Review: JVC DLA-RS520
If there is one word the JVC DLA-RS520 brings to mind it would be elegance. It is, quite simply, a beautifully refined and precision-engineered home theater projector that leaves little to be desired. It incorporates the latest of the 4K e-shift technology that JVC first introduced in 2013, so the picture is much higher in apparent resolution than you'd expect from the native 1080p chips in the light engine.
(By the way, JVC also markets the DLA-RS520 as the DLA-X770, which is identical except for the color of the lens ring and the markets/distribution channels. The observations in this review of the RS520 pertain equally to the DLA-X770.)
However, lost in all of today's 4K marketing hype is the fact that an outstanding video image consists of far more than resolution - it requires precise color accuracy and saturation, solid black levels, high contrast, sufficient lumen output, and - most importantly -- a natural aesthetic balance among all of these elements such that the end result is greater than the sum of the parts. The JVC DLA-RS520 delivers all of this in spades, and it does so pretty much right out of the box.
In addition to the purity of its image quality, the RS520 comes with a variety of features including a long 2.0x zoom lens (1.4 - 2.8 TR), H+V powered lens shift, Len Memory to allow set up of a Constant Image Height system if desired, a very powerful and functional frame interpolation system (Clear Motion Drive), and an outstanding THX certified preset that can put out close to 1000 lumens - quite a bit brighter and more functional than THX calibrations we've seen on earlier products.
The 4K e-shift controls allow you to apply the 4K enhancement in degrees based on your preferences, with the slider running from a minimum of zero to a max of 10. Very aggressive application will produce undesirable artifacts, but with the setting at about 5 the picture is razor sharp, clean, and natural. There is also a separate "smoothing" control which adds a refinement at modest settings, but which can also be set to zero.
The RS520 also has a well-balanced HDR mode that adds an attractive, incremental contrast when used to display 4K HDR source material. The picture is sufficiently bright to be fully engaging, and it avoids the harsh and fake overprocessed look that is being marketed to the mass consumer but repels the videophile.
Brightness. The JVC RS520 carries a published rating of 1900 ANSI lumens. Our test sample measured 1872 lumens in Natural mode with (a) color temperature set to "High Bright," (b) the zoom lens at its widest angle position, and (c) the manual iris wide open. High Bright is a green-biased calibration that is not particularly desirable for quality film/video presentation, nor is it a factory default operating mode; you need to go digging for it in the menu options.
The factory presets Picture Modes include Film, Cinema, Animation, Natural, HDR, and THX, each of which defaults to either High Lamp or Low Lamp as indicated below. You can select whichever Lamp power mode you want in any of these Picture modes to alter their lumen output.
(factory preset operating modes)
** default lamp setting is LOW
Lamp Power Options: The RS520 offers two lamp power settings -- High and Low. The Low setting reduces light output by about 27%.
Zoom Lens Effect: The RS520 has a 2.0x zoom lens. All lumen measurements above are taken with the lens at its widest angle position (largest picture for any given throw distance). This position maximizes the lumen output of the projector. When you move the zoom lens to the maximum telephoto position (smallest image for any given throw distance), light output is curtailed by 20%, which is less than typical for many 2.0x zoom lens.
Manual Iris: The RS520 has a manual iris that enables you to cut light output in 15 incremental steps. At its minimum aperture, the iris reduces light output by 73%.
Brightness Uniformity: Uniformity varies based on the position of the zoom, between a range of 88% and 83%, with the highest uniformity readings at maximum wide angle, and the lowest occurring at maximum telephoto. However, it measured a solid 87% at the mid-point of the zoom range, so it only drops to 83% at the extreme telephoto end.
Overall, with a solid white 100 IRE test pattern on the screen, the picture appears to the eye to look evenly illuminated with a very subtle fading to the left side of the screen. At the wider end of the zoom range uniformity exceeds 90% across eight of the nine ANSI measurement points, with illumination tending to fall off a bit only in the upper left corner. However, there is no visible hotspot on a 100 IRE test pattern, nor does the upper left corner fade to the extent that it draws the eye's attention-you would need to be aware to look for it in order to notice it. Since it is unlikely a viewer would notice an unevenness in illumination on a 100 IRE pattern, it is certainly not visible when actual video is being displayed.
Fan noise. Fan noise is reasonably low with the lamp on High, and characterized by a constant low frequency movement of air that is not at all distracting. The fan noise drops to virtually silent with the lamp on Low.
In High Altitude mode, which is required above 3000 feet elevation, fan noise is elevated in both volume and frequency, and it pulses a bit. Home theater fans who are sensitive to fan noise are likely to consider the High Altitude noise problematic, and will want to take steps to isolate the unit from the viewing audience.
Input Lag: Our input lag meter does not give us reliable readings with the e-shift technology so we have no specific numbers to report. There is a low latency mode that should reduce input lag for gaming, but we have not been able to measure it. Subjectively, the refresh rate of the projector, even without the Low Latency mode selected, is faster than competing units when viewed side by side.
The RS520 has a 2.0x zoom lens (1.4 - 2.8 throw ratio) that will fill a 120" 16:9 screen from a throw distance of about 12.25 to 24.6 feet. For the throw distance options to meet your installation needs, see the JVC DLA-RS520 Projection Calculator.
Keep in mind that wide angle setting of the zoom lens (shortest throw distance for any given screen size) will maximize lumen output. At the mid-point of the zoom range lumen output is cut by 10%, and at the telephoto end it is cut by 20%.
This projector has a reasonably good range for both vertical and horizontal lens shift. However, the shift range is a trade-off. At maximum vertical shift there is no horizontal shift, and vice versa. On our test sample, with the vertical shift at zero (or mid-point neutral), the image can be shifted side to side by about 1/3 the picture width in either direction. With the horizontal shift in neutral position, the image can be shifted up or down about 0.8 picture heights from the neutral position.
Do not install the projector such that it is tilted more than 15 degrees from horizontal, or it will interfere with the cooling system.
The RS520 requires a clearance of at least 200 mm to the rear, 300 mm to either side, and 150 mm top and bottom. Make sure the space around the unit is well ventilated to avoid heat build up.
Dark theater optimizes results. These days many vendors are building brighter home theater projectors to help consumers deal with ambient light or sub-optimal reflected lighting conditions. The RS520 is a "professional" home theater projector designed to be used in a dark viewing room similar to a commercial movie theater, and it is in this environment that it looks its absolute best. To be sure, its brightest video optimized settings produce 1300+ lumens so it can easily tolerate some modest ambient light and still look very good. Nevertheless, to install the RS520 in sub-optimal lighting conditions would be like buying a Porsche 911 and give it non-premium gas. You can do it, you just wouldn't want to.
Fan noise at High Altitude. JVC recommends using High Altitude mode above 900 meters elevation, or about 3000 feet. Fan noise may be somewhat problematic and users will want to take steps to isolate the projector from the viewing audience.
Replacement lamps -- $599. Estimated lamp life is 3500 hours in High lamp and 4500 in Low. However, serious videophiles who are likely to buy this projector tend to replace lamps more frequently than lamp life specs would stipulate in order to keep their projectors operating at peak performance (something we would certainly plan to do with this projector). Replacement lamps are $599, not an inconsequential expense if you plan to put a lot of hours on your projector or change lamps frequently. On the other hand, this is serious home theater equipment, not a family room TV. If you average one two-hour movie a day, you might replace the lamp at 1500 hours every two years. Peanuts.
Slow adjustment controls. The RS520 is slow to respond to a switch in picture modes. This makes it somewhat difficult to do a visual A/B test on, say, THX vs. Natural, for example. Switching from one mode to the other causes the screen to go black for about seven seconds, and by the time the second mode is active you've forgotten what the first one looked like. Similarly, when one calls up the Focus, Zoom, or Shift controls, the projector takes about seven seconds to actually activate the screen that lets you perform the function. Of course, once you've got the projector installed and dialed in, you will only access these settings occasionally so the delays are not big deal in the grand scheme of things. Just chalk it up to a minor nuisance.
What can we say? The JVC DLA-RS520 delivers a gorgeous, natural, perfectly balanced home theater picture that the serious videophile would have trouble finding any fault with. Black levels and contrast are outstanding, and the picture has a deep three-dimensionality that is highly competitive and tough to beat.
Frame Interpolation. JVC calls it Clear Motion Drive, and it has gotten better in successive implementations. The World's Worst Judder Scene can be found on Woody Allen's To Rome With Love Blu-ray. Go to the 17:00 minute mark and put it on an A-B loop for 35 seconds for a demo of the most blinding judder you've ever seen, enough to make you seasick. Frame interpolation was invented to solve this problem.
The RS520's Clear Motion Drive has four options -- Off, Low, High, and Inverse Telecine. After viewing our Woody Allen test clip with it Off, we switched Clear Motion to Low. This eliminated a whopping 97% of the judder, and it does so without introducing any ghosting in sections where you'd normally see it. Switching Clear Motion to High pretty much eliminates the last 3% of the judder, but you do begin to see some subtle ghosting artifacts. So the High setting with 1080p/24 source material is too aggressive.
If you cancel the A-B loop and continue to run this movie, the following scene with Alec Baldwin conveniently manifests whatever digital video effect the frame interpolation system is imparting. And in this case, with Clear Motion Drive on Low, there is virtually none.
What happens when you switch to a 60 fps source? Our favorite 1080i/60 torture test disc is Elite Syncopations by Opus Arte. This disc has it all -- extreme blacks, a long range of deep shadow details, rapid high contrast motion, huge color palette, abundance of fine detail, and an ample array of flesh tones. It is a live dance performance by the Royal Ballet, so any digital video effect is beneficial. It is also set to Scott Joplin Ragtime music, so it is a fun demo (in case you're in the projector sales biz).
The RS520 displays Elite Syncopations very cleanly even without Clear Motion Drive on. But there are some jittering artifacts in rapid motion that are effectively suppressed with Clear Motion set to High. Overall the picture has a touch more clarity and integrity, with not even a hint of ghosting or other noticeable side effects. We can't imagine why anyone would not want to use the High setting for this type of source material.
In short, Clear Motion Drive is a potent feature on the RS520. Though some videophiles long ago decided frame interpolation was undesirable (for good reasons in many cases), we would encourage you to check out this implementation. We would not view either movies or live video without Clear Motion Drive being activated on this projector.
High Dynamic Range -- HDR. The RS520 is capable of producing a very bright, high contrast HDR picture with the right source material. In point of fact, it has all the muscle you need to get an extremely satisfying HDR picture that does not look fake or overprocessed.
The right source material is the key, as at the moment 4K HDR varies in quality even more than SDR 1080p. There are no production standards for HDR discs and output levels are all over the map. So any given 4K HDR disc or stream may look anywhere from perfect to terrible with the RS520's HDR calibrations. As an example, if you pop The Martian (4K HDR) into the OPPO UDP-203 it looks pretty much perfect on the RS520 with its factory preset HDR mode. It is extremely sharp, clear, low noise, and very high but not over the top contrast. No adjustments necessary, just sit back and enjoy.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the documentary Rocky Mountain Express (4K UHD, w/ HDR). Now this looks spectacular on the RS520, but only after serious adjustment of the picture controls. When you first load this disc, the picture is way oversaturated and the highlights are ridiculously blown out. To illustrate the magnitude of the error, we reduced the Contrast slider from 0 to -25, and Color from 0 to -14, and ended up with a beautiful, much more naturally balanced image (outstanding, actually).
Moving on to a third disc, when we loaded The Bourne Ultimatum, both the shadow details were crushed and the highlights were blown out. When the RS520's Brightness control is boosted to +8 they open up sufficiently to be watchable without compromising black levels to the point that they look muddy. Pulling down Contrast to -2 helps bring back highlight detail. So the level output error on this disc is entirely different than the error on Rocky Mountain Express. There is no such thing as an HDR calibration that makes all three of these discs look good.
Technically the better way to do HDR calibration, rather than adjusting Contrast and Brightness, is via the Gamma (HDR.ST2084) controls. If you open those up you get three sliders that control Picture Tone, Dark Level, and Bright Level. These can control either White or the individual R, G, and B channels.
Either way, there are relatively simple adjustments to picture controls to accommodate the radically different output levels that vary from disc to disc. And be prepared for the fact that some 4K HDR discs are terrible and cannot be fixed. Labyrinth is a disaster -- low contrast, not at all sharp for 4K, and exceptionally noisy. There is no way to make this disc look good on any projector. So a source labeled "4K HDR" guarantees nothing about image quality.
Of course, this is not the RS520's fault, but rather the flaky disarray of the HDR sources. As far as the JVC RS520 itself is concerned, it has everything you need to optimize HDR viewing, and the better the source the better the picture. Just be aware that the HDR preset is not a "one-size-fits-all" setting, and you may be doing more calibration on the fly than you've needed to do in the past to get individual HDR sources to look good.
The JVC DLA-RS520 is an elegant home theater projector that combines leading edge black levels and contrast with outstanding color control and ample lumen output for most home theater needs. The THX calibration is virtually perfect. Though this projector is likely to be installed by professional installers, there is little that needs to be done in the way of calibration. Ours came out of the box ready to deliver an ideal video image.
From our perspective the most critical components of an ideal home theater picture are contrast, black level, color balance, and sufficient lumen output for the screen/environment. Resolution is important, but not more so than these other factors. Thus we view the 4K e-shift technology as an excellent contributing factor to the success of the overall product rather than its overarching central feature. The e-shift process substantially enhances the apparent resolution of 1080p and even lower resolution sources, while at the same time delivering a very close approximation of native 4K resolution when displaying native 4K sources.
In the end, when it comes to experiencing the DLA-RS520, we would say that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We are happy to give the JVC DLA-RS520 our highest Editor's Choice Award and strongest recommendation.