It was at the tail end of 2003 when we evaluated the first commercial projector to use JVC's D-ILA (Direct Drive Image Light Amplifier) technology. A souped up version of LCOS (liquid crystal on silicon) technology, the DLA-SX21E showed major promise with its amazing clarity, even though it struggled with natural colours and black levels. Now, at last, we're in a position to discover if this early promise has been realised with the arrival of the first 'next-gen' D-ILA projector, the DLA-HX2E.
Aesthetically, this new model is all about business. Its resolutely matt black exterior and unimaginative lines look like something that's escaped from a boardroom. Yet the specification definitely sets the three-chip HX2E's stall out as a home cinema machine...
For starters, the quoted contrast ratio is up from the uninspiring 800:1 of the SX21E to a much more cinematic 1500:1. The projector's colour palette has also been calibrated to the 'D65' reference standard for white (ideal daylight is rated at 6,500 kelvin).
Then there's the widescreen ratio of the projector's D-ILA chipsets, which boast a high definition friendly native resolution of 1400 x 788 pixels.
Connections are cinephile-friendly, too. The DVI jack is compatible with HDCP protocols, and so can be used for watching HDCP-protected video sources like Sky's upcoming high definition service. There are also BNC-type component video jacks for analogue HD and progressive scan video.
Degree in flexibility
Setting up is surprisingly straightforward. Simple zoom/focus rings give a good degree of flexibility in getting a decent-sized image even if your room isn't that big; there's horizontal as well as vertical keystone adjustment so that you can set the projector to one side of your screen as well as above or below it; the onscreen menus are no-brainers; and the remote control, although not backlit, is a doddle to handle.
Making life even easier is the lack of features to navigate through. Actually, the only thing interesting enough to mention is JVC's Digital Image Scaling Technology (DIST). Originally developed for JVC's TVs, DIST improves scaling and adds pixels of extra detail to lower resolution sources.
Set to work on an assortment of DVDs, HD tapes and Sky broadcasts, it's immediately apparent that the HX2E marks a quantum leap forward over, the SX21E. The single biggest and most gratifying stride has been made in the critical area of black level response. Dark areas of a movie picture now actually look reasonably dark, adding depth and scale to the image, making the contrast range seem more expansive, and generally just much more cinematic.
Just as dazzling as on the previous D-ILA model, meanwhile, is the HX2E's fine detail response. The awesome native resolution of the D-ILA mechanism perfectly elucidates every single pixel of a high definition source, while DIST does a great job - better than with JVC's TVs, in fact - of upping the resolution of standard definition sources without generating artefact side effects.
Arguably the HX2E's greatest appeal is the astonishing cleanliness of its pictures. D-ILA suffers none of the troubles seen with LCD and DLP technology, such as the rainbow effect, fizzing over motion, or smearing, while digital feeds show none of the MPEG blocking seen on some projectors and screens. I would wager if you're a cinephile who just can't see past LCD and DLP's inherent flaws, you could just be blown away by this JVC.
The HX2E's colours are also hugely improved over those of its predecessor. They're richer and more solid - thanks in no small part to the improved black level response. It should also be said that the HX2E's picture is much brighter than its 500 ANSI Lumens quoted brightness suggests - in fact, it's perhaps ultimately a bit too bright. For while the projector's black levels are much better than on the SX21E, they still fall short of some of the best DLP projectors.
I couldn't help but wish that JVC had included a 'low lamp' mode on the HX2E, for reducing the bulb output to enhance black levels at the expense of a little brightness. This would also have reduced the rather intrusive noise made by the projector's cooling fans.
From time to time I spotted what appeared to be visible signs of the HX2E's panel structure in my displayed pictures. But after deeper investigation, it turned out that the structure was actually being caused by the HX2E's sharpness highlighting slight artefacts during HDMI viewing caused by my Denon DVD-3910 upscaling certain DVDs to 720p. Naturally, the HX2E can't really be blamed for this - but at the same time, people with upscaling DVD players would be advised to try and see how their model works with the HX2E first before getting their wallets out of their pockets and buying.
The HX2E is a big step forward for D-ILA technology. While its flaws - particularly its problems reaching really black levels - are just enough to deny the HX2E entry to the Premiere projection club, I would still recommend that projector pundits give it an audition as it might still match the requirements of many home cinema fans .
As well as proving once and for all that D-ILA is a force to be reckoned with in the projection world, its freedom from motion and colour artefacts may be enough in itself to persuade ardent, well-heeled DLP and LCD haters to happily part with their cash.