New Theater Optimizer Feature Further Improves HDR Reproduction on JVC Projectors
By Philip Jones
JVC is combining a new Theater Optimizer smart function with their proven Frame Adapt HDR Native 4K and 8K e-shift home theater projector's features to further improve the outstanding HDR picture delivered by them. This new feature will be part of a free firmware upgrade (Version 3.50) in November 2020 on the following JVC models: DLA-NX5, DLA-NX7, DLA-NX9, DLA-RS1000, DLARS2000, and DLA-RS3000.
Let me be blunt, in my humble opinion, HDR content looks terrible on many home theater projectors, especially when compared to a flat panel TV. HDR content on many projectors appears way too dark and bright highlight detail is totally clipped.
It is nice to see that projector companies are finally starting to take HDR reproduction seriously and JVC is one of the manufacturers leading the charge. JVC was one of the first companies to introduce “smart” HDR tone mapping in their projectors and they just that announced that they are adding even more precise HDR tone mapping to their RS-Series and NX-Series projectors.
To fully understand why this new Theater Optimizer feature is a big deal, we must first discuss why good tone mapping is critical to good HDR reproduction on a projector.
Most projectors have more than enough brightness to accurately reproduce the information that is in HD and standard 4K content. However, when viewing HDR content, most home theater projectors just can’t deliver the brightness to reproduce the material faithfully.
Most Home Theater Projectors can only deliver between 100 nits (29fL) and 200 Nits (58 fL). This means that no HDR projector can reproduce all the brightness found in consumer HDR content.
As a result, HDR projectors utilize tone mapping which is a compromise between maintaining bright highlight details and delivering full screen brightness. In a perfect world, tone mapping would not be required because you are not reproducing the signal accurately which means you are deviating from the creator’s intent.
When the HDR infoframe is detected, most HDR projectors switch to an HDR mode with a fixed tone map. It is a one size fits all which hurts HDR performance. Basically, most projectors just are not smart enough to properly adapt HDR material to best utilize the limited capability of a projector. JVC sought to change that issue when they introduced HDR Auto Tone Mapping in its home theater projectors.
HDR AUTO TONE MAPPING
Most projectors are compatible with HDR10 which is most used for UHD Blu-ray discs (4K movies), and recorded streaming content. There is a variety of information embedded in HDR10 content that an HDR display uses to make adjustments.
MaxCLL and MaxFall metadata used by JVC Projector for HDR Auto Mapping
First, there is an HDR Infoframe which triggers a display device to switch to the appropriate HDR mode. Next is static metadata which a display uses to tone map HDR content. The two pieces of static metadata that are used for HDR tone mapping are:
- MaxFALL (Maximum Frame--Average Light Level) average brightness of the brightest frame in the entire clip. Authoring guidelines state that this should not exceed 400 nits.
- MaxCLL (The Maximum Content Light Level) which is the brightest pixel in the entire clip.
The average brightness of most HDR video frames is usually much less than 400 nits with a few peak highlights (sparks, flame tips, reflections) reaching up to 10,000 nits.
The Auto Tone Mapping feature in a JVC projector uses the static Max CLL and Max FALL metadata found in most HDR10 Content to try to optimize the HDR viewing experience. To learn more, check out our review of the JVC LX-NZ3.
JVC LX-NZ3 4K Laser DLP Projector Review
The goal of Auto Tone Mapping is to better utilize the projector's brightness capabilities when viewing HDR content. While Auto Tone Mapping offered a big improvement in HDR Reproduction, there was still room for improvement.
FRAME ADAPT HDR
At the time I reviewed it last year, the JVC NX7 was equipped with Auto Tone Mapping which did a good job balancing average screen brightness with the need to maintain highlight detail.
JVC DLA-NX7 4K Home Theater Projector Review
However, since the embedded static MaxCLL and MaxFALL are applied throughout the entire movie, sometimes the tone mapping decisions made by the projector resulted in an image that is way too dark. Also,
the metadata is missing or incorrect in a lot of HDR material so the projector probably didn't have the right information to work with.
Better LCD and OLED TVs have been available to measure the HDR content frame by frame for years in order to generate more accurate metadata dynamically. Last year JVC realized that adding the capability of measuring HDR metadata dynamically would further improve the HDR performance of their projectors.
At CEDIA 2019, JVC announced they were adding Frame Adapt HDR via a firmware update to their NX-Series and RS-Series home theater projectors.
I had the opportunity to evaluate an updated projector for a few days after the update and the new Feature Adapt HDR feature made the JVC projector"s HDR performance even better.
NEW FOR 2020 - THEATER OPTIMIZER
The main reason why tone mapping exists is to adapt the brightness found in HDR content to fit the limited brightness of a display. A flat panel TV's brightness is consistent regardless of the room environment. However, the brightness of a projected image changes depending on things like the size of the screen, screen gain, throw distance, and lamp life. To precisely tone map, the projector’s processor needs to account for its exact brightness capability in your specific system.
JVC’s new Theater Optimizer combines information provided by the user with the unit’s current status in order to provide a more accurate baseline on which it can apply Dynamic Tone Mapping.
The user inputs information on things like screen size and gain while the projector knows its lens zoom position, lamp condition, and other relevant settings. Using this information, the projector automatically and precisely adjusts for optimum tone mapping and brightness.
Theater Optimizer and Frame Adapt HDR should result in great looking HDR10 content while eliminating the hassle of having to constantly make manual Brightness and Contrast adjustments from bright to dark scenes or from movie to movie.
On top of the Theater Optimizer, the new firmware also updates the projector’s menu layout and adds additional settings. For example, you may want to sometimes make some adjustments if you are going to look at your HDR content, Frame Adapt HDR now features five Brightness Level Steps instead of three.
There are some additional improvements listed in the JVC press release:
- New CONTENT TYPE menu, which displays usable Picture Mode based on each input signal.
- A function which automatically switches to the optimal Color Profile according to the color gamut information of the content (Rec709, BT2020, etc)
- Added AUTO.PIC.MODE SELECT which switches the projector to the desired Picture Mode based on the input signal type (SDR/3D/HDR10/HLG)
- A new dedicated picture mode for Panasonic's Ultra HD Blu-ray player DP-UB9000 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
- Improved JVC Calibration Software
JVC Home Theater projectors also support HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) to ensure that users are ready for future live HDR broadcast. HLG is based on a Gamma curve just like SDR, it does not need to be tone mapped by the projector.
Since most HDR10+ and Dolby Vision content are either backward compatible with or available in HDR10, JVC projectors also support HLG so you should be able to enjoy 99% of HDR content available on the market now and in the future.