The Art of Home Theater Projectors

CES 2013: The Wonderful World of 4K Ultra-HD and 3D – Our Time Has Almost Come

Greetings,   Yes, projector owners, Our time has almost come.  It is time for us to prepare, to consider, to plan our home theater – and home entertainment future.  4K is almost upon us, and 3D is being taken more and more seriously by more than a few of the greatest Directors out there.  This conversation addresses both 4K – Ultra-HD, and 3D, and the impact of both together.

Let’s consider that thought in terms of some of today’s great directors, and consider who’s directing 3D movies.  Although I’m skipping most of the directors of “mostly for kids” animated films, I will start with Lee Unkrich of Toy Story 3.  If you didn’t see it in 3D, you really didn’t see it at its best.  Want big names?  Check these film directors:

The Hobbit - An Incredible 3D Movie Adventure

James Cameron, (Avatar, Titanic remake, etc.)
Peter Jackson (The Hobbit)
Martin Scorsese (Hugo)
Robert  Zemekis (Beowulf, A Christmas Carol, The Polar Express)
Barry Sonnenfeld (Men In Black 3)
Spielberg (The Adventures of Tintin, he’s also produced a significant number of 3D movies)

and some up and comers:
Sam Raimi (upcoming: Oz: The Great and Powerful – he wrote Back To the Future)
Baz Luhrmann (wrote Moulin Rouge, directing The Great Gatsby).

BTW I’ve seen a 3D trailer of The Great Gatsby, what a feast for the eyes, even if you disagree with my wife who thinks DiCaprio is gorgeous.

The only thing I can’t figure out is what’s holding Tarantino back from directing his first 3D movie.  It seems so natural that he would.  He’s a known huge fan of 3D, and per iMDB (two years ago): Tarantino has been a fan of 3D movies for several years and wishes he had acquired the technology prior to the release of Kill Bill: Vol. 1.   IMDB also said at the time, of Tarantino; “he’s hinted he may use the technology for Kill Bill: Vol. 3, which is due for release in 2014.

OK, have I convinced you that much of the real talent in Hollywood is into 3D (Hey, it’s also rumored that we’ll see some 3D that’s Star Wars related from George Lucas.)

OK, enough name dropping of 3D directors (the full list, is huge).

When home theater projectors started appearing (Runco not withstanding), back at the beginning of the 21st Century (wow, that sure “sounds” long ago and far away), the highest resolution source material we had to view was the standard DVD.  Compared to Blu-ray or HDTV, a standard DVD is a relatively pathetic 853×480 resolution.   That’s barely 1/6 the number of pixels we’re used to with 1080p.  If you have a 100″ wide screen you could think of the resolution of DVD this way:  8.53 dots per inch.  No wonder no one wanted to sit closer than 15+ feet away back then.

That said, Blu-ray and 1080p still have come up seriously short (for us projector folks) NOT watching on some tiny little 42″, 55″, or 65″ LCDTV. 1080p on that same 100″ wide screen is still only 19.2 DPI.   (Think ink jet printers at 600 and 1200 dpi.)  At least at 4K, one square inch (on a 100″ wide screen) will have almost 1600 pixels in that square inch.  Compared to slightly less than 400, at 1080p, and only about 70 at DVD resolution.  All you metric folks out there, you can divide all these DPI numbers by approximately 6.45 to get the number of pixels per square centimeter.

In other words, when it comes to fully immersing yourself in a movie, or sports at 1080p (or 1080i) resolution, in order to not have too soft an image due to the “low resolution” of 1080p, you still have to sit pretty far back – let’s say the equivalent of the back of a typical movie theater, perhaps a little closer than that, or further back still.

And that brings us to where we want to be sitting.  The reason hundreds of millions of people who own nice sized LCDTVs and Plasmas head to the the local Cineplex (movie theater) many times a year, is due to two reasons:

1:  Some just can’t wait 3 months until most titles come out on Blu-Ray, or can be downloaded.

2:  The key one as far as I’m concerned:
Watching a movie on a 60″ screen just isn’t going to immerse you like going to the theater – you definitely do not have that “theater” experience.  No cigar, three strikes, no joy.  Sadness!   For 100′s of millions, movie or not, the only experience is still just “watching TV” not the excitement of a  “movie premier”.

What is the answer?  Well for sure, 8K resolution would be great, but that will take probably 6 years. (For conversation purposes consider 2K and 1080p to be interchangeable terms, and also 4K and Ultra HD, to be interchangeable.)  Ultra-HD is twice the pixels vertically and horizontally of 1080p:  3840×2160 (8.3 megapixels).

Since I just mentioned 8K, note that they are definitely experimenting with 8K over in Japan.  Over here, though, the next great thing is Ultra-HD – 4K resolution.  It’s not perfect, but it’s a much bigger jump in resolution than going from 720p to 1080p!

And it sure will work for me.  Especially in 3D.   Why?   Because I do have a home theater – in most ways its better than any movie theater in good old California.  (I could argue the advantages of Imax.)  Oh, I recently visited  the theaters for Django and Zero Dark Thirty, but also for the incredible The Hobbit, Life of Pi, and more.

Mostly I stick to Imax, because I really haven’t been satisfied in any thing less.  This is California – which probably fire safety laws demand so much ambient light, that, as I mentioned recently, the movies have no blacks.  When viewing Les Miz, the black levels on the screen were inferior to watching any $999 home theater projector in a half way decent room with lights off.  I think I put it about the equal of the black levels of the recently reviewed Epson Home Cinema 750HD (an entry level 3LCD 720p projector).

Oh, true, we have yet to be allowed to bring DCI color gamut to the home (soon we hope), so the theaters do have slightly more color range, but with all that ambient light forget appreciating that difference!

OK, where am I going with this?  You home theater experience should blow away the local movie theaters. But, then most of the digital theaters these days are using 4K projectors. So the size of the screen to your eyes, can be a lot larger in the theater, thanks to twice the resolution (horizontally and vertically).  That is, you have to sit relatively “further back” at home (smaller perceived screen size), to maintain a sharp image.

With 4K, our home theaters will have parity with the movie theaters, and that can’t happen too soon.

I like sitting about 1/3 to 1/2 back in a good movie theater.  To get that much immersion in my home with a projector, on my 124″ diagonal 2.35:1 (wide) screen, as sitting 1/3 back, I need roughly to sit about 6-8 feet back.  As it stands, with 2K (1080p), at 10 feet back, in my theater, the screen still appears smaller than I would like it to appear, but I’m already just shy of the point where pixels are becoming visible on normal content.

Give me 4K – Ultra-HD, and 6 feet back becomes viable. at 8 feet, the term should be razor sharp, on a screen my size at 4K.  Note, time perhaps to convince Stewart, SI, Da-Lite, Elite, Draper, etc. to commit to offering us affordable curved screens!

And that brings us back to 3D.   I am a 3D fanatic.  (root word:  fan)  3D is not a gimmick.

If you remember nothing else from this article:  Please, try to remember that about the only things humans do on this planet that isn’t in 3D is read, write, and watch movies and TV.  The rest of our lives are in 3D.  Off topic:  Anyone out there dream in 3D?  (Sadly, I don’t remember my dreams.)

You will get to know 3D, it will not go away.  Every year, more and more blockbusters are in 3D, and for the movie snobs among us (no offense) not just blockbusters, more and more great movies too.  The kind that do win Best Picture, Best Actor…  Perhaps some one should wonder if some great blockbusters would have been great without 3D (Avatar comes to mind, Hugo, I think made an excellent 2D movie, but pales compared to the 3D version.)

Why, because it’s not a gimmick, it more closely resembles reality.

People 3D is not what you see the first 5 minutes you have the glasses on.  In most cases, that’s when you are going, “wow, 3D is cool” or “look at that” or “this is weird” (for those not fans).

Folks it’s about the next 2 or 3 hours of 3D, when unless it’s a kids 3D movie where the director is intentionally throwing 3D effects at you, that you forget that you are watching 3D.  Instead you are watching the movie, you are viewing and listening to the story, as it should be.  With real depth.  Things just are more natural.  More REAL, more believable.

And that’s true as long as 3D isn’t being treated as a gimmick by the director.

I can’t imagine watching a great or even good movie in 2D after seeing it on Imax, or in my home theater, in 3D.   It would be like stripping away the color, or maybe more like reducing the color saturation so that bright colors are instead pale.

Giving up great 3D is like taking the life out of a picture.  No, it’s not going to change the story, but great 3D will make “suspending disbelief a whole lot easier.  You will be more immersed in the world you are watching, and your brain (once used to 3D) will make everything more intense, believable.

Again, we’re talking serious 3D, not gimmicky Captain EO, or Journey to the Center of the Earth, putting objects 6 inches from you nose (so your eyes go cross-eyed).

So, projector fans, our time is fast approaching.  In another year or two, many of us will have taken advantage –  viewing true 4K (not gimmicks there either), on 3D content.  (or so we can only hope).

It really pleases me to think of viewing the beauty of Life of Pi in 4K 3D from 6-7 feet back from my 124″ screen in a pitch black home theater, or viewing the in-your-face action, and world building, and story of The Hobbit in 4K 3D.  That experience should have us wondering, in just a few years, how we survived in a world where 1080p and 2D was king.  It’s like looking back from 1080p to that old DVD with WVGA resolution, and pixels bigger than BBs,  1080p will be that same type of dinosaur, an important footnote in history, but not anything we’d want to actually have to suffer through.  (OK, I am getting carried away.)

And of course, 8K will follow 4K.   If only we could speed up the clock of change.

I am speaking from experience.  As noted, I did get to view a few things 3D and 4K in my theater, – including the trailer for Spiderman, on the true 4K Sony VPL-VW1000ES projector.  Thank you Sony, for sending me a server with such content, with the projector.

I’m done “waxing eloquent” (a phrase I don’t think I’ve ever used before, but always admired), about the future.  But for those of you who so far have considered 3D a toy, or just “have no interest”.  I ask only that you keep an open mind.  I’d hate to see you left behind.  Donot miss the 3D worlds you will be able to view in the future in your home  They should be far better,  for the naturalness of 3D, and for the improved resolution that will allow us to have a large enough field of view to be as fully immersed as possible.

Geez, after writing all of this, I think I better catch The Hobbit one more time in an IMAX 3D theater if I can still find one still showing it…  (I just looked, nearest 3D IMAX that still has it, is 50 miles away.  Darn, will have to ask Sony to send the VW1000ES back when they release the Hobbit in 3D.

My only complaint – all of this won’t be available, and affordable soon enough.

That said, I’d be really surprised if you can’t buy a really good true 4K, 3D home theater projector for $5K two years from now. Maybe even a good bit less?  Afterall, it’s more about getting those 4K LCD, LCoS and DLP chips on the street, than it is about 3D, since most of  all new home projectors over $1500 seem to be 3D.

PS  This particular blog was inspired by another blog I read the other day by Andrew Robinson, a hardware reviewer (audio and video…), and independent film director.    I had to comment on a point or two, as I think Andrew was writing with more of an LCDTV slant than from our home theater projector vantage.    I think he fears people will be watching their 4K LCDTVs from 2 feet away.  Check his blog out by clicking here.

PPS.  This turned out way to long for a blog.  I will be re-editing this piece into a main article (or perhaps two) on the projectorreviews.com website, and likely shorten this blog to something reasonable, more to the point, and point readers to the larger article for those willing to put up with my ramblings.

Thanks! -art

PPPS.  Don’t forget – our next two home theater reviews:  JVC DLA-X95R (aka DLA-RS66U from the other JVC division), and the Mitsubishi HC8000D.

News And Comments

  • Edwin C. Jaehn

    Art,
    Great article. However… I get dizzy and/or nauseous when viewing shutter glasses for 3D. Watching LG 3D TVs (at BestBuy) with the polarized glassess, I have no symptoms. Of course, I have watched several 3D movies at theatres– with the polarized lenses. Unless there will be 3D projectors with polarized glasses within the next 6 months or a year, I will buy a nice 55 or 60 inch LG 3D TV.

    If one watches a good movie, it is very easy to get immersed without the 3D. So, I have a hard time thinking that I can only get immersed by 3D.

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Edwin,

      Sorry you haven’t found active glasses that work for you. (sort of surprising, most folks can either see 3D well (regardless of glasses type – active or passive, or they can’t. But, moving on…

      So far, other than expensive conversion of active to passive, there really isn’t anything using passive glasses in home theater projectors, at least not under some $40K plus Runco projectors.

      However, we just received the first passive 3D solution for education, a two projector stack. I’ll be reviewing it in about 3 weeks… It won’t have the home theater attributes we desire (like great blacks) but it’s a start, so who knows.

  • Michael Toby

    Hello Art,

    I too love 3d and I have a question. Would you tell me how the benq w7000 is superior to the benq w1070 in the 3d image? I need to make a purchase decision by next week and I already have a mitsubishi hc4900 which I’ve been using for the past few years.

    Thanks,

    Michael T.

  • Luke

    I think you forget one thing: HFR. Especially if you talk about importance 3D, you should point out that having HFR will improve the 3D experience a lot. At least that was my impression from watchin the Hobbit in 3D HFR, and it is also what I heard from many others. Yes, some people complain about “soap opera” effect. But just like with 3D, the producers will need to learn how to use the new technology to give a really pleasant experience. First 3D movies were quite flawed, but the recent ones have used the effect excellently. Same will happen with HFR, movie makers will learn how to use it properly, and how to avoid e.g. “speedup” effects.

    One downside of all currently available 4K solutions is that they do not support 4K content in HFR. Even the latest HDMI 1.4 does only support 24fps with 4K resolutions. New standards would be required to support 4K, 3D and HFR at the same time, and I did not hear that anything like that is planned at all currently. They have enough to do to define and bring out BluRays in 4K 3D 24fps.

    In 2 years we might have the 4K 3D projectors, but by then, most blockbusters will probably be shown in HFR. And again our costy equipment cannot compete with what we see in cinema.

    I think, now is a good time to buy a really good 2K 3D projector, and then I can wait some more years until either 4K 3D has bekome really cheap, or I wait even a bit longer until 4K 3D HFR is standardized and well in the market.

    I think, we do not need more resolution than 8K. 4K is razor sharp, there is not much left to improve there. Frame rate however is really low right now, and can easily boosted to 2x or 3x what we have now, with tremendous effect. If we have a standard that supports 4K, 3D at say 60fps, that would be excellent, I do not see much room for improvement there.