Samsung SP-H700AE DLP Projector
There is a reason why we say a display product's color temperature should be 6500 kelvins. There is a reason why we say color points are "off." There is a reason video has set parameters that define what it is supposed to look like. The reason is that people a lot smarter than us figured out what looks the best and wrote down what a display should do to look that way.
The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) and the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) lay out standards that they've found, through research, to be the best compromise between visual quality and feasibility of implementation. Production and post-production houses use these standards to create their material (i.e., everything you see on TV and DVD), and, for you to see it correctly, your TV should be able to reproduce that content as created.
Back to the Real World
The problem is, almost no display on the market completely follows the letter of the "law." At least, not out of the box. That's why we recommend that you have your display calibrated. This often brings the display close (or at least as close as possible) to what the video gurus say a display should look like. But why aren't displays just accurate out of the box? In just about every case, other concerns take precedence over making an accurate display. Perhaps you wouldn't be able to use the correct green color point if you maximized the light output. Or the marketing department says you need to have a certain contrast ratio, regardless of what happens to the rest of the picture. A display manufacturer needs to weigh all of these factors.
But what if one of the display gurus himself built a display? Joe Kane is certainly one of the gurus, and a very vocal HD pundit. He created the first commercially available video evaluation suite, A Video Standard, on laserdisc in the 1980s and its followup, Video Essentials, on DVD in the '90s (not to mention the recent Digital Video Essentials). He was also nominated for an Emmy for his work with the DVD format. Suffice it to say, he knows his stuff. Samsung gave him a projector to work on and to see what he could do with it. The resulting SP-H700AE is impressive to say the least.
No, the Really Real World
The trick is getting a projector to look right in your house. Calibration (specifically, calibration with your screen) is key. What's different in this case is how you calibrate this projector. With most displays, a technician has access to red, green, and blue controls for both the bright and dark portions of the image. Using a measurement tool, like our Photo Research PR-650, the technician adjusts the amount of red, green, and blue in the image to get as close to 6500K (more specifically, the 0.313, 0.329 x,y coordinates) as the display will allow. With the SP-H700AE, instead of measuring several different levels of gray and making a series of adjustments (typically a tricky and time-consuming process), a technician just measures a red field, a green field, a blue field, and then a white field. The technician then enters the light level (in foot-lamberts) and x,y coordinates for each color into the projector, and the projector automatically adjusts the gray scale, gamma, and color points. It's incredibly easy and accurate.
Take a gander at the measurement box, and you'll notice two red color points (pre- and post-calibration). The SP-H700AE uses the information that the installer or technician has entered to move the color points. You may ask how it moves the color points when the filter wheel determines the colors. Excellent question. In the SP-H700AE, red has green and blue in it, blue has green and red, and green has blue and red. To adjust the color points, the SP-H700AE adjusts the amount of red, green, and/or B in each solid color to bring it closer to the correct point. This allows for extremely accurate color reproduction, regardless of any minor color shift your screen may introduce. The SP-H700AE also comes with different color-point pre-sets for the HD (ATSC), SMPTE-C (NTSC), and EBU (European Broadcast Union) standards. As most material you're bound to see is still made to the SMPTE-C spec, this is the one you're bound to use the most, but it's very cool that the others are available.
Gamma is another one of this projector's strong suits relative to most other digital displays. In the most general terms, gamma is the relationship between the brightness encoded in the incoming video signal and the display's light output. This relationship is represented not by a straight line from light to dark, but by a curve. The amount of curvature is fixed for reasons that go back to the early days of TV. If we mention that a display crushes blacks or whites, it's often because the gamma isn't correct. Even if it doesn't crush one end or the other, an inaccurate gamma just doesn't look as natural as a display that has an accurate gamma.
But How Does It Look?
After calibration, the SP-H700AE's image is downright impressive. It doesn't go for the grandstanding effects of blinding light output or supersaturated colors. It just creates an accurate image. The image is almost relaxing, at least for a videophile like myself. Colors, midtones, and skintones all look very realistic. Processing is also excellent. The SP-H700AE picks up the 3:2 sequence very quickly. It processes incorrect 3:2 sequences and video with equal dexterity.
The Fifth Element shows off just about everything you need to know about this projector. In chapter 2, Luke Perry's and the professor's skintones are dark and tanned (they're in the desert). Later, a pasty Bruce Willis shows that he needs to spend some time in the sun. Both extremes look very realistic. I would have liked a little more detail in the DVD image (480i component from the player to the projector), but that's just picking nits. On the other hand, HD was extremely detailed with very little noise.
As with any product, though, Samsung made some concessions in the projector. Gradations from light to dark have some steps, although I rarely noticed this in actual video material. The black level is also disappointing. At 0.011 ft-L, it is among the highest in its price range. Kane rightly says that increasing the screen size will reduce the black level, although, with a measured contrast ratio of 1488:1, there's a limit to how large you can go before the image starts to appear dim. The black level never bothered me, as the rest of the image looked so good, but those who only care about black level might want to look elsewhere.
The SP-H700AE has the standard Samsung menu system. This is a bit clunky, but it gets the job done. When you adjust a parameter (say, contrast), the menu drops down to just the item you're adjusting, and it stays there for 2 minutes (but this is adjustable in seven steps from 5 seconds to "stay on") or until you click it off. From a calibration standpoint, this is awesome. It lets you adjust, measure, and adjust again without the parameter disappearing (a nuisance on some displays).
The remote has a blue backlight. It's clearly labeled, and there are direct input-access buttons. My only real issue with the ergonomics is in trying to turn off the projector. Most displays with a lamp want you to double-check before you turn them off, typically requiring you to press the power button a second time. The SP-H700AE requires you to press the off button, select OK, and then press enter. Three buttons to turn the power off is two too many.
If you're looking for the most accurate display available, this is one of the only digital displays that should be on your list. There is a reason why there are standards in video, and one look at this projector will tell you why.
• About as accurate as you can get
• Clever calibration method means it will be accurate in every room