New Home Theater Projectors Appear at CES

Evan Powell, January 8, 2001
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Traditionally the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) (which happens in Las Vegas every January) is not a big show for the digital projection industry. However, that may be changing. Prices have dropped and quality has improved to the point where consumers have a number of great options for easy-to-install high performance projectors for their own home theaters. The year 2001 will be the year the floodgates open for digital projectors to move into the consumer market.

Part of what is creating the buzz (for better or for worse) is the anticipated appearance of widescreen format projectors based on native 16:9 LCD panels or DLP chips. Sony has maintained a commanding presence in the home theater projection market heretofore with their popular 16:9 format VPL-VW10HT. However, 2001 is the year Sony's competition will show up.

Several new digital projectors appeared this weekend at CES which have been designed either primarily or exclusively for the consumer market. Here is a quick rundown on the new releases...

Yamaha DPX-1 Digital Cinema Projector This is Yamaha's first entry into the projector marketplace. The DPX-1 is a 1000 ANSI lumen DLP machine with a native XGA resolution (1,024x768), and a contrast ratio (according to the manufacturer's spec) of 900:1. The DPX-1 is 480p, 1080i, and 720p compatible, and will take both progressive and interlaced component DVD signals.

The DPX-1 is a 16.5 lb unit packaged in sleek, attractive contemporary casework and is made for ceiling mounted use in a home theater. There is a 1.2:1 manual zoom/focus lens. The connector panel features a 15-pin VGA port, 5 BNC connectors and a DVI port. Fan noise on this unit is virtually silent.

Yamaha's video demonstrations included a segment from the U-571 DVD and a clip of a rock group shot in 1080i HDTV. In these demos, the DVD signal was interlaced component, yet there were virtually no de-interlacing artifacts to be seen. Nor were there any scaling artifacts. The 1080i was equally artifact-free. It was quite apparent that the deinterlacing and scaling on board this unit is absolutely first rate. Furthermore, due to the XGA-resolution DLP, the picture was free of any visible pixelation.

Contrast appeared to be very good on the DVD material and outstanding on the HDTV clip. To Yamaha's credit they chose demo material with a lot of dark scenes to show the resolving power of the DPX-1 in the shadow areas. Few digital projector vendors would choose such challenging material for any product debut at a trade show. Yet while contrast performance was quite satisfactory, it appeared to be typical of many DLPs and nothing much out of the ordinary for this technology.

Those looking for the perfect projector may be disappointed in the DPX-1 in the areas of color accuracy, brightness, and price. Color did not seem quite as precise as one might hope for. And the DPX-1's 1000 ANSI lumen output, while adequate for home theater use, is underpowered compared to other XGA-resolution products in its price range that can be used for home theater. This will be even more of a competitive limitation come this July when the DPX-1 is scheduled to hit the market.

It is curious also that Yamaha chose to go with a standard 4:3 format XGA resolution chip rather than the new 1,280x720 DLP that is creating so much stir. This will unfortunately (and undeservedly) be a competitive limitation for the product. In point of fact, there were two projectors on the CES convention floor that were operating with the new 1,280x720 DLP chip, and neither of them looked as good in HDTV as did the DPX-1. Yamaha demonstrated conclusively that if you have excellent decoding, deinterlacing, and scaling, you don't need a widescreen format LCD panel or DLP chip to get a beautiful HDTV image.

Yamaha is now quoting a retail price tag of $9,995 which is probably unrealistic considering the market conditions that will exist this summer. However, six months is a long time in this industry. Perhaps this MSRP will be revised downward by the time you see the DPX-1 in your dealer's demo room. At a bit lower price, this projector could become a strong contender.

Contents: CES 2001: Yamaha Sharp and Toshiba PLUS and Sanyo