We Three Projectors: Sony VPL-50WES, Epson 5020e, JVC-DLA-X35 Page 4

JVC DLA-X35 3D D-ILA Projector ($3,499)

One of the best-looking displays you can buy.
+ Unmatched contrast ratio
– Some 3D crosstalk artifacts
– You don’t own one

Key Features

+ 3-chip D-ILA (LCOS)
+ Optional PK-AG3 eyewear ($179) and PK-EM2 RF sync emitter ($99)
+ Inputs: (2) HDMI, component, 12v trigger, RS-232
+ Dimensions + Weight: 17.88 x 7 x 18.5 in; 32.63 lb

There are few products I look forward to reviewing more than JVC projectors. You can scream “bias!” all you want, but they consistently produce some of the best images I’ll see all year. Like the other projectors here, the DLAX35 improves on the strengths of last year’s model. But in this case, the chief strength is the most important overall aspect of picture quality: contrast ratio.

While the Epson and Sony have decent contrast — in both cases augmented by a motorized auto-iris — the JVC’s native contrast ratio blows them away. For that matter, it blows everything away. Panasonic’s VT50 Series plasma (a 2012 S+V Video Product of the Year winner) is one of the best flat-panel TVs I’ve ever reviewed. The JVC’s contrast ratio is more than double that of the Panasonic. The only tech that has a chance of beating the JVC in this regard is OLED, and at $10,000-ish for a 55-inch screen, it’s in a whole other world.

What black magic JVC employs to get such excellent black levels, I don’t know. But to spice up the mix this year, it boosted the projector’s light output. Last year, I reviewed JVC’s more expensive DLA-X90R but also got my hands on the X35’s direct predecessor, the DLA-X30. Comparing apples to slightly older apples, the DLA-X35 is about 20% brighter than the X30, while its black level measured the same. Impressive.

Setup

Unlike the Sony and Epson, the JVC features fully motorized lens shift, zoom, and focus. This makes setup faster, easier, and more precise as you can do it standing close to the screen. The remote and menus are identical to last year’s model. The menus don’t quite offer the depth of image adjustments that the Sony or Epson do, but the only notable missing feature is a color management system, which the others have. This isn’t a huge loss, as the JVC’s color points are pretty spot on: closer than the Epson in Dynamic mode, though not as good as in its THX mode (or the Sony, period).

One of the JVC’s coolest features is Lens Memory. If, like me, you have an ultrawide 2.35:1 aspect ratio screen, this lets you set a “zoomed-out” mode, where the 2.35:1 image fills the entire screen, and a “zoomed in” mode for 16x9 content, where the image appears just in the center. Depending on what you are watching, you select the appropriate memory, and the projector will correspondingly resize the image. And the JVC’s black level is so good that when a 2.35:1 movie is zoomed to fill your 2.35:1 screen, the overspill black bars (now projected above and below the actual screen area) are dark enough to be pretty much unnoticeable.

Performance

Picture quality really is all about contrast ratio. I measured an average native contrast ratio of 35,875:1 on the JVC — one of the highest I’ve ever measured on any display type. It’s 10 times that of many of the better LCD TVs, 2.5 times the best new plasmas, and 5 or 6 times most other plasmas and other projectors. What this means is that bright parts of an image appear legitimately bright, and dark parts of that same image look really dark. The resulting image is simply gorgeous, with a naturalness and depth that you just don’t get from projectors with auto-irises or local-dimming LCD flat-panels.

The raw numbers tell quite a story. The DLA-X35 has an incredibly low black level, a barely perceivable, deep, inky black of 0.0009 footlamberts. But at the same time, it’s capable of nearly 30 ftL of total light output. Other digital displays have difficulty creating this difference between dark and light.

In the fight scene in Brave with King Fergus and Merida (Chapter 32), the torches burned bright, while the dark background was legitimately dark. Compared with the Epson and Sony, Fergus’s fur cloak seemed to have more depth to it on the JVC. Even better, the letterbox bars weren’t noticeable. On most other displays, projection or flat-panel, these would appear as dark gray.

The JVC’s motion resolution measured around 700 lines per picture height, a little better than the Sony. But it doesn’t have the Sony’s Film Projection mode, which is a little better with motion than the stock JVC settings. Using the JVC’s Clear Motion Drive, you can get about the same motion resolution as the Sony does with its MotionFlow processing, though both, of course, add motion interpolation. With regular video, all three projectors looked about the same when it came to motion resolution. Still images, or images with limited motion, tend to look more detailed.

As I have to keep watching Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I find it more and more ridiculous. I mean, come on, there’s no such thing as an “Abraham Lincoln.” To watch 3D, you’ll need JVC’s rechargeable PK-AG3 eyewear ($179), which are incredibly lightweight and comfortable, some of the best active 3D glasses I’ve been forced to put on. You’ll also need the PK-EM2 RF sync emitter ($99). Neither is included.

I didn’t have to look any further than the opening shot of AL:VH, a pan around the Washington Monument, to see crosstalk. It was worse here than on either the Epson or Sony, and the JVC’s Crosstalk Cancel control didn’t really help. However, the 3D glasses didn’t reduce brightness that much, so the image wasn’t as dim as it had been on previous JVCs. The 3D effect was similar to the Sony, if perhaps a bit milder. All in all, I’d say that while the JVC’s overall 3D image isn’t the best I’ve seen, the lightweight glasses and impressive brightness/contrast made it one of the better 3D experiences I’ve had with a projector.

The JVC got lost at first in the Triple Tower of Terror. Flipping between the Epson (in Dynamic mode) and the JVC gave the impression that the JVC was dim. (Though, to be fair, daylight seems dim compared with the Epson.) At nearly 30 ftL, the DLA-X35 would have been shockingly bright just a few years ago, and now it’s not. But the more I looked at it, the more impressed I was with the JVC’s image due to its deep blacks and amazing contrast.

I hesitate to declare a winner in this roundup, as that would imply that there are two losers, and that just isn’t the case. All three of these projectors put $10,000-plus projectors from 2 or 3 years ago to shame. I know this sounds like a cop-out, but any one of them would be a fantastic purchase. I love how bright the Epson is, and am tantalized by the prospect of what you’d be able to do with that much light. The Sony is a solid A- student: effortlessly competent, a jack of all trades but master of none.

I’ll say this: With all three sitting in a stack, ready to go, which one did I turn on just to watch? The JVC DLA-X35.

Bottom Line

JVC consistently does native contrast ratio better than any other manufacturer. And its DLA-X35 improves on the model that preceded it by maintaining the same excellent black level, but with a brightness increase of around 20%. This improvement means that JVC’s new $3,500 projector has a better contrast ratio than last year’s $12,000 model — as well as pretty much every other display out there. Sure, the Epson dazzles with its incredible light output, but once (if?) you get past that, the JVC’s image is actually better. It was the only one in this group that on several occasions projected an image so gorgeous it actually made me say, “Wow.”

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