Ultimate Home Theater!

When I first started writing about TV - instead of just watching it - I had the privilege of attending an eye-opening demonstration of high-end projectors. The corporate host had set up a series of these light cannons in a room and proceeded to show the same scene from Shakespeare in Love on each one. As the engineers switched from screen to screen, each projector looked better than its predecessor. Finally I asked my buddy how much the best one cost, and he muttered something like, "about 40,000 bucks."

The projectors I experienced that day were three-gun CRT (cathode-ray tube) models, with separate red, green, and blue tubes. Although CRTs are still the height of high-end projector performance, another technology is catching up fast. Called Digital Light Processing (DLP), its chief advantage is price, but it also promises smaller size, easier setup (a single lens means no convergence issues), lower maintenance, and longer life than tubes. Its bitter rival among projectors is LCD, but DLP has enjoyed one important edge: better black-level performance. That is, shadows and other dark areas of the picture look more natural.

To check out a cross section of DLP technology, I rounded up three projectors: the BenQ PE8700 ($7,995), the Sim2 Domino 30 ($7,995), and the Sharp XV- Z12000 ($12,000). All use a single 1,280 x 720-pixel Texas Instruments DLP chip - the Sim2 uses the HD2 chip, while the BenQ and the Sharp employ the latest-generation HD2+ version. To evaluate them, I used a 96-inch (diagonal) Stewart Grayhawk screen with a wide (16:9) aspect ratio.