Elite Video EV-4600 CRT projector

As the Greek mathematician Zeno stated more than 2400 years ago, traveling half the distance toward one's destination, then half of the remaining half, and so on, might mean that one never gets there. The ability to re-create visual reality on a video screen improves with each generation of whichever new technology you choose—LCD, DLP, D-ILA—but they seem to be merely continuing to halve the distance remaining from the still-unrivaled performance of the decades-old cathode-ray-tube (CRT) projector. Longtime readers might think that I sound a bit like a skipping CD, but even this late in 2002, the CRT video-projection technology continues to reign as the king of video fidelity.

Heritage Counts
The résumés of the principals of Elite Video read like a history of projection television. The evolution of three-gun CRT projectors began with an idea from visionary Henry Kloss, who, legend has it, created the best-selling Large Advent loudspeaker in the 1960s simply to fund research on his new-fangled video-projection system. Elite Video's president, Eric Geller, joined Kloss after Kloss left Advent Corporation to start Kloss Video in the 1970s. Later, in the 1980s, Geller and VP Walter Allen worked for AmPro, which marketed projectors for the residential market but focused on military and government installations.

Now that the home-theater market has matured, the creative team behind AmPro is back in a big way as Elite Video, marketing projectors ranging from the top-of-the-line EV-4600 down to entry-level LCD and DLP products. The lineup also includes the EV-3600, with 8-inch CRTs, available in both front- and rear-projection formats. Elite even offers repair service on all of the projectors in this lineage, from the old Advent through the Kloss, Harman, and AmPro, making them an important resource in the industry.

Rumors of an Early Demise
Over the years, whenever I've heard derogatory anecdotes about the reliability of AmPro products, I've dismissed them as pre-Joe Kane. Before that video guru jumped on his soapbox to teach retailers and installers that, unlike direct-view TVs, video projectors simply could not compete with sunlight and room light, the projection-TV industry had consistently tried to exceed the technology's limits. They set the contrast far too high and threw images on the largest screens they could find—recipes for certain instability and, usually, an early violent death. Pushing the projector beyond its limits made all projectors of this vintage unreliable.

Nevertheless, to test the EV-4600's reliability, I ran it for more than 600 hours over six months. Except for a minor problem synchronizing to 720-line progressive high-definition signals—easily corrected after Walter Allen decided that I wasn't out of my mind (at first he couldn't reproduce my problem in his lab)—the EV-4600 was an extremely stable projector, never failing to perform the duties required of it. Indeed, it had less convergence drift than any other CRT projector in my experience—even during the first hour after turn-on, during which most units blur until fully warmed up. The EV-4600 ranked as world-class in stability—only what you'd expect from a unit designed for use 24/7 in government and military installations.

Profile of a Hero
The EV-4600 has a distinctive profile that those familiar with its AmPro ancestor will recognize: a chassis nearly 3 feet square by 1 foot high, its three large lenses protruding from the front. A standard IEC jack for the power cord, an RS-232 computer-control interface, and the input for the hardwired remote control share the back panel with the solitary RGBHV video input. Because the projector has only this type of input, an external video processor or scaler is necessary. For this review, I used both the Faroudja Native Rate and Theater Automation Wow Rock+ scalers.

The infrared remote-control option costs $600, and I can't imagine anyone buying an EV-4600 without it—unless they plan to use one of the touchscreen automation systems that communicate with the RS-232 computer protocol. The projector lacks an automatic video signal-sensing circuit for turn-on, so automation in a well-engineered home theater will absolutely require the IR remote-control option.

Shine, Baby, Shine
I've found that learning how to set up a CRT projector is as simple as identifying the required controls and discovering the engineering team's quirks. The EV-4600 is one of the easiest CRTs to install and calibrate. Elite Video includes a very thorough, easy-to-follow instruction manual, although it could stand to be updated—there were a number of references to professional multiple computer installations that simply don't apply to the home-theater market. The manual even devotes five full pages to choosing a screen, and, frighteningly, includes mention of curved screens—something I've not seen since my early-1980s days of selling the Kloss projection system at retail. Avoid curved screens—they wreak havoc on the sound quality of center-channel speakers. [They're still available, though not widely used in home theaters for this and other reasons.—TJN]

Elite's approach to geometry and convergence differs slightly from those of other firms. While the newest Sony and Barco designs have point-convergence systems, in which every intersection of a test grid can be addressed to ensure that the red and blue exactly match the green, Elite Video divides the screen into zones—the installer chooses the section to be adjusted with one set of buttons on the remote, then makes the adjustment with a set of cursor buttons. This is very easy to learn, and quite a good feature for first-time installers. While I think the point-convergence system permits more precise calibration, the required circuitry and memory are more expensive, and the initial installation can be tedious.

I know some readers think some of us are crazy to shine images from projectors costing $30-$60k onto a six-foot-wide screen. The idea came from Joe Kane, and until we tried it, I, too, thought he was crazy. But on this relatively tiny piece of vinyl real estate a video image looks stunning. I also tried the EV-4600 on a 7' 3"-wide, 1.3-gain Stewart Studiotek 130 screen, and found it less involving, less punchy—daytime scenes lost a bit of the sense of being there. Every manufacturer will tell you that their projector will shine on some ridiculously large screen, but I'd ignore recommendations of anything wider than 8 feet. If you have the guts to actually try a 6-foot-wide screen in a proper seating arrangement, you'll witness magic.

My seating distance from this screen was roughly twice the screen height, which is fine as long as the video processor or hi-def source has enough lines of information to fill the screen. Too few lines, and the black spaces between the scan lines become visible and distracting. I found that the EV-4600 ran efficiently with 720 horizontal scan lines on the 6-foot screen—perfect for the 720p Faroudja Native Rate video processor, and happily one of the pre-set choices in Theater Automation Wow's Rock+ processor (review in the works).