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Review: JVC RS540

Cleveland AV owner Chris Majoros sent a welcome addition to my home theater recently, and though the time with the new JVC RS540 in my theater was brief due to my work schedule, I have in the last month been able to calibrate several RS540s and 640s in different environments to get a more time tested feel for their overall performance. The RS540 temporarily replaced my JVC RS67 projecting on a 119” 16x9 Da-Lite 2.8 gain High Power screen, a remarkably bright and high quality screen material that has long been discontinued. Source material was a mixture of Blu Ray, DVD, streaming, and UHD Blu Ray from a Sony UBP-X800. 

With the introduction of the RS400, 500, and 600 JVC added High Dynamic Range compatibility along with a brighter, more stable light source to their projector line. While out of the box HDR performance of these first generation units was nearly unwatchable, with advancements in calibration and related software eventually came the ability to transform the HDR picture quality into something truly remarkable on those models. However, due to very sluggish sync times and some operational quirks, the process of watching UHD HDR could be a lesson in patience and anger management. Those quirks meant that, in order to enjoy the best HDR picture, the user had to change picture modes from the normal HD mode to one specifically optimized for HDR. Then, after waiting for an abnormally long time for multiple source resyncs, it was necessary to go into the picture menu after the program had started and switch gamma to a custom imported selection. An external adapter from HDFury could eliminate that last gamma selection step, but at the expense of often doubling the sync times.

Those sync times seem to have improved, though they are still longer than that of other displays. I clocked the dropout from about 11 to over 19 seconds on the RS540, possibly depending on lens aperture and other changes between picture modes. Thankfully, the RS540 automatically switches to a picture mode optimized for HDR as soon as it is fed an HDR signal, and it no longer forcibly reverts to a certain gamma selection, making the process infinitely more seamless. 

Before calibration:

With only minimal setup (sizing, centering, and focusing the image and reducing the lens aperture for normal HD due to my high gain screen), the RS540’s Blu Ray image was very good, though I was bothered by excessive graininess and an overexposed look to bright objects. Contrast and black levels were outstanding, and color was sufficiently rich and satisfying. 

Surprisingly, I had a hard time finding significant flaws in the RS540’s HDR image, although my screen material and size is abnormally bright. In other words, the out of the box HDR tuning worked well on my high gain screen, but more typical setups might struggle to have a satisfyingly bright picture on UHD discs and streaming HDR content.

Gray and white uniformity was excellent. Giving my eyes time to acclimate to black, I could see that the sides were just slightly brighter when the RS540 was displaying a pure black field in a totally dark room. I do not consider that tiny bit of black nonuniformity to be a flaw, since I had to be looking for it under unusual conditions for it to be visible. Overall, I felt this was a very good unit, and it is possible that JVC is doing better at minimizing these bright corner issues. However, one RS640 I calibrated in a different theater had a distinct lighter area, somewhat rectangular or boxy in shape, that was visible in a black field just right of screen center that appeared to be caused by an abnormality in the light engine. Fortunately, it was not visible with content, though it was disappointing to see especially in their top lamp based model.

The RS540’s focus was sharp and uniform; and convergence, though not perfect, was good enough that most users would not be tempted to utilize the Pixel Adjust control to correct it. The 4K Eshift was very quiet, as was the fan in low lamp mode. 


Because calibration meters and software report light output in nits or footlamberts rather than lumens, the measured data must be combined with the screen size and gain specification in order to calculate lumen output. The lumens calculation is therefore dependant on an accurate screen gain rating. Within these limitations, I can provide the after calibration lumen output on the RS540 and two others I have calibrated in different home theaters where I had reliable screen data. Keep in mind that the process of calibration tends to reduce output slightly from the out of the box settings in order to achieve an accurate white balance.

1. Review unit: 1220 lumens low lamp no color filter; 1042 lumens low lamp with color filter; 1453 lumens high lamp with color filter
2. Unit #2 : 1675 lumens high lamp no color filter; 1546 lumens high lamp with color filter
3. Unit #3 : 1520 lumens high lamp with color filter

While all of those figures are with very low hours on the lamp, in my experience the recent JVC high power lamps tend to loose little to no brightness over the first thousand hours or so.

Following are the on/off contrast ratio results of the RS540, measured after calibration with a Klein K-10 facing the lens for maximum sensitivity at various zoom and manual lens aperture settings.

Maximum lens zoom: 
• aperture -15: 142,286:1 
• aperture -10: 77,969:1
• aperture -5: 51,078:1 
• aperture 0: 37,160:1
Minimum lens zoom: 
• aperture -15: 136,118:1
• aperture -10: 83,837:1
• aperture -5: 63,641:1
• aperture 0: 48,457:1

For those who like JVC’s dynamic aperture feature, it is selectable and functional in the RS540’s HDR mode. This feature physically blocks and reduces the light output dynamically with the picture, giving deeper fades to black and better contrast in very dark movie scenes. However, if it is fully engaged from a fade to black and then a bright image is suddenly displayed, it takes up to two seconds for the bright image to fully flesh out and look right, and it can get tripped up on occasion with certain content. This is not a fault of JVC’s implementation; it is an unavoidable tradeoff when physical gears and motors try to track picture content in real time. Although I generally prefer not to use it, many feel the increase in dynamic contrast ratio is well worth it.

HDR as displayed by a front projector is a balance between satisfying average picture level and compression of highlights; and though the RS540’s factory tuning does a far better balancing act than most other projectors in this regard, it can be improved further through calibration with Arve’s gamma tool and JVC’s Spyder auto calibration. With these tools and then applying conventional ISF calibration with an accurate reference meter (the Spyder used by JVC’s autocal tends to tune the white balance far too warm in my experience), the RS540’s HDR picture can be brightened and highlights tone mapped in a more satisfying manner, while still displaying very deep blacks and contrast. 

The RS540’s HDR mode allows a choice between two suitable color profiles, though it prevents using a custom imported color space in HDR mode. The difference between “BT.2020” and “HDR” color space is that “BT.2020” uses a color filter to provide deeper saturation at the expense of some light output, while “HDR” lets a little more light through at the expense of slightly less fleshed out pure colors. This allows some flexibility in calibration.

The RS540 includes a low latency setting for gamers, which did not compromise the performance in any way that I could see or measure. Using it does gray out the Clear Motion Drive frame interpolation setting, but I never prefer to use that feature. The CMD causes banding, as evidenced by rougher grayscale and gamma tracking even with the Spyder autocal procedure done, among other problems.

After Calibration:

The RS540 displayed a wonderful picture with normal HD material. Calibrated to the BT1886 gamma standard, the image was deep, rich in contrast, and had superb shadow detail. It was noticeably smoother and less grainy than what I have seen from the RSx00 and RSx20 series. The overexposed look on bright objects noted before calibration was nearly eradicated, the only remaining traces of it visible just on lower quality sources. Color accuracy was excellent at all brightness levels and skin tones looked very natural with appropriate richness. 

HDR for the most part built on those strengths, adding deeper and more lifelike colors and more fine detail. While I had no complaints of the RS540’s before calibration HDR performance thanks to the high brightness allowed by my screen, calibration added a slight but appreciable layer of refinement. In installations with less peak light output, a good HDR calibration could give a welcome brightness boost without compromising blacks or highlights.

Some enthusiasts wonder if UHD is even worth it on these JVCs, since they have native 1080P light engines and use visual tricks to increase the perceived resolution closer to 4K. Interestingly, since the advent of UHD, we’ve come to find that related advancements such as HDR and Wide Color Gamut make more of a dramatic visual improvement than the resolution upgrade itself. Many are eagerly waiting for JVC to combine their currently stunning contrast with a native 4K light engine, but those who choose to wait will be depriving themselves for what will surely be an incremental improvement. The RS540 is, by a comfortable margin, my number one choice in non esoterically priced home theater projectors.
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