InFocus ScreenPlay 777 DLP projector Page 3

The option I chose for most of my viewing was a neutral-density filter of one F-stop, which reduces the light passing through it by about half. Because the filter adapter InFocus offers was not available until after our deadline, I used a less sophisticated approach—a sheet of neutral-density gel (a thin film material used by photographers) (It looked a little funky taped over the front of the projector.) While such a filter can't actually increase the peak contrast ratio, it should, by reducing the subjective black level along with the peak white level, remove that annoying haze from dark scenes and produce a more consistently realistic image.

And it did. To my eyes, the picture was now dramatically improved. To my surprise, the gel seemed to only reduce the light output, without negatively affecting the image in any clearly visible way. At the reduced brightness levels, picture flaws were less evident and blacks were satisfyingly deep.

The DVD of Chicago is littered with dark scenes and compromised by subtle edge enhancement. The InFocus didn't hide the edge enhancement; this was one of those discs that made me wish for a sharpness control. The problem wasn't too intrusive, however, and, more important, there was now little evidence of that dreaded gray haze in those dim sequences. Shadow detail wasn't exceptional, but it was very close to what I've seen from the best one-chip projectors. The color was excellent, and the resolution as good as I could hope for from a good but not exceptional-looking DVD.

Signs is another DVD I pull out when I want to check black level and shadow detail. Consistently darker than most films, Signs is a nightmare for digital displays, and for those reasons is unlikely to ever be chosen for a manufacturer's demonstration. In chapter 4, I could clearly see the shadowy figure on the roof with the ScreenPlay 777. The dark scene in the cornfield (chapter 9) and the basement scene (chapter 18) looked as good as they do on most of the DLP projectors I've had in-house—all of them one-chip designs. The 777's blacks and shadow detail were not quite as good as those of the very best one-chippers—InFocus' emphasis on brightness, and the HD2 DMDs used in the 777 (and, so far, in all three-chip DLP designs), do impose some limits. But I could always see as much as I needed, without strain or guessing, to know what was going on in this and other dark films.

With brighter films, the ScreenPlay 777 performed even better. Shakespeare in Love was crisply defined, with good color, fine depth, and very low noise. But it was here, and on Charlotte Gray, that another limitation of the 777 arose: flesh tones that looked a little too pale, and no way to change them with a DVI input that lacks color and tint controls. Technically, the DVI format doesn't require them; in practice, it's nice to have that extra degree of control.

I shouldn't need to point out—but I will—that because three-chip DLPs don't use a color wheel, they offer a major advantage over one-chip designs: no rainbow effect. This is an important consideration for those of us who can see those rainbows. Not all people are sensitive to them, and the best one-chip designs have almost eliminated them. But when they're frequent, they can be a major nuisance.

High Definition and the BIG Screen
With its high light output (another advantage of three-chip over one-chip DLP designs, at least for very large screens or high ambient-light conditions) and fine optics, the 777 begs to be used on a mondo screen. Unfortunately, the mondo-est my current screenage gets is 96 inches wide. That's about as big as I can accommodate in my 15.5-foot-wide home theater and still leave room for speakers to the left and right of the screen and reasonably spaced from the sidewalls. (With smaller projectors having less light output, I use and prefer a screen 80 inches wide.)

For evaluation purposes, I cheated the system a bit and simulated a bigger screen by enlarging the image to spill over the edges of the screen to the point where the full image would have been as much as 10 feet wide, had there been a 10-foot-wide screen there. I could judge only the portion of that image that fell on my screen—about 64% of the total image area—but that's the two-thirds the eye concentrates on for most viewing.

On this size screen, now without the neutral-density filter gel, the image was still respectably bright—about 15fL peak white. Perhaps more important, the black level was roughly equivalent to that of the projector throwing an 86-inch-wide image with the filter. The bigger screen was thus performing the same function in improving the blacks as the filter had with the smaller screen.

With the brightness issue sorted out, there was only one concern left. When I watched a screen this size from my 12-foot viewing distance, DVD (DVI connection) images were quite soft, even from such inherently sharp DVDs as Hidalgo—one of the best video (and audio) transfers of 2004. DVD simply does not have enough resolution to look good on a screen of this size from that distance. If all you're after is impact, you'll get it. But for those of us who want the best balance of size and quality, this setup doesn't quite make it for DVD.

That's a limitation of the DVD format, not the ScreenPlay 777. When I moved back another 5 feet or so, much of the subjective sharpness returned. But then the image I saw was only marginally larger (as a percentage of my field of view) than the smaller image viewed from closer up.

Things looked a little better when I switched to high definition. From my standard 12-foot distance on the "simulated" 120-inch-wide screen, the image looked reasonably sharp, bright, and detailed. The pixel structure was just evident from this distance—there's no getting around the limitations of 1280x720 resolution on a really big screen—but the image was definitely better yet from a few feet farther back. Here the picture was clearly superior to that from DVD.

I watched a wide range of program material recorded on the JVC HM-DH30000U D-VHS deck and the hard-disk drive of the Zenith HD230 HDTV receiver/DVR. The demonstration video images on the 720p version of Digital Video Essentials looked superb. Programming from the Zenith's hard drive—a mixture of 720p and 1080i excerpts from the 2004 Academy Awards, a PBS documentary on Japan, an episode of the sitcom Life With Bonnie (a superbly engineered program), and Jurassic Park III—ranged from very good to stunning. My gut feeling is that such material looked even better on the 1920x1080 Sony Qualia 004 ($29,998) I reviewed in our May 2004 issue, but to be fair to the InFocus, the Sony has been gone from my studio for six months.

With appropriate measures taken to reduce the brightness to a reasonable level and therefore produce respectable blacks, I found the InFocus ScreenPlay 777 both exciting and satisfying to watch with either standard-definition or HDTV program material. Nothing tripped it up. It was also very quiet. The only ergonomic problem I found was some light leakage from the ventilation ports—not too serious, but clearly visible in a darkened room.

The two main limitations of the projector are its HD2 chips (the newer HD2 has marginally better blacks) and its 1280x720 resolution. With competitive projectors offering 1920x1080 (LCoS designs from JVC and Faroudja, SXRD from Sony), the more limited resolution and larger pixels of any current consumer DLP projector, including the 777, is a limitation that must be weighed by any prospective buyer. My feeling is that this is not a serious shortcoming except with very close viewing and screens wider than perhaps 10 feet.

Any product this expensive should be auditioned by a prospective buyer. But I suspect that anyone who sees the InFocus ScreenPlay 777 will be as impressed by it as I was.