Posts Tagged ‘Home Theater’

Product Review: Optoma HD8200 Home Theater Projector (August 2009)

It’s funny how the fortunes of competing projection technologies have swung wildly over the past decade. Back at the turn of the century, most industry analysts (including myself) figured that Texas Instruments’ DLP technology had pretty much won the hearts and minds of CEDIA dealers, and that 3LCD didn’t stand a chance. LCoS? It was certainly out there, but mostly on the fringe.

Well, we sure got that one wrong. Three years ago, Mitsubishi pulled the rug out from under the DLP crowd with its eye-popping 3LCD HC5000, priced at $4,495 and completely upstaging new LCoS projector announcements from JVC and Sony. Epson and Panasonic also unveiled lower-price 3LCD chassis’ with great color, deep blacks, and plenty of contrast for similarly low prices.

Since then, 3LCD technology has taken mighty leaps forward, incorporating manual lens offset, dynamic irising, and improved black levels to become a can’t-miss value proposition. On the LCoS side of things, JVC’s DLA-series projectors are now the favorite of many prominent home theater enthusiasts and reviewers. So what’s happened to the DLP crowd?

One of the limitations with using single-chip DLP light engines is the difficulty in adding mechanical lens offset. Many early DLP lightboxes had a fixed lens offset and were intended for ceiling installation. But that severely constricted the installer’s choices when adding a projection system to an existing room, something the 3LCD and D-ILA camps were quick to point out.

Optoma, the US branding arm of Coretronics, is a leader in sales of DLP projectors for both consumer and professional use. They’re had a few previous entries into the CEDIA channel that have done well, but the long-throw zoom lens issue had to be sticking in their craw.

So they did the smart thing by not getting mad, but trying to get even. And the HD8200 is all about “getting even,” leveling the playing field with 3LCD and LCoS projectors in design, functionality, and hopefully, performance.

Figure 1. Now, here’s a different look for an Optoma projector!

OUT OF THE BOX

The first thing that strikes you about the HD8200 is how much it looks like JVC’s DLA-series projectors, from the long, rectangular cabinet with smooth curves to the rich, gloss black finish, the lack of nomenclature around the housing, and the minimalist video input panel. It’s all about the quality of images, and not appearances.

As supplied, the HD8200 is fitted with a 1.5 – 2:1 manual zoom lens, and veteran projectionists know that longer lenses usually mean less problems with pincushioning, barreling, and other optical distortions. That in turn makes aligning the projected image to a screen a much easier task. And the longer lens provides more mounting distance options.

Of course, longer lenses also mean optically smaller lens apertures and dimmer images, unless a lamp with more horsepower is included. So Optoma has included a hefty 220W UHP lamp that can run in two modes – standard and bright. They’ve rated lamp life to half-brightness at 3000 hours in the first mode, and 2000 in the second.

The imaging engine uses a DarkChip3 DMD, combined with a Pixelworks PW9800 co-processor with DNX MotionEngine. Optoma claims the HD8200 uses 10-bit signal processing to correct for both motion judder and when deinterlacing and compensating 480i and 1080i content.

When it comes to input connections, you basically get one of everything – one composite, one S-video, and one analog component (YPbPr) input, plus one 15-pin RGB/SCART connector, and one DVI-D jack. The exception? Optoma has provided a pair of HDMI v1.3 input jacks and labeled them as being compatible with Deep Color spaces, a color gamut that no one currently uses for HD TV shows and movies.

 

 

 

REMOTE AND MENUS

The supplied remote control is also a departure from previous Optoma designs. It’s not all that large, but is very user-friendly with large, backlit buttons. Optoma has thoughtfully provided direct access to many menu adjustments, including brightness, contrast, lamp bright mode, digital image shift, aspect ratios, overscan, and edge masking.

You’ll also have direct access to any input, and you can set up the HD8200 to automatically detect active inputs or skip inactive ones. A pair of 12VDC screen triggers is yours for the asking on the IO panel, and you can operate a motorized screen directly from the remote with Screen Up and Down keys.

The operation and image adjust menus aren’t overly detailed, but get you to the critical adjustments quickly. Optoma has provided four factory image presets, labeled as Cinema, Bright, Photo, and Reference. There’s also a User selection, although you can recalibrate any of the settings for any preset.

In addition to basic image tweaks, you’ll find an Advanced menu that really lets you get to the nitty-gritty adjustments. There’s a ten-step motion adaptive noise reduction setting that’s intended to be use with interlaced content – separating noise from interlaced artifacts in 480i and 1080i content is a tough job, and you may find this control helpful in doing so.

Gamma is selectable over four presets – Film, Video, Graphics, and Standard. Note that these are all factory presets, which means you can’t go into a multi-step gamma adjustment menu and fine-tune RGB response as you can on JVC’s DLA-series projectors.

You’ll also find a black/white extension setting that’s ostensibly used to enhance contrast. Be careful – these settings usually play with gamma curves, often resulting in an unwanted S-shaped response (I’d suggest leaving this switched off).

There are three factory color temperature settings (Cold, Medium and Warm) that you can readjust, using the supplied red, green, and blue contrast (high) and brightness (low) controls. You’ll also spot a Dynamic Black mode in this menu, and it’s used to enhance deep shadow detail in low-level scenes. Again, caution is in order, as dynamic black enhancements will have an adverse effect on the projector’s gamma response.

In the press releases for the HD8200, Optoma made a lot of noise about its PureEngine imaging technology. (Shades of Pioneer plasma TVs!) The “pure” part has a few components to it, specifically PureDetail (multi-level selectable edge enhancement), PureColor (a color-enhancement mode that stretches the projector’s gamut), and PureMotion (affects 24p content transferred 3:2 to 480i, 720p, and 1080i formats).

Edge enhancement can make a difference with lower-resolution analog content, although it could also enhance unwanted compression artifacts from digital SD video sources. I’d avoid using this control at all with 720p, 1080i, and 1080p sources. I’d also leave PureColor off and stick to matching the color space in which the TV show or movie was encoded. (As you’ll see shortly, the HD8200 does a good job already matching up to the ITU BT.709 HD color space.)

PureMotion may be the most useful gadget of the three, particularly when correcting for 24p “judder.”  If you’ve never seen a judder-correction processor at work, it can be a revelation as the “film look” gives way to a live video feel. Is this right or wrong? Well, some folks like it, and some purists don’t. You’ll have to experiment on your own to see which settings work for you.

As far as aspect ratios go, the HD8200 lets you select among 4:3, 16:9, Native (no image scaling at all), or LBX – short for “letterbox.” LBX mode lets you watch CinemaScope movies on a 2.35:1 screen with a companion anamorphic lens. According to the owner’s manual, LBX mode is also suitable for a “…non-16×9 letterbox source.”

Additional image tweaks include Overscan (eliminates noise and digital sync from appearing on certain TV channels), Edge Mask (basically a digital zoom function and not a left/right/top/bottom masking system), Vertical Image Shift (digital), and digital keystone correction.

My advice is to stay away from any digital image shift functions and instead use the H and V offset controls, large thumbwheels that are mounted under the lens along with the manual zoom adjustment. You’ll be able to shift images horizontally by ±15% and vertically by ±50%, which is quite a wide range for a single-chip DLP projector.

One last image adjustment bears mention. It’s called SuperWide, and requires the use of a 2.0:1 aspect ratio projection screen. With SuperWide on, both 16:9 and 2.35:1 programs will be displayed without any black bars. Of course, there is a slight amount of anamorphic stretching and compression in effect to pull this off, and that may go against your “purist” instincts.

There are a couple of useful tools in the operations menu. Not much mention is made of it, but the HD8200 has a two-position auto irising system to lower black levels, based on the average brightness of individual scenes. If you are familiar with auto iris systems, you know that they reduce brightness as well as deepen black levels, so I’d experiment with this setting to see if you can live with the results.

The other useful tool is Screen Trigger B, which can be configured to activate an external anamorphic lens assembly when 2.35:1 movies are being displayed. It can also be set to activate in 4:3, 16:9, Native, or LBX modes, although the utility of those selections isn’t as obvious to me as the anamorphic lens trigger.

Figure 3. The HD8200’s gamma performance was most consistent in Standard gamma mode.

Figure 4. Once above 20 IRE, the HD8200 tracked an incredibly tight grayscale.

ON THE TEST BENCH

So much for menus and features! How did the HD8200 do under fire? Not, bad, although there are a few areas where this projector could use further improvement.

I calibrated the HD8200 to light up a new, 92-inch Da-Lite JKP Affinity front screen (gain = .9) at a distance of 12 feet. After going through the menu to make sure all contrast, white level, and black level enhancements were switched off and that the auto iris was disabled, I adjusted the projector for best dynamic range and most accurate color rendering, using an AccuPel HDG4000 pattern generator and ColorFacts 7.5 software, plus a Minolta CL-200 colorimeter.

After calibration, I measured brightness at 364 ANSI lumens in Cinema mode. Readings in Bright, Photo, and Reference modes were 478, 468, and 449 ANSI lumens, respectively. Note that these were all taken with the projector’s lamp operating in standard mode – switching to bright mode results in a boost in lumens of about 15%.

Brightness uniformity calculated to 91% to the average corner, and 76% to the worst corner. These are excellent numbers for any single-chip DLP projector, some models of which have exhibited a 50% fall-off to the worst corner and noticeable hot spots in my tests.

Contrast measurements were comparable to some of the better 3LCD long-throw projectors I’ve tested, clocking at 559:1 ANSI (average) and 873:1 peak in Cinema mode. Black levels on this projector are higher than the best 3LCD and LCoS models – not substantially, but you can see a difference with low-light program material. The auto iris, disabled for this test, does improve blacks when active but also brings down white levels a corresponding amount.

Using the factory settings, I measured gamma response in Video mode at 1.82. That’s too shallow for video, and in fact the upper end of the grayscale was starting to flatten out at 80 IRE. Ironically, the projector’s Graphics gamma (measured at 2.21) was closer to ideal for video, except that this setting was also starting to flatline at 80 IRE.

Using a calibrated setting, I found the best gamma response (2.29) using the Standard gamma setting, resulting in a consistent climb out of black and not clipping at the high end. I also found this gamma curve provided me with the most consistent grayscale track, as seen in Figure 3.

Figure 4 shows the resulting grayscale track from 20 to 100 IRE. Maintaining a stable, consistent color of gray is a consistent attribute of the best DLP projectors, since the imaging devices have no inherent color bias. As you can see, the measured color temperature was consistent, varying by just 140 degrees in User mode and by 229 degrees in Cinema mode. That’s reference-grade performance!

I mentioned the HD8200’s color gamut earlier. As seen in Figure 5, it’s enough to cover 100% of the BT.709 standard, although the green and red pints are oversaturated and the cyan and magenta coordinates are shifted towards blue. Color management tools would help clean these up – the percentage of coordinate shift required isn’t enormous.

Figure 5. The projector’s color gamut is large enough to cover BT.709. Color management tools would lock it in even closer.

IMAGE QUALITY

For this part of the test, I cued up a few Blu-ray discs on OPPO’s new BDP-83 player. The BBC’s Planet Earth has some great scenes for evaluating dynamic range, specifically Ice Worlds and Oceans Deep. Ice Worlds has clips with lots of different shades of “white,” something that will reveal subtle changes in color temperature and whether any white clipping is going on.

Image contrast and detail was excellent with these clips, although it appeared that blacks and low grays could have been deeper. Color saturation appeared normal, particularly with close-ups of monkeys, leopards, and eagles that were captured with the sun at a low angle. That could have resulted in exaggerated reds and warm tones, but it didn’t.

My next test was with the director’s cut of Ghost Rider, an exceptionally detailed and contrasty transfer on Blu-ray. This is a great BD to test out dynamic range performance, particularly with the nighttime confrontation between the police and the Rider as he roars up and down the Longhorn Insurance Company skyscraper, spewing orange flames in his wake. (Come to think of it, there’s a lot of blue and orange shading in this film…wonder if the director or DP was a Syracuse or Florida graduate?)

The earlier scene where Johnny Blaze leaps over six helicopters on his motorcycle has some great punchy reds, oranges, and yellows. Flesh tones in these scenes could have easily been overpowered, but weren’t. At times, I thought I saw an ever-so-slight slight magenta tint to flesh tones, but that may just have been the transfer as I also observed this watching the same clip on a 50” Panasonic plasma monitor.

Once again, it seemed like the blacks weren’t quite deep enough, particularly in the final confrontation in the abandoned church between Wes Bentley and Nicolas Cage. Turning on the auto iris circuit pushed blacks down a lot more, but didn’t help shadow detail. I could have enhanced black levels to recover the detail, but would have lost the clean gamma curve I originally plotted.

The HD8200’s PureMotion processor sure does work! You can apply a high level of processing and basically eliminate all 24p film judder from any movie, making it look more like live 60 Hz video. So I repeat – is that good, or bad? Some viewers will no doubt love it; others will surely rail against it. As for myself, a little bit of judder reduction is nice, but I don’t go for the “video look” when watching a movie.

That Pixelworks processor does an excellent job with interlaced content. The HD8200 had no trouble whatsoever with the video and film resolution loss tests from the Realta Blu-ray disc. However, I should mention that a quick test of frequency response, using a 1080p luminance multiburst pattern, showed some filling at 37.5 MHz. That would result in the loss of very fine picture detail, and it’s another thing Optoma may want to look at.

CONCLUSIONS

Optoma’s HD8200 does indeed break new ground and should help single-chip DLP technology recover much of the ground it has lost to 3LCD and LCoS projectors. The projector delivers sharp, contrasty images with good color saturation and great dynamic range, albeit with slightly higher black levels than the best LCoS/LCD designs.

Improving black levels could simply be a matter of refining the optical path to cut down on refracted light, and also using a projection lens with improved coatings. The auto iris is certainly fast, but not fast enough on some scenes – you’re better off leaving it disengaged more often than not. I do recommend using a gray screen with the HD8200 for best results, particularly if there is light reflecting around your theater environment.

But my hat’s off to Optoma for building in mechanical lens shift and a longer zoom lens at this price point. I would have a hard time justifying spending more money for any other single-chip DLP projector after seeing the HD8200 in action. Down the road, how about adding multi-level RGBW gamma correction and color management tools to the menu? Now, that would be a hot product!

Optoma HD8200 Home Theater Projector
MSRP: $4,999

Specifications:


Dimensions: 14.6” W x 7.6” H x 19.2” D (projector)
Weight: 18.5 lbs. (projector)
Imaging Device: 1x .65” DarkChip3 1920×1080 DMD
Lamp: 220W UHP
Lens: 1.49 – 2.0:1 manual zoom/focus
Inputs: 1x each composite/S-video, 1x RCA YPbPr, 15p VGA, 2x HDMI 1.3

Signal compatibility: 480i/p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p24/60, VGA-SXGA+, WXGA, HD

Available from:

Optoma Technology Inc.
715 Sycamore Drive
Milpitas, CA 95035
408-383-3700
http://www.optomausa.com/

Product Review: Kramer ProScale VP-729 Presentation Switcher/Scaler (June 2009)

It wasn’t all that many years ago that the idea of a seamless presentation switcher was nothing more than fantasy. Back in the late 1990s, the farthest anyone had come with switching and mixing video signals was to combine the functions of basic line doublers and quadruplers with a couple of frame buffers, resulting in a product with five- and six-figure price tags.

But Moore’s Law prevailed, as it always does. Today, it’s possible to buy a presentation switcher for less than $2,000 that works better than those early line-doubling models. That’s good news for anyone who has a modest AV facility, but wants to switch between video and computer sources as smoothly and elegantly as staging companies do.

Kramer Electronics, one of the fastest-growing companies in the Pro AV marketplace, specializes in feature-rich but affordable video and audio interfaces. Their earlier efforts at presentation switching have been met with favorable reviews by a myriad of end-users. It was only a matter of time before a product like the VP-729 made its curtain call, combining HQV-quality video signal processing with Ethernet connectivity and a very attractive price – just $1,595 MSRP.

Figure 1. Front view of Kramer’s ProScale VP-729 presentation switcher.

OUT OF THE BOX

The VP-729 is surprisingly compact, measuring just 1RU in height. It’s finished in the usual Kramer blue-gray, sporting nine input selection buttons, three additional function buttons, and eight smaller buttons for accessing the menu and other functions, including navigation. A separate power switch is on the far left, along with an IR control sensor.

There are nine inputs on the rear of the VP-729, four of which can be configured to accommodate multiple analog video formats. In addition, there’s a USB 2.0 jack on the front panel that does double duty as a JPEG still image reader and a port for uploading firmware updates.

Each of the four analog video inputs consists of three RCA jacks and will accept composite, S-video, and component (YPbPr) video signals up to a maximum resolution of 1920x1080p 50/60. Note that you’ll need a special adapter cable to connect S-video to the VP-729. Kramer hasn’t included DIN-style S-video jacks on this switcher, but given how few people use that signal format anymore, it may be a non-issue.

The next two inputs are standard 15-pin VGA jacks, labeled “UXGA 1&2” on the front and back panels. These connectors will accept just about any RGBS/RGBHV signal format all the way to 1920×1200 resolution with a 60Hz frame rate. You can also create a custom configuration in the Advanced menu to work with even higher image resolutions.

The last two inputs are HDMI 1.3 types. Like more and more companies in the pro AV channel, Kramer has opted to replace DVI connections with HDMI, ostensibly because they take up less room, and can also carry digital audio – a real handy thing to have in a switcher. The connectors are fully HDCP-compliant, which might throw up a red flag in terms of being able to switch sources smoothly. (Not a problem, as you’ll see shortly.)

Figure 2. You’ll have enough connectors for just about any conference room or classroom installation.

Kramer has provided two video outputs. The first is another HDMI 1.3 jack, while the second is a 15-pin VGA connector. (You can drive both at the same time.) The VGA jack can work as a conventional RGBHV connection, or be configured to transport YPbPr signals on three of its pins.

There are several ways you can have audio follow video around during switching. Separate stereo RCA jack are provided for each of the four analog video inputs, while a pair of 1/8” mini phone jacks are used to interface PC audio. Embedded audio through the HDMI jacks moves around just as easily, and you can enable/disable the embedded audio stream from the menu.

For audio output, Kramer has included one additional pair of RCA jacks for an analog connection, plus a coaxial SPDIF output. And of course, the HDMI output jack also carries switched audio from any source. The connector complement is topped off with a standard DB9 RS232 port for remote control, plus an Ethernet jack for TCP/IP operation.

REMOTE AND MENUS

The supplied remote control was too busy for me with 30 buttons of similar size and color. (The Power and Menu buttons are red; all others are white.) But the upside is that you’ll have direct access to any input and generally fast navigation when making adjustments.

In addition to discrete up/down/left/right buttons for navigation, you’ll also find eight buttons at the bottom of the remote for designating the picture-in-picture (PiP) source signal. I would have left these behind a cover – it’s not likely that the settings will be changed all that frequently.

Additional buttons operate the switcher’s Freeze Image mode, let you switch to a blank screen, capture a JPEG image to be used as a screen-saver or boot-up screen, save and recall image settings, and mute audio. You can also push and hold the RESET button to restore the VP-729 back to its default output resolution of 1024×768 (XGA), just in case you accidentally configure a non-supported output signal. (Like that’s never happened before, right?)

When it comes to menus and adjustments, you’ll be in hog heaven. Kramer has included just about every adjustment you could imagine, taking full advantage of the IDT HQV video processor. Not only does that mean top-notch de-interlacing and 3:2 motion correction, but it also places image warping and rotation tweaks at your fingertips. These are extremely handy settings when you are mounting a projector off-center or at a severe angle to the screen.

The Input menu lets you configure the four universal video jack sets to accept composite, S-video, or component signals. You can also set the video standard (NTSC, NTSC 4.43, PAL, SECAM or Auto modes), fine-tune the horizontal and vertical image position for RGB signals, and play with frequency and phase to clean up clock errors. There’s also an Auto Image button for fast setup.

The Picture menu is where you’ll make basic image adjustments, along with five steps of output gamma, film/video mode (for detection of 2:2 and 3:2 frame cadences), and three kinds of noise reduction – temporal, mosquito, and block. Surprisingly, these adjustments are grayed-out when viewing content through an HDMI connection, which is where they’d be most needed, as mosquito and block noise are the results of digital image compression.

Kramer has also provided multiple steps of detail, luma transition, and chroma transition enhancement. I’d suggest staying away from these tweaks completely, except with low-resolution composite video such as those you’d see from ½” and ¾” videotape formats. Otherwise, you’ll find up with some weird ringing and edge artifacts around higher-resolution video signals. (Repeat to yourself – HDTV does NOT need edge enhancement…)

The Output menu is where you’ll configure the VGA and HDMI output ports. For your convenience, Kramer has provided 28 pre-programmed settings that start at 640×480 (VGA) and top out at 1680×1050 (UXGA+). Among those choices, you’ll also find eight standard component/HDMI video formats, including 1080p/60, or you can simply set the native HDMI input format to be the output format. (According to Kramer’s technical staff, the VP-729 can actually scale all input signals up to 1920×1200 (WUXGA) resolution, using the Custom menu settings.)

The HDMI output connector can be toggled to operate in full HDMI mode with embedded audio, or in basic DVI mode (video only). Five different aspect ratios are also at your fingertips, including Standard, Letterbox, Anamorphic (stretch), Virtual Wide, and Native (pass-through). A Custom option is also included for your imagination.

The Output menu also gives you access to some of the goodies packed within the HQV processor, including the ability to pan and zoom images horizontally and vertically, or to digitally zoom the entire image from 100 to 450%.

There’s also a Picture In Picture menu where you define PiP mode (overlay, side-by-side, or split screen), choose the Pip source and window size, set the horizontal and vertical position of the PiP window, and turn on or off a colored frame around the window’s edge, with red, green, or blue being the choices.

In the Audio menu, you can toggle between analog and SPDIF (digital) audio inputs and fiddle with input and output volume, bass, treble, balance, and loudness. Kramer has thoughtfully included a user-programmable digital audio delay line, which will help clear up lip-sync errors on large flat panel HDTVs or even fix a problem with digital TV broadcasts. The maximum delay is 340 milliseconds, or you can simply leave it set to Dynamic, which corrects automatically for the video processing chain inside the VP729.

Other menus include Geometry, where you can go crazy with image warping and keystone correction settings; Setup, where you can define and save image profiles in a maximum of eight memory locations, plus lock in frame rates, and Info, where you’ll see a static display of input and output signal information and firmware versions.

Hidden in the Setup menu is the previously mentioned ADVANCED sub-menu. This menu lets you download and store a custom logo from a USB drive, capture a displayed image to internal memory for use as a screen saver or boot-up screen, lock the front panel buttons or save your locked configuration, and define the FREEZE button function to operate alone, or pair it with the audio muting function.

This is also the place to input your own timing rates and create a custom output resolution. Caution – you’ll need to know several image parameters to do so without screwing things up. Otherwise, just stick with the factory definitions.

IN OPERATION

I decided to test the VP-729 with Pioneer’s PRO-111FD 50-inch plasma TV, connecting composite, component, and HDMI outputs from Aurora Multimedia’s V-Tune Pro HDTV tuner. I also hooked up component video signals from an AccuPel HDG-2000 test pattern generator and an Extron VTG-300 pattern generator. A second HDMI signal came from Toshiba’s HD-A2 HD DVD player. (Both HDMI inputs to the VP-729 carried embedded digital audio.)

The VP-729 recognizes input signals very quickly, especially HDMI sources. I selected 1080p/60 output resolution through the HDMI output to drive the Pioneer, after applying a software/firmware update from Kramer’s tech wizards Chris and Tom Kopin. This update from a USB flash drive ensured embedded HDMI audio was always recognized and transported smoothly through the switcher.

In my tests, all analog video sources switched between themselves with a smooth fade-down/fade-up sequence. Kramer calls this process Fade-Thru-Black™ switching, and it works by muting the input audio, then fading the selected video/PC signal to black. Next, a sync/audio switch is made, with the new video/PC source fading up. Audio follows shortly afterwards.

It took two seconds to make a complete analog video transition, with audio active in about three seconds. Switching from analog video to an HDMI source took slightly longer for video, but audio isn’t restored in this mode until nearly five seconds have gone by.

Unlike analog video sources, HDMI signals do not fade up. Instead, they “cut,” which may be a limitation of dealing with HDCP-compliant signals. Switching from analog video to an RGB signal also results in the latter “cutting” onto the screen, not a smooth fade up.

HDMI/HDMI transitions were as fast as analog video, with audio recovering after four seconds. The slowest transition was from analog component to HDMI video. It took about 2.5 seconds for the video to switch and nearly six seconds to hear audio.

During my tests, I lost the HDMI signal from the HD-A2 player completely after about 15 minutes. The player was looping one of the Realta HQV test patterns when I lost sync, and it could only be restored by powering down both the VP-729 and the HD-A2, then re-booting everything. The culprit might have been an older version of HDMI running on the HD-A2, which only has 1080i/30 output capability.

Video image quality was excellent with all inputs. The VP-729 passed both the Video Resolution and Film Resolution loss tests from the Realta HD DVD test disc with flying colors, along with the 3:2 sequence, rotating bars, mixed film and video titles, and variable cadences from the standard Realta HQV DVD.

The K-Storm scaler handles standard-definition video with ease. Expect some softness from sources like composite and S-video, which you can sharpen up using a variety of detail, luma, and chroma edge enhancements. But leave these off when working with HD video signals, which should not need any enhancement.

I’d like to see Kramer open up access to the three noise-reduction processors when switching HDMI signals. Mosquito and block noise artifacts are digital in origin and always the result of excessive video compression, something that digital video often suffers from when it originates from terrestrial, cable, or satellite broadcast systems.

CONCLUSIONS

Kramer’s VP-729 is a winner. It’s just the ticket for affordable seamless switching and scaling. Given HDMI’s inexorable creep into the pro AV market (whether you want it or not), it’s good to see manufacturers responding quickly with compatible interfaces. And a pro install these days is likely to include a few consumer signal sources, like set-top boxes and Blu-ray and upscaling DVD players.

I’m not sure what caused the signal dropout from my HD DVD player, but Kramer has been pretty good about diagnosing these glitches and promptly issuing firmware updates. I’d suggest checking to see if you have the latest firmware before you purchase one of these. If not, the updates are easy enough to load from USB flash drives.

Kramer Electronics

ProScale VP-729 Presentation Switcher/Scaler

MSRP: $1,595

Specifications:

Dimensions: 19” W x 9.3” D x 1RU

Weight: 6.6 lbs

Video Inputs: 4x C/YC/YPbPr universal, 2x 15p VGA, 2x HDMI 1.3

Video Outputs: 1x HDMI 1.3, 1x 15p VGA

Audio Inputs: 4x RCA Stereo, 2x 1/8” mini, 2x HDMI

Audio Outputs: 1x Stereo RCA, 1x coaxial SPDIF, HDMI

Control: DB9 RS232, Ethernet

Supported input resolutions: VGA-UXGA+, WXGA, 480i/p, 576i/p, 720p, 1080i, and custom

Output resolutions: VGA-UXGA+, WXGA, WUXGA (1920×1200), 480p, 576p, 720p 50/60, 1080i 50/60, 1080p 50/60, custom

Available from:

Kramer Electronics USA

96 Route 173 West, Suite 1
Hampton, NJ 08827

(888) 275-6311

www.kramerus.com

Product Review: JVC DLA-HD350 Home Theater Projector (March 2009)

For those readers who’ve been following the DLP vs. 3LCD projector controversies over the years, it’s easy to overlook JVC. They don’t have the market clout of Epson, or the strong brand identity of Texas Instruments’ Digital Light Processing. You won’t see their projectors hanging in an enormous booth at InfoComm or Cedia Expo.

Yet, JVC D-ILA projectors consistently produce some of the best-looking video and cinema images anywhere, and you won’t have to pay an arm and a leg to get that kind of image quality in your own home theater.

JVC’s “secret sauce” is simply an emphasis on photorealistic images with accurate color, tight grayscale tracking, and good visual dynamic range. Toss in an attractive form factor, super-quiet fans, and a minimalist design approach to connectors, remote controls, and bells and whistles, and what you wind up with is a projector that truly “walks the talk.”

JVC’s DLA-HD350 is one of a suite of D-ILA (Digital Image Light Amplifier) projectors that was announced at Cedia Expo 2008, two of which (DLA-HD750 and DLA-RS20) offer THX-certified operating modes. While the lower-priced DLA-HD350 lacks the THX imprimatur found on its more expensive sibling, that’s almost irrelevant – it provides so much control over image parameters that you won’t even notice.

Figure 1. This projector looks good even when it’s not doing anything.

OUT OF THE BOX

Once again, JVC’s put together a sleek, piano-black projector housing with a theme that can best be described as “stealth.” Unlike its predecessors, the DLA-HD350 features an offset motorized 2:1 ratio zoom lens, complete with +/-80% vertical and +/-34% horizontal power lens shift.

In general, longer focal-length lenses provide the best image geometry; free of pincushioning and lens barreling with sharp, square corners. Of course, you’ll need more horsepower from the projection lamp to compensate, depending on the effective lens aperture.

JVC has armed the DLA-HD350 with a 200-watt UHP lamp, and that’s more than sufficient to light up a 92-inch, zero-gain screen with a projection throw of 12 feet. The imaging panels are three .7” 1920×1080 D-ILA devices harnessed to JVC’s unique wire-grid dichroic filter system and a polarizing beam splitter.

Figure 2. There aren’t many video inputs, but with outboard switching, you’ll be covered for any signal source.

The connector complement is, as usual, sparse. Two HDMI 1.3 connectors are accompanied by a single analog component (YPbPr) input, along with the inevitable composite and S-video jacks. There’s also an RS232 port for remote control, and that’s all she wrote – no screen trigger, Ethernet port, etc.

If you want to use your desktop or notebook computer with the DLA-HD350, it will need a DVI-D or an HDMI port, plus the appropriate adapter cable. Compatible PC resolutions include VGA (640×480), SVGA (800×600), XGA (1024×768), WXGA (1280×768), WXGA+ (1440×900), SXGA (1280×1024), WSXGA+ (1680×1050), and WUXGA (1920×1200 with some pixel decimation).

REMOTE AND MENUS

Some people ask why I make such a big deal of the ergonomics of projector remote controls. Well, when you’ve tried as many remotes as I have over the past two decades, you realize just how difficult they can be to use in rooms with low or no light. And that’s a real PITA when trying to make a quick image adjustment or changing inputs. (Hey, not everyone uses RS232 control!)

JVC’s remotes have usually gotten it right, with a limited number of buttons that are spaced sufficiently far apart and are large enough so you can operate most of them by feel. What’s more, many of the functions you use the most frequently are accessible directly from the remote, including basic image adjustments, gamma, color temperature, and aspect ratios.

Figure 3. The supplied remote loses the “silver” look and goes back to basic black.

You can also directly access any of the five factory image presets (Cinema 1 and 2, Natural, Stage, and Dynamic), plus three user-programmable memory slots. The motorized lens functions are accessed by toggling the “Lens” button to go from Focus to Zoom and then to Lens Shift. As you do, different crosshatch patterns will appear on the screen to aid in sizing, positioning, and focusing the image.

Aspect ratio options include 4:3, 16:9, and Zoom. That’s it! The effect varies by signal input, but you’ll be able to show SD (4:3) and HD content correctly sized, stretch anamorphic DVDs, zoom into letterboxed 16:9 and 2.35:1 movies, expand 4:3 to fill the 16:9 image, and show 480i/p, 576i/p, and 720p content mapped 1:1 (window-boxed).

JVC has included variable edge masking in two steps (2.5% and 5%) for HD signal sources, and overscan (2.5% and 5%) for SD video inputs. 1920×1080 content from Blu-ray and other sources is shown with a 1:1 pixel map – if you want to crop it, you’ll have to us the masking control and zoom the image accordingly.

The DLA-HD350 is also equipped for CinemaScope anamorphic lens adapters, using a menu setting called “V-Stretch.” When a ‘Scope film is being shown, switching this feature “on” expands the letterboxed image to fill the frame, top to bottom. Your accessory anamorphic lens adapter then expands the image to restore the correct 2.35:1 image ratio.

Beyond the usual Big 5 image settings, JVC has provided a toolbox full of image tweaks for more advanced calibrations. Those include four factory-preset color temperatures (5800K, 6500, 7500k, and 9300k) that can be saved to three Custom memories. (But wait, there’s more!)

For those of us who are real nitpickers, JVC has also included multi-level gamma correction, using both preset gamma curves (1.8, 2.2, etc.) and user-adjustable red, green, and blue gamma tweaks at 13 different luminance levels, five of which range from black to 20% white.

In order to use this feature correctly, you’ll need a color analyzer that can provide continuous RGB histograms at the desired level of adjustment. I’ve charged ColorFacts 7.5 with this task, and I let it update me on color temperature and RGB levels in real time as I try to keep the mix of RGB consistent at each luminance level. The result, when done correctly, is a steady grayscale track with consistent color temperature from black to white.

If you’re not quite so brave (or crazy) as to try a major gamma overhaul, JVC also gives you three preset gamma calibrations (A, B, and C), but no information on what they correlate to. Based on my measurements, Gamma A is roughly 1.8, Gamma B is 2.0, and Gamma C is 2.2. (Sorry, no 2.4 or deeper film gamma is available.)

Additional tweaks include Sharpness and Detail Enhancement (leave ‘em off with HD sources), analog, mosquito, and MPEG block noise reduction, and three levels of color transient improvement. You can also set the range of HDMI signals (16-235 or 0-255 gray levels), select the correct color space (4:4:4, 4:2:2, or RGB), and enable/disable HDMI CEC (control projector operation through the HDMI port).

Last but not least, JVC has a three-step lens iris, identified as Dark, Medium, and Bright. It’s not a dynamic iris that tracks changes with input level – just a preset iris. My suggestion is to leave it off – the DLA-HD350’s black levels are pretty good, as you’ll see shortly.

ON THE TEST BENCH

I gave the DLA-HD350 a pretty vigorous workout, using an AccuPel HDG4000 to generate all the calibration test patterns in the 1080p/60 format. Additional content came from a pair of Blu-ray players – Samsung’s BD-P1500, and LG’s new BD300. I also watched live broadcast HD feeds from the NCAA men’s basketball tournament (CBS 1080i HD) and a few NBC HD programs (The Office and 30 Rock).

After calibration for the best grayscale images and widest dynamic range, I measured projector brightness at 413 ANSI lumens in Cinema 1 mode, with the iris set to position 3 (Bright). That was the low reading, and brightness ranged as high as 5 lumens in Dynamic mode. Additional readings included 445 lumens in Cinema 2 and 483 lumens in Natural mode. Brightness uniformity was very good at 78% to the average corner and 66.5% to the worst corner.

Contrast measurements were also impressive. ANSI (average) contrast clocked in at 350:1 in Cinema 1 mode, with peak contrast measured from the same checkerboard pattern at 707:1. I should repeat that I had the projector’s iris set to Bright mode for all of these tests, resulting in an average black level reading of 3.14 lumens. That’s about the best black level performance I’ve seen from any D-ILA projector, and it’s certainly as good as any current 3LCD model.

Figure 4. Maybe I spent too much time fiddling with the Gamma correction circuit. But look at that beautiful response!

Figure 5. The DLA-HD350 tracks a given color temperature very closely.

White balance uniformity was outstanding, with a maximum shift of 168 Kelvin across a full white test pattern. Not surprisingly, color temperature tracking from 20 to 100 IRE was very tight, with a maximum shift of 237 Kelvin as shown in Figure 4. (Any display that can keep that shift to 250 Kelvin or lower is doing very well in my book!)

The Gamma correction menu has a lot to do with this, although I did find its response a bit erratic at times. More than once, I’d select a given luminance value and color, only to see the value of that color jump by two to six points before I even entered a new value. JVC needs to fix this glitch, which makes back-and-forth tuning across red, green, and blue more of a chore than it should be.

After an hour of playing “ping pong” with the gamma menu, I came up with the track shown in Figure 5. This gamma calculated out to 2.24 and provided the best results for viewing everything from live HD sports to The Dark Night, my current favorite Blu-ray disc for checking out shadow detail and low-level grayscale tracking.

Figure 6. Now, that’s what I call a WIDE color gamut…

As for color reproduction, the DLA-HD350 excels in this area. The projector’s available color gamut, shown in Figure 6, is very wide – wide enough, in fact, to show the digital cinema P3 (minimum) gamut. You’ve got lots of real estate to work with here; enough to handle all standard digital TV color spaces and perhaps even some that haven’t been invented yet.

More importantly, the projector’s RGB and CMY coordinates are very close to ideal for the REC.709 HDTV standard. All that’s needed is a way to dial back color saturation to precisely hit those targets when viewing DTV content, something JVC ought to add as a switchable menu option.

IMAGE QUALITY

I’ve noticed that, out of all the available imaging technologies; images created with liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) panels most closely resemble those of motion picture film. The pixel structure of 1920×1080 LCoS panels is fine and indistinct, thanks to a very high fill factor. But image sharpness isn’t compromised. And I prefer real-time RGB color mixing to sequential (scanning) color with its rainbow artifacts.

The DLA-HD350 has a Silicon Optix Reon-VX image processor tucked inside, and it handled every interlaced SD and HD source from the red and blue laser versions of the HQV Realta tests with equal aplomb. Both the Video Resolution and Film Resolution tests from the Blu-ray disc were smooth as silk, with no judder and flicker. The rotating bars were also smooth, with just the tiniest suggestion of aliasing.

To appreciate just how good this projector can look, spin up The Dark Knight on Blu-ray in the 1080p/24 format, and give close scrutiny to pastel shades and flesh tones, particularly in nighttime scenes or under fluorescent lighting.  The Joker’s first encounter with the Gotham City mob is an excellent place to start, as the assembled gang has a wide range of skin tones from light to dark – contrasting, of course, with Heath Ledger’s white pancake makeup, purple suit, and cherry-red lipstick.

For a test drive of dynamic range, watch the IMAX high-speed chase sequence underneath Gotham, and you’ll see that deep shadows hold up quite well, even with bright headlights and brilliant explosions dominating the frame. Finish things off with the climatic ferry scene and the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker, high atop the unfinished skyscraper. You’ll still see plenty of detail, even with the intentionally poor lighting.

Another great test of dynamic range is the BBC’s Planet Earth series, also on Blu-ray. Check out From Pole to Pole and you’ll be surprised just how many shades of subtle color and gray you can see in icebergs and snow packs. The footage in this series comes from a variety of sources, including 35mm film and 1080p/24 HD camcorders. No matter, it all looks amazing, in particular the views from outer space.

With this projector, you’ll clearly see the difference in exposure and gamma/color correction for TV sitcoms and dramas when compared to feature films. I noticed a much wider range of exposures during The Office and 30 Rock, and while both shows were certainly enjoyable on my 92-inch Da-Lite JKP Affinity screen, they didn’t quite have the contrast punch of the Blu-ray material.

CONCLUSIONS

I’ll make it short and sweet. For $5,999, you get one heckuva home theater projector that’s absolutely up to the challenge of showing BD and other HD content to its full potential. Excellent color, stable gamma and grayscale tracks, wide dynamic range with plenty of contrast – it’s all here.

For that matter, the DLA-HD350 is good enough in my opinion to use as an evaluation monitor in a color correction and exposure-timing post-production suite. All JVC needs to do is fix that cranky gamma correction circuit and allow even deeper gamma correction, down to 2.6. Toss in advanced color management and an optional HD-SDI input, and they’d REALLY have something!

JVC DLA-HD350 Home Theater Projector

MSRP: $5,999

Specifications:

Dimensions: 14.4W” x 6.6H” x 18.9D”
Weight: 24.3 lbs
Imaging device: 3x .7” 1920×1080 D-ILA (LCOS)
Lamp: 200W UHP
Resolution: 1920×1080
Lens: 21.3 – 42.6 mm (2:1) power zoom/focus with motorized H/V lens shift
Inputs: 1 composite, 1 S-video, 1 component YPbPr, 2x HDMI 1.3, RS232C
Analog compatibility: 480i/p, 576i/p, 720p 60/50, 1080i 60/50

PC compatibility (through HDMI): VGA-SXGA, WXGA, WXGA+, WUXGA
Digital compatibility: 480i/p, 576i/p, 720p 60/50, 1080i 60/50, 1080 24p/60p/50p, Speakers: None

JVC America / Professional
1700 Valley Road
Wayne, NJ 07470
(800) 582-5825

http://tinyurl.com/cq9l37

Product Review: OPPO BDP-83 Blu-Ray Disc Player (August 2009)

Considering how well their upscaling red laser DVD players work, it’s amazing more people don’t know about OPPO Digital. But then again, you can’t just walk into Best Buy or Wal-Mart and pick one up off a shelf.

No, OPPO prefers to conduct its sales mostly through the Internet, with retail giant Amazon.com as good a place to find them as anywhere. And that will hold true with the BDP-83, OPPO’s first foray into BD-land.

But don’t kid yourself. This is no bargain basement BD player, like the Magnavox models Wal-Mart had on sale last holiday season. Au contraire! The BDP-83 has more in common with Pioneer’s top-of-the-line BDP-09FD, reviewed here.

Figure 1. OPPO’s BDP-83 is a sharp-looking player for the money – and it’s no lightweight with performance, either.

OUT OF THE BOX

This player has high quality written all over it, from the brushed metal front panel to the solid housing that is actually more substantial than other name-brand Blu-ray players I’ve tested. It’s not particularly light at 11.2 pounds, but it does feel solid and stable.

That same front panel has a very subtle design, with small, “stealth” buttons for power and drawer open/close buttons. A mouse disk about the size of a half-dollar provides navigation and is located to the right of the panel. At the far right, you’ll find a covered USB 2.0 slot for playback of music and movie files and JPEG still images. A fluorescent display sits below the disc drawer and is very easy to read. It can also be dimmed in a projection theater.

The rear panel connections are sufficient for any home theater system. One HDMI 1.3 output is provided for connection to an AV receiver or HDTV set, and there’s also an analog component (YPbPr) output via RCA jacks.

Note that the only way to get upscaled video from regular DVDs will usually be through the HDMI connection – depending on the level of copy protection encoded on the DVD, you may only see 480i or 480p playback through the component video ports.

There are several ways to get audio out of the player. The first is through the HDMI connection, which is the only direct digital interface for high-resolution audio formats, including 7.1 channel PCM, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD.  The Toslink and coaxial SPDIF connections can handle Dolby Digital 5.1 formats, while 7.1 and 5.1 direct analog connections to appropriate receivers are handled by a separate bank of eight RCA jacks on the left rear panel.

Other connections include a second USB 2.0 jack for external audio, video, and image files, IR loop-through ports for controlling other compatible AV devices through the player, and a RJ45 Ethernet jack for Internet connections, required to enable and use the BD-Live function. (You can also use a wireless bridge with this port.) There’s also a RS232C jack option for an additional $89, for remote control in an integrated home theater system,

Figure 2. Here’s a look at the rear panel connections. Note the second USB 2.0 input (the other is on the front panel).

REMOTE AND MENUS

The supplied remote is very different from older OPPO designs. In fact, it also resembles more of a Pioneer product in size and shape. All of the buttons are large and backlit, making operation in a darkened room a snap – altogether, much more user-friendly and substantial (there’s that word again!).

OPPO has built quite a few neat tricks into this player. Of course, it supports 1080p/24 playback, and that’s the recommended mode when connecting to the latest generation of flat panel LCD and plasma HDTVs, as well as front projectors. You can easily toggle the 24p output from the player’s menu. This mode may also be activated automatically during the HDMI “handshake” between the BDP-83 and your display.

Now, this is cool: You can switch output resolutions on the fly while a disc is still playing, instead of having to stop the disc and make the change. It works very quickly and you get a visual confirmation of the selected resolution on the front panel display. Feeding an external video processor/seamless switcher? Select the player’s Source Direct mode, and it will send raw, unprocessed video from the disc directly to the HDMI output connector.

If you elect to process video onboard, you’re not giving up anything. The BDP-83 uses Anchor Bay’s VRS technology for deinterlacing, 3:2 and other cadence correction, and multi-axis motion interpolation. This is the same chipset used in the DVDO Edge processor, and it works exceptionally well.

Other menu options include aspect ratio settings (4:3 letterbox and pan/scan, plus 16:9 wide and auto) and image zoom modes, of which there are numerous options. Some of the more useful options include the correct vertical stretch for showing 2.35:1 movies on 2.35 screens, and several letterbox zoom modes to handle older DVDs that do not use anamorphic expansion to show widescreen movies.

The BDP-83 supports other legacy audio formats like conventional CDs, DVD Audio, and SACD. Using the Pure Audio menu or remote function, video playback is disabled through the HDMI output (only video black is transmitted) to your AV receiver. Ostensibly, this function is used to minimize any crosstalk between digital audio and video.

Going deeper into the menu, you can play back red laser DVDs at a 24p frame rate with 1080p upconversion. (This is not available through the analog HD outputs.) Your TV or projector must support native 24-frame playback for this to work correctly, and the choice of whether to output 24p or not can be left up to the Auto setting, plus a successful HDMI handshake with your display.

The VRS processor adds multiple levels of choices, including five different deinterlacing modes (Auto, Film, Video, 2:2 Even Field, and 2:2 Odd Field), two chroma upsampling error correction modes, four different color space setup modes (RGB Video, RGB PC, YCbCr 4:2:2, and YCbCr 4:4:4), and HDMI Deep Color modes (30-bit and 36-bit). An audio delay mode (lip sync correction) is also included.

The audio menu is also deep. For the initial setup, you’ll choose between linear pulse-code modulation (LPCM) and Bitstream modes, the first being used when the HDTV or AV receiver is unable to handle advanced Dolby and DTS formats. For compatible receivers, select Bitstream mode and let the receiver do the heavy lifting. You can, of course, go straight from the rear panel analog audio connections, if need be.

There are numerous digital audio output configurations that are detailed in the owner’s manual, so I won’t go into them here. Suffice it to say that the BDP-83 will support whatever standard or advanced multichannel audio formats you’re likely to encounter. Just make sure your AV receiver is as up to date!

IN OPERATION

In my review of the Pioneer BDP-09FD, I mentioned the precise, smooth operation of the disc tray and drive motor. While the BDP-83 doesn’t quite have that “Swiss watch” feel, it’s a lot closer to the Pioneer than to competing players from Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, and LG.

OPPO makes a big deal of the fast load and play times on the BDP-83. I measured them with a stopwatch, and it took just 11 seconds from powering up until the OPPO logo appeared, and I was prompted to load a disc. 12 seconds after I loaded a disc, the first video image or menu on that disc appeared. That’s REAL fast! Of course, disc loading times also depend on whether the studio added BD-Live content that will boot up at the same time, or needs to be accessed separately.

I ran the BDP-83 through my Denon AVR-788 receiver and used it to watch a 5.1 channel mix from Ice Worlds from the BBC’s Planet Earth BD collection (buy this one, it’s a keeper!). This series features one of the better DD 5.1 channel mixes around, particularly the dubbed-in and location sounds of nature. It’s immersive, to say the least.

The audio playback was smooth with no “hits” or dropouts and had plenty of dynamic range. The 1080p video, which went through my Mitsubishi HC6000 3LCD projector, had excellent contrast, color, and detail – although with a VRS processor on one end and a HQV Reon on the other, it would be hard to screw things up.

Just for kicks, I took the BDP-83 upstairs to my office and connected it to a Westinghouse Digital L2410NM WUXGA (1920×1200) LCD computer monitor, which has zero video processing. Here’s where you can really see the VRS chipset shine, spinning up the Realta Blu-ray test patterns perfectly and giving me gorgeous 1080p playback of Iron Man (in thrilling two-channel stereo, of course).

CONCLUSIONS

For $500, this is one sturdy, precision Blu-ray player. If you want to go high-end, it would be hard to justify paying a lot more for what the BDP-83 already delivers. As OPPO has demonstrated more than once in the past, you usually do as well (if not better) with their upscaling red laser DVD models, and it looks like OPPO’s unique combination of engineering and value has successfully migrated to Blu-ray platform. Grab one for yourself!

OPPO Digital BDP-83
Blu-ray Disc Player

MSRP: $499.00

 

Specifications:

Compatible disc types: BD-Video, DVD-Video, AVCHD, DVD-Audio, SACD, CD, HDCD, Kodak Picture CD, CD-R/RW, DVD±R/RW, DVD±R DL, BD-R/RE

BD Profile: BD-ROM Version 2, Profile 2 (also compatible with Profile 1, Version 1.0 and 1.1)

Internal Storage: 1GB (Actual available storage varies due to system usage)
Analog audio output: Stereo, 5.1ch, 7.1ch (RCA)
Digital audio output: Coaxial, Optical, HDMI 1.3
Analog video output: Composite, Component (480i/p only)
Digital video output: HDMI (NTSC 480p/720p/1080i/1080p, PAL 576p/720p/1080i/1080p)
Other interfaces: 2x USB 2.0, 2x IR (1/8” Mini plug)

Optional interfaces: RS232C

LAN Interface: RJ45-type jack
Dimensions: 16.9” W x 13.3” D x 3” H

Weight: 11.2 lbs.
BD firmware updates: Through Internet connection

OPPO Digital, Inc.
2629 Terminal Blvd. Suite B
Mountain View, CA 94043
(650) 961-1118
www.oppodigital.com