Madrigal Imaging MP-9 CRT projector

When Madrigal Audio Labs decided to get into the video-projector business, it was no surprise that they aimed right for the top. With its Mark Levinson, Proceed, and Revel lines, Madrigal is not exactly known for budget products, and the MP-9 makes an immediate statement that the company is as serious about high-end video as it is about high-end audio. Not so incidentally, the addition of a video line, Madrigal Imaging, now makes Madrigal dealers one-stop shops for state-of-the-art home theater.

The MP-9 is one of the most expensive 9-inch CRT projectors on the market (its smaller sibling, the MP-8, is equipped with 8-inch tubes). With DLPs and D-ILAs beginning to show real promise, stepping out with a new, upmarket CRT is a brave move. Granted, top-rung CRT projectors still exceed the alternatives in every video quality except peak brightness, but the competition is closing in fast. Still, there's no guarantee it will catch up any time soon. Madrigal is hedging its bets a bit by also marketing a D-ILA projector, but the Madrigal folks also know that their customers want the best—if they have the resources and don't need a huge screen, they'll opt for the CRT.

Red, Green, and Blue
Readers familiar with CRT projectors will instantly recognize the MP-9's major characteristics and features. Its large chassis, trimmed in a variety of available wood finishes, sports red, green, and blue CRTs and lenses at the front and an input panel at the rear. An additional small, movable lens, mounted front and center below the main lenses, is used for the ACON II (automatic conversion) system—a standard feature.

The MP-9's 9-inch CRTs bring several performance benefits over smaller ones: greater light output, better contrast, and, perhaps most important, higher resolution. The Madrigal also includes other performance-enhancing features, including scan capability for any current or conceivable video source, gamma correction (for better gray-scale tracking), nine-zone electronic astigmatism correction (for spot shape and focus at the periphery of the image), mechanical Scheimpflug adjustment (optimizes focus at opposite sides of the picture), memories for up to 75 different setups (certainly more than is needed for any home-theater application), compatibility with home automation systems, external computer-control capability, built-in test patterns, and more.

Starting with a basic chassis originally designed by ElectroHome of Canada, Madrigal has performed a number of significant upgrades, many of them recommended by video expert Joe Kane. Chief among these is color filtering of the CRTs for a more accurate color palette. The uniformity for multiple aspect ratios is also improved by adding greater flexibility to the horizontal and vertical deflection circuits. Enhanced software provides for a wider range of setup adjustments, including finer focus in the corners. And the electromagnetic focus may be separately optimized for each scanning frequency, making it possible, for example, to separately tweak the projector for maximum performance with both the upscaled standard definition programming and high definition (720p and 1080i) sources.

The MP-9 can be controlled with a wireless illuminated remote or with an identical wired remote located under the top cover. According to the owner's manual, a Madrigal IRIQ remote control should also come with the projector, but we did not receive one.

Onscreen menus provide for a full range of adjustments. A number of these provide step-by-step guidance for both setup and routine operation. While users will clearly make use of the latter, setup is no job for the amateur. We had two samples of the projector (see "Movie Time," below), and the final setup of each was handled by Nicholas Grieco, Joe Kane's technical assistant during the development of the MP-9. Careful setup by a competent specialist such as Grieco will take at least a day, assuming the normal complement of scanning frequencies for HDTV (720p, 1080i) and NTSC. For playback of DVDs and other standard sources, we set up the first sample for 960p. For the second sample, however, Grieco chose 864p, which he believes to be optimum for this projector on my current, 7-foot-wide screen. At this rate, it was just possible to see the scanning lines a foot or so from the screen; they were totally invisible from my normal viewing distance of 12 feet.

The scaler used with the Madrigal for much of this review was the Snell & Wilcox G2 Interpolator Gold. A considerable improvement on the original S&W Interpolator Gold reviewed in SGHT in December 1999, the G2 proved an ideal match for the projector. (See sidebar for more on the Snell & Wilcox.)

The owner's manual is reasonably good, if a little oddly organized. The geometry adjustments, for example, are included in the Operating section rather than under Setup, where you'd expect them to be. The manual also states that curved screens are useful, and that something other than a completely dark room is acceptable. If you want the sort of performance you have a right to expect from such an expensive, high-tech projector, you should disregard both propositions.