Runco Reflection CL-710 DLP Projector

Survey a panel of true video experts and ask them which of the many competing technologies, old and new, is capable of producing the very best picture, and the majority—perhaps even all of them—will still answer: "A top-of-the-line, data-grade CRT projector with 9-inch tubes." If asked who makes the best such CRT projector, many of those experts will cite Runco and its DTV-1200 model, though some also will praise Sony's VPH-G90U, the projector I own. The differences between two top-of-the-line 9-inch CRT projectors are modest at best.

Yet other, newer display technologies are gaining ground on the venerable CRT, and many offer some impressive advantages. But by one measure, at least, the CRT is still the king: Only a well-calibrated 9-inch CRT can fully resolve a 1920x1080 high-definition signal. (There are a few LCOS displays that can do 1920x1080, but they are only now becoming available.) The best DLPs—including this one, Runco's new Reflection CL-710—can resolve 1280x720, but nothing higher. That's the limit of the latest commercially available Texas Instruments Digital Micromirror Devices (DMDs). The Runco uses TI's HD2 (Mustang) chip.

When I visited Runco HQ in California this spring, executives there said that they think DLP projectors have come such a long way, and offer such startlingly high quality, that they can now compete favorably with the CRT projectors currently in the company's lineup. I don't think anyone at Runco would claim that their best DLP projector can yet match the performance of their DTV-1200 in many key areas, but they believe the differences are modest, and that DLP's advantages—principally higher brightness and far simpler setup and use—outweigh the disadvantages. That argument makes a lot of sense. CRT projectors need to be realigned and otherwise tweaked occasionally, a job best left to a professional. DLPs require no such maintenance.

What's more, the CL-710 is about the size of a large DVD player, while most CRT projectors are almost as big and heavy as a 36-inch direct-view TV. Runco's CL-710 DLP weighs 22 pounds, whereas the DTV-1200 weighs 187 pounds, and Sony's VPH-G90U weighs 242 pounds. Perhaps even more important, the differences in price are staggering. The CL-710 sells for $9995 (add $1000 for the CL-710 LT, which has a long-throw lens for use in larger rooms). The DTV-1200 sells for $44,995, while Sony's VPH-G90U is priced at $38,000.

I've seen many DLP projectors at conventions and trade shows, but unlike other writers for the Guide, my only experience reviewing one came a few years ago, when I filed a negative report on an expensive DLP rear-projection set. The company in question no longer makes that product, so I see no purpose in berating them again here, but that experience turned me off to DLP for a while. When I visited Runco this spring, I saw that the technology has come quite a long way, now that manufacturers can base their products on Texas Instruments' HD2 DMD chip, which came out earlier this year and boasts improved contrast ratios. That translates most obviously into the ability to render deeper blacks—the primary weakness of all the new digital display technologies.

The Reflection CL-710 has that distinctive Runco look: black except for the raised silver lens housing. The Runco logo is big, on the front right. The projector offers most of the inputs one would want these days, including DVI/HDCP. Also offered are composite, S-video, component, and RGB/HV, and 21 picture-setting memory locations allow you to save the perfect settings for each input device. The CL-710 also offers several different aspect-ratio options, all accessible from the remote, including one that stretches the edges of a 4:3 picture to fill a 16:9 screen without materially affecting the middle of the image. Needless to say, the default setting of this projector, and of every product using TI's HD2 chip, is 16:9.

The remote is a simple affair, and not backlit—Runco assumes that most if not all buyers will control their systems with a universal remote and relegate this one to a drawer. But it does offer a desirable feature: individual button access to each input.

A DLP projector is fairly easy to install: Set it on a table at an appropriate distance from the screen (which depends on the screen size and lens zoom range) and adjust the lens to focus. The CL-710 does not have a vertical lens shift feature, but the ceiling mount has a telescopic feature that enables the projector height to be shifted up and down, which accomplishes the same goal as the vertical lens shift. That function is accessible only in a locked service menu. Fortunately, Runco has a policy of sending a video technician to set up its products for reviewers. In my case, they sent Pat Bradley, a video-calibration expert and general consultant in the field who lives in Minnesota, and who arrived at my home in Washington, DC, one summer morning with a trunk full of equipment.

I had not taken the projector out of the box, so Bradley unpacked it, installed it, and turned it on. The Reflection CL-710 came to life for about two minutes, then shut itself off. We repeated the exercise four or five times, with the same result each time. We sighed: Bradley had flown all the way from Minnesota, and the unit appeared to be defective. He managed to find a way to get a replacement unit to my house by late that afternoon.

Wouldn't you know, the second sample suffered from exactly the same problem: Soon after we turned it on, it shut itself off. That, plus the fact that the new sample had been in use elsewhere and had run just fine, told us the problem was in my system, not in the Runco. Finally, we discovered that the problem was the projector's interaction with my power conditioner, an Audio Power Industries Power Wedge 116 Ultra. When we plugged the CL-710 into the wall, it came on and stayed on.

Les Edelberg, president of Audio Power Industries, said that if the projector was plugged into the amp section of the power conditioner, it should have worked without difficulty. If it was plugged into the "isolated" section for lower-wattage equipment, the projector would almost certainly shut off because of insufficient wattage. I normally plug devices like this into the amp section, but can't be certain now and will assume, for Runco's and Audio Power Industry's sake, that I used the wrong plug.

Bradley then performed a complete setup and color-temperature calibration so that the Runco, like the Sony, would project a standard 6500K across the scale. Yes, DLP projectors are capable of projecting brighter images than CRTs, but when both are calibrated to the 6500K standard, the difference in brightness is less obvious.

The projector fired onto my Stewart Studiotek 130 screen, which Bradley rated as ideal for the CL-710 in terms of gain, though at a width of 87 inches, it's about 5 inches wider than might be ideal for the Runco, in his view. On a smaller screen, the CL-710, like any projector, will produce a correspondingly sharper picture.

Runco has built a scaler into the CL-710 that perfectly matches the capabilities of its technology. Everything that comes in—480i to 1080i—comes out as 720p. The scaler also provides 3:2 pulldown correction.

I was able to keep the Reflection CL-710 for about a month. I used the Runco's and Sony's component-video connections, as I have no DVI sources at present that can take advantage of the Runco's DVI input. But no matter. My first impression of the CL-710 was the same as my last: a sharp, detailed picture with vivid colors and believable blacks that filled my 87-inch-wide screen naturally and with ease. DLP has come of age.

I watched Solaris, and the detail in various areas of the ship, including the cluttered kitchen, was deep and never disappointing. I also watched Daredevil; when I looked at the many dark areas of the screen, I saw blacks that seemed close to the film's full potential. Colors were generally true, though greens seemed to have a slight yellow tilt. Blues were rich and well-saturated without being oversaturated, as were reds. I noticed none of the rainbow-effect problems that plague many DLP projectors, a byproduct of the use of a color wheel. Still, I might not be as sensitive to that as some other viewers. But I'd never watched Solaris or Daredevil before; for a closer look, I popped in some more familiar movies.

For black level, my reference is Dark City. A good CRT can resolve the detail of brickwork in the shadowed walls of city buildings, but the Runco couldn't; the walls were dark gray voids. Another good test of a display's ability to render black is a test pattern on Video Essentials that shows a white field with a small rectangle in the center divided into three squares: black, blacker, and blackest. I often use this pattern to gauge the black-level ability of plasmas. The Runco was able to resolve two of the three squares with ease, and I could discern a tiny difference in the rendering of the third, blackest square, but only when I stood next to the screen—from my viewing seat, I could see no difference between the two darkest squares. Overall, I rate the Runco's ability to render black at about the level of the very best plasmas now on the market: It almost has the problem licked. Still, any good CRT will beat it.

The Runco's scaler was superb. I saw no obvious artifacts, stair-step problems, or deinterlacing noise. The waving American flag on Video Essentials exhibited some jagged edges, but the problem seldom appeared in other material.