Digital Projection M-Vision Cine LED DLP Projector

Ever since I first heard about front projectors with LED light sources, I've been intrigued by the idea. LED-illuminated RPTVs were available just before the product category imploded, but front projectors using this technology have only now begun to appear.

When Digital Projection offered me the opportunity to review its new LED-illuminated single-chip DLP projector, the M-Vision Cine LED, I jumped at the chance. Not only would I get to play with the technology in Grayscale Studio, the video-testing lab of Home Theater and Ultimate AV, it would be the first projector to light up the new Stewart StudioTek 100 screen (100 inches wide, 2.35:1) that was recently installed.

For those who aren't familiar with the StudioTek 100, it's a unity-gain white screen that behaves as a lambertian surface, reflecting light in all directions equally. As such, it should be used only in rooms with very dark, neutral walls, ceiling, and floor. Its advantage is that it reveals exactly what a projector is doing without adding anything of its own to the image.

Of course, the Cine LED's primary feature is its LED illumination, which is provided by three PhlatLight LEDs—one red, one green, and one blue—from a company called Luminus. Using LEDs instead of a conventional lamp affords several advantages. First of all, you don't have to worry about replacing the lamp—the LEDs have a rated lifespan of 60,000 hours. Also, the brightness and color don't change over time, and they consume much less power and generate much less heat than conventional lamps.

Another advantage is that LEDs can be quickly dimmed and brightened, so there's no need for a dynamic iris. Finally, using LEDs in a single-chip DLP projector eliminates the need for a spinning color wheel, since the LEDs can be sequentially cycled on and off even faster than the color filters can move into and out of place, greatly reducing any "rainbow" artifacts.

So what's the downside? Light output—the Cine LED is rated at 600 lumens, far lower than most high-end projectors. As a result, the image size is more limited than comparable lamp-based projectors, and any ambient light will seriously wash out the image. This was no problem at Grayscale Studio, in which the front-projection room is fairly small and essentially a black hole, making the Cine LED and StudioTek 100 screen a great match for it. And as you can see in the Measurement section, I got a perfectly acceptable peak-white reading with that setup.

The projector is available with three lens options—two zooms (1.56-1.86, 1.85-2.40) and one fixed (0.73). Interestingly, the fixed lens adds $1000 to the price because of its superior optics. According to Digital Projection, the company is simply passing on the extra cost, it's not making any more profit on the fixed-lens version.

Another option is an ISCO anamorphic lens with motorized sled, which costs an additional $13,000. The sled can only be attached to the projector in a ceiling-mount configuration, and the required hardware is another $500. I didn't test this option, though I was told that the firmware was not working correctly, electronically stretching the image horizontally instead of vertically. It should be fixed by the time you read this.

The Cine LED provides several features often found in high-end projectors, such as several presets for color space, color gamut, color temperature (labeled with actual color-temperature numbers), and gamma. Even better, there are four user memories in which all settings can be stored. This turned out to be extremely useful to me during the review, as I'll explain shortly.

Also of interest is the projector's ability to display 1080p/24 at 48Hz. The control for this function is hidden in a password-protected service menu and defaults to Auto, which uses 48Hz for 1080p/24 and 60Hz for 1080p/60 and 1080i. (The projector can also operate at 50Hz for European content.)

Two dynamic-contrast features are available—Dynamic Black, which varies the LED brightness, and Adaptive Contrast, which varies the DMD micromirror on/off times. As I mentioned earlier, there is no dynamic iris thanks to these features.

Setup is made easier with several internal test patterns and a blue-only mode, which helps users set the Saturation and Hue controls for the analog inputs. (These controls are unavailable for the HDMI inputs.) Calibrators get two sets of RGB controls, which is sufficient for dialing in the grayscale.