JVC DLA-X35 review Serious picture quality, meet serious value

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he good: JVC's DLA-X35 doles out huge, stunning projection images characterized by deep black levels and highly accurate color; excellent value for this level of image quality; extensive picture adjustments and setup options, including power zoom, focus, and lens shift; no-nonsense minimalist design; optional 3D emitter compatible with cheaper third-party glasses.
The bad: Inaccurate pre-calibration picture settings; doesn't include accessories necessary to watch 3D; inferior to many projectors in brighter environments.
The bottom line: The relatively affordable JVC DLA-X35 produces videophile-grade images with very few compromises.
JVC might not be a big name in TVs or home video anymore, but its home-theater projectors are still videophile favorites. They feature the company's own D-ILA technology, capable of delivering jaw-dropping black levels -- and hence overall picture quality -- that trounces cheaper LCD and DLP projectors.
The DLA-X35 is the company's most affordable example ($3,500 list), and even if you ignore screen size, its picture quality also trounces all but the best conventional TVs. Like all good projectors it requires a dark room and a decent screen, but provided those amenities, it's easy to imagine why someone would prefer watching this image over that of any standard-size flat panel, let alone a jumbo LCD.
If you're lucky enough to consider buying a projector like this, you may also have your eye on its direct competitor, Sony's VPL-HW50ES. I'll cut to the chase: there's no picture quality difference between the two that makes me prefer one over the other. They're both great, and both scored the same in our picture quality ratings.
The main difference between the two is in features, particularly included accessories. Sony throws in an extra lamp as well as two pair of 3D glasses. JVC provides no extra lamp and requires you to buy an emitter and glasses separately for 3D.
On the other hand the JVC costs hundreds less, especially when you factor in retailer discounts unavailable on the price-protected Sony. So, despite the Sony's additional extras, I consider the JVC the better value. If you're in the market for a videophile-grade projector yet still have a budget, the JVC DLA-X35 is tough to beat.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Design
The JVC exudes seriousness in a way only a projector can. The metallic case is big and heavy enough (17.9x18.5x7 inches WDH, 32.6 pounds) to mean business. The forward-facing vents flanking the large Cyclopean lens are the only items remotely akin to adornment. There are no dials near the lens for focus, zoom, and/or lens shift (everything is remote controlled), and JVC stashed the on-unit buttons on the back panel, near the inputs, between a second pair of vents.
JVC makes the projector in two colors and model numbers, DLA-X35B for classic black (the version we reviewed) and DLA-X35W for ceiling-matching white.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
The well-designed clicker is medium size, backlit, and includes all of the direct-access buttons I want. I especially appreciated the "hide" key to black out the image without having to shut down the projector. Think of it as a video version of "mute."
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
The menu system is sparse and professional-looking, and certainly more intimidating to newcomers than Sony's. It's easy enough to navigate once you figure out the logic, but finding certain functions can be a chore. Happily many of the most important are available as direct-access buttons from the remote.
Key TV features
Projection TechnologyD-ILA (LCoS)Native resolution1920x1080 (1080p)
Lumens rating1,300Iris controlYes (static)
3D technologyActive3D glasses includedNo
Lens shiftHorizontal and verticalZoom and focusPower (remote)
Lamp lifespanUp to 4000 hoursReplacement lamp cost$499
Other:Requires separate emitter for 3D (RF version, model PK-EM2, $99); Optional 3D glasses (RF version, model PK-AG 3G, $179); also works with cheaper 3rd party RF glasses
Features
JVC's D-ILA is a branded version of LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon) three-chip projection tech. Sony also uses an LCoS variant, which it calls SXRD. Unlike Sony, JVC doesn't include an automatic iris option on its projectors, and that's spun as a point of pride; its claimed 50,000:1 contrast ratio is "native." We don't measure contrast ratio at CNET, but we can confirm that JVC's claims amount to some pretty spectacular images.
The X35 is JVC's company's least-expensive D-ILA projector. The step-up DLA-X55R adds the company's "e-Shift" faux 4K technology and more advanced color controls. The higher-end DLA-X75R and DLA-X95R boast higher contrast ratios, analog PC inputs, motorized lens covers, and THX and ISF certification.

JVC includes neither glasses nor the required emitter for 3D.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Unlike the Sony VPL-HW50ES, the JVC DLA-X35 makes you spend extra for the privilege of watching 3D. That's because JVC requires an external emitter ($99 for the RF version) and active-shutter glasses for each viewer, none of which are included. The X35 is actually compatible with two different JVC emitters: the new RF version (PK-EM2, $99) and the old IR version (PK-EM1, $69). And no, you can't mix-and-match RF and IR accessories.
Despite the $30 difference between the two, RF is by far the better value. That's because the PK-EM2 adheres to the Full HD 3D standard, making the projector compatible not only with JVC's insanely overpriced glasses ($180, above), but also with glasses from other makers that comply with the standard. We tested it with the three we had in-house and all worked fine, including the $19 Samsung SSG-4100GBs and the excellent $60 Panasonic TY-ER3D4MUs. (Check out our 3D glasses shootout for more.)
Generally RF (radio frequency) is also a better technology for 3D because IR (infrared) requires line-of-sight that can be broken, and has a shorter range. Sony's projector, meanwhile, uses IR for 3D, and if you want to buy extra glasses your choices are more limited since it doesn't adhere to the universal standard. Sony's own glasses cost $120 each, or you could go with third-party universal glasses like the $60 XpanD X104's, which also worked in our tests. Check out our Sony review for more details.
Unlike the Sony, the JVC doesn't come with an extra lamp, and Sony's lamps are $100 to $200 cheaper at current online prices -- although JVC claims an extra 1,000 hours of lamp life, for what it's worth. JVC's refresh rate of 120Hz is also less than that of the 240Hz Sony, although it makes little difference we could discern.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Setup: Thanks to the four independently-adjustable legs and the JVC's precise power zoom, focus, and lens shift, setup was a breeze. The generous lens shift should accommodate numerous installations, in particular tricky ceilings, without having to resort to complex mounts. The five-position lens memory is a boon for configuring the projector to handle different types of content (16:9 vs. CinemaScope, etc.), and for people with CinemaScope screens and anamorphic lenses who want to take advantage of the JVC's anamorphic scaling feature.
Another cool extra is "screen modes," which are pre-configured tweaks designed to match the image more closely to a variety of commercial screens (PDF). As I expect from a three-chip projector in this range, there's also a panel alignment control. I didn't adjust it from the default settings on our review sample since its increments were too coarse; I'd have liked to see finer gradations of control here, (which, to be fair, are available on higher-end JVCs). JVC also deserves credit for the extensive setup notes on its Web site.

Picture settings: The JVC's selection is very good, albeit not quite as comprehensive as that of many projectors. Its numerous picture presets all relatively inaccurate, but customization options abound. The one exception is the lack of a color management system, which meant I couldn't adjust color much beyond the standard Color and Tint controls.
I appreciated that the custom gamma control allowed me to hone black and white levels to near-perfection -- it essentially acts like a multipoint grayscale control. Speaking of black levels, the "lens aperture" control is basically a static iris, and reducing it from the default fully-open position allowed substantial improvements in black levels.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Connectivity: The back-panel complement is standard, with two HDMI and one component-video. The sole omission compared to the Sony is an analog PC input. There's also an RS-232 port for custom remote control systems, a 12-volt trigger for accessories like retractable screens, a wired remote port, and the proprietary connection for JVC's 3D emitters.
Picture quality
In a word, "spectacular." The combination of a huge image and the JVC's excellent black levels and color produce the kind of experience that blows away any mere television. Compared to other projectors we tested, the JVC runs circles around the models half its price or less, as it should. It meets its match with the Sony VPL-HW50ES, however.
Prior to calibration the Sony's default picture settings are clearly better than anything JVC offers. If the X35 has one big weakness, it's the relatively inaccurate state of its image prior to any adjustment. The best setting, Film, couldn't begin to climb the heights of accuracy achievable by a professional calibration. And no, I don't post picture settings for this or any projector, because the screen introduces too large (pun intended) of a variable.
In a dark room, after calibration (which is how we compare all displays), there's very little that separates the two projectors. Black levels are identical, color accuracy leans very slightly toward the Sony although not enough to make a visible difference, and the same goes for motion resolution and other aspects of video processing. Yes, the Sony's numbers are a bit better in the latter two categories, but in person and to our eyes, despite diligent A/B comparison, it's a toss-up. The same goes for 3D. The only picture-quality advantage the Sony has is in brighter viewing environments, which all self-respecting projector aficionados should avoid.
Comparison models (details)
Sony VPL-HW50ESSXRD
BenQ W1070Single-chip DLP
Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3020LCD
Black and white level: In case you're wondering about the list above, rest assured that the cheaper BenQ and the Epson couldn't begin to compete with the JVC and the Sony, and the biggest advantage was in black levels. The ability to convey a convincing shade of "black" is the chief ingredient in picture quality, especially in a completely dark room. The two higher-end LCoS-based projectors excelled in this area, and both looked extremely close to one another.
There were some minor differences though. In Chapter 12 of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2," for example, we saw a difference in shadow detail between the Sony and the JVC. The details in the hillside and the black cloaks of the army appeared just a bit better defined on the Sony, with the slightest bit of extra information visible. These differences were exceedingly minor, however, and by no means did the JVC "crush" low-level detail.
I took advantage of the manual iris controls of both the Sony and the JVC to maximize black level performance (I avoided Sony's auto iris, which produced a less-natural image to my eye despite heightened "pop") yet still achieve my target light output of 16 fL (footLambert). Directly comparing the depth of black between the two it was impossible to see a difference, and indeed, both measured almost exactly the same in our 0% test. During very dark scenes they both produced an equally compelling, inky shade of black on our screens, and as scenes lightened they both delivered the same superb level of punch and contrast. I spot-checked different scenes with an extremely sensitive handheld light meter to see if there were any differences in black, and there simply weren't.
The Sony delivered somewhat higher light output. With a full-screen white pattern in the brightest default picture modes (Stage for the JVC and Bright TV for the Sony), the JVC measured 39.1 fL while the Sony measured 45.3. In lumens, a measurement that eliminates the variable of my screen, that works out to 1,284 and 1,488 lumens, respectively (thanks to Chris Heinonen for the lumens calculator).
Color accuracy: The DLA-X35 is an extremely accurate projector. Its Standard color mode comes quite close to the Rec, 709 HD standard, and its grayscale and gamma are superb with a bit of tweaking. Its measured and subjective color easily beat the BenQ and the Epson. It doesn't deliver the same level of out-of-the-box picture as the Sony however, and after calibration it wasn't quite as accurate according to our measurements. Its worst color error was in green, the brightest and most visible primary color, while the Sony's was in blue, which is the least. In both cases, however, even the worst measured errors barely breached the normal threshold of human perception.
To the eye, the two higher-end projectors were again nearly identical -- and superb. Watching "Tree of Life," the skin tones of the kids on Chapter 14 looked vibrant and natural, while the green grass and blue sky looked as realistic as I could ask for. Switching back and forth between them, the JVC did show a slightly redder quality to the skin of Mrs. O'Brien, however, and maybe a touch too much green in the grass. These differences were so subtle however that, even knowing about them, I couldn't tell one projector from another in a blind test.
Near-black on the JVC was again quite neutral -- unlike the BenQ and especially the Epson -- and once again, it was tough to see any difference between it and the Sony. Indeed, near-black measured nearly identical for color between the two, and far below perceptible error levels.
Video processing: Film purists will have nothing to complain about in this area. The JVC reproduced the cadence of 1080p/24 without a hitch when we turned its Clear Motion Drive to the Off position. It's notable that the JVC lacks the "Film Projection" mode of the Sony, but since that mode introduced flicker we didn't appreciate, it's no big loss in our book.
When we engaged Drive, the JVC, as expected, introduced the Soap Opera Effect and also nearly doubled its motion resolution (reducing blur). In our view, that's a poor trade-off for film-based sources since we find the SOE distasteful.
With other sources, like sports or reality programming, the blur-sensitive viewer might think about leaning more toward the Sony, which has faster 240Hz processing that allows it to best the JVC's motion-resolution result. But in a couple of my favorite tests for motion resolution using real material from the FPD Benchmark Blu-ray disc, a metronome and a shot of cars passing quickly by a static camera, it was impossible to discern any real difference between the two.
Neither the JVC nor the Sony showed any beyond the merest hint of solarization -- banding in what should be smooth transitions from bright to dark areas -- during the punishing Creation sequence from "Tree of Life."
Bright lighting: Honestly, it's a huge waste of this projector's potential to have any lights on in the room, but if you must, know that it's not going to fare as well as a brighter unit like the Epson or the BenQ, or even the Sony. On our 120-inch diagonal Stewart StudioTek 130, the image predictably washed out, and glare from the overhead lighting was visible.
It's worth noting that, unlike the Sony and many other projectors the JVC doesn't have a mode obviously designated for brighter viewing environments; the closest we saw was "Stage." The Sony is also significantly quieter than the JVC when you engage their respective "High" lamp power modes, which is a prerequisite for bright-room viewing. If you intend to use your projector in mixed lighting, I recommend the Sony over the JVC. But if you're going to do that very often, you're probably better off getting a cheaper, brighter projector than either.
3D: The JVC is a superb performer with 3D, and once again we found little difference between it and the Sony. My battery of crosstalk tests from "Hugo," including the floating hand as Hugo reaches for the mouse (5:01), the tuning pegs on the guitar (7:49), and the face of the dog (9:25), were equally clean on both units, with at worst the merest hint of the double-image. The difference we did see between the two boil down to things that can be resolved in calibration, and we don't calibrate for 3D. The JVC does offer slightly more options for the calibrator in 3D, however, namely the ability to adjust the manual iris.
GEEK BOX: TestResultScore
Black luminance (0%)0.002Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%)2.23Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)0.7864Good
Near-black error (5%)0.243Good
Dark gray error (20%)0.762Good
Bright gray error (70%)0.592Good
Avg. color error2.0985Good
Red error2.502Good
Green error3.716Average
Blue error0.862Good
Cyan error1.769Good
Magenta error1.688Good
Yellow error2.054Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)PassGood
1080i De-interlacing (film)PassGood
Motion resolution (max)600Average
Motion resolution (dejudder off)300Poor
JVC DLA-X35 CNET review calibration results by
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