Planar PD8150 DLP Projector

DLP goes dynamic.

Planar is a relatively new name in the home theater market, but it is by no means a new company. The Oregon-based manufacturer has been around for over 20 years and has deep roots in the imaging industry, with a long history of flat panels and commercial displays. Last May, Planar made a big investment in the home theater industry in acquiring Runco International, one of the leaders in high-end home theater displays.

Planar has been in the front projector market for some time with mostly 720p DLP offerings. For this review, we’re going to look at the company’s newly introduced, feature-rich 1080p DLP flagship, the single-chip PD8150 ($7,999).

Attention to Detail
The PD8150 is a relatively large DLP projector. The case has a very elegant, piano black finish with a removable hood that covers the rear input panel for a cleaner, curvy aesthetic. There are some inlet vents on the left side of the projector, and the heat is vented out the opposite side. This makes placement near a rear wall a non-issue but also keeps the expelled heat—which can impact video quality—away from the lens.

The light path is completely sealed and eliminates the fear of dust getting into the optical path or light loss from the chassis. Most projectors have some type of light spill either around the lens or from the vents. There wasn’t the slightest hint of light coming from this projector, and I didn’t see any light spill around the active image. (Light spill is a problem with my current projector, the JVC DLA-RS2, which is functionally identical to the DLA-HD100 reviewed in the April issue of HT.) Even the buttons on the top of the PD8150’s case automatically turn off during use. Details like this make a big difference in a fully darkened room where light control is a must.

The PD8150 features an all-glass manually operated lens with a relatively flexible zoom range that accommodates longer throw lengths. There is also an optional short-throw lens that the end user can purchase separately and bolt on.

The PD8150 features manual horizontal and vertical lens shift. Unlike most projectors I’ve seen with this feature, Planar has designed a very stable lens shift that requires the use of an included tool. You simply pop open a door on the top of the projector and use the tool to dial it in. The dials are very tight, and I didn’t notice any drift during use, an issue that is all too common with most manual lens-shift designs.

The back panel has a nice array of connections, including two HDMI 1.3 inputs. You’ll also find an RS-232 input for updates and remote triggers for communications and automated screens. The PD8150 is a fully updateable projector on the software end, allowing consumers to update firmware from a PC via the RS-232 input.

Another nice feature is a small LED light on the back panel that you can turn on via remote control. This makes hookups or changes a snap in a dark room. The lamp access door is also on the back panel, giving the end user the option of changing the bulb without having to dismount the projector from the ceiling. These are small, nice touches that go a long way in setup flexibility and ease of use.

The remote is the typical size of most display remotes and features an easy button layout with most of the important features directly accessible. The remote lights up at the touch of a button and uses red backlighting for legibility in the dark. Most of the main video settings are directly accessible, including picture controls, image size, and user-defined memories.

Features and Functions
Did I mention that Planar seems to be taking the small details into account? I first used the projector on a shelf in the back of my room, so imagine my surprise when I ceiling-mounted it, fired it up, and found that the image was already shifted for a ceiling installation. The PD8150 has a built-in sensor that automatically orients the image based on the position of the projector. Very cool!

The setup menus are simple to navigate and offer a lot more setup options than I’m used to seeing from a projector at this price point. All of the normal display controls are included, as well as a few added features.

The sharpness control has an advanced mode that allows for further tweaking, including vertical and horizontal sharpness filters. This helped eliminate some of the ringing artifacts in the DVDs I demoed. It did take a little toll on the overall detail, though, so I would recommend that you use it on a case-by-case basis and set it to off with high-quality material like Blu-ray.

The PD8150 has quite a few options for custom tailoring the image. It can auto-detect the color space of the incoming source, as most displays do, or you can force a different color space in the menus. This includes Rec. 601 (standard-def NTSC) or Rec. 709 (HDTV) color spaces. This is a feature I’ve only seen previously on the Samsung DLP projectors designed in collaboration with video guru Joe Kane. This is key, as it allows you to select NTSC color decoding, even with HD material. Let me tell you why this is important.

Most displays automatically use the HDTV color space when the incoming material is HD. But unfortunately, that isn’t how the program material is currently being mastered. Many HD sources (think movie material on Blu-ray and broadcast) are being mastered on monitors that conform to standard-def NTSC color space, which means Rec. 601 is the correct color decoding during playback for many HD sources. Planar gives you the flexibility of adjusting it based on your preference or setting it to Auto and doing the decoding based on the incoming video signal.

There are several selections for gray-scale temperature, including the standard 6500K and 5500K (used for black-and-white films). Typically, I would always suggest that you have a projector calibrated by a professional, but this projector’s gray-scale tracking and colorimetry were so good out of the box that I don’t really see the need to spend the extra money. Even the user settings, such as contrast and brightness, were nearly dead on in their default mode. Of course, for the consummate tweaker, there are full controls available for dialing in the gray scale with cuts and gains for red, green, and blue.

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