[AUTHOR'S NOTE: Since the mostly unhappy IFA experience described below I've had the opportunity to spend time with a pre-production X5000 in my own test room that produced a much more satisfying experience. So hopefully the X5000 will continue to improve ahead of a full review in October/November.]
It’s been quiet for way too long in JVC’s projector division. The brand hasn’t shown us any new models using its once class-leading D-ILA technology since the start of 2014, sailing past its customary end-of-year announcement slot last year and getting close to ignoring 2015 too.
But then, out of the blue, a couple of days before IFA, I got a message inviting me to take a look at some new JVC projectors at the brand’s IFA booth. With memories of the glories of past JVC projectors suddenly flooding back, I took JVC up on its invite as soon as I decently could.
It turned out after being ushered into JVC’s blacked out IFA booth that our demo was actually going to be restricted to just one of JVC’s three new models: the DLA-X5000B/W. The mid-range X7000B/W and flagship X9000B/W weren’t deemed quite ready to show off yet – and the X5000 I was shown is still very much a preproduction sample. Worryingly, all three projectors are supposed to be launching in November!
I didn’t actually mind that the X5000B/W was the model I got to see. After all, its relatively affordable £4,000 price tag makes it likely to be the range’s most popular model. The X7000B/W and X9000B/W models will cost £5,700 and £8,500 respectively.
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Aesthetically the X5000B/W doesn’t appear to have changed from JVC’s previous X500 model. You still get the same attractive glossy finish – in a choice of white or black – plus the same well-built and reasonably compact bodywork, and the same venting systems down each of the projector’s sides.
The X5000B/W’s connections don’t initially look significantly different to those of the X500 either. However, the X5000B/W’s HDMIs are hiding a key step forward, in the shape of full HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 compatibility. This means that as well as being able to accept 4K, the X5000B/W can take in high dynamic range (HDR) feeds.
Even better, the X5000B/W’s HDMIs are specified to deliver a transfer rate of 18Gbps – enough to support 4K 4:4:4/36-bit colour reproduction at 24 frames per second versus just 4:2:0/10-bit from Sony’s new HDR/4K-capable VW520ES projector.
As I settled down to see how the X5000B/W is shaping up, the news was broken to me that I wouldn’t be able to see any HDR playback, as JVC hadn’t managed to find any HDR content. As well as being disappointing, this announcement immediately made us feel a bit worried about how ‘on the pulse’ JVC is now, given that HDR was arguably the biggest AV message from the IFA show. Sony had not only sourced HDR content for its VW520ES demo, but also built almost all of its demonstration around it.
The content we could watch comprised some classic stock 4K UHD demo material showing pretty locations, close-ups of flowers and the like, plus the Blu-ray of Oblivion so that we could get a feel for the X5000B/W’s 'upscaling' capabilities.
Why did we put upscaling in inverted commas? Because the X5000B/W doesn’t enjoy a native 4K resolution. Instead it uses a technology called e-Shift to deliver a pseudo-4K effect by positioning two 1920x1080 imaging devices sequentially but offset diagonally by half a pixel.
The fact that even the new flagship X9000B/W uses e-Shift tech rather than going for a native 4K resolution really does feel like a disappointment, given that Sony has had an affordable native 4K projector for more than a year now. Ever the technology optimists, we’d convinced ourselves that the reason for JVC’s unusually long absence from the projector scene was that it was polishing up some native 4K D-ILA chipsets. Sadly, we were wrong.
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Unfortunately the X5000B/W’s lack of native 4K chops made its presence known right away during our preview. The native 4K content really didn’t look significantly more detailed or sharp than the HD footage. Where a true 4K projector could reveal individual leaves on trees, for instance, after downscaling the footage to 1920x1080p for feeding through the e-Shift system, the X5000B/W can only manage a slightly fuzzy general green area.
We said when testing JVC’s previous e-Shift projectors that what they did in terms of adding detail then wasn’t as good as a native 4K image, but now the gap between e-Shift 4K and native 4K seems to have grown. This is presumably because Sony has advanced the native 4K cause while JVC appears to have stood still with e-Shift.
There’s also a subtle sense of noise in the X5000B/W’s playback of 4K content that we’re now unused to seeing – and which we’ll become even less willing to tolerate once Ultra HD Blu-ray finally rolls into town. Colours also lack that sense of definition and tonal subtlety that’s now recognised as a key part of a great 4K image.
As for the upscaled Oblivion footage, here again noise was an issue, as we could see fizzing interference over areas of very fine detail like the debris around the crater Cruise lands his ship in near the film’s start. And again the level of detail and sharpness visible on the X5000B/W was no match for the sharpness of upscaled HD pictures as shown on a genuine native 4K display.
We additionally spotted a couple of noticeable vertical motion ghosting errors in Oblivion – one of which even persisted once the projector’s motion processing was turned off, suggesting that it may be an artefact of the e-Shift system.
As if all this wasn’t disappointing enough, the X5000B/W’s contrast performance didn’t look to be as strong as that of previous JVC models. Really dark parts of the image seemed quite a bit greyer than expected. In fairness this may have been down to JVC using an over-reflective screen or the fact that despite being blacked out, its demo room reflected quite a bit of light off its side walls. However, a glance at the X5000B/W’s specifications reveals that its claimed contrast ratio is considerably lower than that of its predecessor.
JVC hasn’t completely lost its touch, though. Colours are bold, brightness is high but also extremely stable, and even in its reduced form the X5000B/W’s contrast is impressive for a sub-£4k projector.
We should also remember that this was a pre-production model, and that it will likely cost at least £1500 less than the native 4K Sony VW320ES, and potentially £4,000 less than Sony’s HDR-capable, native 4K VW520ES model. So arguably it isn’t fair to compare the X5000B/W with Sony’s new models.
The low price tag couldn't entirely make up for our disappointment about what we’d witnessed in JVC’s IFA demo booth. If what we saw really was representative of where the X5000B/W and its new siblings are at, and JVC isn’t able to improve things between now and November, Sony may be able to put clear air between its new projectors and those of its arch rival.