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JVC DLA-HD 950
The JVC DLA-HD 950 is a Full HD D-ILA projector. Available since autumn 2009, the HD 950 offers a THX-certified mode, massive contrast ratios, and crisp motion depiction.
But JVC’s flagship doesn’t come cheap: The manufacturer lists the HD 950 for 6,299.99 GBP (or 7,999.95 USD in the United States). Online, you’ll find it for about 5,800 GBP (or about 7,000 USD).
Reviewed by Florian Friedrich on February 5, 2010
Excellent colours in THX mode.
Bright light output.
High maximum contrast.
Sharp motion depiction.
Extensive colour management.
Very slight tint.
The preset values are only good in the THX mode, which the user cannot adjust.
The DLA-HD 950 is a stunning piece of work. With superb colours, sensational contrast, and a general heap of glowing praise on the JVC’s side, it’s easy to forgive the illogical and awkward operation.
Most important connections:
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In terms of looks, JVC’s new superstar matches its older brother the JVC DLA-HD 350, which also impressed us with a maximum contrast of over 20,000:1. The HD 350 had some weaknesses in its colour fidelity, but just a few months later JVC brought out the HD 750, which offered a THX certificate, complete colour management, and a more consistent factory setup — although the HD 750’s colours were still a little weak. Now, however, the HD 950 has righted its predecessors’ wrongs, as well as introducing the new “Clear Motion Drive” technology.
Besides the two HDMI inputs, the JVC offers connections for all kinds of video signals. You can even connect Scart-RGB sources with the help of an adapter cable. Unfortunately, however, all cables connect to the side of the projector.
Many people see JVC’s projectors as the best of the best — and you can see why when you take the HD 950 for a spin. The reflective three-chip technology can produce a finer pixel raster than DLP projectors and — unlike its DLP competitors — shows no colour-strobing effects. In terms of contrast, JVC’s new device surpasses all the best-in-class LCD and DLP models — and it can do this even without the help of a dynamic iris. To be precise: With optimised colours, the projector achieves a new record value of 30,600:1. With the iris closed, it goes as far as 43,800:1. But there’s a disadvantage to closing the iris: The projection’s brightness is almost halved.
The THX logo indicates the presence of a professionally calibrated picture mode. In addition, the isf logo certifies that the device offers a full colour-management system, but this type of fine-tuning is so complex that only experts with colour-measurement devices can use it properly. Another irritation here is the awkward operation, and it will remain the developers’ secret as to why — of the eight preset picture modes — only the THX mode delivers good colours. In the other presets (Cinema 1–3, for example), the colours fall far wide of the mark, and the two user-defined presets have hugely extended colour spaces.
On the other hand, we’re pleased with the new “Clear Motion Drive” video-enhancement technology (see box), which works differently depending on the picture format of the source and the setting in the “Film Mode” menu. The technology allows you not only to apply motion enhancement to films and TV material, but also to activate inverse-telecine conversion in order to enjoy NTSC DVDs in low-judder 24p quality.
“Clear Motion Drive” and “Inverse Telecine”
NTSC DVDs store films with a slightly irregular motion sequence, known as “3:2 Pulldown”, which is at its most obvious during camera pans. The HD 950 offers a 24-hertz back-conversion function, known as “Inverse Telecine” or “Reverse Pulldown”, for these 60-hertz films. To activate the conversion, you have to call up the “Input Signal” menu and switch the “Film Mode” from “Auto” to “Film”. This also changes the mode used for de-interlacing — but we think it’d be better if you could adjust the two functions separately. With progressive video signals, the menu entry is greyed out, so the “Inverse Telecine” is inactive. Normally, Blu-ray players output NTSC DVDs in 1080/60p format, so the projector won’t carry out the back-conversion unless you set the player’s output to the interlaced HD format 1080/60i or the interlaced SD format 480/60i.
What’s more, the “Film Mode” entry is also linked to the “Clear Motion Drive” motion enhancement, meaning the projector only generates intermediate frames for DVD films when in “Film” mode. The HD 950 stores the setting separately for the various frame rates, so you’ll also have to set the mode separately for the interlaced formats 480i/576i, 1080/50i, and 1080/60i.
The JVC’s motion enhancement cannot, however, process every signal that crosses its path — it lacks support, for example, for HDTV camcorder videos in 1080/30p format arriving as 1080/60i. Camcorder videos with 25 images per second (720/25p or 1080/25p), on the other hand, pose no problem for “Clear Motion Drive” if you input them as 1080/50i; the conversion into smooth 50-hertz video is thoroughly impressive.
Progressive Blu-ray films arriving as 1080/60p show no motion enhancement, but they do if you input them as 24p instead. The classic cinema look goes down the drain because of the artificial intermediate frames, and motion looks as smooth as in TV productions. With the technology in its highest setting, it produces errors in the form of halo effects around fast-moving objects.
Unlike on previous models, the backlit remote control offers direct-access buttons for all six inputs.
With the iris open, the HD 950 can easily illuminate a 2.6-metre-wide screen. Adjustment of the focus, zoom, and lens shift via remote control makes installation easy, and the menu offers a green grid pattern to help with fine adjustment — the motors hum quietly as they shift the projection to precisely the right location for the screen. This works excellently, and adds the touch of luxury you’d expect at this price.
There are even vertically stretched picture formats for setups that use anamorphic lenses. The HD 950 works in harmony with 21:9-format screens, which require different zoom and picture-position settings for 16:9- and Cinemascope-format pictures. The lens shift allows you to shift the projection by up to 80 percent vertically and a good 30 percent to each side. You cannot, however, save the various setups.
Since the colour management includes a total of 18 controls, setting up all of the picture modes degenerates into a tedious test of the user’s patience. This problem would be easily fixed if you could load the excellent THX mode values into the colour management — but you can’t.
Unfortunately, you also can’t just opt for the THX mode instead, since the various video sources generally need different contrast and brightness settings, and the projector doesn’t let you save different values for the same picture mode. The result: You end up using the non-THX modes — and you therefore get the wrong colours.
On top of that, neither the colour management nor the settings for gamma and colour temperature are accessible in the THX mode. This makes switching to a brighter picture during the day or a darker picture at night just as impossible as choosing a warmer colour temperature, which would be necessary in the lower-power lamp mode. All in all, this weakness in the JVC’s operation is a disappointment at this price point.
Colours, Light, and Contrast
The colours are almost perfect in THX mode, apart from a blue tint in light greyscales.
In THX mode, the JVC produces natural primary and non-primary colours. Apart from a minimal blue tint in cyan and magenta, the almost perfectly formed colour triangle in the CIE diagram meets the standards precisely. But the colour temperature of light greyscales is a bit too cool: Even with the lamp in the “High” setting, which produces a stronger red component, the colour temperature measures 7,250 Kelvin. The “Normal” lamp mode, which is nine decibels quieter, produces a value of about 8,000 Kelvin, resulting in a significant blue tint. One solution to this problem would be to give the low-power mode its own tailored setup, but JVC has clearly chosen not to bother — even though the projector offers sufficient brightness dynamics for a better setup. Doing it yourself costs time and patience, but rewards you with more natural colour reproduction (see box below).
The HD 950’s in-picture contrast also profits from the sensational On/Off contrast. In the measurement of a small white area on a black background, however, a tiny fleck of scattered light below the white area limits the value to about 5,000:1. If you discount this reflection, the HD 950 easily achieves over 10,000:1, which would have meant a new record in this discipline. In the ANSI contrast test — using a black and white checkerboard pattern — we were less astonished: At just 320:1, the contrast is lower than we’d expected. On close inspection, there seems to be a slight haze in outer areas of the 17-lens zoom; this scatters some of the light and causes the picture to look lighter. For comparison: Top DLP projectors achieve ANSI contrasts between 500:1 and 600:1.
In direct comparison with our current reference projector, the Samsung SP-A 800 B, the JVC lost points for its poorer picture uniformity — slight colouration (shading) was visible in the corners of the picture. In our experience, these effects vary from one device to another; the model we tested added a slight red tint to light greyscales in the upper left corner, while there was a slight blue tint in the bottom right. In normal TV or movie viewing, however, you’ll barely notice these slight weaknesses.
In the “Pixel phase” test pattern, the JVC resolves fine structures accurately, but with little contrast.
Slight colouration appears in fine structures, such as those in the “Pixel phase” test pattern, which the JVC displays accurately but very softly. Both sharpness and detail filters are inactive in the THX mode and have little effect in other picture modes. One-chip projectors such as the aforementioned Samsung SP-A 800 B display fine patterns with more contrast and no colouration.
Colour Optimisation in “Normal” Lamp Mode
In the pleasantly quiet “Normal” lamp mode, it’s possible to achieve a colour temperature of 6,600 Kelvin with ideal colour reproduction — but only if you have the appropriate measurement devices. We used “Custom 1” and the colour-temperature preset “5,800 Kelvin” as a base. In the factory setup, this preset’s colour space is strongly extended towards all three primary colours, resulting in loud, candy-coloured pictures. Even in the warmest preset, “5,800 Kelvin”, the colour temperature of light greyscales measures an over-cool 7,000 Kelvin.
Manual optimisation: In the “User 1” picture mode, for example, the user can select a darker gamma curve or a lower colour temperature. In this mode, the colour space is at first strongly extended (see diagram above). Optimisation in the colour-management menu, however, produced a correct colour space (below).
For this reason, we adjusted the HD 950’s gamma and colour temperature, and especially its colours — the following tables contain the values we derived. Of course, these are only guideline values, since manufacturing variations can always affect the device’s performance.
Picture Quality of Standard-Definition Signals
Superb: All of the HD 950’s analogue SDTV interfaces produce a picture with sufficient quality for big-screen projections. The subtle picture cropping (overscan) in the presets can be switched off for all sources, allowing even composite and S-Video signals to show their full possible picture quality. And if there’s an untidy edge on the SDTV picture, you can always shift the image to mask the defect. For film fans the JVC offers “Clear Motion Drive” technology (see box above), which provides a choice of settings to suit the user’s preference — although it is sometimes complicated to use.
Picture Quality of High-Definition Signals
Films are one of the HD 950’s biggest strengths: Dark scenes, for example, will astound viewers with their enormous depth. Cinema fans that value deep, rich blacks should stick on “2001: A Space Odyssey” and marvel at the two-minute-long black sequence at the start of the film — there’s practically no light on the screen at all. All outer-space scenes impress with their seemingly bottomless black — the stars really do seem to be shining from light years away. It’s only when the moon creeps into view that slight scattered light makes the projection look flatter.
Next test disc: “Casino Royale”. The black-and-white opening sequences look colour-neutral in the bright lamp mode. Unlike the Samsung projector, the HD 950 displays all contrast-rich black-and-white scenes accurately. Mid-range greyscales show some red accents, but not enough to qualify as an unattractive tint. The colours almost achieve the level of our DLP reference and exhibit natural saturation. Skin tones look a bit more powerful, giving faces a healthy but never bothersome glow.
The JVC’s slightly too bright gamma characteristic means it fails to fully reach the Samsung’s level, but it produces a slightly crisper picture in extremely dark scenes. The differences in the two projectors’ blacks only become visible as Bond travels to the Body Worlds exhibition in a taxi, with the lights of the city visible against a jet-black sky. Unlike in projections with a dynamic iris, the dark scenes offer the full dynamic contrast without losing brightness — truly impressive!
Those who wish to can smooth the picture’s motion in 24p signals using “Clear Motion Drive”. But this technology produced more errors than Epson’s “Frame Interpolation”, for example, in the recently reviewed Epson EH-TW 5500. Purists might not care either way, since many prefer to keep the authentic cinema-style 24p.
On the other hand, we have nothing to criticise in the detail reproduction in the Bond film: Even the lattice-work of the crane in the action-packed building-site chase scene resolves accurately and attractively — thanks to the projector’s excellent convergence and sharp-to-the-very-edge optics. The motion-enhancement technology also delivers a significant sharpness gain in sports broadcasts — making the JVC ideal for the fast-approaching Winter Olympics 2010 in Vancouver, for example.
Picture Mode: THX
Clear Motion Drive: Low
Lens Aperture: 0
Lamp Power: High
These settings apply to realistic playback of HDTV/Blu-ray material through the HDMI interface in a darkened environment. Manufacturing and HDMI playback device deviations might necessitate slight adjustment.