JVC DLA-HD2K HD-ILA Video Projector 
Home Theater Front Projectors HD-ILA Projectors
Written by Jeremy R. Kipnis   
Saturday, 01 October 2005

Now that the market is heating up with respect to HDTV, and people’s attention is being drawn to the highest ASTC-approved HDTV resolution of 1920 x 1080p and the best way to display it, only JVC and Sony have come to market so far with commercial designs worthy of re-mortgaging your house. DLP 2K products are currently only beginning to be available at Texas Instruments-equipped movie theaters around the world, and LCD 2K products simply have not been very inspiring up to this point. JVC has, of course, been offering its LCOS (Liquid Crystal On Silicon) variation, D-ILA (Directdrive Image Light Amplifier), since 1998, but only recently have they offered a projector with a trio of 1920 x 1080p panels.

JVC’s D-ILA HD2K System ($19,995 MSRP) comes with a slide projector-sized light engine (created by JVC, measuring 11-3/4 x 5-1/4 x 14-3/16 inches), which has a black plastic exterior with manual zoom and focus controls above the lens. It also comes with a one rack space outboard scaler/switcher (produced jointly by JVC and Faroudja and most likely an early version of the current VDP-1080p). The light engine is capable of a reported 500 ANSI Lumens (a stated 2000:1 contrast ratio), thanks to its 250-watt UHP-NSH bulb, rated to create 40 to 200 inch wide images, which is expected to last 2000 hours, replacement cost $495. The unit features a medium-throw 1.3x manual zoom (1.8 – 2.35) 50 percent vertically offset fixed lens, and only requires one DVI-D cable from the scaler to the projector. The projector is light enough (13.66 lbs) that one person can set it up in less than an hour, even including the ceiling mount. And it comes from the factory set up better than most projectors with respect to color temperature and gamma, thanks to JVC’s new factory pre-calibration procedure of no less than 12,000 different picture-affecting adjustments.

By comparison, the Sony Qualia 004 ($30,000 MSRP) is massive. It comes in a sculpted silver, black and acrylic cabinet that looks more like a Lamborghini then a video projector and requires at least two people and several hours to hang properly from the ceiling. But it does have a motorized zoom, focus and vertical lens offset, critical for most installations! The resolution is the same (1920 x 1080p), but it features an internal scaler to accommodate all formats. Sony has only been offering this technology under its SXRD moniker for less than two years, too much applause and a lot of criticism. Yet, its sheer color fidelity, reported light output of 2000 ANSI Lumens, thanks to a Xenon bulb capable of a smooth daylight spectral response, and an available trio of lens options (from 1.43 – 2.8) has only disappointed a handful of professionals so far. I personally own two Qualias.

Certainly, anyone in the market for a top of the line video front projector, which costs as much as a new 2006 Audi Quatro, must consider either the JVC DLA-HD2K System or the Sony Qualia 004 for the time being. The difficulty is finding a fair demonstration of either and therein lie significant differences between the two companies’ design philosophies. JVC is still creating very technically adept professional projection devices, which more recently have been designed with the home theater enthusiast in mind. In the last five years, the quality of D-ILA images has improved enormously, providing a richer color gamut than those chosen for DLP or LCD projectors. But, until recently, the poor black level, shoddy gamma and drift in convergence and shading (uniformity of color over the entire screen) after a thousand hours have required many owners to send their units to William Phelps, JVC or myself to correct problems that customers should not have to deal with from products in this price range.

Sony’s recent SXRD products are not exempt from these faults either, as I reported in my review of the Qualia 006 rear projector. This is now also true of one of my two Qualia 004 projectors; it has lost convergence over time. But overall, the SXRD approach has yielded some extraordinary picture quality, rivaling 35mm film projected on the same screen and edging out earlier D-ILA designs. How does the JVC HD2K system stack up to or better the Qualia 004?

Set Up
The JVC DLA-HD2K projector is quite light and diminutive in comparison to many expensive three-chip projectors available for the last few years. But it hides huge wonders in detail, depth of field, color fidelity, gamma and white balance straight out of the box. The 50 percent vertically offset fixed lens, like a number of other lenses, shoots only out of its upper portion (or lower portion, if mounted on the ceiling). Therefore, the projector must be placed or mounted so that the bottom (or top, if mounted on the ceiling) of the screen is nearly perpendicular to the center of the lens. There is no vertical (or horizontal) lens offset, so the screen and the projector must be in strict alignment, otherwise noticeable keystoning will occur which can be corrected using electronic keystone adjustment (not built into the projector).

Of equal importance is throw distance, which in the JVC’s case is 1.8 to 2.35 times the screen width. This means that, for a 10-foot-wide screen, the projector needs to be between 18 and 23.5 feet away, which is a bit restrictive. Consequently, I was not able to create a full 18 x 10.125-foot image in Ciné Lab 1, because my maximum throw distance is currently 26 feet. While this may not be a problem for some, and is corrected through the use of an after-market 0.8 lens adapter (available from JVC), I personally find the lack of alternate lenses at this level of price and performance ridiculous, especially as JVC has created many projectors in recent years that have many lens options.

Once you have established throw distance and projector height with the required 50 percent vertical offset relative to the screen, it is quite simple to mount the projector using the JVC ceiling mount. Connecting the external Faroudja based Digital Video Processor is done with one DVI-D cable. After this, manual lens zoom and focus are easily adjusted near the projector lens (a 10-group / 13-layer glass system) using internally-generated scaler test patterns, courtesy of Faroudja. The back apron of the Digital Video Processor features one set each of RGBHV (BNC), DVI-D HDCP-compatible, Component video (BNC), S-Video (mini-Din), Composite video (BNC) and a serial control (RS-232C). It has one DVI-D output for the projector and is set up for 1920 x 1080p/60 Hz only. Two remotes, one for the processor and one for the projector, are included. I must admit to missing multiple versions of the same input type, like having two S-Video and two component video inputs available.

Once you’ve connected your sources, the Digital Video Processor allows for switching and a wide variety of the usual video adjustments: contrast, brightness, color, tint, detail, all centered at 128 on a 0-255 scale. Other controls are available to enhance noise reduction, set up screen triggering, image position adjustments, etc., typical of most recent Faroudja processors, like the DVP-1080P. Four user memories are available to save your picture settings, should you create some handy profiles. Memories are automatically recalled for each input type.

The projector features a factory-adjusted color temperature setting for D6500 (D65) and two other user selectable settings (1 & 2), which only allow calibration of the gain (or white settings) for red, green and blue; bias (or black level) is predefined. There are also four selectable gamma curves (similar to the Qualia 004): Normal, A, B and Custom, which allow for some crude adjustments at the darkest end of the picture that are dwarfed by what is available using a laptop and JVC’s Gamma Correction Software, should you get adventuresome. Beyond this, everything input into the Digital Video Processor is up-converted to 1920 x 1080p using Faroudja’s best scaling algorithms. Color space is alternated from Rec. 601 for SDTV to Rec. 709 for HDTV, which has a slightly wider color gamut. It is suggested in the Faroudja DVP-1080P manual that the 1080P up-conversion is transparent, unless you make picture adjustments (contrast, color, sharpness, etc.), at which point everything is processed first at 1280 x 720P, reducing actual resolution to 720P for any 1080i original source. I believe this is the case in this system, which may bother some more than others, since the projector is capable of the full 2k resolution.

My first impressions, having spent the last year and a half with two Sony Qualia 004 and 35mm motion picture film projected on the same screen, were very good (read very impressive vs. any other projector currently available). The specific amount of detail available on a 2K projector is truly amazing by comparison to any 1280 x 720p or 1440 (1365) x 768p projector. There is little or no sense of pixel structure thanks to an 92 percent fill factor. In general, images are presented very seamlessly, with a huge degree of depth illuminated by a reasonably bright and somewhat neutral UHP NHL bulb (I measured peak light output before calibration of 9.8 ft-Lamberts on the 14.4 foot-wide Stewart Snowmatte screen. Obviously, if you use a smaller screen, your light output will be higher.

“Spider-Man 2” (Cinemax HDTV and Sony Superbit-Map DVD) demonstrates a wonderfully deep and complex visual tapestry during the long cityscape fly-throughs, which appear throughout the film. During the first of these, Peter Parker (Toby Maguire), in a desperate attempt to deliver a stack of pizzas on time for Joe’s 25-minute promise, runs through a series of cabs and then begins swinging through the city as Spider-Man. On any other lower-resolution projector, this movie has looked absolutely terrific and very colorful. But the step up to the JVC HD2K System produces so much more real information that it is easily possible to tell the difference between footage shot live and those created in CGI.

The overall color fidelity and representation of textures like film grain or facial hair by the HD2K System have a very natural, un-hyped quality about them, with amazing delineation of subtle hues and shadings. The highly delicate cinematography of Richard H. Kline for “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (Cinemax HDTV for the original version and Paramount DVD for “The Director’s Cut”), with its dark pastel interior tones and broad range of vibrant colors, was given new life, so that it was like looking at the 1979 35mm original of William Shatner on the bridge of the refit Enterprise, with no banding or graduations so typical of digital video and from the darkest jet blacks of space through to the brightest pose struck by Persis Khambatta just before she is engulfed by V’GER’s white light probe. Clearly, black levels have been improved and now offer a rich, jet-like backdrop in all but the very darkest scenes.

Kline’s cinematography is equally captivating in "The Man With One Red Shoe" (INHD – HDTV and Fox DVD), where interior CIA control room scenes feature a cascading lighting effect coming through from below the floor, highlighting Dabney Coleman and Lori Singer as they try to figure out the meaning of Tom Hanks’ moving and mysterious violin solo. Clearly, the JVC HD2K system is capable of rendering more shades of gray from black to white and doing it with more color temperature accuracy and greater smoothness out of the box then any other projector to come along thus far. This requires end users to very carefully control ambient lighting around the screen so that the image does not become washed out and appear dull. I would recommend a gray type screen of no gain (such as the Stewart Grayhawk – 0.95 Gain) to avoid hot-spotting and splash-back effects from nearby walls, speakers, or the ceiling.

Not surprisingly, in spite of JVC’s noble and extensive efforts to produce a calibrated display right out of the box, a complete calibration using a laptop, special software, instrumentation such as my specially modified Konica/Minolta CS-100a Photo Spectrometer and a bit of hands-on experience and training can make significant improvements in the picture quality. Films with extremely natural color fidelity, such as "L.A. Confidential" (Cinemax HDTV and Warner DVD) or TV series like "Six Feet Under" and "The Sopranos" (HBO HDTV and HBO DVD), looked even more realistic once color temperature and gamma had been substantially fine-tuned. The HD2K engine allows for wonderfully open and immediate impressions of any well-created program with precise rendition of film grain, dirt or scratches found on the prints.

Flesh tones were stunningly accurate after a full calibration, but only looked correct out of the box in the D65 mode; the other two custom settings simply do not allow any adjustment at the bottom (black) end of the picture. I also felt that the image had a somewhat greenish tone to it straight out of the box. This was easily removed and, after a full calibration, the white balance was +9.3, -8.6 degrees Kelvin from 10 -100 IRE with DVI-D based HDTV sources. Clearly, JVC’s new custom gamma and color temperature software allow for a far greater degree of refinement than that of any other commercial home theater projector.

Consequently, a complete calibration can make a great improvement on an already very good product. Precise adjustments for color temperature, gamma look-up tables, signal threshold hysteresis points and precise set-up of the Faroudja-based Digital Video Processor for each and every equipment source produced a new and previously unattainable level of accuracy for a consumer product, with pixel for pixel mapping of the source material being nearly transparent to the three D-ILA panels. Computer test patterns using DisplayMate software, test signals from a Sencore VP-404 or the Accupel HDG-3000 HDTV generator, and 1080p patterns produced by Digital Video Essentials (D-VHS 720p and 1080i HD Tapes, WMV 9 HD-DVD, and also non-HD NTSC & PAL DVD) all looked spectacular and leagues ahead of any other consumer front-projection engine, save for the Sony Qualia 004.

Now, HDTV is wonderful through the HD2K, but DVD is also very lovely, in particular aided by the Faroudja Digital Video Processor. This combination produces an analog lushness that is reminiscent of the Sony G-90 three-gun CRT with the Faroudja DVP-5000 Scaler. Stunning recent transfers of Douglas Trumbull’s directorial debut “Silent Running” (Universal HDTV and DVD) and George Lucas’s “THX-1138” (INHD HDTV and Warner DVD) offer visceral presentations of these strikingly different films. “Silent Running” includes complex interior scenes within the forest domes, where Bruce Dern is tending the last remnants of Earth’s foliage. Because the lighting is subtle but the color is well-saturated, it is easy to discern how much better the HD2K system (vs. lesser-resolution systems) is able to resolve fine details of color and shading that are very natural and contiguous; these details can often be lost in an area of color without precision. “THX-1138” conversely has much of its narrative set amongst the white walls and corridors of a sterile 25th century, with Robert Duvall’s heavily-medicated title character attempting to escape an unseen governing agency that holds everyone subjugated. Frequently, lesser projectors render fields of white or very bright scenes with a video garishness or blown-out quality that is unmistakably different from film. The JVC HD2K never showed anything other than filmlike images either before or after a full calibration, unless you pushed the contrast to the limit. This projector is a real pleasure to the eye, frequently capable of taking a great DVD and making it look more like a good HDTV program. But with a great HDTV program, the HD2K system looks more like an open window than video.

The Downside
Even the best cutting-edge 2K projectors have areas that need to be significantly improved at this or any price point, and JVC HD2K is no exception. While I am extremely impressed with the transparency and three-dimensionality that this projector is capable of producing, the initial set-up is greatly limited by a lack of vertical (or horizontal) lens shift, making installation a very precise matter if one wants perfect geometry. The digital keystone correction (as with all point and shoot projectors) simply throws away a great image by adding aliasing distortion to any diagonal line.

Another of my largest concerns is that the bulb, while very good and apparently filtered to produce a more neutral spectrum from the mercury UHP NSH bulb, simply does not have the light output or smooth spectrum attained by the Xenon bulbs found in motion picture projectors and in the Sony Qualia 004. In this way, the JVC HD2K looks very similar to the Sony Qualia 006 (because of the three 1920 x 1080p panels and the UHP bulb), but with none of the visual artifacts found in that unit straight out of the box, due to its somewhat lackluster scaler factory set-up. A Xenon bulb simply looks more like sunshine and the difference between the calibrated color fidelity of the Sony Qualia 004 versus the JVC HD2K is plainly obvious, even at identical screen size and light levels. 35mm film, projected from a properly calibrated projector using a 5400 degree Kelvin Xenon arc bulb (the reference standard for bulbs), has a subjective warmth, brilliance and immediacy that is like being there and which any UHP bulb I have tested (even filtered) cannot begin to match, particularly under the controlled viewing conditions demanded by these expensive projectors.

It is a shame that JVC was not able to offer up their DLA-QX1G (2048 x 1536) for this 2K package, which features a choice of four different lenses and 7000 ANSI lumens of Xenon light output … for $300,000 MSRP. Obviously, that is a professional product, but for any projector in this day and age one might choose to purchase at any price, consumers have the right to expect manufacturers to think ahead and employ the best parts of each past design in the succeeding products, rather than add and subtract needed features ad hoc.

Convergence was not really a problem (only in the lower left at about one-quarter pixel off in the red and the lower right one-quarter pixel in the blue), but as I have said before, these reflective LCOS panels seem to change geometry or position relative to each other. In time (500 hours – 2500 hours), changes in convergence are possible and should be carefully monitored lest you one day turn on the unit to find it has drifted to a point of irritation.

Lastly, the companion Faroudja scaler is very impressive in its processing ability, as are most Faroujda scalers, but it has only one of each input type. This can become irritating, especially if you want to connect sources directly to the processor to avoid possible signal degradation coming from other pass-through devices like a surround preamp. I also have the impression that the Digital Video Processor may subtract real picture information from a 1080i source if you use any of the picture controls outside of the default settings. This is troubling, since the whole point of 1080p is to see 1080p, not 720p unless desired.

Personal Desires
There is no excuse for not having a lens offset and a motorized zoom and focus controls. As a calibrator, it is critical to make adjustments to the screen, and manual controls simply are not efficient with large screens, which is what 2K projectors are all about. Also, the need for a laptop interface to calibrate properly is apparent because of the numerous possible adjustments, but that should not obviate the inclusion of a complete and usable set of controls that the customer or casual calibrator can adjust for gamma and color temperature as needed. And more memories to store those preferences would be a pleasant improvement.

Creating a cutting-edge product requires including a Xenon bulb, because it makes all the difference in the world. Also, the light output from the HD2K projector is simply too low with this UHP bulb to produce SMPTE standards of 16.5 foot-Lamberts reliably without resorting to a small screen (88-inch wide or smaller) or one that has some gain, which I don’t find acceptable because of hot-spotting. The Sony Qualia 004 has no such problems with light output or bulb type and includes user accessible controls to adjust all picture parameters, though it can take some time, for a similar MSRP.

Not offering a selection of lenses is shear insanity, greatly limiting the possible screen sizes, which I personally believe should be as large as possible – like going to the movies. I would also like to point out that any projector (and its companion scaler) really needs to be running at and accepting several other higher ATSC-approved HDTV frequencies, including 1080p/72, wherein each of the 24 film frames is shown three times per second, producing a judderless image that must be seen to be appreciated. However, 1080p/120 is clearly the golden frequency, because five full film frames (at 24 frames per second) and four complete video frames (at 30 frames per second) fit completely and seamlessly within that refresh rate without adding judder. Compared to the 1080p/50 and 60 we have been used to for the last 52 years, 1080p/120 presents a much more solid image (stable like your computer monitor, only with IMAX motion picture fidelity), capable of revealing photographic textures and detail without any obligatory video artifacts whatsoever being added.

The JVC DLA HD2K is one of a handful of products that can truly demonstrate what a full 1920 x 1080 image is supposed to look like. It is small and light enough that one person can, with some precision, get the system up and running in under an hour. It offers an external scaler by Faroudja that covers all input types except 1080p, and connects directly to the projector via one DVI-D cable. It is very easy to set up, but projector positioning during installation must be very carefully regulated with respect to screen position. Otherwise, problems in geometry can easily arise, only two of which can be corrected using the somewhat detrimental digital keystone correction.

Out of the box, the HD2K system offers stunning resolution, an enormous and accurate color gamut, much better black level than previous D-ILA designs, and nearly spot-on color primaries. The unit comes set up from the factory in better shape then most projectors with respect to color temperature and choice of gamma correction. Its internal software allows an experienced calibrator or diligent owner the opportunity to use a laptop to improve markedly on almost all picture adjustments, including taking advantage of a significantly more complex gamma look-up table than just about any other projector I have seen. But this is not a game for the timid.

It is true that the 50 percent vertical offset, limited zoom range and manual zoom and focus were bothersome to me, along with the limited range of acceptable throw distances, which prevented me from taking full advantage of my giant screen size. I am also bothered by the lack of a brighter bulb that should be Xenon in architecture. So given the strict set-up requirements and low light output, I would recommend staying with screens smaller than 88 inches wide, if you wish to adhere to SMPTE cinema light standards. Yet even with these points in mind, the JVC HD2K system certainly produces one of the most faithful and finest cutting-edge home theater pictures available for the money.
Manufacturer JVC
Model DLA-HD2K HD-ILA Video Projector
Reviewer Jeremy Kipnis

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