Samsung SP-H710AE Projector Review - Image Quality
Never previously having the opportunity to view the SP-H710AE in my own environment, I have been a bit skeptical, about the relatively high price of this Samsung projector, considering its online distribution, and the fact that it is typical of lower priced projectors, being 720p resolution, but "powered" by a standard Darkchip2 DLP chip. (Today, 720p projectors with Darkchip2 start at $999, and most (sold online) are under $2000.
This skepticism, despite the "story" of the SP-H710AE - a projector whose performance has been finely tuned by industry legend Joe Kane, to perform as closely as possible to CRT projectors, (which are still considered the ultimate, in terms of image quality).
So, finally getting the Samsung in for review, I was very interested in what I would find. Let me start off here by saying, that when it comes to watching movies the Samsung/Kane team has really produced a projector that exceeds the experience of other Darkchip2 projectors.
Before I get into the images, let me tell you how my initial experience checked out. First of all, I figured, based on the SP-H710AE's reputation, the projector would not require the usual basic calibration of grayscale, contrast and brightness, that I normally do. Turns out, I was right, in that regard.
My first experience watching, was in my theater on my 128" Firehawk. I popped in Phantom of the Opera HD-DVD, and kicked back.
Almost immediately I discovered something I wasn't happy with. In the letter box areas, the blacks were definitely not very black, rather typical of Darkchip2 DLP projectors. I'm used to the blacker blacks of my own Darkchip3 BenQ.
But, the more I watched, the more impressed I became. Even without doing a side-by-side with another projector, I felt that the overall image was less contrasty - more natural. And to my surprise - despite warnings to that effect, I was also immediately aware of a level of shadow detail that I wasn't used to, nor expected.
After a while, I switched over to my BenQ PE-8720, just to confirm. Sure enough, the blacks on the BenQ were blacker in the letterbox area, and in the dark scenes. The shadow detail, however definitely exceeded my PE-8720's. Later I did some side by sides with the new Mitsubishi HC5000BL a brand new 1080p LCD projector with a claimed 10,000:1 contrast ratio, (like the BenQ) and again, the Samsung SP-H710AE reviewed more details in the shadows.
Samsung SP-H710AE Image Quality: Handling Fleshtones, Color Accuracy, Shadow Detail...
So let's look at some images of the Samsung, handling flesh tones. In all cases, they were excellent.
Please remember - the photos are hear to support the commentary, not the other way around. There are a number of limits to how much of the projector's ultimate quality can be captured on my digital camera. For example to normally expose most frames, the camera loses most of the shadow detail. I suggest you use the images as helpful, but - take them with a "pound of salt".
Click on either of these two images from Lord of the Rings (from DVD) , for larger versions.
Switching to HD-DVD, here are some images from Phantom of the Opera:
You may click on the image above for a larger version.
The images in this section were all taken of frames projected by the H710AE, in the projector's Movie 1 mode with brightness set to Theater. An exception is the significantly brighter Standard mode of the same frame, shown immediately below. Though slightly different, you can see that the Standard mode shot still has pretty impressivel fleshtones, and still has very good shadow detail (left side), something that often diminishes significantly, or rather is sacrificed, in brighter modes (with most projectors), in exchange for the brightness.
My usual images from The 5th Element from DVD: Leeloo, and one of Bruce Willis.
Black levels and Shadow Detail
As mentioned above, the Samsung is sort of an anomaly, (or perhaps I should say, it is right on, and everything else is an anomaly.
We'll look at too different aspects - the black levels in terms of how much light is coming out of the projector in areas that are theoretically pure black - especially the letterbox area, and separately, the details in the images. For the comparison images, most provided here are from the new Mitsubishi HC5000BL.
In the first three scenes below (from Phantom, HD-DVD), I chose a very dark frame of Christine and the Phantom, and second frame an image from the beginning of the movie in textured black and white. The third drame shows the Phantom's theater in low light. In all cases, when cropping, instead of cropping out the letterbox at top and bottom, I have left in those areas, and even expanded so that you can see the black beyond the letterbox.
As you can see, the grays are not that dark in the letterbox area, especially when compared to the black around it. Also you can see easily how the letterbox grays match with the darkest parts of the movie frame itself.
I mentioned earlier that despite the moderately bright letterbox and blacks, the detail remains excellent. Here is an image from The 5th Element, of the starship (found in most reviews). Even though the blacks are not exceptionally black, the starfield itself is rich in stars, indicating that it is grabbing and displaying most of the dimmest ones.
Also for your consideration are these two identical frames from Lord of the Rings. The first is normally exposed, the second, overexposed so that you can see the shadow detail along the bottom, and the right side, lost by my digital camera, when normally exposed.
I usually try to overexpose the second image a bit more than you see here (barely overexposed), but despite that, you can see the details in the shed, etc.
The best way, though to demonstrate shadow details though, is in direct comparison with another projector, so here are several images comparing the Samsung SP-H710AE (left) with the Mitsubishi HC5000BL.
To start with, I should remind you that the more expensive HC5000BL is an LCD projector that uses all the tricks to maximize black levels and shadow details, such as a dynamic iris, and AI. The bottom line, is that they claim 10,000:1 contrast (vs the SP-H710AE's 2800:1), which you would expect to result in not only blacker blacks, but to allow for more shadow detail, afterall, if the blacks are darker, you can see darker grays. Anyway, it didn't turn out quite that way.
In this first image, you can see the huge difference in the basic black levels.
When we get to images with serious shadow detail though - such as this image of the theater, look at the difference in the shadow detail in the seating, especially the right side, the Samsung reveals more information, and more color. You can click on this image to enlarge:
Now here are two images - of the caverns below the theater (yep, that's a horse). The first image is the Samsung, the second, the Mitsubishi:
Certainly, the Mitsubishi image has more punch (perhaps I should say, "more vibrant", but you'll note actually parts of the wall on the close right turn black, without detail, before they do on the SP-H710AE.
In this next pair of images note the difference in the backgrounds - again, more vibrant for the Mitsubishi, but more subtle shift (and more faithful reproduction) in the background from top to bottom, on the Samsung:
While the Mitsubishi is a 1080p resolution LCD projector, when I observed the differences between the Samsung SP-H710AE and my BenQ, (also DLP, but also with blacker blacks), I found similar differences. The BenQ was more contrasty and more quick to loose subtle details in dark areas, despite the lower black levels.
Take a close look at this frame below.
This image above, captured from Phantom, was one of the most impressive I viewed. This is a very dark scene, yet the Samsung revealed detail in her cape and hair, the statue base to the right, and the background to the left, that simply weren't there, or much darker, on the Mitsubishi and the BenQ. For once I watched a very dark scene and felt I was seeing all I was intended to see.
A couple more - from Sin City, on DVD, for good measure:
Plenty of detail everywhere in the image above - click to enlarge.
The image immediately above, also from Sin City, shows great detail and shading in the right side of Nancy's face, and her neck. In the highlight areas, such as the ropes, there is good detail. If you compare this image to the same basic one found in many reviews, you'll be very impressed with all the extra you see here.
Samsung SP-H710AE color accuracy
Straight A's here. I usually comment on how good a projector looks out of the box, in terms of color accuracy. Some look really good, some need some serious tweaking. Though I have seen several projectors that most would find more than acceptable out of the box, and not feel the need to adjust, the Samsung, is definitely the best to date.
You've already seen a number of images in the flesh tones section, here are some more, starting with a side by side - SP-H710AE on the left of course - last time I'm reminding you.
Click to enlarge. Both projectors produce a good looking image. Note the extra details in the shadow area on the left. Both are rich colored although the Mitsubishi, as noted earlier is a bit more vibrant.
Samsung SP-H710AE sharpness
I refer you again to the image above, or rather the enlarged image. First I want to say, that overall, the Samsung appeared to be very sharp. I would put it above the Optoma HD7100, Panasonic PT-AX100U, and most others, and about even with my BenQ (whose sharpness, is perhaps its biggest strength), and the far more expensive Marantz 12S4.
When you look at the image above, for sharpness, remember, the Mitsubishi is a 1080p resolution projector - 2.25 times as many pixels! It should appear a bit sharper. You can better see it in the two images below of the Warner Brothers logo off of HD-DVD. The first image is a side by side. Click on it, and you will get an enlargement of the Samsung which is a bit softer, than what you will see if you, instead, click on the thumbnail image, for the larger image of the Mitsubishi HC5000BL.