REVIEW: Vivitek H9080FD LED projector
LED home theatre projectors are set to revolutionise the home theatre industry. Recently, Stephen Dawson had the opportunity to review the brand new Vivitek H9080FD projector and was quite impressed with what he saw.
We don’t carry very many equipment reviews in Connected Home Australia. So why this one? Isn’t this just another home theatre projector, albeit an expensive one?
Well, yes it is. But the Vivitek H9080FD LED home theatre projector is also an important product that is likely to establish a new direction for home theatre projection.
That’s a bold statement, but let us consider the weaknesses of front projectors as everyday displays. I can identify two; one is their limited ability to deal with ambient light. The other is the cost of their consumables.
Let’s face it, if there is light in the room then a large direct view screen – LCD or Plasma – is going to look a lot better. They won’t make as big a picture, but at least colours will be rich and blacks will still look adequate (better, actually, in the case of many LCD TVs).
Further, it isn’t unusual for a replacement lamp to cost between $500 and $1,000, and have a life span of as low as 2,000 hours. Some models manage to extract as much as 5,000 hours, but that’s about it. The rating is typically for the period required for the lamp to fall to 50% of original output brightness.
The Vivitek H9080FD projector will do nothing about the ambient light problem. Indeed, its brightness is rated at 800 lumens, which is a little lower than average, and substantially below the output of many inexpensive LCD projectors. So expect to use this projector in a properly dark room.
What it does do is eliminate the cost of consumables, effectively by eliminating the consumables themselves! The projector uses three light emitting diode devices for the lamp. These are red, green and blue and are packaged together by their manufacturer as the PhlatLight PT120. Each has a light-producing area measuring just 4.6 by 2.6mm.
As implemented by Vivitek, this LED ‘lamp’ is rated at 20,000 hours of operation, with a loss of just 5% brightness over the first 2,000 hours. 20,000 hours means four hours of use every day for 13 years, so in effect the light source should never need to be replaced in a consumer environment.
The projector engine is single-chip DLP, but because of the three colour light source there is no need for a colour wheel. The individual coloured LED’s are switched on and off instead, and the speed is such that the sequential colour delivery is like that from a conventional DLP with a 20x colour wheel.
Vivitek says that the projector’s lamp allows it to offer a wider colour gamut than conventional designs, and that it has a dynamic contrast ratio of 100,000:1.
The usual inputs are provided, including two HDMI inputs and two sets of component video, one of them employing BNC sockets. The unit also has RS-232C and two 12 volt trigger outputs for system integration.
The unit is physically large (520mm wide, 548mm deep and 224mm tall) and heavy (16.6kg). It has both horizontal and vertical lens shift (30% and 120% of screen size, respectively), and a zoom range of 1.3:1. The lens shift adjustments are fiddly, requiring the sliding back of an aluminium plate to expose two holes, through which a supplied tool can be inserted to wind the physical position of the lens to a suitable place.
A cover hides the connections and cabling for a neat finish.
What do you want from a home theatre projector? I’m coming from the point of view of accuracy: I don’t want it to ‘fix’ the video. I want it to represent precisely what the content of the disc or transmission is.
I think this projector comes closer to that ideal than any I have yet seen.
The colour delivery seemed superbly natural and realistic. Judging from the Digital Video Essentials Blu-ray calibration disc, played on the excellent Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray player, the default colour setting seemed to be very close to the correct settings. Should you want to get in an ISF calibration professional, then there are red, green and blue gain and offset settings which should provide enough room for final adjustment.
But it is black levels that were truly extraordinary. It is not uncommon for contrast ratios of 100,000 to 1 to be routinely claimed for all manner of display devices, which then still seem to produce a soft grey glow when displaying a full black image.
This projector also to produce a soft grey glow on a full black image. But it was a very dark version of this, and was perfectly neutral and even. Calibrating the black levels to provide good dark detail was not a problem, and the picture was very impressive.
Indeed, that’s how I used the projector during most of the time I had it with me. But that wasn’t what Vivitek was claiming to be a 100,000:1 contrast ratio. For that I had to switch on the dynamic iris. This had three settings, with the strongest one being ‘Infinity’. On that setting, with a full black screen, the room was completely dark. Only by waiting a minute or so for my own irises to fully open could I discern a gentle glow on the screen.
If you want dark, this projector will do it. But without the dynamic iris, my test clips with small red roses and orange goldfish against a black background had the latter inkily convincing of true black.
The brightness was not especially high. But it was about perfect for a well set up home theatre – that is, one in a totally dark room – with a screen of up to about 100 inches. Beyond that might be a stretch. With room lights on, the image was so washed out as to be useless even for business presentation purposes. This is a home theatre projector, and only a home theatre projector.
It accepted all legitimate aspect ratios over HDMI, including 480i and 576i, up to 1080p50, 60 and 24.
For the video processing functions of deinterlacing and scaling, the projector uses the Gennum 9450 processor. Somewhat to my disappointment, there were no control settings for this (such as ‘film’ and ‘video’) to require the deinterlacing to be performed in a particular way. Instead it made its own judgement, based on what it could deduce about the picture content.
I will still criticise it for failing to have those user controls, but having said that I immediately grant it forgiveness because it has, I think, the best ‘Auto’ operation I’ve ever seen. Playing my PAL DVD torture test clips, it was tripped up for two brief fractions of a second on the hardest of them all, and played all the rest absolutely perfectly. Usually this clip provokes misbehaviour for 30% or more of its run time.
What it does, by means of moving, finely spaced horizontal lines in the picture, is trick deinterlacers into thinking that the picture is video sourced, and thereby applying some kind of deinterlacing strategy appropriate to that, consequently reducing the resolution of this film-sourced clip. This projector resisted the temptation, yet when I played a genuine video-sourced clip, it properly interpreted this as well.
With video sourced material, the deinterlacer applied good motion adaptive processing to provide maximum resolution on static parts of the picture.
Repeating the task with a Blu-ray disc encoded at 1080i50 (a not entirely uncommon format for Australian Blu-ray discs, and a good indicator for HDTV handling), the deinterlacing was ticked into the wrong mode at several points, but at fewer points than usual. On balance, a ‘force film’ deinterlacing mode would be a useful addition.
The projector by default applied no overscan to the image. This is easily adjustable in the menu system. It also had available all the aspect ratios regardless of the input signal format. A lot of displays won’t show 1080p, or even 1080i, material in 4:3 aspect ratio. This one will. And this is a useful skill to have, since most Blu-ray players scale up the resolution of their standard definition content to 1080p, and some of this is in 4:3 aspect ratio.
Surprisingly, the projector did produce a little noise. Specifically there was a low level fan noise, and sometimes a very low level buzz that seemed to disappear entirely with a fully black screen, but come up in level with high contrast material. Still, this was only noticeable when the sound system was muted.
The lack of a colour wheel meant that there was never even the slightest appearance of the DLP rainbow effect.
As it stands, the Vivitek H9080FD LED projector is a very competent home theatre product, with among the best performance available, so long as extreme brightness isn’t required.
But it is also a harbinger of the next generation of home theatre projection, almost certainly at lower cost into the future for similar virtues.