JVC DLA-HX2U D-ILA Video Projector 
Home Theater Front Projectors HD-ILA Projectors
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Thursday, 01 September 2005

Since the first days of commercially available digital projectors, I have been a convert. A mere four years ago, I owned an older Sony seven-inch CRT video projector paired with the all-time classic video processor, the Faroudja LD100. The picture looked smooth and film-like. It also had no brightness, barely being able to light up a 100-inch 4:3 Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 130 screen, and switching inputs was a nightmare. Working on the projector required a professional technician, which means that in order to keep the sucker converged, I needed a trip from Dr. Feelgood every three to four months. While having a big screen to watch hockey games was cool, the work needed to get such a video picture was trying, to say the least.

All of this changed in 2002, when I invested in a Madrigal Imaging MPD-1 video processor from Madrigal (parent company of Mark Levinson, Lexicon and Proceed). The projector was the latest in digital video technology being powered by hand-picked D-ILA chips, which was provided thanks to a partnership between JVC and Harman (who owns Madrigal). The difference was night and day. Many industry people who saw my projector were impressed as to how much better, brighter and more accurate it looked than its predecessor. The new projector looked like it was six times brighter than my CRT. The colors on the D-ILA seemed accurate. And after a William Phelps tuning, the contrast was a measured 525:1. For fourth-generation digital projectors being tested in real-world circumstances, this was very high, and I was very happy.

Owning the Madrigal projector and Faroudja NRS video processor at its nearly $40,000 price tag proved to be enjoyable yet difficult. In the real world, the investment in the projector a short two years later yielded me a whopping $5,000 for the projector and the matching Faroudja NRS video processor. The first-generation projector had no DVI or HDMI inputs for digital signals coming from digital video sources like HD-DVRs or D-VHS decks. The bulb life was about 1,000 hours, but what wasn’t reported was that after the first 100 hours, the measured contrast of the projector dropped noticeably. Anyone with a critical eye would want a new bulb after 400 to 500 hours and that required a professional installation. To suggest the Madrigal MPD-1 wasn’t a landmark improvement over my original video rig would be to misstate the situation. My new rig was incredible and I enjoyed the hell out of it, but when watching “The Sopranos” in HD you couldn’t help but wish for more: more contrast, better black levels, less fan noise, cheaper bulbs.

The JVC DLA-HX2U is JVC Professional’s second from the top of the line video projector. It represents two generations of progress on the front of D-ILA video projector technology. At $8,995, this projector is priced more than 50 percent less than JVC’s flagship projector, the critically acclaimed HD2K, which competes with Sony’s QUALIA 004 for incredible video projectors at $30,000. In terms of my budget, I no longer could stomach $30,000 projectors, so after careful consideration and advice from my video guru friends, I made the investment in an HX2U for my reference theater.

Out of the box, the projector is noticeably smaller than my old Madrigal Imaging MPD-1 D-ILA projector and is very easy to handle.
. The styling is updated and the buttons are more easily accessible than my old Madrigal projector. The projector remote is dramatically improved over the past units, allowing easy switching from input to input, as well as set-up, which includes zooming, some keystone adjustments and far beyond. There are some submenus that can cause confusion for the casual user. It is possible for the end user to install such a projector, but for $8,995, it is reasonable to expect to have a custom install firm come in and make your projector sing for you. The hardest part of my install was getting the mounting hardware to work right on an angled ceiling. With a custom cut piece of wood installed, my Vantage Point bracket worked like a charm. On a flat ceiling, it would have been a breeze.

The HX2U boasts a reported 1500:1 contrast ratio, which is much higher than the 600:1 than my Madrigal projector was measured at when shipped from Madrigal. We’ll get more into the contrast game later, but it was easy to see how there were going to be brighter whites and blacker blacks on this new projector. The fan noise, a critical flaw of my old projector, must have been improved by fivefold on the HX2U. This sucker runs cool and quiet, which is a dramatic improvement over earlier D-ILA projectors.

The three-chip set-up on this projector does a true 16x9 aspect ratio at 1400x788 pixels. The older projectors were 4:3 chips, but could squeeze a 16x9 picture onto your screen, although it wasn’t really optimized for such functionality. The HX2U is designed for home theater applications and thrives on HDTV and D-VHS source material.

JVC has radically improved their internal video scaler from earlier models to now include their D.I.S.T. (Digital Image Scaling Technology). No longer do you absolutely need black box video processor although some like the new DVDo allow for impressive upscaling and multiple HDMI switching capabilities. In my case, I am anxiously waiting to see what the 1080p video card for my Meridian 800 DVD player looks like, complete with Faroudja’s latest processing. I know the HX2U isn't a 1080p projector but it will be interesting to see how Faroudja's latest scaling will effect 480i material at 1080i on the HX2U. When I move into my new, dedicated theater in early 2006, I will run both the new Meridian card and one of these new long-run HDMI cables from Pure Link that allow you to send 1080p-quality video over long runs of fiber optic cable. Some are as long as 100 feet. Until recently, HDMI or DVI cables were only reliable up to 10 or 15 feet.

Another key improvement in the HX2U is a user-accessible bulb replacement, which no longer requires one to remove the projector from its mount. Nothing is more of a pain than having to disable your projector every 1000 hours of use to get a new bulb installed. Invariably, this will happen near the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup Finals, creating unneeded stress. Now the bulb lasts hundreds of hours longer, is cheaper and easier to replace. These are dramatic improvements that are greatly appreciated.

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.

The Downside
In order to do better than the HX2U, you need to look at projectors that cost more than twice its $8,995 price tag. What you get for more money is better color resolution from an HD2K or better three-dimensionality from a Sony QUALIA 004. Is it worth the money? It depends on how much money you have to invest in your projector.

To me, all D-ILA sets and projectors look better on 1080i than 720p. I surmise this is because of the internal scaler and, compared to my old projector, the difference between 720p and 1080i is much less. It isn’t like you will turn off Monday Night Football in 720p. You might just like watching a game on CBS better.

The JVC HX2U isn’t an inexpensive projector, but it is a tremendous value when you consider that less than three years ago, you could buy a 42-inch plasma for more money than the HX2U costs you today. The HX2U should be considered as a viable cornerstone for any top home theater system, even ones with screens as large as nine feet across. It can reproduce a picture that will leave you and your guests breathless from both DVD and HDTV sources.

JVC has fixed many of the earlier problems of their D-ILA technologies and their early projectors with the HX2U. It is smaller, more affordable, brighter, has better contrast and is a better value than before. Its picture is better than any DLP I have ever seen in terms of color and it lacks many of the video maladies found with DLPs. The contrast is radically and measurably better. While you don’t absolutely need a William Phelps optimization to enjoy a HX2U, the $1,000 cost of his tweaks only makes something very good even better. I spent plenty of time watching the projector before and I sent it off to Phelps and there was no question the improvments were worth every penny. If you are going almost $9,000 on a top-notch video projector, what is another $1,000 and some FedEx fees to have him get you even closer to video nirvana?

Consider the JVC DLA-HX2U video projector among the absolute best of the best at any price and a dollar for dollar value for top home theaters. At under $9,000, you simply can not lose with the JVC HX2U.
Manufacturer JVC
Model DLA-HX2U D-ILA Video Projector

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