Projector Reviews

CEDIA Expo 2014 Preview

CEDIA EXPO 2014 logoCEDIA Expo 2014 Preview – The annual CEDIA Expo tradeshow kicks off with the keynote address and opening press events on Wednesday, September 10th in Denver, CO.  The manufacturer’s exhibits open the following day and there is certain to be several new projectors of interest announced and demonstrated.  Projector Reviews will be there to report on these, as well as other home theater and home automation products of interest.

This blog discusses what we expect to see at CEDIA Expo and also reports on some rumors and speculation as to what new products and technologies MAY be introduced.

 

CEDIA Expo is the largest trade show in the USA for home theater related products.  Manufacturers generally introduce their new home theater class projectors at CEDIA Expo and this year we should see a few entirely new models for 2015, as well as evolutionary updates to the 2014 models.  Also there is a new Dolby developed surround sound technology being rolled out.

IFA, the largest European consumer electronics trade show, is being held in Berlin, Germany just before the CEDIA Expo.  We frequently get a preview of what to expect to see at CEDIA by reviewing the news out of the IFA show.  However, some manufacturers frequently hold off making announcements at IFA and wait for CEDIA  to release any official information on their new products.  Even when new products are announced at IFA the information released will be for the European models while the model numbers and prices for the similar models intended for the North American market are normally not announced until CEDIA.

PROJECTORS

Based on industry trends I would expected to see more products introduced with solid state light engines (LED based, Laser based, or a combination of LEDs and Laser).  Also 4K is expected be appearing. in some form, with several new projectors and probably from certain manufacturers that up until now have topped out with 1080p models.

Solid State Light Engines

Let’s start off with solid state light engines.  Of course there are already a bunch of pocket and pico DLP projectors that use LED light engines as well as a very few home theater class projectors that are frequently priced at $10,000 and up.  Earlier this year Optoma became the first mainstream manufacturer to introduce a moderately priced home theater class, LED illuminated 1080p DLP projector, with their model HD91 (reviewed in June 2014 – HERE).  Digital Projection International introduced two high-end LED based DLP home theater projectors at CEDIA Expo last year and those joined a few LED home theater projectors from other manufacturers.  So far LEDs have been used with DLP projectors while the home theater LCoS and 3LCD projectors have continued to be lamp based.

The trend now seems to be to use laser diodes instead of, or in combination with LEDs.  Some manufactures are already selling business class projectors that are using lasers but this technology may very well appear in home theater class projectors being introduced at this year’s CEDIA Expo.  There are two configurations for “laser only” (i.e.., not hybrid laser/LED designs) that seem to be gaining industry support.  Sony has a couple of business projectors, including their model VPL-FHZ55 that was previously reviewed HERE.  With the approach used in that Sony 3LCD business projector, a blue laser is used to illuminate a rotating phosphor wheel (rotating to extend the life of the phosphor) and the phosphor then emits a white light.  It is this light coming from the glowing phosphor that is used as the light source, and not the laser light directly.  As with a lamp based projector, the white light is split into the red, green and blue primary colors to illuminate the projector’s 3 display chips.

The second variation that is being used by some other manufacturers again uses a blue laser to illuminate a rotating phosphor wheel, but in this case the phosphor produces a yellow light.   This yellow light is then separated into green and red primary colors to illuminate two of the projector’s 3 display chips while some of the blue laser light illuminates the third display chip.

There are also some business projectors, such as the Panasonic PT-RW430UK  – reviewed HERE, that use a hybrid LED/Laser light engine.  This Panasonic model is a  single chip DLP projector with a light engine that uses blue and red LEDs plus a blue laser that illuminates a phosphor wheel producing a yellow light that is then filtered to produce a green primary color light source.

Of the projector manufacturers producing quality mid-priced home theater models, JVC, Sony and Epson are all exhibiting at CEDIA Expo and I would expect to see at least one of these manufacturers introduce a home theater class projector with a laser or a hybrid laser/LED light engine.

Why all the excitement about laser , LED or hybrid light engines?  Going from lamp/bulb based technology to solid state light engine technology has a few pros and cons.

Let’s start with the Pros.

  • With a typical 20,000 life for the laser/LED light source, the expensive of replacing lamps every 2,000 to 3,000 hours, as is typical for home theater class projectors, it eliminated.
  • Lamps dim over their life with more rapid dimming during the first few hundred hours then more gradual dimming over the remainder of their life.  Laser/LED based light sources have an advantage as they are said to maintain relatively constant light output over most of their life.
  • Lamps (most commonly using UHP bulbs) produce a light that changes its color characteristics as the lamp ages.  For those home theater (HT) owners that demand the best possible color accuracy, that means they will have their new projector calibrated, after perhaps the first 100 hours of use, and then one or two more re-calibrations as the lamp continues to age over the remainder of its life.  Then a new calibration would needed each time the lamp is replaced.  Unless the HT owner has the equipment and skills to do their own calibration, the costs for paying a professional calibrator to come back to periodically do another calibration can add up to a significant expense.  Laser and LED light sources are expected to eliminate all except the initial calibration as their color will have very little change very little over time.  However, when a phosphor target is introduced into the light path with a laser based projector, the question then becomes how stable is light output and color characteristics from the phosphor and while probably more stable than from a lamp, its probably not a stable as the light emitted directly by the laser.
  • As we move to 4K UHD displays and video sources a wider gamut (color space) is expected to become the norm.  It should be easier to produce a bright image with a wider color gamut using laser and LED light sources than with conventional UHP lamps.  However, for laser and hybrid projectors, this may require projectors with direct illumination of the display chip by the laser and not using a glowing phosphor target as the 2nd stage light source.

The Cons for a laser or LED light source are:

  • For a home theater class projector the added cost to provide a laser or a bright LED light source vs. a lamp based model is perhaps $1500 and potentially several thousand dollars depending on the specific implementation and the projector’s actual (calibrated) light output.
  • If the LED or laser light engine has a failure after the warranty has expired, the cost to repair it could be significant.  I would expect this would require the projector be sent to a factory authorized repair facility and would thus would incur both parts  and labor charges, unlike a simple lamp replacement by the user.
  • Current government regulations in the USA and Europe limit the maximum laser power allowed when direct illumination is used (i.e, without using an intermediate phosphor target) and this significantly constrains the maximum possible brightness out from projector’s using direct laser illumination of the display chips.  This is one area where LEDs may in the longer term have a leg up on lasers as their light output is not limited by government regulations, but suitable high lumens LEDs are still expensive.

 4K UHD and other Upgrades

“4K” and “UHD” are two terms that many consumers probably believe are synonymous and some manufacturers have tended to use them as if they are.   The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) recently released guidelines (discuss in my previous blog – HERE) intended to place specific minimum requirements for use of the term UHD and many of the current consumer products labeled as 4K, and some labeled as UHD, simply do not satisfy the requirements to be called a UHD product under the CEA guidelines.

Of the current generation of projectors that are sold in the USA and labeled as 4K, only the two Sony models (VPL-VW600ES and VPL-VW1100ES) qualify to be called UHD.   The JVC projectors labeled as 4K cannot be considered to be UHD projectors on at least two major points.  First they do not have a native 3840 x 2160 (or higher) resolution and they do not support HDCP 2.2 copyright protection via their HDMI inputs.  Many of the flat panel 4K TVs also do not satisfy the minimum requirements set out by the CEA for UHD labeling.

So what do we expect to see introduced at CEDIA Expo.  I expect we will see some manufacturer(s), beyond JVC, introduce pseudo 4K projectors using pixel shifting to display two offset 1080p images to give the smooth image of a true 4K projector, but not providing the actual resolution. This technique, which JVC introduced a couple of years ago under their trade name “e-shift”, can produce some improvement is visible resolution, but certainly not the full 8M pixels of resolution offered by a native 4K/UHD projector.   I expect, or at least hope, to see new models (from JVC and perhaps other manufacturers) with pseudo 4K (i.e., using pixel shifting) equipped with HDMI 2.0 input(s) supporting HDCP 2.2 that accept 4K/UHD (i.e., 2160p) signal inputs at refresh rates up to 60Hz and with a minimum of 10-bit depth when using 4:2:2 chroma subsampling (in addition to 8-bit 4:2:0 support).

Sony currently offers 2 consumer projectors with native 4K resolution, as mentioned above, and they are expected to introduce a third, entry level, model at CEDIA (and IFA).   this was hinted at in recent Sony press release in advance of the IFA show in Berlin, where the Sony press release says, in part (translated to English):

“The real home cinema experience is closer than you think.  This year, at IFA in Berlin, Sony is ready to unveil it ultimate home cinema picture quality to an even wider audience.”

 It is anticipated that the keep the price of a new entry level 4K/UHD projector well under the price of Sony’s existing VPL-VW600ES, features such as power focus, power zoom, power lens shift and lens memory may be eliminated.  Also a new entry level model may have lower light output and perhaps a less expensive lens and the VPL-VW600ES.    I would expect the price of a new entry level Sony 4K/UHD projector to  almost certainly be under $10,000 (MSRP) and perhaps in the $7,000 to $8,000 price range.  As some of you may recall, Sony’s flagship 1080p projector was the VPL-VW95ES which had an MSRP of $6,999 when introduced 3 years ago and this model has not subsequently been updated nor replaced in Sony’s projector line-up.  I suspect the new entry level 4K/UHD model will essentially replace the now discontinued VPL-VW95ES in Sony’s consumer projector lineup.  As for Sony’s existing VPL-VW600ES and VPL-VW1100ES they may, or may not, be some minor updates announced at CEDIA Expo, along with a possible price reduction.

<September 3rd Update>  Sony announced today a new entry level 4K/UHD projector at the IFA show in Berlin, Germany.  The new Model is the VPL-VW300ES which will sell for 6999 Euros.  The equivalent model in the USA may, nor may not, have the same model number and this, as well as the US price, are expected to be announced at CEDIA Expo next week.   The VPL-VW300ES appears to be similar to the current VPL-VW600ES (US version) or VPL-VW500ES (international version), except the new model lacks a few features of the current models.  Missing features include memory zoom (but still has power zoom and focus) and the auto-calibrate function found on the VPL-VW600ES.  The VPL-VW300es has a little lower light output and lacks a dynamic iris than the existing VPL-VW600es.  A few of the specs. for the VPL-VW300ES are:

  • 1500 lumens of light output using a 230 watt lamp
  • 20,000:1 contrast ratio
  • Supports 2160p @60Hz with 4:2:0 and 8-bit depth
  • Equipped with HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 inputs
  • Low lag time gaming mode
  • RF 3D glasses
  • Electronic panel alignment
  • Firmware can be updated via USB input
  • RS232,RJ45  wired LAN and IR inputs for control and connection to home automation systems
  • Equipped with a Color Management System to permit professional color calibration
  • 2.06X power zoom
  • Lens shift range:  85% vertical and 31% horizontal
  • Zoom Lens provides a Throw Ratio of 1.38:1 to 2.83:1
  • Weight: 31 pounds

JVC has always been very good at preventing news from leaking out concerning their new projectors, and this year is no exception.  Some of the current speculation includes they will introduce a new entry level e-shift model thus eliminating any non e-shift enabled models, equip the new models with full HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 inputs along with the processing to accept a more complete range of UHD signal inputs, and perhaps introduce a new flagship projector with native 4K/UHD resolution.  As mentioned earlier in this blog we might also see a new projector from JVC using a LED or laser light engine.  I repeat, this is all just speculation at this point and while I suspect we will see some of these possible upgrades actually confirmed at CEDIA Expo for JVC’s 2015 models, we might have to wait another year or more to get some of these goodies from JVC, especially a native 4K model or a laser light engine.

Epson’s lineup of home theater projectors is normally updated a little each year.  For example their popular Home Cinema 5010UB was update to the 5020UB two years ago and then was updated to the 5030UB last year.  Will be see a 5040UB introduced at this year’s CEDIA Expo – probably.  The same applies to likely updates to the current Home Cinema 6030UB, 4030, and 2030 models.  As for totally new models, a new flagship model is certainly possible.  Three years ago at CEDIA Expo 2011, Epson demo’ed what was intended to be a new flagship model using LCD-Reflective technology (a variation of LCoS).  They subsequently ran into manufacturing issues with the new display chips and never introduced that new model.  However, Epson is believed to have continued working on their LCD-Reflective technology and we may very well see a new flagship model introduced by Epson using this technology, perhaps combined with some of the other emerging technologies as discussed here.  Also the current Epson Home Cinema projectors have manual focus, zoom and lens shift and perhaps a new flagship model would add power versions for these adjustments and perhaps even lens memory.  Again, almost all of this is speculation, but it won’t come as a surprise if Epson brings out a higher-end projector with at least some of these potential enhancements to more directly compete with the offerings from JVC and Sony.

<September 5rd Update> Art has now posted a preview of Epson’s new flagship Pro Cinema LS10000 – LINK.

Below is a graphic for this new Laser based, LCD-Reflective (more or less LCoS), pseudo 4K projector.

Epson LCD-R projector

 

 

What might we see from the DLP projector manufacturers in terms of a consumer 4K/UHD projector?  For now DLP projectors with 4K/UHD resolution are expected to be limited to very high-end 3 chip DLP projectors.  We will perhaps see one or two of these at CEDIA Expo from manufacturers such as Digital Projections, but sub-$20,000 consumer DLP 4K/UHD projectors are probably still a year or two away.

4K/UHD VIDEO SOURCES AND ACCESSORIES

Many of us are waiting for announcements on when the first Blu-ray UHD players and movie discs will become available.  While we may hear something at CEDIA Expo, the most likely venue/timeframe for any such big announcements, and perhaps even demos, will be the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) show in January 2015.

There will be plenty of HDMI switches, video processors, and new AV Receivers introduced and/or demo’ed at CEDIA Expo that have HDMI 2.0 inputs/outputs and provide support for 4K/UHD.  One thing we will need to watch out for is that such products need to also have support for HDCP 2.2 with their HDMI 2.0 inputs/outputs as this will be necessary to have compatibility with certain current and many future UHD video sources (e.g., Blu-ray UHD).  In fact, a product with HDMI 2.0 support but lacking HDCP 2.2. support cannot be labeled as supporting UHD under the new CEA guidelines.  I’m bringing attention to this point on the HDCP version because several AVRs have already been introduced this year that advertise HDMI 2.0 inputs and output(s) and 4K support, but with an older version of HDCP.  Consumers interested in UHD displays and sources for the future need to avoid such AVRs and wait for AVRs supporting both HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 to become available.

NEXT GENERATION SURROUND AUDIO

There has recently been a lot of recent press about Dolby’s ATMOS system for both commercial cinemas and for the home.  Several hundred commercial cinemas have already been equipped with the ATMOS system and you may want to consider ATMOS for your next home theater build or re-build.  Dolby is running demos and training sessions at CEDIA Expo and some consumer electronics manufacturers, such as Yamaha, are introducing and demo’ing AVRs with ATMOS support.  You can find more information on Dolby ATMOS technology – HERE

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I plan to be blogging (HERE) from CEDIA Expo 2014 starting with my “Day 1” blog on Wednesday, Sept. 10th and also be certain to check out what Art is also posting from CEDIA Expo (HERE).