Do You Need a 1080p Resolution Home Theater Projector?
The Battle Between 1080p and 720p projectors
Time to get a bit technical, to describe a capability found on many of the new 1080p projectors that is almost unheard of with 720p projectors:
1080p 24fps Capable Projectors
Traditionally movies are shot at 24 frames per second. However, "TV" and DVD's traditionally have relied on 30 frames per second (progressive) or 60 frames per second (interlaced).
This has always created a problem - how to convert 24 frames into, essentially 30 or 60.
To do so, a process known as 3:2 pulldown (or some call it 2:3 pulldown) has been used for years and years. Essentially one method is to start with 24 fps, and to repeat the first frame 3 times, the 2nd frame twice, the 3rd frame 3 times....
If you do the math, with 24 frames in 1 second, you end up with half - 12 frames, being repeated for a total of 3 times = 36 frames. Then you have the other 12 frames x 2 times = 24. 24 + 36 = 60 frames per second, which gets reduced to 30 frames per second progressive scan.
Problem is that doing the 3/2 gives you an image which is not smooth, and sure enough if the image is panning, or there is fast moving action in the scene, you will just barely notice a bit of jerkiness to the image. This is referred to as "judder" or sometimes "jutter".
Either way, it is not desirable. I have always noticed it however slightly, and I believe that the nature of projection (really large screen sizes) makes it a bigger issue than for, say, "small" sets - like Plasmas, LCDTVs, and standard RPTVs.
Today, however, many of the new 1080p projectors are designed to accept a 24fps signal, and NOT apply 3:2 pulldown. Instead they simply display the 24 fps, as is, or more commonly, at 2X (48fps) 3X (72fps) or 4X (96fps). I'm not sure of the actual advantages of using the higher multiples, since, ultimately (with 3X) you are still repeating each frame 3X which should be about the same as simply holding the single frame 3 times as long. I assume there is some perceived advantage, but it's not worth debating here.
It would seem that most of the 1080p projectors are now supporting 24fps without 3:2 pulldown, and that is an improvement! Of the four 1080p projectors reviewed to date (BenQ, Optoma, Panasonic, Mitsubishi), all four support 24fps, without 3:2 pull-down. In addition, I believe that is also true for three of four scheduled 1080p reviews - for the Sony VW50 (Pearl), JVC RS-1, and Sim2 Domino. The fourth is the Epson Pro Cinema 1080p, and I simply don't know yet, but I suspect that it too will support 24fps, as described.
Bottom line - the crop of 1080p projectors out there will provide visibily smoother content to watch from original 24fps sources (movies), than virtually any 720p projector.
What you plan to watch can be an important factor: Source Material
Having a 1080p projector may provide a slightly more detailed image than a 720p projector when viewing low res source material, like standard definition TV, or for that matter, standard DVDs. Certainly the smaller pixels will allow a touch more resolution of details, even if the source is lower resolution than either 720p or 1080p projectors.
If you feed both a 1080p or a 720p projector source material that is 1080 resolution - from either hi-def dvd format - Blu-Ray or HD-DVD - or from a 1080i HDTV feed, you will see the biggest gain in sharpness and detail with the 1080p projectors. If the HDTV channel you are watching is broadcast in 720p instead, the difference gets murkier. Again, the 1080p projectors have an advantage, but the 720p source has to be upscaled to 1080, and that can cause a slight loss in sharpness.
The bottom line here, for most people, though, is how much 'hi-def" is available, be it movies, HDTV, video games, etc.
For those of you not ready to pony up for hi-def DVD capability, you are pretty much limited to HDTV sources. That means anywhere from 8 - 20 channels of HDTV (except that most don't run HDTV resolution source material all the time). For example - segments from ESPN Sports Center, and many football games - may be broadcast to you in hi-def, but the underlying content is still low-def and looks the part.
If you are a movie fan, then HD-DVD players will cost around $400 - $800, while $500 - $1500 is the selling price range for Blu-ray DVD players. The least expensive way to be able to play Blu-Ray disks right now is by buying a Sony PS3 game machine which plays Blu-ray movies. Similarly if you are an X-Box 360 game machine owner, you can buy an add-on from Microsoft for $199 - an HD-DVD player, which would be your least expensive entry into HD-DVD.
The important point here is you have to decide if you are going to make other investments that will give you sufficient hi-def content, to make buying a 1080p projector more practical.
Some would say - OK, I can live with a 720p projector for now. After all, most of my content is standard DVD or TV, and when I do watch HDTV it looks great anyway. In a year or so, when HD-DVD and Blu-Ray players are around $100 or so, and there are dozens and dozens of HD channels, then is when I'll make my move.
Others will want to get started with Blu-ray or HD-DVD sooner, rather than later. Consider - each standard DVD you buy in the next year or two, you will probably want to replace with a hi-def version down the road, so why not start buying them now and save the cost of doing it twice. Then, of course, there are not quite 200 titles shipping today (2/07) out of many thousands of titles, so the selection is rather limited. (But just wait until the 2nd half of '07.) Why rush into hi-def DVD players now? The answer is simple: Hi def DVD's look way better than standard ones - it's not just resolution, but a dramatic increase in color dynamics. No comparison at all. If you have ever seen a movie on HDTV, and then popped in the same flick into your regular DVD player, you know what a huge drop in quality you get, switching to standard DVD.
Perhaps I should call this "Art's Unified Theory of When to Take Hi Definition Seriously?"
High priced hi-def DVD players ($400+)
Limited content available on hi-def DVDs (around 200 titles out of 5000+)
Limited content on HDTV
Most 1080p projectors: $3995 - $7995
One year later:
Very affordable hi-def DVD players (from $99, or at worst $149)
1500 - 2000 titles available for hi-def DVDs
2-3 times more true HDTV content available than now
Most 1080p projectors: $2495 - $6995
I admit that, for many, the temptation to hold off on 1080p projectors for now, makes sense - prices will fall, models will get brighter, and there will be a lot more source material available this time next year.
Certainly, if you are holding off on adding hi-def DVD players (Blu-ray or HD-DVD) to your room, it is going to be very hard to rationalize spending the extra bucks for 1080p now. If you were to buy an inexpensive 720p projector today, it's cost would be more than offset by drops in the prices of the hi-def players and the 1080p projectors. No doubt you'ld be able to relagate the 720p projector to the kid's bonus room, or sell it, and buy an 1080p projector in a year, along with hi-def players, and still end up spending less than buying the players and 1080p projector today.
On the other hand, things are always going to improve, but if the bucks are available now, and you know that you are the type that appreciates images on a large screen that look so real, that they appear as if you were looking out a window, then, why wait!?
And on that note, remember quality will continue to improve. Some buying 1080p projectors today, very well will upgrade in 3-4 years, to get the latest and greatest in performance, as they do with their other technologies.
Waiting? What advantages will the next generation 1080p projectors offer:
Of course, there will be incremental improvements in image quality, as can be expected every year at every resolution. And of course, falling prices.
Perhaps the two largest areas of change, however will be having a few more 1080p models to choose from, which will for many, ease placement problems, and also that there will be more brighter projectors. One of the most exciting 1080p products shown at CES last month (1/07), was Optoma's early prototype HD81HV, that they demo'd. Although not available until 3rd quarter (and that's not allowing for slippage), the HD81HV is primarily a much brighter HD81 - one that Optoma says will have between 2000 and 2500 lumens maximum (vs the current 1300). Now this is huge!
I would also expect more brightness at the lower end of the budget, with the Panasonic and Mitsubishi lines. If Panasonic can currently cram 2000 lumens into their 720p box, I would expect that the PT-AE1000U replacement next fall, will be at least 30 - 50% brighter than the PT-AE1000U. Also the Mitsubishi, which runs almost dead silently, would be an ideal candidate for a much brighter lamp - and new fan system, that, together, I would think, could increase brightness by 50%. And, I'm really hoping that Sony and JVC can add some serious lumens to their LCOS projectors, which would really boost their position in the market, and finally establish LCOS (be it D-ILA, SXRD, or another proprietary name), finally as a major player.
Overall image quality should improve, but no doubt improvements will be somewhat incremental, slightly better contrast, improved dynamic irises (where appropriate), quieter (maybe or maybe not if the next generation is brighter), and so on. From an image processing standpoint. today's 1080p's may be first generation, but they have all the established technologies that have been refined in a half dozen generations of 720p projectors.