The Vidikron presentation was sensational. For videophiles it was worth a trip to Las Vegas just to see this one demo. Vidikron set up their Vision One, rear-projected in a two-bounce rig onto a 100" fresnel lenticular 3.5 gain screen. The source material was 720p hi-def. The resulting image was, quite simply, a stunning reproduction of pure reality. This system is now available for anyone who wants to ante up the entry fee, which pencils in at around $80,000.
Oh, don't have $80K sitting around for a projection TV? Then you might consider the other half of the Vidikron demo...the new Epoch D-2200 HDTV-ready LCD projector. If you think LCD projectors are low contrast and pixilated, you haven't seen the latest versions of this ever-advancing technology. The D-2200 showed admirably with the 720p source material. Although the blacks were not quite as deep as those produced by the Vision One, the contrast ratio of the D-2200 was plenty adequate to deliver an extremely satisfying image. From my view in the front row, I saw nothing but clear image detail, and a complete absence of the typical artifacts that derive from LCD panels. In short, Vidikron offered up a beautiful HD image with the D-2200, and showed that LCD technology is now fully capable of high-end home theater performance.
However, what is most impressive about the Epoch D-2200 is the price tag: $12,995. Allowing $2,000 for the screen, this system produces a picture that is bigger and brighter than that available from the Vision One, for roughly $65,000 less. True, it does not quite achieve the state of sheer video perfection of its much bigger brother. But given its price, the D-2200 will be considered plenty good enough by most home theater enthusiasts. Look for the D-2200 to hit the market in the next 30 to 60 days.
Runco also staged an impressive theater demonstration featuring their new DTV 992 CRT projector at $32,995, and a new single-chip DLP unit, the VX1c, which will retail for $16,995. Both of these products are scheduled for initial deliveries within 30 to 60 days. While the result was not quite as dramatic as that seen in the Vidikron theater, the effect was the same. The CRT produced a better picture, but the image quality of the VX1c was close enough to CRT quality that the price tag will sway many consumers in the direction of the digital solution.
There was no way to tell from the vendor-controlled demo environment whether the Vidikron D-2200 or the Runco VX1c was the better performer. Both are worth a close look when they hit the street. And if you are looking for home theater systems in this price range, there are also several other high-performance digital projectors on the market that should be considered as well, including the JVC DLA-G15 and the Panasonic PT-L797PWU (which is actually the same projector as the D-2200 under the Panasonic label).
Other CES notes...
Dream Vision wins the award for the most peculiar presentation by a projector vendor. Four new projectors were on hand, and they did not bother to demonstrate any of them. One was the new DL500 Starlight, which is basically a DL500 with an improved color wheel, reduced fan noise, extended lamp life, and slightly higher light output. However, the Dream Vision representative said that the performance improvement over the previous DL500 was slight, and thus it wasn't worth turning it on, since everyone has already seen the DL500 at previous shows (I'm not making this up).
Dream Vision also announced the White Magic, an ultra-portable 6 lb., 800 ANSI lumen SVGA projector that will retail for around $4,500. The demonstration of this unit consisted of it being passed around the audience to show that it was really six pounds. We didn't get to see this one in action either.
Finally, Dream Vision previewed two new machines that they hope to ship sometime in the second quarter: the MovieStar and the MovieStar Plus. Both have glittery, expensive looking high-style casework by Pininfarina, designers of the Ferrari bodywork. This marketing concept works with the elegant Vidikron Vision One, but it struck me as being a little over the top for a portable DLP projector.
The MovieStar is an SVGA, 900 ANSI lumen unit that is anticipated to retail for around $7,500, and the Plus is an XGA, 1100 ANSI lumen version of the same projector that will retail for just under $10,000. They didn't light up either of these units either, but everyone was able to admire the casework.
CES was all about HDTV this year. Home theater projector vendors that do not yet offer HDTV-ready products are behind the power curve. Dream Vision is one of them.
Sharp Electronics announced a new 1000 ANSI lumen, XGA resolution HDTV-ready home theater projector, the XV-DW100U, at a retail of $10,995. The demonstration looked good, and we are anxious to get a closer look at this unit in order to provide a formal review for you in the near future.
Davis was showing their new Cinema One, an SVGA, 700 ANSI lumen DLP machine that retails for $7,995. The demonstration was in poor lighting conditions, and the screen image was small due to limited throw distance in the small booth. So it was not possible to get an appreciation for the potential of the unit. Davis manufactures this unit, and it is remarketed by Dream Vision as the DL500 Starlite. The Cinema One is not HDTV-compatible, which is a serious limitation at this juncture, at least for projectors in this price class. Note that the 1000 ANSI lumen Sony VPL-VW10HT is fully HDTV-ready and retails for $1000 less than the Cinema One.
Seleco by Sim2 announced the SDV100 which will be shipping in February at a retail of $7,995. This is an SVGA, single-chip DLP system, 600 ANSI lumens, 4:3 native and 16:9 electronic masking. This unit is not HDTV-compatible.
A projector is only as good as its source signal. With HDTV source material, many of the new digital projectors are showing beautifully. And the price/performance ratio is such that digital technology will begin to make strong inroads into the high-end home theater arena that has heretofore been the exclusive domain of the CRT.
Not only is price/performance a decided advantage for digital technology, but the actual quality gap between CRT and digital projectors is getting narrower with each new trade show. With higher resolution and more data, the new digital systems are able to more closely approximate analog than ever before. It's an exciting time. Digital technology and HDTV are about to deliver extremely high quality video performance at reasonable prices.