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Projectiondesign Action! Model One mk.II front DLP projector

There's an old saying: "Good things come in small packages." In our industry, however, there's often a perceived correlation between the size of an AV component (speakers, amplifiers, plasma TVs) and its level of performance. Here, the working mentality seems to be "the bigger (or pricier), the better."

That may be true sometimes, but plenty of products out there don't take up much room on the shelf while delivering solid performance. One excellent example is DVDO's first-generation progressive-scan converter, the iScan Plus. That unassuming box didn't have many adjustments; then again, it didn't have a high price. But the iScan Plus amazed everyone with the quality of its deinterlacing and motion correction. More recently, I was pleasantly surprised with the performance of Panasonic's PT-AE500U widescreen LCD projector, which produced some beautiful images and accurate color at a reasonable price.

It's not surprising, then, that when Projectiondesign USA's very compact Action! Model One mk.II DLP front projector showed up at my door, I wondered if it might be another such find. The Action! doesn't look very imposing, and at 6.5 pounds, it's about the same size and weight as most generic DLP and LCD business projectors.

This compact light engine uses Texas Instruments' latest, double-data-rate DMD chip, the HD2+, with 1280x720 pixel resolution and a seven-segment, five-speed color wheel for increased color saturation and (supposedly) reduced flicker. Most competing models that incorporate this chip are a lot bigger and heavier, although the Action! Model One mk.II's price of $10,995 is right up there with the big boys.

Out of the Box
There's not a whole lot to the Action! Model One mk.II. The projection lens is a slightly long-throw type (1.77–2.25:1) with manual focus and zoom. (A 1:1 fixed-focal-length lens is also available as an option for tight spaces.) The cabinet is tiny—just under 11 inches on its longest side, and only 3.5 inches tall. The metallic blue finish is cool, and reminiscent of other European designs (such as Sim2's), while the outer housing seems engineered to avoid sharp corners wherever possible. It should be no problem at all to mount this projector just about anyplace—you'd hardly notice it.

The connector complement is adequate for the typical home theater. You get one composite and one S-video input, plus a pair of full-bandwidth Y-Pb-Pr inputs (RCA jacks all around), and a DVI-D connector that's HDCP-compatible. There are also a 15-pin d-sub RGB connector and a 9-pin RS-232 jack.

Don't look for any audio input jacks—they don't exist, and if they did, the speaker would have to be so tiny as to be useless. This is strictly a light machine, in more ways than one.

Although its fan was very quiet, the projector threw off quite a bit of heat through its side exhaust port. You'll want to make sure that nothing obstructs the fan exhaust. If you plan to use this projector on a tabletop, keep it ahead of all viewers so that they don't feel all that hot air drifting by.

Menus and Remotes
The remote control is out of the ordinary. In addition to the usual complement of buttons, you'll do most of your menu navigation with a trackball about the size of a marble.

Correction: You'll try to do most of your menu navigation with the trackball. If you're like me, after a few minutes' frustration, you'll put the remote away and simply use the buttons atop the projector housing. I found the trackball to be very unresponsive at times, and totally unpredictable, jumping in and out of menus and adjustments at random.

Several years ago, I tested a Philips business projector that used a similar trackball, and it was equally frustrating to work with. My cursor would fly all over the screen; repeatedly, I found myself beginning one menu adjustment, then, an instant later, finishing another, entirely different adjustment. I've found similar problems with the mouse discs used on many business-projector remotes. You can press the disc anywhere you want, but you never know quite where the cursor will go or which menu bar will be highlighted and selected.

The best approach for any remote control is to simply use four directional arrows and a center OK button—this may not be sexy or cutting-edge, but it works 100% of the time and helps keep blood pressure down. Projectiondesign does provide several tiny buttons for faster menu navigation, but they're too small to be of much use, and almost as frustrating as the trackball.

The menus give you a wide range of adjustments to play with. You have direct access to any input and full control of the Big Five: Brightness, Contrast, Color Saturation, Color Hue, and Sharpness. You can choose from one of three preset color temperatures (9300, 7300, or 6500 kelvins), or call up the Custom menu to dial in your own red, green, and blue settings.

Are you a fanatic about color-space accuracy? The Action! lets you choose among SMPTE, ITU601, and ITU709 color coordinates. Ostensibly, the projector should recognize the incoming signal and set up the correct RGB coordinates on its own. But this menu is there if you feel the need to tweak.

A Dynamic submenu provides additional image adjustments, such as Contrast En-hancement, Black Level Adjust, and six Gamma settings, labeled Film 1 and 2, Video 1 and 2, and Computer 1 and 2.

Depending on the source signal, there are plenty of aspect-ratio selections. You can choose from Fill to 16:9, Fill Aspect Ratio (this stretches anamorphic programming vertically), Letterbox to 16:9 (enlarges a letterboxed image to fit the screen width), Zoom, and Anamorphic (used with anamorphic DVDs to fit the width of the screen).

To top things off, Projectiondesign tossed in a test pattern to assist in centering the projected image and correct for any keystone distortion. There's a digital keystone adjustment in the menu, but I advise against using it. You'll get the best results by instead making sure the projector is centered and squared-up to the projection screen.

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