Vivitek H9080FD LED-Based DLP Projector

Price: $15,000 At A Glance: LEDs promise longevity, consistent performance • Excellent color • Good contrast mitigated by unrefined dynamic contrast performance

Get the LED In

The last few years have been a golden age for digital front projection in home theater applications. Today’s best projectors offer an absolutely stellar combination of price, convenience, essential features, and most importantly, performance. In virtually all of these respects, today’s digital projectors shatter any expectations we had a few years ago. But there is a rub. Digital projection as we’ve known it has been driven by analog lamps for illumination. These lamps, which generally cost $300 to $500 each, age and need to be replaced every couple of thousand hours. If you insist on the very best performanceyou may need to replace them even sooner. In addition to dropping light output, aging lamps also affect a projector’s color performance, gammaand gray-scale tracking. Inother words, the lamp-driven projector you buy today isn’t the same projector you’ll have after several hundred hours without a touch-up calibration.

LED-based front projectors like the Vivitek H9080FD ($15,000) offer a solid-state solution to this chink in digital projection’s armor. When you use LEDs as a light sourceyou get tens of thousands of hours of rated life and light output with no bulb changes. LEDs also dramatically reduce if not outright eradicate drift of any of the critical performance parameters over time. This could be the way of the future. But the question begged by this first generation of LED-based projectors hitting the market is whether that future is now?

Setting Up
We’ve written a lot about how many of today’s digital projectors are breadbox sized and nearly as easy to set up as point-and-shoot cameras. The H9080FD isn’t that way. It’s surprisingly large and heavy, and it requires internal fans to move air in and out to keep it running cool. As you might guess, the fans make noise. It didn’t distract me with movie watching, but others are more sensitive to this than I am. The H9080FD starts very quickly when you power it up, and it appears to be ready with full light output as soon as the image appears on the screen. Lamp-based units can take 10 to 15 minutes to warm up to full light output.

You must unscrew a large plastic cowl to access the rear panel, which holds the AC cord and all other connections. That makes for a clean-looking install, so I don’t mind it. I was more put off by the overly elaborate process needed to make the manual lens-shift adjustments. You have to loosen two screws that are inconveniently placed on the rear panel, slide back the center of the top cover, and use the supplied Allen wrench to manually shift the lens. The drag with this is that when you make fine physical adjustments, it’s easy to knock those adjustments back out a little when you slide the top cover back into place and screw it back down. Vivitek should include two access ports (one each for horizontal and vertical shift) on the top cover to solve this. That might even be cheaper to manufacture than the sliding top cover.

The lens’ zoom and focus adjustments are manual, which is less convenient but more precise than motorized ones. Other lens options are available, but the standard one that shipped with my review sample accommodates throw distances between 1.85x and 2.4x screen width. For my 92-inch-wide Stewart StudioTek 130 G3 screen (white, 1.3-gain), that translates to a satisfactory range of 14 feet to just over 18 feet.

The Vivitek has two HDMI 1.3 inputs. Before anyone surmises its potential for a 3D update, it’s not coming. This projector doesn’t offer frame/refresh rates that are higher than 60 hertz. This is an observation, not a criticism. We haven’t yet reviewed a single projector that’s 3D capable, 3D ready, or upgradeable to either.

The Goods
The H9080FD uses a PhlatLight LED solution from Luminus Devices for a light source and a single 1080p DLP imaging chip. It doesn’t have a color wheel. As with any single-chip DLP, the colors display sequentially here. However, the H9080FD produces the sequencing electronically instead of mechanically. Since LEDs can cycle the colors more rapidly than a color wheel’s rotation, we shouldn’t theoretically see any color separation or rainbow artifacts. Indeed, I didn’t see any in my time with this projector. The Vivitek’s LEDs are rated for 20,000 hours of life. This will conservatively provide more than 13 years of service at 4 hours per day, every day. For a projector, this is essentially rated for forever plus a day. However, we can’t test how a product performs over extended periods of time in a typical review. So I can’t confirm the longevity claims that Vivitek and other manufacturers of LED-based projectors make in a review period that lasts a couple of months, as this one did.

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