Reference Imaging CinePro 9x Elite & Teranex HDX Cinema MX Page 2

I Spy
Of course, you wouldn't drive a projector as advanced as the CinePro 9x Elite directly from a DVD player, digital connection or not. You need an outboard scaler and video processor. And to accommodate the preferred SDI configuration, this processor, too, must have SDI inputs and outputs. Enter the Teranex video computer. Equipped only with digital ins and outs (a new model, which adds analog connections and onboard A/D and D/A video converters, is being developed), the Teranex HDX Cinema MX is an ideal if pricey partner for the CinePro 9x Elite. Teranex has an even costlier model for about twice the price. According to RI, however, in a home-theater system the latter offers no performance advantages or useful added features.

Looked at purely as a black box, the Teranex performs the same operations as any number of video processors: deinterlacing, scaling, selectable aspect ratios, and detail enhancement. It has both video and film modes, the latter with 3:2 pulldown recognition.

One feature of the Teranex is, to our knowledge, unique among video processors: color space conversion. The HDX Cinema can correct electronically for the slightly imprecise phosphors used (for good reasons) in all CRTs, rather than relying on the color filters employed in some other projectors. The upside: no light lost to the filters. The downside: the color correction applies only to standard-definition sources upconverted by the Teranex. Future updates are in the works that will provide the Teranex with the ability to color-correct HD sources as well.

Features and performance aside, I could tell from the Teranex's sheer size—not to mention its current draw of 9–11 amps and the wind-machine racket it makes (it must be located in a room separate from the home theater space)—that something special was going on here, and to attempt to explain its full capabilities would require an article longer than this review. The Teranex is an outgrowth of capabilities first developed for the military, and originally had to perform such feats as recognizing a missile launch registering on only a single pixel of a large video display. It was declassified only a few years ago. It processes a 480i source virtually down to the pixel level, and its main boards contain a total of 75,000 microprocessors on 75 large chips. No one familiar with electronic technology, and the realities of limited-quantity manufacturing for military and professional video applications, will wonder why this product costs as much as it does. Nevertheless, during the review period, Teranex was soliciting input about desired features for subsequent models. My suggestion: a price of $2000. Yeah, right.

Fly Me to the Moon
First, the negatives: The gray-scale tracking of the projector (as measured through the Teranex; see "Calibration" sidebar) was not impressive, though the subjective color quality with real program material was very good. At the 48fps frame rate favored by Chris Stephens (see "Sales & Setup" sidebar), I saw occasional flicker. There was also a subtle horizontal band running across the picture at mid-screen, visible primarily with very bright, monochromatic images such as a full white field or a clear blue sky. This is apparently a generic problem with the Marquee projector chassis—I've seen it on the Vidikron Vision One and the Madrigal MP-9—and can sometimes be eliminated in setup, though with great difficulty. It was a very rare distraction.

Less rare was the lip-sync delay caused by the Teranex processor. Ever-present and significant, it put the picture about four frames behind the sound (this varied a bit with the selected scan rate). Fortunately, the AES/EBU audio inputs of the Teranex are designed to compensate for this. Alternately, you could use a surround-sound processor with up to 200 milliseconds of selectable lip-sync delay. This could be more convenient than running a digital audio lead to the Teranex and back.

Late in the review period, the Teranex began booting up with the picture broken into dozens of vertical bands separated by straight, pencil-line-thin black lines. These could be cleared by rebooting, switching scan rates on the projector, or both. It was fixed permanently by replacement of one of those 25-chip microprocessor boards.

Finally, the A/D converter that RI supplied for use with HD material would not sync to 720p from the JVC HM-DH30000 D-VHS deck, though it would produce 720p images (with occasional jerkiness) from a combination of a Panasonic PV-HD1000 D-VHS deck and TU-DST51 DTV decoder. This problem will be looked at by AJA Video, the manufacturer of the converter.

Apart from these problems, the system never had the slightest hiccup, and provided me with 400 hours of the best video I've ever seen. The CinePro 9x Elite was also incredibly stable. In four months using it, I checked its convergence only two or three times, and the maximum correction needed was never more than the width of a scan line. Warmup was quick; the projector looked great just a few minutes after turn-on, although, like all CRTs, it settled in best after an hour or so of operation. It wasn't completely silent, but from 2 feet away the projector's fan noise never bothered me.

The black level and black-level detail were the best I've ever experienced from a CRT, and miles better than any other technology can produce. When the screen faded to black between scenes, it was very nearly true black, and if the fade-out was from a moderately bright scene, it was sometimes hard for me to make out the border of the screen (in a properly darkened room) until my eyes had adjusted for a second or two. Even then, the black screen area looked as near to true black as I've ever seen from a projector.

This incredible black level, combined with excellent black-level detail, was, in my judgment, the biggest single component of the CinePro's striking performance. What it did for dark scenes, such as the star fields in any Star Trek or Star Wars film, should be self-evident. But other very dark scenes profited as well. The pervasive gloom of The Mothman Prophesies didn't get washed out to gray. And I could clearly see the small, dimly lit details in the submarine interiors from the DVD of U-571, which the production crew clearly sweated to put on film. (The D-Theater, HD version, not surprisingly, looks more amazing still.)