JVC Procision DLA-X70R D-ILA 3D Projector e-Shifting
A signature feature of the DLA-X70R (and its senior sibling, the $12,000 DLA-X90R, along with JVC’s pro-version equivalents for both) is e-Shift—the 4K feature mentioned in the introduction. It was developed in cooperation with the technology division of Japan’s national broadcasting service, NHK.
Unlike a true 4K projector (rare in the consumer space, apart from the new Sony VPL-VW1000, which sells for triple the DLA-X70R’s price), the three imaging chips in the JVC designs have conventional HD (1920 x 1080) resolution. So how does e-Shift produce 4K? The projector’s maximum input resolution is 1920 x 1080, so it will not accept a native 4K source, assuming you could find one worth your interest apart from digital camera stills. Today’s source material, including 1920 x 1080 HD, is first upconverted to 3840 x 2160—four times the pixel count of a 1920 x 1080 source. A second set of complementary 1920 x 1080 pixels is produced using JVC’s upconversion algorithm, creating two 1920 x 1080 subframes that have been processed to meld together. These sets of subpixels are sent sequentially to the 1920 x 1080 imagers and then on to a translucent LCD-based e-Shift device that sits between the imagers and the lens. The first set of subpixels pass through the e-Shift device essentially unaltered (beyond some potential loss of brightness), and appear in their normal position. The remaining set of subpixels are shifted diagonally by a half pixel sideways and down, and displayed in this new location. Thanks to the brief interval between the subframes, the two sets of subpixels blend temporally to form a seamless image, though this requires some time alignment processing to prevent motion artifacts. The shift involves no moving parts; it is strictly an electronic process (thus the term e-Shift) that relies on a characteristic of liquid crystals called birefringence that allows them to bend light. This is unlike the otherwise conceptually similar process once used in 1080p rear projection DLP sets. That system, unofficially dubbed wobulation, employed a mechanically oscillating mirror to shift the location of the image. If you look closely, from right up against the screen, you can see a soft, noise-like fluttering on the JVC’s image that may be due to this very rapid pixel shifting. You can’t see this from any normal seating position.
Oddly, JVC provides no simple facility to turn off e-Shift in the User menus, but it’s off by default in certain settings of Clear Motion Drive (CMD), and with 3D sources. The manual doesn’t state that it’s off in these modes, although JVC did confirm for us earlier that the e-Shift feature doesn’t work with 3D content. Either way, e-Shift is easy enough to detect: When it’s on, you’ll find it next to impossible to see any pixel structure on the screen, even with your nose pressed up against it (although if you move your head from side to side at the right speed, again right at the screen, the pixels will intermittently pop into view). But turn on CMD in either Mode 1 or Mode 2 (the Black Insertion modes), or use the 3D Picture Mode, and the pixels become clearly visible—at least when viewed near the screen. In fact, I initially used CMD Mode 1 to focus the projector; I like to focus on the pixel structure, but that’s hard to do when you can’t see it.
Later, I also discovered a hidden Demo menu, one not part of the normal service menu, that provides a single option to turn e-Shift on or off. Since it has long been our policy not to release the keys to enter code-protected menus, we won’t do so here, but if you look hard enough, you’ll likely find it posted on one or more of the video enthusiast websites.
If you can’t find the code, you can activate either Mode 1 or Mode 2 of Clear Motion Drive for an e-Shiftless picture. These modes don’t produce a significant soap opera, video-like look on movies. CMD Mode 1, despite its black frame insertion, only reduces the projector’s peak brightness by a trivial 2 percent, whereas Mode 2 drops it nearly 31 percent. Both of these modes produce some visible flicker with 24-fps sources, although not with 1080i/30 or 1080p/60. I found the flicker visible only on brightly lit scenes, and then mostly if those scenes have large areas of white, light gray, or a solid color. It’s useful that these options exist, because some of you may have mixed feelings about e-Shift. I did, to a degree.
But first, the good stuff. The pixels are, as noted above, essentially invisible with e-Shift turned on, which is perhaps the primary benefit of 4K projection and a significant advantage when projecting on larger screens being viewed from close viewing distances. With e-Shift on, a Sharpness pattern’s diagonal lines lost most of the stair-step quality visible on most 2K projectors when you’re reasonably close to the screen. Similarly, curved lines, including numbers and letters, were also noticeably smoother. The upconversion to a 4K pixel count does not add detail—no processing can add detail that isn’t there in the first place—but if you are seated close to a very large screen, the elimination of visible pixel structure produces what some would call a smoother, more analog-like image. I won’t argue with that description, and can see why JVC is enthusiastic about the process.
But there are downsides. From close up, the lines on that Sharpness pattern are less detailed and tightly focused with e-Shift engaged. Diagonal and curved lines may look smoother from close up, but horizontal and vertical details appear softened. Moreover, there is visible white line edge enhancement with e-Shift, but not without it. The processing that converts the input source to 3840 x 2160 involves detail enhancement. By the nature of the process, each pixel in the source frame is actually skittering diagonally back and forth at a rapid rate, and the half pixel shift results in significant overlap between the first processed 1920 x 1080 image and the e-Shifted second.
Intuition isn’t always conclusive, but this process would seem destined to slightly blur the image. To overcome this as much as possible, detail enhancement is used. The visibility of the resulting white lines can be minimized, but not eliminated, by turning a control called MPC down to zero. Interestingly, MPC is grayed out and unavailable whenever e-Shift is off, but turning MPC itself down to zero does not turn off e-Shift. The function of the MPC feature is otherwise poorly defined. An addendum to the manual says it “adjust[s] the effect of resolution sense caused by [an] increase in resolution of image display. Please adjust the image noise to your requirement.” Whatever.
From a normal viewing distance, this white line detail enhancement with e-Shift engaged is not obvious. At times, I actually found the e-Shifted image visibly crisper to the image without it, and in a positive way. But at other times, it looked a bit smoothed out, and I preferred to turn off e-Shift. Most often, however, any differences were very hard to spot from my viewing seat, which is about 11.5 feet from the 101-inch-wide Elite screen. That’s 1.37 times the screen’s width, or a viewing angle of about 40 degrees.
For me, therefore, e-Shift was not an indispensable, wow-inducing feature. Your mileage may differ. Whether or not you prefer e-Shift on or off will depend on your own personal situation—how close you sit to the screen, how big is it, how bright, and how sensitive you are to the pixel structure. That’s why I wish JVC would put an e-Shift On/Off control in the User menus. But I doubt you’ll find the difference with it on or off to be a deal-changer. —Thomas J. Norton