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NEC's HT1000: As Hot as it Gets

Best Home Theater Projector
NEC HT1000 Projector NEC HT1000
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3000:1 Contrast Ratio
1000 Lumens
Street Price: n/a
Last week NEC began shipping the HT1000, the company's first digital projection system built specifically for the consumer home theater market. We were extremely impressed with the pre-production model we evaluated in September, and we've now seen the final production product. This is indeed a beautiful projector, and it is one we are pleased to give our strongest recommendation.

With a retail price of $5,495, the HT1000 is within the budget range of many more consumers than are the more expensive "boutique" home theater projectors at $10,000 and up. And in comparison to these elite products, the simple truth is you really don't give up too much in the way of picture quality by keeping the extra five grand in your pocket. The HT1000 is not the equivalent of the elite machines by any stretch. But in terms of overall picture quality, we suspect the elite brand managers will privately be regarding the HT1000 as a formidable competitor that is way too close for comfort.

Product Overview

The HT1000 is a native 4:3 format DLP-based projector which uses the new standard XGA-resolution (1024x768) 12-degree high contrast DMD chip. It is rated at 1000 ANSI lumens of brightness in normal operation. It can be reduced to 800 ANSI lumens in eco-mode to extend lamp life and reduce fan noise in operation. The specifications indicate a contrast ratio of >2000:1 standard, and 3000:1 with the unique IRIS feature and the SweetVision (TM) video processing electronics activated.

The IRIS feature is simply a mechanical adjustment that lets you stop down the lens aperture by adjusting a lever on the barrel of the lens. You give up about 20% in lumen output, whether you are in normal or eco-mode operation, and gain an incremental boost in contrast.

Contrast is also enhanced on the HT1000 with NEC's new "Sweetvision ™" technology. This is a proprietary chip developed by NEC which the company claims adds additional digital contrast enhancement resulting in images that are more vibrant, colors more realistic and blacks richer in detail.

Take note that SweetVision processing is only available with a 480i signal; it is bypassed if you use 480p. That may sound like an unfortunate limitation, but in fact it isn't. Using the Denon 3800 DVD player, we were able to get superior, more film-life DVD images using 480i and the HT1000's SweetVision than we were with the Denon's 480p output. The SweetVision system gives the user a great deal more latitude to adjust all aspects of the video image. Given the power of this system, we would not bother to feed the HT1000 a 480p signal.

This is the first digital projector in its price range to be spec'd as compatible with HDTV 1080p, as well as the more common 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p, and 480i.

The connector panel features a variety of inputs including one DVI-D, one RGB, one set of 3 RCAs for component, one S-video, one composite jack, a PC card reader, and four mini-audio jacks. (The HT1000 has two 2-watt speakers on board, and separate audio inputs for each video signal source.) Outputs include a screen trigger and one PC control.

The lens is manual zoom and focus. From a throw distance of 12 feet from lens to screen, it produces an image that is 76.5 to 92 inches in width. That translates to a 16:9 format image that is a minimum of 89" diagonal to a maximum of 105", and a 4:3 image that is minimum of 96" to a maximum of 115" given the stipulated 12 foot distance. Allowing for the length of the projector itself plus a one foot clearance for heat dissipation in the rear, the HT1000 will comfortably produce a 100" diagonal 16:9 image in a room that is only 14 feet deep.

As home theater projectors go the HT1000 is relatively small and compact, weighing just 7.1 lbs. Inclusive of the lens it is only 12.6" long and a bit over 10" wide. Its off-white casework is ideal for unobtrusive ceiling mount installation.

Performance

The HT1000 is truly an exciting projector, and one destined to be among the elite of the home theater projectors in the months to come. Color accuracy is dead-on, saturation is beautiful, contrast is unmatched, black levels are rich and solid. Internal signal processing is leading-edge, and even S-video from a cheap DVD player is stunning. After seeing the pre-production model we said it was the best single-chip DLP projector we have yet seen. That statement still stands. The HT1000 is a break-through product in its price range.

Many users will want to operate the HT1000 in eco-mode, which extends the lamp life from 1500 to 2000 hours. It also cuts fan noise from "low but noticeable" to "very low and almost silent." Eco-mode cuts the lumen output by 20%, from a rating of 1000 lumens to 800, still plenty bright for a typical home theater on a 100" diagonal screen.

Some users will want to use the IRIS aperture restriction feature to gain incremental contrast as well. However, we need to put things into perspective here. The projector generates 2000:1 contrast without the IRIS, and the incremental boost in contrast is subtle. Meanwhile the IRIS feature cuts lumen output by an additional 20%, which brings it down into the 600 to 700 lumen range. After spending a number of hours with it on a 100" diagonal 16:9 Grayhawk screen, we found the contrast and black level performance of the HT1000 to be plenty sufficient without the IRIS. Meanwhile the added lumens gave the image noticeably more punch. Nevertheless, users who wish to use this projector with a smaller screen, say at 80" or 90" diagonal, may find that the optimum solution for them will be to partially or fully stop down the IRIS.

The HT1000's beautiful deinterlacing and SweetVision processing produced the best looking television from satellite that we've yet seen. Television can still look quite poor on a very large screen due to the limited quality of the signal and production processes. But in many cases we found standard television broadcasts looking far more watchable on the HT1000 than we've seen on other projectors.

Given the extremely high contrast of the HT1000 and the use of a gray screen, we found that it can tolerate some degree of ambient light with success. We placed a 30-watt lamp with white shade at a distance of 12 feet from the screen and found the image to be quite satisfactory. Contrast was impaired somewhat as you would expect, but the image was still very watchable. We then placed a 70-watt lamp at the same distance. That produced enough ambient light to compromise image quality more than was tolerable in our view. Our conclusion is that you can use the HT1000 comfortably in a room with low ambient light when you need to for parties and such. But the optimum image will be obtained, as usual, in a darkened viewing environment.

If you are operating in eco-mode with the IRIS feature off, we would not recommend pushing a 16:9 screen size beyond 100" diagonal. The HT1000 will certainly display a larger image, but as you increase the square footage of the screen you reduce the image quality. It would be a shame to compromise the beauty of this image by stretching it beyond its optimum size.

This is a standard 4:3 native format XGA projector, which means it has a pixel matrix of 1024 x 768. It produces a 16:9 image in a pixel matrix of 1024x576, with black bars falling at the top and bottom of the image in the 4:3 display. It can certainly be used as a 16:9 projector with a 16:9 screen, where the black bars fall off the top and bottom of the screen. Many users are concerned with the potential distraction of light spill in the black bars with this type of set up. We found that due to the exceptional black levels, the light spill is about as minimal as it gets on a digital projector.

The remote control, while functional, is not the HT1000's strongest feature. The projector responds quickly to the remote, but often too much so. The lightest touch can trigger a response, and we found ourselves gingerly caressing the buttons so as not to cause an overrun of the menu targets. This is a bit of a nuisance, although you can get used to it eventually. On the positive side, the aspect ratio control is not many levels deep in the menu as has been the case with NEC's commercial machines. Rather it is accessed via a button on the remote.

The contrast on this projector is high enough that the use of high contrast (gray) screen material is not necessary. However the use of a gray screen will give the HT1000's image an incremental punch, as well as make it more tolerant of ambient light. Thus gray screens are recommended. Stewart's Firehawk is a great match with this projector, particularly with larger screen sizes. However, light output is ample for the use of lower gain screen materials such as the Stewart Grayhawk and the Da-lite High Contrast CinemaVision. Any of these will produce better overall results than a matte white screen.

Competitive Analysis

Due to the common street price range in the vicinity of $5,000, the HT1000 goes head-to-head with the Sanyo PLV-70, also marketed as the Boxlight Home Cinema 20HD. We've already received emails asking how these two projectors stack up. Which is the better projector?

We would encourage you not to think in terms of "which is best." Both are outstanding products. Neither is better than the other, they are just different, and better for different applications. Each has an advantage or two over the other. Weighing these differences will help you decide which is the right one for you.

The HT1000 outperforms the PLV-70 most notably in the area of contrast and shadow detail. The HT1000 is decidedly more "CRT-like" in this regard, any many will prefer it simply for this reason alone. It is smaller and easier to install, and fan noise, though it is low on the PLV-70, it is a bit lower on the HT1000, and almost silent in eco-mode.

The PLV-70 outperforms the HT1000 in two obvious areas, resolution and brightness. The native widescreen 1366x768 LCD panels of the PLV-70 delivers a 16:9 image using a total of 1,049,000 pixels, compared to the 1024x576 matrix of the HT1000, which is about 590,000 pixels. That 43% differential combined with excellent on-board scaling enables the PLV-70 to render 16:9 images from either DVD or HDTV with a level of detail that the HT1000 is not technically capable of.

The PLV-70 also has a significant edge in lumen output. Rated at 2200 ANSI lumens vs. the HT1000's 1000 ANSI lumens, the PLV-70 is able to function better in higher ambient light. It produces a more brilliant image on the screen and is able to illuminate larger screens, say 120" or 150" diagonals, more dynamically than the HT1000. So it is the better alternative for larger installations. On the other hand, the HT1000's light output is ample for screens up to 100". If you are using a smaller screen than that, the HT1000 is the better choice since the PLV-70 is simply too much firepower for more intimate viewing situations.

The two projectors are comparable in color accuracy and saturation. Both are outstanding performers when it comes to color.

The HT1000 has a sealed light engine, meaning that it is not bothered by dust, smoke and other airborne contaminants in the viewing room. Few projectors in this price range have this feature. The PLV-70 on the other hand, like most other LCD projectors, can be susceptible to dust settling on the LCD panels. That means filters should be cleaned every month or two, and the unit may require a periodic cleaning. Therefore the HT1000 has the edge in terms of reduced maintenance considerations.

Which of these is better? Each is best for different theaters. The NEC HT1000 and the Sanyo PLV-70 are the two top performing video projectors in the $5,000 price range in our opinion. Each has a weakness or two that is the other's strength. But both of them will cause your friends and neighbors to say, "Wow that's incredible!! I've never seen a picture look that good."

If you have budgeted up to about $5,000 for your new projector, in terms of pure video quality for the dollar spent the NEC HT1000 and the Sanyo PLV-70 stand out as the two leading-edge home theater systems in that price range at the moment. Consider the relative advantages of each, then choose the one that sounds like the best solution for your home theater. You won't be wrong.