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Home Theater Projector Report from CEDIA 2005

By Art Feierman
The Cedia show is the premier show each year for custom home integration products, covering a wide range of products including projectors, rear screen projection TVs, plasma displays and LCDTV, screens, accessories, audio systems and whole house sound and video distribution systems, and even home security systems and central vacuum systems.

It’s the projectors, though, that I focused on, and there were plenty of impressive new home theater projectors , from low end to high end, some shipping now, others many months away.

In no particular order, here are some of the “best and brightest”. Since at the show, the most dazzling products were in minature theaters with everything tricked out, those projectors are what got the heart a thumping. So a few of the high end first.

SIM2: One of the top names in higher end front projection home theater projectors, showed their C3X projector, a new $19,995 3 chip DLP. Demo’d in their booth’s theater, it offered spectacular color and great black levels. Overall, I think it impressed me more than any other that I saw. Let’s say, it truly “exceeded my expectations”.

In addition, they spoke of a C3X Lite version with a less powerful bulb for smaller screens – say under 100” diagonal, for $2000 less. Sim2 also showed a new more affordable than previous 720p SIM2 projectors in the $6000 range. They showed a number of other models, plus two plasmas and a surprisingly great looking 40” LCDTV. (For pure cinema performance I normally strongly favor Plasma over LCDTV, but this one did look excellent.)

Certainly one of the most talked about projectors was Sony’s VPL100. Although not quite as versatile as their top of the line Qualia 004 (which plummeted from a near $30,000 price). The VPL-100, like the Qualia is a 3 chip 1080p resolution projector (1920x1080), the new Sony is only $10,000 for 1080p resolution. It’s performance in their theater was, of course razor sharp, and colors were vivid, but their SXRD technology (LCOS type reflective technology), doesn’t seem to match the DLP projectors when it comes to black levels and contrast. Still the breakthrough pricing had everyone excited. It runs on a XEON lamp, and those are far more expensive than the lamps found in most projectors. I believe the XEON lamp is rated 1500 hours, and will sell for $1000. If you find that to be sticker shock, consider that the Qualia’s XEON lamp is about $3000! While I’m talking about the higher end products, both the Texas Instruments DLP booth and Projector Design showed an early prototype Projector Design 3 chip 1080p – truly spectacular. No pricing, no delivery date (probably 6 months?). Vidikron was not to left out in the battle for supremacy, with their wide cinema projector with optional motorized anamorphic lens, that allows you to do full cinema screen 2.35:1 without any letter boxing, or adapt to other formats, as needed. Of course, to take full advantage you need a masking 2.35:1 screen, and they had a new slightly curved masking screen which perfectly matches the requirements of the projector. However this isn’t for the faint of wallet. The projector and lens combination is $43,000, and don’t forget to add $18,000 for the Stewart screen! It sure looked REALLY good to me, and no doubt will do well in the stratospherically priced “screening room” market. OK, it’s time to drop down into the price ranges than most normal folks need to play in.

Projector Design also showed a compact DarkChip3 single DLP projector in the $6K-$7K range. DPI (Digital Projection) also showed a lower cost iVision 20 series in 720p format with darkchip3, although they did not have a fully darkened theater like so many others, to view it in. BenQ in their suite finally showed the long awaited PE8720, their DarkChip3 720p projector. Unfortunately they had less content to show, just a Hi-Def demo tape which looked really good except for a slight shift in the reds something that production units hopefully will have corrected, (it wasn’t that significant – a decent calibration should take care of it). Missing, was some good movie content to preview. Room lighting wasn’t even near fully dark. I’ll have to get in the evaluation unit and run it through its paces, to see how really good it is. Price: Around $8K. By-the-way, unlike their extremely popular HD2+ chip DLP PE7700 home theater projector, which is sold on the internet, the 8720 is only going into the custom install market. It has lens shift and is virtually silent. Optoma showed their full complement of DLP projectors – from the $999 H27 and their all-in-one MovieTime (speakers and DVD built in) to their two Darkchip3 720p projectors, the H78DC3 (available on the internet) – click to read our review, and their more expensive custom install H79.

Epson rolled out 3 new projectors – all LCD, including their high end Pro Cinema 800 and less expensive Cinema 550. In addition, they introduced the least expensive all-in-one projector yet, the MovieMate 25. It offers 1200 lumens, 1000:1 contrast ratio, built in speakers, and DVD. The MovieMate 25 comes with a separate subwoofer, to handle the low end.. Minimum selling price is $1199, putting it below the price of Optoma’s MovieTime. Now the MovieTime is a highly sculpted looking machine, the Epson is simply a large all white cube.

DWIN is showing a dual system for rooms that can’t be darkened in the daytime. It combines a plasma and a projector sharing common processing, so you can enjoy the plasma during the day, but large screen projection when the sun goes down.

InFocus (only at their suite) spoke of 4 new projectors code named the T series, from entry level to the high end. None will be available before January CES show. Ultimately as they are released they will replace the entire current lineup except for the ScreenPlay 7210. Significantly InFocus dropped the price of their top of the line 3 chip 777 (now getting the Darkchip3 DLP processors, from almost $30K down to $14999! Lastly they will also have “G” projector – sporting a single 1080p chip next year.

Yamaha showed their VP1300, a darkchip3 upgrade from last year's VP1200. The older $10,000 projector received some very good reviews. I have requested one for review.

Cedia isn't just projectors, so I'll mention a few other things, starting with an impressive new screen from Screen Innovations, called the Mirage. The Mirage is just starting to ship, and so far is available in fixed wall mount only, but Screen Innovations says motorized units aren't that far behind.

Here's the scoop on the Mirage screen. First, its expensive with about $4000 for a 100" diagonal 16:9 screen. Now if I haven't scared you completely, here's why it should be worth the money. The Mirage claims a gain of 2:1 (nothing shocking there) but also a contrast of 20:1. This translates into rejecting ambient light (no it won't help if the light is behind the projector, but of the light is from the sides, top, etc., wow!

On the floor of the Cedia convention center, the Mirage was setup in a typical front screen configuration, and was being hit by a home theater projector with about 1000 lumens. A part of the screen had a standard matte white surface on it for comparison. They showed movies - under the bright lights. On the matte white side, you could see the image, but it was 90% washed out. On the other hand the Mirage surface was still very vivid. With not dark "blacks" but good enough to easily watch typical television (regular or HD), movies or sports.

That makes the Mirage perfect for rooms that can't be darkened. If I wasn't installing motorized shades in my room, and didn't already have a Firehawk screen, I'd be seriously considering the Mirage. If you have a family room and can't darken it, but want to enjoy, say, football in the afternoon, this screen makes it work for you. It allows an all projector alternative to the popular setup of that 42 or 50 inch plasma over the fireplace for daytime viewing, and a screen that comes down at night to work with a projector for "theater viewing".

Sony almost certainly had their "Black" screen there, but I didn't get to see it. I am asking for one to of each to review.

And there was shown, a major innovation in cabling - called Flatwire, which is just starting to ship. Instead of running wires through walls (component, CAT5, video, even power), this wire is super thin, flat and you place it right on the wall. After that you prep just like you would after drywalling. The bottom line, no inwall suprises, and a dramatic reduction in labor costs. You do it yourself people are going to love Flatwire, as, I believe, will many home theater installation companies.

Lastly there was SunBriteTV, showing an outdoor 32" LCDTV. First of all, it was exceptionally bright (necesary for those sunny days). It's waterproof, and has a very reasonable range of operating temperatures - from 40 degrees to 124 degrees Farenheit. That should work for most of us!

It looks like I will be seeing one of the Yamaha's home theater projectors, the SIM2 C3X projector, the BenQ 8720, hopefully a couple of the new $6K class machines from Projection Design, DPI, Marantz and SIM2. The Marantz VP8600 is shown on the right. I'd like to get that Sony VPL100 in, but I suspect that will be some months away. Also expected is the Epson MovieMate 25. InFocus won't be shipping any of their new machines they showed us Press until the CES show, so you'll have to wait a long while on them, but I am trying to get the InFocus Screenplay 777 cinema projector in for review soon.

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