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1080p Projector Review 2008 - Image Quality5

Posted on March 14, 2008 by Art Feierman

1080P Home Theater Projectors: Black Levels and Shadow Detail

In terms of black levels, the fact that most of these projectors use a dynamic iris, means that depending on the scene, one projector might be slightly better on one scene, than on another one, depending on the algorithms used.

When it comes to shadow details, the better the black levels, the better the ultimate shadow detail you should expect. In reality, there are some "cheats" when it comes to shadow detail, and even increasing your brightness setting by the smallest amount will make the darkest shadow details stand out more. The differences in the gamma tables and other aspects of a projector's setup will also impact shadow detail performance.

Click to enlarge. So close.

Put it all together, and what we are really looking for is the projector that can combine the blackest blacks, with excellent dark shadow detail. Projectors with average black level performance, may still have great shadow detail, but it becomes a case of the final image having more of a less dynamic look, and appear a bit washed out on dark scenes.

Click Image to Enlarge

Of all these projectors, only the JVC projectors lack a dynamic iris. JVC has managed to redesign their LCoS panels to simply produce better true contrast ratios, and therefore blacker blacks, than any other projectors, regardless of technology. Even the Sony VW60, with rather excellent black level performance, at its best (the right scene balance) can barely match the older JVC RS1, and most of the time is not quite as wonderful as the RS1, but still excellent.

The JVC RS1x, for purposes of this report, since I haven't yet received one for review, I will assume to be the same as the older JVC RS1.

So, as I see it, the JVC RS2 has exceptional black levels, and comes out on top - easily, with the JVC RS1 (and RS1x) not quite as good, but still excellent, as the next best.

After that, my money is on the Sony VW60.

And then it gets interesting. My next picks are definitely the Epson's, both less expensive than the others mentioned so far, with the Home version less than half the price of the RS2, and about a third less in price than the least expensive of the "over $3500" projectors. - the Pro Cinema 1080 UB, and the Home Cinema 1080 UB. At their best, they should be able to match the Sony VW60, and I imagine, in some cases perhaps slightly outperform the Sony. But overall, I'll give the Sony the slight advantage, even if the slight Sony shift to blue is still there in the near black levels.

The rankings below are based on both black levels and shadow detail, but since not one of these projectors does less than a very good job on shadow detail, it is weighted heavily toward these home theater projectors' black level performance.

Almost Perfect: JVC DLA-RS2 - Nothing comes close! It truly is a class of one when it comes to black level performance, and right along with it, comes excellent shadow detail

Excellent: JVC DLA-RS1, DLA-RS1x* (assumed), Sony VW60

Almost as Excellent: Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB, Pro Cinema 1080 UB*, Sharp XV-Z20000

1080UB VW40 blacklevels : Comparision

1080UB VW40 blacklevels
HD803 VW40 blacklevels

Extremely Good: InFocus IN82, BenQ W20000* (my best guess), Optoma HD81-LV, Mitsubishi HC6000

Very Good: Panasonic PT-AE2000U, Optoma HD81, HD80, HD8000, BenQ W5000

OK, here's the Optoma HD803 (left), against that same Sony VPL-VW40 right. Can you imagine the difference between the Optoma and the Epson, in terms of black levels? With the much shorter exposure needed to bring up the HD803's black levels, you can barely even make out the blue corner problems with the Sony, as it is that much darker! Note, the HD803, is still better than the Mitsubishi HC4900, but it is one of the poorer overall, in black level performance.

Good: Optoma HD80, Sanyo PLV-Z2000 (note, I was torn between putting this one here, or under Very Good. It may well belong above, as its performance is very close, but not quite as good as the Panasonic, or the HD8000).

So, So: A class of one, here as well - the Mitsubishi HC4900. Mind you the HC4900 isn't bad by any means, easily matching many of the 720p projectors, but, someone has to be at the bottom of the list, and the HC4900, despite very good shadow detail, falls short on black level performance.

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