Review Price to be confirmed
JVC DLA-X700R preview
You might think that if there’s one thing the AV world – especially the
burgeoning 4K AV world – definitely does not need right now, it’s more
confusion. But the confusion hanging in the air during much of JVC’s
introduction to its 2013 ‘4K’ projector range was thick enough to chew on.
In fact, if we had a pound for every time one of the attendees prefaced a question with ‘Forgive me if I’m being a numpty, but…’ then we might actually be able afford one of JVC's new projectors in its entirety.
Why so much confusion among people like ourselves who usually like to think we know what we’re talking about? Because JVC’s three new projectors, the DLA-X500R, DLA-X700R and DLA-X900R, muddy the 4K waters quite spectacularly by being able to take in native 4K source images and render ‘4K’ images courtesy of the brand’s e-Shift 3 4K technology without actually being 4K projectors. Um…
SEE ALSO: What is 4K TV?
The key to understanding the situation is JVC’s e-Shift technology. Now in its third generation with the three new projectors, e-Shift’s great trick is that it introduces 4K levels of pixel density to standard HD sources by passing them through two separate 1,920 x 1,080 imaging chips diagonally offset from each other by half a pixel.
We have absolutely no problems with e-shift as a technology at all; on the contrary, we’ve roundly praised it previously for the positive impact it has on HD material, and from the demos we had this impact seems to have been merely enhanced with JVC’s e-Shift 3 models.
However, e-Shift can currently only work with 1920 x 1080 signals. So even though JVC has enabled the HDMI inputs of all three of its new projectors to receive native 4K sources – even up to 60p in 8-bit, with 4:2:0 colour sampling – these 4K source images have to be converted into 1,920 x 1,080 images before then going through the e-shift 3 process to have their 4K levels of pixel density restored.
If you’re not fully following this, bear in mind that pixel density is not the same as true 4K resolution. In other words, while the new JVC projectors deliver the 4K sense of image density free of visible pixel structure, they don’t deliver pixel for pixel the image information contained in a 4K source.
In fact, so far as we can tell from our questioning, JVC isn’t even claiming any really significant picture benefit from using a 4K source versus a 1080p one; rather the support for 4K inputs in the new projectors seems to be there as a futureproof device, enabling the projectors to play future types of 4K content when they arrive.
Extremely confusing though all this is, we can just about understand JVC’s thought processes; after all, it's been claiming a type of 4K content delivery with e-Shift for two years now, and so it presumably thought it would seem logical to consumers to think that a projector capable of outputting a 4K image would also take in 4K at the input stage.
The real problem for JVC’s position with its new projectors is the imminent launch of the Sony VPL-VW500ES: a projector that offers true native 4K playback for a price of just £8,800. That puts it smack bang in between the £7,300 price of the X700R we're going to focus on in a minute and the £10,300 price of the X900R, undeniably making JVC’s ‘4K’ message look unnecessarily confusing and, as such, a much tougher sell.
We have to say, moreover, that during the demonstrations JVC put on of its X700R and X900R at the press event, the JVC models did not seem to deliver the native 4K content on offer (a Japanese temple show-reel shot by JVC, and a pleasingly varied extended showreel of content shot by RED cameras and delivered via the REDRAY Digital Cinema player) with nearly the same level of sharpness and textural precision we’ve witnessed coming from the Sony VW500ES.
Following all this, you may be surprised to hear that we still can't wait to get all of JVC’s new projectors into our test room following they're November launch.
It seems to be getting all too readily forgotten in the current clamour for more pixels that great picture quality isn’t only about resolution. There are many other attributes that go into outstanding cinematic pictures – not least colour response, motion handling and, perhaps most importantly of all, contrast/black level response. And in all of these areas – particularly the last one – JVC’s new projectors looked almost ridiculously talented during demos of Oblivion and Pacific Rim on Blu-ray.
The combination of JVC’s D-ILA chips with proprietary Optical Wire Grid light path technology has enabled JVC’s projectors to deliver class-leading contrast performance for basically six generations now. And the new trio of models – or at least, the X700R and X900R models demoed to us – show no sign of letting go of this key advantage.
In fact, thanks to the introduction of new intelligent lens aperture technology the X500R, X700R and X900R claim contrast ratios of 600,000:1, 1,200,000:1 and 1,500,000:1 respectively - figures so insanely high that rival brands can only read them and weep.
The hotel demo room being used by JVC for its press introduction was not exactly perfect for getting the very best from the X700R and X900R on account of it having a white ceiling that bounced light reflected from the screen back in to the viewing area, compromising contrast. But despite this we were left mesmerised by the picture quality on offer, particularly from the superbly rendered Oblivion Blu-ray.
It was a joy to see this disc’s naturally high levels of HD detail being reproduced with the added benefit of 4K levels of pixel density. Despite the distinctly sci-fi nature of the demo material, the sense of ‘being there’ with the action was palpable. And throughout the demos, the idea that the sort of quality coming from the X700R could be yours for £7,300 was enough to keep our mouth hanging open in a most unseemly fashion.
While the room conditions prevented us from being able to appreciate the full black level potential of the X700R (and to fully appreciate any difference in contrast terms between it and the X900R), the contrast range of JVC's new projector still looked exceptional and crucially some way beyond the contrast abilities of the Sony VW500ES. Not least because the advances in black level afforded by JVC’s new dynamic iris system are joined by extra brightness achieved by new efficiencies in the X700R's light path process and JVC reducing by a huge 40% the spacing between the pixels of its latest D-ILA chips.
We were hugely impressed by both the richness and naturalism of the colours delivered by the X700R too, despite the demo sample being a pre-production model that hadn't been given a pro-grade calibration. Motion also looked remarkably natural even though JVC assures us it wasn’t using the X700R's Clear Motion Drive processing to reduce judder.
We didn’t get to see how 3D playback is shaping up on the X700R, but the enhanced contrast and brightness of JVC's latest optical system can surely only help.
First ImpressionsLooking back
over what was really quite a rollercoaster of a product launch, our
main thought is that to some extent the new ‘4K’ claims for JVC's
projectors have become – especially following Sony’s announcement of the
VW500ES – a slightly unfortunate distraction from the surprisingly
major improvements JVC has made to its already superb e-shift picture
Yes, we would of course love to see a native 4K projector from JVC at some point – ideally next year – and can perhaps see problems for the X900R model given that it’s more expensive than the Sony VW500ES that's changed the whole 4K projection story. But when it comes to the £5,300 X500R and especially the £7,300 X700R, both look perfectly positioned to deal with the still key job of getting the absolute best from HD sources while we wait what could well be couple of years for native 4K sources to appear in any sort of numbers.