Face-Off: Sony VPL-VW285ES vs. JVC DLA-X790R

Since the Sony VPL-VW285ES I recently reviewed was still on hand while I was reviewing the JVC DLA-X790R, a brief comparison was impossible to resist. At just $5,000, the VPL-VW285ES is the least expensive native 4K projector Sony has yet released. But it does sacrifice some feature content to achieve its price — notably any sort of mechanical iris to improve black levels beyond the dynamic contrast enhancement included with this model. For its part, the JVC, at $6,000, costs $1,000 more, while adding a dynamic iris but sacrificing the Sony's native 4K resolution for enhanced 1080p resolution with 4K sources via JVC's e-shift5 technology.

To perform the comparison, I linked the two projectors to my Oppo UDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray player through an AVPro 4K-capable splitter. I had to make a few tweaks to get the two projectors to match as closely as possible, including turning the Sony’s Contrast Enhancer to High for SDR sources (During my review, I had used Low for SDR, Medium or High for HDR). After that, the two looked remarkably similar on HD/SDR material, though not identical. The differences varied a bit from scene to scene. Sometimes, the Sony looked better; other times, the JVC. A contrast-enhancement feature like the Sony’s is typically dynamic in nature and could account for that. The JVC doesn’t have such a control, nor did it appear to need one, though it benefitted from its automatic iris function. In any event, without its Contrast Enhancer, the Sony couldn’t keep pace with the JVC.

Watching Unbroken, I marginally preferred the Sony’s color; it was a little less warm on fleshtones. But the JVC was arguably sharper, if not by much. Yes, the 1080p JVC projector nudged the full native 4K Sony on this disc — with the native 2K source displayed on the JVC with its e-shift5 turned off, and the source upconverted by the Sony to its native 4K imaging chips.)

There was much greater distance between the two in black levels as viewed on fades to full black or in very dark scenes: The JVC was clearly the king, here. In black areas on otherwise bright scenes, though, they edged much closer. There are two possible reasons for this, neither under the direct control of either projector. My room, while fully darkened, isn’t totally black, particularly the ceiling. But probably more significant is this: With a picture that’s partially dark and partially light, the bright areas force your pupils to narrow, thus making them less sensitive to the dark areas. Still, the JVC often looked a little richer than the Sony even on brighter scenes, and while Unbroken isn’t a pristine transfer, I’d have to give the face-off here to the JVC by a nose.

The differences were more difficult to see and describe on the animated Frozen. The depth of the JVC’s blacks rarely showed up directly here, but it still helped enhance the overall image, rendering it slightly richer than the Sony’s. But not by much, and the Sony offered a bit more detail. This was hard to spot initially but was sometimes visible in characters and objects that were distant and small but well focused. Fleshtones also looked a bit smoother than on the JVC. While one might argue that such slickness also made characters’ faces look subtly plastic and artificial (which, of course, they are, being computer generated!), it also made them a shade more dimensional and pleasing. This was more than likely the result of the Sony’s finer pixel structure. Sony wins here, by a different nose.

On Prometheus, I noticed slight but clear differences in color between the two projectors. (I had seen this in Frozen as well, though it was less obvious there.) The JVC was a little cooler, the Sony warmer. But this might have been nothing more than a result of calibration, and I didn’t find the HD/SDR color differences significant. The black levels, however, were. It was impossible not to see that the Sony’s blacks and shadow detail couldn’t keep up with the JVC’s in this film’s many dark, gloomy cave scenes. It was a clear take for the JVC, and not a subtle one.

In my review of the JVC, I mentioned a dark scene in Life of Pi (chapter 21, at 1:23:46) where Pi’s face is obscured, except for his eyes. The Sony did provide more detail in his face here &mdash but in the process, it lightened up the dark image enough to give it a slightly blanched look. The JVC made up for this one odd scene with consistently superior blacks.

Even with the Sony’s HDR Contrast control bumped up to near maximum, it couldn’t match the HDR punch of the JVC. Yes, the JVC could sometimes edge closer to visible clipping, but this was rarely distracting.

And the Winner Is…
Overall, I have to give the nod to the JVC. But the Sony is still a first-rate projector, and it’s a not insignificant $1,000 cheaper. And of course, it's native 4K.

drny's picture

The comparison between SONY 285 and JVC-DLA790 is greatly appreciated.
However, it's the JVC 590 at $4,000 that is the real competitor to the SONY.
The market (we buyers) is eager for high quality 4k with great contrast and HDR punch.
EPSON threw down the gauntlet with the UB5040 now at $2,500, now JVC and Sony have picked it up.
I've auditioned the Sony 285 and its not worth double the price of my EPSON 5040.
At $4,000 the JVC 590 is extremely enticing.
Now if the JVC 790 was a laser projector, it would be a new ball game at $6,000.

scottsol's picture

So a $4000 set is a direct competitor to a $5000 set but a $5000 unit is not a direct competitor to a $6000 one? The comparison may not be the ideal one for your concerns, but it is certainly at least as valid.

Rob Sabin's picture
...and hope to review that soon. However, as noted in the DLA-X790 review, the X590 is a considerable step down in terms of specified contrast ratio, from 130,000:1 to 40,000:1. Those measurements aren't meaningful except for direct comparison among JVC's own models, but in that context these numbers really tell you something. Although the $1,000 price differential between the Sony and the X790 is not inconsiderable, and we'd hope that the X590 represents great value, I found the match-up of an essentially high-end pixel-shifter against a somewhat stripped-down native 4K model quite intriguing. The question you have to ask yourself is: what's really important for image quality these days, especially given the preponderance of HDR content, and where should you put your money? In the old days of 1080p before 4K, we'd always say you should buy the cheapest projector you can that delivers the deepest blacks and best contrast, assuming that the lens is also of sufficiently high quality to deliver a suitably crisp image. Here we are in the age of 4K, and if you ask that question again I think you find that the answer is still the same. Once you get past the critical need to be able to accept 4K content and take advantage of its HDR and wide color gamut benefits, I think great blacks and better punch trumps the gain in resolution that comes with 4K, at least with screens of 100-inches or less diagonal, or maybe even 120-inches or less. Now...if we're talking about a state-of-the-art laser-driven projector like Sony's $25,000 VPL-VW885ES, which we also have under evaluation presently, it ought to be able to deliver both the blacks AND the native 4K resolution. But I guess we'll see, won't we?

drny's picture

Thanks Rob for your clarification on the comparison of these two models.
My comments on the JVC 590 were based on my assumption that price usually is the most important factor on the final purchasing decision.
Please continue to educate us.
I appreciate that S&V reviews products that most of us can actually afford.
I know that you also have to account for the ultra wealthy 2%.
But I suspect that most of them simply hire a pro custom designer/installer,and follow their suggestions.
I welcome the review of the Sony 885ES, even though at $25,000 I will never be able to afford it (That is unless I want to view it reflected on a cement pillar beneath some bridge, as the other homeless accompany me).
4K Laser projectors are the OLED TVs of 2015. That is to say highly desirable, but priced out of most of the buying public.
Let' hope that within five years we get a high quality Home Theater laser projector for $5,000.
The current short throw Laser projectors (Dell, Epson, Sony) are a good indicator that the technology might find its way to serious dedicated Home Theater projectors.

skiman's picture

Did you use Ultra Blu ray discs? Assuming so, until the video transfer is done using 4K process, any possible advantage that a 'true' 4K projector should have won't be as apparent, don't you think? Also, what screen and throw distance were used?