|JVC DLA-HX2U D-ILA Video Projector|
|Home Theater Front Projectors HD-ILA Projectors|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Thursday, 01 September 2005|
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The Contrast Game
Joel Silver from the Imaging Science Foundation was kind enough to invite me and Audio Video Revolution editor Bryan Southard to one of his in-depth training seminars, hosted at Stewart Filmscreen’s impressive training facility in Torrance, California. The most important lesson I learned from the session was not just about the importance of contrast, but about the utter bullshit that many (not all) video manufacturers try to sell consumers about how good their projectors are at contrast.
Silver is right. Simply look up the reported contrast ratios for a handful of top projectors and you might find huge variances in this highly significant specification. The reason for this is nobody wants to lose at “specmanship,” which is the byproduct of Consumer Reports-esque shopping, where people don’t use their eyes to judge a video projector, but instead use a pile of reported stats that are as cooked as Enron’s annual reports. Silver suggested that some manufacturers (who remained nameless) measure contrast at the chip (i.e., inside the projector) or at the lens. That would be great if you would watch TV with your head inside your projector. Others measure contrast (meaning the difference between the whitest whites and the blackest blacks) with the brightness setting all the way up for the brightness test and all the way off to measure black. That’s cheating, too. We tested using a Soncore measurement system with a checkerboard pattern on the screen of a CRT television set and measured the contrast in the 150:1 range. It was pretty illuminating as to what the real world contrast actually is. Contrast is an incredibly important factor in investing in a projector. However, it is not the only issue and the reported contrast figure should be used as a guideline more than the law. Why there is no industry accepted standard for measuring contrast is beyond me.
I had my projector optimized by video guru and D-ILA expert William Phelps and, with the help of his set-up, which includes custom Gamma curves and the addition of a very simple film that loosely hangs over the lens of the projector, we were able to get a measured 1200:1 contrast from my projector. That is close enough to give JVC major credit for not playing games with the contrast of their projectors. For those of us who know and who can see a good picture when presented with one, it is refreshing to get a relatively accurate number to make a decision from. Without question, the contrast is dramatically better than on my old projector and the math from Phelps backs me up on this.
D-ILA versus DLP
Both technologies have improved radically in the past four years. DLPs and especially multi-chip DLPs have gotten vastly better. To me, they have better black levels than D-ILA projectors and there are clients for whom that is the only or at least most important issue when picking a projector, which is a reasonable conclusion. D-ILA projectors don’t suffer from digital video maladies like “screen door effect” and “rainbow effect” from the spinning flywheel, which personally drives me crazy and keeps me from suspending my disbelief when watching a movie, even in HDTV. D-ILA projectors also look to me to have much more in-depth and rich colors, compared to all but the best DLP projectors. These are the factors that got me to put ink to paper and write a check to buy another D-ILA projector. DLP is much more widely accepted as a technology, which is a very similar situation to Macintosh versus PC. I am proud to use a Mac and a D-ILA.
Testing the Picture
Starting with 480i video, “The Sopranos” was a topic of conversation earlier, based on how much trouble my old projector has resolving contrast on the show. On a classic episode from the third season called “Pine Barrens,” you can see increased contrast when looking at Tony Soprano’s dark leather jacket but the darks are still too dark to really determining the exact details of the outfit, even in a scene shot in broad daylight. Later in the episode, Pauly Walnuts and Christopher make a collections call at a Russian guy’s house who owes Silvio his weekly vig. Pauly gets jealous of the Russian guy’s remote (who could blame him, it was a pretty cool remote) and accidentally-on-purpose smashes the universal controller. During the ensuing brawl, you can see shadows in the background, but it is easy to notice how much better the HX2U is at reproducing contrast than earlier projectors. It isn’t at the level of the HD2K or the Sony QUALIA 004 at more than twice the price, but is much better in terms of resolving video details in the shadows of the often dark-looking show. Later in the episode, when Pauly and Christopher take the beaten Russian guy to the Pine Barrens to bury him, they realize he is still alive and he escapes. There is no question this projector loves bright scenes. The white of the snow in the Pine Barrens gleams as Pauly parks his Sedan Deville. The blood on the Russian guy’s face is a rich, crimson red after being pistol-whipped by Pauly. When Pauly hands the Russian guy a shovel and tells him to dig his grave, you get an incredible test of contrast where the trees are very dark and the snow is bright white, all on one screen shot. This test made it evident how good the HX2U is. As for you “Sopranos” fans, don’t discount the fact that the Russian guy escaped. I am willing to bet he resurfaces in a surprise reappearance in a future episode.
It is on HDTV sources where the HS2U really shines. On the D-VHS version of the WWII submarine movie “U-571,” one gets an idea again how well the HX2U does with contrast, color resolution and black level. At the end of the film, as the crew is about to scuttle the German sub, you can see how well the HX2U can resolve video differences in the dark sub. You can see tiny details in the gauges and pipes, despite the dimly shot scene on board the German sub. When the crew abandons the ship and takes to a raft to float in the sea waiting for help from the Air Force, you can see the incredible detail on the dull black of their raft in the water in broad daylight. The actors’ sunburned faces glow red believably. The Captain’s white hat shows shadows where they belong, but the shadows are not swimming in darkness that often mauls the picture on lesser digital projectors. It becomes quickly apparent that the HX2U is a tool that is best judged when being fed the best source material on HDTV. Preferably in 1080i.
The best the HX2U ever looked was during this year’s Masters Golf Tournament. Make no mistake, I am a Phil Mickelson fan, but Tiger Woods’ incredible comeback was pretty impressive. CBS’s HDTV coverage was incredibly brilliant, powered by gorgeous daylight, vivid colors from Augusta’s blooming azaleas and the most vivid green grass you will ever see. To look into the crowd is to test a projector to its limits. All of the vivid colors of the golf shirts, umbrellas and hats make for an exercise in HDTV pointillism worthy of a master. The drama never got higher than on 16 when Tiger Woods, faced with a seemingly impossible pitch shot from against the thick rough, pitches his ball into a steep embankment on the green. On the HX2U, you can see the ball swiftly check up on the green, take the steep break and roll perilously towards the hole. As if it was in slow motion, the HX2U presented an image that was too good to believe. Before he hits the shot, you can see the sweat on Tiger’s upper lip while the reflection of the crowd beams from the lake at the incredibly challenging sixteenth hole. As soon as he makes contact, Tiger’s ball rolls with Hollywood drama towards the hole and, as if to thank Nike for the millions upon millions of dollars in sponsorship dollars, it shows the tell-tale “swoosh” right before the impossible pitch plummets to the bottom of the hole.