Projector Reviews

Vivitek H9090 Home Theater Projector Review – Special Features

VIVITEK H9090 PROJECTOR SPECIAL FEATURES:  LED light engine w/no Eco mode, Interchangeable lenses, Dynamic Black “iris action”

LED Light Engine

Other than really low cost pico and pocket projectors, there have been very few LED light engine powered projectors to reach the market in home projectors.  Even in commercial space, lasers or hybrid (LED and laser) are more common.  To date, we’ve reviewed home theater projectors with LED light engines from a couple of companies, notably Optoma and Viewsonic.  Although the faults were not with the light engines, those projectors did not particularly impress.  They were also far, far, less expensive.

The H9090 uses separate Red, Green, and Blue LEDs. There are no color wheels in use, nor are there any phosphors.

Vivitek rates the light engine as having a life of 20,000 hours, which is fairly common on projectors with LED light engines. In the H9090’s case, that would be at full power, not Eco mode. Many companies tend to only tell the hours life for their projectors in eco mode, whether lamp based, LED, Laser, or hybrid. I certainly favor knowing how long the light source is good for full power, especially since the normal measurement in hours isn’t until failure, but until brightness has fallen by 50%. That’s the case no matter what type of light engine is in use.

In the case of the H9090, there is only the full power mode, so 20,000 ours is a very respectable time.

Even if you use this projector for all your movie, TV and other viewing – let’s say 40 hours a week, 20,000 hours works out to about a decade! By that time, not only will 4K projectors be common, but so will 8K, and these mere 1080p projectors will be considered barely medium resolution.

Because of the separate red, green, and blue LEDs there is no color filter causing the traditional rainbow effect that affects a very modest portion of the population, including me. Despite that, the projector is still switching colors doing one at a time – red, green, blue… I can still detect an occasional rainbow flash on the “right” type of scenes, typically when moving my eyes back and forth to different points on the screen.

That amount of rainbow effect is the very least I’ve ever seen on a projector that causes me to see it. As someone sensitive this is as close to being a non-factor as one can have, less than those DLP projectors with 6X color wheels.  It may not even be traditional RBE.  No matter.  I can say that when I first tried shooting a video clip, using a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second resulted in color banding on the video, just like I would get with a color wheel.  Enough said.

The there are two other advantage of LED (or laser) light engines compared to those shorter life lamps:

  • While the brightness will dim over time, it will be very gradual, and not significant for a long time, rather than the up/down/up/down in brightness from changing out lamps relatively frequently.
  • Lamps tend to vary from unit to unit, when it comes to color accuracy. Thus, each projector’s picture looks a little different due to lamp variation. There should be zero visible difference from one H9090 to the next in color balance, because all their H9090’s light engines should be basically identical in that regard.

There’s a third benefit, that I’ll discuss later when covering the dynamic iris, and black level performance.

No Eco Mode

This one is easy. This Vivitek projector doesn’t have an Eco mode. I questioned their product folks about that when the projector first arrived.   They put it this way (the answer I expected, unless their answer was going to be “this is an engineering sample the full production units have one:” This is a 1000 lumen projector. While that’s plenty of brightness for your home theater, even on screens larger than 120” diagonal, 1000 lumens also won’t be enough to be considered too bright. That’s both a simple explanation, and a logical one. Well, maybe it could be too bright if you wanted to project onto a – say – 60” diagonal screen size, but that wouldn’t make any sense to do, that’s just too darn small.

Interchangeable Lenses

I’ll talk more about lenses, and provide the lens throw distances on the hardware tour page, but I did want to point out several things here, first.

There are four lenses. With the standard lens, this projector is $9999, but the projector can be ordered with any of them. Unlike with some companies lenses there aren’t massive differences (often thousands of dollars, between the projector’s cost with a standard lens, and with one of the optional ones.

Interesting.

I’m talking about the lens throws.  The standard manual zoom lens (the $9999 price point), has a zoom range of 1.67:1, which right there is some good flexibility. The thing is, it starts out as a longer throw zoom than most other home theater projectors. To fill a 100” diagonal 16:9 screen most home theater projectors, whether they have very modest 1.2:1 zooms, medium range 1.6:1 zooms, or the wider range 2.0:1 or 2.1:1 zooms, expect that the closest you can place the front of the projector to the screen is typically from just under 10 feet, but rarely more than 12 feet back.

By comparison, the closest this standard lens would let you be from that 100 inch diagonal screen is about 13 and a half feet. (See the Vivitek throw charts for the distance range of all the lenses.)

The fixed very short throw lens, and the short throw zoom are both only slightly more expensive, at $10,280. Even the long throw zoom is only $10,769.

It is the short throw zoom that is most typical (as described above) allowing you to fill a 100” diagonal screen from as close as about 11 and a quarter feet back, but it is only, as noted above, 1.2:1 zoom which is no doubt why Vivitek went with the longer range zoom as the standard lens.

Dynamic Black and LED Engine as Dynamic Iris

This projector has two ways to improve black level performance. Like most over $2000 projectors (and many that cost less), it relies on a dynamic iris type of action, first and foremost.

But this projector lacks a dynamic iris. It’s Dynamic Black function, instead relies on brightening and dimming the output of the RGB LED light source.

Vititek-H9090_guardians_couple_close
The H9090 sports gorgeous, rich saturated colors in dark scenes

 

The projector gives you three different Dynamic Black options, and Off.   Those are 4X, 8X, and Max. I tend to favor 8X or Max depending on what types of movies I’ve been watching.  For general action – including movies like MockingJay, which has lots of dark scenes, I go for Max.   For more “subtle” action, 8X, and for those staid, lots of close ups movies, like most romantic comedies, 4X (which has the smoothest action).  The engineer at Vivitek I’ve been working with prefers 4X also because it is the smoothest.

I’ve discussed with Vivitek, saying I’d like to see some improvements.  They indicate they are looking into it, and asked me for specific scenes for them to look at.

The Dynamic Black is at its worst, not on really dark scenes, but darker, typically indoor scenes with close-ups.  As people move around (especially if there’s a white shirt), it causes the iris action to react, with some slightly visible steps.  If Vivitek can smooth things out with more steps, say 2X, or better, 4X, they should have a great final result.  We’ll see what they can accomplish between engineering sample, and full production.  Remember, this projector was more than a month away from announcement, let alone delivery, when I received it.

There’s one significant difference between 8X and Max. Max is just that. It will shut down the LED light engine completely when faced with a black frame (lots of those in the underground parts of MockingJay). Black frames are not uncommon in general. The Epson LS10000 and LS9600e offer the same option with their laser engines.

You’ll have to decide if you like that, The reason it’s not an obvious “yes – use it” is due to that when the projector goes from a black scene to one very close to that, you can get a significant jump in the brightness of the darkest areas. There are times when it’s a bit unnatural. At times you will marvel at the perfect blacks, sometimes it just seems like a too visible iris action. Again, it’s your call. Find what works for you. If you don’t mind a quick adjustment, to match the content you are watching, you might create different savable settings with different Dynamic Black settings.

All considered, the H9090 does a very good job on black levels. It easily beats the less expensive DLP projectors, including the Optoma 91 series with its solid state light.engine.  On the other hand, the higher end JVC projectors have far more natural contrast, so with their irises, they seem virtually as black on a black from, but don’t have the more significant bump in black levels going to “almost black.” Those JVC’s are still the best at black levels. More in the Picture quality section.

But – here’s the thing. If you want a DLP projector, this is likely as good as you will get, unless perhaps you spend for some of the higher end Runcos or SIM2s. But we’re talking in most cases, more than 3X the price!  Like those high end brands, the H9090 will only be sold by local CEDIA dealers – you know, the folks that know how to install (or even design) your home theater.