InFocus ScreenPlay 110 DLP video projector Page 3
Those items aside, I was amazed by what I saw from the InFocus. Even out of the box, its color at the 6500 kelvins setting was good, but after calibration (see "Calibration" sidebar) it was even better. But more impressive was its brightness. After I adjusted it for the best picture on my 78-inch-wide Stewart StudioTek 130 screen, the 110 produced 23.6 foot-Lamberts. This was with the Contrast set to maintain full resolution of white-level steps as the signal approached peak white, or 100 IRE. That is, the brightest details did not all blend into a single massive white kludge. This is the brightest front-projection image I have ever had in my system.
High brightness is meaningless without good blacks. While I've seen better blacks from more expensive DLPs that produce a dimmer picture than the InFocus, and much better blacks from CRTs, the ScreenPlay 110 produced a satisfyingly rich image from most material. While this was true with the StudioTek screen, it was even more so with a new 80-inch-wide Stewart FireHawk (see sidebar, "How Big the Screen? How Dark the Room?"). Unless otherwise noted, my comments here apply to using the projector with the FireHawk.
I also found that I could significantly improve the 110's subjective contrast and dimensionality by means of a small gamma adjustment—not with the projector's own Degamma control (I left that on the Film setting for the most part), but with the gamma control on the Kenwood Sovereign DV-5700 DVD player. A setting of -1 or -2 perked up the image by a small but worthwhile degree by removing a trace of drabness in the mid-brightness region of the uncompensated image. But you can overdo it if you're not careful: This particular control goes all the way to -7, but settings beyond -2 looked artificially hyped. Gamma controls are starting to show up on more and more DVD players, but they don't all operate identically so might not all be as effective.
Material of truly low contrast—scenes with no bright highlights—are the toughest test of a projector. I can't say that the InFocus passed this challenge with flying colors, but its lack of detail in the deep shadows never pulled me out of any film I was watching. One of the most difficult test discs I've seen for black-level reproduction is the most recent DTS demonstration disc, with excerpts from Jurassic Park III, Shrek, and Moulin Rouge! The JPIII clip is the Pteronodon cage sequence, which was shot in very dim, foggy daylight. These scenes aren't super-dark, but have a very low contrast range. The InFocus' images didn't really pop on this piece, but it was still easy to follow the action without missing anything. The Shrek excerpt—in the castle where Shrek and Donkey first encounter the princess and the dragon—is the darkest stretch of that film. Compared with the image from a good CRT or even the best plasmas, the InFocus' picture was just a little grayed-out, with some loss of shadow detail and snap. But I didn't find it truly objectionable.
The Moulin Rouge! clip was the most interesting. This is a very dark movie, but most of its dark scenes have bright highlights. Even a DLP projector can do reasonably well on such scenes. You can't see everything that's going on in the shadows, but you usually don't need to; the parts of the image that director Baz Luhrmann wants you to focus on are adequately lit. When they aren't, and the contrast range is low, any video projector will have a hard time—but CRTs invariably do better at it than any of the newer technologies.
The Moulin Rouge! clip on the DTS sampler starts just before Satine and Christian meet atop her elephant-shaped dressing room. As they each sing their opening lines individually, they are positioned in dark shadows. Satine's first shot is particularly dim; the picture is flat, dull, and 2-dimensional. But as she moves forward, rays of bright light break across her face and costume. This vastly improves the subjective contrast level, and while the dark area to the right of the screen still lacks detail, it is no longer a distraction. (Even on a good CRT, there's not much visible in those shadows.) In much of the remainder of the sequence, bright highlights set off the darker areas, and I was no longer as aware of the limited black-level detail.
But the strengths of the InFocus far outweighed its shortcomings. Its exceptional brightness, even on the gray surface of a FireHawk screen, gave the picture a punch that I don't normally expect from a DLP or other fixel-pixel video projector, particularly at this price. One downside to this was that I couldn't turn the Contrast down very much before the picture began to look flat and uninteresting—a characteristic I've noted in other fixed-pixel projectors. I suspect this is the result of the relatively low contrast of such devices compared with CRTs. Fortunately, I didn't find any real downside to the ScreenPlay 110's high light output, though some viewers might find it fatiguing.
The color from the ScreenPlay 110 was excellent, with believable flesh tones and good color saturation, particularly on the FireHawk. The built-in scaler makes use of Faroudja's DCDi deinterlacing circuitry, and it worked beautifully. I used a 480i component DVD source for most of my viewing, and can't recall being distracted by a single artifact during the three weeks I lived with the projector.
The ScreenPlay 110's picture was also pleasingly sharp. If you see a soft image from the 110, you can be reasonably sure that either the DVD is lacking or you need to touch up the focus. I've seen better resolution from the best 9-inch CRTs, particularly on very small details like the multiple layers of city traffic as Leeloo jumps from the ledge in the Superbit version of The Fifth Element. And non-CRT projectors with a higher pixel count, such as the SIM2 HT300 DLP also reviewed in this issue, can look sharper and more detailed. But you're unlikely to be disappointed with the crispness of the 110's picture. Theoretically, of course, the 848x480 resolution of the image in 16:9 mode is a limiting factor. But from about 12 feet away from my relatively small, 78-inch-wide screen, I was never bothered either by the pixel structure or by visible grain I could attribute to the projector. But I could induce an edgy, grainy look if I turned the projector's Sharpness up past Medium. I definitely saw grain in program material that is itself very grainy, such as A.I., but none in inherently silky transfers, such as Shrek. The projector simply told it like it was.
The native resolution of the ScreenPlay 110 limits it to standard-definition playback. It will, however, accept 720p and 1080i inputs (unlike the similarly chipped but less expensive Plus Piano) and display them at 848x480. When limited in this way, HD looked surprisingly good. The sensation that HD can provide—of looking out a window onto the world—was not really there, and those familiar with good hi-def will notice that fine details are fuzzy in a way that true HD is not. But without a direct comparison, downconverted HD on the InFocus could look mighty impressive.
The Bottom Line
Despite a few nagging problems and the inevitable black-level limitations of the DLP chip at its heart, the InFocus ScreenPlay 110 produced a remarkably satisfying image. Products like this are bound to bring the home big-screen experience to more buyers than ever before. It's fun, and, in the final analysis, that's what home theater is all about.