InFocus Corporation has just begun to ship three new and completely restyled home theater projectors in a new family of 16:9 widescreen products known as the Play Big series. The Poppa Bear of this trio is the Play Big IN76, at 1280x720 resolution; the Momma Bear is the Play Big IN74EX, which is native 1024x576, and the Baby Bear is the Play Big IN72, at 854x480. From the outside they all look the same with sleek, black and silver high style casework and a unique, swivel and tilt pedestal. Yet inside is where the key performance differences are to be found. This review will focus on the high performance IN76, which is priced at $2,999.
Light engine: 16:9 format native 1280x720 resolution DLP DarkChip2, and a six-segment (RGBRGB) 4x speed color wheel.
ANSI lumens: 1000 (video optimized, maximum)
Lens and throw distance. Manual zoom and focus with a 1.3x zoom range. A 100" diagonal 16:9 image is obtained from a throw distance of 11 to 14 feet.
Lamp: Dual mode 160/200W SHP lamp with 3000-hour expected life in normal operating mode.
Compatibility: DVI/HDMI (HDCP), HDTV 1080p50/60 1080p/24, 1080i, 1035i, 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p, 480i, and computer resolutions up to XGA (1024x768). NTSC, PAL, SECAM.
Connection panel: Located on the rear of the unit. Video connectors include one HDMI (HDCP), one M1-DA/DVI (HDCP), one 3-RCA component port, one S-video port; one composite video jack, one RS-232 control, one 12V trigger.
Warranty: One year.
The InFocus Play Big IN76 is an impressive new competitive entry in the 720p class of home theater projectors. It produces a big, bright, engaging image, it has two digital inputs instead of one like many of its competition, and its casework styling has much more consumer appeal than previous generations of InFocus products. To top it off, it takes 1080p/24 as well as 1080p/50/60, which makes it a viable choice for post production houses as well as consumer use. We expect the IN76 to be among InFocus' many successful product introductions.
Play Big? They're not kidding. Though you wouldn't know it from the specs, the IN76 is among the brightest home theater products out there despite its 1000 ANSI lumen rating. So what's the story? As if there were not enough confusion over specifications these days, some vendors including InFocus have begun to quote the brightness ratings of their home theater projectors not just in ANSI lumens, but in "video optimized" ANSI lumens. This is commendable in that it attempts to render a more realistic measurement of what the user would be expected to experience in terms of light on the screen. The good news is that it does indeed close the typical gap between the stated theoretical specification and real operating performance. The bad news is that it makes it more confusing when attempting to compare allegedly similar models.
Once we set our review sample of the IN76 to deliver optimum video performance, we measured lumen output to be 645 lumens in high lamp mode, and 490 lumens in normal mode. That means it is a very bright unit, and capable of putting out more light than most projectors rated at 1000 lumens.
Contrast. Contrast is rated at 3000:1. If you were judging by specs alone, you'd probably imagine that by today's competitive standards, the IN76 is extremely good but not outstanding. And in this case, the specs are not misleading. There is plenty of contrast in the image to avoid muddiness in the shadows, and overall the image shows a wonderful balance and snap. However, there are other products in this price range that deliver crisper whites and greater dynamic range.
Deinterlacing. The onboard video processing on the IN76 is a mixed bag. The deinterlacer works beautifully with film-based sources delivered via component interlaced, S-video, and composite video. (By the way, a note to laserdisc owners: you can dedicate the IN76's composite port to your laserdisc player with no erosion of image quality since laserdiscs were encoded in composite format to begin with. Since the picture information is already lost in the encoding process, S-video output on a laserdisc player buys you no extra image quality).
Though the IN76's deinterlacer delivers a smooth, stable image from film-based sources, it did not do as well with video. On video-sourced DVDs we encountered jaggies and line twitter that was simply not present on film DVDs. So with this type of material deinterlacing was average at best.
Sharpness. The IN76 has one of the sharpest pictures we've see in this price range, due it part to excellent scaling and (we suspect) in part to an all-glass lens that may be of higher optical precision than is often found on this class of projectors. It also has five pre-programmed sharpness settings-softest, softer, standard, sharper, and sharpest. However, you won't want to mess with these things. Softest and softer generate a decidedly blurry image, an effect you can also achieve by twisting the lens out of focus. Meanwhile, sharper and sharpest produce a frightening amount of edge enhancement. Thankfully the system defaults to standard, which is perfect. It is the ideal calibration and the only setting that we would ever want to use under any circumstances.
Color. One of the attractive features of InFocus home theater projectors is that they come precalibrated to D65, or ideal color temperature for video as defined by NTSC standards. There is not much tweaking required to get the unit tuned up to its best potential, and it looks really good out of the box with no tweaking at all. If you are not the sort of person who likes to play with test patterns on calibration discs, you can buy the IN76 with confidence that it won't need a lot of fine tuning. Our test unit had a subtle green bias that was easy to neutralize by moving the green gain and bias controls from their default values of 50 to 48.
Color saturation is quite good, and standing alone the picture will appear to any observer to have no deficiency in this regard. The image is plenty rich to elicit the dazzled WOW effect from friends and neighbors. Though there are competing units that exceed the IN76's performance in contrast and color saturation, this only becomes apparent when they are set up side by side. So in practical terms we are talking about subtle differences in image characteristics. Overall, the designers of this projector appear to have intentionally sacrificed a little bit of contrast and color saturation in order to achieve a brighter image, and the end result is quite satisfying.
Fan noise. InFocus has tended to lag behind the competition in managing audible noise, and that tradition continues with the IN76. Progress has been made, and this model is somewhat quieter than its predecessors. But it is not as quiet as many of its competitors, some of which have gotten to be almost silent. In normal lamp mode (which is the lower of the two settings), fan noise may be described as above average for this class of projector, but acceptable. Normal movie or TV audio tracks will obliterate it, and viewers will become unconscious of the fan noise unless the projector is placed in extremely close proximity. Ceiling mounting the IN76 will get the projector some distance away from the viewers and this will mitigate the audible noise issue to a large degree. Switching the lamp to high power mode produces not only a 30% increase in lumen output, but a significant increase in fan noise as well. For occasional party use this is a great option to have. But for quality home theater, many users will opt for the lower power setting, not only to minimize audible noise but to increase lamp life.
Lens and set up. Among the unique features of the IN76 is that it comes mounted on a swivel and tilt pedestal. For quick deployment on a coffee table or shelf mounting, nothing could be easier-far easier that messing with feet that extend out of the case. (The pedestal can be detached for ceiling mounting). Though the pedestal is convenient for quick coffee table set up, it is no substitute for physical lens shift, a feature the IN76 does not have. Tilting or swiveling the projector off of its perpendicular axis will cause trapezoidal distortion of the image. This can be corrected to some degree through keystone adjustments, but aggressive use of keystone adjustments will reduce resolution and lumen output. It also eliminates the possibility of viewing 720P HDTV in pure pixel-for-pixel native format, which you can do on the IN76 if keystone adjustments are set to zero.
If you are thinking of placing the IN76 on a rear shelf, keep in mind that it is not the most compact projector on the market, and that the connection panel is on the rear of the unit. A shelf depth of at least 16" is required to provide enough clearance for cable connections. Also, the projector has a mild built-in offset angle; for every ten feet of throw distance the bottom edge of the image will be about 6" above the centerline of the lens. That means the higher you place the unit on a rear shelf, the more radical the tilt that will be required to hit the screen, requiring an extensive use of keystone adjustments to square it up. All things considered, rear shelf mounting is not the ideal way to deploy this particular projector. Unless you want to set it up for part time use on a coffee table, ceiling mounting will be the best way to get maximum performance out of the IN76.
How does the InFocus IN76 stack up against the formidable and aggressively priced Optoma HD72? These are both DLP DarkChip2 machines in the same resolution class with 4x speed color wheels. Both carry an MSRP of $2,999. However, at this writing authorized InFocus dealers are advertising $2,999 for the IN76, while authorized Optoma dealers are quoting an official street price of $1,999 for the HD72.
While the IN76 is native 1280x720, the HD72 is 1280x768, and can operate in either native 16:9 1280x720, or in native WXGA 1280x768, which is 15:9. This is an advantage to those who wish to use WXGA or XGA resolution laptops or other computer sources with their projector, as the HD72 can display these signals in full frame native format due to the optional 768-line operating mode.
In terms of image brightness, the IN76 and HD72 are roughly comparable with the IN76 having a slight edge. In low power mode the IN76 measured 490 lumens. Meanwhile the HD72 measured 385 when the unit was set to a conservative 4 out of 10 on its BrilliantColor system. Increasing this setting will boost lumen output to over 500 in low lamp mode. There are certain types of material that look great with the HD72's BrilliantColor boosted to 10, and others that look oversaturated. In practice, the user will vary this control, usually between 4 and 10, to suit the viewing material and personal preferences. That means the HD72's lumen output in actual usage will be variable. For most types of material, these two projectors can be set side by side without the viewer being able to detect any significant brightness advantage of one over the other.
The HD72 has a higher contrast rating (3500:1 with Image AI off, and 5000:1 with it on), compared to the IN76's 3000:1. The incremental advantage of the HD72 suggested by the official specs is indeed visible in a side by side comparison. Black levels are comparable, but the HD72 produces brighter highlights and slightly higher contrast in shadows and midtone values. The effect is that the HD72's image is a bit more three-dimensional.
In terms of deinterlacing capabilities, the IN76 outperforms the HD72 with film-sourced materials while the HD72 has an edge with video-sourced material.
Fan noise is another distinguishing factor. Neither projector is silent, but the HD72 is the quieter of the two projectors in both standard and high power modes.
The IN76 is compatible with the 1080p/24 format while the HD72 is not. This is not really relevant to the consumer since 1080p/24 transmission is not used in the consumer electronics world. But it is used in post production facilities, and compatibility with 1080p/24 makes the IN76 viable as a product for that market. Meanwhile, both projectors are compatible with 1080i25/30 and 1080p50/60, as well as 720p50/60, which are the HDTV signals of interest to consumers.
In the end, these two projectors can be calibrated to look almost identical to one another. The differences between them become apparent when the images are studied side by side, but if they were set up in different rooms and you were required to look at each image on its own, most folks would be impressed more by their similarities than their differences. At that point it is likely that price and warranty will be the deciding factors. Street prices are fluid, and the IN76 comes with a one year warranty, compared to a two-year warranty on the HD72.
The InFocus Play Big IN76 is a solid product that is capable of producing a thoroughly satisfying image. If you are able to find it being demonstrated by someone who knows how to optimize it, you will likely be wowed by its bright and engaging image. However, though it is a strong contender that will hold its own in today's market, if official street prices are maintained at $2,999 it would be difficult to characterize the IN76 as standing out above the crowd in the highly competitive 720p niche. Nevertheless, its impressive image, its sleek and beautiful casework design, and the distribution muscle of InFocus will work in tandem to ensure that the IN76 gets its fair share of the booming home theater market.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our InFocus IN76 projector page.