LCD Turbocharger

Most video display demos aren't terribly convincing. First, the manufacturer spends 15 minutes telling you about his whiz-bang new technology. Next, he turns on the display and shows you pictures of flowers, vegetables, and Japanese girls in bikinis. You probably say, "Yeah, that looks pretty good." (Unless you're a consultant, in which case you say, "That's terrible. How can you show this to people?")

A recent series of demos Sanyo held in New York and Los Angeles proved refreshingly different. I walked into a darkened ballroom in Los Angeles's InterContinental Hotel and saw two projection screens showing the same picture. The one on the left displayed the typical problems that LCD's detractors often describe: washed-out color and grayish-looking blacks. The one on the right delivered a stunning image, with intense - but not cartoonish - color, and the deep blacks one would expect from one of today's top-notch projectors.

"Is the one on the right the new one?" I asked hesitantly, dreading that I might have to spend the next half hour listening to Sanyo's reps extol the virtues of an obviously flawed technology. (It has happened to me, and way too many times.) "Yes," came the reply, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

The one on the right was the new PLC-XP200L projector with Sanyo's new QuaDrive technology; the one on the left was the PLC-XP100L, a similar model without QuaDrive. The PLC-XP200L is a $9,995, 7,000-lumen industrial model designed for large venues - you wouldn't dare use it in your home. Even five years ago, its old-school 4:3 aspect ratio would have branded you among home theater aficionados as a total loser. Sanyo says it will introduce QuaDrive in the home market in 2009, in a more compact, quieter, 16:9 projector.

So why do we care about this new Sanyo? Because QuaDrive adds what could be called a video turbocharger: an extra LCD panel. A typical LCD projector has a single light source (i.e., lamp); filters or dichroic mirrors that break the light into red, green, and blue; and LCD panels with thousands of pixels that allow the three colors to pass through to varying degrees. Sanyo's QuaDrive technology adds a yellow filter and what Sanyo calls a "one-pixel" panel to modulate the yellow light coming through the filter. The one-pixel panel covers the entire image, so it basically works as a shutter, giving the projector's image an extra blast of yellow when it's needed. The added yellow light is injected into the light path for green, so the physical structure of the projector doesn't change much. And the filters for the other colors are tweaked a bit to compensate for the turbocharged yellow.

Do I have your attention, now? Are you curious (yellow)? Read on.