Technology Showcase: Home Theater Projectors

Manufacturers offer a burgeoning array of widescreen-capable projectors for home installation.
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Technology Showcase:
Home Theater Projectors

Aug 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Jay Ankeney

Manufacturers offer a burgeoning array of widescreen-capable projectors for home installation.

For a growing number of families these days, going to the movies means watching the latest release in the comfort of their own home. The Digital Entertainment Group, a nonprofit trade consortium, says that DVD sales and rentals totaled $21.2 billion in 2004, which was more than double the domestic revenues at movie theaters. Although not yet high definition, many DVDs do present the 16:9 aspect ratio and 5.1-channel surround sound that many consumers have come to expect as home theaters increasingly rival the theatergoing experience.

Marantz VP12S4

Fortunately, there is an ever-growing variety of front-projection home theater systems available that are capable of providing that widescreen/surround-sound “event experience.” The foremost tracking service of market information about large-screen displays, Pacific Media Associates, says that the market for front data/video projectors is bigger than ever. Total U.S. sales of native 16:9 home theater front projectors tallied 43,102 in 2003, jumping to 101,380 in 2004. Predictions have this figure continuing to soar in 2005.


There are three primary technologies in today's front projector market: LCD, DLP, and LCoS. Today's LCD projectors usually contain three separate LCD glass panels, one each for the red, green, and blue components of the video signal. As light passes through the LCD panels, individual pixels can be opened or blocked to control the amount of that color that's transmitted.

DLP, or Digital Light Processing, is based on an optical semiconductor known as the Digital Micromirror Device, or DLP chip. Each DLP chip contains a rectangular array of up to 2 million hinge-mounted microscopic mirrors that can be flipped up or down, up to several thousand times per second. DLP projectors come in single- or three-chip configurations.

The latest contender is LCoS, or Liquid Crystal on Silicon, which is being used by a smaller but growing number of projector manufacturers. Unlike LCD panels, LCoS panels are formed when liquid crystals are applied to a reflective mirror substrate that makes them reflective rather than transmissive. As a result, all the light striking the cell can be reflected without obstruction. Usually, LCoS projectors use three chips, one each for R, G, and B.

Despite the competition among the three technologies, their effective differences are rapidly becoming less important to the average home theater viewer as the competing camps improve their own designs. LCD is often known to be more light-efficient, usually producing a higher ANSI lumen output than DLP when powered by the same lamp wattage. But LCDs suffer from visible pixelization and the “screen-door effect” that's caused by the inter-pixel gap.

Since DLP relies upon a spinning wheel of filters to separate colors, it traditionally offers less color saturation than its crystalline competitors — and to some people's eyes can produce a “rainbow effect” if they can detect the sequential colors separating from each other.

LCoS projectors offer high resolution but lower contrast. They're typically higher in price than LCD or DLP models — and generally larger in size and available from fewer manufacturers.

All the projector manufacturers have come up with a myriad of clever schemes to attempt to even out the pros and cons of each image-generation system. But in addition to picture quality, potential purchasers should be aware that noise level, connectivity options, and lens characteristics can be equally important factors in choosing a home-theater projector. An after-market consideration that's too often overlooked is the life span and replacement cost of digital projector bulbs — especially because many models come with up to four lamps.

For many manufacturers of home theater projectors, a great deal of creativity goes into producing what's behind their lenses. Here are some of the most interesting models that they will be highlighting around the time of the CEDIA EXPO in September. All of these models project native 16:9 widescreen images and are marketed as home theater models by their respective manufacturers.

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BenQ America spotlights its PE7700, which uses a single Texas Instruments DarkChip3 DLP chip to display 720p resolution, with Senseye technology to increase the projector's contrast, clarity, and motion presentation. The PE7700 uses a six-segment color wheel and produces 1100 ANSI lumens at a 2500:1 contrast ratio. Its Intelligent Progressive Scan feature treats with proprietary filtering techniques areas of the screen where motion is detected.

Studio Experience, the home theater division of Boxlight, is offering the Studio Experience Premiere 50HD. It combines Faroudja DCDi video processing and 3:2 pulldown to produce clear, distortion-free images. Its Mustang HD2 DLP chip with six-segment color wheel enhances definition and detail. With a 1700:1 contrast ratio, the Studio Experience Premiere 50HD incorporates four-quadrant digital keystone correction technology called eWARP for increased flexibility when installing this projector in a home theater.

The compact dVision HD from Digital Projection is a DLP projector with a single DarkChip3, dual bulbs, and dual color wheels. The dVision HD also has an external LCD display for source and system information. The projector includes interchangeable lenses with motorized lens shift, focus, and iris adjustment; programmable lamps for ideal brightness and lamp life; and extensive source compatibility, including LAN and RS-232 connections. Digital Projection's Mercury HD provides three-chip DLP performance in a cost-effective chassis. Mercury HD features 1600 ANSI lumens of brightness and a 4000:1 contrast ratio. Each of the projector's 0.8in. DarkChip3 DMD chips has a grayscale depth of 14 bits, which together create more than 4 trillion onscreen colors.

The Dream Weaver 3 is the newest single-chip DLP projector from DreamVision. It uses TI's 16:9 native DarkChip3 and a seven-segment color wheel to throw a 1280×720 image onto the screen, with a contrast ratio rated at 3000:1. In addition to an eye-pleasing curvilinear shape, Dream Weaver 3 has a unique cable-management system that ducts all wires through a single opening in its hidden, ceiling-mounted topside. DreamVision is also just introducing the X3, its first three-chip DLP. Because the company emphasizes proper rendition of film-based material, DreamVision has chosen to offer the X3 adjusted for the 5600K color temperature standard, along with brightness more appropriate for film. This replaces the regular version's higher-lumen output, which tends to wash out highlights and can sometimes produce inadequate black levels.

Epson is the world's largest LCD manufacturer, making every three-LCD chip array used in home projectors except for those from Sony. The company's own top-end LCD projector is the PowerLite Cinema 500, with 1.07 billion shades of color and the Digital 3LCD engine for true 10-bit HD picture quality. The PowerLite Cinema 500 reproduces native 720p resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio at a 1200:1 contrast ratio with up to 1000 ANSI lumens. DigiScan Processing with a Faroudja DCDi video processor provides enhanced clarity and color gamut, and Epson's AccuCinema Color Management system gives accurate color and subtle detail, along with greater control over individual RGB and CYM color levels.

Fujitsu's LPF-D711 HD front projector produces a true native 1920×1080p image from three LCD panels. It has a 3300:1 contrast rating and produces 1200 ANSI lumens using a larger (1.3in.) LCD chip. Equipped with the AVM-II digital video processor featuring 12-bit color depth, the LPF-D711 is capable of displaying up to 68.7 billion colors. The projector is paired with a separate selector unit, the LPF-QSD1, that houses the system's multiple audio and video inputs, which include component, HDMI, and S-Video. Custom installers can even position the selector in a different room for the ultimate in quiet operation. To save users' bulb costs, Fujitsu has incorporated inexpensive UHP-style reflector lamps into the LPF-D711.

In June, the Home Electronics Division of Hitachi America introduced the PJTX100 UltraVision 16:9 LCD front projector, which uses a new high-definition, three-panel LCD light engine. The PJTX100 is designed for 30in. to 300in. screen sizes, producing a brightness of 1200 ANSI lumens, 1200:1 contrast, and 1280×720p resolution. The PJTX100 is equipped with Hitachi's proprietary Super-Focus Quattro ELD lens, which combines four extra-low-dispersion lenses and two aspherical lenses. Hitachi includes an exclusive eight-step gamma curve adjustment, as well as five picture preset modes and up to four customizable memory modes to save user settings.

The ScreenPlay 7210 from InFocus has a custom-designed variable-speed, seven-segment color wheel for improved bit depth and smoother images. Featuring the Faroudja DCDi de-interlacer to minimize stuttering, scan lines, flicker, and image artifacts, the ScreenPlay 7210 has a calibrated contrast ratio of 2800:1 in full-on/full-off dual-lamp mode. It also offers an InFocus-developed 48Hz film mode, which detects DVD movies originally shot at 48fps and displays them at their original speed.

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JVC has been selling D-ILA projectors (its own version of LCoS) since 1998, and the company has now incorporated its three-chip D-ILA technology into the new DLA-HX2U high-definition projector. Its 1400×788p images display enhanced color reproduction, with a contrast of 1500:1. The DLA-HX2U employs JVC's original DIST (Digital Image Scaling Technology) and offers a four-color Profile Mode. For 1080p/60Hz resolution, JVC also offers the DLA-HD2K-SYS, a two-piece configuration with a small projector box (13.2lbs.) and an external Faroudja Labs digital signal processor that can be located away from the projector.

Marantz offers two DLP front projectors intended for different segments of the home theater market. The company's most affordable, the VP12S4, uses a single DarkChip3 micromirror device and offers a 4500:1 contrast ratio through custom Konica-Minolta optics. The VP12S4 features Gennum's VXP technology, via the GF9350 video processor. At CES 2005 Marantz unveiled its new three-DLP-chip VP10S1 model using HD2 “Mustang” 1280×720 DMD chips that produce a 3600:1 contrast ratio. Both projectors come with a lens cap color analyzer so the user can re-calibrate the projector as the bulb ages. Marantz is the only manufacturer to use a DC bulb as a light source to reduce flickering.

The HC100U single-chip DLP projector is Mitsubishi's entry-level offering for home cinema. It comes with a 73in., 16:9 Star Screen made by Draper. The projector's CineRichColor and CineView video processing maximize the color and clarity of the HC100U's pictures. The projector has a 200:1 contrast ratio and a brightness of 1300 ANSI lumens. Moving to the top of its line, Mitsubishi's new HC2000 1280×720p model uses a novel approach to enhancing detail in black areas of analog or digital video. To reduce internal light reflection and image noise, optical engine components are colored black, leading to detail-rich images through the lens. Contrast is rated at 3600:1.

The NEC HT1100 single-chip DLP projector owes its enhanced color palette to SweetVision II video processing, NEC's proprietary circuitry that enables contrast enhancement, gamma correction, de-interlacing and 3:2 pulldown. The HT1100 calls upon a variable iris that lets the user manually adjust the contrast ratio (max is 3500:1), and its Vortex Technology Plus improves white level and dynamic range. The projector's color-correction capability provides six-axis adjustment of both CMY and RGB for customized personal color preferences. The HT1100 uses an anamorphic lens to produce 16:9 images.

On the other hand, NEC's HT410 projector is truly 16:9 native. With a price point of $945, it brings home theater to a much wider audience. Its display scales incoming HDTV down to DVD-level 480p.

The H79 projector is the flagship of Optoma's Custom Series line. It features a single DarkChip3 DLP chip that outputs a 4500:1 contrast ratio at 1000 lumens, with an eight-segment color wheel. The H79's 23dB noise level makes it one of the quietest on the market. Just this July, Optoma introduced a less pricey version, the H78, with a 4:000:1 contrast ratio and 800 lumens of brightness.

The PT-AE700U is Panasonic's most popular 16:9 LCD home theater projector. Compact enough to sit on a bookshelf, the PT-AE700U's dynamic contrast is 2000:1, and its brightness tops 1000 lumens. The PT-AE700U comes with advanced Smooth Screen technology to eliminate the screen door effect that plagues some LCD projectors. The PTDW7000U-K is a three-chip DLP, WXGA (1366×768) resolution projector capable of varying its light output from 6000 lumens down to 2200 lumens. Dynamic Iris is built in, producing a contrast of up to 4000:1. The PTDW7000U-K has a liquid-cooled optical engine that boosts both reliability and durability while reducing operating noise.

Radio Shack recently entered the DLP home theater arena and markets its projectors under the Cinego brand. The single-chip DLP Cinego D-1000, which weighs less than 8lbs., can display movies on screens or walls up to 140in. wide. For instant home theater, the Cinego D-1000 has a 2.1 sound system with separate subwoofer and even comes with a built-in DVD player. The D-1000 has 1500:1 contrast ratio, either 16:9 or 4:3 aspect ratios, and outputs 480p (854×480) images.

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InFocus SP7210

For those with upwards of $250,000 to invest in home theater, Runco offers the VX-2c, a 1280×720 resolution, three-chip DLP projector that has multiple lens options for flexibility in throw distance. A unique Runco feature, CineWide with Autoscope lets the VX-2c's SuperOnyx DMD chips use their complete pixel arrays to display a full 2.35:1 widescreen image without black bars flanking the top and bottom. Using a cinema-grade anamorphic lens, the image squeezed onto the DLP chip array is then spread out during projection to fill the width of the screen.

Sanyo's most affordable widescreen LCD home theater projector is the PLV-70, with a 900:1 contrast ratio, 3D digital noise reduction, and a unique color management system that provides secondary color correction. Sanyo's high-end PLV-Z3 has 2000:1 contrast, full 10-bit video processing, and a new motorized iris that yields to ambient light conditions in 63 increments.

The XV-Z12000 is the newest of the SharpVision family of products. It produces a 16:9, 720p image from TI's HD2+ DMD chips. The XV-Z12000 boasts a 5500:1 contrast ratio and a brightness rating of 900 ANSI lumens. It includes a seven-segment, 5X-speed neutral density color wheel. An optical engine co-developed with Minolta reduces the exposure down to F8 to produce clearer blacks, and a three-position powered iris provides control over the contrast and brightness levels.

SIM2 USA, part of SIM2 Multimedia, was the first projector company to use the 0.8in. 720p DarkChip3. Its HT300 E-LINK has a contrast ratio of 3500:1. Its 12-input external DigiOptic Image Processor (DOIP) can be connected up to 1,600ft. from the projector via a unique 3.5mm digital fiber-optic cable.

The new Qualia 004 projector from Sony is the first product introduced in the United States as part of Sony's Qualia concept. It's an SXRD projector — Sony's proprietary version of LCoS technology — with three 0.78in. panels offering 1920×1080 resolution for a total of more than 6 million pixels. Each SXRD liquid crystal cell gap measures less than two micrometers, which is far thinner than conventional LCoS devices. The Qualia 004 also uses a Xenon lamp — just like digital cinema projectors — which is closer to sunlight than any other manmade source.

What gives the DPX-1200 DLP projector from Yamaha its widescreen clarity is the use of a new high-resolution lens that maintains extreme resolution sensitivity all the way to the edges. Four anomalous-dispersion glass components result in half the chromatic aberration while maintaining a short focal point and high zoom magnification. Using HD2+ chips, the DPX-1200 incorporates a seven-segment color wheel and TruLife Enhancer technology from Faroudja to ensure picture clarity. The user can adjust the correlated color temperature in 500K increments between 5000K and 10000K.

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