LED/Laser Home Theater Projector
November 30, 2012
For the past few years, Viewsonic's projector division has been making affordable, high-performance projectors for business and home entertainment. So it came as something of a surprise when they announced the Viewsonic Pro9000, a 1080p projector for home theater with an LED/laser engine. Home theater enthusiasts have been demanding long-life light sources for years, and Viewsonic the first company to introduce a home theater projector with a 20,000 hour light engine that is priced for the wider consumer market.
While the idea of a LED/laser home theater projector is sure to excite the imagination of many readers, the reality is somewhat less compelling. The Pro9000 is capable of projecting 1080p film and video, but it lacks many of the refinements that users have come to expect from home theater projectors in the last few years. Furthermore, at $2999 it lands in the same price range as several more fully-featured 1080p projectors, giving it some stiff competition. The good news is that it is uniquely appropriate for video game use, where its low heat emission and very quick 1-frame input lag make it a better choice than some of its competition. But while the Pro9000 is indisputable proof that lampless home theater projectors can be built, it is not a particularly ideal solution as a home theater projector.
The Viewing Experience
It's been a while since we've seen a home theater projector without 3D capability, but here we are. We fired up the Pro9000 in its default Theater mode. Startup time is very fast, and the projector is warmed up and ready to go in under ten seconds. Unlike traditional arc lamps, the hybrid LED/laser system in the Pro9000 reaches maximum brightness seconds after startup, then loses a small amount of brightness over the next few minutes. Our test unit exhibited a 5% decrease in light output from initial startup over the first few minutes of operation before output became stable.
Watching a 2D Blu-ray movie, we noticed that the Pro9000 was applying overscan by default on the order of about 3%. One of the benefits to watching a 1080p movie on a 1080p projector is that there is no scaling of the image, so overscan is something you will almost always want to turn off. The exception is if you find artifacts around the edge of the image, which can sometimes be present on live broadcast material or poorly-mastered DVDs.
We initially began our review of the Pro9000 with a pre-production sample. That unit had non-defeatable overscan; that is, even with overscan set to 0% the projector was still cutting off a portion of the image. So we tabled the review and requested a production unit. We are happy to report that the overscan issue has been resolved in the main production run. While the projector still defaults to 3% overscan, it can be completely disabled via the menu system.
Overall, the picture from the Pro9000 is solid. Theater mode measured 478 lumens on startup and 454 lumens after the warm-up period, which isn't as bright as most home theater projectors these days. It is still plenty of light for a 120" diagonal screen, especially since 3D brightness is not a concern. White balance by default is slanted heavily towards magenta, so we spent some time tweaking the projector and ended up with a better balance of color in the mid-range of the grayscale. Shadows and highlights retained a color cast due to the projector's adjustment limitations. There was some slight crushing of detail in the deepest shadows, but raising brightness very quickly washes out black levels so we decided to live with it.
Better still is Standard mode, which after some tweaking (a reduction of blue and an increase to green) actually had similar white balance to Theater mode plus a cleaner 100% white. Standard mode's 943 lumens might be too bright for some smaller screens, so plan accordingly.
While the Pro9000 has plenty of competition in the home theater space, one application in which it excels is video games. Video games are typically played at a multiple hour stretch, so the Pro9000's low heat emission will keep the room from getting uncomfortably warm. The projector has very little input lag at 17ms. And, since there's no lamp to change, you won't feel bad about running the projector for hours and hours on end.