Front Projectors Hit New Lows -- and Highs

Over the past 18 months, prices for entry-level 1080p front projectors have fallen faster than the Super Bowl repeat hopes of the NY Giants. As a result, you can get a pretty awesome DLP or 3LCD model for about $3,000, while an entry-level 1080p LCoS projector from Sony (SXRD) or JVC (D-ILA) will set you back about $4,500 to $5,000.

But if you're in the market for a low-cost 1080p projector, we've got some good news: Here at CEDIA, we're expecting to see prices drop below $2,000 for an entry-level - but not stripped-down -1080p model.

Days before the show even opened, Sanyo stepped up by dropping down, at least in terms of the price: It's new PLV-Z700 3LCD projector carries a suggested price of just $1,995. The projectors hits in October and sports some cool features, such as wide-ranging lens shift for hard-to-place locations, a new variable iris, and Sanyo's "3D" color management system. If even that price is too rich for your blood, the company has a new 720p (1280 x 720) projector, the PLV-Z60, with many of the same features. It's priced at $1,295.

We expect other manufacturers to follow suit. Epson, for example, recently showed off three new 3LCD models at the European IFA trade show, including a new low-priced one. It hasn't yet released its plans for the U.S., but we expect to visit them here at CEDIA. We'll also be looking for projector news from Panasonic, InFocus, and BenQ, who all play in the lower-end sandbox. Optoma, which broke the $3,000 barrier at last year's show, is a surprising no-show at this one.

Speaking of Panasonic, we've already gotten a press-conference-peek at its newest LCD-based home cinema projector, the PT-AE3000. The 1080p model, which is also available in October, has a very cool feature it calls Lens Memory, which lets you project a 2.35:1 aspect ratio (increasingly common in movies) without the use of an anamorphic lens. The projector also has 120Hz "frame creation" technology, which analyzes adjacent frames, then doubles them to reduce motion blur. It also will quadruple 24p signals to 96 frames per second (all at an October MSRP of $3,499).

We're also excited that Sony brought two new SXRD front projectors: the Bravia VPL-VW70 and the VPL-HW10 HD. In Sony's words (or those of its press release writer): "The VPL-VW70 features 60,000:1 dynamic contrast, brightness of 800 ANSI lumens. The model can accept an external anamorphic lens (sold separately) that, when paired with Sony's Anamorphic Zoom Mode, allows users to take full advantage of panel resolution and screen size while watching a movie with native aspect ratio of 2.35:1. When Anamorphic Zoom is selected through the remote, the VPL-VW70 will output a trigger signal that can be used to activate the optional lens and screen transition to maximize the theater experience with a 2.35:1 movie." That model drops in November for $8,000.

Meanwhile, Sony's VPL-HW10 is considered a "value" unit, going on sale this month for a mere $3,500. The projector (first shown at IFA) uses a triple-panel SXRD, Bravia Engine 2 image processing, and a new dynamic iris, and it includes both horizontal and vertical lens shift and a 1.6x manual zoom. More stats: a 30,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio and 1,000 ANSI lumens for brighter room applications.

We'll also be keeping our eyes on Texas Instruments, which along with LED supplier Luminus is proposing DLP-based projectors that combine TI's DLP technology with Luminus' PhlatLight LED systems. Apparently the companies have addressed two key technological issues: getting the projectors bright enough, and finding a way to sync the LEDs with the DLP's DMD mirror arrays. TI says several LED-based DLP projectors will be announced in 2008.

Recently, in fact, a company called Delta Electronics announced it had developed the first LED-powered 1080p front projector for the consumer market. Because the DLP-based projector replaces the color wheel, lamp, and shutter of a traditional projector, the rainbow effect should be minimized or eliminated entirely. LED also promises longer life (20,000 hours versus 2,000 hours for a bulb), and a wider color gamut. It's also a greener technology that uses less energy and doesn't contain mercury.

Turns out Delta's got some competition in the LED front projector front: Read Brent Butterworth's blog about a rival projector in bitsream.

Keep checking this story for updates as CEDIA continues.