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JVC DLA-RS400U

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Review: JVC RS400

Although I’ve had the privilege to work with many different brands of front projectors, my older JVC RS40 still warms my heart. However, while discussing the new JVC line with Chris from Cleveland AV, the opportunity to displace it for a week with the new, hot selling RS400 was just too good to pass up. A couple of days later, a new RS400, nearly identical to mine on the outside but sporting some sweet technological advances, shone it’s first light in my small theater room.

The RS400 has very flexible lens shift and zoom options, and even includes lens memories so owners with 2.35 or 2.40:1 screens will be able to have maximum performance with program material of any aspect ratio without an anamorphic lens.

The RS400’s focus was extremely sharp and even. Black, gray, and white fields were all very uniform across the screen, and I noticed no streaking or other problems.

Before calibration:

With stock Natural mode settings, I found some of my favorite material a chore to watch, mainly because the image was annoyingly grainy and far too bright for my small 73” matte white screen.

The blacks were amazingly dark, though they did fluctuate as the auto iris tracked the brightness of the program content. While most front projectors struggle to display an image with satisfying contrast, the RS400’s contrast performance appeared to be so strong that things looked a little unnatural and cartoonish, with slightly dark shadow detail and bluish whites. Interestingly, it’s not that the RS400 had too much of a good thing, but rather that some of the settings (auto iris, MPC, and Clear Black) were trying to enhance something that was already so good to begin with that the "enhancements" just detracted from the image.

Checking the measurements, the one thing that really stands out for a front projector is the maximum 84.9 fL at 100% white, which translates to about 1356 lumens. While this is far too bright for my screen, it will be a Godsend for owners with huge screens or those who like extra bright and punchy images. White balance did emphasize blue, though not by as much as I would have expected. Pure red and green were oversaturated, making objects of those colors appear unnaturally deep. Measured gamma was somewhat low, which will cause the image to appear even brighter but have less depth.

In both Natural and Cinema modes, I could see some color and brightness banding while looking at a dark gray gradient ramp, which appeared as some bit levels blending together and some emphasizing various color shades. This behavior most likely contributed to the graininess noted above. However, the graininess was also greatly emphasized by the factory MPC and Clear Black settings, which add sharpness and contrast enhancement to the image.

Switching to Cinema mode made bright scenes look a little flatter and seemed to impart a slightly pinkish overtone to the image at times. Color appeared too rich, and brightly lit Caucasian faces had a bit of a caked on makeup look. Motion and pans were pleasingly natural, and once again contrast was extremely impressive. The graininess noted in Natural mode appeared again in Cinema mode, although it seemed that some aggressive noise reduction smoothed it over at times.

Overall, Natural mode had a slight edge mainly because of it’s less flattened bright scenes.

Calibration:

I used JVC’s autocalibration software, which is only compatible with the inexpensive and discontinued Spyder4 colorimeter facing the lens, to establish a calibration foundation and then applied a correction based off the readings of my reference spectroradiometer pointed at the screen. While this calibration procedure takes a lot of time and practice to acclimate to, the results gave outstanding color gamut accuracy. This method allows easy gamma selection of different power law values, and with simple tweaks a close approximation of a BT1886 gamma curve can be obtained. I ended up making presets for approximately 2.2, 2.3, and BT1886 gamma for Rec 709, along with a Rec 2020 mode.

Before applying the spectro correction, the Spyder4 calibration resulted in a greenish white balance (about 5 dE worth), though gamma and most of the color saturation measurements were greatly improved. After applying the spectro correction, the greenish white balance was eliminated and color saturations improved even further, resulting in some of the most perfect color gamut measurements I’ve ever encountered. Grayscale tracking, while good, was not as noteworthy. Thankfully, it did improve enough to greatly reduce the near black banding observed before calibration, to the point where any residual banding should not be visible.

Contrast ratio, measured after calibration with an i1D3 profiled off a Jeti spectro, reading a few feet off the lens with LLH set to maximum exposure time and no whiter than white headroom, was 23,101:1. At that point, the RS400 was outputting 1292 lumens in low lamp mode, with around 85 hours on the lamp. Closing the lens aperture all the way raised the contrast ratio to 40,537:1. Calibrating to give whiter than white headroom to around digital level 240 reduced these numbers a tiny bit. These results are about 50% lower than that of JVC’s RS500 and 600, from which I measured about 35,000-40,000:1 with headroom to 240 and lens aperture fully open. This means that, while the RS400 has blacks that are not surpassed or met by any other brand without gimmickry, JVC’s upper models do have a visible edge in this regard.

After calibration:


After finalizing the calibration, overall brightness was still extremely high for a front projection image, though it was far less brutal than before. Closing the lens aperture all the way brought light output down to about half of it’s pre calibration levels and nearly doubled the contrast ratio. Although the RS400 follows the tradition of other JVC models in having a lens aperture range of 0 to -15, my unusually small screen would have benefitted from twice that range. However, I can’t compliment JVC enough for giving the RS400 such a hearty output; it gives much more flexibility for various conditions as well as the opportunity to go with much larger screens than before. I am reminded of so many other projectors, including Epson and Panasonic, which could be relatively bright as long as you were willing to put up with inaccurate colors and greenish white balance; but once they are calibrated for accuracy their output becomes wimpy. This is not the case with the RS400; brightness doesn’t have to drop much at all to get an extremely accurate image.

With most material, I preferred the BT1886 gamma calibration. Continuing the Dexter series I had begun before calibration, the graininess was greatly reduced, making the episodes much more enjoyable to watch. This combination of light output and contrast is just going to oodle pop and dimension provided the projector has a good environment to work in, specifically total light control and very dark room surfaces. White walls and ceilings will significantly degrade this aspect of performance for any front projector.

I did watch some Blu Rays whose flaws were laid bare by the RS400. World War Z, true to it’s nature, showed muted colors and washed out blacks, though skin tones could be surprisingly natural. Rocky Balboa was just too grainy to finish, and Die Hard exhibited some black crush.

Thankfully, on more reference quality material, the image was simply stunning. My normal reference, The Dark Knight, was rendered with power and finesse, with great shadow detail, tons of pop, and smooth and beautiful color. However, the opening chapter revealed some artifacts that were only there with 4K e-shift engaged; and since I didn’t feel it added much to the image quality, I was inclined to leave it off. My young daughter and I both enjoyed rewatching Hotel Transylvania 2, which showed a great combination of clarity and detail while maintaining an easy on the eyes presentation.

Conclusion:

The RS400 is very easy to recommend. The only projectors that beat it, in my opinion, are JVC's more expensive models, which build upon the RS400's excellent contrast. What the RS400 might give up to a true 4K projector such as the new Sonys, it more than makes up for with it’s superior contrast and long term stability. Although I have heard of uniformity and streaking issues with all the new JVC models, this and another RS400 I had calibrated previously were free of any such problems, making it my favorite not too expensive front projector model.
 
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