you're right. I can't stand auto irises, and that was the big selling feature for the jvc for me. if the Epson is barely as good as the jvc when the iris is on, there's pretty much no chance of it competing with the iris off. and it HAS to be off for me.
I think that iris might be the reason for the discrepancies too. the Epson can do black well if it's a really dark scene, but something that's half dark half bright won't look nearly as good as the jvc. I don't want to steer you too far from the Epson, the only one I've had is a few years old now and not in the same range of the jvc or 5020. it was very reliable and treated me well. I've just never been able to use the auto iris on it, and I've been enticed by the d-ila technology since the first rs1 review I read. I just knew i'd never be happy with the Epson, because I'd always wonder how much better the jvc was.
if you can view both and then decide, I wouldn't look back. that's hard to do sometimes. I didn't have the option of viewing either before purchase
Displays: Samsung PN64F8500/JVC X35
AVR: Pioneer VSX-1130K, 7.1/5.1.2 audio
Sources: HTPC, PS3, XBOX360, Wii
Control: Harmony One