Projector Reviews

Projector Reviews Japan 3LCD, Epson Tour, part 2

OK, time to pick up where I left off. We’ve already discussed a bit about 3LCD’s strengths in terms of more color per lumen, and in color accuracy at full power. There are, however other issues which came up in our discussions. One of those was the cost of maintenance.The guys on the other side of the isle – those DLP proponents at Texas Instruments, claim a big advantage in terms of cost of maintenance. So, let’s investigate. This isn’t about reliability, but about routine maintenance. The DLP folks point out that that most DLP projectors do not require dust filters, because DLP projectors use a sealed light path. 3LCD projectors require filters, and therefore, frequent changing of them, because dust can be a problem, and can even mar the image with what are called (aptly) dust blobs.

The 3LCD folks counter, that many of today’s 3LCD projectors don’t need filters cleaned any more frequently than they need lamp changing. If that were the case, they would have a strong case. As I said to the 3LCD folks, hey, you don’t have to be better at everything. I said that, because I do think DLP has the advantage here.There are basically two scenarios. Projectors that are placed on a table top, and those that are permanently mounted. Since cleaning or replacing a filter is a very quick thing, if you have easy access to the projector, using your projector on a table top, negates any real advantage of projectors that don’t need filters changed frequently. Ceiling mounting is a whole different story. Often, accessing a ceiling mounting projector requires at least a ladder. And it can be a real challenge if you have really high ceilings. In some commercial applications, reaching the projector can be daunting, consider many church sanctuaries, where the projector could be 50 feet up in the air, or perhaps a small auditorium, large multipurpose room, or hotel ballroom. not only a pain, but expensive timewise, especially if you contract out, or have a support department run as a profit center.

So, I decided to see what’s really out there, in terms of filter maintenance requirements on various 3LCD projectors. I looked at manuals of Sanyo, and Panasonic small portable projectors. Both recommended frequent cleaning or changing on most models. Sanyo has a reminder features that looks to default to 200 hours. A call to Epson support (since their manuals were no help – they recommend frequent inspection and cleaning when necessary, but give no idea of timeframe), yielded a recommendation of every two to four weeks, unless you were in a really dusty environment. A look at a couple of Mitsubishi projectors yielded recommendations of 100 hours of use.

There are exceptions, and these are noteworthy. We find a number of newer projectors, of the larger, more powerful variety, now are offering autochaning filter rollers, or self cleaing filters, so that their filter system needs to be changed no more often than the lamp. These more expensive projectors are typically found in those larger rooms and are good choices for high ceilings. Projectors with such features include the Panasonic F100 series and newer F110 models, as well as several from Sanyo, including their 6500 lumen PLC-XT100L. As Sanyo works closely with Christie, this feature is also found in some of Christie’s LCD projectors.

Bottom line: If you really need to keep filter maintenance to a minimum, and want an LCD projector, it’s doable, but your choice is mostly limited to more expensive ceiling mount type projectors with high lumens. If you are looking for low maintenance in a low cost portable, DLP is where you will find those. Of course if you have a portable projector you are using portably, cleaning the filter is a quick thing, and no big deal. The problem comes when you want to ceiling mount a lower cost portable, as is often done in classrooms, and small business. Is filter changing a deal breaker – no, not normally, but frequent filter changing is going to be a point of discussion for, say, a school district looking to ceiling mount projectors in 200 classrooms, as even once every month or two, means significant extra labor time.

OK, I’ve beaten that topic to death, what’s next?Projector Market TrendsI learned a great deal, in terms of predicted trends. One, is that finally, SVGA projectors are going away. Mostly buoyed up by K-12 purchases these past 5-7 years, SVGA has endured almost a decade after SVGA computers became dinosaurs. It’s easy to understand. typically SVGA projectors have been about 2/3 the price of XGA models. A school district could populate 100 classrooms with XGA, or 150 classrooms with SVGA. For schools, mostly dollars wins over resolution. Finally though, the costs of XGA projectors – now available from under $600, have reached the point, where they are as affordable as SVGA projectors just a couple of years ago, and are only about $100 or so more expensive than SVGA today. End result, the now much less significant cost differences, are not enough to dissuade schools from entering the 21st century.What’s new and growing rapidly, (finally!!!) is the widescreen projector segment. Most of these now support 1280×800 resolution, which is common on widescreen laptops and desktops. Widescreen is taking over the market, and finally, we are starting to see a decent number of widescreen projectors. Better still, the price differentials are now much less (between widescreen and XGA) than in the past. Widescreen projectors now can be had (business ones), from around $1000, and some home theater 1080p widescreens can be had for less than $2000. Some of those home and business projectors will get a lot of double usage – business, and then brought home for enjoyment. Optoma, Panasonic, Sanyo, Epson, Mitsubishi, all now have multiple widescreen projectors in their lineups. I’m not sure what percentage of current projectors are widescreen models, but it’s probably 15-20%. Two years ago, it was probably no more than 2%-3%.

Here’s a shocker:

On the business side, according to one study, large corporations now have permanent projectors in 55% of conference rooms. (Hard to believe, but…). I think we can safely assume that the numbers are dramatically lower for small and medium sized businesses.Other trivia: Business projectors (all non-home theater projectors) – the market sweetspot, is $675 to $850, which now accounts for about half of all XGA projectors shipped. Look for XGA projectors to finally be readily available under $500 in 2009!Projectors are getting brighter, as the market sweetspot for brightness is moving now, up to 3000 lumens. Note: Not that long ago – say 2000 – 2002, a 2000 lumen projector was considered an auditorium projector, and that’s the output of most of the big 50 lb.+ models of that time. Now we can buy 3000 lumen projectors for around $1000 and 6 or 7 pounds. Impressive!

OK enough trivia, I’ve got another technical topic – and that is something I get frequent inquiries about. Back in the early years of this century (gawd, that sounds like a long time ago), there was an issue with LCD panel polarizers changing color -notably the blue, fading causing the overall color to shift to yellow. The good news was this rarely happened in less than several thousand hours, and to a large degree was heat related. This issue has been fading away over time, but the question is, has the problem gone away?Grilling of the 3LCD and Epson folks did not come up with a definitive answer, however, what they said, was encouraging. We are 4 or 5 generations newer with today’s LCD panels, and, on top of that, the panels have been dramatically redesigned over that time. Perhaps, most significantly, has been the recent shift (last two years) to “inorganic” LCD panels. While the folks at the meetings would not provide firm numbers, with the newer inorganic LCD’s we’re seeing things published by other members of the 3LCD group. For example, Hitachi has this to say: “New inorganic LCD panels show no decrease inperformance with use, giving you even longer life projectors.” So, even if not perfect yet, it sure sounds like you shouldn’t have to worry about a color shift in any newer 3LCD projector, during its typical life, unless perhaps, you have one of those 18 or 24 hour a day applications 365 days a year, and expect to get 10+ years (unlikely at that usage level, for any projector). (At those usage levels you are replacing lamps every 3 or 4 months!).

Bottom line – the newer inorganic panels are less heat sensitive than the older organic ones, and this should be a non-issue for 99%+.

New inorganic LCD panels show no decrease inperformance with use, giving you even longer life projectors.

What else – ahh, one more thing.

I’ve got a pet project, and I did my best to convince 3LCD and Epson that they need to be in the ballgame: Cinemascope Aspect Ratio Home Theater Projectors!

That’s right. Home theater folks keep reading about anamorphic lenses and getting rid of those pesky letterbox black bars at the top and bottom of every movie we watch on a 16:9 home theater projector.Problem is, anamorphic lenses can set you back $3000 – $6000. A hefty price to pay if you are buying a $2500 1080p projector.So, what the world needs, is for Epson to start shipping a native Cinemascope (2.35:1) LCD panel. Ideally, it should be something like 2560×1080 pixels so it can also do standard 1080p without compression. Creating the chip would allow affordable projectors to hit the market that support full movie widescreen (over 70% of all titles ever released).Sadly, everyone listened politely, nodded agreement as to the benefits, but I never got the feeling that it was going to become an action item. I’ll have to assume, that Epson, who makes almost all of the world’s HTPS LCD’s (the small ones that go in projectors), won’t do it until forced to by the market, and that means, it’s going to be up to either Texas Instruments to come out with a Cinemascope wide DLP chip, or perhaps, JVC or Sony, will pioneer that resolution with their LCoS panels (JVC calls their LCoS – liquid crystal on silicon – D-iLA, while Sony calls theirs – SXRD).

Oh well, I’m not holding my breath. 

What else?

Well, we had one more night to party.

Our hosts took us on a little, private dinner/karaoke cruise, on a neat little boat with lanterns along the side (about 20+ people). The evening was damp – misting heavily – a light rain, really. The boat parked in the open water almost below Tokyo’s Rainbow Bridge, their answer, I guess, to our Golden Gate. The whole v was magnificent, to watch even in the rain. Tokyo has a giant ferris wheel, much like the one in Paris, and it changes colors constantly, we could see part of it between the hi-rise buildings. A beautiful evening. – and that was before the singing started.

The food was a delicious assortment of sashimi, things I didn’t recognize, and some cooked foods too. Very tasty. Then the singing.

Now, I generally avoid karaoke, as with a lot of practice, I can almost carry a tune. Prior to this trip, I have only sang in public 3 times – Happy Together (the Turtles) – twice, and one Bon Jovi.

It seemed to me, however, that in the US, good karaoke is about singing well, everyone grumbles when someone is really bad, or even not great. In Japan, it seems to be more about having a great time, and entertaining. Now, that’s something I can sink my teeth into. I don’t remember (due to a steady flow of Chivas Regal) much of the later evening, but it seems I did 4 Bon Jovi songs, and was helping many others with their songs. I’m told, (fortunately) that I really didn’t embarrass myself, and, better still, a couple of our Japanese hosts told me I was a real “rockstar”. Works for me.

Well, that’s about it. After getting back to our hotel (not really clear about how that happened – a bus, and bottle of Chivas being passed around?), that concluded the entertainment portion of my Tokyo trip.

Awake, the next morning, and in less than stellar shape, I did make it to the airport, and finally back to San Clemente. Got home just in time to see the only person in my family, who really can sing – my daughter Lisa – star in Footloose at our high school. It was really good to be home, and hear someone actually sing on key! Lisa – go girl!

Last thoughts – I’m really hoping that Epson has another manufacturing plant – perhaps in Venice, or maybe the Greek island of Mykonos. If that’s the case, I sure hope they invite me back for another tour! -art