Acer PH530: 720p Home Theater Projector Review - Image Quality
Acer PH530 Home Theater Projector: Skin Tones
As noted on the Overview, the out-of-the-box color performance of the PH530 is off, but is correctable. This will be covered in greater detail in the calibraton section on the General Performance page. All comments on the rest of this page, (unless otherwise specified), are based on performance after a grayscale adjustment.
Skin tones turned out to be rather good, especially for such a low cost projector. But if you don't make the necessary adjustments, you'll find skin tones to be too reddish, and you might spot a bit too much green in skin shadow areas, such as around the neck.
For your consideration, first, two images from Lord of the Rings, from a standard definition (SD-DVD) disk. The other images provided are all from hi-definition Blu-ray disk movies.
Time for the usual notice: The images in this review are here to help support the commentary, not the other way around. There is no practical way to show images that closely show the full capabilities of a good projector. No monitor on your desk can come close to the black levels of most home theater projectors, even my digital SLR camera comes up way short of being able to capture the full dynamic range of the projected image. Worse there's no color matching system, so that what I see on the screen in terms of accurate color, are going to look the same on your computer (or mine). So, take the images with a great many "grains of salt", and enjoy. They can be helpful in comparing projectors, but remember, all of them are inherently compromises.
These images above, should give you some idea of the skin tone handling abilities of the PH530. Overall, I found the 530's performance in this area to be very respectable.
Also for your consideration is one side by side comparison image with the Acer on the left, and BenQ's slightly more expensive W500, on the right.
Acer PH530 Black Levels and Shadow Detail
When it comes to both black levels and shadow detail, the PH530's performance, once again is respectable, but nothing special. In all fairness, though, since the PH530 is the least expensive 720p projector in the US, at least this month, that's not such a bad thing.
Black levels themselves are ok. They definitely could be better. My opinion is that both competing DLP projectors, the Optoma HD70, and the Mitsubishi HC1500, do a slightly better job. I'm not talking a difference that you would normally notice, if you saw the PH530 today, at a friend's house, and tomorrow, either of those at another friend's house, but the slight performance difference is there.
If I had to say which one does the PH530 do better - shadow detail or black levels, I'd have to say black levels. Shadow detail truly wasn't bad, and much better than the BenQ W500 (as you will see immediately below).
Click on the side by side for a larger version, as usual. The second set is intentionally overexposed, which will show a bit more.
Here's a closeup of the building above.
Above is the Acer, below, the BenQ
While you are observing the two images above, also look at the sharpness. You can see that the BenQ is definitely the sharper of the two.
Ok, back to our black levels and shadow detail.
The satellite photo looks pretty good, but blacks are not as dark, "inky black", as more expensive projectors. Most of the dim stars are visible.
This overexposed (above) image of Clint Eastwood in Space Cowboys, reveals a respectable amount of shadow information in the wall on the right half of the image, but the blacks don't get black enough to bring out all the information.
Next is an image from Lord of the Rings. This image below is badly overexposed so you can see the details that the projector captures in the shed on the right, along the ground and the structure on the left. This image is available in most reviews done in the last couple of years.
Our last image is from Space Cowboys, and is an overexposed image of the re-entry scene. Click on the left thumbnail image. Look for subtle detail in the right side of the earth. The image to the right will be from the Panasonic PT-AX200U, a projector I am reviewing right now. It will be plugged in in a few days, and I'll update this content.
OK, one last comparison. Click on the thumbnail image below left for the PH530 image (overexposed so you can make out what details in the satellite on the left, are visible on the screen). The right image is a similar frame, shot with of the Mitsubishi HC1500. Unfortunately, the level of overexposure isn't identical (never is), but you can still understand which projector makes it easier to make out these shadow details.
And our final image, the table scene from Aeon Flux (Blu-ray Dvd). The detail of the table surface itself, and the shadows, are good indicators of shadow detail. Look also for the dynamics of the dark colors of the various fruit, and the liquid in the snifter at the lower right.
Acer PH530 home theater projector: Sharpness
As I have already mentioned, the sharpness of the PH530 is not spectacular. The BenQ definitely a very slight edge, and as I've been watching the Panasonic PT-AX200U today. I'll give the advantage to the Panasonic despite the fact that Panasonic's SmoothScreen technology does sacrifice some sharpness for invisible pixels. On the left is the thumbnail image for the Acer, and on the right, for the BenQ. Of course the BenQ is an LCD projector, so pixels are more visible. Step back from the enlarged images, to compare. In some cases, I should note, the Acer does appear a touch sharper, but usually, as with the monitor scene below, it's where the higher contrast ratio of the DLP Acer, helps very small objects stand out. I don't want to quibble here, because all of these projectors have sharpness settings, and you can up the sharpness of one, and drop the other, and reverse your impressions. When you do oversharpen, though you tend to get a bit of ghosting where dark and bright meet.
This next image is from Aeon Flux, on Blu-Ray. Note the sharpness in her eyes, and in the lose strands of her hair:
Lastly, a cropped view of a computer monitor from Space Cowboys on Blu-Ray. Again, a similar image is found in most reviews, so you can compare. Readability of the type on the computer screen is the key, and the HC6000 does exceptionally well. The thumbnail to the right is the Sharp XV-Z20000, as mentioned is virtually identical but here shows a slight edge. Don't forget, all these projectors have a sharpness control. I am generally very careful to minimize artifacts caused by over-sharpening, but I do not really fine tune each one.
Click on the left thumbnail for a large, cropped version of the original frame, and the right for the same, from the BenQ W500 projector:
Acer PH530 Overall Picture Quality
How do I best say this? The Acer produces good overall picture quality, however, the image is a bit soft, and while, overall, the picture quality is well balanced, the PH530 doesn't shine in any particular area.
So, what you end up with is a home theater projector that puts a pleasing image on the screen, but won't appeal to those really into technology and pure performance.
The nature of projectors, however, assuming they are properly placed in a room that can be almost fully darkened, is that the PH530 will still wow viewers. Sure, in a side by side, you can find a better picture for $100 - $250 more, but will you ever have the opportunity, or care? The answer for most is, no.
Nothing about watching many hours on the PH530 ever jumped out and said - yuck, nor did anything scream "what an awesome picture". The Acer PH530 home theater projector, once adjusted, simply does a good, not exceptional job. Now, if the budget is really tight, that's pretty good place to be. Let's just say that the PH530, is more of a Chevy or Kia, than a Mazda, Subaru, Accura, or Lexus. (In all fairness, Chevy does have On-Star).
Here are some general purpose images (all from Blu-ray disk), that reflect the overall picture quality of the PH530.
OK! Time to look at some other performance aspects of the Acer PH530, including brightness, menus, remote control, and screen recommendations.