PROJECTOR EXPO REPORT
Here it is - the final report on The Screening Room's big Projector Expo event, comparing four of the top 4K UHD projectors from JVC and Sony. Many thanks to those who came out, especially those who traveled great distances to join us!
Despite being exhausted after three weeks of prep, zero days off, and thousands of dollars spent putting on the show, we all had a great time hosting everyone and getting to see these projectors put through their paces. This report is based on my subjective observations and input from both the attendees and our special guests Kris Deering (Sound and Vision magazine, Deep Dive AV), Craig Rounds (CIR Engineering), Chris Deutsch (JVC), and Russell Warnhoff (Kaleidescape).
NOTE: Taking the time to do controlled product comparisons on a level playing field is a huge part of what The Screening Room is about. By eliminating variables that come into play when comparing a/v products at various different locations means we are able to offer much more reliable and accurate data to help you make informed decisions. Such tests are not easy or cheap to set up, however. If you are in the market for a new projection system and you find this shootout to be of value, we hope you will at least give us the opportunity to earn your projection business by contacting us for questions, system design input and price quotes. We don't think you'll find a more knowledgeable and helpful projection system design crew anywhere.
Sony VPL-VW995ES (MSRP $34999)
Top to bottom - Sony VPL-VW695ES, JVC DLA-RS2000, Sony VPL-VW995ES
All projectors were calibrated by our special guest Kris Deering. Kris is currently a writer/technical editor for Sound and Vision magazine and a calibrator and consultant through his own company, Deep Dive AV. He has also been a writer and editor for various other publications, both in print and online, including Home Theater magazine and Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity. Kris has done work for some of the biggest names in the AV industry, offering a wide range of services including calibration, product development, product testing and training. I have interspersed his comments and measurements in italics.
Kris Deering Calibrates the Projectors
First off, here are some quick notes on the comparisons, updated with the actual measurements. Screen used was a Stewart 120" 16:9 StudioTek130, located in our downtown Colorado Springs showroom - a totally light controlled room with dark walls and ceiling.
The JVC DLA-RS2000 / NX7 and the DLA-RS3000 / NX9 had the best native contrast, and measured almost identically. Both had approximately 2 - 3X the native contrast of the Sonys in their respective best modes. Here are the actual contrast measurements taken by Kris, ranked highest to lowest:
JVC DLA-RS3000 / DLA-RS2000 (tie): 22,000:1 native contrast ratio, high lamp, iris wide open; calibrated contrast 37,000:1 with the manual iris stopped down to hit 22 footlamberts (24 FL on the RS2000)
Sony VPL-VW995ES: 15,000:1 native contrast ratio at peak light output, calibrated contrast 8,800:1 with laser light output reduced to hit 22 footlamberts
Sony VPL-VW695ES: 8800:1 native contrast ratio, high lamp iris wide open, calibrated contrast 10,100:1 with the aperture closed down to hit 22 footlamberts
The Sony VW995ES by a tiny margin had the best lens of all the projectors at the event, with the JVC RS3000 coming in an extremely close second. Pixel definition was outstanding (as it was with the 3000), but keep in mind the difference between these two projectors was only noticeable with a single pixel test pattern right up literally inches away from the screen. A note about this lens – the improvement this lens brings over what can be found in Sony's VW295, VW695 and VW885 is pretty substantial at any seating distance. Sharpness, depth and apparent contrast are considerably improved. Projectors ranked in brightness: VPL-VW995ES, DLA-RS2000, DLA-RS3000, and VPL-VW695ES. One should not be too surprised by the slightly lower brightness of the RS3000 vs. the 2000 – these are often sample variances. Here are the numbers:
Sony VPL-VW995ES: Peak output 49 footlamberts
JVC DLA-RS2000: Peak output 46 footlamberts (high lamp)
JVC DLA-RS3000: Peak output 41 footlamberts (high lamp)
Sony VPL-VW695ES: Peak output 31 footlamberts (high lamp) The JVCs had the best color reproduction / saturation, with subtle shadings that were missing from the two Sonys. Both JVCs looked almost identical in this regard, which is not surprising when you look at the numbers:
JVC DLA-RS3000 and DLA-RS2000 (tie): measured at 99.8% of the P3 / DCI color gamut, color filter in place.
The Sony VPL-VW995ES: measured at 90% of the P3 / DCI color gamut.
The VPL-VW695ES: measured slightly lower at 89% of the P3 / DCI color gamut.
The Sony VW995ES had an extremely pleasing “pop” and clarity, most likely due to its high brightness output and outstanding lens.
Both JVC projectors also had excellent HDR "pop," with the 3000 essentially equaling the VPL-VW995ES from a clarity standpoint The Sony was still capable of higher brightness, however, which could be a benefit if paired with particularly large screens. Where the JVCs stood out in the HDR department, though, was in their auto tone-mapping ability (more on this in a moment).
JVC DLA-RS3000 hanging in our reference showroom
JVC RS2000 vs RS3000 – with generic picture content, often the two projectors looked almost identical. However, when there were areas of fine detail in an image, the superiority of the RS3000’s lens became clear (no pun intended). Fine details were easier to make out, and to re-coin a phrase I used from last year’s shootout, the overall image had a greater “purity” than the 2000. The 2000 had an ever so slight “haze” to the picture when compared to the RS3000 when watching motion video. TO BE CLEAR, this was not a night and day difference and I do not mean to imply that the RS2000 had a hazy image in any way, just that when comparing A/B with the 3000 that’s the best word I can think of to quantify the difference. The 3000 just had a slight boost in depth and clarity overall, which is what I mean by "purity." The Sony VPL-VW695ES seemed to struggle with the HDMI signal splitter we were using, and sometimes showed a large amount of banding with certain footage. As this is NOT typical of the performance of the 695, we removed it from the comparisons Sunday afternoon. NOTE: picture parameters other than banding could be fairly judged against the other projectors, however we felt the banding issue was distracting enough that it prevented the VW695ES from getting a fair shake (which is why we took it out of the comparisons for most of Sunday).
Kris Deering explains tone-mapping to the crowd
The higher native contrast of the JVC projectors was pretty obvious during dark scenes, much less so during bright video footage where the JVCs and Sonys looked very similar. In bright footage, the most obvious differences were seen in fine details with the projectors sporting high-end lenses looking best. In bright scenes with intense greens and reds the richer saturation of both JVC projectors became noticeable. Both Sony projectors had visible banding in wide swaths of even color, though usually it was pretty subtle (the most obvious example being some of the undersea sequences in THE MEG, where the entire screen would be made up of very subtle shades of blue, green, and teal - a tough challenge for any display to render properly). As mentioned above, the VW695 really struggled in this area, but we are confident the major problems we saw were due to an HDMI issue, as the cartoony looking banding would go away after we power-cycled the projector. When rebooted and operating properly, both still Sonys had subtle banding visible in the scene described above. Both Sony projectors had some uniformity issues, where green and yellow mottling could be seen in the fog at the opening of BLADE RUNNER 2049 and in the skies of THE MEG. Many people would probably not notice this (they would probably think it is part of the video transfer), but when we switched to the JVCs it was obvious that the JVCs did not share this artifact.
THE MEG, Chapter 8, approx. 58:02 into the film -
torture test for banding and tone mapping
BLADE RUNNER 2049, Chapter 1, approx. 4 minutes in.
Torture test for uniformity and banding
Another thought regarding the RS2000 vs RS3000 – the RS3000 also had better apparent picture contrast than the RS2000, even though they measured almost the same in terms of native. Kris thought this was likely due to the better MTF of the RS3000 lens. The image appeared to have more depth overall, and in some scenes we examined from the outstanding new transfer of ALIEN on Sunday afternoon, this manifested itself with an uncanny ability to convey all the fine textures and object shadings in the many dark scenes of this film.
Our Saturday crowd
Question I know we are going to get – do the new JVC projectors have comparable contrast to the previous generation eShift models. Answer is yes and no. Yes in that the blacks were rich, deep and pleasing, no in that they were not as deep as one could achieve with the previous generation models such as the RS640 / X990. However, as far as we could tell the new projectors still lead the field in terms of native contrast, and the black floor was lower than the two Sonys (most clearly revealed in black letterbox bars). The JVC auto-tone mapping seem to do a really good job, and in many ways accounted for how well the JVCs acquitted themselves against the Sonys (and would be the biggest justification to upgrade from an eShift JVC model to one of the new units). To get the best results from the Sonys sometimes required adjusting the HDR contrast level depending on the title. For example, we set the HDR contrast on the VW995ES at maximum while viewing BLADE RUNNER 2049, but had to turn it down to 43 to get THE MEG to tone-map properly. When we set the HDR Contrast at Sony’s recommended value of “80” when watching THE MEG, whites were blown out (clipped) to an extreme degree, and banding became extremely obvious. Turning down the HDR Contrast setting to 43 solved the clipping issue and reduced the banding artifacts, but at the sacrifice of quite a bit of brightness / image pop. With the above mentioned titles the JVC auto tone mapping was able to compensate for these differing HDR mastering levels quite well, all on its own.
NOTE: these tone mapping “issues” with the Sonys (which in many ways also apply to previous generation JVCs as well) can be somewhat mitigated by pairing the Sony projectors with a Lumagen video processor, or a Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-ray player with tone-mapping controls.
Here are Kris Deering's thoughts on the event:
I calibrated all four of the projectors to deliver the best possible presentation from all and to give attendees the best chance to see all four on equal footing. I told everyone at the event what levels were calibrated to and discussed the measured values. I discussed with all the groups the settings and why I chose them, and Craig Rounds from Chicago (a professional calibrator owns CIR Engineering) was there and verified all and was quite pleased with the results as well.
Gallery of projector post-calibration results - click for full size
Unit variances are ALWAYS a possibility for these types of events, just as they are for review units. For this event the 995ES was the brightest projector in the pack. When I did the review of the 995, it was dimmer than both the VW885 and the DLA-RS3000 I received. I informed Sony and they said it was still within their product spec. The 695ES had much better image uniformity than this 995ES did. I pointed it out immediately during the calibration. The results of the uniformity issues were more present in mid grays than in pure white, so it showed up more in BLADE RUNNER 2049 than any other content we looked at. The lens quality of the 995ES sample was excellent though with the best pixel definition on display at the event. The 695ES was an oddity because it was working great for the two days before the event, but once we put it on the video splitter it was having issues that looked like it was locking into some kind of 8-bit mode. The 995ES did this once as well, but after a power cycle it was fine. The second day I got the 695 looking great again but it did the same thing after the first input signal switch. I had a 45 minute talk with Sony that day to give them the particulars of what was going on and we both agreed it was probably related to the splitter (which was a model they have used as well, including at the projector symposium they held at CEDIA). We pulled the projector out after it started doing this again on the second day as I didn't feel that it was a good representation of what the Sony would normally look like. Subtle banding is noticeable on the Sony designs with some content, but the level being shown by the 695ES was severe. The banding is definitely reduced when the tone mapping is being done by an outboard device like a Lumagen or Panasonic though, so I think it may be a bit depth limitation when doing the gamma manipulation for the tone map. Some content shows this more than others obviously. And of course like any issue, it is more noticeable when compared directly alongside another display that doesn't have the issue. Both the JVC models were very similar in performance overall. The RS2000 was slightly brighter than the RS3000, but overall contrast measurements were similar. Subjective contrast was better on the RS3000 though, surprisingly. The RS3000 lens was also better for pixel definition across the screen, though the RS2000 did pretty well here. During the event I demonstrated the Sony 995 with RC on and off, and DFO on and off. We also discussed some of the other setup options including contrast enhancer and Sony's options for reducing banding (at the expense of fine detail). For the JVC RS3000 we did some comparisons for 8K eShift on and off but that was about it for its image enhancement options. For HDR I talked about the different approaches to tone mapping and issues we've seen in past designs and the limitations we are still seeing today from all brands. Sony's main drawback is the amount of user intervention it requires to do HDR properly and JVC's issue is its solution is only as good as the metadata its being fed, which isn't always there or correct. We talked a bit about lamp vs laser, colorimetry, contrast and any other questions that were brought up. I used BLADE RUNNER 2029 and THE MEG for HDR examples because they are perfect representations of the two extremes of HDR. BR2049 is a movie with one of the lowest MaxCLL's on the format and has a very low APL. THE MEG is the opposite with an extremely high MaxCLL and one of the highest APLs in the format. We also showed a lot of 8K captured content that had a mid-level MaxCLL and APL along with any content that was specifically requested. I think the only real "dark" content shown was the new 4K of ALIEN at the end of the last day, which was requested by two attendees. Other than the dark sequence of K by the fire near the end of BR2049, all the other content was mid APL or brighter. I thought the event did a great job of showcasing that all these projectors look fantastic and that if one viewed any on their own they'd be more than impressed with what they saw. Seeing them side by side reveals issues because you have a direct comparison being made, but that would not be how you'd view them in day to day use.
TAKE-AWAYS - CONCLUSION
Sunday crowd discussion
As a value proposition, the JVC DLA-RS2000 / NX7 is hard to beat. At $8999, it was the least expensive projector at the event and held its own against even the top dollar projectors in the "shootout." Yes, there were performance differences in the quality of the optics compared to its high dollar competitors, but even those were not "night and day," and with everyday video content big differences were hard to spot. Contrast, brightness, color volume and HDR tone-mapping were all excellent.
For the "cost is less of an object" crowd - or for those who want the very best performance available, at least among the projectors compared here - the DLA-RS3000 does offer that "crazy good" lens and another level of picture refinement. It's what is hanging in my home, which happily doubles as our reference showroom 😊.
I would put the Sony VPL-VW995ES in this category too, but I think it loses a few points due to the tone-mapping problems outlined above. Of course, the Sony tone-mapping issues can be almost completely eliminated with the addition of either the Panasonic UB820 or UB9000 UHD Blu-ray players, as they handle the tone-mapping outside of the projector. The only drawback here is that it essentially works only with 4K UHD Blu-ray discs, not so much with streaming sources or the Kaleidescape 4K media server we were using for this event. The ultimate solution here is a Lumagen video processor, which has active, scene by scene tone-mapping and can bring real benefits to both the Sony AND the JVC.
Currently I am leaving the Sony VPL-VW695ES out of this summation as the banding issues we saw at the event were an anomaly and unfairly prejudiced the comparison. It can be said that when it was working well it had many of the same picture attributes of the VW995ES, but with a bit less sharpness and brightness.
One of the questions I get asked almost constantly is whether or not the Sony VPL-VW995ES or JVC DLA-RS3000 is worth 2X to 4X the cost of a projector like the RS2000 or VW695ES. That is completely a personal call. There are some (like myself) who would buy a projector like the VW695ES and always be wondering how much better the picture would look if they had just sprung for the VW995ES with its laser light engine and superior optics. The same can be said for the RS2000 vs. the RS3000. For someone like me who is always wondering just how much better the picture could look if I had just sprung for the "better" projector (that little voice that pops up in my head when watching a movie), the difference in cost is justified.
If, on the other hand, you are more of the type that says, wow, I am getting 80% of the performance of the top projectors on the market and was able to take the whole family on a trip to Disneyland and (as Kris puts it) put some money in my 401K, the attractiveness of a projector like the VW695ES and RS2000 becomes much more pronounced.
At the end of the day, I think most people would be very happy to own ANY of these projectors. Taking the long view of history, it's amazing that the level of performance we experienced at the show is now available for anyone with the means and desire to put a small but genuine movie theater in their home. I can still remember when a laserdisc player and a 35" Mitsubishi CRT TV was the best we could get - the pinnacle of "home theater" performance, circa 1989. Back then I used to wonder how much better things could get, and of course events like these demonstrate the answer - A LOT better. That's it for now! As mentioned, putting on an event like this requires quite a bit of time, effort and money spent. However, at the end of the day we feel like we have brought real value to the A/V community by helping people make informed decisions. We also get the side benefit of being able to talk about these different projectors from an informed standpoint, so as always we would appreciate it if you would contact us with any of your projection questions or concerns!