1080p D-ILA Home Theater Projector
May 24, 2013
JVC X55 vs. Panasonic AE8000 and Epson 5020UB
Two hot performance-oriented home theater projectors this year are the Epson Home Cinema 5020UB and the Panasonic AE8000, both of which cost less than $2,999 in open distribution. If you are having trouble deciding whether to drop the big bucks on an X55 or purchase one of its less expensive competitors, read on.
Sharpness and clarity. While the X55 has 4K e-shift and the other projectors do not, we found a startling similarity. Both the AE8000 and the 5020UB have smart sharpening systems; on the AE8000 it's called Detail Clarity while the 5020UB calls it Super Resolution. While neither projector physically shifts the pixels, engaging the smart sharpening system created an image strikingly similar to that of the X55.
The AE8000's Detail Clarity system defaults to +2 on a scale of 0 to +7. In an A/B comparison between the AE8000 and the X55, the 4K e-shift's "Film" setting, the mildest enhancement available, was roughly equivalent to Detail Clarity +4. The X55's "SD" setting, which is more aggressive than Film, creates a sharper picture than Detail Clarity +6 at the cost of ringing and other artifacts in some material. The final two settings on the X55, named HD and High Resolution, were both aggressive enough that the Detail Clarity system had no matching setting, and artifacts were common when viewing HD material.
What we did not find was a unique qualitative advantage granted by the 4K e-shift2 system that would make it beneficial over a more conventional smart sharpening system like Detail Clarity or Super Resolution. Both systems provide very similar picture enhancements without the added cost and complexity. And, to their credit, Detail Clarity and Super Resolution were both easier to adjust than the X55's MCP system.
Light output. Both the AE8000 and the 5020UB have high light output modes that make them more suitable than the X55 for use in ambient light. The AE8000 has Cinema 2 mode, which produces around 1600 lumens, and Normal mode, which produces over 1700 lumens. The Epson 5020UB's Living Room mode measures around 1700 lumens as well. These image modes have good color saturation and contrast despite being tailored for use in living rooms and high ambient light situations. Therefore, the AE8000 and 5020UB can be used either as multipurpose units or as dedicated home theater projectors.
However, if we want to compare apples to apples, we can look at the three projectors' Cinema modes. The X55's Cinema mode measured 820 lumens on our test unit with the lamp at full power and the lens at its widest angle setting. Cinema 1 on the AE8000 measured 822 lumens, identical to the X55. The 5020UB's Cinema mode measured 914 lumens, which is functionally the same as the other two. So all three projectors offer the same number of calibrated lumens.
What you get with the X55 that isn't present on the other two projectors is customizability. The X55's manual iris allows light output to be fine-tuned until it is perfect for your screen, while the other two projectors' adjustments are less fine-grained and more approximate. Neither the AE8000 nor the 5020UB features a manual iris, so light output control is limited to zoom lens positioning and lamp power.
Contrast and black level. When it comes to black level, neither the AE8000 nor the 5020UB can match the X55, though the 5020UB comes closer in dark scenes thanks to its more aggressive auto iris. None of the three projectors has a problem displaying deep shadow detail, but the X55 manages to do it with deeper blacks and no automatic iris, giving it a more natural appearance.
As far as gamma is concerned, the X55's default gamma is the most accurate of the three projectors, and its gamma adjustment system is the easiest to use.
Color. All three projectors can be calibrated to 6500K grayscale and Rec. 709 color gamut, so there isn't any difference between them in this aspect.
Fan noise. In low power, the X55 is the quietest projector of the three, but in full power mode it is the loudest. Therefore, if you want to install one of these projectors in a room where fan noise is a concern, you would be able to run the AE8000 or 5020UB at full power, but may need to run the X55 in Low power mode, thereby limiting its light output.
3D. Our 3D winner among this group is the Epson 5020UB due to its higher brightness. Between the remaining two, the AE8000's 3D performance is smoother and more artifact-free, while the X55 tends to show a bit of mild flicker in solid color areas.
Placement flexibility. While all three projectors have 2.0:1 zoom lenses and H/V lens shift, only the X55's lens has powered adjustments on all lens controls. The AE8000 has powered zoom and focus but no powered lens shift, while the 5020UBe has no powered adjustments at all.
Constant Image Height. Both the X55 and AE8000 have anamorphic stretch, so they can be used with an outboard anamorphic lens. The 5020UB lacks this feature, but the more expensive 6020UB includes it. Both the AE8000 and X55 also have Lens Memory for anamorphic display without an external lens. The X55 has the advantage of powered lens shift, but the AE8000 can automatically digitally shift the 2.4:1 image up or down in the frame (essentially changing the relative size of the top and bottom black bars), which can take the place of lens shift in this instance for most people.
Input lag. For gaming, the AE8000's 2.0 frame (34ms) delay in Game mode makes it a stronger contender than the X55 at 4 frames (68ms) or the 5020UB at 5 frames (84ms).
When it comes to pure home theater, the JVC DLA-X55R is a strong product with a clear focus. Every feature of the projector is designed to create a better home theater experience. Black level is the best we've seen in this price range. Color is nearly perfect without any adjustment at all. Light output is low compared to other home theater projectors, but only because the projector does not include a "dynamic" or "bright" mode for living room use. A 2.0:1 zoom lens with powered adjustments and an easy to use Lens Memory system opens up the possibility of constant image height use without an additional anamorphic lens.
However, no projector is perfect. While low lamp mode renders the X55 nearly silent, high lamp mode's increased fan noise can make the projector uncomfortably loud in small spaces. The menu systems can appear complex and convoluted, and sometimes adjustments are not where one would expect them to be. The projector's perfect cinema light output can be uncomfortably low when watching 3D on a larger screen, where every lumen counts. And the 4K e-shift2 system, while useful in its own right, does not offer a significant advantage over the smart sharpening systems found in several other home theater projectors.
The X55 does not have many flaws, but those flaws it does have tend to manifest when one tries to push the projector out of its niche. Within that niche -- say, on a 120" diagonal screen in a dark home theater -- the X55 is excellent, and at $4,999 represents a strong value in today's market.