Viewsonic Pro8100 1080p Projector Review: Image Quality
Viewsonic Pro8100: Image Quality Sections
Viewsonic Pro8100 Projector; Out of the Box Picture Quality
Skin Tone Handling
Pro8100 Black Level Performance and Shadow Detail
Overall Image Quality (post Calibration)
Pro8100 for HDTV and Sports
Bottom Line Image Quality (and additional images)
Pro8100 Out of the Box Picture Quality
Note: On many monitors these images may be oversaturated. I leave it to you to adjust your monitor's color (saturation) setting to get proper looking saturation. Even on my Mac, these images look a bit more saturated than when I viewed the projected image.
This Viewsonic Pro8100 did not produce especially good, accurate colors out of the box, in preliminary measurements. Although colors were off a bit, it was no worse than most projectors. Unfortunately few projector do a really great job, right out of the box.
To not have the projector calibrated to some degree would be the waste of a good projector. Even your basic end user calibration disc will make a real improvement. Some of you may want to try the settings we came up with, listed in the General Performance - Calibration section.
Perhaps even more significant than some color shift, is that the projector's colors seem way oversaturated at their default settings. We knocked the settings down a good deal, and ended up with more realistic saturation. There's plenty of range in the controls.
Better than more than a few, the Pro8100 really is quite watchable right out of the box. Or it's even better, just by reducing the color saturation about 10 points.
Since the Pro8100 is sold only through local "CEDIA" type installing dealers, it is very likely that your dealer will calibrate it for you, to some degree or other, or recommend a professional calibrator. Considering the price of the projector, you'll need to do more than just watch "out of the box" performance, to get your money's worth, and a basic calibration is well worth it!
Pro8100 Skin Tone Handling
Definitely off a bit, before any adjustments, and made worse by the oversaturation, but once the projector gets even a basic grayscale calibration and the saturation is toned down, it starts looking really good on skin tones. The images here should give you a good taste, however, they still do look a little oversaturated, in part because my camera tends to produce slightly oversaturated images the way I have it configured. As I have said before in other reviews, I recommend that if the images look oversaturated on your monitor, just turn down the monitor's color saturation control, to get a better idea. Not to worry.
The first two images are SD-DVD. Both are from Lord of the Rings. The Viewsonic projector did just fine on both, with the Gandalf image being a bright image, while the image of Arwen is shot deep in a forest and you can just pick up a bit of the forest's greenish gray hue, in her skin tone, near the top of her face.
Moving to Blu-ray hi-def movies, The first two are from The Fifth Element; Leeloo, and the President.
A quick sepia toned shot of Nancy, from Sin City (SD-DVD):
Back to Blu-ray HD, with an image from House of the Flying Daggers.
A couple of Aeon, from Aeon Flux (Blu-ray)
And we've got one here of Will Smith, from Hitch, and the obligatory Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Carribbean.
One thing that it is important to keep in mind, is that different scenes mean skin tones will look different. Bright sunlight will result in significantly different skin tones than florescent lighting, incandescent lighting, or even filtered sunlight. I've picked the usual 3 differently lit images from Casino Royale, to give you an idea of how the Viewsonic does in different lighting. The first is bright sunlight, the second, flourescents in an airport, and lastly, filtered sunlight.
Bottom line: After calibration, the skin tones were excellent. While the images here are going to look oversaturated on many monitors, if you adjust the saturation you should find the skin tones to be very natural overall.
Pro8100 Black Level and Shadow Detail
Black Level Performance
Black level performance is very typical for a 1080p projector, and I'd place the Viewsonic about in the middle of the pack. While its black levels are not any better than, say, the Sanyo PLV-Z2000 (the least expensive 1080p projectors on the market at this time), it more than makes up for it in brightness, so these really aren't competitors. Like most of the DLP projectors, the 3LCD Viewsonic comes in short of the best in black levels. So far that "best" group is very small, consisting of a pair of JVC and a pair of Sony LCoS projectors, plus the Epson Home and Pro Cinema 1080 UB projectors. Other than that small group, the Viewsonic Pro8100 is mostly comparable and occasionally better than the rest of the field.
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This first Blu-ray image is from Space Cowboys - a nice dynamic, dark scene with a small area of bright white, and also bright red - a challenge for a dynamic iris.
There is an issue with the dynamic iris action, which I will discuss below. I probably should have spent more time trying out the Pro8100 with the auto iris disengaged, but a quick look at that, found black levels to be a little worse than average.
For comparsion purposes with the image above, also consider this side-by-side image below of two of the Viewsonic competitors. In this image the Sony VPL-VW40 is on the right, and the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB, is on the left. Note that the images below are a little more overexposed than the one above.
The image below is from The Fifth Element. The visibility of stars around the starship is extremely good. In fact, I really can't recall any other projector that does notably better, and most can't match the Viewsonic on this image!
Here are a pair of photos from the SD-DVD of Sin City. Both are dark images overall, but with some bright areas:
Shadow Detail Performance
I found overall shadow detail, after the projector was properly set up, to be extremely good, as you can see in some of the images below. No complaints here, and it even did a bit better overall, than my favorite 3LCD projector; the Epson UB series.
For all the images in this section, when you click on the ones you see, you will get larger, overexposed versions that will allow you to make out all the dark shadow detail that my dSLR loses at normal exposure.
Top left: Viewsonic Pro8100, Top right: Panasonic PT-AE2000U
2nd Row left: Epson Home (or) Pro Cinema 1080 UB
The image below, an extremely dark scene from Space Cowboys (Blu-ray), is a good indicator of both black levels and shadow detail. Look to the detail in the shades in the right half of the image.
The top image is the Viewsonic, followed by the Sony VW60, and the JVC RS1 (the newer RS1x should be essentially identical). Forgetting the oversaturated look (which is contributing) for a second, you can see that the shades are nice and relatively dark on the Viewsonic, despite the Viewsonic photo being the brightest of the three. Also, note that the vertical threads show up brilliantly. Even though Clint's hand is badly overexposed (due to the camera), this is an extremely dark scene, which allows the dynamic iris to do its best. (The JVC lacks a dynamic iris.)
Below we have six "thumbnails" of this cropped HD scene from Space Cowboys. Click on each for an overexposed version. Look to the satellite on the left for dark shadow details. By row, starting top left:
Pro8100, Epson - and Pro - Home Cinema 1080 UB, Sony VW60, JVC RS1, JVC RS2, Sony VW40
Next is the re-entry image from Space Cowboys. The left thumbnail when clicked on, shows you the Viewsonic, the right one, the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB. Unlike the thumbnail, the larger images are, again, intentionally, dramatically overexposed so you can compare the details in the very dark right side of the planet:
Next is the casino image at night from Bond's Casino Royale.
Viewsonic Pro8100 projector:
(Note, all five images below are the same. Clicking on each brings up the higher resolution, and overexposed versions that allows you to compare shadow detail abilities in the dark areas. Look to the roof tiles, and the trees on the left.)
Sony VPL-VW40 projector:
Epson Home Cinema 1080UB projector:
Sony VPL-VW60 projector:
JVC DLA-RS2 projector:
These next two images are found in almost all recent reviews. Click for large, and seriously overexposed versions of the thumbnails. You can look to the dark areas of the shed on the right, plants along the bottom, and the wood structure on the left, to compare shadow detail.
Click on left thumbnail image for the Viewsonic, and the right for the InFocus IN82.
Excellent! One of the best I've seen. And that means I don't have to spend much time showing you. Immediately below are the usual images for comparing this Viewsonic projector with some of the major competition.
Top left: Viewsonic Pro8100, Top Center: Sony VPL-VW60, Top right: Panasonic PT-AE2000U
2nd row left: Sanyo PLV-2000, middle: Optoma HD8000, right: InFocus IN82
Also for your consideration is the close-up of the computer monitor from Space Cowboys. The left is the Pro8100, the right, the InFocus IN82:
Bottom Line Sharpness: Excellent, I'm most impressed with the sharpness, and just a little jealous.
Pro8100 Performance: HDTV and Sports
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.
The Pro8100 did just fine on general HDTV viewing as well, no complaints. I watched some Boston Legal, any number of music videos and concerts, a little ESPN-HD, and assorted other HD content. Overall, very rich, and satisfying!
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:
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.
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!
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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.