Editor's Choice Award
Our Editor's Choice award goes to products that dramatically exceed expectations for performance, value, or cutting-edge design.
- 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
- Some sacrifice in black floor/contrast compared with last-gen JVCs
- Poorly designed remote control
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 Porcshes, Ferraris, McLarens, 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
Color Modes. There are a bewildering number of picture adjustments in the DLA-NX7, including five preset color modes plus six customizable User Modes to make and store your own. Within each of these are multiple settings for gamma, color temperature, and color space. There's a full color management system (CMS) for adusting RGBCMY color points, and gain and offset controls for tweaking the grayscale.
I selected the Natural picture mode for 1080p SDR content with its D65 color temp and Rec. 709 color space defaults. The default gamma was 2.2 but I manually selected the setting for 2.4 that, with tuning, got me close to the desired target for the newer B.T.1886 curve. Measurements taken using CalMAN Ultimate software, a Murideo Six-G generator, and an X-Rite i1Pro2 photo spectrometer showed very good, though not perfect, color. The primaries read well within the desired Delta E error readings of less than 3, but the grayscale was off, with Delta Es that ran from 4.5 up to 6.4 for 100% white on my 92-inch, 1.3 gain matte white screen. Blue ran increasingly deficient as the image got brighter and red and green ran consistently too hot. Post calibration, however, Delta E for all brightness levels from 20% to 100% was under 2.
The DLA-NX7 automatically detects either HDR10 or HLG high dynamic range content and switches to its HDR picture mode. For HDR10 you can set it to default to either the HDR10 mode (with an option for Auto Tone-Map) or the dedicated Frame Adapt mode. I initially calibrated in the HDR10 mode (Frame Adapt was not yet available) and selected the Rec.2020 color space (which is used for the mastering of UHD HDR content) rather than JVC's custom HDR color space option. Measurements showed this selection reduced brightness by about 15% vs. the default HDR color profile, so some users with larger screens may prefer the latter option.
Out of the box, grayscale and color points with HDR10 measured similar to what I found in Natural mode, with good color primary and secondary points showing Delta Es under 3, but with grayscale Delta Es that exceeded 3 around the mid-brightness level and got increasingly higher until around 70% brightness where it leveled off. The gamma curve followed the desired ST2084 EOTF fairly closely, though. Post calibration results were excellent, with Delta E's for grayscale below 3 for most of the range and color point Delta E's below 2 (with targets set to the 50% saturation points for Rec.2020). CalMAN's P3 saturation sweeps inside Rec.2020—a critical measurement since HDR content is mastered today to P3 color-space limits inside a Rec.2020 envelope—were all below 3. CalMAN's ColorChecker also measured all of its 26 different color swatches with Delta E's less than 2. Color volume measured in at 98.8% of DCI-P3.
1080p/SDR Viewing. Along with judging how the DLA-NX7 fared with familiar SDR and HDR movie clips, I A/B'd it with my JVC DLA-X790 reference projector to get some idea of how this new model compares with the last-generation JVCs. As mentioned, the X790 is a native-1080p LCoS projector with JVC's e-shift technology, and was a $5,999, mid-line model in the previous product family. Until its recent discontinuation (coinciding with JVC's introduction of the LX-NZ3 4K DLP projector, $3,699), it was the entry level consumer projector below the NX models and offered at the discounted price of $3,999. Notably, its rated contrast ratio of 130,000:1 native, or 1.3 million:1 dynamic, is higher than any of the NX projectors, even exceeding the 100,000:1 rating for the DLA-NX9.
I started on the NX7's tuned-up Natural mode with one of my old standbys, the 1080p Blu-ray of Oblivion. In an aerial shot where we see Jack (the character played by Tom Cruise) walking from his quarters in his floating sky-station to his airship, the NX7 displayed the expected range of whites and off-whites evident in the clouds and the heliport landing platform, and in the stained, gray roof of the station. Moments later, as Jack settles into the sun-drenched bubble cockpit to perform his pre-flight routine, a close-up of his face revealed excellent skin tone, with just the right hint of appropriate extra warmth imparted by the sun.
Later, when the camera captures Jack eating his lunch on the top of a cliff, the shadow detail in the shaded rock wall beneath the cliff was nicely rendered, but not quite the equal of the X790. Up till now, the projectors looked essentially the same in most respects, with colors and contrast that tracked together nearly perfectly. On this scene, I did notice that the DLA-X790 managed a slightly darker black in this dark area of the picture. On another scene that showed a close up of his partner Vika's face, I also observed that the X790—again, a native 1080p projector with its pixel-shifting enhancement turned on—looked a touch sharper than the NX7, which is a native 4K projector that was scaling the 1080p signal up to fill out the 4K pixel count. There was finer detail in the skin texture around her nose and in the ribbing of her outfit. Some modest tuning of the Enhance control in the NX7's MPC (Multiple Pixel Control) menu made things look more even.
The Greatest Showman, an homage to the life of P.T. Barnum, is filled with bright, saturated colors...especially reds (think: circus). It's often lit to enhance the pink of fleshtones beyond anything in real life, but a few scenes shot outdoors in natural light are revealing of a display's capabilities. For example, just three minutes into the movie, we find the young Barnum staring into a store window imagining his future, and the camera gives us a close up of his face. The NX7 revealed every stunning detail: adolescent skin texture that was mostly smooth yet a touch bumpy, and a hint of dark shading where a future moustache might grow. There was superb sharpness and color in the boy's vest, which was green, with ribbing and subtle red speckles that ran throughout the fabric. His gray linen shirt also retained all its fine texturing and detail. By comparison, the DLA-X790 showed a little deeper black in the boy's hair, but with detail that looked obviously enhanced and not natural. Dialing down the X790's MPC control on this shot eliminated the artifacts and put the projectors on something closer to even keel, but the X790 just couldn't fully match the NX7's organic sharpness.
It's worth noting that there were several very dark scenes I viewed where the DLA-X790 demonstrated superior black level and better contrast than the NX7. On credit or title screens in which white letters appear on a black background, for example, the black on the X790 blended almost fully with the letterbox bars above and below the screen, while on the NX7 the bars were more obvious against the picture's grayer background. A scene in Gravity at about 13 minutes elapsed time, in which an astronaut in her white suit tumbles away from the camera to become a small white spec in a vast starfield, also showed an obviously deeper black and better contrast that not only brought out more of the less-bright stars, but also made all the stars brighter and more dimensional. And the now-classic black level/contrast torture scene at the open of chapter 12 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 2, in which the Death Eaters assemble on a moonlit rock outcrop before their attack on Hogwarts, was another in which the NX7 fared very well but was outclassed by the X790, which showed deeper black and brighter highlights on the faces of Voldemort's disciples as the aerial camera shot swung down and around to ground level. Overall, I'd rank the NX7's blacks and contrast on the most demanding scenes as top tier. But I was also left with no doubt that JVC's published specs—which declare a significant contrast advantage for the X790—don't lie. As JVC did with their 1080p imaging chips and projectors over several iterations, I'm sure they'll make continual black-level improvements with their new 4K projectors as well.
4K/HDR Viewing. Darkest Hour, in which the actor Gary Oldman eerily brings to life every aspect of Winston Churchill's personality and physical presence, focuses on the few days leading to and following Churchill's appointment as prime minister just as England and all of Europe is forced to face the reality of Hitler's full ambitions. The opening scene shows Parliament's House of Commons in a daytime session, lit by skylights that allow the sun to stream into the chamber and spotlighting the Opposition Leader orating at the central table while his collegues sit in the surrounding bleachers.
With its HDR10 mode engaged, the the NX7 did a spectacular job of first pulling out details in the faces of the legion of MPs (members of Parliament) in the dark, showdowy bleachers, then delivering beautiful pop to the speaker's face as the camera swings around and catches him with a close-up. The highlight on his bald head reflected the bright sun with vivid punch, but did so without any blooming or blow-out, and his skin tone was natural with no excessive pink or red lean. Here again, the NX7's 4K imagers and superb lens revealed all the finest details: the make-up on his nose, the craggy lines in his face, the deeper lines in his jowls, the texture and color of his gray suit with its black pinstripes. The white pocket square that emerged from his pocket popped nicely off the screen and showed perfect neutrality, with no hint of pink or blue tint.
I explored the Auto Tone-Mapping function with this and some other HDR discs. As a baseline, my calibrated settings for the HDR gamma menu were Picture Tone 2, Dark Level -1, and Bright Level 0. Darkest Hour, for example, is a relatively dark movie with a MaxCLL of just 662 nits and a MaxFALL of 151 nits as reported by the projector's Info menu page. With these readings, the JVC system selected Picture Tone 3, Dark Level 0, and Bright Level 4. So, JVC's algorithm pumped up the picture brightness overall and the bright highlights more aggressively than my calibration. But I found that with this and other movies, the Auto settings could look marginally better or worse than my own, depending on the scene. At about six minutes into the film, for example, Churchill's new typist is taking instructions from his chief of staff in the dim hallway outside his bedroom, and on this shot my settings were too dark and buried her face in shadow. By comparison, the JVC's Auto settings nicely brought out the contrast in her face and around the outline of her dark dress, while also delivering a blacker black and more flushed out highlights on the leafy wallpaper behind her.
A moment later, she finds herself in Churchill's bedroom, which is bathed in bright sunlight and cast shadows. In this lighting, the Auto settings made the bright highlights a bit too hot and washed out some contrast in the dark areas, while my own settings made highlights look more natural while also better retaining (but not crushing) the darker, shadowy parts of the image. Still, as I watched through the rest of the movie, with its outdoor scenes and a variety of interiors ranging from palace parlors to the shadowy interiors in Britain's War Room bunker, I often found the JVC's Auto selections preferable to my own, and sometimes by a lot.
First Man, the biopic about Neil Armstrong's life in the astronaut program leading up to his moon landing, is a demanding HDR showcase that's moody and dark (literally and figuratively). There are tons of tough interior shots in shadowy cockpits and spacecraft, often punctuated with bright highlights of earth or the moon through a window. In Chapter 18, when the astronauts open the LEM hatch, the clarity of texture and bright sunlight on the gray lunar surface against the deep black of space in the top half of the frame was simply breathtaking on the NX7. Again, my DLA-X790 produced a slightly deeper black, but didn't match the brilliance of the highlights on the NX7 or show as clearly all the undulations and while speckles of light reflecting off the metallic rocks scattered about—probably a result of both the NX7's tone-map and better lens. The crisp white of Armstrong's space suit during his moon walk leaped off the screen, and the natural reflections in a shot of the sun coming off his helmet visor, helped bring this photorealistic scene to life.
The metatdata on this title reports as 1,000 nits MaxCLL and MaxFALL at 285 nits. This time, the JVC's Auto tone-map settings—Picture tone 2, Dark Level 0, and Bright Level 0—were virtually equal to my calibration. Only my Dark Level setting, at -1, was lower by one click. So differences between my calibrated tone-map and JVC's auto tone-map were more difficult to detect on this disc. Nonetheless, on scenes of mixed brightness the extra click up on the Dark Level commanded by the Auto setting gave just the right touch of helpful, extra brightness to the dark areas on the LEM without raising the highlights in any noticeable way.
Where JVC's algorithm did falter somewhat, whether with the Auto Tone-Mapping feature or the new Frame Adapt mode, was with very bright scenes on very bright movies, where it sometimes erred on the side of making things too bright at the cost of overall contrast and depth. Several examples were seen on The Meg, a modern-day reboot of Jaws featuring a giant, prehistoric shark (as in, we're gonna need a much, much bigger boat). The metadata on this disc reports as 4,000 MaxCLL and 1,193 MaxFALL, with both exceptionally bright highlights and average brightness throughout. As an example, a shot of a ship on the brightly lit ocean pumped up the sun's reflections on the water too much, sacrificing detail in that section of the image as well as contrast in the ship's white hull. Moving from the JVC's Auto-Tone Map feature in HDR10 mode to its new Frame Adaptive mode actually made things even brighter—one of the few times that the Frame Adaptive settings weren't preferable to the auto-tone map. By comparison, the Dynamic Tone-Mapping feature applied by LG's HU85LA projector resulted in a consistently darker image overall but one with more depth (see below). Still, the very best picture I could accomplish on this scene, and in The Meg overall, was delivered by turning off the automatic tone-mapping features in the JVC's HDR10 mode and manually adjusting its HDR gamma controls to fine tune it for this title—admittedly a challenging outlier among HDR discs.
Auto vs. Frame-Adapt Tone-Mapping. After loading in JVC's new firmware, I did some direct A/B comparisons between the Auto Tone-Map option in the HDR10 color mode vs. the independent Frame Adapt color mode. With Frame Adapt selected, you get two menu controls for fine-tuning. First, you can choose between Scene-by-Scene or Frame-by-Frame tone-mapping. And for either, there's an HDR Level control with Auto, Low, Medium, and High settings.
A JVC official described the Frame-by-Frame setting as being "more aggressive" than the default Scene-by-Scene option, and suggested it would be the right choice for most individuals. But in extensive viewing, I saw no easily discernable differences between the two, whether I compared still frames or entire sequences. In the end, I opted to just leave the control on the more granular Frame-by-Frame option. I also left the HDR Level control on Auto, which typically delivered the same result as the Low setting, though on some darker scenes raising the level to Medium or High had a modest effect. Critically, after some experimentation I also changed the JVC's Input Level control, which resulted in a much better HDR experience whether I was watching the HDR10 mode or the Frame Adaptive mode. Shifting it from its default Auto selection, which usually equated to the Video setting (video levels 16-235) to the 16-255 (Super White) setting allowed for similarly boosted bright levels but better retained depth and contrast in the mid-tone and darker areas .
While studying challenging still frames from different movie titles with these settings, I usually saw differences between the JVC's regular Auto Tone-Map (based on the disc metadata) and its Frame Adaptive tone-map. These were at once subtle and obvious, in that they cannily boosted very specific highlights or adjusted the dark areas ever so slightly to enhance the image in a way that gave it a clearly improved, more organic look. Engaging Frame Adapt had the most dramatic effect with darker scenes and those with mixed bright and dark elements, while its benefits were less obvious on overall bright camera shots.
One excellent example was the open of Chapter 15 in The Greatest Showman (1:07:35), in which Barnum is packing a suitcase for travel at the foot of his bed while his wife reclines at the headboard, wearing a lacy, blue chiffon night dress. Sunlight is streaming in through a large window and throwing some narrow beams on three spots: one on the bedsheet, one on the ruffles in the fabric on her knee, and one on her hand. Auto Tone-Mapping alone does a nice job contrasting the shadows in the room from the bright morning light and makes the scene feel very natural and beautiful. But, engaging the Frame Adapt HDR mode boosted the highlights ever so slightly and put them in noticeably greater relief, making the entire picture instantly more dimensional. Notably, those highlights were not aggressively punched up to where detail was suddenly lost in those areas for the sake of visceral impact. Instead, it was an almost granular alteration that simply took the image up a notch and made it look more real. It was as though the projector eerily knew exactly how far to push the brightness, and not a bit further, in only those spots where it was required.
Another great example of what Frame Adapt HDR can do occurs in Chapter 4 in Aquaman (32:29), a bright HDR movie with a MaxCLL of 3,241 nits and MaxFALL of 902 nits. This shot shows a facial close up of a dark-skinned pirate at night. He's wearing a black V-neck T-shirt, and the scene is subtly lit from the right, casting just a touch of highlight on his cheek and leaving the left side of his face in shadow against the dark background of his ship. It's a demanding, dark scene that doesn't look bad with Auto Tone-Mapping, but the Frame Adapt tone-map took the overall contrast to an entirely different level. It suddenly became possible to make out the clear edge of his left cheek and stubble against his black shirt, and it eliminated a gray haze over the blacks that I hadn't initially noticed with the auto tone-map and seemed to darken them. The barely lit skin below his chin at the base of the V-neck, and the edges of the collar, emerged from crushed darkness. Here again, these were very fine differences that affected both the lighter and darker portions of the image and made an otherwise low-contrast image far more three-dimensional and realistic.
I compared many other scenes and with few exceptions—all very bright scenes overall with even brighter highlights—the Frame Adapt HDR tone-map was preferable to the Auto Tone-Map. As noted above, I also compared the JVC's Frame Adapt tone-map with the Dynamic Tone-Map feature on the LG HU85LA, which also does frame-by-frame analysis. I found that in most scenes, the LG's algorithm generally opted for lower overall brightness and less punch on the highlights, though it still exhibited a very high contrast, HDR-like image overall with exceptional naturalness and depth. The JVC's Frame Adapt solution was preferable on dark scenes and those of mixed-brightness, but the LG usually looked more dimensional, contrasty, and less washed-out on very bright scenes.
More critical, though, is that both projectors delivered, by far, the best HDR experience I've seen from a projector. You can argue that a better image might have been accomplished on certain scenes with manual fine-tuning using the HDR gamma controls on the JVC, or, for example, the exceptionally wide-range 16-step HDR brightness slider on the new Epsons. But I'll repeat what I said in our review of the LG: having real-time, on-the-fly dynamic tone mapping hugely simplifies the user experience and squeezes the most out of what today's HDR content has to offer. In my opinion, every home theater projector manufacturer should be taking the necessary steps now to add this critical feature.
3D Viewing. The NX7 is Full 3D compatible with the addition of the PK-EM2 emitter, a $99 option, and either JVC's or generic RF active shutter glasses. I successfully paired the XPAND 3D Glasses Lite-RF, model X105-RF-X1, which costs about $40 on Amazon. Surprisingly for such an advanced projector, the NX7 does not automatically detect 3D signals and switch to a separate 3D viewing mode. However, any of the regular viewing modes can be engaged with 3D signals and you can dedicate one of the available User modes to 3D and tune it specifically for 3D content, including full grayscale and color points. The NX7 does automatically detect the type of 3D signal it encounters and adjusts, and provides menu sliders to tweak Parallax and Crosstalk Channel where the content or personal taste dictates.
Although the NX7 projector can't offer the brightness for 3D of some other 3D-compliant models, activating its High lamp mode, fully opening the manual iris, and boosting the Contrast control provided very satisfying punch on my 92-inch, 1.3 gain screen with a variety of discs—and still left more room to take the peak white even brighter for a larger screen. I didn't calibrate for 3D, but the color accuracy in the User 1 mode, which defaults to the D65 color temperature, looked great. An early sequence in an episode of the BBC series Dr. Who ("Dark Water") showed perfectly natural-looking skin tones on close-ups of a Caucasian woman and a black man talking on the telephone; an appropriate yellow on a close-up of some Post-It notes; and good shades and saturation of different types of green foliage in a sunlit park where the man was walking. I saw no crosstalk, and motion artifacts were restricted to the usual blurring that occurs with quick pans, such as those found in the Dr. Who opening animation. (You can engage the JVC's Clear Motion Drive frame interpolation to tame this, though at the usual expense of generating soap opera effect.)
The NX7's clean 3D performance carried through to The Walk, which chronicles Philippe Petit's high-wire journey between New York's Twin Towers. Whether in close up or on long shots of Petit on the cable, the high wire remained solid and stable with no hint of crosstalk, even on deep, vertigo-inducing camera shots looking down to the ground or up from the street. Animated fare, such as the brightly punctuated Minions or the dark and moody Coraline, also looked sensational.
Some additional, final notes: First, it's worth mentioning that I rarely saw dynamic iris pumping artifacts in the Auto 2 setting I used, even on some challenging content that has tripped up other projectors. Once in a while I did notice the auto iris aggressively oversaturating bright highlights appearing on a dark background in its effort to improve contrast, such as on the silvery Warner Brothers logo that appears at the beginning of Gravity, but those instances seemed restricted to credit screens and the like. And with these kinds of stark images, I sometimes saw the white letters momentarily appear yellow, an odd glitch that has been previously reported in at least one published review of JVC's DLA-NX9. But overall, JVC's dynamic aperture appeared to be well managed in this new generation of projectors.
On another front, I saw only the faintest hint of banding artifacts on challenging 1080p, 8-bit content, such as the transition from space to the earth's atmosphere on the Planet Earth opening animation, but it was invisible beyond a 5-foot viewing distance. And I detected no banding artifacts at all with any 10-bit UHD content, including in the grayscale wheels of the downloadable ProjectorCentral 10-bit HDR Grayscale test animation, which verifies 10-bit processing from input to screen.
Perhaps most notably, I saw some faint internal reflections and lens-streaking with two separate NX7 samples I used during my evaluation. This was evident with the bouncing Oppo screen saver coming off my disc player and with the "White Ball/Diagonals" moving test pattern from a Murideo Six-G signal generator. Both feature a large, white object bouncing slowly and diagonally around an all-black frame. These artifacts shouldn't really be there in such an otherwise fine and expensive projector, but, fortunately, they were never visible in any real-world content, either with white-on-black credits or when I looked for it on scenes with white space ships slowly moving across the expanse of space in movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek , and Apollo 13.
The JVC DLA-NX7 will not be everyman's projector. To begin, it will fall squarely outside many enthusiast's price limit. Some prospective buyers will also find its relatively low brightness challenged for very large screens or ambient-light viewing.
That said, anyone seeing the DLA-NX7 under ideal conditions should be bowled over by its striking image—especially with UHD HDR content, where its color accuracy, excellent contrast, superb tone-mapping, and fine native sharpness come to bear. And while its $8,999 ticket makes it expensive among the higher-performing home theater projectors out there, it costs $1,000 less than Sony's VPL-VW695ES, perhaps the most directly competitive lamp-based 4K projector available. One can argue, then, that the NX7 actually represents good value in its segment.
In the end, your decision to pursue a DLA-NX7 will come down to your budget, your viewing conditions, and your passion for the very best image quality. If these converge for you, your purchase will deliver a level of performance, craftsmanship, and pride of ownership that comes only with the very best home theater projectors that money can buy.
Brightness. The DLA-NX7 is rated for 1,900 lumens, with no specific measurement methodology cited in its spec sheet and manual. Our 9-point-averaged ANSI measurements on two different samples were relatively close to one another (despite more than 200 hours on one of the lamps), and showed a maximum of 1,628 lumens with the projector lens at its widest (brightest) zoom position, and a 4096x2160, DCI-4K resolution signal that utilized all available pixels on the imaging devices. This measurement was achieved in the HDR10 mode with the manual iris fully open, the lamp in High power mode, and the HDR color space selected (the Rec. 2020 color space engages a filter that reduced brightness by 15%). A single-point measurement of only the brightest sector in the image (the middle-top box of an imaginary tic-tac-toe grid) yielded 1,750 lumens.
With 1920x1080 or 3840x2160 test signals at the more commonly used 16:9 aspect ratio, the ANSI lumen measurements for all the modes is shown in the table below. All measurements were taken in the High lamp mode and wide zoom position; engaging the vertical lens shift fully in either direction had negligible effect on brightness. Switching to the Low power lamp setting (the default for all modes except the HDR-compliant modes) reduced brightness in any mode by approximately 29%.
JVC DLA-NX7 ANSI Lumens
|Frame Adapt HDR||1563||1107|
|User 1 (...User 6)||1,555||1,104|
Zoom Lens Light Loss. Moving the zoom position from full wide to full telephoto results in a 26.4% loss of brightness. This is in keeping with the wide 2.0x range of the zoom. Given such a range, many users will not require the full telephoto capabilities and will therefore come in with a smaller reduction in brightness.
Brightness Uniformity. The high quality lens on the DLA-NX7 produced an exceptionally sharp image from edge to edge and also showed superb brightness uniformity, measuring in at a high 87%.
Fan Noise. Fan noise on the DLA-NX7 is noticeably improved since the last generation JVC consumer projectors as respresented by my JVC DLA-X790 reference. Not only did it come in 2 to 3 dB quieter in any given lamp mode in casual measurements, but at its loudest, it delivered its noise at what seemed to be a lower, less distracting pitch. With the lamp on Low in Natural or any other mode, the projector was whisper quiet. With High lamp mode, which kicks in for HDR viewing, the fan's hush became more noticeable from my measuring position 5 feet in front of the projector, but would not likely be distracting in most rooms with a typical ambient noise floor.
After activating High Altitude mode on the NX7, which is recommended for elevations of 3,000 feet (900 meters) or higher, the noise remained acceptably quiet when combined with Low lamp mode, and was even quieter than the X790's High lamp mode with High Altitude off. Combining the NX7's High lamp mode and High Altitude settings produced the greatest amount of noise, but was quieter than just about any projector I've heard with these settings. Depending on the distance between the projector and viewers, you may be able to avoid special efforts to acoustically isolate the projector.
Frame Interpolation. The DLA-NX7's Motion Control menu has settings for a Clear Motion Drive frame interpolation feature and a Motion Enhance feature that is said to reduce image blur, each with a Low and High setting; some modes also offer an Inverse Telecine setting to restore film-based 60 Hz content to a 24 Hz frame rate. Additionally, there is also a Low Latency mode that can be switched on or off, and which grays out the Clear Motion Drive settings when active. When it's active, the Clear Motion frame interpolation is available for both 4K and 1080p signals.
In its Low setting, Clear Motion Drive imparts only a slight video sheen to film-based content while still being very effective in reducing blur. Although I conducted most evaluations with CMD turned off, this setting was an acceptable choice for most content. The High setting, which is recommended for sports, imparts a high degree of video "soap opera effect" to film-based content, and provides marginally better blur reduction for very fast moving objects. I did not see any noticeable effect of the Motion Enhance feature.
Input Lag. With a 4K test signal, the DLA-NX7 measured 40.2 milliseconds lag time with its Low Latency mode turned on in any picture mode, including both the HDR10 and Frame Adapt HDR modes. This is slightly more lag than the 33.8 ms JVC says they've measured for this model, but notably faster than the 50-55 ms range we initially reported prior to retesting of this parameter after publication of our review. A measurement of 40 ms, or even the specified 33 ms, would be considered acceptable for casual gaming, but well above the 20 ms or below sought by serious gamers competing in online play.
Activating the Low Latency mode automatically locks out JVC's Clear Motion Drive (CMD) frame interpolation feature. Deactivating Low Latency but also leaving CMD turned off resulted in the same 40.2 ms measurement. Activating CMD in either its Low or High setting increased lag time to between 99.6 and 103.6 ms depending on the picture mode.
All input/output connections and the power cord attach on the DLA-NX7's back panel, where there is also a push-button control panel and additional IR sensor.
- HDMI 2.0b/HDCP 2.2 inputs (x2)
- 3D sync output (Mini Din 3-pin)
- 12v DC/100ma trigger output (3.5 mm)
- RS-232C control (D-sub 9-pin)
- USB (service only)
- LAN control (RJ-45)
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our JVC DLA-NX7 projector page.