Light Years Ahead Page 5

The VX-1000c's palm-size remote control is deliberately stripped down to prevent confusion. There are basically only two types of commands, input selection and aspect ratio control. The latter lets you quickly switch between anamorphic widescreen (16:9), 4:3 letterbox, and standard 4:3 display. The keys do double duty for menu navigation.

When you consider that most front projectors are mounted on a ceiling, far away from your system's A/V rack, Runco's two-piece configuration for the VX-1000c makes a lot of sense. It's more convenient to limit the number of wires running to the projector, as opposed to stringing up cables for each video source in your system. Connections on the PFP controller's rear panel include a component-video input that's compatible only with standard (480i) signals and is intended for hooking up a DVD player. There's also a VGA-style jack meant for signals from an HDTV tuner or computer; these bypass the scaler and get sent directly to the projector.

You can make standard picture adjustments for each of the VX-1000c's inputs from the controller's main menu. Pressing buttons in a sequence detailed in the manual provides access to its installation mode, in which you (or your installer) can adjust the projector's Luma and Chroma enhancement features as well as its color temperature. There are seven color-temperature presets, and you can further modify the settings using its red and blue level controls. You also set the projector to its Normal or Low lamp mode from the installation menu. The Low mode, which offers the benefit of extending lamp life, delivered a bright enough image in my setup.

Runco VX-1000c
KEY FEATURES Includes external PFP controller for scaling, switching, and aspect ratio control Single remote control operation of both processor and projector INPUTS/OUTPUTS Projector RGB+H/V, VGA, and ComLink inputs Controller component-, composite-, and S-video inputs; VGA and RS-232 inputs; RGB+H/V and ComLink outputs; two DC 12-volt outputs DIMENSIONS (WxHxD) projector, 20 7/8 x 8 1/4 x 21 5/8 inches; controller, 17 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 16 inches WEIGHT projector, 50 pounds; controller, 16 pounds PRICE $16,995 MANUFACTURER Runco International, Dept. S&V, 2463 Tripaldi Way, Hayward, CA 94545;; 510-293-9154

From the moment I sat down to watch a movie projected by the VX-1000c, the bright, crisp image and brilliant color absorbed me. In the Flesh Fair sequence of A.I., which takes place outdoors at night, blacks looked solid, and plenty of detail was visible in the shadows. And when I shuttled back to a domestic scene, the actors' flesh tones and the edges of objects looked natural, with no artificial enhancement. The projector's 2:3 pulldown processing, a feature that automatically kicks in when you're watching film-based material on video, kept diagonal lines solid, not jagged, in shots containing camera motion.

Viewing Shrek, I found the picture very sharp and detailed. In the dungeon scene where Prince Farquad tortures the Gingerbread Man, shadows looked solid, with excellent delineation between deep black and lighter gray tones. I was also impressed by how the projector rendered the prince's red velvet cloak, which had a realistic sheen even though the image was dark.

Since the Runco did such a great job with DVDs, I felt confident that it would excel with HDTV. I was not disappointed. Watching the Southwest section of the JVC demo tape, which features shots of Utah's famous Monument Valley, I could see every crevice in shots of sun-drenched cliffs as well as the fine gradations of yellow and green in the desert foliage. In these shots especially, the projector's ability to display deep blacks and smooth yet detailed highlights made it seem like I was watching with a CRT projector.

When you compare Runco's VX-1000c with the Sharp XV-Z9000U, its $16,995 price sticks out. But once you've settled in and watched its bright, clean, and cinematic image with DVDs and HDTV programs, the $6,000 difference may seem worth it. With the VX-1000c, Runco has a front-projection system that will make even die-hard CRT fans turn their heads.

After spending many hours with these three state-of-the-art DLP projectors, I've come to two conclusions. The first is that DLP has come a long way since the first Texas Instruments demonstrations of the technology that I caught back in 1998. The second is that I desperately want one - and the sooner the better! Life doesn't get much better than watching a DVD movie blown up to near-theater size in the comfort of your own home.