(Dynamic) Tone Mapping – Lumagen vs JVC vs Epson vs Sony

Introduction

This is not a scientific, numbers-based review. We have plenty of threads on the forums for that and people who have the appropriate tools, expertise and time doing that.

However, I think there’s a lack of user reports from people who have used all 4 tone mapping solutions so I thought I’d offer my opinion as a user.

Please note that this is NOT a review of the projectors. If that was the case, the overall rankings would be somewhat different, as the Sony is clearly a better machine than the Epson.

My Experience

My experience with these tone mapping solutions is below. Please note that I haven’t used any of the MadVR products and that includes the Envy or MadVR on PC. I find the Envy too expensive for a video processor and I just refuse to bring a PC into the home theatre for various reasons but I understand others do.

JVC DTM

  • I had a JVC NP5 here for around two months which had the previous JVC DTM firmware installed (before v2.0)
  • I currently have the JVC NZ8 (review incoming) with the latest DTM firmware (v2.0)

Lumagen DTM

I have had the Lumagen Radiance Pro with DTM since Aug 2022. I have used the DTM with both my JVC X7000 and the JVC NZ8.

I shared my Lumagen DTM settings here.

Sony’s HDR Tone Mapping

Epson’s Tone Mapping

  • I had the Epson UB6050 for around 3 years which has basically the same tone mapping as the new units minus Dynamic Gamma.
  • I went to Epson’s offices to view their latest commercial lasers and had a look at their tone-mapping including Dynamic Gamma.
  • I calibrated and tested the latest Epson LS12000 which has all the latest tone mapping advancements including Dynamic Gamma

JVC vs Lumagen

Let’s start with the “heavy hitters”.

I think overall the Lumagen is better, however, just saying that ignores quite a lot of nuance in my opinion. Both solutions have their pros and cons so let’s go through them.

JVCLumagen
Pros– Locks the tone map into a set brightness range which provides more stability between camera cuts
– Does not heavily compress mid-tones by default
-Works very well with laser dimming on NZ8 across all laser dimming modes
– Works better in very dark and very bright scenes
– Once configured, can have a better sense of contrast
Cons– Very dark and very bright scenes have less dimensionality than Lumagen’s solution
– Defaults can be a bit dark and lacking contrast
– Does not lock the tone map into a set brightness range which can result in a sudden brightness jump for a scene if the camera cuts back. JVC suffers from this less.
– Compresses the mid-tones by default a bit too much for my liking
– Only works transparently with Mode 3 laser dimming on NZ8. Mode 1 and Mode 2 can introduce artefacts.
– I personally don’t like the default settings so in my case it needed service menu adjustments (easily resolved)

I first started using the Lumagen with the JVC X7000. I felt that the default settings were a bit too low contrast considering the JVC’s massive dynamic range, especially near black. So with the help of another Lumagen user, we tweaked the settings and arrived at some excellent results.

Once set up, the Lumagen just trumped any other tone mapping solution I have seen. The Lumagen and X7000 combo is just sensational. Not only because of the DTM, but because of Lumagen’s sharpening and Darbee filters. If you are using this combo, I would recommend turning off all processing on the JVC – such as Clear Black and MPC – and just use the Lumagen for processing. It elevates the X-series massively.

However, there is a fly in the ointment in that with the JVC NZ series of lasers, any use of external DTM messes with laser dimming – or the other way around if you wish. So ultimately, you need to make one of the following trade-offs:

  1. Lower the black floor with Mode 1 and Mode 2 laser dimming and accept that they will at times create mid-tone compression and destroy highlights when using an external video processor (including MadVR according to user reports!)
  2. You use Mode 3 laser dimming and accept that it will only lower the black floor if the scene doesn’t have bright highlights or during fade to blacks.
  3. You don’t use Lumagen’s DTM solution, but use JVC’s DTM and use whatever laser dimming mode you want without major issues.

In its latest iteration with v2.0 firmware, JVC’s DTM isn’t miles apart from what Lumagen is offering and has some upsides.

One upside is that JVC locks the mid-tone brightness and tone-curve using a static map and only really tone-maps below a certain stimulus and above a certain stimulus on the tone curve. So the different brightness levels basically elevate the mid-tones and compress highlights more or less. JVC used to give you 3 settings, but now has 5. In addition, the JVC will pick the correct mid-tone brightness based on the content meta-data. Now with firmware v2.0, it has an Auto (Normal) and an Auto (Wide) setting, with the normal being darker, while the wide setting being brighter.

This actually results in more consistency between scenes and camera cuts. It also allows for easy adjustment of brightness.

In contrast, the Lumagen will analyse each frame and adjusts the multiplier for the near-black curve, mid-tones and the highlights separately without locking the mid-tones into a specific brightness level or range like the JVC does. This has the advantage of the Lumagen getting every last drop of contrast and detail out of each frame, but it does come with two draw-backs:

  1. There isn’t an easy way to adjust the brightness of the mid-tones. Sure, Lumagen has the MaxLight, LowRatio and DynPad settings to kind of do this, but none of them adjust the mid-tones specifically and actually trying to get mid-tone brightness locked or locked into a range is not easy.
  2. Lack of consistency between scenes and scene cuts. There are times when the camera will cut between different actors or views in the same scene and the Lumagen will brighten the second cut to where it’s inconsistent with the scene. This is an artefact of not locking mid-tone brightness.

Both solutions have their trade-offs so pick your poison. I think overall Lumagen’s DTM is better. However, I can’t live with Mode 3 laser dimming on my NZ8 so I have switched back to JVC’s DTM and it really is very good 95% of the time. There’s always the odd scene where I’d go: ok, the Lumagen would do that better. But ultimately, with laser dimming, there are obvious artefacts 30% of the times, so I am figuring out if the 5% is easier to live with than the 30%.

Ultimately, this isn’t a criticism of Lumagen – or JVC. Laser Dimming is VERY good on the NZ8, especially compared to the Sony and Epson offerings. With such aggressive use of laser dimming then, it’s no wonder there would be some trade-offs, and it does look like JVC is using the data they get from their own DTM to adjust laser dimming and any gamma manipulation they have to do to keep it relatively transparent. Unfortunately, using the Lumagen doesn’t allow the JVC to know that it’s displaying HDR – as the Lumagen is mapping into an SDR container – and the related gamma changes for laser dimming don’t seem to be 100% compatible.

Sony

Sony said that they were using Dynamic Tone Mapping, and Object Based Remastering. However, I think Sony’s approach is somewhat less dynamic than that of JVC’s and definitely that of Lumagen’s.

I actually like Sony’s approach overall: Sony locks the mid-tone brightness, giving you 3 levels of brightness. It will then tone-map the low and high-end.

Unfortunately, with the current firmware, there is way too much black crush and dark scenes lack dimensionality and detail. This actually massively hurts the perceived sense of contrast in dark scenes, even though the hardware could do better.

In contrast, JVC’s new lasers have better shadow detail and sense of contrast in dark scenes. If Sony implemented better dynamic processing, I really think the gap could be closed, as the units are pretty comparable in brighter scenes.

In fact, the Sony did extremely well in anything but the darkest scenes and is very comparable to the JVC. Unfortunately, Sony’s laser dimming is very limited in its action so it doesn’t provide a lot of improvement in black floor which is a shame. I wish Sony developed a more aggressive laser dimming mode for those that value keeping the black floor perceptually consistent from scene to scene.

Epson

Epson’s approach has always been to provide a way for you to adjust the brightness of the mid-tones – and therefore the HDR curve using an HDR tone-map slider.

They provide a lot of flexibility with 16 levels of brightness. The brighter you set the curve, the more highlight compression. Ultimately, I found anything over 8 a bit too dark on a 125″ screen. But they do provide the full range for rendering content upto 10,000 nits.

While using this approach, I didn’t have to fiddle with the HDR slider much, just set it and be ok with compressing highlights regardless of whether it was 1000 or 4000 nit titles. However, this isn’t exactly ideal.

With Epson’s latest lasers, however, including the LS12000, they provide a Dynamic Gamma slider as well. I found this to work pretty well and it successfully adjusted very dark and very bright scenes to recover both shadow detail and highlights. In fact, this makes Epson’s approach a little bit more set and forget because there is dynamic adjustment going on. I actually prefer Epson’s handling of tone mapping with this new slider than with Sony’s. I just find Sony’s approach to be a bit too static for my liking so Epson’s approach is a great middle ground.

In fact, I think the other manufacturers like JVC are starting to offer more and more granularity in setting mid-tone brightness: JVC having upped it from 3 levels to 5 levels recently, and I think this is the right approach.

Of course, JVC offers something called Theatre Optimiser which allows the unit to track screen size, projector settings and light source brightness and lifetime to adjust the HDR Curve. This can also be used to fine-tune the brightness curves if you so wish or just let it run and keep adjusting the curve throughout the lifetime of the light source.

Conclusion

None of the Tone Mapping solutions on the market are free from issues and they all have something to learn from each other. Lumagen and JVC offer a more dynamic solution, while Epson and Sony offer a more static solution with some dynamic gamma on top.

If I’d have to rank the solutions, I would rank them as follows:

  1. Lumagen
  2. JVC
  3. Epson
  4. Sony

I put Lumagen first as it is indeed very good. However, I would like to see Lumagen allowing the locking of mid-tones using a brightness slider and see less mid-tone manipulation (alteration of the relative relationship of mid-tones) by default.

JVC is next. However, JVC’s solution is actually really really good. I find that it strikes the right balance between locking mid-tones and dynamically balancing the image. JVC has recently introduced two auto brightness settings: Auto (normal) and Auto (wide). I find the normal setting too dark and the wide setting too bright. Could we have a middle-ground possibly? I personally just put the slider to 0.

Epson’s tone mapping and dynamic gamma are actually pretty good, even if a bit static and erring on the side of crushing highlights. If I had one recommendation, it would be to improve laser dimming to extract that extra bit of performance out of the LS12000. It is possible as we have seen with JVC.

I put Sony as last because crushing black scenes to oblivion is a massive mis-step in my book, and makes the hardware look worse than it actually is. It really needs to be fixed. Otherwise Sony’s solution looks very good in almost all other cases. If the black crush is fixed, it will be in 3rd place replacing the Epson for me.

These are only my observations and others might think or feel differently about them. One thing is for sure: we have come a long way from the first projectors that supported HDR and their mediocre handling of it. All these solutions are light-years ahead of those initial attempts and we are lucky to be able to assess and sometimes nit-pick for our own enjoyment.

10 thoughts on “(Dynamic) Tone Mapping – Lumagen vs JVC vs Epson vs Sony

Add yours

  1. Very good article. You makes me regret to have not purchase a used $3,000 Lumagen for my JVC DLA-X790R (X7900 equivalent) after reading this 🙂

    1. Thank you, Yanick! 🙂 The Lumagen is an excellent combo for the X series. Honestly, the gap between an excellent-sample X series and Lumagen combo compared to an NZ8, especially on a smaller screen, isn’t earth-shattering.
      I appreciate what the NZ8 brings but I could just as happily live with my X7000 + Lumagen and not feel like I’m missing out. My partner couldn’t tell the difference if I kept swapping them… it takes us HT nuts to do so. 😉

      1. You article sparked a discussion, I hope you got some visits

        [cid:f9eb02d2-61fd-4418-a05b-6dea8adeb790]

  2. Nice article. I’d be very curious to know your thoughts on using a Lumagen with the three different brands of projectors. I realize the Lumagen will not increase the native contrast ratios but does it nudge the performance of a LS12000 closer to that of the more expensive projectors in rooms that are light controlled?

    1. Thank you! 🙂
      A Lumagen will increase the performance of the LS12000 for sure. But it won’t make up for lack of contrast and getting both is edging very close to JVC NZ8 price territory. The NZ8 even without the Lumagen will crush that combo for movies. No if’s or buts.

      However, if you are an avid gamer, the combo might be ideal in that I personally find gaming on an LCD like the Epson a better experience (without the Lumagen in the path) but the Lumagen could help the Epson be a bit elevated when it comes to movies. So you could use the two HDMI inputs that way.

      Now do consider that Epson’s approach to Tone Mapping is not bad per se! In fact, none of these approaches are bad. They are much closer in performance these days than they are apart in fact and that’s kind of the point… we are talking about the last 10% of performance here… you have to decide if that’s worth it for you!

      Yes, the Forums can make it sound like OMG, such a massive difference but consider that we live and breathe this and are borderline fanatics, myself included, otherwise I wouldn’t run this blog. Haha.

      But my partner would have a hard time telling which projector was running and whether it had a Lumagen attached. In fact, I was told to get some perspective when I asked and was told almost word for word: “Let’s get some perspective then… none of these are bad products, they are all high-performance, so we’re really splitting hairs by asking me which one is better!”

      There you go!

  3. If you already owned a Lumagen and in order to buy a NZ8 you’d have to give up the Lumagen, would you do that?

      1. And did you happen to compare the Lumagen vs JVC scaling solutions? Is one superior?

      2. The Lumagen is superior in both scaling and sharpening.

        But if you’re getting an NZ8 in, you’ll see. I’d keep the Lumagen for now and then see if it’s worth keeping to you! That’s all that matters at the end of the day!

Leave a Reply

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: