Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
JVC has earned a dedicated following of enthusiastic videophiles who eagerly await news of their latest home theater projectors, all built around JVC's proprietary D-ILA light engines. Every year, due to the company's glowing track record for performance, a standing backlog of orders always needs to be filled before they can get around to issuing samples for review.
JVC's newly released 1080p home theater projectors for this fall include the DLA-RS15 ($5,495), the DLA-RS25 ($7,995), and the DLA-RS35 ($9,995). These models are also being marketed by JVC's Consumer Products Division as the HD550, HD950, and HD990) This review will focus on the RS25 (HD950). To put things into perspective, the differences between the three models are these:
Contrast specs: The RS15 is rated at 32,000:1, the RS25 is 50,000:1, and the RS35 is 70,000:1.
Lumen specs: The RS15 is rated at 1000 lumens, and the RS25 and RS35 are 900 lumens.
THX Certification, ISF Calibration modes, VGA input terminal, and Color Management System (CMS): The RS25 and RS35 have all of these, the RS15 has none of them.
Manual Aperture: The RS25 and RS35 each have 16 steps between maximum and minimum settings, and the RS15 has three steps.
Warranty: The RS35 has a three year warranty; the other two models come with two years.
In short, there isn't much difference at all between the RS25 and RS35. The RS25 is basically an RS35 with slightly lower full on/off contrast and a two-year warranty.
Features in common between all three models include a powered 2.0x zoom/focus lens, powered lens shift, Clear Motion Drive (frame interpolation), custom gamma adjustments, anamorphic vertical stretch, screen correction modes, and an automatically retracting lens cover. The connection panel on the side of the unit offers two HDMI 1.3 inputs, one component, one S-video, one composite, an RS-232c port, and a 12 volt trigger to activate an anamorphic lens sled. (The two higher priced models also have a VGA port that is missing on the RS15). All three models look identical, in elegant glossy black casework, and they all weigh 24.7 lbs.
The JVC DLA-RS25 (a.k.a. HD950)
Brightness: With some vendors quoting up to 2000 lumens or higher for 1080p models, many buyers get concerned with a model that is rated at only 900 lumens. And the fact is, if you are looking for a super bright home entertainment projector you can use with the lights on, there are other models that will do that better and cheaper than the RS25. But if you are interested in replicating the commercial movie theater experience in a classic dark home theater, the JVC models are plenty bright. In fact their Cinema modes are actually brighter than comparable Cinema modes on several competing units that have much higher ANSI lumen ratings.
On our RS25 test unit, we measured Dynamic mode at 841 lumens. Other precalibrated modes available include THX, Cinema 1, Cinema 2, Cinema 3, Natural, and Stage. All six of these measured between 750 and 800 lumens. While they don't vary much in light output, they do vary in color temp, saturation, and gamma presets. For dark theater viewing, our preference was to start with the Cinema 1 mode and tweak it up a bit to get the best picture quality from the RS25 that it is capable of (more on this below).
All of those lumen readings were taken with the zoom lens at widest angle, the manual aperture wide open, and the lamp setting on high. Changing any of these reduces lumen output. With respect to the zoom lens effect, there was a paltry 24% drop in brightness when moving from maximum wide angle to maximum telephoto. This is the least loss of light we've seen on a 2.0x zoom lens; we typically see loss of about 40% on a zoom lens of this range. Moreover, if you set the lens to the zoom's midpoint, which is its optical sweetspot, it loses only 9% from its wide angle position. Excellent!
Switching the lamp power from High to Normal cuts light output by 31%, which is a bit more of a drop than we see on most lamp power adjustments (typical reductions are in the 20% to 25% range). The shift in lamp power cuts the THX mode from 758 to 519 lumens, which is still plenty of light for a 120" screen.
The projector's factory default is to Normal lamp mode, and at this setting the expected lamp life is 3000 hours. Operating in High lamp mode reduces anticipated life to 2000 hours. The retail price of a replacement lamp is $399, which is typical for this class of projector.
Fan noise in Normal mode is extremely quiet. We'd call it on the verge of silent. When in High lamp mode, fan noise is more noticeable. It is a low frequency whir that shouldn't bother anyone, unless they are sitting right next to the projector. The loudest fan noise you will ever encounter is with lamp power on High and the High Altitude setting on. Here fan noise becomes apparent, but even in this situation it is not objectionable due to its relatively low frequency.
Other than zoom lens placement and lamp power setting, your third way to control light output is with the manual aperture. At wide open, you can get the brightness discussed above. But each click of the aperture control will close it down and curtail light output by about 3 to 4%. Closing it down all 16 steps reduces brightness to 45% of what it was when the aperture was wide open. This is a great tool for adjusting light output to exactly what you need for the screen size and screen gain you are working with. As far as I can recall, JVC projectors are the only models that have this feature.
Contrast. The RS25 is rated at 50,000:1, and the RS35 at 70,000:1. There is no difference in the projectors except for the fact that the RS35's components have been cherry picked to squeeze a bit of extra contrast out of them. We don't have an RS35 here to do a side by side visual comparison, but we would expect the difference to be a slightly blacker black on the RS35. However, the difference couldn't possibly be dramatic, since the RS25 already has the blackest black levels of any projector we've yet seen, including the Epson 8500 which is rated at 200,000:1.
Regardless of contrast specs, what everyone wants to know is how the RS25 actually looks on screen compared to competing 1080p projectors like the Epson 8500 or the Panny AE4000. There is no simple answer to this. The RS25 looks either higher in contrast, or lower in contrast, or equal in contrast to these competing units, depending on the average light level and dynamic range of the scene being projected at the moment. In a dark scene with highlights (a cityscape at night for example), or a scene with a lot of pure black with relatively few highlights (say, rolling credits or the Sony Pictures logo), the RS25 looks higher in contrast than any of its competitors. With this type of material the very deep blacks of the RS25 are riveting.
As the amount of black in the scene is reduced and average light level is increased, the RS25 loses its advantage. In some scenes it looks identical in contrast to the 8500UB or the AE4000. In brighter scenes with sufficient dynamic range, the 8500 UB, and particularly the AE4000, can look higher in contrast. Thus, none of these projectors beats their competition in contrast performance all of the time. Each has certain types of material at which it excels relative to the others.
However, this much is true: when the scene is of average light level and moderate to high dynamic range, the difference in apparent contrast between the RS25 and its competitors is not dramatic. Though the 8500UB and the AE4000 surpass the RS25, the difference is not anything that most viewers would consider to be huge. On the other hand, when it comes to scenes with lots of black, the RS25's advantage over its competition is much more evident. All of these models look very solid standing alone, and it is only when they are placed side by side in a dark viewing space that the differences become apparent.
THX Mode. The THX certification is intended to indicate conformance to industry standards including D65 color temperature, 2.2 gamma, and Rec.709 color gamut. In theory, two projectors operating in a "THX certified" mode should look the same, at least in color balance, since they are supposed to be calibrated to the same standards. However, when setting the RS25 and the Epson 8500 side by side with both in their respective THX modes, the pictures are different in color balance. So despite the impression of perfection you might draw from the THX logo, don't assume that the THX mode on every projector is perfectly calibrated and couldn't benefit from a bit of adjustment.
With regard to the RS25, the THX mode on our sample is biased slightly toward yellow/green. This cannot be adjusted since color temperature controls are locked out in THX mode. Furthermore, color saturation looks low at the factory default setting of zero. However, this can be adjusted. The HD color bar pattern indicated that a +11 setting for color saturation was accurate, and we preferred the picture that the RS25 delivered at this setting.
Extensive color calibration and gamma adjustment controls are available on all other operating modes on the RS25. This projector is capable of delivering a magnificent picture once it is fine tuned. Given its price of $7,999, a professional calibration is pocket change in comparison, and well worth the incremental investment.
Clear Motion Drive. JVC's implementation of frame interpolation, Clear Motion Drive, works extremely well for live performance subject matter in 1080p/60. If you are watching a Cirque du Soleil performance or Swan Lake Ballet on Blu-ray, or the Eagles Farewell I Tour on HD-DVD (will they ever get around to releasing this masterpiece on Blu-ray?!), the RS25's picture shows a real boost in clarity and depth with Clear Motion Drive activated. And even more good news ... there are absolutely zero artifacts to contend with. The picture simply looks more pure, details pop with more clarity, the stage looks more three-dimensional, and one gets the sense that the actors have a more immediate presence. With subject matter that has a lot of motion, the benefit is particularly obvious as motion blur is reduced. But even subject matter that has little motion, B.B. King in concert while seated in his chair for example, or Dianna Krall at the piano, there is a subtle but genuine sense of increased reality. The so-called "digital video" effect from frame interpolation that doesn't look so good in movies works to great advantage with this type of material. You want the impression of being in the same room with the performers. If you are watching any live performance material in 1080p/60 on the RS25, turn Clear Motion Drive on High for the best possible picture quality.
Clear Motion Drive also has a tangible beneficial effect on HD sports broadcasts as far as reduced motion blur is concerned. But with other types of material it is less successful. Most of the time there is little visible benefit to using it on standard def DVDs that are upscaled to 1080p/60 by the player. The picture looks about the same either way on many DVDs, with a slight bit of improved clarity on some.
Clear Motion Drive does not work well on 24 fps film sources being transmitted in 24p. There are simply too many distracting artifacts to make it usable. When it comes to movies, it is the least successful of the frame interpolation systems we have seen on home theater projectors. We preferred to leave it off for this type of material.
Placement, throw distance and lens shift flexibility. All of the JVC models just released throw a 120" diagonal image from a distance of between 12 and 24 feet. For the optical sweetspot of the lens, a throw of between 16 and 20 feet is ideal. If you want seats at about 1.33x the screen width, they would be at 11.5 feet from the screen, so the projector would be comfortably behind the audience. The vertical lens shift covers a total span of 2.6 picture heights, and horizontal shift is a maximum of 1.7 picture widths.
Though it is easy to ceiling mount this projector (and most users probably will), ideally we would prefer to place it on an open shelf above and behind the audience and use the least amount of lens shift as possible. If a rear wall mount is considered, keep in mind that the unit itself is 19" long, and a rear clearance of 8" from a wall is required for proper heat dissipation. This means the front of the projector will extend out 27" from the wall. So a typical bookshelf installation is not in the cards.
A note on the Air Filter. In addition to maximizing optical performance, shelf mounting also makes it easier to access the air filter for periodic cleaning. JVC recommends this be done "regularly" but does not specify beyond that. This filter is fragile and needs to be washed carefully and air dried before putting it back in the projector. Vacuuming the filter is not an option, as it will damage the material.
The most direct competitor to the JVC RS25 is the Sony VPL-VW85, priced at $7,999. Both of these are LCoS-based projectors. JVC calls it D-ILA and Sony calls it SXRD, but these terms are marketing names for their respective implementations of LCoS technology.
Another new 1080p model in the same price range is the Optoma HD8600. That model has just arrived, and we have yet to do any side by side work with these two models.
Since the Sony VW85 has not yet arrived, we have no way to compare them visually, but we will be working on the HD8600 this week. In the meantime, here is a comparison chart of basic features which lists the data that we have on these three models at this point in time.
When it comes to comparing the RS25 to lower priced models such as the Epson 8500UB, the Mitsubishi HC6800, and the Panasonic AE4000, the big question of course is, "What do you get for the extra cash?" The RS25's most obvious advantage over all of the lower priced models is superior black level. In scenes with a lot of black, the RS25 stands clearly in a class of its own. It also has very bright Cinema modes, the brightness of which can be fine-tuned with the manual iris. I don't recall any of the other lower priced models having this feature.
When setting the RS25 against another unit on the same shelf and projecting the same distance, it will usually show a brighter image than a competing model that is also set in its optimum cinema mode. Part of this is due to its inherently bright cinema modes, and part is due to the limited amount of light loss from its zoom compared to the zooms on, say the 8500 or the AE4000. These lumen differences can be mitigated to some degree with proper installation, so it is important to take them into account if you happen to encounter a side by side comparison.
In terms of general picture quality with HD source material, the comparisons become a bit more murky. Despite its superior black level, the RS25 is not the hands down winner in all situations. Lower priced models have become extremely competitive with high priced 1080p projectors. The Panny AE4000, while not as bright in comparable cinema modes, shows higher contrast and somewhat greater picture depth in many average scenes. It has a smoothness and clarity that the RS25 can match but cannot surpass. And the AE4000's frame interpolation system is head and shoulders above that of the RS25 for 24p source material.
We are continuing to do side by side comparisons, and more will be written on this as we develop the material.
The JVC DLA-RS25 is another beautiful projector in the JVC tradition. It puts out a superb image with the deepest blacks of any digital projector we've ever seen. Its bright cinema modes, and the ability to fine tune their light output with a precision manual iris, makes it an ideal choice for a variety of rooms and screen sizes. Though the Clear Motion Drive does not do well with 24 fps movie material, is it not really meant to. Clear Motion Drive works beautifully with HD sports as well as a variety of live performance subjects in 1080p/60, and there are many 1080p home theater projectors that don't have this feature at all.
JVC's challenge is simply that of price. Historically speaking, the $7,995 price tag is eminently reasonable for a projector of this caliber. And the RS25 certainly is a step forward in quality beyond the RS20 that it replaces. The challenge is that image quality in the lower priced 1080p projectors has gotten extremely competitive. The leap in price from $2500 to $8000 does not buy a quantum leap in image quality. But if you have the cash and the desire to see the deepest black levels possible on your home screen, the RS25, or perhaps the RS35, are the clear choices. In this regard, nothing in the lower priced options comes close.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our JVC DLA-RS25U projector page.