JVC DLA-NX7 4K D-ILA Projector Review
JVC DLA-NX7 Pros
- Native 4K resolution and strikingly sharp focus
- Outstanding black level and contrast
- Effective Auto and Frame Adapt Tone-Mapping for HDR
- Extensive picture adjustment menus
- Quieter than last-gen JVC projectors
JVC DLA-NX7 Cons
- Some sacrifice in black floor/contrast compared with last-gen JVCs
- Poorly designed remote control
Our Take on the JVC DLA-NX7
With its new 4K D-ILA imagers—and superb contrast, color, and HDR—the DLA-NX7 reconfirms JVC's place near the pinnacle of home theater projection.
For much of the time I have covered front projection as a journalist, JVC's LCoS-driven projectors have been among the most sought-after for serious home theater enthusiasts. Many of the respected projector reviewers I've worked with in the enthusiast press eventually purchased one as their reference—"I bought the review sample" was a common refrain among colleagues—and some have gone through several generations. Admittedly, along with a few of the higher-end Sony projectors (also LCoS-based), the premium attached to the JVCs has made them less attainable for the average home theaterphile. Drawing a parallel with the world of automobiles, these projectors have played the role of the Porche's, Ferrari's, McClaren's, et. al., for the home theater world.
The interest in the JVCs and Sonys among those who care deeply about image quality is easily explained. As with televisions, contrast and black level in a projector are the holy grail. Accurate color is easy to engineer if the will is there, and every manufacturer has the ability to equip their product with a great lens and optics if cost is no object. Much of what separates the good from the very best dark-room home theater projectors today comes down to dynamic range. That doesn't mean you can't push brightness to attain higher contrast ratio (the difference between the darkest black and brightest white), and there are applications—such as ambient-light viewing—where higher brightness trumps the need for darker blacks. But, if the goal is to render a reasonably bright picture in a dark viewing room with a truly deep black, while also retaining subtle shadow details in the dark areas of the image, LCoS imaging devices like the D-ILA chips in JVC's projectors or the SXRD devices in Sony's are a good place to start. If well engineered, they attain a low native black level (among other positive attributes) that can then be enhanced with a dynamic iris or other light-modulating scheme to achieve a deep black on the most demanding dark scenes—one that doesn't call attention to itself with a gray haze over the image, or crushes shadow detail in the near-black region. A good, solid black will also show itself in brighter scenes as well, adding both dimensionality and a more organic, saturated look to colors.
All of this is to say that JVC had a reputation to protect in rolling out its new native 4K projectors after competing for several years with models using its e-shift pixel-shifting technology that delivers an approximation of 4K resolution with 1080p imagers. So how did they fare? Let's take a look.
JVC DLA-NX7 Key Features
JVC's consumer projector line for 2019 now includes six models in total, including four LCoS and two DLP projectors. All four of the LCoS models are native 4K with up to full-DCI, 4096 x 2160-pixel resolution. (Note that the DLA-X790/RS540, the one carryover from JVC's prior family of 4K-compliant, 1080p pixel-shifters, has now been discontinued). All the models have a professional-line equivalent sold through the integrator channel. The subject of this review is the third model from the top, the JVC DLA-NX7 (also the Procision DLA-RS2000) with 1,900 lumens, 80,000:1 rated native contrast (800,000:1 dynamic), and a $8,999 price tag (following a recent $1,000 hike). Priced at $9,000 less than the $17,999 DLA-NX9 (DLA-RS3000), it lacks that model's 8K e-shift pixel-shifting capability, but offers a big step up in contrast from the $5,999, DLA-NX5 (DLA-RS1000) with only 40,000:1 native contrast. The top model, the laser-driven DLA-RS4500 ($34,999), was introduced in January 2017 and has undergone significant upgrades via firmware as recently as last summer.
Though not as hefty as the 86-pound RS4500, the NX models are still large, solid projectors. All are approximately 20 inches square by 9 inches tall. The NX5 and NX7 weigh in at 44 pounds each, while the NX9, with its larger lens, tips the scale at 48 pounds and adds about an inch of depth compared with its smaller siblings.
The most obvious upgrade in the DLA-NX7 is the new 0.69-inch native 4K D-ILA imaging device, one each (as usual) for the red, green, and blue primaries. This configuration brings with it the benefits of equal white and color brightness as well as immunity from rainbow artifacts. JVC has also adopted its Wire Grid polarizer from some of its professional projectors to further deepen blacks. Additionally, the NX model projectors were all introduced with an important feature called Auto Tone-Mapping, and were recently upgraded via firmware to add a more advanced Frame Adapt HDR tone-mapping mode. These are both significant advancements over the manual HDR brightness controls provided by most projector manufacturers to accommodate the wide range of HDR content.
For those unfamiliar with how HDR works: HDR programs are mastered with brighter highlights than traditional high definition content—hence the "high dynamic range" moniker. The brightness limit for the HDR10 standard is 10,000 nits, and today's programs contain peaks of up to 4,000 nits that no consumer displays can yet reach—particularly projectors, which are brightness-challenged compared with flat-panels. So every display must apply a "tone-map" to adapt the HDR content to its own capabilities. The ideal is to tame the highlights just enough to retain visceral punch and detail in the bright areas while also maintaining good contrast in the dark parts of the image. Most projectors have an HDR brightness or gamma control typically limited to three or four stepped options; Epson recently introduced a 16-step slider for its newest projectors.
JVC projectors dating back to the last generation already offered more fine control over gamma for tuning HDR than I've seen on any other home theater projectors. Three key menu adjustments—Picture Tone, Dark Level, and Bright Level—respectively allow independent tweaking of the overall image brightness, just the dark shadow details, or just the bright highlights. Auto Tone-Mapping attempts to create ideal settings for these parameters for each individual title, based on two critical pieces of metadata found in most HDR10 programs. The first is MaxCLL (maximum content light level), which relays the highest peak brightness that occurs anywhere in the program, even for just a moment. The second bit of info is the average light level for the entire program, or MaxFALL (maximum frame-average light level). By reading the MaxCLL and MaxFALL information on the disc, the projector can make a solid, educated guess of the best tone-map and leave the viewer to just sit down and enjoy the movie instead of playing video engineer. Hardcore tweakers still have the option of tuning these controls, however, and the new projectors add a Mapping Level slider that modestly adjusts overall brightness up or down when Auto Tone-Mapping is active.
Frame Adapt HDR tone-mapping was added to the DLA-NX9, NX7, and NX5 in October 2019. (Note that JVC had to remove the Pincushion Correction feature from the projectors to free up memory for the Frame Adapt feature, something that may affect some curved screen or anamorphic lens users who rely on this adjustment to achieve perfect geometry.) When activated in the menu, Frame Adapt foregoes the Auto Tone-Mapping scheme described above and instead relies entirely on a real-time analysis of the content to establish the ideal tone-map, on either a frame-by-frame or scene-by-scene basis. In essence, this functions loosely like dynamic metadata in a Dolby Vision HDR program to tune the tone-map to what's on screen at any given moment, with the key difference being that image settings for a given scene or frame with Dolby Vision would be established and signed off by the content creator rather than being estimated by an algorithm.
I'm aware of only two other projectors presently that have this kind of dynamic tone-mapping, both from LG Electronics: the HU85LA ultra-short throw laser projector we recently reviewed, and the new HU70LA LED projector we are currently evaluating. I did some extensive viewing tests with JVC's Auto Tone-Mapping and Frame Adapt HDR features, and also compared them with the Dynamic Tone Mapping feature on the HU85LA, which I'll say more about later.
Beyond these highlights, JVC developed a large, 65mm diameter, 17-element, 15-group all-glass lens for the DLA-NX7 and NX5. It is both stunning in its sharpness and edge-to-edge focus, and extremely uniform in its passage of light, measuring a very high 87% in our brightness uniformity test. Its generous zoom and shift capabilities should meet most installation environments. As an example, the 2.0x zoom can throw a 100-inch diagonal image from between just-under 10 feet to just over 20 feet. You can establish the throw range for your specific screen size with the ProjectorCentral JVC DLA-NX7 Projection Calculator. Substantial lens shift—a generous +/- 80% vertical and +/- 34% horizontal—is provided. The lens's motorized operation, including focus, provides a fine degree of control and seems to operate more quietly than JVC's last-gen projectors.
Finally, JVC also updated its remote control with this new line of projectors. It was a disappointment. Previous models came with a full-size, 9-inch wand offering raised, backlit buttons that provided a high degree of direct control over key menus and features, and was intuitive to work by feel alone. By comparison, the new 7-inch mini-remote looks slick and modern, but offers less direct access to adjustments and, critically, has a flat face with all the buttons positioned flush and adjacent to one another. This makes it prone to mis-strikes even in bright light, and very difficult to work by feel in the dark. Even with its backlight active, I found it frustrating to use. Fortunately, the remote from my own reference projector, a JVC DLA-X790, uses the same IR codes, so about halfway through my evaluation I tossed the new one aside.
Here's a more complete list of key features for the DLA-NX7:
- 1,900 lumens rated brightness; measured 1,628 ANSI lumens
- 80,000:1 native contrast ratio; 800,000:1 dynamic
- Three 0.69-inch native 4K D-ILA imagers offering equal color/white brightness and immunity from rainbow artifacts.
- 17-element, 15-group all-glass 65 mm diameter high quality lens
- 2.0x motorized zoom with +/-80% vertical and +/- 34% horizontal shift
- Vertical keystone correction
- Two 18Gbps HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 Inputs
- ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) Licensed
- HDR10/HLG Compatibility with Auto and Frame Adapt HDR Tone-Mapping
- Wide color gamut specified at 100% DCI-P3; measured 98.8%
- Clear Motion Drive frame interpolation
- Multiple Pixel Control (MPC) detail enhancement; works with up to 4K60P (4:4:4) signals
- Low Latency mode
- 11 customizable picture modes with independent settings/lens positions
- Anamorphic mode for use with third-party anamorphic lenses
- Remote control via Control4 SDDP / LAN / RS-232C / IR / 12V Screen Trigger Output / 3D Sync Output
- Full 3D compatible (requires separate PK-EM2 RF emitter, $99, and compatible RF shutter glasses)
- 265 watt NSH lamp rated for 3,500 hours, 4,500 hours in Eco mode. Lamp replacements (PK-L2618U) cost $599
- 3 Year Advanced Replacement Warranty
|Review Contents:||Introduction, Features||Color Modes, SDR Viewing||HDR Viewing, 3D Viewing, Conclusion||Measurements, Connections|
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