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JVC DLA-SX21U and Dukane 9017

Review Contents
Best Home Theater Projector
JVC DLA-SX21U Projector JVC DLA-SX21U
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800:1 Contrast Ratio
1500 Lumens
Street Price: n/a

Performance

The JVC DLA-SX21U is all about color-perhaps the most natural color ever achieved on a digital projector in this price range. Color is highly accurate, and color saturation is superb. Highly saturated scenes like those in Moulin Rouge explode on the screen. However, the true strength of the SX21's color processing is best demonstrated in muted, low saturation scenes.

Think about a beach on a foggy day-the sky is a palette of grays, the water is darker shades of gray, the waves are white, the sand is a soft light beige, driftwood is varying shades of dark browns, and vegetation is dark green without high contrast. Most projectors will render a scene like this in rather monochromatic tones. But the SX21 is able to render this array of soft hues in truly astonishing realism.

In addition to color, another obvious advantage of the SX21 is pixelation-there isn't any. Pixels are so dense and tightly packed that there simply is no visible pixel structure even at close viewing distances. It outperforms even the Mustang/HD2 DLP chip in this regard.

The SX21 throws a full screen native 4:3 image with about 90% of the image above the centerline of the lens, and 10% below it. A vertical lens shift function would have been handy to give the user more latitude in installation, but the unit does not have it. Thus when ceiling mounting this projector, keep in mind that you either need to drop it a sufficient distance from the ceiling to keep the top edge of the image away from the ceiling, or tilt the projector downward slightly.

If you tilt it, you have two options. Either live with a small trapezoidal distortion and leave keystone adjustment set to zero, or use the keystone adjustment to square it up. If the tilt is slight, the first option is probably the better choice. Using the keystone adjustment softens the picture but only in a subtle way-unless you were doing an A/B visual test you'd have a very hard time telling whether keystone rescaling was active or not. Nevertheless, to a videophile even the mere knowledge that a keystone adjustment is active, regardless of how subtle the effect might be, is often enough to create dissatisfaction. So each individual installation will have its own "best solution" amongst these trade-offs.

Contrast performance has always been the most evident weakness of LCOS technology. LCOS machines do not have the contrast that DLP products can deliver. However, the SX21, rated at 800:1, is the highest contrast LCOS machine we've seen to date. And its contrast performance is plenty sufficient to give most viewing material a quite pleasing snap and sparkle. There are certainly low-light scenes in which you'd prefer to see more image definition. And source material that is inherently low in contrast is not helped much by the SX21.

Fan noise has always been an issue with JVC machines in particular due to their use of very hot 420-watt Xenon lamps that require a lot of cooling. Not only did these machines produce a lot of heat and fan noise, but the lamps lasted only 1000 hours. On the SX21, JVC has switched to a much cooler 250W UHP lamp with a life of 2000 hours. Fan noise on this unit is substantially reduced from previous models. We'd describe it as low to moderate in volume, low in pitch, and generally comparable to other units in its price class like the InFocus Screenplay 7200. Though it is not silent, many users will be quite comfortable using the SX21 without any hush box or sound damping accoutrements.

In terms of brightness uniformity, the SX21 produced the best performance we've ever seen in the lab, measuring virtually 100% in evenness of illumination from edge to edge. There are certainly no hotspots to be concerned about here.

Ideal set-up. This is a personal judgement call, but if I were setting up the SX21 in my own theater, I would use a 4:3 screen with electric masking on the top and bottom. Electric masking is a feature you can get with a screen that lets you open and close black fabric panels to adjust the screen's aspect ratio to the material you are viewing. At its most open position, the screen is 4:3, and you get the largest image possible. When you want to watch something in 16:9, you activate the masks, and black panels close from the top and bottom edge of the screen until the exposed portion of the screen is 16:9. The advantage is that you get a solid black frame fitted precisely around the image you are viewing. Black bars above and below the image which are visible on an 800:1 contrast projector are eliminated. That solid black frame enhances the viewing experience substantially.

Electric masking systems add significantly to the cost of the screen. So for projectors under $5,000 it is difficult to recommend electric masking since (depending on size) the screen might end up costing as much as the projector. However, the SX21 is a high performance product selling upwards of $10,000. It will be purchased by discriminating videophiles who are particularly interested in outstanding color performance and the best possible video quality. Thus it is a projector that will benefit handsomely from the incremental investment in a high quality electric masking system. Owners of the SX21 are precisely those most likely to appreciate the results.

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