JVC's 1080p DLA-HD1 projector isn't exactly cheap but its specification is impressive -- its technology produces pictures with stunningly deep blacks and astounding levels of contrast
The HD1 is among the first of a new batch of affordable home cinema projectors that offers support for the 'Full HD' 1080p picture resolution. But that's not all that's special about this projector. It also boasts technology that allows it to deliver extremely deep blacks and lots of contrast in pictures -- both of which are holy grails of the projector world.
Priced at around £4,500 the HD1 certainly isn't cheap, but it boasts a specification that would have cost you three times as much just a year ago, so in some ways it's great value for money.
Measuring 172mm by 455mm by 418mm, the HD1 is about twice the size of the average DLP or LCD machine and, as you would expect, it's quite heavy, too. JVC has done its best to camouflage this bulky frame with a slick looking piano-black finish and a luxurious silver stripe down the centre, however the size of the projector will still be an issue for many as it won't, for example, fit on an average book shelf. In fact, we'd say the only sensible option would be to have it professionally mounted on the ceiling, which you're going to have to budget a bit extra for.
The HD1 has plenty of ports on the rear, including two HDMI connections for attaching your hi-def gear
Nevertheless, the large size does mean that JVC has been able to kit it out with a decent range of connectors on the rear. You get composite and S-Video inputs for hooking up standard-definition kit, plus a single component port and twin HDMI sockets for use with high-definition kit.
And while many projectors come with pretty pathetic remotes, it's obvious that JVC has spent time on this one. It's long and slender, yet it also has large buttons that are arranged sensibly. We also loved the built-in light sensor that automatically illuminates the buttons when it detects that the room has darkened.
Setting up the projector is relatively easy, especially as JVC has kitted it out with both horizontal and vertical lens shift. Using these controls you can move the projected picture from side to side or up and down without having to physically move the projector.
The HD1 allows you to shift the picture vertically by 80 per cent of the projected image and horizontally by 34 per cent. It's not as flexible as the lens shift on, say, Panasonic's 1080p PT-AE1000, but it's still very useful and lets you project a straight image even when the machine is significantly off-centre from the screen. Also, the short throw lens has a 2x zoom so you don't need a massively large room to be able to throw really big images.
Once you've got it projecting straight pictures you may want to jump in to the menus to tweak the picture settings. Luckily the menus are well laid-out and easy to navigate using the remote control. There are plenty of advanced settings like colour gamma controls to allow tweakers to adjust the projector to perfection, but the menus are also structured so as not to be too daunting for novices.
Once you've got the HD1 fully set up the thing that really impresses is its super high-contrast ratio and astounding black levels. Most projectors in this price range use a dynamic iris that quickly closes down to reduce the amount of light coming out of the projector during darker scenes. This improves black levels, but it also reduces the intensity of brighter areas of the picture, so essentially it's a bit of a fudge.
The HD1 doesn't have to resort to such trickery. Instead it's able to achieve really deep blacks without the need for an iris, thanks to the balls-out contrast performance of its three LCoS panels (or D-ILA in JVC speak) and some clever tweaking of the lens assembly. This was especially evident when watching the opening scene of the original Star Wars movie via Sky HD. As the bright Star Destroyer cruises across the dark background of space, neither is compromised. The space ship remains bright and vivid while the space background is rendered as full black rather than a very dark shade of grey.
The HD1 is fairly bulky and heavy, but it's finished in a sleek piano-black coating with a stylish silver stripe down the centre
But it's not just the contrast performance that's impressive -- the 'Full HD' resolution also means you get super-smooth images. If you feed it a good source, such as movies from a Blu-ray player or Sky HD, you'll be gobsmacked by the amount of detail in the picture. On some projectors, you can see the individual pixels on the picture, but not on this one. Instead you get velvety images that look remarkably similar to film.
This combination of amazing picture detail and rich contrast adds up to a home cinema experience that's unbelievably close to the real thing. When we were watching Saving Private Ryan and the original Star Wars trilogy via Sky HD, we weren't sure we'd ever seen these moves looking so good -- even in a proper cinema.
But for all its plus points, there are also a couple of negatives. The HD1 lacks a bit of oomph in the brightness department, so to get the most out of it you'll need to use it in quite a dark room.
Also, although the pictures are very detailed thanks to the 1080p resolution, they're not quite as sharp as some other 'Full HD' projectors we've seen. It's not hugely lacking in this area, but the images were definitely a touch softer than on Optoma's HD81 or Panasonic's PT-AE1000.
There's no doubt that the HD1 is an impressive projector for the price. Its contrast and black level performance is absolutely top notch and really helps it to produce extremely rich-looking pictures. In fact we'd go so far as to say that it's one of the most cinematic projectors we've seen.
It's a big and bulky machine, though, so it'll be hard to place in the average home, and it's not as bright as some of its rivals. As the images aren't quite as sharp as those on some similarly priced 1080p machines, it doesn't quite get the full thumbs up.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Kate Macefield