Category Archives: Reviews

Impressions on the JVC DLA-X550R e-Shift 4K Projector

Since Ultra HD Blu-ray came along, I found myself in the annoying situation of watching 4K Blu-ray movies on my TV set instead of leveraging my dedicated home theater room. I felt like going back to the beginning of HD where I watched HD material on a HDTV because my projector was still 1080P, which again was not ideal.

I started to read on what would be possible for an updated in the home theater and with the pricing of true 4K projectors, I felt like I needed an option to do a bridge between now and when native 4K would become affordable. That’s when I started to read about e-Shift products and became extremely interested by the JVC line based on discussions on AVForums and other online sources.

Still hesitating, I was lucky enough to have support from JVCKENWOOD Canada to get my hands on a review unit for a couple of months. Or so I thought ! After all this time, and some more, I still have the projector at home and there is no way you could convince me to part with it. To be honest, the second I started my first Blu-ray disc on it (did not even need 4K), I completely fell in love with the projector. I hope this review will explain why !

Image Quality

Of course this is the most important element of this review and as I just said the reason why I am extremely positive about the device. Just so you know, I was coming from a good quality HD projector, but clearly not to that level of quality. I had read everywhere about the quality of the blacks and the contrast on the JVC line and this is true. But what really impressed me is how crisp and precise everything look at 120″ with the extra density added by e-Shift. The fact that it really remove the screen door effect of the projection really makes a difference.

But on top of this, the color reproduction quality and the brightness of the device in general is extremely impressive. My dedicated room is completely light controlled and before calibration, whenever a clear image was shown, it was literally looking like daytime in the room, enough to be tough on the eyes. After adjusting everything though, the image just looks great and is always impressive. And with the auto-iris, the dark scenes look also really good. It’s always surprising how black the projector can get and then really bright again once the scene warrants it.

4K Video Playback

I must say that I had initial issues with connectivity between the projector and the Samsung UBD-K8500, that were not reproducible on JVC’s side, but all of that got fixed 100% after a firmware update (more on that later).

I was not convinced after reading on e-Shift if it would really make a difference, but I was proven wrong. The definition upgrade, even if it is not a true 4K display, are worth it and clearly noticeable when sourced with the right material. Of course, native 4K digital intermediate Ultra HD Blu-rays like The Amazing Spiderman 2 or Chappie really shine more than anything else.

HDR support is also there, of course not to the level of what the X750R can do, but it’s also showing visual improvements over SDR content. One thing I had to do though is raise brightness to +3 on the player side for HDR content, to prevent a little bit of black crush.

3D Performance

If there was a surprise to me doing that review, it is the 3D performance of the projector. I have been willing to experiment with 3D in my room for a while, and I am amazed by the quality delivered by the projector for it. Of course there is a loss of brightness, but it can be easily compensated by adjusting the configuration for 3D compared to 2D playback. The depth level was impressive and there was limited crosstalk. As my image is projected on a wall, there is no retention of polarity on the image, so I ended up using extremly cheap 3D glasses for the kids (I kept the JVC ones for me :)) and everything is flawless. At 10$ a pair, no reason to not have some on hand for friends.

Menus and Configuration

Nothing negative to say here, everything is pretty straightforward to access and configuration was pretty smooth. Everything that needs to be configured is quickly accessible. Lens shift, zoom and focus are all digitally configured which of course allows for extremely precise adjustments.

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Firmware Updates

On the more negative side, I need to say that I don’t believe JVC does not have an USB based firmware update method in 2016 for those projector. Needing to purchase a USB -> COM adapter and a DB9 cable was a deception when those technologies are things of the past now. It really felft like 1995 at this point, and JVC should fix that as soon as possible.

Resolution Switch Responsiveness

The other thing that annoys me, and this is more of an issue because it’s every time I use the projector, is that switching between resolution, most importantly between Full HD and 4K is ridiculously slow. We’re talking about sometime 15s between resolutions, which make you miss a trailer on the Blu-ray or sometime even the beginning of the movie, forcing you to do move a chapter back once the switch is done. Again, not a showstopper by any means, but I hope this will get fixed by a firmware update.

Appearance

Quick note about the great visual appearance of the projector, extremely slick presentation. Coming from a smaller projector, it was a suprise to see the size of that thing in real life, but this is done with a quality build in mind.

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Conclusion

As I said in the into, I fell in love with the JVC DLA-X550R and I believe it is a huge improvement in my room, not only for 4K playback but also for the general image quality. I fell this is a perfect step to wait for 4K native projectors to become affordbable in a couple of years. This is also a confirmation that if they play their cards well, JVC will be my choice for a while to power my home theater room.

Again, thanks to JVCKENWOOD Canada from providing the device and letting me purchase it afterwards! If you are reading this site from Canada, I recommend you visit their website here to find a dealer and look at it for yourself.

Ultra HD Blu-ray First impressions

If there was one thing that I was anxious to try since a long time, even before the launch of this blog more than a year ago, it clearly was the Ultra HD Blu-ray format, or 4K Blu-ray as it was called before getting an official name.

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I was looking forward to this first test of the format and was really happy to see the Samsung UBD-K8500 launch a little bit earlier than plan. Even if I live here in the Great White North (and it is finally really cold this weekend, ideal for home theater), I was able to get my hands on a player and a copy of The Martian and Maze Runner: Scorch Trial to test it out.

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Yes I know, I said on forums I would not give Fox any money until they fix their lack of Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, but my eagerness to try the format was stronger than my convictions, so I caved. I will not be buying any more of their titles until they resolve it though, and will be encouraging instead the other studios who support the format like Lionsgate, Warner and Sony.

So without any other complains, let’s try to answer as much of the questions that I had and I imagine you had about the new format and player.

Do UHD Blu-ray movies really look better ?

First let’s start by saying that the evaluation right now is not really complete as both movies I tried (and all of Fox initial releases) are made from 2K digital intermediates, so essentially upscaled from HD to UHD. There is some discussions and information regarding the fact that The Martian was actually redone for release with some initial raw material in 4K from filming, but I honestly doubt it. Scorch Trials was on its side filmed in 3.4K with a 2K digital intermediate.

So I reserve my official judgement when I can see one of the Sony launch titles which do come from both  4K filming and 4K digital intermediates.

For now, my answer is it does look good, but mostly it looks really consistant from beginning to end the of the movie. When sometime on Blu-ray upscaled on my Sony X850C I can sense some compression artefacts and some issues related to upscaling, with The Martian I saw a really reliable looking movie from start to finish. Dark scenes, well lit scenes, exterior, interior, everything looked good and solid.

Colors do really look great and natural at all time, I think that we do see some advantages on this coming from 10-bit content on the disc and the fact my Sony looks like a 10-bit panel (not 100% confirmed, but the test patterns seem to say it is).

Many are saying HDR and contrast are the most important difference, but with my X850C set, I cannot honestly tell. Yes it does support HDR (through HDMI with the latest firmware update), but because there is now local dimming, I don’t think it changes much compared to a non HDR compatible mode. I’m looking forward to test this on a more able TV, but for now I really cannot tell.

Overall, I can say it’s probably good as it can look depending on the source of the movie.

What about upscale quality ?

The upscaling processor on the X850 Sony is a really good one, but I need to admit that the Samsung does a great job, I dare to say even a better one. When I have sometime some upscaling issues with my Sony at certain sharpness levels, I don’t see them with the Samsung.

Is HDCP 2.2 / HDMI 2.0a working ok ?

Kinda. I’m using the dual HDMI outs as my 4K display is in the living room with a Harman Kardon receiver from a couple of years ago, so I cannot testify regarding 4K transmission through the receiver.

I have no audio/video sync issues with the dual outs, and most of the time the image is working well.

But I do have some handshake problems (I hate HDMI for that, won’t change my mind here) at launch of a movie sometimes. Good news is I don’t see this happening during the movie itself, so I can live with this until firmware updates solve it.

Any Internet based DRM on the movies ?

No, everything works with the player disconnected from the Internet if you want.

Will it work with my 1080p projector or TV ?

I tried the player with my 1080p projector to be able to answer this question that a lot of us had. I’m also doing this so that I can listen to Atmos tracks on UHD Blu-rays if they are not included on the Blu-ray discs (no example yet though).

When playing the Martian, the movie is played back as hoped in 1080p without HDCP 2.2 issues, the player tells us it will downscale it and it works.

But the 20th Century Fox logo included when you start the disc (not the one at the beginning of the movie) says HDCP 2.2 not available and so no image is displayed other than the message (in 720p). I don’t have a problem with this happening for the logo and I confirmed that the HD Fury Integral does fix this and I see the intro logo once I go through it.

But does this mean the HDCP2.2 downscale to 1080p/HDCP1.4 is configurable per movie / even elements on the disc ? Do we risk to have movies that will not downscale ? This is still not answered in my opinion and only time will tell.

So I don’t regret the HD Fury Integral as an insurance policy for this, I will let you know if I do see instances where we really need it for movie or extra features viewing and not only for an intro video.

Is it fast to load and launch movies ?

Yes really fast, the player is among the best ones I’ve seen for that.

What about the apps ?

The apps I was able to test were really fast and I need to admit way more responsive that on my Sony X850C. Sadly though, I cannot try Netflix right now in Canada as the app is not available here on the player. Youtube does work well in 4K, so no complain on this. Even with just a Wi-Fi connection (I need a new network hub with more ports!), 4K playback is reliable.

And media playback ?

Everything is fine on this side, even way better I would say that with my TV player and different Android TV apps. The interface of the player for media playback through DLNA and USB is fast, simple and just plain works. I would say it’s going to be my de facto choice for this from now on. I did not test with a lot of formats, but everything I had in 4K was played without issue.

I will report back once I watch new movies on the format of course, if you have questions feel free to ask away !

Impressions On The Marantz SR7010

With the objective to be prepared for DTS:X arrival this quarter, I necessarily had to replace my receiver as my Onkyo TX-NR1030 was not going to receive any firmware upgrade to support the new format.

After evaluation and comparing models, I selected the Marantz SR7010, which represents the first time I try a model from Denon & Marantz group. It is also the first time I try Audyssey as a room correction software.

The Marantz SR7010 offers amplification for 9 channels and supports the addition of a two channel amplifier for a total of 11 channels processed. This allows for a Dolby Atmos (and soon DTS:X) 7.1.4 configuration which is what I have in my home theater.

One important thing to know, as it was reported before, the D+M models of this year do not allow Dolby Surround (the upscaler that comes with Dolby Atmos) to be applied to any of the DTS formats. It’s a limitation for now, but it can be bypassed by asking your Blu-ray player to send decoded PCM sound instead of Bitstream (a change you need to revert to get Atmos working). It will be less of a limitation early March when the DTS:X update arrives and allow to apply DTS Neural:X to DTS soundtracks.

The Marantz comes with a strong support of HDMI with 8 inputs all compatible with HDCP 2.2 and HDR through HDMI 2.0a. They all support the full bandwidth of the spec at 18 Gbps. There is also a secondary output that can be used if you want to bring the signal at the same time to a projector and a television for instance.

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I need to begin my impressions by the fact that I am very pleasantly surprised by the results of applying Audyssey MultEQ XT32 in my room. There is a real impact on sound quality produced by the receiver when Audyssey is enabled which makes the rendering of movies and music more dynamic than before. The sound when Audyssey is disabled sounds flat and not engaging. The calibration process, with 8 different recording points is well done and is surprisingly quick considering that it still needs to generate roughly a hundred of test sweeps.

I also really appreciate the menu system of the receiver, it is quick, efficient and modern looking. Configuration of the audio, video, network and other options is really efficient.

The music playback is totally satisfying, but I need to say that I dislike the fact that the all channel stereo mode does not enable the height speakers, which should be really easy to implement. I gotta admit it does not make a huge difference to have them on or not, but as long as they are there why not use them.

Finally and most importantly, The Dolby Atmos performance of the receiver in 7.1.4 is really impressive and engaging with a true enveloping effect. I’m looking forward to see what DTS:X will sound like, my guess is that it will be very similar to Atmos as it’s what we’ve been hearing from the demos made at CEDIA and other events. I’ll be updating the blog once of course as soon as I can test it early March.

Making HDTV viewing at night more enjoyable

Here’s a common scenario that use to happen a lot at my house. It’s finally night time, the kids went to bed for the night and my wife and I get ready to start watching the next TV show episode we’ve been binge watching (it’s Nashville those days, go figure, I’m now a country fan!).

I shut down the lights, start Netflix and bam : my wife asks for the living room lights to stay on so that the TV viewing experience is not too agressive on the eyes. There goes the theater-like ambiance…

While researching other topics recently on avsforum, I stumbled upon a couple of review of bias lightning solution to improve the HDTV viewing experience. I was skeptical at first, but finally decided to ordered a set of Antec Bias Lightning leds for my new Sony 4K TV.

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The installation is pretty simple, just use the adhesive paper behind it to install behind the TV and use any available USB port on the TV to power the strip. Ideally your TV will enable or disable power on the strip automatically when you start and shutdown the TV. It’s not the case with my Sony, so I need to use the small switch provided, which is a small annoyance.

The usage of lightning behind the TV really helps with keeping the lights shut while watching TV. Some mention improved contrats and colours, I wouldn’t go so far to be honest, but the experience of night watching is really improved by the lights.

The result on my side ? My wife now asks for the lights directly, no mode light debates 🙂

A small trick I wanted to share that really improved my viewing experience.

First impressions on the Sony XBR-65X850C 4K TV

This is a first set of impressions on my new 4K set, the brand new Sony XBR-65X850C which is part of the 2015 lineup of Sony 4K televisions. I’ve spent the last week and half with the television and I finally think I’ve seen it enough to give you some feedback. The following topics are thrown in no particular order, but at least you’ll be able to hear about the different aspects of the television.

Image Quality

The 65X850C is using a VA panel with direct LED lightning instead of the edge lit models of last year. This is to me a huge improvement and it is obvious in term of image uniformity and almost complete lack of blooming and clouding from the backlight. The result is an image that is almost completely uniform. The only complain is the four corners of the screen that suffer from a certain level of light loss, so when a very bright image is displayed, you’ll notice some darkness in the corners. Nothing too critical, at least way less annoying than clouding.

Continue reading First impressions on the Sony XBR-65X850C 4K TV

Gravity : Dolby Atmos Review

How Reviews Are Done On NextGenHomeTheater.com : Here are some ground rules for review on this site. The first thing is that the movie itself will never be reviewed, as this is not the intention and tastes and opinion regarding movies are up to the viewer. Furthermore, the review will concentrate on the next generation element of the content, so in this case the Dolby Atmos track, while presenting the other aspects. A Blu-Ray 4K would for example be reviewed for visual performance only. There will not be any grades either, just comments and a purchase recommandation in the conclusion.

The Movie

I imagine that most of the home theaters fan will have already seen Gravity once it initially came out and are looking at this Diamond Luxe Edition blu-ray because of the new Atmos track. If you did not see it, well it tells the story of two astronauts, played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, who end up stuck in space after a debris field hit them while doing a space walk to upgrade the Hubble Telescope.

Continue reading Gravity : Dolby Atmos Review

Unbroken : Dolby Atmos Review

How Reviews Are Done On NextGenHomeTheater.com : Here are some ground rules for review on this site. The first thing is that the movie itself will never be reviewed, as this is not the intention and tastes and opinion regarding movies are up to the viewer. Furthermore, the review will concentrate on the next generation element of the content, so in this case the Dolby Atmos track, while presenting the other aspects. A Blu-Ray 4K would for example be reviewed for visual performance only. There will not be any grades either, just comments and a purchase recommandation in the conclusion.

The Movie

Unbroken tells the tale of war veteran and olympic athlete Louis Zamperini who survive 47 days in a raft at sea after his warplane crashed just to have to go through even worse things afterwards. The movie is directed by Angelina Jolie and the screenplay adaptation of the novel has been done by the Coen brothers.

Continue reading Unbroken : Dolby Atmos Review

Impressions on the Onkyo TX-NR1030

I need to start this post by officially thanking Onkyo for the great customer service they gave me after my initial receiver arrived with a major issue, either due to a bad unit or to transport from the online retailer I purchased it from. On a late Friday night, the social media people on the Onkyo team replied to me through Twitter and helped me confirm the issue and start the replacement process.

Onkyo then went over the usual level of service as they did accept to replace my unit instead of sending it for repair as my retailer did not have any in stock to help me. Instead of being stuck without my home theater for weeks, the replacement unit was shipped on the next business day. This is tremendous support and it is definitively a good way to keep customers with the brand.

Having said that, I’ve been using the receiver for a week now and I can say that I’m very happy with the experience. To start, I picked the Onkyo TX-NR1030 because of its support of 11 channels. The receiver includes amplification for 9 channels and you can connect an additional stereo amplifier to go up to a reference Atmos implementation of 7.1.4. To do this, I added a AudioSource AMP-100 stereo power amplifier, simple but efficient and because it’s used for the height back speaker, it can provide the required power for a good price.

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The connections behind the Onkyo TX-NR1030 are interesting, the speaker connectors are more accessible than the previous models I owned.

 

The switch from my previous system at 5.1.2 (with an Onkyo TX-NR737) is noticeable and a great improvement. Not only does the two additional height channels add a more dimensional effect to the height layer, but the addition of two surround speakers also support better the 360 degrees effect, even better with Atmos movies and object positioning. The TX-NR1030 has enough power to drive the 9 channels in a very efficient way and the sound quality is very good.

The Atmos demos (available as downloadable on Demo World) are impressive in 7.1.4 and the thing that surprises me is that different the trailers are now my favorite ones from when I tried in 5.1.2, mainly because of the added dimension and sense of movement.

The receiver configuration tools is quite well done and the AccuEQ calibration works well. I have a read a lot about it being inferior to Audyssey that was used before by Onkyo, but I cannot judge as I did not use it before. I played multiple sources with and without AccuEQ room correct enabled and my final selection is to keep it on as it improves the dynamics and the clarity of movies.

I also appreciate the net functionalities of the receiver, including DLNA and Spotify Connect. My only grudge with the feature is with the file server mode as it only support some shares and not the ones my router and NAS provide, it seems too tied to typical Windows file servers.

In a nutshell, I can say I’m very happy with the receiver and with the new 7.1.4 setup it can support. My only hope is that Onkyo will confirm an upgrade path for the receiver to DTS:X when it’s officially announced next month, I’ll keep you updated on this.

 

John Wick : Dolby Atmos Review

How Reviews Are Done On NextGenHomeTheater.com : Here are some ground rules for review on this site. The first thing is that the movie itself will never be reviewed, as this is not the intention and tastes and opinion regarding movies are up to the viewer. Furthermore, the review will concentrate on the next generation element of the content, so in this case the Dolby Atmos track, while presenting the other aspects. A Blu-Ray 4K would for example be reviewed for visual performance only. There will not by any grades either, just comments and a purchase recommandation in the conclusion.

The Movie

John Wick tells the story of a retired hitman who needs to go back to work after a bad gang hurt the little things he still had and loved in life. The movie tells a story of revenge, with a linear but efficient storyline and a great visual universe.

Continue reading John Wick : Dolby Atmos Review

A First Encounter With The Blu-ray Audio Format

After Sony announcing a new high end Walkman at CES 2015 and Neil Young officially launching the PonoPlayer and Pono store out of its beta phase, we can say that 2015 starts strongly for High Definition audio.

I must admit I’m new to all of this and my home theater gear is definitively not targeted toward listening to music in high definition formats. I also understand there are huge debates about if those formats are really making an audible difference for listeners and I will not try to be the judge of this.

Debate aside, I’m a fan of new technologies and when I saw that Universal had released some audio albums in high quality audio (24-bit/96 kHz sampling) in the Blu-ray format, I could not resist the urge to get some of them and try it out in the home theater. I imagine that trying with jazz or classical music would have been a better approach, but I’m a classic rock fan and it’s what I wanted to try.

Yesterday I finally received my order from Amazon of two High Fidelity Pure Audio Blu-ray discs, Bryan Adams’ Reckless, which was remastered for it’s 30th anniversary and my favorite album from Supertramp, Crime of the Century. I’ll get back to the Supertramp disc in a follow up article.

The format is pretty simple, as soon as you start the disc, music starts by default on the first song with the PCM soundtrack selected. A static menu is displayed with the current song information and offers quick options to select tracks and audio formats among PCM, TrueHD and DTS Master Audio, all in lossless 24-bit/96 kHz quality.

I cannot count the number of times I listened to those songs, since receiving the Reckless tape more than twenty years ago from a late friend of mine and then through various greatest hits albums of the singer. Being able to listen again to this new remaster of the album is really interesting and I must admit I noticed some sonorities I did not hear before on some of the tracks. Is the audio really better than the CD version of the tracks ? It is up to debate with audio experts, but I did appreciate the album in this format.

Reckless also comes with seven extra tracks that were recorded in studio at the same time of the album but did not make it finally on the recording. The Blu-ray audio also includes a 5.1 mix created specifically for this release, which is interesting and adds dimension to the listening experience.

The album finally comes with a download code for the songs that are available in mp3 format at 320kbps. It’s an interesting idea, but as long as purchasing a high definition audio disc, I would have preferred getting access to 24-bit/96 kHz FLAC files instead. It’s a bit like buying a Blu-ray and getting a download code for the film in standard definition.

I’ve been burned before by new generation audio formats (DVD Audio anyone ?) and what I like about the so called Blu-ray Audio is that its not really a format, but a clever usage of the already existing standards of the Blu-ray format. This means that as long as I have a Blu-ray player available, I’ll be able to use those discs in their intended quality.

If you are Bryan Adams fans, Reckless is needless to say the most important album of his career and this is definitively a great way to listen to it.