On Wednesday (October 5th) we got the chance to have our first truly in-depth hands on with the first of these supposedly 4k2k displays: JVC’s new DLA-X70 projector. And during our afternoon spent at JVC’s north London UK HQ, we found out three crucial facts. First, that there are basically different ‘levels’ of 4k2k. Second, that everything we thought we knew about the X70’s 4k2k system before we got to JVC’s demo room was more or less rubbish. And finally, that while it might not deliver a 4k2k experience in quite the way we expected, the X70 is still looking set to be one heck of a projector.
Starting at the beginning, arriving at an eerily deserted JVC HQ (a grim reminder of just how hard the brand has been hit in the UK in recent years) we were first led into a presentation room for an introduction on how JVC’s new projectors – there are X30 and X90 models as well as the X70 we’ve already mentioned – improve on last year’s already very impressive X3, X7 and X9 models.
And it was early on in this presentation that we finally got a handle on what JVC’s somewhat confusing take on ‘4k2k’ actually entails.
Prior to this presentation, we – and seemingly every other journalist we’d spoken to following JVC’s announcement of its new projectors at the CEDIA Expo in America – believed that some sort of upscaling processing was being employed by JVC’s new projectors to convert normal HD sources into 3840×2160 (4k2k) resolution images. Even though the D-ILA chips inside the projector remain resolutely 1920×1080 in resolution.
In reality, the ‘4k2k’ system on the X70 – and the step up X90 – has precisely zero to do with upscaling. And as a result is actually much more promising.
Using a technology called ‘e-Shift’ that JVC has developed in conjunction with the research arm of Japanese broadcaster NHK, what really happens is that a little computer-controlled device between the main optical array and the lens produces a slightly offset copy of an HD source image that’s positioned half a pixel upwards and to the right of the original. Combining these two images effectively doubles the pixel count of the picture that emerges through the lens, with the only bit of processing required being some low-level stuff aimed at removing any jaggedness that might appear in edges as a result of the diagonal shift of the second image.
The reality of how the e-Shift system works explains why the final resolution of the images on the screen is 3840×2160 rather than the 4096×2160 resolution employed by ‘true’ 4k2k devices like Panasonic’s 152in plasma TV and Sony’s upcoming VW1000ES projector.
The e-Shift approach also explains why JVC’s X70 and X90 projectors (the X30 doesn’t have e-Shift) cost £7k and £10k respectively, whereas Sony’s VW1000Es is likely to be nearer the £25k mark. For while e-Shift has some fascinating potential for increasing the pixel density of the projected image, it doesn’t produce a true 4k2k image in the sense that every single pixel contains genuinely individual image data. The e-Shift resolution is more a ‘multiplication’ of the original 1920×1080 pixels in the source.
If you’re still struggling to understand the difference, then maybe it will help you to know that neither the X70 nor X90 projectors can actually take a native 4k2k signal (unlike Sony’s VW1000ES). This proves that e-Shift is not concerned with showing full 4k2k-resolution video masters in all their ultra high definition glory, but with creating 4k2k levels of pixel density from current HD video without adding any new picture data.
Another thing you need to know about the e-Shift 4k2k system is that it doesn’t work with 3D sources, but can work with standard definition sources – though only after they’ve been upscaled to full HD.
Moving on to other areas where JVC has improved things with its new trio of projectors, arguably the most important new feature addition is a 2D to 3D converter. This is available on all three of the new models and uses technology JVC has been working on for years now in its ‘professional’ department.
There are also new 3D options allowing you to adjust the depth of the 3D image, and an intriguing ‘crosstalk canceller’ that can hopefully dispense with the double ghosting problems associated with active 3D displays.
JVC is also introducing some new, considerably lighter 3D glasses to accompany its latest projectors, though these weren’t available for our ‘hands on’.
Ever mindful of the needs of the custom installation market with its top end projectors, JVC has added a new ‘convergence’ system on the X70 and X90. This divides the screen into sectors that allow an installer to fine tune locally the relative ‘position’ of the RGB colour elements, to make sure there’s no colour leakage anywhere in the image.
JVC has taken a leaf out of Panasonic’s book, too, by introducing to all three new projectors a lens memory, so that you can establish separate ‘in-projector’ settings to suit the projection of 1.85:1 and 2.35:1-ratio films. What’s more, unlike the lens memory on Panasonic’s AT5000, JVC’s version works with 3D as well as 2D.
The X90 model, meanwhile, allows you to calibrate its colour profile via a PC, the projector’s RJ45 jack, and some proprietary software that will be available for download by the time the projectors go on sale.
Other more minor improvements include claimed native contrast ratios of 80,000:1 and 120,000:1 for the X70 and X90 versus 70,000:1 and 100,000:1 for the X7 and X9 (the X30 sticks with the X3’s 50,000:1 figure), a cluster of extra calibration controls, and a couple of extra user-definable picture preset slots.
Moving finally into JVC’s enviable demo room, we were given plenty of time with pre-production samples of the X30 as well as the X70. And it’s fair to say that if the final production models are as good as these demo units, JVC looks set to have yet another critically acclaimed year.
The X70 is particularly interesting as it gives us our first glimpse of the e-Shift technology in action. And we have to say that its effect is surprisingly impressive – once you accept the fact that it isn’t producing a ‘true’ 4k2k picture in the normal sense of the term.
What e-Shift appears to do is make pictures look more solid and densely detailed – an effect that might sound subtle on paper, but actually makes images look surprisingly more ‘cinematic’; as if they’re coming from an analogue source like celluloid rather than a digital, pixel-based medium.
Another way of putting this would be to say that the e-Shift picture feels like D-ILA managing to reproduce the sort of analogue-like image ‘finish’ you see with good quality DLP projectors. All of which counts as a good thing, in our book.
The X70 also reminds us in no uncertain terms of the black level prowess of JVC’s D-ILA projectors, reproducing dark scenes like the assault on the tower block in Hong Kong in Dark Knight with a purity of black tone you just don’t see anywhere else at anything like the X70’s price level.
The latest refinements to JVC’s optical engine have allowed it to reduce light ‘spillage’, which leads to the X70s pictures looking noticeably brighter, more rich in shadow detail and more dynamic than those of the X7.
Colours also look more punchy yet still more natural than they did on the X7 too, and detail levels look outstanding. We wouldn’t say that there seems to be more detail on the X70, though; as we’ve hopefully established now, the e-Shift ‘4k2k’ technology as explored in the limited content of a preview scenario seems to work more to create a smooth analogue image finish rather than to add tangible extra image detail.
There appeared to be improvements with the X70’s 3D playback, too, as pictures look slightly brighter and less prone to crosstalk – even without bothering with the crosstalk canceller. The X70’s new 2D to 3D converter also looked startlingly and unexpectedly effective during our preview.
Switching our attentions to the X30, although it only boasts the same claimed brightness and contrast figures as last year’s X3 model, it appeared to us as if its pictures were slightly more dynamic than those of its predecessor. Which is, of course, pretty fine news given how excellent the X3 was for its money.
Furthermore, while the X30 might not have the new feature or performance advances to capture our imagination as much as the X70 and X90 models, it does actually have one new trick up its sleeve that might very well make it the Christmas season’s hottest projector property: its price.
For JVC has confirmed to us that the X30 will cost just £3,000 – a remarkably low price that becomes even more attractive when you learn that it includes both JVC’s external 3D transmitter and two pairs of active shutter glasses.
Needless to say, we’ll be bringing you reviews of all three new projectors when final production models start to come through in November.
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