Projector News and Industry Commentary

Bulletins about upcoming product reviews and releases, tradeshows, new technology and advanced product features as well as our thoughts and observations on all things related to projectors.

4DLP Facing Competition

For those looking for a great hybrid solution for data presentation, video games, and high quality video in a native 4:3 format, the Mitsubishi XD450U is an excellent solution. The review is now posted.

As you may have noticed, many of the products we've reviewed lately have been added to the Highly Recommended list. That isn't because every product built is absolutely terrific. It is because we look at a lot more products than we have the time and resources to write formal reviews on. So I've been selecting video projectors with particularly outstanding price/performance characteristics to spotlight in reviews. Lately only those that we've been truly enthused about have made it through the review cycle.

Looking back over the last few months, this has been an exceptional time in the home theater projector world. The Sanyo Z3 and the Panasonic AE700 have changed the competitive dynamics of the industry. The Sony VPL-HS51 is quite noteworthy as well, although it does not have the aggressive price point of the other two. The boost in contrast and black level of these three LCD-based products has tended to neutralize what have traditionally been key competitive advantages of DLP technology. Furthermore, the high resolution 1280x720 format of the new LCD products has eliminated pixelation and "screendoor effect" as issues associated with LCD technology, so this is not an issue anymore either. With the gap almost closed between LCD and DLP on pixelation, contrast, and black levels (at least in the mid-price range products), what are the remaining factors that distinguish these two technologies?

There are two big ones: color saturation and resolution. And when it comes to color saturation, the LCD products have a clear advantage, at least when compared against single-chip DLP products that use color wheels. This appears to be due to the fact that with an LCD projector, you see red, green, and blue simultaneously on the screen at any given moment in time. Conversely, with the sequential color updating of the DLP color wheel, you see only red, green, or blue at any given moment in time. This fundamental difference in the way the color components are transmitted to the screen gives LCD a decided advantage in color intensity and saturation.

The other competitive factor now driving the home theater market is resolution. For any given amount of money invested in a widescreen projector, at least in the low to mid-range of the price scale, you get more physical resolution from an LCD projector than from a DLP projector. Widescreen LCD projectors selling for around $2,000 feature 1280x720 LCD panels. Meanwhile, widescreen DLP projectors selling in the $2,000 to $3,000 range, such as the BenQ PE7800 and the Mitsubishi HC900 have the 1024x576 chips, which is 36% fewer pixels. The higher resolution of the LCD panels gives them an advantage in image smoothness and detail that we find lacking on the machines using the 1024x576 chips. (However, this is true primarily with HDTV and NTSC video formats. The 1024x576 chip is designed to optimize the display of PAL format video, so in areas using PAL this same comparison does not apply.)

The bottom line is that DLP technology is suddenly facing formidable competition in the heart of the mass consumer market, in the up to $2500 price range. The projectors which use the 1024x576 DLP chip simply do not show well side-by-side against the Sanyo Z3 or the Panasonic AE700. Contrast is good, but the image is somewhat more coarse due to the lower physical resolution. Meanwhile color saturation on the LCD products is vibrant, and on the DLP products it is comparatively flat. This is simply the limitation of the 1024x576 single-chip, color-wheel driven DLP light engine. In the NTSC world, prices need to drop on these units considerably if any reasonable parity in price/performance is to be maintained.

As we move through 2005, it appears that resolution, color saturation, and price will be the primary frontline battleground issues between LCD and DLP. Based on the strength of the Panasonic AE700 and Sanyo Z3 it appears that LCD is capable of seizing and holding the lead for a while in the high volume consumer home theater market. Quite an interesting turn of events, to say the least.

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