Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
JVC's DLA-X55R is a brand new 1080p home theater projector featuring their "4K e-shift2" technology. 4K, or 3840x2160, is a high-resolution video format with four times the pixels of 1080p. And while the X55 is not a native 4K projector, their e-shift lays claim to 4K levels of quality.
Built with home theater in mind, the X55 is a videophile's dream. JVC's home theater projectors have always had excellent black level performance, but the X55 takes this to a new level. Without the assistance of an automatic iris, the X55 manages the deepest blacks of any home theater projector under $5,000 we have seen to date. Flexible lensing, powered adjustments, and a whole slew of convenient home theater features make the X55 a great cinema projector for someone willing to take the time and set things up properly.
The X55 is not for everyone. These days, many people want the ability to use their projectors in rooms where light control is less than perfect. While many other home theater projectors give users the kind of flexibility needed for this multi-purpose use, the X55 is not one of those projectors. But if you have the space and the will to make it work, the X55 can be an excellent projector for serious home theater.
The fact that the X55 is built for home theater becomes clear as soon as you turn it on. For a few moments, there's nothing, just blackness, before a brilliant white JVC logo springs to life in the middle of the screen. That's when you realize that the projector is already warmed up, and black level is really just that good.
The X55 has a 2.0:1 zoom lens with vertical and horizontal lens shift, and all of the adjustments are powered. That makes it a good candidate for rear shelf placement although most users will probably opt for ceiling mount due to its size. Rear shelf placement has the advantages of being easy to set up and not requiring any additional mounting hardware other than a shelf.
The X55 can display a 100" diagonal 16:9 image anywhere between 10' 2" and 20' 4", depending on how you set the zoom lens. That's a lot of leeway. It also means you can get a decently large image up on the screen in almost any room, from a tiny converted bedroom to a full-sized dedicated theater.
The X55 has excellent black levels and very good contrast, but those are not the only reasons to work on your room's ambient light control. While the X55 is rated at 1200 lumens maximum, its calibrated Cinema mode puts out about 550 lumens with the lamp at low power, and that number can go as low as 380 lumens at the telephoto end of the zoom lens. As such, having a room with no ambient or reflected light is ideal. Aside from turning off the lights, it is also a good idea to cover any reflective surfaces with dark-colored, non-reflective coatings.
To make a long story short, while the X55 is a wonderful projector in the right room, it is not for everyone. Even a little bit of ambient or reflected light can have a major effect on black levels, and anyone considering a purchase should prepare the theater room to take full advantage of the projector's performance. After all, you're paying a premium for it.
In a dark theater room, the best screen material for the X55 is low gain white. A screen gain of about 1.3 will reduce light scatter without creating hot spots. And with a projector this high in contrast, there's no need for a contrast-boosting gray screen.
2D image quality. Despite the popularity of 3D, home theater is still primarily a 2D experience. Everything about the X55, from its light output to its black levels to its color calibrations and extra features, are primarily there to benefit the two-dimensional HD picture. Lumen output is tailored for screens in the 100" to 140" diagonal range assuming excellent light control. Within this range, the X55 produces a picture that is deep, rich, and high in contrast, with near-perfect color and razor-sharp detail.
3D. The X55 is a Full HD 3D projector, and with an optional emitter and glasses it can display full HD 3D images from Blu-ray, broadcast, cable, or satellite sources. The projector includes a 3D image mode which maximizes brightness, but the projector is not locked to this mode and the user may select any image preset or one of the five Custom user modes at will. As far as features go, you can still use 4K e-shift in 3D, but Clear Motion Drive is unavailable.
The glasses use radio frequency (RF) synchronization, so a line-of-sight connection between glasses and emitter or screen is not needed. The projector is also compatible with previous-generation JVC 3D emitters and glasses, which used infrared (IR) synchronization. The projector does not include either emitter or glasses in the purchase price.
Highly customizable. With Five user modes, three custom color temperature settings, and three custom gamma settings, the X55 is highly customizable. With this many settings to choose from, you can have a daytime setting, a nighttime setting, a sports setting, a game setting, and a photography setting, all custom calibrated to your preferences. Oh, and you can also adjust the factory presets.
Manual iris. A manual iris allows you to tailor light output to hit the exact point you wish. For some videophiles, that means 16 foot-Lamberts; for others, it could be any brightness you like. The X55's manual iris has sixteen stops (from 0 to -15) and can reduce brightness up to 53% in roughly equal intervals. The manual iris can also be used to knock down light output while the lamp is fresh, then open up to allow more light through once the lamp has a few hundred hours of use on it and output has decreased.
4K e-shift2. The X55 is not actually a 4K projector. Instead it has what JVC calls 4K e-shift2, or just e-shift for short. For a 1080p signal source, the projector looks at the content being input, then interpolates detail by creating another 1080p frame and projecting it over the first, shifted 1/2 pixel up and to one side. The result is shown in this diagram:
As you can see in the second diagram, this creates the appearance of four pixels for every one pixel of the original 1080p image. This is why JVC calls the system "4K," even though the projector uses native 1080p panels and cannot accept a 4K input signal.
The X55 also applies some smoothing, noise reducing, and sharpening steps to the signal as it undertakes this processing. These further processing steps are adjustable, and controls are available under the projector's "MPC" menu.
The result is a picture that is visibly sharper than its native-1080p source. However, like all systems that smooth motion or add detail, the extra detail is interpolated (not present in the original picture) and therefore video purists will likely opt for mild or no enhancement. As such the 4K E-shift can be disabled completely and is, in fact, off by default.
Outboard 3D RF emitter. By making the sync emitter a separate piece, JVC allows users to choose between RF and IR synchronization by using their current-gen or last-gen 3D glasses and emitters. Note, however, that you cannot use IR glasses with an RF emitter or vice versa.
Panel alignment. Any three-chip projector can be prone to panel misalignment. To counteract this, the X55 includes panel adjustment tools on-board. The relative positions of the red and blue LCOS panels can be altered to remove convergence errors. The system has both global (whole image) and zone settings, so if you're just seeing some color fringes in one corner or area of the image, you can fix it without altering the entire picture.
Clear Motion Drive. Frame interpolation is a common feature these days, but not all FI systems are created equal. The X55 includes one of the good ones, called Clear Motion Drive. The X55's Clear Motion Drive has three modes: Low, High, and Inverse Telecine. Inverse Telecine is the least noticeable mode, as it only seeks to restore the original 24p frame rate of non-24p content. Low is a good setting for movies and film, as it is effective but subtle. There are no traces of ghosting or artifacts in Low mode. High mode, while stronger, is still not over-the-top and displays almost no hint of the dreaded digital video effect.
Anamorphic stretch and Lens Memory. The X55 includes an anamorphic stretch mode for use with an external anamorphic lens. Paired with a 2.4:1 screen, this is the traditional method for achieving constant image height theater. However, not everyone wants to spend several thousand dollars on an anamorphic lens and a motorized lens sled. That's why the X55 also includes Lens Memory. Lens Memory allows you to set memory points for 16:9 and 2.4:1 display and then recall them later. This allows you to display 16:9 content at its full height in the center of the a 2.4:1 screen, then zoom up to watch 2.4:1 content on the entire screen while the top and bottom black bars are projected off the screen surface.
Fan noise. While the projector is actually a bit louder than average in full power mode, it is nearly silent in low power mode. Anyone seated more than a foot away from the exhaust vents likely will not be able to hear the projector.
Light output. The X55 is rated at 1200 lumens, which doesn't sound like a lot. However, JVC's home theater projectors have always produced ample video optimized lumens, so the maximum lumen ratings tend to be irrelevant.
Our preferred operating mode, and the projector's default, is Cinema mode. After calibration, Cinema mode produced 820 lumens on our test unit with the lens at its widest angle setting and the lamp at full power.
In most home theaters, 820 lumens is more than enough light. In point of fact, many people will likely want to reduce light output. Switching the lamp to low power mode reduces light output by 33%, bringing our test sample to 551 lumens in Cinema mode. On a 120" diagonal 1.3 gain screen, that works out to almost exactly 16 foot-Lamberts.
However, a lot of people won't be using the maximum wide angle zoom. At the telephoto end of the zoom range, the X55 loses 31% of its light output potential. In other words, Cinema mode would measure 565 lumens with the lamp at full power and 380 lumens with the lamp at low power. The latter is enough for a 100" diagonal 1.3 gain screen at 16.7 fL.
Cinema mode turned out to be our test unit's brightest 2D image mode. The projector's 3D mode does measure higher, at 917 lumens on our test sample, but remember that 3D glasses cut brightness quite a bit -- even a theoretically perfect pair would reduce brightness by 50%. It is not uncommon to see total 3D system efficiency around 20-25% of 2D light output.
Contrast and black level. The X55 has the best black levels we have seen in a projector under $5,000, period. The difference between it and its competitors is not always night and day; projectors are too advanced these days for any huge, show-stopping differences to crop up like that. But when placed side by side with other home theater projectors, the X55's black levels were consistently the deepest, the darkest, and the most natural (thanks to the projector's lack of an automatic iris).
Shadow detail is no slouch, either. The X55 was consistently able to render even the most difficult of shadow details in the deepest darkest corners of images, creating a smooth, natural image that is a pleasure to watch. The depth of the image creates a real sense of three-dimensionality, even watching 2D content.
Color. The X55's default color temperature settings are almost perfect as they are. With zero adjustment, our test sample measured 6530K across the board in Cinema mode, with a slight push towards green in both shadows and highlights. Reducing green bias by two points and green gain by one point gave us a perfect 6500K grayscale curve with no major spikes or flaws.
Please note that the divergence in color temperature at 0 IRE in the above graphs is because the X55's black level is deep enough that our meter has trouble obtaining a valid reading. There is no visible color shift in solid black.
As far as gamut is concerned, the X55 measured close to the Rec. 709 standard though it still can benefit from some fine-tuning. As the X55 has extensive color controls including a full color management system, these adjustments are fairly simple. A qualified custom installer can do this if you don't have the equipment to do it yourself.
Sharpness and detail. Native sharpness on the X55 is more than sufficient to bring out the fine detail found in Blu-ray and HD content. The default sharpness setting is 0, and it should stay in that position; the projector is perfectly sharp without any artificial edge enhancement.
However, one cannot discuss sharpness on the X55 without also discussing the 4K e-shift system, which is designed to increase sharpness and detail clarity by interpolating to 4K. What the system really does is analyze the 1080p signal and interpolate detail, which is similar to how a smart sharpening system works on other home theater projectors. The difference is that, in delivering this interpolated detail, the X55 physically shifts the image to create the overlapping-pixel mosaic that is their claim to 4K resolution. During this upscaling and image overlapping, the system (named MPC in the projector's menus) also applies a number of image processing functions to increase apparent detail.
The results can be fascinating. The e-shift system has a number of presets, ranging from "Film" on the unaggressive side to "HD" on the highly processed side. When watching film or movies, anything above the "Film" setting appeared too aggressive in some instances. Meanwhile, when watching video, the "SD" setting was a good fit. SD applies more processing than Film but less than HD. However, some content wasn't a good match for the SD setting, and some ringing and other artifacts became visible. The SD setting also increased digital noise in certain images.
The 4K e-shift system has some definite benefits, but overdriving it can lead to the same sort of problems one finds when overdriving smart sharpening systems on other projectors. Used in moderation, 4K e-shift has the ability to enhance your picture without making it appear artificial or over-processed.
Input lag. When it comes to gaming, especially fast-paced gaming that requires quick reflexes, input lag matters. Input lag measures the time between a signal's arrival at the projector and the time that it is displayed on the screen. We measured the X55's best performance at 68 milliseconds, or four frames at 60 frames per second.
Compared to other recent projectors, that's fairly slow. Some 2D projectors clock in at 17 milliseconds, while the best 3D projectors measure about 34 milliseconds.
Highly sensitive to ambient light. The X55 can display low-end super-deep shadow detail. However, to bring this detail out, the theater room needs to be very dark and non-reflective. Many people do not have the time or inclination to black out their rooms in this way, and for those people, the X55 is "too much projector." While you can certainly use the X55 in a room with imperfect light control, it's a bit like owning a Ferrari in a town where the speed limit on every road is 35 miles per hour. Sure, the projector is capable of more, but you'll never get to experience it.
Complicated menus. The X55 has a lot of options and as such there are a lot of adjustments available. That said, there are some things that could be done better. Gamma preset selection and gamma customization are on separate pages, for no discernible reason. The gamma presets are lettered (A-H) rather than numbered, even though most people buying the X55 will know what gamma correction is and whether they want 2.2 or 2.4 or something else entirely.
Fan noise. While low lamp fan noise is whisper-quiet, the fan noise with the lamp on full power is a different story. The X55 is noticeably louder than its competitors and much louder than the best 1080p projectors in its price range. Many people install their projectors in such a way that fan noise is less of a concern, but if you and your audience are seated near the projector itself this is important to keep in mind.
JVC X55 vs. Panasonic AE8000 and Epson 5020UB
Two hot performance-oriented home theater projectors this year are the Epson Home Cinema 5020UB and the Panasonic AE8000, both of which cost less than $2,999 in open distribution. If you are having trouble deciding whether to drop the big bucks on an X55 or purchase one of its less expensive competitors, read on.
Sharpness and clarity. While the X55 has 4K e-shift and the other projectors do not, we found a startling similarity. Both the AE8000 and the 5020UB have smart sharpening systems; on the AE8000 it's called Detail Clarity while the 5020UB calls it Super Resolution. While neither projector physically shifts the pixels, engaging the smart sharpening system created an image strikingly similar to that of the X55.
The AE8000's Detail Clarity system defaults to +2 on a scale of 0 to +7. In an A/B comparison between the AE8000 and the X55, the 4K e-shift's "Film" setting, the mildest enhancement available, was roughly equivalent to Detail Clarity +4. The X55's "SD" setting, which is more aggressive than Film, creates a sharper picture than Detail Clarity +6 at the cost of ringing and other artifacts in some material. The final two settings on the X55, named HD and High Resolution, were both aggressive enough that the Detail Clarity system had no matching setting, and artifacts were common when viewing HD material.
What we did not find was a unique qualitative advantage granted by the 4K e-shift2 system that would make it beneficial over a more conventional smart sharpening system like Detail Clarity or Super Resolution. Both systems provide very similar picture enhancements without the added cost and complexity. And, to their credit, Detail Clarity and Super Resolution were both easier to adjust than the X55's MCP system.
Light output. Both the AE8000 and the 5020UB have high light output modes that make them more suitable than the X55 for use in ambient light. The AE8000 has Cinema 2 mode, which produces around 1600 lumens, and Normal mode, which produces over 1700 lumens. The Epson 5020UB's Living Room mode measures around 1700 lumens as well. These image modes have good color saturation and contrast despite being tailored for use in living rooms and high ambient light situations. Therefore, the AE8000 and 5020UB can be used either as multipurpose units or as dedicated home theater projectors.
However, if we want to compare apples to apples, we can look at the three projectors' Cinema modes. The X55's Cinema mode measured 820 lumens on our test unit with the lamp at full power and the lens at its widest angle setting. Cinema 1 on the AE8000 measured 822 lumens, identical to the X55. The 5020UB's Cinema mode measured 914 lumens, which is functionally the same as the other two. So all three projectors offer the same number of calibrated lumens.
What you get with the X55 that isn't present on the other two projectors is customizability. The X55's manual iris allows light output to be fine-tuned until it is perfect for your screen, while the other two projectors' adjustments are less fine-grained and more approximate. Neither the AE8000 nor the 5020UB features a manual iris, so light output control is limited to zoom lens positioning and lamp power.
Contrast and black level. When it comes to black level, neither the AE8000 nor the 5020UB can match the X55, though the 5020UB comes closer in dark scenes thanks to its more aggressive auto iris. None of the three projectors has a problem displaying deep shadow detail, but the X55 manages to do it with deeper blacks and no automatic iris, giving it a more natural appearance.
As far as gamma is concerned, the X55's default gamma is the most accurate of the three projectors, and its gamma adjustment system is the easiest to use.
Color. All three projectors can be calibrated to 6500K grayscale and Rec. 709 color gamut, so there isn't any difference between them in this aspect.
Fan noise. In low power, the X55 is the quietest projector of the three, but in full power mode it is the loudest. Therefore, if you want to install one of these projectors in a room where fan noise is a concern, you would be able to run the AE8000 or 5020UB at full power, but may need to run the X55 in Low power mode, thereby limiting its light output.
3D. Our 3D winner among this group is the Epson 5020UB due to its higher brightness. Between the remaining two, the AE8000's 3D performance is smoother and more artifact-free, while the X55 tends to show a bit of mild flicker in solid color areas.
Placement flexibility. While all three projectors have 2.0:1 zoom lenses and H/V lens shift, only the X55's lens has powered adjustments on all lens controls. The AE8000 has powered zoom and focus but no powered lens shift, while the 5020UBe has no powered adjustments at all.
Constant Image Height. Both the X55 and AE8000 have anamorphic stretch, so they can be used with an outboard anamorphic lens. The 5020UB lacks this feature, but the more expensive 6020UB includes it. Both the AE8000 and X55 also have Lens Memory for anamorphic display without an external lens. The X55 has the advantage of powered lens shift, but the AE8000 can automatically digitally shift the 2.4:1 image up or down in the frame (essentially changing the relative size of the top and bottom black bars), which can take the place of lens shift in this instance for most people.
Input lag. For gaming, the AE8000's 2.0 frame (34ms) delay in Game mode makes it a stronger contender than the X55 at 4 frames (68ms) or the 5020UB at 5 frames (84ms).
When it comes to pure home theater, the JVC DLA-X55R is a strong product with a clear focus. Every feature of the projector is designed to create a better home theater experience. Black level is the best we've seen in this price range. Color is nearly perfect without any adjustment at all. Light output is low compared to other home theater projectors, but only because the projector does not include a "dynamic" or "bright" mode for living room use. A 2.0:1 zoom lens with powered adjustments and an easy to use Lens Memory system opens up the possibility of constant image height use without an additional anamorphic lens.
However, no projector is perfect. While low lamp mode renders the X55 nearly silent, high lamp mode's increased fan noise can make the projector uncomfortably loud in small spaces. The menu systems can appear complex and convoluted, and sometimes adjustments are not where one would expect them to be. The projector's perfect cinema light output can be uncomfortably low when watching 3D on a larger screen, where every lumen counts. And the 4K e-shift2 system, while useful in its own right, does not offer a significant advantage over the smart sharpening systems found in several other home theater projectors.
The X55 does not have many flaws, but those flaws it does have tend to manifest when one tries to push the projector out of its niche. Within that niche -- say, on a 120" diagonal screen in a dark home theater -- the X55 is excellent, and at $4,999 represents a strong value in today's market.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our JVC DLA-X55R projector page.