Viewsonic Pro8100 1080p 3LCD Home Theater Projector Review: Overview

With over 1200 lumens in its brightest mode, the Viewsonic projector has enough horsepower to do a very respectable job on sports and other TV with modest levels of ambient light. The same “wow” and “pop” factor that impresses on movies (but makes the projector a little less “film-like”), is great for watching sports. Football (US) as you know, is my big sports thing, but, it is out of season, so I had to watch segments of the Superbowl and some college football off of my DVR. Below are some images from that session. Football images and other HDTV images were taken with my shades fully down, and the usual amount of light leaking in from around the shades. I describe this as modest lighting – you could read a book, but you’d prefer to have the room brighter if you were going to.

Pro8100 Overall Image Quality

Despite very good performance overall (color handling, sharpness, shadow detail, etc.), the Pro8100 has a noteworthy flaw. That flaw relates to its dynamic iris, which we will now discuss. Since I have no way to demonstrate the iris issue, the images below are all just a general selection of images to show the range of the Viewsonic projector:

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Pro8100 Dynamic Iris issue

Dynamic irises are fairly effective, but always iffy technology. At their best, they can lower black levels significantly to provide a more dynamic and superior image. Unfortunately, a dynamic iris is limited in its effectiveness, by the composition of the scene it is working on. When a scene is all dark or mostly dark without any really bright areas, such a dynamic iris can be extremely effective. The problem is that when a scene has some (or even a lot) of very dark areas, but if more than a tiny amount of the scene is very bright (white, very close to white, or the maximum brightness of any color), the iris’ “hands are tied”. That is, closing down the iris also makes the bright areas darker, and there is no real benefit to their use.

So, simply stated, they are most effective on dark scenes without any significant bright areas.

Manufacturers design and set their irises differently. Some are fast to react, others slow, some are adaptable. In almost any case, on the right scene transition, you can see them work, if you are looking for it.

The difference is, with some home theater projectors, their actions are almost impossible to miss, while with others, you really have to be looking for the changes they are causing.

In the case of the Viewsonic Pro8100, the iris action is first – not overly fast – it takes perhaps a second or so, to fully adjust from one scene to the next. Now that in its own right doesn’t have to be an issue, and wouldn’t be, if it were hard to detect. In this case, it isn’t, and that is compounded by what I will call the “yo-yo” iris effect.

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If you transition from a dark scene to a bright one, the iris will open. Since it takes a little time, that new scene seems to brighten up.

Problem is, the Viewsonic iris tends to overshoot, it gets too bright, it then closes down a bit, to correct – thus the “yo-yo”. That makes it easily more noticeable as if it only went the correct amound of opening. (The same is true in reverse, going from a bright to dark scene) – again, the “yo-yo”, but first – too dark, then a small bounce back.

The good news should be, that, hey, it’s scene transitions, so not constant, but relatively infrequently.

Unfortunately that isn’t quite the case. As I see it, to maximize the effectiveness of the iris in generating great black levels, they are (and it’s very reasonable) allowing an algorithm, to determine if the really bright area is extremely small. If that’s the case it is willing to sacrifice a light brightness on that spot, in exchange for better blacks.

What happens in reality though, is that with the Viewsonic, minor changes to the brightness of a scene, such as a person entering the back of a room with a bright shirt, tends to cause the iris to adjust slightly. As a result, iris changes seem fairly ongoing, and if you watch fairly closely, you see, in many scenes, frequent subtle brightening and darkening. Note, on action scenes, where there is lots going on, it is most unlikely you would be able to spot the iris action, even if looking for it. You need pretty sedate scenes.

And that is the Viewsonic’s one negative, in my opinion.

I got the opportunity to bring that to the attention of their product management at Infocomm last week and they seemed very concerned with my feedback. We talked about how a firmware upgrade could allow the problem to be minimized (made similar to all the other projectors with dynamic irises, etc.) They are huddling on this possibility, and promise to get back to me.

If they can “tame” their dynamic iris, then the Viewsonic’s one significant (no, not terrible) flaw will be gone, and the projector moves up a notch in my regard, and should become one of the more successful products in its space.

That’s a big “if”. I will keep you posted, when I learn more. If they address the iris, they promised to advise me, and send an updated unit out for comparsion. I think, they really should do this. If not for the iris issue, the projector most likely would have received our Hot Product Award.

I should point out, that the Viewsonic is easy to upgrade through its USB port, so a file can be downloaded, and your dealer (or you?) can easily do the upgrade.

We shall see – how it all turns out.

A last thought, regarding their iris. As I said, I notice it frequently. Even when I’m kicking back and just watching a movie, and not “observing” the projector, I become aware of it. Because of the sort of slow opening, then closing (or the other way around) it’s not anywhere near as offensive as some other flawed irises. I recently reviewed a low cost Optoma that was relatively well behaved, until there was a scene change, and the new scene was stationary. All of a sudden, several seconds later, the iris would snap into a new position, noticeably brightening or darkening a scene. In that case, the iris was annoying, and many would prefer to just turn off their auto iris. With the Viewsonic, I don’t think this is going to be much of a problem for most folks!

Overall Picture Quality: Bottom Line

Iris notwithstanding, with proper setup (including color balance), and reduced saturation, the Viewsonic really does provide a very watchable movie image, with lots of “pop” and “wow”. Although not my favorite 3LCD 1080p projector, it is a serious performer, and with its extra lumens, many will take it as is over some of the less expensive projectors like the Panasonic, and Sanyo, both of which are top sellers.

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