Digital Projection M-Vision Cine 230-HC DLP Projector Page 2

The 230-HC’s video processing passed all of our standard tests (see the Video Test Bench chart). It also passed tests for standard definition (2:2, 3:2, and Motion Adaptive), not shown in the chart. When I reviewed the 260-HC for our May issue, I praised its jaw-dropping picture. That comment applies equally to the 230-HC—and at 23 percent of the 260-HC’s $30,000 price. To be fair, the latter was no longer on hand for a direct comparison, and I reviewed it on a different screen. So all I can say definitively about their subjective differences is that the three-chip design completely eliminates DLP rainbows (more on that below). While I can’t compare the two projectors side by side, I can say that I enjoyed my time with the 230-HC every bit as much.

Or perhaps even more. I reviewed the more expensive projector in our large studio (which had room for the 10foot-wide, 16:9 StudioTek 130 G3 screen that Stewart Filmscreen loaned us for the task). But I evaluated the Cine 230-HC in the comfort of my own home theater room. The latter not only at least tripled the number of hours I could spend with the 230-HC, but also included the source audio for the full home theater experience. (My soundtrack for the 260-HC evaluation was little more than fan noise.)

Let’s first get my two main criticisms of the 230-HC out of the way. First, I do see rainbows from this design—as I have from every other single-chipper I’ve tested. These lightning-fast, now-you-see-them, now-you-don’t flashes of rainbow-like colors popped up, as usual, only on dark scenes with bright highlights such as street lamps. They were infrequent enough that I could live with them, but I’d rather not. Luckily, many people are insensitive to this artifact.

1111digpro.rem.jpgThe second issue is the 230-HC’s absolute black level. This is the black-level reading used in our full-on/full-off contrast measurements. (Full-off is a misnomer—the projector isn’t actually off, it’s merely projecting a totally black image.) Relative to the best of its competition, the 230-HC was distinctly below average in this regard. But it was about average for a DLP, apart from the few that offer an effective dynamic iris.

The 230-HC’s subjective shadow detail and overall contrast were better than the absolute black level suggests. And the projector offers two controls that appear at first glance to offer a way to improve its black level performance. According to company literature, the first, Adaptive Contrast, “expands the light and dark portions of the contrast curve of the image, depending on the mean luminance of the image.” It did deepen the blacks on some program material, but often at the cost of an unnaturally enhanced, garish picture. The second, Brilliant Color, activated by turning on the color wheel’s spokes, is said to allow for “increased projector brightness and improved color saturation.” Brilliant Color usefully enhanced highlights on predominantly dark, low-contrast material (including any of the most recent Harry Potter films). On the downside, it also increased the black level slightly, although that was sometimes a worthwhile trade-off—at least on the 101-inch Elite screen. Most of the time I didn’t use it.

Of lesser concern was a minute optical deviation that put the red a quarter- to a half-pixel out of alignment with the green and blue. However, this wasn’t visible from my main seating position. There was also some light leakage from the intake and exhaust ports. As a temporary solution for my shelf setup, I placed a makeshift freestanding deflector (an empty three-ring binder) near the exhaust port. This wasn’t to block the port (a definite no-no) but simply to route light toward the back of the room where its annoyance value was insignificant.

In a quiet room, the fan noise was low but audible in the Economy lamp mode—and more so in the Standard setting. Certainly, it was more so than the near silence of the best current Sony and JVC projectors (which also have nearly zero light leakage). But even at its worst, the fan noise was effectively masked by the sound of the source material in my medium-sized room (about 3,200 cubic feet with average acoustic absorption).

Beyond these issues, I enjoyed my time with the 230-HC so much that I sometimes had problems breaking away from the happy-place part of reviewing—actually experiencing the gear—to the more mundane work of sitting at a keyboard pounding out deathless prose about it. I also thanked the scheduling gods that the three products I was reviewing for this month’s issue—speakers, a projector, and a screen—could be used together, maximizing my time with each of them. For that reason, the comments you’ll find in my review of the Elite Osprey screen in our October issue include additional commentary applicable to the 230-HC.

The 230-HC’s brightness, even on that big Elite screen with near unity gain, was more than sufficient at nearly 13 foot-lamberts (measured) with 150 hours on the lamp and in the Standard (high) lamp mode. The projector also worked beautifully on my smaller Stewart screen (where the Economy lamp mode was more than sufficient). But I couldn’t deny the impact of the images on the larger screen. It even looked sharper on the big screen. This wasn’t really surprising given that, with good optics—which the projector surely has—you’ll tend to see more detail with a larger image.

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Not all of the movies I watched or sampled looked as spectacular on the 230-HC as, say, Rango, Gnomeo & Juliet, Battle: Los Angeles, National Treasure, The Rookie, and the recent live-action (and highly recommended) Peter Pan. But even when some material looked a tad soft, it was apparent that the source was the culprit—the projector was simply telling it like it is.

I didn’t watch much standard definition, but the one DVD movie I did watch looked surprisingly good, even blown up on the Elite screen. Since July 4th fell within the review period, I patriotically rolled out the musical 1776. It didn’t approach the quality of full high definition, of course, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Good DVDs can still satisfy even on a big screen—and even as we hope for their eventual release on Blu-ray. (OK, Warner Brothers, the ball’s in your court on this one.)

Conclusions
I can’t say exactly how much time I spent watching movies on the 230-HC, but it was at least 50 to 60 hours. I ransacked my Blu-ray collection looking for all the titles that would profit from a really good big-screen presentation—and a few that I wanted to watch just because I could. I had no complaints at all about the projector’s color or resolution. I was occasionally distracted by the very darkest scenes that I know look better on my resident, vintage JVC DLA-RS1—or by the occasional DLP rainbow, or by thoughts of that high lamp replacement cost. But overall, I found the 230-HC’s positive attributes—its big, bright, sharp, colorful, and vivid images—impossible to resist. It’s an easy Home Theater Top Pick recommendation.

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