CEDIA 2002: Home Theater Just Got Better

Evan Powell, September 30, 2002
Now of course it's the same ole thing every year. Go to CEDIA and see the most beautiful video projection systems on the planet. And you always walk away with the same ole story—video is better and cheaper than ever. The only difference this year is that the manufacturers did it in spades.

(Note: most of the new projectors announced at CEDIA and discussed herein are linked to our database. We are still missing specs and pics on some of them. The database will be updated as soon as vendors release final specs.)

The Biggest Buzz: Texas Instruments' Mustang/HD2 DLP

There were several hot news items, each appealing to different budget segments of the home theater market. Clearly the biggest buzz of the convention, projector-wise anyway, was the proliferation of Texas Instruments new Mustang/HD2 DLP chip, a 1280x720 resolution display with 12 degree mirrors and a black substrate that increase contrast ratios over earlier edition DLP devices.

There were a total of SEVEN newly announced projectors featuring the Mustang/HD2. They include the Infocus Screenplay 7200 ($9,995), the Toshiba TDP-MT8U ($9,995), the Marantz VP-12S2 ($12,500), the Sharp XV-Z10000U ($10,995), the Yamaha DPX-1000 ($12,000), the Sim2 HT300PLUS (no specs available), and the Faroudja FDP-DLP-1HD ($14,500, no specs available). All of these machines are scheduled to ship in the fourth quarter.

The story here is all about contrast, ANSI lumens, and the trade-offs between them. The Sharp Z10000 for example has two sets of ANSI lumen and contrast specs. In High Brightness Mode, it is rated at 1500 ANSI lumens and 1500:1 contrast. However it also has a High Contrast Mode which is 500 ANSI lumens and 2500:1 contrast. So light output is significantly curtailed to get an incremental boost in contrast performance.

In many of the presentations, contrast numbers were being thrown about by the vendors' pitchmen without overly much qualification. The Sharp rep claimed to have the highest contrast in the industry at 2500:1, but didn't mention the fact that you needed to drop to 500 lumens to achieve it. The Marantz rep claimed an industry-leading 2600:1, but didn't state under what circumstances. Neither one had apparently heard of the NEC HT1000's claimed rating of 3000:1 which trumps them both. But no matter. You certainly cannot see the difference between 2500:1 and 3000:1. Suffice it to say that the contrast performance needed to meet and beat a CRT projector has arrived on a host of DLP-based projectors.

With these amazing contrast numbers flying around, the specs for the Infocus Screenplay 7200, (1000 ANSI lumens and 1400:1 contrast) sounded downright anemic. But InFocus has taken an entirely different tack. They claim to be delivering a projector that is essentially pre-calibrated to optimum home theater performance right out of the box, including calibration to D6500 color temperature. No muss, no fuss, no tweaking. Just turn it on and get awesome video. If so, their numbers cannot be compared at all to their competitors. So a word of caution to those who buy on the apparent strength of a product's spec sheet: Don't. You may get hosed.

Overall, the products with the Mustang/HD2 are priced at $10,000 or more. And there is no doubt that collectively they deliver some of the best video ever available at this price range.

Meanwhile, in this same price/performance category, Runco released the CL-700. This is also a 1280x720 DLP product, but it is based on the earlier edition HD1 DLP widescreen chip. This unit is rated at 1000 ANSI lumens, and 660 ANSI lumens after home theater calibration. (Our hats are off to Runco for including this data on their spec sheet. It would be a great help if the rest of the manufacturers would follow Runco's lead as most vendor's rated specs would have a comparable spread.) The CL-700 is rated at 900:1 contrast, and retails for $9,000.

DWIN announced their TransVision TV2 some time ago and recently began to ship. This is another 1280x720 DLP with the HD1 chip, retailing for $10,250.

More Hot Buzz: JVC's DLA-SX21

Also unveiled at $9,995 was the JVC DLA-SX21, a beautiful high resolution (1400x1050), 1500 ANSI lumen D-ILA (LCOS) machine that will give the DLP-based products some serious competition. Its 800:1 contrast rating is not as high as the new DLP machines. But it appears to trump them in color performance and resolution, and a high contrast screen can help mitigate shortcomings in contrast.

JVC staged their demo of the SX21 on a 16:9 screen 11 feet wide. It looked rich, natural, pixel-free, and well-saturated at that size. All of the demos of the 1280x720 DLP products appeared on screens about 6 feet wide, give or take a little. At that size they looked beautiful also. It will be interesting to put these two technologies side by side with the same screen size and same source material, which obviously could not be done at the show. But from the looks of it, LCOS fans are going to love this one.

Obviously the $10,000 price category is suddenly highly saturated. All of the products at this price point produce outstanding video images. Among the DLP products the differences in image quality were relatively subtle. The most obvious differences were generated from either calibration variances, or the sources and screen set ups rather than the projectors themselves. People will not be buying based on which of them has the best image, but rather which has the best feature set, warranty, and support for the money.

The JVC SX21 will offer a distinct competitive alternative to the HD2 products. Since it is an LCOS based machine it has image characteristics that are different than DLP—not better or worse, but different. It will be reviewed here shortly, as will several of the new HD2 models.

Hot Buzz in the Economy Class: Sony Rules!

At the very low end of the price range, LCD technology still reigns supreme. Sony dropped a couple of bombs in the widescreen arena. The Cineza HS2 is a WVGA resolution (852x480) LCD projector rated at 1000 ANSI lumens and 600:1 contrast; the retail price is an incredible $1800. Those who are about to place orders for the Panasonic AE100 may want to look closely at the HS2 before writing the check.

But as if the HS2 wasn't enough to make the point that Sony was in command of their game, the Cineza HS10 was equally breathtaking. That one features WXGA LCD panels (1365x768) (yes, that's the same resolution as Sony's more expensive VPL-VW12HT and the Sanyo PLV-70), 1200 ANSI lumens and 700:1 contrast, all for the "you've got to be kidding" price of only $2,995. Both of these Sony Cineza products are scheduled to commence shipments within the next four weeks.

Hottest product in the $5,000 range: NEC HT1000

NEC unveiled their remarkable HT1000 for the first time. Retailing at $5,495, this XGA projector features the latest DLP chip technology and at 3000:1 it carries the highest contrast rating of any projector yet released. It will occupy a unique place in the market as one of the most sought after DLP projectors by videophiles wanting to spend less than the magic $5,000 price point. Look for the HT1000 to take a bite out of the sales of widescreen LCD products like the Sony VPL-VW12HT, the Epson TW100, and the new Yamaha LPX-500. These are all fine projectors that deliver very good video for the money. But the HT1000 is extremely well positioned to compete strongly for the videophile's dollars against any other projector in its general price range. Look for shipments to begin in about four weeks.