusiastic recommendation of the DLAX7 is the less expensive DLA-X3’s cost-to-performance ratio. I’ll leave that part to you and your checkbook, but note that the DLA-X7’s color tweakability and 3D improvements sold me. I bought the DLA-X7 as my new reference projector. My money’s where my mouth is, and that, dear reader, is the highest recommendation I or anyone else can offer.