Projectors

JVC HD-1 Three-Chip 1080p LCoS Projector

ARTICLE INDEX
Introduction

front viewThere was a lot of buzz after CEDIA and CES this past January. The projector market has been going through a huge change over the last year and the evolution of this market segment has been amazing to say the least. The specs for projectors have improved rapidly and the prices have fallen nearly as fast, and most of the buzz centers around the LCoS/SXRD market. Sony re-invented the market with its 1080p "Ruby" SXRD, setting a new bar for what could be afforded in the $10K projector arena.



Specifications

  • Imaging Device: Three 0.7" D-ILA 1920x1080 Panels
  • Brightness: 700 ANSI Lumens
  • Contrast Ratio: 15000:1
  • Gennum VXP™ Video Processing
  • Lens Shift: Horizontal & Vertical
  • Inputs: (2) HDMI, (1) Component, (1) S-Video, (1) Composite
  • Accepts 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p60, 1080p24
  • MSRP: $6,299.95 USA

JVC



After hearing a flood of enthusiasm for this product and glowing reviews from industry insiders and consumers alike, I finally got my hands on one for review.

I've had lukewarm experience with JVC's previous LCoS offerings. The HD-2K was quite popular and highly regarded among aficionados, especially after a William Phelps tweaking, but I'd seen variations of this projector from Faroudja and Meridian and while it looked nice, it never sold me. Contrast wasn't what you could get from a lot of other projectors out there at more attractive prices, and the image had a harder edge to it than I would prefer, and these were "tweaked in" models.

The HD-1 is an entirely different beast, and it's easy to see why it's become probably the most popular projector of its time. Looking at the specs for this product, it is easy to see that this projector has a lot to offer and would leave very few wanting. The HD-1 boasts a native contrast ratio of 15,000:1 with its new LCoS chip. This is a number that is almost unheard of in the digital projection arena without the help of a dynamic iris. It also features two HDMI inputs, Gennum video processing, a three-chip design for better color reproduction, and a very flexible throw range combined with full horizontal and vertical lens shift. The cherry on top is the price tag. Normally a spec sheet like this would almost demand at least a mid-teens figure, but I've seen this projector sold for less than $5K on the open market; simply amazing.

The Design

JVC released two projectors that are nearly identical. There is a professional model badged as the RS-1 and a consumer model badged as the HD-1. The only difference we could find is the color of the chassis. The RS-1 is completely black, while the HD-1 has a black case with silver trim. For this review, I received the consumer model HD-1.

angled

The HD-1 has a wide array of features. The projector is a mid-weight unit as far as digital designs go. It is about average in size but not as heavy as the reference Marantz projector I had been using at the time. The case has an inlet vent on the right of the lens and an outlet on the left side. JVC designed an air path to go around the lens assembly to help keep noise down due to the fan. Fan noise is a big complaint from a lot of projector owners, and some of the newer models out there have come a long way in keeping noise down to an almost undetectable level. The HD-1 is pretty quiet in Low Lamp mode. I barely noticed it even with my head a few feet away, but it isn't the quietest design I've used to date. During quiet passages of movies I could still detect it in the background just enough to know it was on, but it was hardly intrusive.

Switching to High Lamp mode is another matter though. The fan increases speed quite a bit, and the projector's noise is a bit more objectionable. This wasn't a big deal to me, as I never required this much light output, but it is something to consider if you're a consumer who needs that kind of lumen output.

One of the handiest features of the HD-1 is its lens shift capability. The design allows for vertical and horizontal movement of the lens, a feature that can be quite handy during an installation. This is handled via two dials beneath the lens. Overall, the feature worked as advertised, but at times the knobs didn't seem to catch correctly and the lens would shift more or less than expected. I've seen this same issue with just about every projector I've used with this feature, but the flexibility makes up for the cumbersomeness.

The zoom and focus of the lens are adjusted using levers around the lens area. I wasn't that impressed with the operation of these levers, and it was easy to affect one while dialing in the other. I also thought that focus quality across the whole screen wasn't as good as some other projectors I've used in the past, including my reference Marantz VP11S1.

The back panel has two HDMI inputs, a feature that I always love to see on new projectors as it allows more flexibility when I'm reviewing other products. You also get the standard component, S-Video, and composite inputs.

back
The top of the projector has controls for power and menu operation. These were easy enough to use, but since I mount projectors on my ceiling, I rarely if ever operated them.

The New Look of LCoS

JVC developed a completely new LCoS chip for this projector line. They improved their native contrast to 20,000:1, but coupled with the polarizer for the three chips and the lens assembly, they are achieving about 15,000:1 on the screen. This is one of the only projectors we've ever seen that actually met or exceeded its advertised contrast ratio. We measured as high as around 19,000:1 in some areas of the screen and down to around 12,000:1 in other areas. This is actually one of my biggest complaints about this projector though. Uniformity in black is just not that great.

Because of the lens assembly, JVC is not able to have perfect uniformity across the screen. In this case, the corners are a lot lighter than the center of the image. I actually looked at several units during this review and the level of uniformity varied quite a bit from unit to unit, with some having only a slight uniformity issue in the corners, while others had it quite bad.

During most viewing this wasn't much of an issue. I saw the problem on occasion, but it was hardly distracting. I still feel that JVC needs to try and get a handle on the issue though. We were seeing the same issues with the Sony SXRD designs, and I think it would give any company a big leg up in this market segment if they could eliminate the issue and deliver consistent contrast across the screen.

Another improvement was refresh rate. Previous LCoS designs had a bit of a "swimmy" look to me. Trails weren't much of an issue, but most of the image had a smoothed out look to it. That wasn't a problem with this unit. Image pans looked as natural as the source would allow, and I was never distracted by a processed look that too many digital displays have.



Installation

For this review I did not ceiling mount the projector as I normally do. I was going to be moving into a new house within a month and knew that if I mounted it, I would only be taking it down in just a short while. I used a cart behind the main seating position and placed the projector on that. The JVC has a very flexible lens throw on it so it wasn't an issue to fill up my screen. The added flexibility of horizontal and vertical lens shift didn't hurt either.

Setup and Calibration

The first thing I do when I install a projector is dial it in as best as I can. This is a lengthy process, but an important one. I also have quite a few test patterns that I rely on to evaluate sharpness, resolution, color accuracy, and more. With all the hype surrounding this projector, I was really interested in seeing just how good it would do with my tests and how it stacked up against the SXRD projectors I'd played around with, and my reference VP11S1 DLP projector.

After I got everything up and going and brightness and contrast set, I put up a cross hatch pattern to evaluate focus and convergence. Since this is a three-chip design, the old issue of panel alignment comes into play. Moving up to the screen revealed quite a bit of mis-convergence in the lower half of the image. JVC offers a panel adjustment option in the menu to alleviate this issue but it is not nearly fine enough for the adjustments I needed to make. The adjustments are made in full pixel increments where this projector was showing about a half a pixel of misalignment. Half a pixel doesn't sound like much, but it was exaggerated by the chromatic aberration the lens was producing. This manifests a lot like mis-convergence but usually affects the outer edges of the screen. It's caused by distortion of different color wavelengths in the lens. This projector suffered from it quite a bit as I looked farther out to the edges of the screen. The only way to remedy this is a better lens, so maybe this is something JVC will address in later designs.

After I had focus dialed in and the convergence dialed in as best as I could, I evaluated resolution and uniformity. The recent Sony SXRD projectors have all had continuing issues with uniformity, and I wanted to see if that carried on in this design. Unfortunately it did. The corners of the image showed an obvious lightness compared to the center of the image. This wasn't very distracting during normal viewing, but it was noticeable and affects overall contrast across the image.

Another issue I've seen with SXRD projectors is resolution. While most true 1080p projectors do offer one-to-one pixel mapping, they don't always resolve the full Nyquist resolution offered by the resolution. The gamma seems to be the main offender, causing an obvious roll-off and smearing of detail when you look at a luma burst at the full resolution of 1080p. The JVC showed the same issue as the Sony designs, though to a lesser degree. You could make out the lines of resolution, but the transitions between the lines were mainly gray instead of their intended white. To date, the only 1080p projectors I've seen that can actually resolve the full resolution of 1080p with no distortion are the DLP designs.

One of the biggest offenders on this projector though is its color accuracy. The primaries are quite a way out from their intended position in the CIE color triangle, resulting in colors that are a bit saturated. In reality, some people may actually like this, as it gives images more pop and color saturation. But in my position, I need to ensure accuracy can be achieved, especially if I'm going to use the projector for evaluation of other hardware and software. The nice thing is, the reproducible range of colors is outside of the intended positions. This can sometimes be dialed in to near perfection in a service menu or ISF menu. I would rather have the colors outside the triangle and dial them in than find they're inside the triangle and can't be increased (a problem I've seen with other designs).

Unfortunately, JVC has not included any option to dial in primaries or secondaries. This wouldn't be as big of a deal to me if the colors were pretty close (like the Marantz VP11S1, which also lacks a color management system), but they weren't. The biggest offenders were green and red. Personally, I didn't think it impacted the image too much with normal viewing, but there were times when grass looked a bit on the lime side, and flesh tones were a bit hotter than they should have been. If you have a display that is accurate to compare side by side with, the difference is far more pronounced, but most people don't, so they may not notice as much.

Video Processing

I must say it is getting very refreshing to see more and more high end video processing chips being added to projectors. Sure it puts some strain on the companies that make video processors to justify their existence, but it makes a lot of difference in the quality of the image you can get on screen.

vxp by gennum logoJVC went with the Gennum VXP chip for their video processing, which is the same chip used in my reference projector and SSP (Anthem D2). This is an all-in-one chip solution that handles both SD and HD material with aplomb. It is fully capable of doing true inverse telecine de-interlacing of both 480i and 1080i properly and also supports motion adaptive de-interlacing for video sources. Since there is a dearth of HD hardware on the market that properly de-interlaces sources requiring proper 2-2 pulldown, this takes a lot of the guess work out of it. You could just technically feed this projector the raw resolution of whatever you are watching and let it do the work.

Using our HD evaluation discs on both Blu-ray and HD DVD, this projector handled all of its cadence duties with no issues at all. In fact, the only test it failed was a cadence test on the new Silicon Optix HD Benchmark disc, that only Silicon Optix based processors have been able to pass so far (imagine that!)

This projector will also handle input resolutions of 1080p24 and 1080p60. I watched several Blu-ray discs in 1080p24 and had no issues at all. I never noticed any frame drops or juddering. This essentially makes this display future proof in this regard as more and more Blu-ray and HD DVD players offer 1080p24 outputs.

In Use

Staring at test patterns and running a projector through the gambit of tests is all fine and dandy but at the end of the day these things were designed for viewing real content. I know a lot of people put a lot of weight on tests (as they should), but I find that many of the issues we see with testing don't impact the image nearly as much as some people would think with typical viewing. But it's nice to know what your display can and can't do.

There is no doubt that at normal viewing distances this projector throws a spectacular image. The increase in native contrast the JVC delivers does a lot to increase the dimensionality of darker images. There is plenty of material out there that benefits tremendously from a lower black floor and higher On/Off contrast, and the JVC comes a long way to bridging the gap to blacks like we used to see with high end CRT based projectors with 8" and 9" picture tubes.

During my time with the HD-1, I pretty much stuck to HD material for all of my viewing, all of which was done with the new HD DVD and Blu-ray formats. These new formats, coupled with a 1080p projector like this one on a large screen, deliver a picture quality that is far beyond anything we've ever had access to as a consumer. We've finally reached the point where the local cineplex has a lot of catching up to do if they want to be the best around for image quality.

dead man's chestOne of the big highlights during my time with the projector was Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest. This is a spectacular looking Blu-ray presentation from Disney and is full of murky blacks and stark contrast. The superb blacks of the JVC made the experience even better. I saw an increase in dimension in some of the darkest scenes compared to my reference DLP design, and shadow detail was outstanding. Every little detail was accounted for in both the live action and CGI effects, and the image truly had that "looking through a window" affect.

renaissance Another great example was Renaissance. This is an import HD DVD that I bought from Germany that is a straight black and white animated action film. The black levels were outstanding throughout the entire presentation, and the 3-D effect of most of the film was like nothing I'd seen on HD yet. My DLP projector keeps up well with the JVC most of the film due to its high ANSI contrast levels, but the JVC was the one to beat in the really dark passages of the film. It just looks a bit better with absolute blacks.

Conclusions

While not the most accurate (color-wise) projector on the market, the JVC leaves little to be desired for everyday use. It has the best native contrast ratio performance of any projector we've used to date and delivers an image that would leave few wanting. We are really hoping that JVC at some point releases a reference design of this unit that would allow us to dial it in to perfection, as I would love to have some of this performance in my reference home theater.