JVC X550R Projector Review
By Chris Heinonen on
Sometimes I wish I were an engineer. Being able to understand how products are different at the lowest level would help me see why some companies can do things that other ones cannot. Whenever I get in a projector from JVC I wonder how they can produce such deep, dark blacks that no other projector company can. The JVC X550R is no different, producing some of the best contrast ratios I have ever seen on a projector with images that are stunning.
D-ILA and its magic
|Inputs:||2x HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2|
|Projector Size:||17 7/8″ x 7″ x 18 1/2″|
|Projector Weight:||34 lbs.|
|Review Date:||May 3, 2016|
The JVC X550R adds a few small upgrades over the prior models. Perhaps the most noticeable on the specs sheet is full HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2 and support for High Dynamic Range (HDR) content. While projectors with full UltraHD resolution are still around $10,000 or more, other features from UltraHD Blu-ray are supported on the JVC X550R. Light output has been improved and is much brighter than before, which was always a small flaw on the JVC projectors before.
The X550R includes full automatic lens control for easier setup and support for many aspect ratios. Lens memories mean those with 2.40:1 or other non-16:9 aspect ratio screens can fill them without manual adjustments. The menus offer a full suite of calibration controls and adjustments, making it easy to dial in the projector for your screen and room.
If you happen to own a Spyder4 calibration device, the JVC X550R can calibrate itself. You can set the targets for White Point, Color Gamut, and Gamma in calibration software and let it do all the work. Since I do not own a Spyder4 I was unable to test this, but the low cost of a Spyder4 means you can buy one to do your own calibrations of the X550R. Ideally the next version of this feature supports more meters.
UltraHD Blu-ray and HDR
While the JVC X550R isn’t a true UltraHD projector and lacks the wide color gamut support that higher-end JVC models have, it does support HDR content. Right now the only real source of HDR content is the Samsung UltraHD Blu-ray player and UltraHD Blu-ray titles. Amazon does support HDR on some of its content, but only on TVs with an integrated Amazon app at this point.
JVC provides a guide to setup the X550R projector for HDR. Since calibrating for HDR is a challenge at this point, it’s good to see this provided. Since this is the early days of HDR support, things didn’t go quite so easy. The Samsung wouldn’t sync with the JVC at first, making me hook it up to an LCD first to do a firmware update. After that it would sync to the JVC, but only after adjusting some more options in the JVC and not at UltraHD resolutions. Doing this required a firmware update on the JVC, which means a USB to RS232 adapter and a windows utility. Perhaps in the future JVC will use the Ethernet port for firmware updates but not yet.
I’m not sure if these issues are to blame on JVC or Samsung, on HDMI 2.0a, or just the combination of everything being new. Just know that you can get HDR to work on the JVC X550R but it might take you a few hours to get it all going. Once it was setup I sat down to compare UltraHD Blu-ray titles to their Blu-ray versions using an Oppo BDP-105 for the Blu-ray.
Switching between the two inputs and the same frames, it was clear to see what advantages HDR offers. There are a few screenshots below, but these can’t capture the differences since you aren’t watching on an HDR display or with an HDR camera. What is impressive is that the JVC manages to keep all the shadow details of the Blu-ray while adding much brighter highlights on the HDR versions. The sunrise on The Martian keeps the mountains cloaked in shadows with dark details while the sunrise is more vivid and brighter. Mad Max offers many scenes where you see far more details in the sky with HDR while maintaining all the other details on the ground.
On the JVC models with wide color gamut support, the difference between the two is likely more striking. Since there is no other projector I’m aware of for $4,000 that offers HDR support, the JVC X550R is in a class of its own. The initial setup to get HDR working was a bit of a headache, but in the end it was worth it by providing an image with more dynamic range than is possible on a Blu-ray disc.
Stunning Contrast Ratios
With my traditional selection of Blu-ray content, the JVC X550R is stunning. I can say without hesitation that no $4,000 projector I’ve used to date can produce the dynamic images that the JVC can. The hilltop scene in the final Harry Potter film, the go-to test for shadow details, is just brilliant. The JVC preserves all shadow details while Hogwarts stands out against the dark background. On projectors with lesser contrast ratios, making the shadow details visible causes Hogwarts to appear dull and lifeless against the background while it pops on the JVC.
My current TV binge obsession is The Americans. With plenty of dark nighttime scenes it gives the JVC a chance to shine. The show is full of dark shadow details that all come across. Having recently been reviewing some $500-1000 DLP projectors, this makes it clear what the JVC offers for the price. Blacks are inky black but it doesn’t obscure any details. With cheaper projectors you can’t get blacks close to what the JVC offers, and if you try you wind up crushing all the shadows into a dark blob.
Even though I wanted to hold out for an UltraHD Blu-ray copy, the chance to watch The Force Awakens again on the JVC X550R was too much to pass up. The film is reference quality on Blu-ray and anything set in outer space shows what the JVC can do. Stars glitter against a pure black background while faces are detailed with natural, clean skin tones. Moving over to Skyfall, another pinnacle of dynamic range, the nighttime sky of Singapore is pitch black against the neon lights.
Here I tested enabling and disabling the e-Shift functionality. The main difference can be seen on the buildings in Skyfall with angled lines. With e-Shift off, there is some slight, but noticeable, shimmering to them as the camera pans in. Once you enable e-Shift, this shimmer becomes a more pronounced artifact. It is those angled lines that cause e-Shift to become visible when watching content.
Viewing Samsara, the difference in detail is almost impossible to pick out between the two modes. Even when paused and trying to compare, it is minute differences you are looking for. Disabling e-Shift can give you a little bit more detail, but only when looking. It does make the pixel grid disappear, but the grid is getting smaller and smaller every year. I left e-Shift disabled for most of my viewing, as the artifacts are too distracting for me once I see them.
JVC has a combination of static and dynamic iris available in the X550R. With the dynamic iris disabled, I am able to set the lens aperture to -13 in Eco mode while still producing 15-16 foot lamberts on a 100” screen. This gives me plenty of headroom for the future as the bulb ages and means the JVC can drive a 120” screen. Enabling the dynamic iris gives me even better black levels with an undetectable iris action. The JVC blacks are already so good it doesn’t need the iris, but it also doesn’t hurt. The only time I’ve noticed the dynamic iris in action is during a credits sequence, where it doesn’t matter.
The JVC X550R can’t do wide color gamut images, nothing in this price range can, it makes your standard HD content look beautiful. During the previously mentioned nighttime Shanghai scene in Skyfall, the swimming pool that Bond swims in is a rich, deep blue. The entry scene in Macau, with the bold red-orange lanterns against the dark black water are just as impressive. Skin tones are natural and accurate, without a push to them at all.
The bottom line is that the JVC X550R image is beautiful. For a $4,000 projector, it stands out. It’s easy to say you can get a lot more for your money today than you could a certain number of years ago, but the X550R is much better than what you could get three years ago and offers an image that is just flat out amazing.
Technical Bench Tests
The JVC X550R includes a full set of calibration controls, but unlike the higher-end X750R and X950R does not have THX and ISF modes. Even without those I was able to get an accurate image from it, which you can read about in the full test details.
There are a few small things I’d still like to improve on the JVC X550R. The ability to do firmware updates over Ethernet instead of USB is a good place to start. Since you can control the image settings over Ethernet, it seems you should be able to update the projector as well. Most people don’t have a serial port on their computer anymore, or aren’t running Windows. Making it automated would make sure that users get those updates they need for compatibility and features.
Needing a 3D transmitter in the back seems outdated as well. I know most people aren’t using 3D as more and more companies drop it, but projectors is where it can make a larger impact. Most other projectors don’t need a transmitter for 3D anymore.
Finally I’d like to see JVC add a game mode for lower input lag. I don’t play games myself much, but I have friends that are videophiles and gamers. As much as they want a JVC projector, the input lag prevents them from owning one. They don’t need the best image quality for gaming, and will sacrifice some for faster response, but JVC needs to include that option.
A $4,000 Steal
Spending $4,000 on a projector is a lot of money. I’ve spent most of the past two years reviewing projectors that cost $1,500 or less. For $1,000 now you can get a nice projector that does most things well. Unlike some other areas where the jump from $1,000 to $4,000 is hard to discern, the JVC makes it easy. Those dark, inky blacks are something that no other projector can do today. Even if you wanted to spend $20,000 on a model, it might beat a JVC in other areas but not in black level.
The ability to accept HDR content is nice, and might be more useful in the future than it is today. Having the ability to accept 4K content with HDCP 2.2 means that even though the JVC isn’t a 4K projector, it won’t lock you out of future sources. You will not get the full detail from it, but you’ll get to watch it unlike other projectors.
If you have a light controlled room where the JVC can shine, it offers a home cinema experience that is beyond compare. It is as close as you can get to those infinite contrast ratios that an OLED offers, but in projection form. It gets my highest recommendation.
|Pros:||Class leading contrast ratios, high lumen output, accurate colors, quiet operation, HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 with HDR support, dynamic iris is invisible in use|
|Cons:||High input lag for gaming, hard firmware update procedure, needs optional emitter for 3D|
|Summary:||The JVC X550R is the best projector we’ve seen close to this price range. Unless you’re a gamer that needs lower input lag, it would be our first choice if you’re willing to spend $4,000 or more.|