Projector Reviews

The 1080p Home Theater Projector -Creative Frame Interpolation

Creative Frame Interpolation

I’ve blogged a lot about Creative Frame Interpolation (CFI). This is something just coming to home theater projectors. The short of it, is that it is a process that is designed to elminate motion blur. Afterall, movies are shot at 24 frames per second. Even digital video (such as HDTV sports), at 60fps, will still have blurring when watching a fast paced sporting event, or a Transformer change shape. The concept is good to a point, but there are trade-offs. Only four projectors of the roughly two dozen in this report offer any sort of CFI. Those four are the Panasonic PT-AE3000, the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB and its almost identical sibling, the Pro Cinema 7500UB, and finally, the Sanyo PLV-Z3000.

This is no time for a lengthy discussion, and you will find plenty of blogs on it on our site, that really get into CFI and its trade-offs.

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Each of the three companies has taken a slightly different approach to CFI, and with varying success. The Sanyo PLV-Z3000 has the most basic CFI, and it works well. The Panasonic does what the Sanyo does but has some extra modes. Most have very good results but some have more visible artifacts. Epson has gone much further than the other two companies, but their most advanced (if you will) attempts just don’t cut it. Still, the Epson can do what the Sanyo does, effectively as well, and also most of what the Panasonic does, equally well. Of the three brands, let’s say that the Panasonic has the advantage. How important, and what are the trade-offs?

While a few people are enamoured with the idea of CFI, my own take is that it’s a nice extra feature when it works correctly, but I wouldn’t base a purchase decision on it. At its best, it can very slightly improve some sports viewing, and improve slow panning slightly, but at its worst, it creates visible artifacts, typically, annoying ones. For you to consider: If a projector smooths out a fast action scene, the scene can become too tame. The director knows what the scene is going to look like without CFI, but if they saw the effect of CFI, they just might say “hmm, the action now seems muted.” In other words, CFI may well damage the “director’s intent.” Only the Panasonic, of these projectors, can do anything with a normal movie shot at 24fps on film, and there are times when it is over the top. One tendency is to make film movies look more like “live digital video” or as some call it, “the soap opera effect.”

On the other hand, if your projector offers CFI, no one says you have to use it for content where it isn’t a plus.

Anamorphic Lens support and Anamorphic Lens Emulation

First, a brief on what is an anamorphic lens, and why people are interested in it.

An anamorphic lens is a second lens, placed right in front of the projector. Its sole purpose is to stretch the image horizontally (make it wider), while leaving the vertical untouched. All home theater projectors today have 16:9 aspect ratios. That’s a perfect match for HDTV content, but it is not as wide an image (relative to height) as most movies. Most movies are shot in Cinemascope – a ratio of 2.35:1 – over twice as wide as tall. When you view them on a standard home theater projector, the movie fills the screen horizontally, but leaves you with a black (ok, near black) letterbox, at the top and bottom of the screen (about 10% of the screen height for each). I’d say everyone would rather not have the letterboxing, but 99% of us get along with it just fine. Because not everything you will be watching is in Cinemascope, you still need to be able to go back to standard viewing for HDTV, movies in 16:9, and even old 4:3 (standard TV). To accomplish that, you need to move the anamorphic lens out of the way. For that reason, almost everyone going anamorphic, buys not only the lens, but a motorized sled to remove the lens from the light path when not needed.

The cost of an anamorphic lens and sled is typically $3000 – $6000 for projectors in this price range, in other words, often costs more than the projector. It also means unless you are buying one with one of the better/more expensive projectors, you are going to get a lot more bang for your buck skipping the lens, and buying a much better projector.

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Of the projectors covered in this report, most do have internal support an anamorphic lens. That means you can buy the lens, etc., and it will work. That internal support consists of the correct aspect ratio for it all to look right. Any projector without that internal support, can still work with an anamorphic lens, but you’ll need to buy an outboard processor, typically from $800 on up. If you really must have an anamorphic lens, buy a projector that supports one.

Of all the projectors in this comparison, these are the ones that Do Not support an anamorphic lens:

Epson Home Cinema 6100
Epson Home Cinema 6500UB
Sony VPL-HW10

Now, of those three, Epson offers near identical versions of these projectors; the Pro Cinema 7100, and the Pro Cinema 7500UB, which do support an anamorphic lens, but cost more, have a couple of other secondary differences, and are only sold through local authorized dealers, and not online.

Sony’s VPL-HW10 does not support the lens, but their noticeably more expensive (and better) VPL-VW70 (which we haven’t been able to get in yet, for review), does.

It’s interesting that something like an anamorphic lens, which is probably not used by more than 1% of owners, is now supported in most projectors, but then, most of what is needed, is simply one more supported aspect ratio, and a 12 volt trigger to move the lens in and out of position.

Emulate it!

Panasonic’s PT-AE3000 does have support, but it also has something else, which is the ability to “emulate” an anamorphic lens. It doesn’t need such a lens to put a Cinemascope image on a 2.35:1 screen and no letterboxing. This saves thousands, but has some trade-offs. Panasonic accomplishes this trick by allowing you (once set up) to touch a button to change the lens’ zoom to fill that 2.35:1 screen. Press another button and it handles your 16:9 and 4:3 content. The trick to making this work, is that you can save the two different zoom settings in a lens memory area.

The downsides are: That letterbox is still there, it’s just not hitting the screen, it’s above and below it. That shouldn’t be a problem if your wall is dark, but if not, you will see the faint light. Also different than a real anamorphic lens, is that the projector still isn’t using all its resolution for the image itself. With a “real” anamorphic lens and stretch, every pixel is in use, not just the about 80% that get used for the movie in this case. As a result, you are giving up a fair amount of brightness.

All that considered, it’s a really nice feature that allows you to go “Cinemascope” without the big expense. Look for more projectors to do the same next year