Samsung Home Theater Projector: SP-H710AE - Projector Review: Summary, Pros, Cons
If asked what one thing differentiates the Samsung SP-H710AE from it's competition, the answer would have to be (to paraphrase an old line): "It's the picture, stupid!". (no offense!)
I do believe that Samsung has brought to market, exactly what they have claimed, a projector fully optimized to produce the best image quality for movie watching, that it is capable of.
That's not to say, that other projectors don't exceed its performance in various ways, but Samsung has done an excellent job of focusing on producing a natural image, or as they might say, "reproduce a film, as it was intended to be seen."
Counter balancing that, are several factors, including, that, for its price, there are Darkchip3 DLP projectors that can significantly reduce the brightness of blacks, which can be most noticeable in letter box areas. The Samsung SP-H710AE could also be a bit brighter, which would please many potential buyers. I might also say, that while movie watching is extremely enjoyable, this wouldn't be my first choice for sports and most HDTV. The Samsung tends to reveal flaws in source, so compression artifacts from your cable or satellite, might be more noticeable. That, combined with the fact that there are signficantly brighter home theater projectors out there, will have many, like me choose a different projector.
The Samsung SP-H710AE belongs in dedicated home theaters, and in rooms that can be virtually fully darkened (and preferably with dark walls/ceilings, etc.), for movie watching.
It also crys out for HD content. Watching the Samsung, you really appreciate the huge difference between traditional DVD and HD-DVD (sorry, no Blu-Ray player yet).
There is no question in my mind about awarding the SP-H710AE our Hot Product Award. As always, to earn the award, the projector must be particularly good at meeting the needs of at least one signficant group (profile) of potential users. In this case, the Samsung wins our Hot Product Award, because of it's almost certain appeal to the movie purists out there! I'm talking about hose with good rooms, and not trying to feed exceptionally large screens.
Buyers of the Samsung will certainly not be shelling out their dollars to buy the best published specs, but to own a projector that really looks great. Let's say it goes better with Popcorn and Wine, than Beer and Chips!
If I have one very strong recommendation to achieve maximum enjoyment in using the SP-H710AE, it would be to tell buyers to try to buy a masking screen. With a masking screen, the letterbox "blacks" dark grays - are hitting a black surface, and not the screen. Masking screens cost significantly more than basic ones, but, then, the SP-H710AE costs significantly more than typical 720p projectors using the Darkchip2 DLP. Having a masking screen would remove one of my few complaints when movie watching - the bright letter box areas above and below Cinemascope movies.
Let's look at how the Samsung SP-H710AE stacks up overall
SP-H710AE Projector: Pros
- Excellent overall image quality when viewing high quality movie content, especially off of HD resolution DVD players - extremely "film-like" performance
- Best "right out of the box" image quality value, of any projector I have reviewed to date, no tweaking needed
- Excellent shadow detail
- Excellent highlight detail (near whites)
- Manual - comprehensive, but could use more practical detail on what certain features and choices offer, (ie, DNIe, SMPTE vs HD vs EBU, etc.)
- Extremely natural flesh tones
- Vertical lens shift
- Three user savable settings
- Overall good placement flexibility
- Apparent high build quality, quality look and feel
- Two component video inputs
- Quiet in low power mode
- Overall excellent performance on image noise, jaggies, cadence type issues
- Supports full 1080/24, 60
- Lack of extra digital inputs (only one - a DVI), would like to see at least two HDMI or DVI
- Could be brighter
- Blacks in letter box areas are fairly bright, compared to similarly priced Darkchip3 DLP competitors
- Tends to reveal flaws in content, such as compressed HD source material from cable (or satellite), can detract slightly in terms of enjoyment compared to less "critical" competitors
- Changing the lamp, requires unmounting the projector (if ceiling mounting) true of most, but not all home theater projectors
Typical Capabilities of the Samsung SP-H710AE home theater projector
- Warranty (2 years parts/labor)
- Remote control
- Audible noise levels at full power (a bit noisy, but quieter than many) - not bad, considering
- Overall brightness is just below average
- Menu system
- Price performance - the performance is great, the higher price (relative to other Darkchip2 DLP projectors), matches the higher performance.
- Ease of use
Click on the above image from Starship Troopers (DVD) to enlarge
In this competition section, please remember that I am mostly conjecturing about the differences and user preferences between the Samsung, and other projectors that I have NOT had in-house at the same time. I do have my BenQ PE-8720 for reference in my theater room (but cannot project both projector's images simultaneously, like I can with other projectors in my testing room. I did, briefly have the Samsung and the Mitsubishi HC5000BL together, as noted elsewhere, and in some side-by-side comparisons in the image quality section.
SP-H710AE vs. Optoma HD7100
The Optoma offers slight advantages is placement flexibility, and does produce blacker blacks in the letter box area, etc, thanks to the Optoma's Darkchip3 DLP. The SP-H710AE, however definitely reveals more details in dark shadow areas, and the HD7100 does crush whites slightly. The two are similar, audible noise wise, with the Samsung SP-H710AE being quieter in full power mode than the Optoma HD7100.
Out of the box color accuracy of the Optoma wasn't bad at all, but no match for the SP-H710AE. They are also similar in brightness. The Optoma will provide more punch to the image, generally, which may make it the slightly better choice if you are fighting some ambient light, but on an HD-DVD movie, in a dark room, I have to vote for the Samsung. Again, I might recommend a masking projector screen for the Samsung, which would make - at least for my tastes - the SP-H710AE a better overall projector for movie viewing.
SP-H710AE vs. BenQ PE8720
Fair warning, I have owned a PE-8720 for about 10 months, and am most pleased. I would give my BenQ a definite, but slight edge in overall image sharpness, and it is punchier and more contrasty overall. Although similar in brightness, the dyamics of the images projected, give the BenQ a distinct advantage on a larger screen (like my 128"). I got plenty of back and forth viewing of the two projectors, and the SP-H710AE definitely wins the battle (however slight) in shadow details, loses it in general black levels, and wins in highlight details. I watch a lot of sports and Discovery HD type channels, Tonight Show in HD. I prefer my BenQ PE-8720 for sports (regular and HD) and HD content in general, from cable. To the best of my knowledge, right now, the BenQ is slightly more expensive, and has a 3 year warranty vs. two. I favor the BenQ as a slightly better, by virtue of being more flexible in terms of working well with a wide range of source material.
SP-H710AE vs 1080p home theater projectors including the Mitsubishi HC5000BL
All the 1080p projectors are more expensive than the Samsung, which I believe sells in the low-mid $3500 range. the 1080p's are initially selling for $4000 - $6000. Still, I suspect many of those looking for performance are interested in whether spending more for a 1080p is the right way to go. As a group, the 1080p projectors are about the same brightness as the Samsung - no "light cannons", so brightness overall, will not be a determining factor, unless some of the new 1080p DLP's coming out, do offer a lot more brightness than the 3LCD models. We shall see.
I just had a brief overlap between sending back the SP-H710AE, and the arrival of the new Mitsubishi HC5000BL, the first 1080p projector to arrive for review. The Mitsubishi, a 3LCD projector using all the tricks - dynamic iris, etc. claims a 10:000:1 contrast ratio. Depending on the image (bright or dark), the black levels (looking in the letterbox area) of the Mitsubishi are anywhere from slightly blacker, to dramatically blacker than the Samsung (see examples in the image quality section). Tthe Mitsubishi, like other projectors is more contrasty, losing a small amount of shadow detail that the SP-H710AE delivers. Highlight details were very close between the two with the Samsung having an only slightly detectable advantage in side by side comparison. The much smaller pixels of the Mitsubishi, and higher resolution definitely provide a sharper overall image, that will be favored by those with large screens, and those who like to sit close. Overall, the Mitsubishi HC5000BL is a projector that will perform better for those with a wide range of viewing content. Again, the Samsung is for the movie purist.
We have not yet received any other 1080p projectors but I did get a good look at the new Panasonic PT-AE1000U at their press showing a couple of days ago. Overall, it is similar to the HC5000BL, and without actually having it at my location viewing under my control, I would say that how the Mitsubishi compares to the SP-H710AE, also generally describes how the new Panasonic compares to the Samsung.
What I am really looking forward to, are getting in the Sony Pearl - VPL-VW50, a 1080p 3 chip LCOS (SXRD) projector that sells for $4995, and the Optoma HD81, the first 1080p DLP, in for review. When that happens (soon), I'll be sure to comment on my impressions compared to the Samsung SP-H710AE home theater projector.
Panasonic PT-AX100U, Epson Cinema Series projectors vs. Samsung.
Although the Panasonic as well as the Epson 800, have far more lumens to go around, again, the Samsung has the natural image on movie watching. The other two projectors, for most, will make a better all around choice, and will cost less, but for optimum movie viewing, the purist, again, should prefer the Samsung. At least the Samsung, though more money, offers decent placement flexibility, (thanks to lens shift), but still has the distance flexibility limiting 1.3:1 zoom lens vs. the LCD projectors with their wider range zooms.
Summary of the Samsung SP-H710AE Home Theater Projector
The SP-H710AE is an exceptional projector, thanks to all the focus on producing the best, most faithful possible movie image possible within its price range. Certainly, the appeal of this projector is for natural movie watching.
In fact, considering that this is not a projector that I would personally buy (due to my mixed usage, including lots of sports and cable/satellite content), I really think it is a great projector. I will definitely recommend it to the kind of viewers who will best appreciate its strengths. When speaking with Samsungs product manager, many months ago, I got the whole pitch - SMPTE accurate, CRT-like, Joe Kane optimized. While I appreciate what he said, I was sceptical that Samsung could charge significantly more than many popular, good, 720p DLP projectors, and still end up with a database filled with pleased owners.
Now, having worked with the SP-H710AE, and viewed roughly 20 hours of content on it, my skepticism is completely gone. Although the SP-H710AE, is certainly not for everyone, it does deliver the most natural movie viewing I have seen, other than with far more expensive, and professionally calibrated projectors. For the right home theater enthusiasts, the price is very reasonable!
The question is: Is this the projector for you?
If you don't need a huge screen (stick to 110" or less, optimum is probably 100" in my opinion, but 110" definitely viable), you have a really good room for viewing movies, (very, very dark, and hopefully dark walls), and you are seeking a really great movie watching, and are far less concerned about Monday Night Football, or HDTV/TV content, then, if the budget is right - put the the Samsung SP-H710AE DLP home theater projector at the top of your list of choices.
And don't forget, a masking screen with further enhance your enjoyment.
Last comments Many people wonder why others spend big bucks at local dealers for projectors with only OK specs. People shopping locally at expert (CEDIA) home theater projector dealers, expect, when all is done, that they get their money's worth, in terms of viewing enjoyment, not that they get the best specs. I think Samsung's projector is similar in that regard. It simply produces a picture quality that you would never expect if you were strictly a "specs" kind of shopper.
Wouldn't it also be nice if Samsung would come out with a 1080p version with the same strengths, around the same pricepoint as other 1080p projectors - $5000 - $7000? That way, those who want/need, the highest resolution and the best movie watching, can have a projector that does both.
It is interesting that Samsung, best known as one of the largest producers of Plasma and LCD TV's (and appliances, etc), has not tried to offer up a real, high volume mass market home theater projector. If they do decide to, however, considering what they have done with this limited production model, the competition better be paying attention.
Good job Samsung!
Movie purists - Get ready, Get Set....
(sorry, no movie) -art