JVC DLA-X35 review: Serious picture quality, meet serious value

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MSRP: $3,499.95

The Good JVC's DLA-X35 doles out huge, stunning projection images characterized by deep black levels and highly accurate color; excellent value for this level of image quality; extensive picture adjustments and setup options, including power zoom, focus, and lens shift; no-nonsense minimalist design; optional 3D emitter compatible with cheaper third-party glasses.

The Bad Inaccurate pre-calibration picture settings; doesn't include accessories necessary to watch 3D; inferior to many projectors in brighter environments.

The Bottom Line The relatively affordable JVC DLA-X35 produces videophile-grade images with very few compromises.

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8.1 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 9
  • Value 8

JVC might not be a big name in TVs or home video anymore, but its home-theater projectors are still videophile favorites. They feature the company's own D-ILA technology, capable of delivering jaw-dropping black levels -- and hence overall picture quality -- that trounces cheaper LCD and DLP projectors.

The DLA-X35 is the company's most affordable example ($3,500 list), and even if you ignore screen size, its picture quality also trounces all but the best conventional TVs. Like all good projectors it requires a dark room and a decent screen, but provided those amenities, it's easy to imagine why someone would prefer watching this image over that of any standard-size flat panel, let alone a jumbo LCD.

If you're lucky enough to consider buying a projector like this, you may also have your eye on its direct competitor, Sony's VPL-HW50ES. I'll cut to the chase: there's no picture quality difference between the two that makes me prefer one over the other. They're both great, and both scored the same in our picture quality ratings.

The main difference between the two is in features, particularly included accessories. Sony throws in an extra lamp as well as two pair of 3D glasses. JVC provides no extra lamp and requires you to buy an emitter and glasses separately for 3D.

On the other hand the JVC costs hundreds less, especially when you factor in retailer discounts unavailable on the price-protected Sony. So, despite the Sony's additional extras, I consider the JVC the better value. If you're in the market for a videophile-grade projector yet still have a budget, the JVC DLA-X35 is tough to beat.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The JVC exudes seriousness in a way only a projector can. The metallic case is big and heavy enough (17.9x18.5x7 inches WDH, 32.6 pounds) to mean business. The forward-facing vents flanking the large Cyclopean lens are the only items remotely akin to adornment. There are no dials near the lens for focus, zoom, and/or lens shift (everything is remote controlled), and JVC stashed the on-unit buttons on the back panel, near the inputs, between a second pair of vents.

JVC makes the projector in two colors and model numbers, DLA-X35B for classic black (the version we reviewed) and DLA-X35W for ceiling-matching white.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The well-designed clicker is medium size, 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."

Sarah Tew/CNET

The menu system is sparse and professional-looking, and certainly more intimidating to newcomers than Sony's. It's easy enough to navigate once you figure out the logic, but finding certain functions can be a chore. Happily many of the most important are available as direct-access buttons from the remote.

Key TV features
Projection Technology D-ILA (LCoS) Native resolution 1920x1080 (1080p)
Lumens rating 1,300 Iris control Yes (static)
3D technology Active 3D glasses included No
Lens shift Horizontal and vertical Zoom and focus Power (remote)
Lamp lifespan Up to 4000 hours Replacement lamp cost $499
Other: Requires separate emitter for 3D (RF version, model PK-EM2, $99); Optional 3D glasses (RF version, model PK-AG 3G, $179); also works with cheaper 3rd party RF glasses

JVC's D-ILA 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, JVC doesn't include an automatic iris option on its projectors, and that's spun as a point of pride; its claimed 50,000:1 contrast ratio is "native." We don't measure contrast ratio at CNET, but we can confirm that JVC's claims amount to some pretty spectacular images.

The X35 is JVC's company's least-expensive D-ILA projector. The step-up DLA-X55R adds the company's "e-Shift" faux 4K technology and more advanced color controls. The higher-end DLA-X75R and DLA-X95R boast higher contrast ratios, analog PC inputs, motorized lens covers, and THX and ISF certification.

JVC includes neither glasses nor the required emitter for 3D. Sarah Tew/CNET

Unlike the Sony VPL-HW50ES, the JVC DLA-X35 makes you spend extra for the privilege of watching 3D. That's because JVC requires an external emitter ($99 for the RF version) and active-shutter glasses for each viewer, none of which are included. The X35 is actually compatible with two different JVC emitters: the new RF version (PK-EM2, $99) and the old IR version (PK-EM1, $69). And no, you can't mix-and-match RF and IR accessories.

Despite the $30 difference between the two, RF is by far the better value. That's because the PK-EM2 adheres to the Full HD 3D standard, making the projector compatible not only with JVC's insanely overpriced glasses ($180, above), but also with glasses from other makers that comply with the standard. We tested it with the three we had in-house and all worked fine, including the $19 Samsung SSG-4100GBs and the excellent $60 Panasonic TY-ER3D4MUs. (Check out our 3D glasses shootout for more.)

Generally RF (radio frequency) is also a better technology for 3D because IR (infrared) requires line-of-sight that can be broken, and has a shorter range. Sony's projector, meanwhile, uses IR for 3D, and if you want to buy extra glasses your choices are more limited since it doesn't adhere to the universal standard. Sony's own glasses cost $120 each, or you could go with third-party universal glasses like the $60 XpanD X104's, which also worked in our tests. Check out our Sony review for more details.

Unlike the Sony, the JVC doesn't come with an extra lamp, and Sony's lamps are $100 to $200 cheaper at current online prices -- although JVC claims an extra 1,000 hours of lamp life, for what it's worth. JVC's refresh rate of 120Hz is also less than that of the 240Hz Sony, although it makes little difference we could discern.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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 mounts. The five-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. I didn't adjust it from the default settings on our review sample since its increments were too coarse; I'd have liked to see finer gradations of control here, (which, to be fair, are available on higher-end JVCs). JVC also deserves credit for the extensive setup notes on its Web site.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Picture settings: The JVC's selection is very good, albeit not quite as comprehensive as that of many projectors. Its numerous picture presets all relatively inaccurate, but customization options abound. The one exception is the lack of a color management system, which meant I couldn't adjust color much beyond the standard Color and Tint controls.

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