Years ago, JVC made a splash with the RS1, which was their first 1080p home theater projector in reach of the average consumer. Since then, JVC's home theater offerings have always created a lot of buzz, especially their near-mythical black level performance.
Their newest projector, the DLA-X30, continues in this same tradition. At $3500, the X30 is less expensive than many previous JVC home theater projectors and more in line with the prices of this year's most popular 1080p 3D models. Like its predecessors, it has excellent black level performance and a dynamic, high-contrast picture. But with a lower price comes certain compromises, and these become apparent in side-by-side testing.
This review is a little different from our usual in one important way: we received our X30 from a reader who was interested in seeing our take on it, rather than obtaining a sample from JVC. It is not unusual to run into issues while testing a projector, and indeed this happened with the X30, but we have thus far not received a response from JVC. We will continue to follow up with JVC and update this review with any more information that we uncover.
We put the X30 in our darkened theater space, turned off the lights, and powered it up. For a long moment, we weren't sure if the projector was on at all, but then the stark white D-ILA logo sprang to life. This is what is most immediately striking about the X30: in dark scenes, the projector is capable of amazing contrast. Black level is deep and dark, then suddenly a light will appear, stark white. Black level does not change, as it does on a projector with an auto iris. In brighter scenes, black level comes up somewhat, but it still ranks among the best in its price class when it comes to black level.
The JVC DLA-X30
During testing, we preferred Film mode, which gave the picture its most natural appearance. However, Film mode defaults to the 6000K color temperature preset. Not only is 6000K too warm, but it actually measured more like 5500K on our test unit, so adjustment was necessary. The other thing that needs adjusting is the projector's default gamma, which gives the picture a too-contrasty artificial appearance that crushes shadow detail. This is easier to fix: go into the Custom Gamma options and select the 2.4 preset, which actually measured 2.2 on our projector. Some people may enjoy the overdriven appearance of the default gamma, and it definitely makes the projector look more three-dimensional, but videophiles and those looking for a "pure" experience will want to make the change.
After adjustment, Film mode produced about 550 lumens on our projector, which is about perfect for a 120" diagonal image on a 1.3 gain screen. That's with the lamp at Normal power, too. Boosting up to High lamp gives you over 800 lumens, so it's perfect for really large screens or rooms with ambient light -- though that won't help you regain any of the black level you lose as soon as there's light in the room.
2D Picture quality. The DLA-X30 is a home theater projector, and its main focus is on delivering a great picture. The X30's performs its best with 2D high-definition content, like that from Blu-ray or HD broadcast sources. When watching such content, the X30 produces a bright, dynamic image that has plenty of three-dimensionality. Highlights sparkle while black remains inky deep, creating a good impression of depth. Detail is razor sharp even without the aid of the detail enhancer. Color, after calibration, is accurate and life-like -- though saturation could use a boost. Performance in standard definition is similar, though some additional sharpness from the projector's Detail Enhancer can help enhance the appearance of DVDs. There is also a touch more digital noise in SD than there is in HD, but the X30's Noise Reduction circuit goes a long way towards canceling that out.
Pixel adjust. Any three-chip projector runs the risk of panel misalignment, which happens when the imaging elements are knocked ever-so-slightly askew and the three primary colors are projected in slightly different places. To combat this, JVC includes a pixel adjust control, allowing the user to move the red, green, and blue images relative to one another. On our projector, for example, blue was off by a half-pixel in the vertical. This system allows you to adjust for the natural drift of the imaging elements over time, which should reduce the number of times you have to send the projector back to the factory.
Whisper-quiet operation. In Normal lamp mode, the X30 is almost silent -- which only reinforces the "is this thing on?" factor introduced by the projector's deep black level. With the lamp at High power, the fan produces a low rush of air that we did not find distracting, even when sitting within a foot or two of the X30's exhaust vent.
Placement flexibility. With a 2.0:1 zoom lens and powered adjustments, the X30 is easy to mount in any number of possible locations. The lens shift allows for 2.9 picture heights of total range. This allows you to place the projected image completely above or completely below the centerline of the projector's lens such that the bottom (or top) edge of the image is 45% of the image's height above (or below) the lens centerline. This makes a ceiling mount or low table placement a snap. The horizontal shift has a total range of 1.8 picture widths, allowing a shift of 40% of the picture's width in either direction.
The JVC DLA-X30's connection panel
Lens Memory. The big advantage of a powered lens, aside from making it easier to focus, align, and mount the projector, is that the X30 can be used on a 2.39:1 screen in a constant image height setup without using an anamorphic lens. In other words, you zoom the image up to fill the screen when watching cinemascope content, then zoom back down to create a smaller pillar-boxed 16:9 image in the center of the screen when watching a 16:9 movie. To make 2.39:1 viewing even easier, the X30 includes a lens memory system. This allows you to set different positions for 2.39:1 and 16:9 images which the projector will remember. When you switch back and forth, the X30 will automatically move the projected image into the space you previously designated. This way, you can adjust zoom, focus, and lens shift once, and then recall those positions in the future.
Manual iris. The X30 is a bright projector, even in Normal lamp mode. For those using smaller screens, the X30 has a manual Lens Aperture that can lower light output by up to 36% in increments of 2-3%. In other words, Film mode's 562 lumens can be reduced to a more manageable 360 lumens, which is perfect for a 100" diagonal screen in a dark room. As the lamp settles down (all lamps lose brightness over the first few hundred hours), you can open the iris back up to allow more light through, thereby maintaining constant brightness on your screen.
3D. The X30 is a full HD 3D projector that uses active shutter glasses and has support for all of the HDMI 1.4 3D transmission formats. The projector does not come with an emitter or glasses; these must be purchased separately. The PK-EM1 external IR emitter ($99) is the same model used on last year's RS-40, while the PK-AG2 glasses ($179) are new for this year. The glasses are comfortable and lightweight, and though the lenses are small the glasses sit very close to your eyes, so you won't see the frames in the corners of your vision.
The X30 allows the use of any image mode while watching 3D, not just a preprogrammed 3D mode. That said, the projector's 3D mode provides the maximum possible light output from the projector, and it is useful when trying to combat the brightness loss inherent in watching 3D material. Lamp mode can also be changed; you're not locked to high lamp mode as you are on some other projectors. Frame interpolation is not available when viewing 3D, or at least the projector's Clear Motion Drive option is not available. If anything is going on behind the scenes, it is not accessible to users.
Light output. The X30 is rated at 1300 lumens maximum light output. We obtained a maximum reading of 1275 lumens using 3D mode and the High Bright color temperature preset with the lamp set to High, the lens aperture open, and the lens at its widest angle. With these settings, the image has a marked greenish cast and black level suffers greatly compared to the projector's best performance. Changing color temperature from High Bright to the default 8500K does a lot to improve color and contrast while still producing 1030 lumens. This is the default image mode for 3D display, and its bright output is necessary to keep 3D video from appearing too dim or washed out. It could also be useful in 2D should you need to put a very bright image on the wall -- say, for example, you were picked to host a game-day party and need to wheel the X30 out into the living room.
3D mode is the only stand-out bright preset available; the X30 does not have a Dynamic mode as most other home theater projectors do. However, the projector's other image modes cover a wide range of light outputs. Stage mode produces 902 lumens, has a slight blue cast, and is perfect for rooms with mild ambient light. Animation mode, at 933 lumens, emphasizes sharpness and enables frame interpolation by default in an effort to make cartoons and other animated material look its best. Natural and Cinema modes provide two different takes on the same idea: a higher-contrast, more natural image. These measure 834 and 867 lumens respectively. These modes mainly differ in their handling of gamma.
The last image mode (aside from the projector's five User memory slots) is Film, which became our preferred mode for HD movies and video. At 839 lumens, Film mode provides the highest contrast, the most accurate color, and the most natural image of any of the X30's preset modes. Our preference was to use Normal lamp mode, which reduces light output by 33% to 562 lumens and drastically reduces fan noise. On a 120" diagonal 1.3 gain screen, Film mode with Normal lamp selected is just about perfect.
Contrast. One of the strong points of JVC's home theater projectors has always been their stellar black level, and the X30 is no exception in this regard. The projector has no auto iris, yet manages to put up some of the best black levels we have observed from this year's group. On a black screen, it can be difficult to tell if the projector is on -- there's none of the usual glow that one gets from a projector idling on a black image. In dark scenes, such as nighttime shots or fields of stars, the black level on the X30 trumps every other projector in this year's group. In brighter scenes, such as indoor shots without many extreme shadows or highlights, black level is competitive, if not the stand-out favorite that it is in darker scenes. Bright, highlight-rich scenes show solid black level performance, though not as good as performance with darker content.
As far as dynamic range is concerned, the X30 turns in an impressive performance. Subtle differences in shadow and highlight detail are reproduced accurately, and the image at times looks ready to jump off the screen. The X30's handling of dark scenes is particularly impressive, since there's no auto iris to drag down highlight brightness when black level drops into the basement. A scene such as a field of stars or even just a movie's ending credits will show the projector's maximum potential. When the average illumination level of the scene is higher, dynamic range decreases as black level brightens slightly.
The X30 will be a favorite with those who not only value deep, inky blacks, but also have theaters with the superior light control needed to take advantage of the X30's performance. Ambient light, even a tiny amount, can have a ruinous effect on black level and dynamic range. When shopping for a projector like the X30, it pays to light-proof your theater room before bringing the projector home.
Color. The default color settings on the X30 make the projector look a little warm. By our measurements, the default 6000K setting for Film mode actually puts out between 5400K and 5800K. However, some adjustments using our CalMAN software brought the projector in line with the Rec. 709 standard for HD quite nicely. When it comes to gamut, the X30 is already close to perfect. Our instruments indicate that the default gamut is close enough to the ideal that human eyes cannot tell the difference, so we left this alone.
Color gamut in Film mode.
Color saturation is more subdued than that seen on several other projectors' Cinema modes, but it does not look washed out or faded when viewed on its own. Indeed, the picture produced by the X30 is natural and life-like, though some users may elect to bump saturation up a few pegs according to their tastes. Changing the Color Space from Normal to Wide 1 or Wide 2 increases apparent saturation, but it also gives the image a slightly cartoonish, artificial aspect in some scenes.
3D Flicker. Unfortunately, 3D on the X30 is marred by flickering instability that detracts from the experience significantly. The flickering is more apparent in brighter scenes, and most apparent when using the 3D image preset, but it is present in all image modes to some degree. This is an unusual flaw, and unique enough that we attempted to contact JVC to see if they had any more information about it. If at some point in the future we receive a response from JVC regarding this problem, we will update this review to reflect any new information. Based on what we're seeing at this time, we would hesitate to recommend the DLA-X30 to someone who intended to do a lot of 3D viewing.
3D Brightness. As the X30 is a bright projector at 1300 lumens, one would expect 3D to be similarly bright. However, from 3D mode's 1029 lumens, the X30 loses 27% simply from switching into 3D mode, resulting in 748 lumens. The glasses allow roughly 30% transmission, which is quite good, but they still only allow the equivalent of 205 lumens to work with. On a 100" diagonal, 1.3 gain screen, that works out to about 9 foot-Lamberts. If you want to use one of the other image modes, like Film mode, you end up with 5.8 fL with the lamp at full power. This is less light than other 3D projectors in the X30's price range.
Clear Motion Drive. The X30's Clear Motion Drive has four numbered modes and a fifth called Inverse Telecine. Aside from Inverse Telecine, which reconstructs the original 24-frame per second content from a 30-frame per second DVD or video, the four modes do not have any sort of descriptive identifiers and the user manual is silent about their purpose, which results in some trial-and-error when trying to find the right mode. Modes 1 and 2, for example, introduce a highly distracting flicker to a 24p source. This is because Modes 1 and 2 are designed for video, not film. Used with 30 frame per second video, Modes 1 and 2 clean up the source quite well. The fact that they are selectable when using a 24p source, however, is annoying.
Modes 3 and 4 are meant for use with 24p film content. Mode 4 is more aggressive than Mode 3 and has a more apparent digital video effect. We did notice a few artifacts when using these modes, more so than on other projectors in this price range. If clean, artifact-free frame interpolation is important to you, make sure to demo the X30's system before making a purchase.
Due to a combination of timing and luck, we were able to put the JVC X30, the Panasonic AE7000, the Epson 5010, and the Mitsubishi HC7800D on our test bench and view them head-to-head, and these tests proved to be illuminating, to say the least. While these four projectors are very different, their images are remarkably similar, especially once the projectors are calibrated properly.
The exhaustive comparison section in our review of the Mitsubishi HC7800D lays out the difference between the AE7000, 5010, and HC7800D explicitly and in great detail, so it is perhaps more illuminating to discuss the X30's relationship with the field as a whole rather than comparing it to individual models.
Contrast is the X30's strong suit. The X30 has the potential for incredible dynamic range, especially in dark scenes. Its black level in dark scenes is the best of the group, bar none, even besting the performance of the Epson 5010. Highlights remain bright and sparkling due to the projector's lack of an auto-iris. Once the scene has some light in it, though, this advantage becomes less dramatic. In scenes of average illumination, the X30 was tied neck-and-neck with the Epson 5010 and Panasonic AE7000 in terms of dynamic range and black level. Occasionally, a given scene would make one projector look better than the others, but the advantage was never clear or consistent enough to award one projector the crown. If you love big, beefy high-contrast projectors, it's a good year for you.
Color accuracy is excellent on all four projectors. As mentioned previously, color saturation is weak when compared to the Panasonic AE7000's Cinema 1 mode or the Epson 5010's Cinema preset. But if you compare color saturation in the X30's Film mode to saturation in the AE7000's Rec709 preset, you notice some striking similarities. The X30 stays true to the Rec. 709 standard, which gives it a very natural, film-like appearance. The Epson 5010 and Panasonic AE7000 boost saturation in their Cinema modes because consumers increasingly enjoy the appearance of a highly saturated image. While there are arguments for each side, it is best to be aware of the difference and make your decision accordingly.
Clear Motion Drive on the X30 appears less smooth and has more artifacts than the equivalent systems on the AE7000, 5010, and HC7800D. The digital video effect is more apparent on the X30 as well.
The flickering instability in 3D on our test unit is not found on any competing projector, and it can be distracting. The comparative dimness of the picture means you'll need to use smaller image sizes to obtain usable image brightness. Frame interpolation is not available in 3D. There is more visible crosstalk in high-contrast scenes. The X30's 3D system feels immature compared to the other projectors, and we would not recommend it to someone primarily interested in 3D viewing.
As far as features are concerned, the X30 does include a fully powered lens with extensive H/V lens shift and a Lens Memory system. The Panasonic AE7000 has Lens Memory as well, but the X30's system can take advantage of the projector's powered lens shift while the AE7000 cannot. The X30 also includes its Pixel Adjust system, allowing for convergence corrections at home. The X30 is also the quietest projector in the group when used in Normal lamp mode. If you are in a small room, a quiet fan is invaluable.
The JVC DLA-X30 is a stunning high-contrast projector that offers excellent 2D performance. When viewing high-definition film and video from a high-quality source, the X30 produces a bright, sparkling image with the best black level available this year, bar none. Color is accurate and life-like and detail is crisp and clear. There are some artifacts to be found in the frame interpolation system, but the core performance is there. If you're looking for a great 2D projector with strong black performance, the X30 is a great choice.
The projector does have some flaws, though. 3D flicker lessens smoothness in the 3D image. And the projector's high 2D light output never translates to 3D, leaving viewers with either a small image or a dull one. If you are looking for a new projector and intend to do a lot of 3D viewing, there are several models out there that have cleaner 3D performance than the X30.
In general, this year we have found that the performance of 1080p home theater projectors is rapidly converging on the ideal. Almost all home theater projectors now produce enough light that living room use is a serious secondary application. Contrast is rapidly approaching infinity. Color, with very few exceptions, can be calibrated to a perfect reproduction of the Rec 709 standard, with smooth 6500K grayscale across the board. Frame interpolation systems are more mature and less quirky than they used to be. Even 3D systems are maturing, and now it is odd to see a bad performance from one of these projectors.
In 2D, the X30 is neck-and-neck with this year's crop, and bears striking similarities to the Panasonic AE7000 and Epson 5010 in particular. All three offer detailed, striking images with great black performance, though the X30 edges out the competition in the darkest of scenes. If we were evaluating the X30 solely on its 2D performance, we would give it a higher rating. However, as many people will be buying this projector for its 3D capabilities, its score has been lowered in accordance with its 3D performance. The X30 does command a price premium over its competition, as it sells for $3499 while its competitors sell for $2999 and below. But for those who value the deepest, inkiest, most impressive black levels available, the X30 will deliver.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our JVC DLA-X30 projector page.