Buying a Used JVC Projector

JVC’s DILA (Direct-Drive Image Light Amplification) – also known as LCOS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) – projectors have been the gold standard in Home Cinema since the introduction of their HD750 and HD950 models – although earlier models were also exceptional – but without the ability to full colour-correct them.

So much so that James Cameron used the JVC HD series to review Avatar daily shots (called dailies) by pumping them back to the studio, have them colour-corrected and then review the footage on site using the JVC.

There are very good reason for why they are loved so let’s look at JVC projectors’ pros and cons.

The PROS

  1. Exceptional black levels or black floor
  2. Class-leading and beating sequential contrast ratios besting any other projector including Sony’s SXRD projectors
  3. Exceptional ANSI contract in low APL scenes
  4. Exceptional colour-performance – especially near black when compared to other projector technologies
  5. Excellent sharpness as far as the native resolution is concerned

The CONS

  1. Only average ANSI contrast in mid and high APL scenes – DLP, LCD and SXRD seem to do somewhat better here. What this means is that JVC projectors MUST have very good gamma-calibration to look their best!
  2. DILA panels age and drop contrast over time. However, considering how high contrast they have to begin with, it isn’t nearly as much of an issue as with Sony’s SXRD panels, which had more serious issues with aging. What thing does mean however, is that gamma on these projectors drops over time and must be re-calibrated regularly to look their best!
  3. JVC is not a mass-manufacturer of projectors and they have had issues with quality-control across almost all lines – but especially when introducing a new chassis. This is why it is critical to talk about which models from which lines are best suited for a bargain second-hand purchase.

Should You Consider a Second-hand Purchase?

There a few factors to take into account:

  1. How old the projector is
  2. Whether non-JVC lamps were used in it
  3. Which model
  4. Whether you have the capability to calibrate the projector manually – or it has auto-calibration features

Let’s have a look at these in turn and then talk about the individual the models!

Projector and Lamp Age

The older the projector, the more TLC it will need. In particular, older models don’t have auto-calibration so you must learn how to calibrate the projector manually. I will aim to release a guide on manual calibration in the near-future to help folks learn the trade but there are some guides online already.

Also, you might need to invest in a new lamp if the lamp has more than 1000hrs on it. Older JVC projectors and lamps – especially in the HD lineup had issues maintaining their brightness and would drop quite substantially in the first 300 hours.

The X lineup saw JVC iteratively improve their lamps and by the 3rd generation of the x lineup, brightness stability was MUCH better.

JVC Original or “OEM” Lamps

Since the DILA panels are so sensitive to heat, it is absolutely critical to use JVC original lamps in JVC projectors. Unfortunately, JVC charges an arm and a leg for them, especially with their new NX line. This needs to be taken into consideration.

I have seen and tested various OEM lamps for JVCs and normally they have worse quality control which means inaccurate colour shifts, early brightness drops and the like. The money you think you save by buying an OEM lamp is not normally worth it. It’s like putting in octane 91 into your Ferrari. Sure, you can do it but you will handicap performance – and ruin the car in the process. Don’t do it!

Since some of the OEM lamps run hotter than their JVC original counter-parts, they can damage the panels – resulting in faster aging – and also some of the glue and other elements in the light path.

Ultimately, it is best to buy a projector that only had original JVC lamps used in it. Ask the seller!

I know not everyone will agree with me on the above, but I feel quite strongly about it after having seen JVCs being damaged by OEM lamps and having repaired an optical block that even the service centre wasn’t willing to take for repair. I personally don’t think it’s worth the risk!

Which Model of JVC?

Alright, no for the fun part. Let’s have a look at the different lines and model years to figure out which projectors are worthy of your time when shopping second-hand!

HD Line

Let’s look at the HD line first:

ModelLumensContrastRelease
Year
CMSNotesRecommended?
HD170015,000:12007NoneNeeds external CMSToo old
HD10060030,000:12007NoneToo old
HD250100025,000:12010NoneOnly with external CMS
HD350100030,000:12008NoneOnly with external CMS
HD550100030,000:12009NoneOnly with external CMS
HD75090050,000:12008YesFirmware update required for correct CMSYes
HD95090050,000:12009YesBetter CMS + frame interpolationYes
HD99090070,000:12009YesSame as 950 but hand picked componentsYes

All these projectors are 1080p and have pretty great lenses to resolve the resolution.

The HD1 and HD100 used a different chassis than the rest of the projectors in the HD line-up. They go for pretty cheap these days but I would not recommend them unless you are ok with the low lumens, lamp stability and the need for an external CMS. They might be ok for smaller rooms and smaller screens (70-100″) shooting from close to the screen.

The HD250, HD350 and HD550 are great projectors but they don’t have an accurate picture mode for HD video. What this results in is overly saturated colour. While you can turn down the colour control, this isn’t going to fix the inaccuracy. It used to drive me crazy so I had an external CMS with my HD250. My friend got the HD550 and he just watched it without an external CMS and he wasn’t at all bothered by it. It used to drive me crazy though.

One of the major issues with the HD line-up was the glue that held the polarisers in place, which could result in a yellow or pink line appearing on the left or right of the screen. This line would keep growing over time too to eat away more of the picture area.

However, these JVCs have a picture shift function which means you can shift the picture to the left or right digitally without losing the one to one pixel mapping. This means you can shift the picture just enough to shift the yellow or magenta lines out of the picture OR you can zoom the picture out if you have black frame or walls around your projection and just shift the image so both the left and right sides are cut off equally. This is what I used to do when I used second-hand HD projectors.

I had the HD250, HD750 and HD950 projectors. The HD250 was fixed under warranty by JVC using a new light block. The HD750 I fixed myself by taking the light-part apart and putting it back together (not for the faint of heart as even JVC engineers don’t attempt this). The HD950 I simply zoomed the picture out as the magenta line wasn’t too large.

None of these projectors have auto-calibration so you must learn to you a colorimeter and something like HCFR. Guide to come by end of the year!

The X Line

Well, the X line is a lot more interesting. It started off hopelessly but got pretty good. Let’s look at the models.

EU Model
US Model
LumensContrastRelease YearResolutionNotesRecommended?
X3130050,000:120101080pToo old now.
First-get lamp
No
X7130070,000:120101080pHorrendous CMS
First-get lamp
No
X91300100,000:120101080pHorrendous CMS
First-get lamp
No
X30130050,000:120111080pSecond-gen lamp
Better colour
No
X70120080,000:120111080pHorrendous CMS on EU / AU models
Lamp not stable over time
Less lumens than quoted
No
X901200120,000:120114K e-shiftHorrendous CMS on EU / AU models
Lamp not stable over time
Less lumens than quoted
No 4K input, only upscaling
First auto-calibration
No
X35130050,000:120121080pExceptional colour without CMS
Good contrast
Third-gen lamp very stable
Yes
X55120050,000:120124K e-shiftNo 4K input, only upscalingNo
X75120090,000:120124K e-shiftNo 4K input, only upscaling
Auto-calibration
No
X951200130,000:120124K e-shiftNo 4K input, only upscaling
Auto-calibration
No
X500130060,000:1
600,000:1
20134K e-shiftDynamic Iris (DI)
CMS Fixed
No HCDP 2.2 – Need HD Fury
No HDR by default
(can create HDR gamma manually)
Auto-calibration
Yes
X7001300120,000:1
1,200,000:1
20134K e-shiftDynamic Iris (DI)
CMS Fixed
No HCDP 2.2 – Need HD Fury
No HDR by default
(can create HDR gamma manually)
Auto-calibration
Yes
X9001300150,000:1
1,500,000:1
20134K e-shiftDynamic Iris (DI)
CMS Fixed
No HCDP 2.2 – Need HD Fury
No HDR by default
(can create HDR gamma manually)
Auto-calibration
Yes
X550
X5000
170040,000:1
400,000:1
20154K e-shiftDI
4K/HDR compatible
Drop in contrast compared to previous year
Average ANSI contrast
Gamma D for HDR is not ideal
Needs custom Gamma for best HDR
No motorised lens cover
Auto-calibration
No
X750
X7000
1800120,000:1
1,200,000:1
20154K e-shiftDI
4K/HDR compatible
Gamma D for HDR is not ideal
Needs custom Gamma for best HDR
Auto-calibration
Yes
X950
X9000
1900150,000:1
1,500,000:1
20154K e-shiftDI
4K/HDR compatible
Gamma D for HDR is not ideal
Needs custom Gamma for best HDR
Auto-calibration
Yes
X570
X5500
180040,000:1
400,000:1
20174K e-shiftDI
4K/HDR Performance excellent
No motorised lens cover
Average ANSI contrast
E-shift performance excellent
Auto-calibration
No
X770
X7500
1900130,000:1
1,300,000:1
20174K e-shiftDI
4K/HDR Performance excellent
E-shift performance excellent
Auto-calibration
Yes
X970
X9500
2000160,000:1
1,600,000:1
20174K e-shiftDI
4K/HDR Performance excellent
E-shift performance excellent
Auto-calibration
Yes
X590
X5900
180040,000:1
400,000:1
20174K e-shiftDI
4K/HDR Performance excellent
No motorised lens cover
Average ANSI contrast
New E-Shift
E-shift performance excellent
Auto-calibration
No
X790
X7900
1900130,000:1
1,300,000:1
20174K e-shiftDI
4K/HDR Performance excellent
New E-Shift
E-shift performance excellent
Auto-calibration
Yes
X990
X9900
2000160,000:1
1,600,000:1
20174K e-shiftDI
4K/HDR Performance excellent
New E-Shift
E-shift performance excellent
Auto-calibration
Yes
20LTD2000200,000:1
2,000,000:1
20184K e-shiftSame as X990 / X9900 but with higher-quality components
Highest contrast of any consumer projector
Red (not sure this is a pro)
Auto-calibration
Yes

The X line was a long-running line of projectors for JVC. Unfortunately, it started with a rocky start. Firstly, the lamps needed massive improvements to start being lumens and colour-stable. The main issue was with the cooling of the lamps. Once that was improved, the lamps started becoming more stable.

This is one of the drawbacks of JVC projectors: their lamps are low-tech compared to manufacturers like Epson who mass-produce lamps at 1/3 the cost and 2x the quality and stability. JVC doesn’t have the mass-production capacity or experience with them and it took many years to get to drive up the quality.

Secondly, early on there were major issues with the software and somewhat messed up CMS, especially in the EU / AU market.

I would recommend the X35 for a cheap 1080p projector. It had the final run of the larger pixel-gap 1080p panels, especially as it stayed around for a couple of years and by the end of the run, the contrast performance was pretty good.

However, the higher-end units only make sense from the x500/700/900 onwards. There are some issues with the x550/570/590 especially in terms of low ANSI contrast on some units due to reflection inside the optical path, but otherwise read the notes under each unit and see if you are willing to put up with the issues noted.

I personally owned the x30, x90, x35, x5000, x7000, x9500 and calibrated or seen the x3, x7, x9, x70, x7500 and x9900.

The contrast performance of the x9000 / 9500 / 9900 are just exceptional.

The NX Line

The NX line is the new native 4K line. You are not able to get them used just yet but if you do, they represent excellent performance. The following issues are to be aware of:

  1. There projectors are first-generation in the new chassis!
  2. There could be quality issues with the first-gen 4K chips: bright corners, possible dirty screen effect, and unknown stability in terms of aging
  3. Yellowing when using the Dynamic Iris in low APL scenes
  4. Focus uniformity issues – best to check in person

Calibration Capability

As I said earlier, JVC projectors need regular upkeep in terms of calibration to look their best – just like a luxury car needs to be maintained even though you don’t drive it much.

One of the maintenance that needs to happen is regularly calibrating the colour and especially gamma otherwise it can lose its 3D-like high-contrast image and may even look like it is losing brightness faster than it should.

With units that have auto-calibration capability, it is not such an issue – except learning the auto-calibration software.

With units that don’t have auto-calibration capability, you must do a manual calibration. While this is relatively easy to learn, it takes years to master. This is why I will be preparing a guide by end of the year for those who would like to learn. For now, refer to the AV forums for more guidance.

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