Projector Reviews

Acer VL7860 4K UHD Laser Projector Review – Special Features

Acer VL7860 4K UHD Laser Projector Review – Special Features: Laser Light Engine, 4K UHD Resolution, Dynamic Black, Brilliant Color, Lens Shift

Laser Light Engine

The Acer VL7860 has a laser light engine life claim of 20,000 hours at full power, 30,000 in “Eco” mode. That’s about as good as any in terms of laser life, and longer than most laser projectors claim.  For example, some competitors claim 20,000 hours in Eco, and don’t provide the lower full power rated life.

The advantages of laser in this case are…

4K UHD Sharpness

The VL7860, like the lamp based V7850 we previously reviewed, uses the larger, higher native resolution of the two 4K UHD DLP chips on the market. When I say higher native resolution, I mean this is a 2716×1528 x2 pixel shifting projector. Acer calls their projector native 3840×2160, which I consider marketing overhype. Acer and others want to call non-native 4K projectors “4K UHD” – fine, but in most worlds that allow for logic, this projector has half the resolution of true, native 4K, and fudges it up to 4K UHD by using pixel shifting.

As I explain in almost every 4K review, just because you claim something, doesn’t make it true. Single chip DLPs have a distinct advantage in sharpness over 3 chip devices of the same native resolution. In fact, a well designed DLP projector along the lines of this Acer could very well produce a sharper-seeming image than a true 4K projector, say Sony’s entry level 4K native resolution projector of just three years ago.

Why is this possible, despite the Acer and other 4K UHD projectors lacking the ability to put 3840 tiny pixels on the screen without overlap? Instead, they put up 2/3 the pixels (horizontally, and vertically) so we end up with half the pixels, with each pixel being twice the physical size (2x the area) of a true native 4K pixel. The bigger the pixels, the less resolution. Overlapping large pixels and using fancy algorithms, just doesn’t cut it.

No matter how hyped, when TI rolls out an affordable true 4K chip with 3840×2160 pixels and no pixel shifting, I guarantee you TI won’t be swearing that it’s no sharper than any of their 4K UHD projectors using either the x2 pixel shifting, or the lower 1080p resolution with 4x pixel shifting.

There, with the lecture over, let’s circle back to the VL7860 itself, and how good it looks.

It is very sharp. One of the better 4K UHD’s we’ve played with so far out of at least 10 models. I’ve stared from a foot away at pixels in the center, and the edges. Overall center to edge sharpness is better than most, but we’re mostly splitting hairs. It does appear sharper in the corners than the BenQ HT2550 and their TK800, both the lower res 1920×1080 x4 projectors. On the other hand, although it’s been a while, I am pretty confident that the BenQ HT8050 and HT9050 (lamp and LED based, respectively, and far more expensive – $7999 and $8999) are not only slightly sharper, but I definitely had the feeling with those more expensive projectors that the optical quality itself had better clarity. That is, those expensive BenQs apparently have better lenses.

How much so? Slight of course. Mostly, I try to do side by side comparisons. Since I couldn’t with the BenQ HT9050, I have to use intermediaries. When I had the BenQ HT9050/HT8050s here, I had one of the two native 4K under $10,000 Sonys. While the Acer has been here, I had the step-up Sony, but with the same lens and light-path (primary difference is the addition of a dynamic iris). The two Sonys should have identical sharpness, which supports my thinking that the expensive BenQ is sharper than the Acer.

But, in all cases, we’re talking extremely slight when viewing 4K content. On lower res content, the differences will be more about each projector’s processing than lenses, etc.

Big question – is this Acer come across as sharp as the Sony VW685ES, I just reviewed?

No, sorry. Close enough – I’d say yes for most folks. When I look closely, at a tiny image a few pixels in size, in varying color, the Sony does a better job separating those colors, as it should, despite the usual pixel misalignment, that exists with all 3 chip/panel projectors.

Whether you spend a bit more for the lamp based Sony, or go with the long laser light engine life Acer, the bigger differences will have nothing to do with sharpness, but rather with black levels, features, handling of HDR, etc.

Dynamic Black: Laser Light Engine as a Dynamic Iris

Dynamic Black is one of those TI features that manufacturers can implement on their projectors, similar to, say, TI’s Brilliant Color. With Brilliant Color, each manufacturer chooses how to implement. Some manufacturers offer up to 10 settings of Brilliant Color, while others (say BenQ) offer only Off or On.

With Dynamic Black, it seems the same way. Some have tried to use Dynamic Black lamp dimming to “emulate” a dynamic iris, where the amount of dimming is minimal, so of little benefit, but also limited artifacts. In other cases, like this Acer laser, thanks to the blindingly fast speed, a laser can brighten or dim compared to a lamp and the potential is far greater. But, it has to be done right, or you end up constantly noticing pumping, (brightening and darkening of images that are changing only slightly, otherwise), or like the original pre-production VL7860, it adjusted so dramatically that it essentially took very dark images – and turned them completely black, often making it look like the signal cut out for several seconds at a time.

Dynamic Black Off
One of our black level test images - Casino Royal night train: This image taken with first unit, Dynamic Black off.

black level compare
Updated VL7860 Dynamic Black On for better black levels

Note the first image above. This is with the Dynamic Black off – the result is a dark scene with relatively poor black levels (medium dark greys where black or near black should be). On the pre-production Acer, however, I could not photograph the scene at all with Dynamic Black on, because it turned the entire scene black, no detail what-so-ever! Essentially, for movies, Dynamic Black WAS totally unusable, because I never got to watch a single movie where there weren’t enough really dark scenes to have the projector appear to put out only black for many seconds or even a couple of minutes. Totally distracting.

Now let’s talk about the Acer VL7860 sent back to me, upgraded with full production firmware. The primary change I was promised was improvement in Dynamic Black, so that it would be useable. Obviously if Acer did a good job, the VL7860 would have a smooth iris action (like an Epson 5040UB or a Sony VW385ES, dramatically improving what we call black level performance on dark scenes (which is when you need it). The truth, now that I got the upgraded Acer back: TA-DA!!!! DRUM ROLL…

So right below the first Bond night train image is the same frame taken with the replacement VL7860 with firmware upgrade, with the improved Dynamic Black turned ON.  The image has a lot more pop, more dynamic, is less washed out looking, than the unit above. As always this frame was shot overexposed so you can see the detail difference, and black level differences more easily.

When watching live at normal exposures, the difference is dramatic on very dark scenes like this one.

space walk
Original VL7860 with Dynamic Black Off! On first unit, if turned on, this scene comes up all black! Great On with newer firmware

Brilliant Color

Brilliant Color has been around for at least a decade. It affects several aspects of picture quality. In general, it seems to give more pop to the image, often richer (but some times over the top) color and saturation. I think of it as a “suite” of adjustments working together to affect how the picture looks. On most projectors, you get a choice of Off, or On, but in some there may be as many as 10 steps. The Acer is one of those Off/On configurations.

Sometimes, having Brilliant Color engaged makes for better greyscale balance before calibration, other times it might be worse. I let our calibrators – in this case, Eric –  determine whether it should be Off or On for a particular mode he’s calibrating. His decision will be based on what provides the best picture, post calibration.

Eric set Brilliant Color to On for his Bright Room measurements, and Off for his “Best Room” configurations. That is not surprising, as Brilliant Color Off, on many projectors, may drop brightness even more than half!

Lens Shift

Some of the 4K UHD projectors have vertical lens shift (always a good thing to have), others do not. This Acer VL7860 is one that does have a moderate amount of lens shift, for placement flexibility.

That lens shift, combined with a zoom lens with very good zoom range, gives this Acer more placement flexible than most of the 4K UHD competition. It is still no match for the longer zoom ranges, and massive lens shift (vertical AND horizontal) found on 3-chip projectors like the Epson 5040UB and LS10500 (laser), or the Sony VW285ES/385ES. So, overall, it is better than most other 4K UHDs, but no match for the best 4K capable projectors using alternatives to DLP (3LCD, LCoQ and LCoS respectively).

Acu-Engine, including AcuMotion a.k.a. CFI, a.k.a smooth motion

Not uncommon for a DLP, Acer has a suite of image enhancement features they call AcuEngine. One of them is AcuMotion for smooth motion, which I previously mentioned that the VL7860 has. I should also note, that Acer folks must agree, that CFI (a.k.a. smooth motion, a.k.a. in this case AcuMotion), doesn’t operate with 24fps content, which is essentially almost all movies that aren’t animated (and The Hobbit, a few others).

Works great on sports.

The other Acu-control affects color enhancement, and is called AcuColor.

The third option on that menu is the AcuMotion On/Off comparison setting, that toggles back and forth between the setting you selected for smooth motion, and the control turned off. It changes back and forth every second or so.  That way you get a handle on how much the setting is affecting the picture’s motion smoothness.

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