Posts Tagged ‘Optoma’

ISE 2018 In the Rear View Mirror

I just returned from a week in Amsterdam in what is now the largest AV trade show in the world, Integrated Systems Europe. The organizers claim that 70,000 people attend this event and that number is certainly believable: The RAI exhibition center had to erect two additional temporary “bubble” halls to hold all of the manufacturers, and the foot traffic was crazy in the main halls.

If there was an overarching theme to the show, it had to be the migration of AV signal distribution to IT networks. Booth after booth featured exhibits of video encoders, demonstrations of compression and picture quality vs. latency, giant signs extolling the virtues of video and audio distributed over 1 Gb and 10 Gb networks, and plenty of “us vs. them” comparisons.

There are so many players in the AV-over-IT world that you need a scorecard to keep track of them. Of course, everyone has their own “special sauce” when it comes to sampling, compressing, and recovering video (audio is easy!), and those “us vs. them” demonstrations usually featured (a) a live video source, (b) that same video as processed through the manufacturer’s encoding system, and (c) that same video as processed through the competition’s video encoding system.

Crestron claims near-zero latency for their DM NVX codec, compared to SVSI…

 

…except that the SDVoE exhibit showed that DM NVX does have latency – at least, more than SDVoE’s Blue River system.

Latency was a big topic at the show. It’s defined as the time delay between a frame of source video and that same frame of video after recovery from a decoder and is typically measured in milliseconds. For some reason, the AV industry is obsessed with “near zero” latency in AV installations and I lost track of all the booths claiming their products had “little,” “near zero,” and “almost none.”

Crestron had a large exhibit in their booth, touting their DM NVX system for signal distribution and control over IT using 1 Gb network switches while maintaining image quality. To drive the point home, they had a side-by-side comparison of SVSI and HDBaseT transmission with DM NVX to show that it had the lowest latency. Time code was shown on all displays and visitors were encouraged to “take a picture with your phone” to confirm their claims.

At the back of another hall, the SDVoE Alliance had an exhibit saying, “Not so fast!” Their demo compared a video source to DM NVX and an SDVoE Blue River NT codec and appeared to show that the Crestron product had higher latency (and once again, visitors were encouraged to take a picture and confirm what they saw). The big difference? SDVoE promotes the use of 10 Gb switches instead of 1 Gb switches (a point I concur with) so even signals with 4K resolution can travel with light compression.

I’m not sure what codec Crestron is using, but the Blue River codec is adapted from VESA’s Display Stream Compression (DSC), an entropy-based compression scheme with extremely low latency that is well-suited to packing down 4K and even 8K signals.

Epson was mapping images onto a projector (right) that was projecting onto a large screen (left). Did you get all that?

 

Optoma is now in the LED display wall business.

Consider that HDMI version 2.0 is only fast enough to transport 2160p/60 with 8-bit RGB color and you can see the advantage of 1.5:1 and 2:1 compression to increase color bit depth – essential to distributing signals with high dynamic range and wide color gamuts, not to mention high frame rate video. (For those keeping score at home, a 2160p/60 signal with 10-bit RGB color requires a data rate of 21.39 Gb/s, so with a little over 2:1 compression, it will pass through a 10 Gb/s network switch.)

This looming battle between codecs and Valens’ HDBaseT format will only heat up as more manufacturers adopt ‘pure’ AV-over-IT solutions. HDBaseT is still limited to 328 feet of cable length and data rates of 10.2 Gb/s, although Aurora Multimedia claims their IPBaseT hybrid product can push HDBaseT speeds much higher and accommodate 4K signals with deeper color. Further confusing the issue is the TiCo (Tiny Codec) which is based on JPEG XS, a “mezzanine” codec that will permit lighter compression of video so that it can travel through a 10 Gb network.

Another trend was the explosive growth of LED signage. Hall 2 had so many Chinese LED manufacturers that I couldn’t keep track of the all. The “hot” technology nowadays is micro LED, or LED pixel elements with a pitch less than 1 millimeter. Consider that a 50-inch plasma TV from 1998 had a pixel resolution of 1280×768 or about 1.2mm, and we can now install a wall-sized LED display with a dot pitch approaching .8mm.

There’s no question that these products are having an impact on the projector industry. As I’ve mentioned in the past, every concert I’ve attended in the past 3 years has relied on large LED displays to show live video and graphics – none of them employed projectors, so far as I can remember. One consequence of this trend is that projector manufacturers including Barco, Christie, Panasonic, and Digital Projection chose to emphasize LED displays and walls in their booths (like covering their bets) alongside their flagship products. (Even Optoma did this!)

Absen had a humongous booth at ISE and is becoming a major player in LED signage in the U.S.

 

4K LCDs are here for digital signage and Leyard was promoting a full line of them.

In contrast, the challenge for Chinese LED display companies is that no one really knows anything about them, not to mention how reliable their products are. So now we’re seeing familiar names from the U.S. AV industry showing up in engineering, marketing, and sales positions for the likes of Leyard/Planar, Unilumen, Absen, and other brands, a strategy meant to bridge the familiarity gaps and increase sales.

Another area of interest is collaboration. Mersive’s Solstice had an exhibit that stressed the importance of analytics, gathering data on who was logged into a presentation sharing system and when. Kramer’s VIA product also has an analytics function and it looks like other companies are heading in that direction. DVDO, formerly owned by Silicon Image / Lattice, is independent again and has joined the collaboration space with their Tile product. This can stream and tile five independent sources of Full HD video, not to mention share screens and cast.

You wouldn’t think of “Sharp” and “broadcast video camera” in the same sentence – yet, here they are with exactly that.

 

Panasonic showed an 8K workspace, made up of two side-by-side 4K LCD monitors equipped with touchscreen overlays.

The 800-pound gorilla in this space is, of course, Barco’s ClickShare. There are three iterations of the product, with the top-of-the-line CSE 800 allowing 8 shared screens at the same time through dual 4K display outputs. Crestron had a demo of AirMedia that claimed higher bandwidth than Solstice (1.6 Mb/s), full network security, .05 seconds latency (there’s that latency thing again!), and enterprise management software.

There was even a minor controversy at ISE. Barco posted a press release stating that they had “instructed bailiffs to approach the booth of Kindermann and collect evidence of its Klick & Show wireless presentation system present at the show” to be used in patent infringement suits. Apparently, the same thing happened last year with Kanex Pro at ISE. What really happened was that nothing was taken from Kindermann’s booth, but the press release did create some discussion.

The continuing decrease in hardware costs are the real elephant in the room. Consider that it was possible to buy a 50-inch RCA 4K TV at Shop Rite the week before the Super Bowl, and you can clearly see just how quickly value is being sucked out of consumer and commercial AV gear. In addition to the “hang and bang” projector market getting hammered by ever-cheaper and larger LCD displays (which are moving quickly to 4K resolution exclusively), AV signal management equipment – switchers, distribution amplifiers, and extenders – is susceptible to this ‘dollar store’ trend as more and more brands come to market with hardware largely manufactured in Asia.

The AV-over-IT business is a clear example. Most IT products are sold through distribution and it’s likely that most AV products will follow that path in the near future. The core products for any AV-over-IT installation are encoders and decoders, and more than a few products I saw are being sourced from China. Indeed, more than one booth at ISE featured the same exact product in a different housing, the only differential being price and perhaps a few bells and whistles.

One thing is for certain. Many large companies who have ruled the AV roost for decades are finding themselves in an unfamiliar position these days, trying to keep up with the pack as the migration to AV-over-IT continues. We’ll see how the trend plays out at InfoComm in June…

Useful Gadgets: Optoma ML300 LED Projector

Back in June, during my annual Display Technology Trends on Super Tuesday at InfoComm in Las Vegas, I singled out two products that showed just how far technology has advanced in the past decade. The first was Nikon’s CoolPix 8200, a $250 point-and-shoot camera with 16 megapixels of resolution, 16x optical zoom, multi-zone focus, HDMI output, ISO speeds to 3200, and an amazingly compact form factor.

The other was Optoma’s ML300 LED projector, which I compared in performance to my late, lamented Sony VPH-D70 CRT projector. The latter – which was the centerpiece of my home theater until 2006 – could crank out about 170 – 200 lumens, had three 7” CRTs, weighed about 140 pounds, had a maximum resolution of 1280×720, and zero support for digital connections. (Oh, and it cost $12,000 new.)

Hard to believe this pipsqueak replaced a 140-pound CRT projector!

The ML300 was a perfect benchmark against the VPH-D70. It has a native resolution of 1280×800 pixels, using a single DLP imaging device. Like the Sony CRT projector, it is ‘lampless,’ relying on discrete red, green, and blue light-emitting diode chips to provide illumination.

But it weighs considerably less – 1.4 pounds, about the same as the Remote Commander keyboard remote that came with the VPH-D70. And it offers ‘instant on’ operation, with an estimated LED life of 20,000 hours to half-brightness. There’s no convergence required; no keystone correction (it’s automatic) to fool with, and the ML300 supports all the standard HD and SD video formats, plus a host of computer resolutions.

Significantly, it will set you back all of $499. I’m not sure I could have replaced the Remote Commander for that price!

Remember when cell phones were bigger than this?

 

With more projector manufacturers jumping on the ‘lamp free’ bandwagon at InfoComm, it’s a good time to take a closer look at one of these marvels. Right now, projectors are under assault by large, inexpensive LCD monitors and TVs, and one reason is the need to replace lamps – they’re not cheap, and stockpiled lamps can turn out to be defective months after their warranty runs out when you actually need them.

There are no such worries with LED (and laser) light engines. Yes, they eventually will croak – all electronics do. But the probability of them not lighting up after sitting idle for several months is very low. And, they’re more friendly to the environment (projector lamps contain salts of mercury, and that’s something we don’t need more of in our water and air!).

OUT OF THE BOX

Did I mention that the LM300 was tiny? You can hold it in the palm of your hand. (Actually, you can hold it for quite a while in the palm of your hand – it’s that light!) The housing measures all of 7.2” long by 4.4” deep and sits 1.8” tall. That would slip very nicely into my computer bag.

The lens is mounted off-center and is a varifocal type with a zoom ratio of 1.5:1. That means you need to place it about 15 feet away from a 10’ wide screen to fill the width. Projected images have a 100% plus offset, meaning they will sit above the top of the lens. The projector also has automatic digital keystone correction that you can override.

 

Here are the main inputs – VGA, HDMI, and composite video.

 

As far as connectivity goes, the ML300 comes with a 15-pin VGA input jack (just can’t kill off analog, can we?) that is compatible with resolutions from VGA to WXGA, a mini HDMI input for standard video resolutions to a maximum of 1920x1080p/60, and a micro USB connector for playing back JPEG images from a flash drive. There’s also a full-size USB port on the real panel.

You have to look real hard to find it, but yes, there is a composite video connection (can’t kill that off, either) through a micro 2.5mm breakout plug that also provides analog audio to RCA jacks. A mini (3.5mm) stereo audio jack is included to loop out audio from a PC or from the connected HDMI source.

One thing you will realize in short order is that normal VGA and HDMI cables will pull this projector all over the table. In fact, a VGA connection looks kind of ridiculous into the ML300 – the plug is enormous, compared to the I/O side panel. The Mini HDMI connection is more reasonable, but you may have some trouble finding this cable. (I bought a few through Amazon.com for the sum of $11.)

The supplied remote control is so small that you need to keep it in a secure place – it would be easy to lose. These remotes are commonly referred to as ‘credit card’ remotes, but in reality, they are about 2/3 the width.

 

And here’s what the rear panel looks like. The power switch is in the upper left corner.


REMOTE AND MENUS

Speaking of remotes…there aren’t a lot of buttons to play with on the ML300. Aside from the power button, you’ll find navigation buttons, direct links to the video, HDMI, and VGA inputs, a high-low power operation selector, a mute button, and a home button to take you to the top menu.

Here, you can select inputs, play video directly from a micro SD memory card, view JPEG photos, connect to an external laptop or PC for display through the USB connections, and select whether you want a wide or truncated color space. (LEDs can output tremendously saturated colors!)

The projector also has 2 GB of internal memory, on which you will find stored (ready for this?) the owner’s manual. Cool, eh? Between that memory and the USB and micro SD ports, you can load and immediately view JPEG and BMP files, plus Powerpoint, Word, Excel, and Acrobat documents. You can even connect via WiFi with an $30 accessory dongle to make a presentation.

You can also connect an iPhone, iPod, and iPad to the ML300 with an optional connectivity kit for really high-tech presentations. Again, you simply choose the appropriate input (WiFi or micro SD) and start presenting. I can’t imagine any input option that Optoma has forgotten.

I found the menu navigation a bit tricky. The remote has to be pointing at the right part of the projector, or it won’t respond. The projector’s top menu buttons are backlit, but don’t light up until you press one of them. And when you’ve made a selection, you have to confirm it with the ‘O’ button, or back out of a menu with the ‘X” button.

One continual problem I had was setting the truncated color gamut and having that setting stick. To do this, I had to hit the Home button (a little house) and go into the Display settings menu. It was easy enough to toggle to the smaller gamut, but the setting wouldn’t keep when I switched back to HDMI input.

I suspect that was because the extended display identification data (EDID) my computer was transmitting to the ML300 identified that it was operating in 32-bit more. That probably triggered the projector to use the extended gamut, which of course makes colors over-saturated when viewing video. But it is annoying that I couldn’t override the setting.

The only other image adjustment you can make is to gamma. By playing with this setting and the color gamut, you can achieve a more accurate representation of colors when playing back video. I should add that you can’t make any image adjustments when viewing an input.

PERFORMANCE

The ML300 is really a set it and forget it, ‘plug and play’ product that will generally give you great pictures. Just connect your source, turn it on, and present (or watch). But I thought it would be useful to measure some key parameters, such as gamma and color temperature.

But first, the brightness and contrast readings. I set the projector up in my theater and lit up a 92” Da-Lite Affinity screen, measuring 152 ANSI lumens in Film mode with the LEDs running at reduced power. That number jumped to 173 ANSI lumens in video mode and 198 ANSI lumens in Photo mode.

Cranking the LEDs to full power raised my brightness measurement to 232 ANSI lumens. That’s about 22% less than the Optoma specification. Contrast numbers were pretty good – not great – at 244:1 ANSI in low-brightness mode, with a peak reading of 342:1. 50/50 (white/black) contrast was logged at 313:1, and sequential black/white contrast measured 373:1.

Figure 1: Here’s the gamma curve for the HDMI input in film/video mode. It averages 2.13, which is a bit on the shallow side, and flattens out above 60 IRE.

 

Figure 2: The ML300’s color temperature is too high, but at least it’s consistent.

Figure 1 shows the standard gamma setting in film and video mode compared to PC mode. There’s not much of a difference, and the gamma is in the vicinity of 2.0 – 2.2 below 50 IRE. However, it becomes a straight line above 70 IRE and in PC mode, shows the slightest inclination to roll over and clip highlights.

Color temperature performance is a bit erratic, as seen in Figure 2.  You can’t set the color temperature manually, and it averages 7200 Kelvin to 7700 Kelvin in all input modes, depending on the gray level being shown. It would be nice if Optoma dialed the color temperature down about 100 degrees – it shouldn’t be hard to do with the LED light engine.

I will give this projector credit for being consistent. Figure 3 shows the RGB histogram film/video mode, and it is rock-steady. That means if Optoma could rebalance the color temperature to a more-palatable 6500K, it should stay right there from 0 to 100 IRE.

Figure 3: That’s a remarkably steady RGB histogram, even at low gray levels.

 

Now, about the wide color gamut: Figure 4 shows just how big it is, and that’s what LEDs deliver- saturated, intense colors that go far beyond the limited shades that can be shown in the BT.709 HDTV standard.

Some folks love these ‘deep’ colors. Well, they certainly do ‘pop’ off the screen, but flesh tones are exaggerated as a consequence and some colors are not accurate (greens in particular can shift in hue). While you can select the smaller gamut as seen in Figure 5, it seems to switch back to a wide gamut when you select your signal source, particularly if that source supports extended color bit depths. A manual override would be nice!

Figure 4: Got color? You betcha!

 

Figure 5: The ML300’s truncated color gamut is quite a bit closer to the BT.709 HDTV standard. Good luck selecting it, though.

PERFORMANCE

For Viewing PC content, the ML300 more than carries its weight. You’ll get the best image quality if you drive it at its native 1280×800 resolution, which just happens to be the native/preferred timing stored in the projector’s EDID. It’s also quite happy with 1280×720 in RGB mode. Otherwise, the remaining PC formats it supports are all 4:3.

The projector takes a few seconds to recognize, poll, and lock up to an HDMI signal. That’s because it’s reading EDID first and then looking for copy protection keys if your source is a Blu-ray player, DVD player, or set-top box. If you have a computer with a Blu-ray drive (like my Toshiba Satellite), it will look for keys there, too. In fact, the projector takes longer to establish an HDMI connection than it does to power up. Weird…

Video quality isn’t up to that of a home theater projector, but what can you expect for $500? A handful of projector manufacturers are dabbling in LED light engines and the ones I’ve seen that are accurate in terms of gamut, color temperature, and gamma are many times more expensive than the ML300.

Still, the video quality you get is serviceable, especially if you are playing back progressive-scan material. And let’s face it; you’re not likely to use this projector in a home theater, particularly since you can’t really calibrate it.

CONCLUSION

In terms of ease of use and connectivity options, the ML300 rocks the house. I can’t see any faster way to get a presentation up and running, and the doggone thing is so lightweight that you can place it just about anywhere. (Watch you don’t trip on the power block cable, though!) And with a maximum power draw of 90 watts in high output mode, it doesn’t get all that hot. (Nor does it get all that noisy at 36 dB!)

I’d like to see Optoma re-work the menu to speed up navigation and allow changes to gamma and color gamut without exiting the input menu. As far as the accessory cables go, come on guys – I found a ten-foot Mini HDMI cable on Amazon for about $11.  Be a pal and throw one in the box, will ya?

 

Optoma ML300 LED portable projector

SRP: $499

 

Available from:

Optoma USA

3178 Laurelview Ct.
Fremont, CA 94538
Tel: (510) 897-8600
Fax: (510) 897-8601

www.optomausa.com

Useful Gadgets: Optoma ML300 LED Projector – Pete Putman

Optoma’s ML300 is but one of many LED-powered projectors that have come to market in the past few years. I haven’t paid a lot of attention to this category, because I think that any projectors rated at 100 lumens or lower will be killed off by the increasing use of tablets for small group presentations.

 

Projectors in the 100 – 500 lumens category are perhaps a bit more secure, provided they are compact enough and idiot-proof. This category, which Pacific Media Associates has labeled ‘new era’ projectors, is distinguished by small, lightweight form factors and solid-state (LED) light engines.

The ML300 is a 'looker' for certain.

 

Optoma’s ML300 falls right into the middle of that group. The factory brightness rating is 300 lumens in ‘bright’ mode, and the projector barely tips the scales at 1.4 pounds.

 

Think about that for a moment: back in 1994, Hitachi introduced a 500-lumen LCD projector that weighed 30 pounds, or twenty times as much as the ML300. My old 160-pound Sony CRT projector, also vintage mid-1990s and which used 7” tubes, could barely hit 200 lumens when calibrated.

 

Along comes this little bugger, which has about the same resolution (1280×800 pixels native on a single DLP chip), doesn’t require any convergence, and supports both analog and digital input signals. Given how closely I follow the world of display technology, not much really impresses me these days – but the ML300 does. (Along with my Nikon CoolPix 8200 16MP camera, but that’s another story!)

Small enough for you?

 

OUT OF THE BOX

 

There isn’t much to the ML300. It has a fixed-focal length lens (1.5:1 projection ratio), which (coincidentally) was the projection ratio of my old Sony projector. That means you can light up an 80”’ diagonal screen with a projection throw of 101 inches, or about eight and a half feet. A small elevating leg is all you’ll have to tilt the projector, which has a positive image offset and auto keystone correction.

 

In addition to being lightweight, the projector is also quite small, measuring 7.2” wide by 4.4” deep and 18” tall. The light engine is a 3-LED design that presents red, green, and blue sequentially to the WXGA imaging chip. It uses a bit of power – 90 watts peak, when the LEDs are run at full brightness – but those same LEDs should be good for 20,000 hours of operation before half-brightness.

 

Input connections are limited, but should encompass what you’ll need. On the side panel, you’ll find a full-size VGA connector (really an anachronism in 2012), a mini HDMI jack, an AV connector for composite video and stereo audio input (yes, there is a built-in 2 watt speaker), and a micro USB port for DisplayLink operation (display over USB).

 

On the rear panel, next to the power on/off button, Optoma has provided a microSD card slot for direct playback of files from memory cards, an analog audio output connector that has a headphone icon next to it, and a full-sized USB connector for flash cards. Use this port to view JPEGs or play back a Powerpoint show file. Not the usual connector complement you are used to, but hey – it’s 2012! (Get with the program!)

Here are the side input connectors.

And here's what the back side looks like.

 

MENUS AND OPERATION

 

A projector this small can’t have room for a power supply, so you’ll need to hook up the laptop-style external ‘brick’ supply. Push that rear-panel power button to get things started, and look for the credit card-sized remote control to change inputs and cycle through menu settings.

 

The HOME menu brings up five choices – Video, Audio, Photo, Input, Office Viewer, and Settings. In Video mode, you’ll see a list of any available video clips from memory cards. (Did I mention that the projector has 1.4 GB of internal storage available?)  The projector will cycle through an external USB flash drive, external microSD card, and then internal memory to search for and play back files.

 

Video files will be listed with a small thumbnail, while audio files are identified by filename only. JPEG photos show up with thumbnails for easier selection. You can also sequence your photos automatically in a slide show.

 

The INPUT menu lets you directly access any of the connections and slots. A small picture of each appears to ensure you don’t get mixed up. Wanna go wireless? Optoma offers a WiFi dongle for the ML300 as an accessory and you can access it too from the INPUT menu. As far as playback formats, the ML300 natively supports Powerpoint, Word, Excel, Acrobat (PDF) and bitmap (.BMP) in addition to JPEG.

 

The SETTING menu breaks down into Video Setting, Audio Setting, Display Setting, Slideshow, and System sub menus. In Display Setting mode, you can adjust LED brightness four ways (Bright, Cinema, Photo, and PC), select between Extended (full) color gamut and Standard (close to NTSC/BT.709), cycle between four different aspect ratios (4:3, 16:9, 16:10, Auto), choose one of four gamma presets (Presentation, Movie, Bright, and Standard), and select the projected image orientation (normal/inverted/ceiling/table).

 

I should add that in my tests, I could not get my color gamut choices to stick once they were selected. And you won’t find any ‘save’ button or prompt after you make your image adjustments. Every time I selected Standard color gamut (and you’ll see why momentarily) and cycled back to the HDMI input, the projector defaulted to Extended color mode. I could only force the Standard mode by using the analog VGA input.

 

In fact, the entire menu is a bit slow to use and the IR remote isn’t very responsive. You’ll have better results using the manual buttons to make your selections, but you may get confused (as I did) entering and backing out of sub-menus. I’d like to see Optoma put some more thought into making the menu more logical to navigate, along with improving the response of the IR remote.

 

Believe it or now, the ML300 also supports 3D playback using DLP Link, but the input signal must be in the 1024×768 (XGA) format @ 120 Hz refresh rate only – no 720p 0r 1080p 3D formats will be recognized.

 

ON THE TEST BENCH

 

Right now, you’re probably thinking, “How good can the image quality possibly be from that little pipsqueak?”  The answer: Better than you and I could have imagined. In fact, the ML300 produces images that are every bit as good as my old tuned-up Sony CRT, and I got these images with about 1/100th of the effort.

 

Is the color perfect? No, but it’s very close. How about gamma? Impressive for a projector in this price and size class. Black levels? Eh, they could be lower. Contrast? Not bad; could be a little higher.

Here's the gamma curve for the HDMI input in Movie mode - about 2.2.

 

Let’s start with brightness. After what limited calibration I could do (almost none), I measured brightness at 152 ANSI lumens in Movie mode. That number increased to 173 ANSI lumens in Photo mode, then jumped again to 198 ANSI lumens in PC mode. Flat-out brightness was measured at 232 ANSI lumens in Bright mode, a number my 7” CRT would be hard-pressed to equal.

 

Brightness uniformity was excellent at 85% to the average corner and 70% to the worst corner. I’ve tested conventional DLP projectors that can’t match those numbers, nor can they match the maximum color temperature shift across the ML300’s full white screen (314K).

 

Contrast measurements were decent, clocking in at 244:1 ANSI in Movie mode with peak intra-scene contrast at 342:1. A 50/50 contrast window yielded a 313:1 reading, while sequential (full black to full white) contrast was logged in the books at 373:1. Again, all numbers that my old CRT projector would be hard-pressed to match.

 

As far as gamma performance goes, the ML300 comes out of black a little too steeply in each preset image mode and starts to flatline between 60 – 70 IRE. But it doesn’t go into an S-curve response, nor does it clip at the high end. In Movie mode, I measured a 2.24 gamma, while the HDMI input showing video came in at 2.13.

Here's the color temperature track with a 720p HD signal. A little off at the beginning, but very consistent above 30 IRE.

And this RGB histogram shows why the color temperature track is so consistent.

 

Now for those color gamut plots: You’ll notice right away that the Extended color gamut is ENORMOUS, and big enough to take in all of the digital cinema P3 gamut, sRGB, the original NTSC, and even some laser-powered projector color spaces. Only the green coordinate is out of whack, although the projector’s response is similar to the CIE 1931 observer diagram. For P3, less cyan and more yellow is required.

 

The Standard gamut is a lot more subdued, and comes very close to the reference BT.709 HDTV color space. There’s just a little too much red and a little too much green, otherwise the colors would be right on the money. But again, it was impossible for me to force the projector into this truncated gamut when watching a Blu-ray movie through the mini HDMI connection – it kept defaulting back to the Extended setting, which made for some very interesting and over-saturated colors.

 

IMAGE QUALITY

Here's the flat-out, full-bore Extended color gamut of the ML300, compared to the BT.709 HDTV color space (white outline).

And here is the Standard gamut, again compared to the BT.709 color space. This is looking a lot more reasonable!

 

LED color appears differently to the eye than dichroic color derived by refracting white light. My test instruments say the two modes are the same, but they still look different to my eyes, just as LCD and DLP color appear differently from CRT color.

 

Even so, if you can tame the Extended gamut, watching a Blu-ray disc in Standard mode is just as impressive as a standard widescreen business/classroom projector and not all that far behind some of the low-priced home theater projector models with full calibration features. I picked How To Train Your Dragon in 2D as a test disc, along with Planet Earth on Blu-ray for my test videos.

 

Both had excellent sharpness and detail. They could have been brighter, but I was filling a 92-inch diagonal Da-Lite Affinity screen, which doesn’t exactly make for the brightest images. LEDs cycle as fast as you could want, so there were no motion blur or color wheel artifacts to distract me, even when viewing part of an NCAA basketball tournament game and a prime-time sitcom from NBC.

 

The ML300 does a passable job of processing 1080i sources to 1080p. It’s much happier with 1080p or 720p content, though. The frequency response is good all the way to 37.5 MHz with 720p multiburst test patterns, and there is some filling with 1080i and 1080p bursts. For computer presentations, try and match the native resolution for optimum sharpness and detail.

 

Granted, all of these tests are pushing this projector far beyond what it was intended to do, which is to sit on a conference room table and show Powerpoints. But Optoma clearly put some time and effort into the image quality, and you could be quite happy with the ML300 for those “let’s hang a sheet on the wall!” movie nights. God knows it’s easy enough to set up and knock down!

 

THE WRAP-UP

 

Optoma’s ML300 mobile LED projector is not a toy, nor is it just a garden-variety business projector. There’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye, and you can actually use it for viewing movies as easily as holding court in a small-group presentation.

 

The IR remote needs to be more responsive and the menu navigation is slow and sometimes confusing. A zoom lens would be nice, but you’ll get used to the 1.5:1 ratio quickly enough. The projector is pretty quiet (36 dB fan noise) and needs a low to mid-range gain screen, say 1.3 to 1.5.

 

But the ML300’s image quality will surprise you, especially if you remember how crazy the earliest LED projectors looked like a few years ago.

 

One note: The mini HDMI input connector is a bit unusual and you may not be able to find it easily at your local Radio Shack. I suggest looking on Amazon.com, where I found a pair of ten-foot regular HDMI to mini HDMI cables and two standard/mini HDMI adapters, all for $11.50 and free shipping. Your new point-and-shoot camera probably has mini HDMI connections, too, so these cables are very handy to have.

 

Optoma ML300 Mobile LED Projector

MSRP: $499.99

 

Available from:

 

Optoma

3178 Laurelview Court

Fremont, CA 94538

888-289-6786

www.optomausa.com

 

Pico Projectors: Cute, But Does Anyone Use Them?

You see them at trade shows and technical conferences. They’re available (by mail) from Staples and other retailers. Nikon has a digital camera (CoolPix S1000PJ, about $399) with a built-in projector, and Sony just announced three new models of camcorders equipped with projectors (HDR-PJ50V, $1000; HDR-PJ30V, $950, and HDR-PJ10, $750) at CES.

But who’s using them? Have you seen any in use for an office or classroom presentation? Do any of your friends and neighbors own a picoprojector? None of mine do, and I know a lot of ‘cutting edge’ techno freaks.

In my most recent Wake-Up Call e-blast for Pro AV magazine, I asked the same questions. Aside from trade show like CES and InfoComm and technology conferences such as SID, I have yet to see one of these little buggers in actual use.

Last night, on my way out of the local Giant grocery store, I passed by Larmon Photo, a regional camera retailer based in Abington, PA.  I’ve known the folks at Larmon for many years and have purchased quite a few digital cameras there.

Nikon's S1000PJ digital camera with built-in projector.

Larmon is an authorized Nikon dealer and sells a ton of Nikon digital SLRs and CoolPix point-and-shoot cameras. So that means they’d also carry the CoolPix S1000PJ in their line.

I asked my friend at the store if they carried the camera, and indeed they have since it was launched in the fall of 2009. But have they sold any of them since then? Not a one.

In fact, he said they had never gotten a single inquiry about the S1000PJ, but they have moved bucket loads of other, less-expensive CoolPix cameras in the past year and a half.

Last week, I had lunch with a client who works for a second-tier projector manufacturer. (His company doesn’t sell picos, by the way.)  His comment was that he regarded picoprojectors as ‘rebound’ products – that is, they are frequently returned to AV dealers after purchase. The most common reason was ‘it’s not bright enough.’ (In fact, one of his dealers reported he had customers trying to return more picoprojectors than he had originally sold!)

Picoprojectors have two things working against them. First, most of them are simply too dim. How big an image can you reasonably project with 10, 20, or 30 lumens? Even 50 lumens isn’t much to start with when you are making a small group presentation. You’d be better off using a larger notebook computer screen, as you wouldn’t have to dim the room lights.

Secondly, picoprojectors are EXPENSIVE. Really! Staples sells a few models of picoprojectors – all of which must be ordered by mail with a 5 – 8 day delivery cycle, no stores carry them – and they start at $300 (Optoma PK201, 20 lumens, 852×480 resolution). Staples also carries the Optoma PK301 (50 lumens, 854×480 resolution, $400) and the 3M MPro 150 (15 lumens, 640×480 resolution, $400).

3M' MPro 150 pocket projector.

Hmmm…For $360, you can buy an NEC NP115 (800×600 resolution, 2500 lumens) that weighs all of 5 pounds, and will project big images on just about any surface under full room lighting. It doesn’t fit in your pocket, but has three video inputs and varifocal lens.

See the problem here? $400 is a lot of money to spend on something that can barely light up a sheet of paper three feet away. And yet, numerous companies are spending lots of money to develop and bring these products to market, including Texas Instruments, 3M, Optoma, Vivitek, Syndiant, Microdisplay, and ViewSonic.

In my Wake-Up Call newsletter, I mentioned that I saw tablet computers as a direct threat to picoprojectors. And apparently a good part of the picoprojector industry agrees, according to a January 3 press release from Pacific Media Associates, which surveyed pico manufacturers and suppliers about the present and future market for picos. (Apparently, 70,00 of them were sold in 2010 – who knew?)

I noticed several negative user comments about picos, mostly focused on low light output and how impractical the projectors turned out to be.  Here’s one comment from the Staples Web site: “Performance leaves a LOT to be desired. Product says it has adjustable brightness, but was too dim to use in a room with any light what so ever, and brightness would not adjust. Might be a good item for a very small room with no light and limited attendees.” Here’s another. “No practical use for this product. Great for use in a closet!”

To be fair, there were also a couple of positive reviews of this particular pocket projector. But there are no user reviews of the two other picoprojectors on the Staples Web site so far, even though they’ve been available for over a year.

At CES, TI had a demo room full of picos – built-in to cameras and tablets, as well as stand-alone models with brightness ranges approaching a more practical 500 lumens. But 500 lumens isn’t a real pico; it’s just an underpowered ultraportable projector. Most of the demos were just too dim to be of any practical use.

So I repeat my question. Does anybody use picoprojectors? Does anybody even want a picoprojector?

How about you?

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/