Fujitsu LPF-D711W LCD Video Projector and LPF-QSD1W AV Selector Page 2

The manual I received didn't do a particularly good job explaining the functions of many of the available controls and adjustments, but that's not unusual for video user manuals. And there are extensive adjustments apart from the usual Brightness, Contrast, Color, Tint, and Sharpness. All of these standard picture controls are available with an HDMI input, which isn't always the case with digital projectors. A few controls are unavailable with anything but a 480i analog input, including 24- and 30-frame film mode (aka 3:2 pulldown correction, which is usually performed at the source with higher resolutions), a Jaggies Filter, and a Motion Setting control (Still or Motion).

There are two contrast controls: Signal Contrast and Drive Contrast. Signal Contrast is the normal contrast adjustment. Drive Contrast boosts the output at the top end of the brightness range. I left the latter on 70 (the lowest of four settings) for most of my viewing.

A submenu selection labeled Precision Setting provides four controls that I left at 0 or Off: Black Level (it did not appear to provide any advantage over the Brightness control that is normally is used to set black level), Detail Gradation ("Corrects the gradation of the light and dark areas of the picture," says the manual), and 3D and CODEC Noise Reduction (the latter is for MPEG mosquito noise).

The Color Temperature control (also in the Precision Setting menu) provides adjustments in 500K steps up or down from the 6500K standard (which was reasonably accurate—see "Testing and Calibration"). The User color-temperature adjustment provides overall red, green, and blue controls for calibrating the color temperature, but not separate controls at the low and high end of the brightness range. According to Fujitsu, there is no hidden service menu with more extensive calibration controls.

A Color Focus control has nothing to do with color temperature, but rather seems designed to provide a degree of control over the projector's color decoding. It allows individual adjustment of the saturation of red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, and yellow (labeled r, g, b, c, m, and y, in lower case letters). Separate red, green, and blue controls, also under Color Focus and labeled R, G, and B (upper case), can, in theory, shift these three color points around. But I found them of little value with the digital video sources that I used for most of my viewing. The blue control did let me correct for a slightly undersaturated blue as determined from test patterns, but it made little visible difference with normal program material. Red and green were already very close to optimum saturation; they were neither too pale nor too prominent (that is, there was no perceptible red or green "push").

Those R, G, and B "color-shift" controls did little to move the color points that I could measure with our Photo Research PR-650 colorimeter. In any event, they really should be set with such specialized test gear, not by eye. For most of my testing, I left all of the Color Focus controls at their factory default ("0") settings.

The most interesting and useful special video controls are Picture Mode and Light Control. The Picture Mode adjustment is actually a gamma control. That is, it controls the way the light output of the projector varies across most of the brightness range without significantly changing the black level or peak white. I'll have more to say about this in the "Testing and Calibration" section. Suffice it to say here that I used the Fine setting for most of my viewing, though I liked what Conventional did with some program material.

The Light Control adjustment controls the action of the projector's active light modulator. Four different settings are available: Off, Min, Mid, and Max. I used Max at all times, since it provided the best blacks and highest peak contrast ratios without any negative effects that I could either see or measure.

The projector offers eight memories that can be used to store various setup configurations. Each numbered input can also be separately adjusted.

Picture This
During a seminar on video displays at the recent Home Entertainment show in New York, the panel was asked if there were any advantages to be had from projectors that cost two or more times the going price for most of today's premium home theater projectors. That price currently clusters around $10,000-$15,000. Most of the offerings in this range are single-chip DLPs.

I answered that yes, there are advantages, though the amount you have to spend for increasingly smaller improvements in performance might be judged exorbitant by many potential buyers. Nevertheless, enthusiasts with the resources are often more than willing to pay for these improvements. The enhancements you get for spending more are directly comparable to the sort of refinements that, on the audio side, also demand a sometimes-disproportionate price differential. The law of diminishing returns on projectors kicks in well before you pass that $15,000 barrier, just as you might establish a similar leveling-out point for, say, speakers (a point I would judge to fall somewhere around $5000 for a high-end pair, and somewhat higher for a complete surround-sound package). But that doesn't mean that there's nothing to be gained from going beyond that point with either projectors or speakers.

Like the Sony Qualia 004 I reviewed last year, the Fujitsu LPF-D711W offers higher resolution than any current DLP front projector, apart from models designed for commercial applications such as digital cinema. It produces higher brightness than most popularly priced DLPs (even in its Low lamp setting). Its blacks are not quite as good, but on the right screen, the blacks rarely look too light. (I recommend a gain of less than 1.0 for screen sizes less than seven feet wide, and higher gain only for larger images.) Its colors are gorgeous, and as with all 3-chip devices, there are no rainbows anywhere (unless you happen to be watching The Wizard of Oz).

Those are the dry observations. More important, I found the Fujitsu a sheer pleasure to watch. I can't count the number of times I sat down to perform a few tests and, four hours, numerous clips, and perhaps a movie or two later, finally dragged myself away, with a grin on my face and the intended tests yet to be run. I never thought I'd find an LCD projector to be serious competition for the best video displays I've ever experienced, but the Fujitsu is that, and more. The performance I saw from it at CES was no fluke.

Most of my standard-definition viewing on the Fujitsu was from the 480p DVI output of a Marantz DV8400 universal player (with its DVI Level switch set to Normal) using a DVI-to-HDMI adapter cable to feed the LPF-QSD1W AV Selector's HDMI input.

I always start my viewing of any video display with DVDs, and try not to mix the two in any viewing session. (Hint: If you must mix standard definition and high definition sources in the same sitting on most displays, always watch SD first!) Nevertheless, as seen on the Fujitsu projector, the best DVDs would fool most people into believing that they're watching high definition.

Six years after it was first released, the DVD of Shakespeare in Love is still as much of a reference standard as any disc in my collection. It looked awesome on the Fujitsu. Colors were richly saturated but never cartoonish. Blues were deep and true, while the greens were just slightly too electric (common with digital projectors). And I've never before seen such fine gradation in reds from any other projector on this material, from the bright red of the costumes to the scarlet of the queen's carriage in chapter 29. The images popped, even on the low-gain, Screen Research ClearPix2 screen I used for most of my viewing. The picture was nearly three-dimensional. Details were crisp but natural. And blacks and shadow detail were respectable (though this is not a particularly dark film).

The Flight of the Phoenix is less colorful in its production values, with fewer fine details, than Shakespeare in Love, but apart from that, it looked even better in its best scenes. Again, much of this film is brightly lit, but there are a few night scenes, and they were largely missing that telltale gray fog that shouts "LCD projector." Its blacks were not as rich and velvety as those from the Sony VPL-HS51 LCD projector (which is far cheaper), but I was almost never troubled by them.

This was brought home more clearly with Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. While not inky dark, this movie's lighting is far more subdued than either of the productions mentioned above. Despite the film's near monochromatic look, the Fujitsu brought out its superb production values. Details were sharp and clean, even in shadows, and there was virtually no unwanted grain or texture.

In all ways but one, the Fujitsu displayed a jaw-dropping image. But when I first set it up on the Screen Research screen, there was a subtle vertical line structure on the screen, visible primarily on large, bright, solid areas of white or color. But they disappeared when I used a solid screen. (The Screen Research is woven, not perforated, to make it acoustically transparent). I could only conclude that the cause was an interaction between the Fujitsu's fixed pixel structure and the screen fabric. When I moved the projector down from the fairly high shelf it was on, however, this effect nearly disappeared, suggesting that the actual positioning of the projector, and not just the image size, determined how it would interact with such a screen. I was still conscious of a slight texturing of projected images at my 12-foot seating distance, but I had to concentrate to see it, and then it was only just barely evident on some material. It never bothered me again.

I also experienced other minor problems. First, from very close to the screen, I could sometimes see what I can only describe as pure red or green noise that looked like sparkling pixels along sharp edges. On very dark scenes, this sometimes included the left edge of the picture. They were rare, and essentially invisible from my viewing chair. Whether or not this was a design quirk or a sample defect I do not know, but I was only slightly bothered by it once in over two months of serious watching.

Second, when the image went black, I could see two dim, dime-sized blotches near the bottom of the screen. They reminded me of the dust blobs I've sometimes seen on less-ambitious LCD projectors. But they rarely showed up on normal program material.

And third, very light scenes would occasionally look just a little flat. I've seen this before on LCD projectors with active light modulation—on very bright scenes, the modulator opens up and has no effect, so you are limited to the contrast ratio of the basic LCD light engine. But the effect was easily ignored, and was sometimes clearly due to the program material, not the projector.

Overall, however, the Fujitsu on DVDs came surprisingly close to the performance of a top-class CRT projector. Only in black levels and shadow details are CRTs significantly better, and only a top-grade CRT projector and scaler can even approach or equal the Fujitsu in other respects—at two to four times the Fujitsu's price.

Higher Definition

In the real world, there's high definition and there's even higher definition, and the best projectors easily show the differences. Not every HD broadcast will knock your socks off, even on a great projector like the Fujitsu, but when one does, it really does. For example, a special called Supervolcanoes on Discovery HD Theater turned out to be one of the best disaster flicks I've ever seen, even with its second-rate special effects, but it looked no better than an average to slightly below-average DVD. But an episode of Trading Spaces (this show and its clones are spreading like kudzu) was crisp and highly detailed.

Warm Springs, an HBO film (and unless I miss my guess, a sure-fire multiple Emmy winner), looked like it was shot on digital video. It didn't have particularly good depth, but when it was good, it was very, very, good.

The Chronicles of Riddick, a dramatic dud, really came to life through the Fujitsu, even converted down to 1.78:1 from its theatrical 2.35:1 (panned & scanned courtesy of HBO). The poor filmmakers probably had only a few bucks left to pay for writers after they committed to the special effects and production design, but what a design! The film is very dark, and a few sequences looked flat, but for the most part, the image from the Fujitsu looked fantastic. The blacks were solid—not quite excellent, but very, very good. Every detail was shockingly clear, down to the textures on clothes and armor. The eye candy alone here, as fully realized by the Fujitsu, made even this script-challenged movie worth watching.

It's hard to find the right word to describe the sort of viewing experience the Fujitsu offers. "Compelling" perhaps says it best. There are many video projectors that have provided me with a lot of pleasure, but only three that I've tested so far have truly earned that description: The Reference Imaging 9-inch CRT projector with the Teranex video processor, the Sony Qualia 004 SXRD, and now the Fujitsu LPF-D711W LCD. I wish I had them all in house now so I could offer a first-hand comparison, but that is not to be.

Still, I can offer a few comments. In the case of the Reference Imaging and Sony, which are no longer on hand, these comments must be based on my most durable recollections.

In everything but suitable screen size and practicality (some might argue that those two qualities are everything), the Reference Imaging unit clearly leads the pack. But it's no longer easy to come by and will be a challenge to maintain as CRT fades into the mist, regrettably but inevitably, as the dominant video-display format. It also costs four times the price of the other two products if you include the Teranex scaler, and more than twice the price without it.

The Sony Qualia 004 offers perhaps the best balance of picture quality, cutting-edge industrial design, and user friendliness, including almost dead-quiet operation. It also has deeper blacks than the Fujitsu. But it's very close call. Without the Sony on hand for a direct face-off, my gut feeling is that it's a dead heat in terms of overall image quality, and the Fujitsu may even be superior in some respects, particularly sharpness on standard-definition sources. It's also important to note that the Fujitsu's replacement lamps are dramatically cheaper than the Sony's.

The exciting news is that there is an even more advanced 1920x1080 LCD chip on the way from Epson—the D5—which recently went into full production. It differs from the D4 chip in a number of important ways, including a smaller pixel pitch (the distance from one pixel to the next—10 microns for the D5, 15 microns in the D4) and superior chip-level contrast ratio (500:1 for the D4, 600:1 for the D5, with the method of measurement unspecified). Most important, however, is the fact that the D5 1920x1080 chip was developed for home video use. And since the chip is being manufactured in the sort of quantities suggesting they're destined for high-volume products, I think it's safe to say that those products will be much more modestly priced than the LPF-D711W. That's not to say these potentially cheaper projectors will be as good—there is a lot more to a great projector than the imaging chip. But this is an intriguing development that will certainly be worth watching. You can be certain that the DLP camp is watching. Closely.

For those who can afford it now, however, I can unequivocally recommend this Fujitsu projector. In every respect, it's a remarkable achievement, and without question one of the most exciting video products I've ever reviewed. This isn't just a great LCD projector. It's a great projector, period.

Highs and Lows

• Bright, sharp, vividly real picture
• Flexible setup
• Quiet operation

• Expensive
• 720p and 1080i digital video sources limited to one (anamorphic) aspect ratio
• The HDMI input worked with most sources, the DVI did not