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CEDIA 2008

Evan Powell, September 9, 2008

Contrast: The Primary Battleground

The battle between LCD and DLP in the area of contrast performance appears to have taken a new turn. In our lab tests over the past year, we have found that DLP projectors built for home theater have tended to yield ANSI contrast measurements in the range of 500:1, whereas LCD home theater projectors have measured in the range of 250:1 to 300:1. So until now, even though LCD and LCOS projectors carry much higher Full On/Off contrast ratings, DLP projectors have maintained a significant performance advantage in ANSI contrast (the ANSI method measures contrast within a given frame of video and eliminates the effect of a projector's auto iris).

In the past, LCD and LCOS projectors with auto irises carried very high Full On/Off contrast specs that tended to mask weaknesses in the projectors' actual contrast potential within a single frame of video. Accordingly, knowledgeable consumers have learned to take them with a grain of salt. Therefore, with the latest releases that proclaim stratospheric contrast ratings, it is natural to assume we are getting more of the same. Last week's announcements included the Epson Pro Cinema 7500 UB (75,000:1), the Mitsubishi HC7000 (72,000:1), the Panasonic AE3000 (60,000:1), and the Sony VPL-VW70 (60,000:1).

However, the real news is not that these new models have high contrast ratings--it is that a significant part of these contrast increases are coming from innovations other than the auto iris. They are coming from improved light control in the light engine, the use of polarizers, and other creative tweaks that the vendors are using to wring additional contrast out of the LCD panels. These improvements are collectively increasing ANSI as well as Full On/Off contrast performance. Last year's Epson 1080 UB was rated at 50,000:1, so this year's increase to 75,000:1 is not earth-shaking. However, if we discover that the ANSI contrast on the new unit has been boosted to 500:1 or more, that is revolutionary. And based on the Epson demo, it looks like this could be the case.

The bottom line is that it appears that this latest generation of high contrast LCD projectors (or LCOS in Sony's case) have at least narrowed the gap in contrast performance between LCD and DLP, and it is possible that DLP's advantage has been eliminated entirely. We will not know for sure until we get them into our lab to do ANSI contrast measurements on them. But it appears from the demos we have seen that these high contrast LCD projectors represent a game-changing competitive development. If so, it will turn up the heat on Texas Instruments and the vendors who build DLP projectors to respond.

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