JVC DLA-HD1 1920x1080 Home Theater Projector

In the past few months we've seen a revolution in the video projection business. A revolution no one expected. The prices of home theater front projectors have been dropping nearly as fast as flat panel displays.

Since the September 2006 CEDIA Expo we've seen the introduction of at least six 1080p projectors priced at or below $6,500. We've already reviewed three of them (the Sony VPL-VW50"Pearl,", the Optoma HD81, and the Mitsubishi HC5000. A fourth, the JVC DLA-HD1, was the subject of a Short Take a few weeks back. While the JVC is the most expensive of all of these models, in many respects it's also the most exciting. This is the full review.

At $6,300 (a replacement lamp is priced at $399), the DLA-HD1 is one of two new projectors from JVC. The other is the RS1. According to the company, they differ in only two ways. The RS1 is sold through JVC's professional channels, and the HD1 is sold through consumer outlets. In addition, the HD1 is black and silver (see photo) and the RD1 is all black. But with respect to features, performance, and price, the projectors are identical.

Technology and Features
LCoS, or Liquid Crystal on Silicon, is a variation of LCD technology. Sony uses a variant of LCoS that it calls SXRD, while JVC uses the moniker D-ILA for its LCoS designs. Most LCD devices are transmissive. That is, the light passes through the imaging chips and emerges from the other side, modified as required by the image to be displayed. This has advantages—LCD can be used in either flat panel displays with a backlight or in front or rear projection applications using a miniaturized imaging chip and a lamp as a light source. But LCD also has disadvantages. A major downside is increased spacing between the pixels, a requirement to accommodate the near-microscopic wiring needed to pass signals to those imaging elements. This spacing can result in the"screen door effect," which at its worst can look exactly as that name implies as the pixel structure becomes visible on screen, though practically speaking this is less of a problem today than it was when panel resolutions were lower.

In an LCoS design the light source passes through a much thinner LCD layer, is reflected, passes back through the LCD layer, and emerges on the same side from which it entered. The circuitry to drive the pixels can therefore be located behind them rather than between them, so the spacing between pixels can be much smaller. This narrow pixel spacing results in a high"fill factor" in an LCoS display—that is, more of what you see on-screen is actual picture information rather than dead space between the pixels. One disadvantage to LCoS is that it is suitable only for projection applications, not for flat panels.

Until recently, LCoS was behind DLP in some aspects of its performance and in price. DLP has made huge gains in recent years in improved black levels and increased contrast ratios. And DLP projectors are now available at prices more videophiles can afford than ever before. LCoS was, by reputation, plagued by both low yields and mediocre contrast, which resulted in high prices and grayish blacks.

Sony broke those roadblocks with enhanced yields on its SXRD chips, gaining economies of scale by using the chips in a range of products priced for a wide market. Sony also engineered the most effective dynamic irises in the industry, dramatically lowering black levels.

JVC, however, has been in the business of producing LCoS video displays longer than anyone, and has clearly now been able to lower costs and increase yields as well. For these new projectors, JVC has designed both a brand new D-ILA chip and an improved light engine. The new 0.7-inch, 1920x1080 D-ILA chip employed here is spec'd for a chip-level contrast ratio of 20,000:1. This is made possible by a major reduction in the crossover of stray light between the pixels. The projector overall, including the chips, light engine, and optics, is specified to have a native contrast ratio of 15,000:1.

At present JVC is using this new D-ILA chip and optical engine only in these two new front projectors. The new components are not yet employed in any of the company's more expensive projectors or in the highly tweaked versions of those projectors that are available from Meridian/Faroudja. But I would not be surprised to see one or both new developments turn up in future JVC products.

The improved black level in these new projectors has come exclusively from the new chip and light engine. They have no iris of any kind, fixed or dynamic. The only control over light output, apart from the Contrast control, is a two-position brightness adjustment for the 200W UHP mercury lamp. The High position of the lamp is about 20% brighter than the Normal position.

Zoom and focus are manual, as are both horizontal and vertical lens shift. The lens has a fairly long throw; for a 100" diagonal image (87" wide 16:9 screen) the projector may be set up anywhere between 9.9- and 19.9-feet.

The DLA-HD1 provides one input each for component, composite, and S-Video, plus two HDMI 1.2 ports. There is also an RS-232 (9-pin D-sub) terminal.

Operating controls are located on the top of the case, but every control you'll need is also available on JVC's well-designed remote. The remote offers direct input selection and direct access to a number of frequently used functions, including Brightness, Contrast, Color, Sharpness, and six different Image Profiles: Cinema, Natural, Dynamic, and User 1,2, and 3. While the video adjustments are global across all inputs (you can't set in different values for different inputs) you can set up different profiles that cover a wide range of video adjusments and use these for different inputs. In addition to the option to configure each of the three User settings, you can also alter the factory settings for the Cinema, Natural, and Dynamic profiles as well.

There are five Color Temp. selections: Low, Middle, High, User 1, and User 2. Both User settings provide separately adjustable overall Red, Green, and Blue adjustments, but do not offer control for the top and bottom of the brightness range.

The same color temperature control limitations apply to the code-locked Service menu, so there is no particular advantage for a calibration technician to go there unless you want to recalibrate the Low, Middle, and High factory default settings. The latter do not offer user accessible Red, Green and Blue controls. But a separate set of Red, Green, and Blue controls in the user menu, called"Offset," allow you to tweak the five Color Temp. options.

But the Offsets are global—you can't set them separately for each of the Color Temp. choices. My recommendation for those who choose to calibrate the projector (which I recommend) is to first make certain that the Offsets are set to zero, then perform the calibration using one or both of the User settings. For security against someone changing the calibrated settings, write them down. After that, leave the Offsets alone unless you find a program with obviously whacked-out color, such as too-green flesh tones. In that case, use the Offsets for very fine adjustments, carefully returning them to zero for better-produced programming.

The projector does not offer a manual selection (or an auto switchover, as far as we can determine) between the NTSC color space (REC601) and ATSC color space (REC709 for DTV/HDTV). Since the specifications do not mention the ATSC color system at all, and our test tools cannot check for this, I have to assume that the projector uses NTSC color (REC601) for all sources. This will result in inaccurate color for some sources, but the color never looked clearly"wrong" on any of the many sources I watched.

All LCoS projectors are three-chippers—one each for red, green, and blue. If the chips are not aligned precisely, you'll see misconvergence that can affect the sharpness of the image. The JVC has adjustments to converge the red, green, and blue chips, with up to seven pixels of movement in single pixel steps in both the horizontal and vertical directions.

This is a the first time I've seen this feature in a three-chip projector, and they should all have it. The convergence had been set reasonably well at the factory, though I added a single additional step to the vertical blue channel. This put nearly everything within one-half pixel or less of proper alignment. Unfortunately, vertical lines at the far right side of the image were off by up to one pixel, primarily in red. This was rarely noticeable from a normal viewing distance, and then only as a slight red edge to very high contrast objects on that side, such as white titles on a black background. A difference in pixel convergence in different parts of the screen is generally due to chromatic aberration in the lens or something else in the optical path, not panel misalignment, which would be uniform across the entire screen.

A Mask control, available only for 720p and 1080i/p sources, masks off the image on all sides by either 2.5% or 5%. This control can be useful when there's garbage on the screen at one or more edges. Artifacts at the edge of the screen are now fairly rare. But on a display with little to no overscan, like the JVC (see"Measurements"), they can be distracting when they do occur. Some displays offer"overscan" controls that reduce image resolution. The JVC's Mask control, however, crops pixels from all sides of the image without upscaling it to fill the screen. So you get a slightly smaller image (unless you manually zoom the image to fill the screen again), but the resolution is not degraded.