DreamVision Dream'E front projector

The Short Form
$9,595 (as tested); $5,295 projector only / DREAMVISION.NET
Snapshot
A good midprice projector that comes alive when mated with its optional fixed anamorphic lens. The resulting super-widescreen picture makes blockbuster 2.35:1 movies far more involving and exciting.
Plus
• Superb color fidelity • Converted 16:9 mode allows use of fixed anamorphic lens • Makes switching to 2.35:1 cheaper and easier
Minus
• We said cheaper and easier, not cheap and easy • Black levels could be deeper • Some frustrating control functions
Key Features
• 1080p resolution • 1.5x zoom lens • Accepts 1080p/24 input signals • Anamorphic zoom mode for fixed or motorized constant-height lenses • Available in black, white, or custom high-gloss colors • Inputs: 2 HDMI; VGA; component-, composite-, and S-video; RS-232C • 7 5?8 x 20 1?2 x 20 3?4 in, 37 1?2 lb
Home theater enthusiasts have been fooling themselves. They think they can capture the feel of a real movie theater by putting in a bigger screen. But it's usually not the size of the screen in their theaters that's inadequate - it's the shape.

Most home theaters use a screen with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. In other words, it's 1.78 times as wide as it is high. This ratio is also referred to as 16:9. But many blockbuster movies employ a wider aspect ratio of 2.35:1. That's why you often get black bars at the top and bottom of the picture on your TV. Those bars are a dead giveaway that you're sitting in your living room rather than in a real movie theater.

About 4 years ago, Runco introduced a method to fill an ultrawide 2.35:1 screen using a standard 16:9 projector. Here's how it works. First, a video processor vertically stretches the 2.35:1 image to fill the full pixel array of the projector's 16:9 display chip - no pixels are wasted displaying black bars. Next, an anamorphic lens stretches the picture horizontally to restore its proper geometry. The lens rides on a motorized "sled." To watch regular 16:9 programs, you simply hit a button and the lens slides out of the way. Unfortunately, the first of these systems cost around $50,000 all-in, and while they've since come down in price, they remain expensive and complex.

That's where the DreamVision Dream'E comes in. The Dream'E is a 1080p projector with internal video processing designed to accommodate a fixed anamorphic lens. Unlike the Runco solution, DreamVision's doesn't require a motorized sled or a control system to trigger it. Rather than moving the lens out of the way when 16:9 programs are displayed, the projector electronically squeezes the 16:9 picture (which would otherwise appear distorted) into the correct shape and places black bars at the sides. The disadvantages are that you lose about 24% of your horizontal resolution when watching 16:9 high-def programs, and you also lose some brightness because fewer pixels are illuminated. But you cut costs - and you gain simplicity, in more ways than you might expect.

The Dream'E costs $5,295 on its own. For $9,595, you can get it packaged with the Wide System kit, which includes a Panamorph UH480 lens, a custom bracket, and a metal cowl that makes the lens look like part of the projector. The projector can work with lens sleds too.

DreamVision built the Dream'E around an LCOS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) projection engine similar to those used by JVC and Sony. The projector doesn't have an automatic iris, so it can't adjust its aperture on the fly to create darker blacks. Many videophiles would consider this omission a plus, because auto iris can make the blacks "pump," or fluctuate in level. For video processing, the Dream'E relies on a Reon VX HQV chip, known for delivering a low-noise picture practically free of scaling and deinterlacing artifacts.

SETUP

The Dream'E proved more complicated to set up than most projectors because its manual lens-shift controls sit under the projector, not on its side. If the projector hangs upside down from the ceiling, this poses no problem. But if it's sitting on a shelf or table, you'll probably have to lift the projector up to get to the lens-shift controls - then set it back down, check to see if the image position is correct, and readjust if necessary. This control layout made it a pain to get the image centered on my screen. Focus and zoom are also manual, but those didn't slow me down much.

The projector's Contrast (white level) control actually seems to be a Brightness (black level) control that works backward - that is, turn it up and brightness goes down, but contrast is barely affected. Fortunately, the Input menu features a separate set of black-level and white-level controls. These also work in reverse - turn the black level down and the picture gets brighter - but they do control what they're supposed to control, and in much finer steps than the main Contrast and Brightness controls offer. Once I figured all this out, dialing in the black and white levels was easy.

The projector's Theater preset mode produced nearly perfect color accuracy. Gain and bias controls for red, green, and blue are provided for full color calibration, but I was unable to better (or even match) the accuracy of the factory settings. With a quick touch-up of the color saturation and hue controls, I had a nice-looking picture.

The Wide System kit proved simple to install. Assembling the bracket, the lens holder, the lens, and the cowl took only a few minutes, and the lens forgives minor positioning errors. To accommodate the Wide System, I changed from my usual 16:9 screen to a 2.35:1, 106-inch-wide JKP Affinity screen made by Da-Lite.

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