Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
JVC was the first company to try 4K enhancement. Their e-Shift system allows a 1080p projector to display 4K content by physically shifting pixels. While no projector can create detail that isn't present in the source material, the e-Shift system does create a smoothness and richness that isn't present on most 1080p projectors.
The JVC X500R is a member of the third generation of e-Shift projectors. With over a thousand lumens of calibrated light output and super-deep black levels, it can produce deep shadows and sparkling highlights with ease. The e-Shift system removes all pixel structure, creating one of the smoothest images you'll ever see on a 1080p projector. The X500R also includes a fully powered 2.0:1 zoom lens with lens shift, a lens memory system, frame interpolation, and whisper-silent operation, making it a strong value for the home theater enthusiast at $4,999.
JVC has a reputation for making serious home theater projectors, and the X500R follows this tradition. It's not pretty; instead of smooth lines and slick curves, the X500R has a matte black case that appears angular and industrial, giving it an imposing appearance appropriate for its thirty pound weight. It's all function, in other words, which gives it its own weird beauty.
When you fire up the X500R, there's a whisper as the fan engages, then the brilliant white JVC logo appears in the middle of a pitch-black screen. The projector's black level is deeper than deep, to the point where its black level rivals that of solid-state projectors that can turn their light sources completely off. ANSI contrast isn't too shabby either, but on/off is where this projector really shines.
Two other things stand out: sharpness and color. The MPC detail enhancement system is quite aggressive, but once it has been turned down to more moderate levels the projector delivers an image that is life-like and crisp, with tons of fine detail evident in high-quality HD material. The 4K upscaling is just the icing on the cake, as the X500R takes already brilliant HD material and adds that little something extra, giving the picture a smoothness that's hard to describe. As for color, the X500R has comprehensive color controls that are precise and easy to use, and a little effort on our part gave us absolutely perfect performance in both grayscale and gamut for a picture that is 100% reference grade.
When it comes to installation, the X500R is one of the easier projectors to use. It has a 2.0:1 zoom lens, plus horizontal and vertical lens shift, plus powered zoom, focus, and shift adjustments as well as lens memory. In other words, you can choose a mounting spot and then adjust the projector to fit your screen - the projector doesn't choose the spot for you.
After calibration, Cinema mode on the X500R gave us about 1050 lumens in high lamp mode. Low lamp mode reduces output by 33% to 701 lumens, and using the telephoto end of the zoom lens reduces that by an additional 27% to 512 lumens.
So let's say that you want to use the X500R on a 120" diagonal screen. You'd like to use low lamp mode and the middle of the zoom range, giving you an initial light output of 610 lumens. Using a screen fabric with a gain of 1.0, you'll get just over 14 foot-Lamberts with a fresh lamp. For reference, the recommendation is between 12 and 16 fL, so that's right on target.
Lamps dim over time, though, so it's usually wise to overestimate your lumen output needs. That way, as the projector's lamp ages, your picture will still be bright enough. So our recommendation would be to use a screen fabric with a gain of 1.3, boosting brightness to 18.5 fL initially but giving you a longer usable lamp life.
Ultra high contrast. Just going by the specifications, the X500R isn't especially high in contrast. After all, the projector only claims 60,000:1 contrast, which is mediocre by today's standards - right?
Here's the catch: JVC has typically been very conservative with their specifications. Their on/off contrast rating is native contrast - in other words, 60,000:1 is the projector's rated contrast with the automatic iris disabled. Turning on the iris adds a zero, bringing the spec to 600,000:1 on/off contrast. If nothing else, it's a great example of why it's almost impossible to compare specifications across brands.
In actual use, the X500R has the deepest black level we've seen on any lamp-based projector to date. While it can't turn its light source completely off, as is the case with some solid-state projectors using LED or laser illumination, it gets as close as any lamp-based projector can.
4K e-Shift. While the X500R is a native 1080p projector, it has a neat trick up its sleeve. With some fancy image processing, the X500R can display images in 4K, or 3840x2160. It accomplishes this feat by shifting its D-ILA panels by half a pixel vertically and horizontally, thereby creating an overlap that approximates the appearance of a native 4K display.
How the projector creates this 4K image depends on what content you feed it. Using a native 4K source, the projector extracts two separate 1080p frames from the original 4K image and then displays these sequentially. In other words, it's only about half of the pixels of native 4K, but it's still twice as many as other 1080p projectors. When using a 1080p source, the original frame is upscaled to 4K, then undergoes the process above.
In either case, the end result is a smooth, natural picture that's easy on the eyes. Pixelation at 1080p is already quite low, but using e-Shift completely eliminates every last trace of it. And, while no projector can create information that isn't present in the source material, the final picture can appear higher in resolution and more detailed than the original 1080p content. The effect is controlled through the projector's MPC submenu, which has a number of adjustments that you can use to fine-tune the experience to your liking. The default settings are too aggressive for my tastes, but I admit that my preferences run towards restraint and subtlety. You can certainly obtain a dramatic effect if that's what you desire.
Impeccable color. Out of the box, the X500R is reasonably accurate, and its Cinema mode is close enough to Rec. 709 and D65 that some folks will opt to just plug and play. However, if you're one of those folks who enjoys fine-tuning your projector to its absolute performance peak, the X500R is a great choice for you. The projector's color controls are responsive and easy to use, and we were able to obtain an excellent initial calibration in very little time with minimal frustration.
Low audible noise. The X500R is a heavy projector in a bulky case, but there's a payoff. The projector is nearly silent in Low lamp mode, while High lamp mode isn't much louder. If your projector is positioned more than three feet away from your ears, chances are you'll never hear it running.
Placement flexibility. With a 2.0:1 zoom lens, H/V lens shift, and powered adjustments, the X500R can be installed in a wide variety of rooms with minimum fuss. The X500R can display a 120" diagonal 16:9 image at throw distances from 12' to 24', while lens shift allows you to put the image completely above or completely below the centerline of the lens. This makes it easier to ceiling mount the projector or place it on a low table, though a rear shelf mount is still preferable if you can swing it.
Lens memory. If you're buying a projector primarily for movies, chances are good that you'll have to accommodate several aspect ratios. If you don't want black bars and don't want to spend several thousand dollars for an anamorphic lens, you can install the X500R on a 2.39:1 screen and then use the Lens Memory system to move back and forth between 16:9 and 2.39:1.
Panel alignment. The JVC X500R is subject to convergence errors, as are all three-chip projectors regardless of their underlying technology. A panel alignment system allows you to digitally correct small errors in convergence without sending the projector in for service. Panel alignment systems are becoming more and more common on home theater projectors, which is great news for consumers.
Light output. As with contrast, JVC has traditionally been conservative with their lumen specifications. The X500R is specced at 1300 lumens, and we did indeed measure just under 1300 lumens in the projector's brightest mode. What's remarkable, though, is that even after calibration the X500R still produced 1049 lumens in Cinema mode, or about 80% of its total specification. Low lamp mode reduces that by 33%, bringing you to 701 lumens.
Projectors with long zoom lenses typically lose light when you use the telephoto end of the zoom range (the smallest picture for a given throw distance). If you use the extreme telephoto end of the zoom lens on the X500R, light output decreases by 27%. That's much less severe than most other 2:1 zoom lenses, some of which can lose over 40% of total light output, so the X500R looks like a good choice for folks who need to mount their projector at the back of a long room.
Contrast. We've already talked about on/off contrast, which is excellent by any definition. Using the factory default settings, the X500R tends to crush super-deep shadow detail (around 5% illumination). This can be fixed with careful calibration of the gamma curve, but none of the factory presets were perfect. Still, this is a minor issue in an otherwise top-shelf performance, and anyone buying a $5,000 projector will be able to avail themselves of a professional calibration for a few hundred dollars more.
As for ANSI contrast, the X500R appears to be in the middle of the pack, competitively speaking. We will discuss this further in the shootout section, but the X500R had higher ANSI contrast than some competing projectors and lower ANSI contrast than others.
Color. No projector is perfect out of the box, but the X500R gave a respectable performance with the factory settings. Cinema mode had a grayscale of about 5800K average, and there was significant error in the gamut, especially in Cyan.
Normally, this would cause several hours of incremental adjustment and occasional swearing. However, we found the X500R's color controls to be responsive and easy to use, so in a little over an hour we had brought grayscale to 6500K and corrected gamut error until delta-E was below 3 for Yellow, below 2 for Red, and below 1 for everything else. More time would probably yield even better results, but even that small amount of work gave us great performance.
Now, if you're paying someone else to do your calibration, you probably don't care how easy it is to use the controls. But you can rest assured that your calibrator will be able to bring your projector up to reference standards, thereby giving you all of the picture quality you paid for.
Sharpness and detail. In 1080p mode, the X500R produces a tack-sharp image. Focus is perfectly even across the screen, even in the corners, and we didn't see any chromatic aberration or other artifacts that would be caused by defects in the lens. Detail is clear and sharp, even when you turn down the X500R's image enhancement features. Turning up MPC can give the picture a super-detailed appearance, but it can verge on over-sharpness if pushed too far.
Once you turn on e-Shift, things get interesting. At first, the picture can appear less sharp; however, this is mostly because e-Shift removes all traces of visible pixel structure, and we've been taught that sharply defined pixel structure equals sharpness on digital projectors. But when you look at actual picture detail, there is a smoothness and a natural quality that isn't there in the non-upscaled image. While it's not native 4K, it's a definite improvement over stock 1080p.
HDCP 2.2. The X500R is incompatible with sources that require HDCP 2.2 protection. Unfortunately, that includes most 4K material, including Sony's FMP-X10 media player. Some devices, including the REDRAY player, are still compatible, provided you load them with content that isn't HDCP 2.2 protected. There are also a few other 4K sources, including some low-cost Android-based streaming media players, that can handle 4K but don't use HDCP 2.2.
If your primary interest in the X500R is 4K playback, this is worth considering. Then again, given the relative scarcity of 4K material in the first place, most owners of 4K-compatible projectors spend most of their time watching upscaled 1080p.
Input lag. In Cinema mode, with all additional video processing features disabled, the X500R measured 124 milliseconds of lag. That's quite high, equal to over seven frames of a 60 fps signal. We couldn't find any faster modes that would be appropriate for gaming. If you enable e-Shift, lag increases, but only to 132 milliseconds. That's still manageable, though an audio delay circuit will be necessary regardless of whether or not you use 4K e-Shift.
Digital noise. At the factory settings, the X500R's picture shows quite a bit of digital noise. This can be remedied somewhat by reducing the aggressiveness of the settings in the MCP menu, but doing so also gives you a more subdued picture. If you are a fan of that larger-than-life enhanced quality but find digital noise distracting, it can be a difficult balancing act.
JVC X500R vs. Sony HW55ES and Epson LS10000
The JVC X500R is a great home theater projector, but it exists in a world full of other home theater projectors. In this section, we'll compare the X500R against the Sony VPL-HW55ES, a $4,000 home theater projector, and against the Epson LS10000, another pseudo-4K projector with excellent on/off contrast that sells for $7,999.
X500R vs. Sony VPL-HW55ES
When placed head to head, there are some obvious PQ-related differences between the X500R and the Sony HW55ES. The most noticeable advantage of the X500R is its deeper black level, which edges the HW55ES in most scenes. However, the HW55ES has visibly higher ANSI contrast, so brighter scenes have more pop and depth to them. The HW55ES is visibly brighter on a 100% white test pattern, measuring 1370 lumens in Reference mode against the X500R's 1049 lumens. However, we saw little difference in brightness when watching movies, so that difference isn't as dramatic as the 25% gap would indicate. There's less digital noise on the HW55ES, but the X500R is both sharper and more detailed. The HW55ES has some slight softness in the corners of the image, while the X500R is razor-sharp from edge to edge. As for detail, the X500R renders 1080p content with exquisite definition. And once you turn on e-Shift, the detail advantage becomes even more obvious.
In terms of features, the X500R has a few capabilities that are absent on the HW55ES. The X500R has powered lens adjustments, lens memory, 4K e-Shift, a longer zoom range (2.0:1 vs. 1.6:1), and less audible noise (though both projectors are already very quiet).
In a nutshell, the HW55ES's brighter picture and higher ANSI contrast will appeal to many folks as will its lower price. Meanwhile the higher on/off contrast, superb detail, and the broader feature set of the X500R will be attractive to others. They are both excellent projectors, and the differences between them are not obvious unless you are viewing them side by side.
X500R Vs. LS10000
Both the Epson LS10000 and the JVC X500R create 4K images via pixel shifting. Epson has stated in the past that their 4K system is fundamentally different from JVC's e-Shift. That may indeed be the case, but in our testing we found little to differentiate the two.
With a little bit of fiddling, we could make the LS10000 appear more detailed than the X500R. However, we could do the same with the X500R, making it look better than the LS10000. From what we could see, the visible difference in detail between Epson's 4K Enhancement and JVC's e-Shift3 all comes down to how they're set up. If you set both technologies to a moderate level of enhancement, they appear functionally identical.
In fact, the two projectors are remarkably similar in many ways. Both have impeccable color. Both produce roughly 1050 lumens in their calibrated modes. The X500R is higher in ANSI contrast than the LS10000, while the LS10000 has a black level advantage in some scenes. In very bright scenes, the advantage evaporates, but it's visible on occasion during normal use. In very dark scenes, the LS10000 can effectively turn the laser completely off. Trying to measure on/off contrast on the projector is an exercise in futility, because full black reads zero. Still, the black level performance on the two projectors is closer than you'd think. There are times when the X500R has the advantage over the LS10000, usually in dark scenes that still have some bright content that prevents the LS10000 from dimming its laser, but overall these two projectors are remarkably close.
So, given that the picture quality is so similar, you might be asking why the LS10000 costs almost twice as much as the X500R. For starters, the LS10000 has a laser light engine that's rated to last 17,000 hours at full power or 30,000 hours in Eco-mode, while the X500R uses traditional high-pressure lamps. This also means that the X500R will lose light output more quickly than the LS10000, though there's no way of knowing exactly how quickly that will happen.
The LS10000 supports Adobe RGB and DCI while the X500R does not. DCI, found under "Digital Cinema" mode on the LS10000, is one of the proposed specifications for Blu-ray 4K. It is currently used in commercial movie theaters and has a wider color gamut than Rec. 709.
The LS10000 also supports HDCP 2.2, which lets you use it with native 4K sources like the Sony FMP-X10. The X500R will accept 4K inputs, but only those that don't require HDCP 2.2 protection. While the LS10000 is technically HDMI 2.0, both projectors are bandwidth-limited to 8-bit 4:2:0 color in 4K.
The LS10000 has super-quick lens adjustments, while the X500R feels pokey in comparison. And finally, for those who watch in a super-quiet room, the LS10000 is slightly louder in operation.
In short, both projectors offer super-high on/off contrast and the deepest blacks available in home theater. Both use 4K pixel shifting to create smooth, natural images with incredible levels of detail. There are some small differences in picture quality and some large differences in feature set, and the two projectors come in at vastly different retail prices. If the added features of the LS10000 sound appealing, you might find that the additional investment is worthwhile. If you're interested in bang-for-the-buck image quality to the exclusion of all else, the convenient features of the LS10000 might not be enough to justify the cost over the X500R.
The JVC X500R is a unique projector. It is one of the few projectors to offer 4K pixel shifting, which adds smoothness and apparent detail to everything you watch -- not just 4K. It has some of the best black levels and on/off contrast performance we've seen on a lamp-based projector, to the point where it can actually compete against the Epson LS10000's laser-driven engine.
Consumers shopping for high-end home theater projectors have some tough choices to make this year. For less than $5,000, the X500R and the HW55ES offer different strengths but similar prices -- you get a bit more with the X500R, but you pay a bit more as well. On the other hand, those looking to step into 4K can choose between the JVC X500R and the Epson LS10000, which costs almost twice as much but offers features not found on the lower-priced model. And, of course, Sony's native 4K projectors sit at the top of the pile, commanding a higher price but promising unmatched resolution and detail.
It's not an easy decision, and I don't envy those who have to make it. But I do envy anyone who purchases one of these projectors, because no matter which one they pick, they're in for a real treat.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our JVC DLA-X500R projector page.