JVC DLA-HD950 Video Projector
Published on August 17, 2010
JVC DLA-HD950 Video Projector
SRP: $8000 [$4900 at Amazon]
Features. 1080p 3-chip (.7 inch) 120Hz D-ILA (LCoS) projector with rated 50,000:1 contrast ratio; 900 lumens; 200W UHP lamp with 3000 hour rated lamp time in Normal mode; THX certified; ISF certified; 2x motorized lens with motorized focus, HQV Reon-VX video processor; Color Management System (CMS); accepts 24p material; normal/high lamp mode; 1.38-2.79:1 throw ratio; vertical stretch (for 2.35:1); Lens Shift (80% vertical, 34% horizontal); illuminated remote; Inputs: (2x) HDMI, Component Video, S-Video, Composite, VGA; RS-232 control; 12-Volt trigger; 19dB rated noise level; 14 3/8” W x 6 5/8” H x 18 7/8” D; 24.3 pounds; two-year warranty.
1700 Valley Road
Wayne, New Jersey 07470
Associated Equipment. Oppo BDP-80 Blu-ray Player, Dish Network ViP622 HD DVR, iScan Duo Video Processor, Roku HD Netflix Player, Stewart Filmscreen Visionary 97” 1.78:1 Screen with StudioTek 130 G3 Material, Popcorn Hour A-110 Media Player, Extron Matrix 200 Switcher, Audioquest and Belden Cables; Chromapure Calibration Software, Dell Studio 1537 running Windows XP, DTP-94 Colorimeter, AVS 709 HD and GetGray Test Discs.
Main Setup and Basic InformationThe Basics and Appearance. The JVC projector comes barebones—a manual, remote, power cord and the projector. Physically the unit is longer than some of the competing models, but is sleek. The connections for the power cord and source components are on the side which will make hiding the cables more difficult in some installations. I assume that this was done to facilitate a rear, shelf-mounted installation (where depth could be an issue). It would have been nice to have a side cover so the cables could be routed invisibly to the back for the typical ceiling installation.
Physical Controls and Fan Noise. Controls are located on the top of the projector and are built-in to the surface while the front of the unit offers a motorized lens door that is closed when the unit is not in use. When the projector is turned on the mechanical door is very loud for the 7-8 seconds it takes to open (the same with powering off). This is in contrast to how quiet the unit is in operation. I could not hear it when a movie was playing. With no sound on, air conditioner off and nothing else happening to cause any obtrusive noise, you can hear the faint whirring of a fan making it very quiet, but not as quiet as the Mitsubishi I had previously. The fan vents out to the side and inlets are underneath and on the front.
Turn On and Lens Shift. It took approximately one minute for an image to be displayed from turn on and warm up seems to continue (color stabilizes) even after that. You can visually see light starting to come through from the lens, but the complete blackness may worry some users who might think nothing is happening (assuming they don’t hear the lens door opening). The front lens is horizontally off center, but the unit offers lens shift both to the side and vertically as well. Although the side shift maximum is 34% and the vertical shift is 80%, using either shift diminishes the ability to use the other. (There is a chart on page 21 of the manual.)
Alignment and Geometry. The first thing I did after plugging everything in was to push the LENS button to bring up a grid pattern on the projector and adjust the projector’s four bottom feet to make sure everything was squared up. Next, there are motorized functions for shift, zoom and focus. Adjusting these was a snap—no need to stand on a stool in front of the projector twisting and turning. Pushing the same button cycles through the options while the up, down, left and right buttons made the adjustments. In a matter of minutes I had a properly-sized image up at just the right height and width for my screen–a far cry from the days of the CRT! For those who have a “problem installation” keystone correction is available—I avoid it whenever possible as it will distort the image to one degree or another. Since the JVC is a 3-chip projector, there are separate Red, Green and Blue panels and these may not always be perfectly aligned. There is a Pixel Adjust function that allows you to shift the image one pixel at a time in either the horizontal or vertical direction for each color. My display had a slight red bleed on the bottom, but it was less than a half of pixel, so there was no way to correct for it.
Lamp Power. I left the lamp power in the Normal setting (I had more than enough brightness on my screen) and high altitude mode was set to Off (considering where I am in LA). In the normal mode you can expect (on average) about 3000 hours of usable lamp life. I positioned the on-screen menu to come on in the bottom right position and left other displays (like source) on for the purpose of checking resolutions and scan rates. The projector took almost 10 seconds to display an image when switching refresh rates and during that time the screen was blank. When the image came on it was stable but the length of time seemed unnecessarily long.
Masking, Aspect Ratio, Etc. A nice feature the JVC offers is the ability to mask off the image. This was adjustable in steps from 0%, 2.5% to 5%. Some material may have some blanking information, noise or just black space around the image. This allows the user to zoom the image and then cleanly blank the sides and top and bottom to eliminate this effect. Unlike some projectors this adjustment worked all around equally (so there is no way to just blank the top for instance). Additionally, for SD material, there is an overscan setting if the problem only exists with analog video.
Depending on what type of source you are using (computer, HDMI, analog video) some of the options in the menus are grayed out. There is a vertical stretch mode which would most likely work with an anamorphic lens giving you full (or close to full) panel resolution while allowing for playback on a 2.35:1 shape screen.
Remote. I like the remote that came with the 950. It is back-lit, but I would have liked to have the “light” button on the side rather than among the others—how can you tell which button to push if it is dark? The test button brings up a large grid and offers color bars and gray bars. At the top are the direct source access buttons. The aspect button selects 4:3 or 16:9 and the HIDE mode turns the image off. There are nine direct access picture modes: Cinema 1, 2, 3, Natural, Stage, Dynamic, User 1, 2, and THX. It was nice to be able to switch back and forth between calibrated and non-calibrated modes. At the very bottom there is gamma, color temperature, lens aperture, and picture—the adjustment controls. They are small, but with the remote lit up you can see them well enough. Discrete on/off buttons are at the top.
The projector has a shutdown time of 60 seconds. The manual is very well written and troubleshooting is available from pages 44-47. Computer compatibility signals are listed on page 59.
Fine Adjustments & Calibration
The manual has a summary of the available adjustments (in the Settings Menu) and the range of adjustment on pages 28-29. I’ll forego a description of each and every control although I used most if not all.
I spent a week or so viewing material on the projector before doing any of the adjustments and nothing seemed obviously “bad.” However, my unit came with 200 hours already, so it must have been in the hands of another reviewer who had made previous adjustments to some of the modes. In the manual detailed descriptions of the controls follow the pages after the summary mentioned above. One of the more useful settings as far as adjustment goes is the ability have the menus stay on until they are intentionally turned off. Otherwise, they go out after 15 seconds.
Picture Modes. This is where I began doing the hard work. I always try to find the most accurate mode to eventually start a calibration and to see how accurate the projector is out of the box. It was a little more difficult than usual due to the fact that someone had been there first, but a reset of each of the sections allowed a more accurate evaluation. As I mentioned above there are three Cinema choices, Natural, Stage, Dynamic, THX and the User modes. I just wish the manufacturer would tell the truth about what these settings actually do. The Natural mode is described as “the setting for natural hues and tones.” Don’t we want that in every mode? In terms of color temperature and gamma, the modes measured all over the place. Even though Cinema 1 was characterized as “the setting closest to film” it wasn’t correct either (and varied by more than 1500 degrees across the stimulus range). The THX mode has color temperature and gamma grayed out (so you can’t adjust them) and it measured 6350 average, varied by more than 1400 degrees across the range and had an average gamma of 1.76–hardly very accurate! Anyone who purchases this model should definitely invest in a proper calibration. The difference will be significant. (See the pre-calibration graphs and pictures for a better idea.) I chose the User 1 mode and planned on starting from scratch.
I should mention that I experimented with the lens aperture adjustment (adjustable from -15 to 0), but closing it step by step just made the picture dimmer and did next to nothing to improve black level and shadow detail without the huge cost of brightness, so I left it fully open.
Grayscale and Color Temperature. I set the HDMI input to Enhanced and used test discs to adjust contrast and brightness to start. I skipped the color controls as I planned to use the Color Management System (CMS) in the JVC. The Color Temperature can be set to 5800K, 6500K, 7500K, 9300K, High Bright and three Custom settings. The custom settings are what I used because none of the presets measured at 6500K. Having more than one Custom setting allows for a different setting for black and white material, maybe a setting for computer use or different day/night settings. The Custom settings give you gain and offset adjustments for Red, Green and Blue. With some quick tweaking I was able to get color temperature within +/-200K from 10 to 100% stimulus with a slightly high average of 6554K (using the 6500K setting as the base). The projector ran out of red adjustment at the high end of the scale, but I was told by a calibrator that this is a common deficiency of UHP lamps. I did not notice anything amiss during viewing and although the error rose from 1 to 2 to 2.3 from 80% to 100% it was still low. Contrast measured 1360:1 and light output was 15.889 Lumens fully calibrated.
Gamma. The flexibility for adjusting gamma was excellent. There were five curves available including Normal, but none of them measured that great—they each had kinks or bends at various points altering the output at different intensities. I went right to the custom option. There is a target correction value from 1.8 to 2.6 so I chose 2.2. The curve shows before and after and the adjustment is available at stimulus points from 5% up to 95% numerically. (There is even a pause function to “hold” an image on the screen.) I adjusted the input/output evenly (using the white control), although it is possible to adjust each color individually which I did later to help with some issues with red I was getting at the lower stimulus points especially. Using the Chromapure software it was easy to correct to a 2.22 target. When I only adjusted intermediate points on the curve I got weird color anomalies in the shadow portions of the picture. Smoothing the curve manually easily eliminated these unacceptable artifacts. In the end my average gamma was 2.25 across the range with a slight increase from starting from 70% to 90%. Most of this had to do with my tweaking to eliminate some of the grayscale issues with the individual gamma settings. More time and effort could have improved upon this result.
Advanced. Sharpness and Detail Enhancement are a few of the advanced options. In my experience they do more harm than good—especially with good quality material. I tried them, but ultimately left them off. With non-HD or PC signals there are other noise reduction and color controls that work on image noise, mosquito effect, block noise and color smear. I never used these controls, but they might be useful with older DVDs or satellite/cable feeds that are not in HD.
Clear Motion Drive. Clear Motion Drive is what JVC calls its frame interpolation setting/algorithm. I’ll be happy to go on record to say that these modes (in any product I’ve seen so far) are one of the easiest ways to distort the picture but are being marketed to the consumer as an advantage!! If the manufacturer would just spend more time improving problems they have with motion, then this “feature” would be totally unnecessary. As it stands, there are some people who insist on smoothing out the motion to the point where it looks artificial and is not at all what the director intended. Don’t fall for this ruse! Don’t use these features. Insist on better performance from your display. End tirade.
Color Management System. The CMS system in this projector is what every projector should aspire to. Aside from quickly needing to learn how the controls interacted with one another (saturation, hue, brightness) I was very impressed. I was able to dial in the locations of the primary and secondary colors to be almost perfect and reduce color brightness errors to less than 2% with some approaching zero error! Actual color error appeared to be off by a Delta of only 0.8. Needless to say, the color performance with the JVC was excellent.
Coming from a 1-chip DLP projector to 3-chip LCoS projector was quite an adjustment. I had thought I had acclimatized myself to the issues I have seeing streaks of color (rainbow effect), but it wasn’t till they were completely absent with the JVC that I realized how bothersome and distracting these effects were for me. I’m jealous to all those who don’t have this issue. In any case, my preference decidedly leans towards 3-chip or L.E.D. machines for that reason if I were to make a purchase.
In terms of motion the JVC was an improvement over the Optoma projector I recently reviewed (although I’m told there is a firmware release to combat the 24p issue it had). While watching fast-moving imagery like in The International the difference was night and day. On the 24p motion test from the AVS test disc there was still a bit of stuttering but overall the movement was good. (60 Hz material was very smooth.) The ClearMotion setting was not really a viable option (as mentioned above), so it was good to see that motion was fairly well handled. Issues did occur with vertical movement and horizontal movement that increased from slow to fast, so there is still room for improvement.
A bit of sharpness was one thing that I lost from my transition from the DLP to the JVC. I had noticed a slight lack of “pop” for lack of a better word, but when I saw that there were slight color bleeds on a white grid I figured that this probably had something to do with it. Anyone who has converged a CRT projector knows this from personal experience. Individual pixels (or points on the screen) will be less sharp and distinct and therefore the overall image will lack some depth and clarity. This effect was rather small and what did benefit somewhat from this was the obvious difference while playing standard DVD vs. Blu-ray. What, on the other projector, was an obvious lack of sharpness and detail on DVD was less noticeable on the JVC. This meant, of course, that the best Blu-rays were not as outstanding as they could have been in this area. I believe this will vary from sample to sample so things might be better or worse depending on which color is off and by how much. Perhaps the model above, the 990, with its higher part tolerance might further eliminate this issue. I suppose it is possible that this is related to a lens difference, but as there is no way to compare such a thing I cannot say for sure.
Initially, shadow detail was only average and blacks weren’t as dark as I felt they should be (given the hubbub about the fantastic blacks this projector offers). A quick change to the gamma and adjustment of the black level control (brightness) made a significant improvement. Shadow detail became much improved and the inkiness of the blacks was impressive. While watching the opening sequence from I Love You, Man the camera flies through a cityscape at night and I kept thinking, “Wow, this looks great.”
From a color standpoint this projector was hard to fault (once it was calibrated). From one end of the spectrum to the other everything looked as it should. In films with overhead shots of a city in daylight the image was beautiful. While watching broadcasts like The Good Wife I’m continually amazed at how good plain old TV can look. Whether it was recorded, live, hard media, color always looked like it should.
Writing a conclusion for great products is usually somewhat straightforward. That is the case here. The JVC’s strong points are: color/vividness, adjustability, build quality, quiet operation, flexible placement, shadow detail/black level and good handling of motion. For those (like me) who suffer from seeing “rainbows” the 3-chip JVC makes this irrelevant. No product is perfect and areas for improvement are: sharpness (either upgrade the lens or better convergence of the panels—and it’s possible that the $2000 more 990 model addresses some of this) and vertical movement and fast horizontal movement. More expensive products may offer more light output which, for some, will be necessary either because of screen size or the desire to watch with ambient light is important. Other than that, this projector is hard to fault. Highly recommended!
– Brian Bloom firstname.lastname@example.org