Projector Reviews

Projector Reviews Tours Epson 3LCD Facility in Sapporo, Department store in Tokyo, Japan – part 1.

What a whirlwind trip. Japan and back in four days (from San Clemente California). Overall, the trip was a bit brutal, a lot of fun, and, actually rather enlightening. I’ll give you a taste of the travel schedule, and then get into the substance of the trip.

The brutal aspect of the trip started with a 10.5 hour flight from LAX to Tokyo’s Narita Airport. I’ve got to thank the 3LCD group for dropping the big bucks on Business Class. Those seats are the size of a small car, and really do open up into a flat bed. Amazing. Of course I had to leave the house 3+ hours before the flight, and once landing, there was the almost hour to get luggage, and take transport (90 minutes) from the airport to the hotel in Tokyo. Ok, that doesn’t sound so bad (if a 10.5 hour flight can ever be good – the food was).

The killer, though, was we left LA on Monday, and arrived Tuesday (crossed the international date line), around dinner time at our hotel, only to have to (after some catch up sleep Tuesday evening), meet in the hotel lobby at 7am on Wed morning, for a ride to another airport and a “short” two hour flight to northern Japan.

Once arriving on the island of Hokkaido (near Sapporo), it was a short ride to Epson’s automated 3LCD plant, located right off the airport grounds.

After a formal Japanese lunch (I’m still trying to figure out what food groups a number of the things I ate belonged to), we were given presentations on 3LCD technology, and plant operation.

The plant was cool. We only saw a large room where most of the workers that control operations, etc. sit, and the automated plant itself, seen only through a large window. It looked right out of Disney’s Star Tours – but more modern (take that R2D2)! This plant builds 3LCD panels without the active intervention of humans. We were told that the only time people enter the plant floor is for maintenance work! Very cool. We also saw samples the new 12″ wafers that Epson is building – the larger wafers than the traditional 8″ means greater yields, less waste, and lower costs. Epson currently makes 4 different 3LCD panels for business projectors, and two more for home theater models. That, I didn’t realize, until then.

Of course I learned a lot of stuff I didn’t previously know (why else put up with those long flights). For example, according to Epson (and or 3LCD) team, at this time home theater projectors only make up about 1/10th the volume of front projectors, with business type projectors making up the balance.

But, back to the travels. I’ll get into more of the discussions below. After the Epson 3LCD factory tour, we had a nice little side trip to a Kirin Beer factory. Not bad! (I always liked Kirin beer). Our hostess taught us the right way to pour beer from a can. Sadly, it’s a 3 minute process according to them, something I, and most beer drinkers don’t have the patience for. After the beer, back on the bus, back to the Sapporo airport, and another 2 hour flight back to Tokyo, plus all the usual airport and transport time.

So, naturally, we were still pretty wiped out. No problem – off to dinner in Tokyo. Excellent. Not much energy though. Actually everyone packed up after dinner for the hotel, except your humble blogger. I felt morally obligated to get the lay of the land, so spent a few hours wandering the city streets and clubs of Tokyo. Much fun, but that’s all I’ll admit to.

Thursday was next, with a 5 minute walk to Epson’s Tokyo offices, (in a really gorgeous office building with something like a 5 story high pendulum clock by Seiko Epson, in what I would describe as a Hyatt Regency style lobby/courtyard.

It was time to get to the heart of the trip. We had several hours of presentations, meetings and discussions – separated by an excellent lunch (I recognized most of the food this time.). Now it was entertain the guests time. OK to finish off the afternoon, we toured a huge electronics department store (9 stories, I think). Now this was (no offense to my 3LCD and Epson hosts), perhaps the most amazing part of the trip. We got about an hour and a half to wander around this store – mind you about the only things in english were the model numbers, and the price in yen. (easy to translate). This makes shopping a little difficult, but no matter, as I didn’t buy anything.

What really made it amazing, though, was the selection. The only way I can put this store in perspective, is to compare it to a Best Buy or Circuit City. And, in all fairness that isn’t even remotely a comparison!

The selection of equipment (computers, computer accessories, camcorders – including 1080p HD ones, monitors, projectors, digital cameras, watches, cell phones, MP3 players, even telescopes, and tripods, not to mention washers and dryers), is simply Way Over The Top!

I’d have to say, that for every computer on display at a Best Buy or Circuit City, there were probably 40 or 50 here. For every MP3 Player, cell phone, or point and shoot digital camera found at our traditional super stores (best buy, circuit city), there probably had to be 50 to 100 models of each in this Japanese store. For example, a quick count of 26″ LCD computer monitors, worked out to about 20 different models, and probably half that number of 32 inchers. I don’t even know if you can find a 32″ on display in the US? Point and shoot digital cameras – hundreds, many, many hundreds! True HD camcorders 1080p (not those lower res “HD” ones- must have been dozens. You get the picture. Oh, if only the info cards for each product on display were in english – who knows what I might have spent!

Talk about a toy store for guys! This Japanese store is to Best Buy, what a Super-Walmart is to a 7-11 convenience store. Wow!

Ok, it’s time to talk about what I learned.

Not surprising, much of the presentations and discussions were focused on the ongoing battle between 3LCD front projectors and DLP ones. This was the 3LCD Group and Epson’s shot at making all their points as to why 3LCD is best (and therefore logically why DLP should cease to exist – not that they said as much).So, the next few paragraphs are going to be a 3LCD lovefest, as I mention the various significant points our hosts made. BTW, I’m more than welcome to giving TI, and the DLP.com crowd their 15 minutes of fame too. Hello – DLP? I’m ready to see a tour of a DLP plant, and hear your schtick? Do you perhaps have a plant in Shanghai (I’ve never been there), or perhaps Tahiti, or Venice? If so, sign me up!

Let’s start with these key technology points. I’ll save more of the marketing info and analysis, for Part 2.

Our hosts point out that LCD devices dominate every major category, from Laptop displays (100%) to Monitors (92%), AV-Pro front projection (75%) Direct view TV (LCDTV) (69%), and front projectors overall (51%). All very valid, although we are concerning ourselves with 3LCD technology, sometimes referred to as HTPS – High Temperature Poly-Silicon (LCDs), the type that go into front projectors, and somewhat different from the larger panels that we know from laptop screens and large LCDTVs.

If marketshare counts for anything – score one for 3LCD.They also pointed out that based on efficiency, 3LCD is much more green than DLP. There is no surprise here, for many years, DLP projectors with similar lumen output to LCD projectors, have typically used lamps that draw 20 – 30% more electricity – a 160 watt lamp in an LCD projector is fairly common, and over 200 watts is rare. With DLP, lamps seem to start at about 200 watts and go up to 260 watts or so. Simply stated, 3LCD projectors produce more lumens per watt. Score a second point for LCD.Two of the things most emphasized in the presentations, and heavily discussed afterwords, were the issues of color saturation and accuracy (as it relates to using color filter wheels in single chip DLP projectors), and the importance – or lack thereof, when rooms are not fully darkened.Color saturation, and accuracy differences between DLP and 3LCD is a topic I’ve written several articles on, over the years. I found nothing new here, other than more info and numbers to back what I have said. Let me summarize: DLP projectors – notably business projectors but also some home theater models – “cheat” by putting a clear filter on their color wheel, along with the usual Red, Green, and Blue filters. This is a great way to increase the measured lumens, but it really doesn’t improve the projector’s ability to function in ambient light, as one should expect. Here’s how the game is played:

Remember white consists of equal amounts of red, green and blue. We will compare two systems. One which has a color wheel, with just red, green and blue, each 33% of the total (or it could be a 3LCD projector – but without the color wheel – with red, green, and blue panels. The other, is a DLP projector with four filters 25% each – red, green, blue and clear (effectively white).Here’s the math. Let’s say we start out with the idea of a 3000 lumen projector. With our first example, the red, green and blue panel or wheel slices, each put out 3000 lumens (3000 lumens of red, 3000 of blue…), they combine to yield 3000 lumens of white. Fair enough. OK, now let’s do the four slice system. Let’s start with that same 3000 target. This time, though we will start with 2250 lumens each for red, green blue, and clear. (In the first case 3000×3 = 9000, in the second case 2250×4=9000.) OK now. In case 1, we end up with 3000 lumens of white, and when we need a pure color like red, we get 1000 lumens of red – since red is 1/3 of the color used in white. Now, with the DLP projector to figure out white, we get 2250 lumens (2250 each of red, green and blue = 2250 total), plus we get an additional 3000 * 1/4 (the amount of the color wheel pass which is white/clear) = 750 lumens. Bingo – 2250 + 750 = 3000 lumens.

Both LCD and DLP projectors are outputting 3000 lumens of white, but – consider – for each primary color, the DLP can only produce 1/3 of 2250 lumens for red which works out to 750 lumens.Bottom line, both 3000 lumen projectors measure 3000 lumens for white, but the 3LCD projector has richer more saturated colors that can cut though more ambient light, by virtue of being about to produce 1000 lumens of any primary color, while the DLP in this case, can only do 750 lumens. Mind you some DLP projectors have larger than 25% clear slices, others have different proportions of red, green and blue, and some have additional colors. The key point, though is that the “white” segment, is a bit of a cheat (unless you are doing black and white/gray presentations).

Bottom line? You definitely get more kick, overall, with an LCD projector with the same rated brightness. Is the difference dramatic? Not hardly, but it is a real difference, especially if you like bright colors and you have a fair amount of room lighting. On the other hand, in a fully darkened room, you are less likely to notice the DLP weakness. Thing is, today – who (other than home theater), operates a projector in a fully darkened room? Answer – pretty much nobody. So, score a plus for 3LCD over DLP. Simply stated, you get richer colors and more color lumens, for the same amount of white lumens. BTW, it isn’t that simple – of course. In reality, with a call for red, a DLP projector could get you that 1000 lumens, buy using the clear filter as well as the red one. Trouble is, those extra lumens aren’t pure red, but an equal mix of red, green and blue – in fact exactly what you would get if you turned on another light in the room. Bottom line, 3LCD projectors will have the color saturation advantage when there’s ambient light present.

Another area the 3LCD Group, strongly favored LCD projectors is color accuracy. Now, those of you who have been following home theater projectors for some time, realize, that most home theater projectors are pretty color accurate, regardless of the technology, and most can use some minor adjusting to make them better. But, that’s the home market, where lumens have always been secondary, considered far less important that color accuracy, black levels and shadow detail. In the business market, when you want maximum lumens from a DLP projector, you are likely to find that colors – notably bright reds and yellows, tend to be poorly reproduced. This is nothing new, I comment on this in almost every review of a business DLP projector, and have mentioned this as recently as last month’s Dell M209X review. Bright reds tend to look more like a deep red wine color. Bright yellows tend to be more of a sickly, mustardy (a real word?), yellow green. Now, this isn’t how it has to be. Certainly, the vast majority of business DLP projectors can produce very good colors including those bright reds and yellows, however, in most cases you have to find the optimal setting – usually a Video mode. Thing is, select the Video mode, and not only do colors start looking good, but brightness often drops in half. Therefore, in our previous example, if you need highly accurate colors, that 3000 lumen DLP, may, in reality not perform much better than 3LCD projectors with 1500 – 2000 lumens. Now that is something to think about.

Mind you, DLP’s have their strengths, especially in contrast and black levels. So don’t think the battle is totally one sided. The purpose here, is to give you enough information, so you can “choose wisely.”

OK that’s more than enough to digest, especially without good graphics to illustrate.<p></p>

In the next “chapter” – part two, we’ll look at a bit more technology, but get started on some of the market dynamics.  And, perhaps a story from our Karaoke cruise – (or rather from what I remember of it).  -art