We're back in the office having returned from CEDIA 2015 in Dallas, TX. The show just wrapped up on Saturday. This was an exciting, vibrant show and we've got a lot to talk about. First, there were a variety of new 4K and 1080p projectors released all across the price spectrum, from $200,000 down to under $1000. Second, there were some new screen products introduced. Third, Texas Instruments previewed a prototype of an all-new 4K DLP chip that could rock a lot of worlds starting next summer. Let's first get to the product releases, then talk about that chip.
Sony was once again dominating the show buzz with new steps forward in native 4K products. They introduced the new high performance VPL-VW5000ES, pumping out 5000 lumens of sparkling, extremely high contrast 4K (4096x2160) resolution for $60,000. This model was not only shown in Sony's big demo theater (which again wins the award for the longest lines at CEDIA), but it was also set up in the Stewart Filmscreen booth, where its performance in ambient light on a 110" diagonal Studiotek 130 screen was rather dazzling.
If you don't happen to have $60K lying around and you don't need 5000 lumens, Sony also released two more native 4K models that might better fit your needs. The VPL-VW665ES is rated at 1800 lumens ($14,999), and the VPL-VW365ES is 1500 lumens for $9,999. Both of these models will be shipping by the end of this month.
Finally, for the larger consumer audience that isn't quite ready to step up to 4K, Sony has released an upgraded version of their HW55ES, the new VPL-HW65ES. This is a native full HD 1080p projector featuring reflective SXRD technology, rated at 1800 lumens, and begins shipping this month for a retail of $3,999.
Epson had nothing new in the 4K world, and thus was continuing to promote its popular LS10000, released last year. However, upstairs in the second floor theater of their booth they were showing one of their new high brightness 1920x1200 (WUXGA) models, the Pro Cinema 1985, rated at 4800 lumens. This product looks hot. Traditionally, if you wanted high brightness you sacrificed contrast, but the 1985 goes a long way toward making that trade-off a thing of the past. The projector was being shown on a Vutec Dove Gray 0.8 gain screen, the combination of which delivered an exceptionally bright image that sparkled with plenty of contrast and solid blacks, looking perfectly fine even in low ambient light. Priced at $2,495, the ProCinema 1985 looks like it is destined for sports bars where ambient light is a obvious fact of life. But it also looks like just the ticket for residential big screen installations when you want enough firepower for evening outdoor theaters, or to leave some lights on for football parties and such.
JVC released brighter editions of their 4K-enabled eShift models. The DLA-X950R (1900 lumens, $9995), the DLA-750R (1800 lumens, $6995), and the DLA-550R (1700 lumens, $3995) have all been boosted in brightness from the 1300 lumen ratings of their predecessors. Though other vendors often quote higher lumen ratings, they often reflect non-video optimized modes, which is not helpful when you're looking for home cinema products. JVC has traditionally been more conservative, quoting the lumen spec as the actual amount of light you'd expect to get after the projector is calibrated for optimum video performance. What this means in reality is that, once projectors are tuned up for best video, JVC projectors are often as bright as competing units that tout 3000 lumens of brightness or more. All three of JVC's new models feature dual HDMI inputs with HDCP 2.2 compatibility and HDR.
Digital Projection was demonstrating two 3-chip DLP projectors in native 4K resolution that were released earlier this year -- the Insight 4K Laser (12,000 lumens, $120,000), and the Insight 4K LED (2000 lumens, $150,000). These models have an estimated 20,000 hours and 50,000 hours on the light engines respectively. They come with an array of lens options, extensive lens shift, and virtually unlimited tilt orientations to accommodate virtually any installation challenge. The Insight 4K LED in particular has an extended color space to meet UHD Rec 2020 standards -- a rarity at the moment. And it was a winner of CEDIA 2015 Best New Product Award.
If the pristine video products from Digital Projection don't quite float your boat and you've got about $200,000 to install a pure commercial digital cinema system in your home, the ultra-high performance rig from Quantum Media Systems may be your ticket to video Nirvana. Their new custom 3-chip DLP, RGB laser projector puts out 5000 lumens and is another one of the rare projectors that currently meets Rec 2020 color space specifications. The QMS projection system was being demo'd on Stewart Filmscreen's new acoustically transparent Tela 80 woven fabric, 0.8 gain screen. Finer video is never seen.
Vivitek introduced a trio of new 1080p models, including two large format installation projectors, the DH6671 (5850 lumens), and the DH6861 (7000 lumens). They also introduced the DH559, a portable home unit rated at 3200 lumens. We do not have price information as of this writing.
True to the company's name, Screen Innovations had one of the most "wow/cool" innovations to appear at the show. Their new Intellimask system is a screen and frame rig that automatically expands to 2.4 super wide, or contracts to 16:9 and/or several other user programmable aspect ratios, based on the format of the content being shown. This is not your dad's traditional masking system ... the wow part is that the entire thing - frame/bezel, backlighting, and screen expands and shrinks automatically before your eyes like magic. The movement is horizontal, so it maintains a constant image height. This was a prototype demo, and the company hopes to get into final production status by the end of the first quarter. We have a feeling they will be selling boatloads of these things just on impulse buys alone as the visual effect is certain to put a smile on your face.
Stewart Filmscreen introduced a new woven fabric acoustically transparent screen material called the Tela 80. The material is white with an 0.82 gain spec. A key benefit to this woven material compared to traditional microperf is that it can be installed essentially flush with the speakers behind it without concern for it moving/vibrating with the sound pressure. Microperf screens require a space clearance from the speakers behind them of up to a foot to eliminate this problem. In a strong vote of confidence, QMS chose the Tela 80 as the screen on which to demo their new $200,000 4K digital cinema system.
Toward the back of the exhibit hall in one of the twenty sound booths that had been installed, Grandview was showing their newly ISF certified WB-5 matte white screen, and illuminating it with the new Sim2 Supercube (DLP 1080p, $6,000). The picture was about as perfectly smooth, seamless, and balanced as video can get. At trade shows like this one, the larger vendors with the big booths and the sizzling 4K products get all the buzz. But from a pure image quality perspective, the demo being shown in the Grandview booth was spectacular, and certainly impressive enough to make any videophile salivate.
Elite was showing two of their updated and just recently ISF-certified ambient light rejection screens. The PolarStar eFinity is a polarized silver screen, a key component needed to support a passive 3D projection system (the kind with simple, comfortable glasses). They also showed the DarkStar 9, a new version of their Darkstar fabric which is lower gain (0.9 instead of 1.4), wider viewing angle, and more effective ambient light rejection. The PolarStar was reviewed in Bill's first Ambient Light Rejection shootout, and the DarkStar 9 will be reviewed in the upcoming expansion to that review.
Seymour-Screen Excellence had a large display featuring several screens including their Matinee Black ambient light rejection material, which is a product that offers very good performance overall at prices generally lower than the competition. This screen will also be included in Bill's soon-to-be-published Ambient Light Rejection missive.
Draper Screens and VUTEC were also on the floor doing business with resellers, but neither one was introducing a new screen product at this particular show.
UPDATE 2/1/17: See the new article Is TI's 4K Chip really 4K?, posted Jan, 2017.
Texas Instruments was off the main floor in a private meeting room doing a soft unveiling of a fascinating all-new 0.7" diagonal "4K" DLP chip that is intended for mass consumer products. This chip has 4.15 million mirrors, which is twice the pixels of a standard 1080p chip, and half the pixels of a traditional native 4K device. However, in this case there is a fascinating new wrinkle. Through some undisclosed proprietary magic, TI is able to take advantage of the lightning quick DMD response times by enabling each mirror on the device to define two discrete pixels on the screen. So in short, though the device has 4.15 million mirrors, the projected image has 8.3 million discrete pixels, or native 4K.
Does this really work, you ask? In a word, yes. The acute precision of this technique was evident in a close-up examination of a projected native 4K image containing alternating black and white lines that were each one pixel in width. The lines were clearly black and white, the pixel structure well defined, with no visible bleeding or ghosting.
Assuming this technology can be productized, it has one very significant competitive advantage -- in a single-chip design it will have zero convergence problems. And when you get to ultra-high resolution, even slight misalignments in any 3-chip light engine may compromise the image detail. Moreover, with any ultra-high resolution product, converging the three chips requires more care and precision than it does with lower resolutions.
To demonstrate the power of the single-chip implementation, TI showed a prototype single-chip projector using the 4K device against several competing 4K products, including the native 4K Sony VPL-VW350ES, and two 4K-enabled projectors using shift technology, the Epson LS10000 and the JVC DLA-RS49U, all of which use 3-chip reflective LCoS technology. Noticeably absent were any 3-chip DLP products to compare against, although the 4K resolution DLP projectors are extremely rare, expensive, and cumbersome, so it is no surprise that they did not have one handy for demo purposes.
As far as this demo went, we first viewed some high resolution computer graphics, then switched to video material at the end. With respect to the graphics, the precision advantage of the 4K DLP chip against its LCoS competitors was quite apparent. Extreme details such as those high frequency b/w lines just mentioned and text in extremely small fonts were cleanly resolved on the DLP, while being somewhat muddled on the competing machines. There was some aliasing on the LCoS units that was not present on the DLP. Of the LCoS machines, the Sony VW350 performed better than the Epson and JVC, as would be expected due to its native 4K chipset. But even the VW350 showed a comparative lack of precision -- minute details looked a bit fuzzy against the DLP.
The question of course is what other factors might have been biasing the demo? The lens on TI's prototype might have had higher optical precision than the Sony VW350's 2x zoom. For that matter, the prototype lens might have had higher precision than any lens that you'd ever get on a production product. And then one must wonder whether the VW350 was perfectly converged? Was it even capable of being so perfectly aligned that it would match the acute resolution of a DLP chip that needed no alignment.
The TI folks maintained that they had done everything possible to ensure that the LCoS units were aligned as well as they could be, and I am sure that they did since this all would have been an absurd waste of time otherwise. But when any vendor shows competing units in a comparative demo there is always some lingering doubt as to whether the competing units have been truly optimized. Could a Sony engineer with the motivation and skills have achieved a more precise convergence? Who knows? Yet that doubt in itself illustrates the essential issue -- the question of whether a 3-chip machine is in optimal convergence simply does not exist with single-chip DLP. There is no question that at ultra-high resolutions the single-chip DLP design is a natural competitive advantage.
Interestingly enough, when the demo source material was switched to video, the DLP's advantage in detail resolution largely disappeared, at least to my eye. Both the DLP 4K prototype and the Sony 350ES looked for the most part equivalent in detail resolution, with each one occasionally looking subtlely sharper than the other depending on the particular scene. Now, we did not spend a great deal of time viewing video material. But we did see enough to infer that at this ultra resolution, the DLP's advantage is likely to be more apparent with highly complex computer graphics than it is with video.
It will be fascinating to see what the manufacturers who will build products with this 4K chip are able to do with it. Assuming schedules are maintained, we can anticipate early pre-production prototypes to be unveiled at CES in January, and actual production products to begin hitting the market by next summer. Prices of those units are expected to be competitive with the price levels that 4K projection technology in general will have fallen to at that time. TI's stated objective is for this 4K chip to find a home in the mass consumer market, so we may assume that pricing will be in line with that objective.
Texas Instruments' new 4K chip could rock a lot of boats. Though it is a shot across the bow to the vendors producing 3-chip LCoS products, it seems destined to undermine the 3-chip DLP market as well. At the moment, 3-chip 1080p DLP projectors are priced $20,000 and up. That is far higher than the price at which single-chip 4K machines are expected to debut. The obvious question: Why buy a 3-chip 1080p DLP projector when you can get 4K resolution with no risk of convergence problems at half the price?
This is a fascinating development to say the least. We have no idea how all of this will shake out, but TI's new 4K chip has the potential to be a dramatic game-changer for many vendors throughout the industry.