InFocus ScreenPlay 8602 Home Theater Projector – A First Look review

Greetings,OK, getting an early look at the new InFocus ScreenPlay 8602 was much fun.  Before I get started, a quick note.  The Mitsubishi HC3800 home theater projector review will publish early this evening: Monday Sept. 28th, 2009.  In addition, I’ll publish my First Look blog on the Epson Home Cinema 8100 sometime tomorrow afternoon, if not sooner.  OK, back to the new InFocus 8602 projector:
Angle photo of InFocus SP8602 home theater projector
It was, however an early engineering sample.  In this particular case I didn’t feel we had enough control of the unit to do a full review, but it has been an educational, and encouraging experience.First of all, it looks like it’s going to be a really good projector, worthy of it’s $5000 anticipated price tag, and as a successor to the IN83.The InFocus 8602 they sent me, did not have the gain and offset controls active when using the HDMI port.  We were not advised that other inputs might have them working.  As such we did not calibrate the projector.  Couldn’t get to the color saturation control either, and everything looked like it could use a slight reduction in saturation as well.
InFocus SP8602 on left, BenQ W6000 on right
Click for a larger versionThere was no good way to get them virtually identical in brightness.Even without calibrating it, the color was reasonably good.  But definitely not great.  Yellows and perhaps green seem strong with a goldish caste to the picture.  I have little doubt that with the finalized color tables, and a calibration with working controls, and the InFocus will produce a really fine picture with at least extremely good skin tones – something InFocus projectors tend to do extremely well.Black level performance was very good.  Unlike previous InFocus projectors, the ScreenPlay 8602 projector has a dynamic iris, and it does the trick.  InFocus claims 30,000:1 Contrast, certainly a respectable number these days.   I did a couple of quick side by sides with the InFocus, and the BenQ W6000 projector.  The InFocus 8602 bests the W6000 in black level performance.  In some quick viewing, it’s iris was pretty well behaved, (better than most) and in several favorite scenes that I regularly use, the InFocus did provide a generally blacker black. Due to the different ways the projectors’ irises work, the amount of difference varies by the scene.I’ll concede that there might be even further improvement with the finished projectors.  How good are the blacks?  My best take is that they are not a match for my JVC RS20, and maybe not the RS10, but should prove to be at least close to the rest of the good ones using dynamic irises, such as the Planar PD8150, the Epson 8500UB (new),  6500UB. Another unknown would be the announced Sony VPL-VW85, which though more money than the InFocus, should be a serious competitor.That means black levels that are “good enough” in that they really are pretty good, and good enough that other factors are going to be more important, than incremental black level performance improvements.  Those other factors might include brightness, sharpness, shadow detail, overall color, and, look and feel.In that regard, consider sharpness.  The Screenplay 8602 is very sharp, no question that it is sharper than my JVC RS20.  It’s a typically very sharp DLP projector, and the sharpness was obvious to an old hand like me.The projector itself is big, rectangular and perhaps only attractive in a soft commercial looking sort of way.  Zoom, focus and lens shift controls (all manual) are located on the top, behind the lens, and under a cover that has a release, and slides off. Well, afterall, theoretically, you are setting it up once, and leaving it.  It seals up all nice and neat.  While the styling is pretty plain, InFocus offers different “skins” so you can change the color of the unit.  Choices include:  matte black, matte white, glossy black, walnut, or pre-primed for custom design installations.  There’s a cable cover to keep the cabling all neat, too.  InFocus, as usual labels all the inputs upside down, so that installers see them right side up once the projector is hung and ready for cabling. (That’s what I call a minor, but “nice” touch!)Interestingly, for trim, there’s a bright blue light  called a Glow Ring) (led? I didn’t look) trim ring around the lens.  Talk about minor details, I couldn’t turn it off from the menu, not activated yet,  so it stayed on, while viewing.  I solved that by cutting out a cardboard mask, and taped it on to the front.  That solved the bright blue light problem.    If that hadn’t worked, plan B was duct tape, of course.  No problem masking the light for viewing purposes, and of course that feature will  work properly in finished production InFocus 8602 projectors.Hmm, what else is of interest?Creative frame interpolation.  That was a surprise – I hadn’t been expecting it. And, this is one of the first DLP projectors to offer it, and one of the first $5000 and up projectors to sport CFI.    It seems to work very nicely.  Movies took on that live digital video look which is more soap opera like, and which most of us don’t like for movies.  The CFI, though offers real potential with sports.  I haven’t yet played with it much, but it definitely was far superior to the early Epson CFI that I discussed in many blogs (and later updated by Epson).  I’ll take a much closer look when I get the production 8602.    My initial impression is that the InFocus CFI is pretty clean.  For movies however the CFI  definitely will not match the director’s intent.  While CFI can be fun, on some movies, I think we are going to need more advanced CFI, that can smooth out key types of motion, without giving us the “live digital video” look.  I haven’t seen any CFI so good that I can recommend it for most movie watching, not even on the “low” setting when offered.  InFocus is using Pixelworks to provide a lot of its image processing, and TI’s Brilliant Color for much of the rest.  Pixelworks is well known, and does image processing for a number of projectors.  I do believe it is Pixelworks that also provides the CFI for the Epson UB projectors.Audible Noise levels weren’t bad, neither loud nor exceptionally soft.  That’s not surprising, as DLP’s tend to lead towards the noisy side, but this is a big box, with plenty of chance to muffle the sound.  Since this is an early unit, I would expect a production unit to be slightly quieter, but even with a worst case scenario – no change in noise level, the InFocus does pretty well.BTW, the cute little LED backlit remote looks like a miniature version of the projector (but without the blue glow ring).The SP8602 is a pretty bright, projector!  (InFocus rates it at 1300 lumens, officially.)When you consider this is an early unit, it’s almost certain that production units will be this bright or brighter.  In the best mode we could come up with, the projector managed over 600 lumens and most modes were between there and about 750 lumens. (Remember, we had very little flexibility, so mostly looked at the different modes as they were provided.)  The brightest Mike was able to measure was just below 900 lumens.   That, in general puts the InFocus ScreenPlay 8602 pretty much the same as the JVC projectors, including my RS20, all of which measure between 700 and 900 lumens from best to brightest.  I may hope that full production units will be little brighter, but I wouldn’t expect a major increase.All considered, the SP8602 should have great color, will have real “ultra-high contrast” black level performance, above average movie mode brightness, and a very sharp image.  Ultimately we’ll see how the InFocus 8602’s black levels perform compared to the competition, but its safe to say that they are far superior to the older IN83 projector.What’s not to like?  I’ll probably edit this blog or do another one with more thoughts, but mostly, for anything definitive, let’s leave it at this:  Looks to be excellent, and may prove to be a potential Best In Class winner (or at least serious competitor), but I’ll need to see a more finished projector to really position it.All considered, I expect that when this projector ships, likely late October, it will be one serious projector.  Just the thought of a projector that’s nice and bright, and can hopefully match the excellent skin tone and color handling of the IN83, but with the addition of a dynamic iris to give the projector some very respectable black level performance, has my heart all a pitter-patter!   (Ok, let’s say, I’m mildly excited!).  Seriously though, that’s what were’ all hoping for, in the form of the ScreenPlay 8602.If InFocus can deliver – and there’s nothing I’ve seen so far to indicate they won’t be able to. And I’m talking about all of the points discussed above, then the IN8602 becomes a formidable projector, with a serious shot at being the best of the under $10,000 DLP 1080p projectors.  If not the best, than almost certainly a serious contender! -art

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