ProjectorCentral editor-in-chief Rob Sabin shares insights on the latest front projection trends, technologies, and products.
What's the Best Bargain Today In a 4K Home Theater Projector?
If you follow the home theater projector market closely you know that JVC's projectors have long been considered among the very best. Their claim to fame has been industry-leading contrast—the result of the low native black floor of the company's D-ILA LCoS imaging chips coupled with quality optics and consistently well-engineered image processing. The JVCs have never been super-bright blasters and aren't necessarily ideal for high ambient light viewing. But for a dark-room home theater where their inky blacks can be brought to bear on the screen, the mid-to-high end JVC models have, for several years now, been in a class by themselves.
Those deep blacks don't come cheap, however. Which is why the company's announcement at CEDIA in September that it was shaving $2,000 off the price of the JVC DLA-X790 D-ILA Projector was something of an eye-opener. Even at what amounts to a 34% discount off the X790's prior list price of $5,999, the new $3,999 ticket remains firmly in what many buyers would call premium territory. But the performance being offered at that price puts it in the upper eschelon of all late-model home theater projectors. (Note that the same projector is sold through custom installers as the DLA-RS540 at the same reduced price.)
How Do JVC's New 2019 Projectors Stack Up To 2018?
Let me put this in some perspective. The image below taken from the Compare tool in the ProjectorCentral Database represents JVC's 2017-2018 model year offerings, from least to most expensive as you move right. When it was first introduced, the DLA-X790 was the sweet-spot model in the middle of the line—a significant $2,000 step up from the opening $3,999 MSRP of the DLA-X590, but with an enormous jump in rated dynamic contrast from 400,000:1 to 1,300,000:1. As always, we caution against using any manufacturer's rated contrast numbers for comparison to another brand. But within JVC's line, this step up represents a more than 300% increase in contrast rating from one model to the next.
Now have a look below at the 2018-2019 line-up announced at CEDIA. There's the DLA-X790, now appearing as the entry-level model priced similarly to last year's much lower-performing DLA-X590. There are two key things to note about the three remaining models. First, all use native 4K D-ILA imaging chips rather than 1080p imagers that display 4K content with the assistance of JVC's e-shift pixel-shifting technology. Aside from a $35,000 4K prosumer model released earlier, these are the first D-ILA native 4K projectors JVC has introduced for consumer home theater. The DLA-NX9 is unique among the group in offering native 4K imagers along with e-shift pixel-shifting to bring on-screen resolution to a maximum of 8K.
The second thing to note are the differences in rated contrast between last year's 1080p e-shift line-up vs this year's native 4K line-up. Only the top-of-the-line DLA-NX9, the 8K model priced at a lofty $17,999, reaches the 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio threshold, and the DLA-NX5, the new entry-level 4K model, achieves the same rated contrast as last year's entry-level 1080p pixel-shifter—400,000:1—for a $2,000 premium over that model. Granted, not all of that premium goes to 4K imaging devices. JVC has made some other advances in the new models, including a potentially valuable system to automatically optimize image settings for individual HDR movie titles. Nor can it be said that any of JVC's projectors deliver less than exemplary contrast; the low native black level is the key to insuring high performance here. But if you put aside any attachment to native 4K and accept that the excellent 5th generation e-shift technology in the DLA-X790 gets you close enough, and then factor in its comparatively high rated contrast, it starts to look like a heck of a deal.
Why Did JVC Keep The DLA-X790 For 2019?
The DLA-X790 received positive notices from several important enthusiast sites in the last 12 months. (Although ProjectorCentral was not among them, I hope to be able to offer our own review soon if this model remains in JVC's line.) I asked JVC why they retained the DLA-X790 for next year alongside the new 4K models, and how long it might continue to be offered. "The X790 was a very strong seller this past year, and received rave reviews," they said through a company spokesperson. "It continues to enjoy robust sales because of the price reduction and the features and benefits it offers versus competing models at similar price points. As a result, it will be offered until further notice."
If you think about it, it's reasonable that JVC would want to retain a $3,999 entry level model to address that lower-end of the premium market, and that there's a possibility that the economics associated with offering any native 4K projector using D-ILA technology at that price just don't add up yet. That could change eventually. In the meantime, and "until further notice," anyone shopping for an awesome home theater projector with a $4,000 budget to play with would do well to take a good hard look at the JVC DLA-X790 D-ILA Projector.