JVC DLA-X700R 3D D-ILA Projector Page 2
Previous JVC models provided a pretty comprehensive gamma control. Users or calibrators could dial in not only the red, green, and blue balance at any point along the gamma scale but also the overall white level. This year’s model is quite different and not only has some preset modes and values but also simplifies the adjustment options to only two portions of the gamma curve: Dark Level and Bright Level. This results in an S-curve-type adjustment, since you are using only two areas of the range. For this review, I mainly used the THX gamma mode because it’s required as part of the THX preset, but I did need to bump up the Dark Level a few clicks to ensure that I saw black levels down to digital 17. This is similar to bumping up the 5-percent level in older JVC models to ensure that no clipping is being done to the projector’s low black levels.
Back in Black
Every year, JVC improves the on/off contrast performance of their projectors, and once you become accustomed to the black levels and contrast with dark material, it’s hard to settle for anything else. And with this year’s model, JVC has reached a completely new level of performance in this regard. The new Intelligent Aperture dynamic iris takes the projector’s contrast to a place I’ve never seen from any display, short of an OLED flat-panel display or Dolby’s infinite black prototype LED flat panel. The DLA-X700R’s black levels were so dark that in direct comparisons with my reference DLA-X75R from last year, they made the DLA-X75R’s blacks seem more like what I would expect from a comparison with a first-generation DLP projector. What looked like rich black when viewed on its own now looked like medium gray. Our eyes are great optical comparators, so the difference may not prove as massive without a direct comparison, but it was impressive to see just how much difference there was. I almost thought something was wrong with my DLA-X75R—until a check of all my settings confirmed what I was seeing.
This increase in contrast didn’t just benefit the black floor. Low-level torture tests from movies like Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem showed huge benefits in shadow detail and black level in the darker sequences, with no visible signs of iris pumping. I tried a lot of different dark scenes from Sin City, Riddick, and Devil, and all of them came up in spades for contrast performance. But what really set the projector apart from others with dynamic apertures was the utter lack of brightness compression with highlights. The only time I ever saw any type of compression of white levels was with white credits on an all-black background, and usually with just one or two credits on the screen. Otherwise, the iris was nearly imperceptible, with just the subtle shift in full blackouts from black to really black.
In fact, the improved blacks made the darkness of my room as a whole so much darker that little lights I’d never noticed before were suddenly affecting my viewing. The tiny light on the smoke detector by my back door, the small light on the UPS power supply I have behind my rear seats, and even some of the lights inside components became noticeable. And here I thought my bat cave was already a black pit.
Most of the other areas of performance largely looked the same as what I saw from last year’s model, despite the updated internal components. The images still looked extremely sharp both at the screen at pixel level and from my main seating position. The unit I received for review had excellent focus uniformity and no convergence issues. There was some slight chromatic aberration with red, but I couldn’t see its effects once I was about 3 feet from the screen. JVC offers extensive pixel-adjustment options that let you tweak the image’s convergence at both micro and macro levels, but I didn’t need to adjust the stock settings.
Both the 3D emitter and 3D glasses are extras with the DLA-X700R; they cost $100 and $180 each, respectively. Performance in 3D was largely the same as last year’s mode. With my usual torture tests, I still detected slight to noticeable levels of ghosting with 3D images, but it was improved over JVC’s earlier generations of 3D playback. The highlight of the review period was definitely Warner’s Blu-ray 3D release of Gravity. I had seen this movie in 3D a few times at local theaters in both IMAX and Regal Cinema’s RPX formats. The home presentation wasn’t quite as spectacular, due to my screen size in comparison with those monsters, but the 3D was excellent, and I didn’t notice any crosstalk in the film. I was also blown away by the lack of visible dynamic-iris artifacts despite the high-contrast photography. Space movies are among the hardest material for dynamic iris systems, but the JVC cruised through Gravity. Still, if you want a reference-grade 3D display with absolutely no crosstalk, you’d probably be better off looking at DLP models. They are the only projectors I’ve seen with perfect 3D crosstalk performance.
This year’s Clear Motion Drive does appear to be improved. CMD is JVC’s interpolation scheme that creates fake extra frames to smooth and improve detail on motion. It’s what causes the soap-opera look that many despise. The DLA-X700R has a new low mode, which I used with film-based material that had some film grain present. It was actually pretty watchable, but I found really clean material (like films shot with digital cameras) hard to watch. I am quite sensitive to the look of frame interpolation solutions and generally find them unbearable. I was surprised just how different my reaction was when I looked at films shot with different techniques and how much they affected the ultra-smooth look the CMD provided. Even if you’re not a fan of interpolation features, you may want to experiment with how different modes respond to different material.
Red-y for 4K?
I’ve reviewed a few JVCs that incorporate the company’s quasi-4K e-shift functionality and have gone on record saying that it doesn’t seem to improve the picture in my room, based on my screen size and viewing distance. Indeed, early versions actually seemed to soften the image overall. Things were no different with this model, but I wanted to see if anything would change when I viewed true native 4K material.
JVC was nice enough to lend me a Redray player, which is a 4K player designed by Red Digital Cinema to play back material shot with Red’s popular digital cinema cameras. The player was preloaded with an assortment of true 4K clips. While most of the footage looked stunning, it was also the same type of footage we saw when HDTV first came around, with lots of nature and outdoor content and slow-moving pans. I would have loved to see a 1080p version of the same material to directly compare how much improvement the 4K resolution added. Nothing seemed largely better than what I’ve seen from properly mastered 1080p content of the same type.
I also borrowed a Sony 4K video player that dealers use for retail demos of their flat panels. This had similar content (landscapes, buildings, bright colors) but also a couple of clips from the Sony movie library. Here I saw some subtle enhancements in fine object detail compared with the Blu-ray masters of the same films (Total Recall and After Earth), but I wouldn’t call it a massive upgrade. It will be interesting to see just how much 4K really benefits future playback formats. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement in bit depth and color resolution in the Blu-ray format, but I’m skeptical just how much a bump in resolution to 4K will benefit most consumers.
I also had some time to observe the resolution and detail of e-shift3 fed with native 4K content and compare it with that of a true 4K projector, the new $15,000, Sony VPL-VW600ES. I was surprised just how well the JVC held up. The Sony was clearly sharper with the finer details, but most of the content with a lot of motion looked very similar. The most impressive advantages of the Sony showed through with any fine text and tiny details within an image. A lot of viewers would likely be hard-pressed to see major (or even minor) differences, but if the content had extremely fine detail (like text), the edge was clearly in favor of the Sony. Overall, conducting these tests was a lot of fun, but because the 4K content standards are still being written, it’s not possible to tell how well either of these projectors will live up to those requirements.
To Infinity and Beyond
JVC has absolutely raised the bar on contrast with the DLA-X700R. I can’t even begin to preach the benefits this delivers to the black floor and low-light image performance. This is the most noticeable and valuable difference from last year’s lineup. While I’m happy to see native 4K input support introduced, it really isn’t much of a selling point in today’s market. On the other hand, if you’re looking to get the absolute best out of the content on the market now, it would be tough to find a better image anywhere near this price point. Highly recommended!