OK, so we haven't reviewed this projector's even-more-expensive sibling the DLA-X900R, nor either of Sony's 4K projectors the VPL-HW600 or VW1100ES, nor any number of even more luxurious projectors from the likes of Sim2, Runco, etc. Until now the most expensive projector we've reviewed cost half as much as this one. So "best projector picture we've ever reviewed" might not equate to Best Projector Ever in the same way as some headlines I've written.
Those caveats aside, I'll be surprised if I review a more-expensive PJ than the X700R this year, especially since Sony is seemingly in no hurry to send me an HW600 (yes, I've asked). I'd also be flabbergasted if any cheaper projector could match the X700R's picture. JVC and Sony are the main projector makers to employ LCoS-based light engines, which are kings of projector black level -- and thus contrast, the most important picture quality factor. The X700R's contrast is so good I suspect it might even eclipse the resolution advantage of those 4K Sonys, although there's no way to tell until I can test one.
If money happens to be an object, on the other hand, you should know that JVC's cheapest LCoS-based projector, the DLA-X35, comes pretty close to the X700R's picture quality for less than half the price. No, it's not as good, but it's still awesome, and hands-down a better value. Like most of the Best things in life, the X700R is going to cost you.
The JVC DLA-X700R exudes the same seriousness as the DLA-X35; in fact, the two projectors look almost identical despite the large price disparity. The metallic case is big and heavy enough (17.9 inches wide by 18.6 inches deep by 7 inches high and 33 pounds) to mean business. The forward-facing vents flanking the central cyclopean lens are the only items remotely akin to adornment. There are no external dials for focus, zoom and/or lens shift (everything is remote controlled), and JVC stashed the few on-unit buttons on the back panel, near the inputs, for a very clean overall look.
The only exterior difference between X35 and the X700 is the finish of the case: the X35 is matte black, compared to the slicker, glossy black of the X700. As a result, the X35 seems a bit more industrial and the X700 slightly classier. The latter also gets topside "THX 3D Display" and "ISF CCC" logos.
The well-designed clicker is medium-sized, backlit and includes all of the direct-access buttons I want. I especially appreciated the "hide" key to black out the image without having to shut down the projector. Think of it as a video version of "mute."
The menu system is sparse, industrial-looking yet multilayered, and certainly more intimidating to newcomers than the menus on Sony's projectors, for example. It's easy enough to navigate once you figure out the logic, but finding certain functions can be a chore. Happily most are available as direct-access buttons from the remote.
|Key TV features|
|Projection technology||D-ILA (LCoS)||Native resolution||1920x1080 (1080p with e-Shift)|
|Lumens rating||1,300||Iris control||Yes|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||No|
|Lens shift||Horizontal and vertical||Zoom and focus||Power (remote)|
|Lamp lifespan||4000 hours||Replacement lamp cost||$499 (model PK-L2312U)|
|Other: Requires separate RF emitter for 3D (model PK-EM2G, $99); Optional 3D glasses (model PK-AG3G, $179); also works with cheaper 3rd party RF glasses|
JVC's D-ILA technology is a branded version of LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon) three-chip projection tech. Sony also uses an LCoS variant which it calls SXRD. Unlike Sony, however, with units like the VPL-HW600, JVC has yet to market a full 4K projector. Its substitute for actual 4K resolution is the "e-Shift" technology on step-up models like the DLA-X700R.
The idea behind e-Shift is to use conventional 1080p resolution D-ILA chips -- and make no mistake, this is a 1080p resolution projector -- to try to approach closer to true 4K resolution. JVC says it "shifts sub-frames by 1/2 pixel both vertically and horizontally to achieve 4 times the pixel density of the original content," which "boosts definition to a higher level." JVC's image processing, which it calls Multiple Pixel Control, is said to aid in the process. The projector can also accept and display a 4K input signal.
The X700R and its line-mates, namely the DLA-X500R ($4,999) and DLA-X900R ($11,999) improve upon previous e-Shift models with an all-new D-ILA chip, with smaller gaps between the pixels and the potential for brighter images. The main differences between the three projectors are in native contrast ratio specs.
Unlike many projectors, including much less-expensive ones, the JVC DLA-X700R still requires you to spend extra for the privilege of watching 3D. You'll need to buy one external emitter ($99) and as many pairs of active-shutter glasses as you'll need for each viewer; none are included.
JVC's PK-EM2 RF emitter adheres to the Full HD 3D standard, making the projector compatible not only with JVC's insanely overpriced glasses ($180), but also with glasses from other makers that comply with the standard. I tested the X35 last year with the three pairs I had in-house and all worked fine, including the $20 Samsung SSG-4100GBs and the excellent $60 Panasonic TY-ER3D4MUs. I also tested the DLA-X700R with a pair of the 2013 Samsung SSG-5100GBs, and again they worked fine; I'd be very surprised if the current $16 Samsung SSG-5150GBs didn't work too.
Unlike some projectors, for example the Sony VPL-HW55ES, the JVC doesn't come with an extra lamp. Sony's lamps are also about $150 cheaper at current online prices -- although JVC claims an extra 1,000 hours of lamp life, for what it's worth.
Setup: Thanks to the four independently-adjustable legs, and the JVC's precise power zoom, focus and lens shift, setup was a breeze. The generous lens shift should accommodate numerous installations, in particular tricky ceilings, without having to resort to complex extended mounts. The multi-position lens memory is a boon for configuring the projector to handle different types of content (16:9 vs. Cinemascope, etc), and for people with CinemaScope screens and anamorphic lenses who want to take advantage of the JVC's anamorphic scaling feature.
Another cool extra is "screen modes," which are pre-configured tweaks designed to match the image more closely to a variety of commercial screens (PDF). As I expect from a three-chip projector in this range there's also a panel alignment control, which I didn't need to use since there were no panel alignment issues on my sample. JVC also deserves credit for the extensive setup notes on its Web site.Picture settings: The JVC's selection of picture settings is very good, albeit not quite as comprehensive as that of many projectors. Its numerous picture presets aren't especially accurate, even THX, but customization options abound.
Strangely the custom gamma control on the X700R isn't quite as exacting as that of the step-down X35. Instead of the multipoint settings of that unit that allow direct adjustment of various light levels, the X700R has a set of sliders labeled "Picture Tone," "Dark Level" and "White Level" that work in conjunction with a target gamma to allow more general fine-tuning. Unfortunately, despite plenty of time trying, I couldn't get it as close to my target BT1886 curve as I would have liked.
Also absent is a multipoint grayscale control -- you only get the standard two points. On the other hand, and unlike the X35, there's a full color management system, and it worked well. After calibration the X700R's color was exceedingly accurate, with the exception of blue.
Another option not available on last year's JVC projectors is an auto iris. It worked great in practice to improve black levels in dark scenes without any noticeable, abrupt changes, so I kept it turned to its most aggressive Auto 1 setting for testing.
Connectivity: The back-panel complement offer two HDMI. It's missing both the X35's component video input and an analog PC input. There are RS-232 and LAN ports for custom remote control systems, a 12 volt trigger for accessories like retractable screens, and the proprietary connection for JVC's 3D emitters.
The DLA-X700R's main claim to fame is contrast, a.k.a the most important factor in picture quality. It showed the deepest, inkiest, most realistic level of black we've ever tested on a projector, combined with punchy, dynamic whites. Color accuracy was strong and the saturation and lushness of color, again due in part to stellar contrast, was stronger. You could chalk its e-Shift faux-4K processing up as No Big Deal, or even a minor black mark, but you can always leave it turned off. In fact the X700R's adjustability overall is another big strength, aside from a wonky new gamma control. Finally it's whisper-quiet, as long as you don't use the High lamp mode, which you won't need in an appropriately dark room anyway.
The X700R doesn't get as bright as many projectors we've tested, but that's pretty much its only weakness. It's not really even a weakness, since in a dedicated home theater environment it can get plenty bright enough to achieve its best-in-class contrast with all but the largest screens.