CES 2005, Las Vegas

Evan Powell, January 12, 2005

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) happens just after the first of the year in early January. This year the exhibit halls opened last Thursday, January 6, and closed on Sunday the 9th. While it is a huge show for consumer electronics in general, it is usually not the hottest show of the year for digital projectors. However, this year quite a few new models were unveiled at CES.

Of particular note are two new low-priced DLP products featuring the HD2+ 1280x720 resolution DLP chip. The first is the BenQ PE7700, which is rated at 1000 ANSI lumens and 2500:1 contrast. It has a six-segment, 5x color wheel, DVI (HDCP), and quiet 26dB audible noise rating in eco-mode. BenQ quotes the official estimated street price at $3,299. Along with this announcement comes a slide in prices on the BenQ PE8700. So for those looking for a deal on this model, now would be a good time to do some shopping for it.

The other low-priced HD2+ projector is the Toshiba TDP-MT700. This also has the six-segment, 5x speed color wheel, and has ratings of 1000 ANSI lumens and 2000:1 contrast. It has a full HDMI interface, which incorporates HDCP. Toshiba says the estimated street price on this model is $3,499.

You can look for both of these new models to appear on dealer shelves in March. In addition to the two new HD2+ projectors just noted, Runco released two new models under their Vidikron brand with the same HD2+ chip, the Vision Model 45 and the Vision Model 45ET. The 45ET is the same projector as the 45 with a much longer throw zoom lens. Both are rated at 1000 ANSI lumens of brightness and ANSI contrast of 1700:1. Note that Vidikron uses ANSI contrast specs rather than the more common full on/off contrast spec. ANSI contrast is a different method of measurement and it is always lower than the full on/off specification. The Vidikron Vision Model 45 has a zoom range of 1.38x to 1.63x and will retail at $8,995. The model 45ET has a longer zoom range of 1.83x to 2.4x. It will retail at $9,995.

Texas Instruments has a newly upgraded DLP chip, the Dark Chip 3 (DC3). Several new models were announced at CES that use the 1280x720 resolution DC3:

BenQ will use the DC3 in a higher performance upgrade to the PE8700, which will be the BenQ PE8720. This model features an 8-segment, 5x color wheel. The eight segments include two sets of red, green, blue, and dark green, a configuration that is intended to eliminate dithering noise in the dark areas of the image. Contrast is boosted significantly from 2500:1 on the PE8700 to 5500:1 on the 8720. This unit won't begin shipping until the April/May timeframe, and pricing is not yet announced. But you can expect it to be priced higher than the 8700.

InFocus is also using the DC3 chip to upgrade their mid-market Screenplay 7205 projector in the form of the newly announced Screenplay 7210. This model increases lumen output over the 7205 from 1100 to 1400 ANSI lumens, and contrast is increased from 2200:1 to 2800:1. As of this writing InFocus has not announced either a price or a ship date for the 7210.

Optoma also released a new flagship home theater product incorporating the Dark Chip 3. The H79 uses the 8-segment 5x wheel, and puts out 1000 ANSI lumens at a very high contrast rating of 4000:1. Audible noise on this unit is reduced to an extremely low 23 dB due to a fascinating new internal cooling system design. This model will retail at $10,000.

If your budget won't stretch all the way to the new 720p DC3 projectors, consider yourself normal....most people cannot deal out ten grand for a home theater projector, and most of those who can don't want to. If you want a great picture at low cost, you may want to check out the new offerings from Mitsubishi and Optoma.

The Mitsubishi HC100U features a very bright 1500 ANSI lumen light engine with 2000:1 contrast. It is driven by an 854x480 DLP chip that is ideal for DVD projection since there is no vertical scaling required. It has a DVI (HDCP) interface, and a sealed light engine, so there is no air filter to clean or change. It has a retail price of just $1,495, and its 3000-hour lamp contributes to low cost of ownership.

Or, for the same $1,499 investment you'll be able to pick up the Optoma MovieTime DV10. This also has an 854x480 16:9 format DLP chip. It is not quite as bright, rated at 1000 ANSI lumens, but it carries a very high 4000:1 contrast rating. And, the most noteworthy feature of all is that it comes with a built in DVD player. So you just slip a DVD into the drive, point the projector at the nearest white wall, and you have instant home theater. There are also two 5-watt speakers on board, but an audio output will let you wire the DVD player to your external surround sound system if you have one.

Along with the H79 and the MovieTime DV10, we also saw the release of the Optoma H31. Like the MovieTime, this is priced at $1,499 and has the 16:9 format 854x480 DLP chip. It uses a six-segment, 4x speed wheel, and puts out 850 ANSI lumens at 3000:1 contrast.

Stepping up a notch in both price and resolution, Runco released the most aggressively priced model yet to appear under the Runco brand--the Reflection CL-410. This model uses the 1024x576 DLP chip and will retail for just $3,495.

In addition to the two Vidikron models mentioned above that use the 1280x720 HD2+ chip, Vidikron announced two lower resolution models that now constitute the economy range of their product line. They are the Vision Model 25 and the Vision Model 25ET. Like their higher performance brothers they differ only in the throw range of the zoom lenses. The Model 25 and Model 25ET are single chip DLP product using the 1024x576 resolution chip. The Model 25 has a relatively long 1.7x to 2.0x zoom range and retails for $4,995. The 25ET has a very long 2.3x to 3.0x zoom range and retails for $5,995.

Now, all of the projectors mentioned above have one obvious element in common: they ALL use Texas Instruments' DLP technology. LCD technology stole all the thunder at the CEDIA show in September with the release of the high contrast and relatively low cost Panasonic AE700 and Sony VPL-HS51. But at this year's CES it was DLP's turn to shine. Nevertheless, there are a couple of other significant non-DLP projectors just now hitting the market that are worthy of your attention.

First is the Canon Realis SX50, which is a high resolution LCOS projector. It is a native 4:3 format unit with 1400x1050 resolution. Widescreen DVD and HDTV material in 16:9 format is displayed in 1400x788 resolution with black bars top and bottom. The SX50 is very bright as far as video projectors go, with a rating of 2500 ANSI lumens. Contrast is rated at 1000:1, which is more than ample for data presentation, but about the minimum you'd normally want to accept for home theater these days. However, the high lumen output will help compensate for lower contrast if you have some ambient light in the room. So this could be a dynamite video projector in the right situation. The SX50 has been announced for a while now. It was originally scheduled to ship in November. However, delays can happen, and it happened to this one. It is now expected to commence shipments in February.

For those who want the best, and for whom money is no object, you might want to consider the new Fujitsu LPF-D711. This is the first projector on the market to use Epson's super high resolution, high contrast LCD panels. This is a 1920x1080 projector, so it is native to 1080i and 1080p HDTV. It also has an amazing 3300:1 contrast rating, along with 1200 ANSI lumens of brightness. It has every bell and whistle you'd ever want in a home theater projector. And it should too, because Fujitsu says it will set you back about $24,999.