The ViewSonic LS820 is a full HD (1920x1080) 3D home theater projector with two killer features that fully justify its $2999 MAP price. The first is its ultra short throw, which lets you place it on a table within inches of a wall-mounted screen, run data and power cables to it with no more effort than connecting an HDTV, and have a far bigger image than you can get with any comparably priced TV--even if you include the price of a screen. The second is a laser-and-phosphor-wheel light source with a 20,000-hour life in Eco mode and a three-year warranty.
Beyond that, the LS820 lives up to its 3,500-lumen rating, making it easily bright enough to stand up to ambient light in a family room, and it delivers far more than acceptable video quality with vibrant color straight out of the box. It weighs a hefty 22 pounds, but that still makes it a lot lighter--not to mention smaller and easier to install--than an equivalent large screen TV, and its handsome piano-black case will fit in a family room as any other consumer electronics device.
As icing on the cake, the stereo audio quality is at least a match for most HDTVs. Two built-in 10-watt speakers offer both midrange and tweeter elements arrayed across the back of the unit, facing the seating area, the volume is more than enough to fill a large family room, and we didn't hear any distortion even at top volume.
Picture quality ranges from very good to gorgeous, depending on the preset mode and lighting conditions. The LS820 offers five customizable predefined modes with no designated user modes. Despite minor variations, colors are well within a realistic range for each, so you can pick the one with the right brightness for the image size you want without seriously compromising color quality. Movie mode boasts Rec. 709 calibration, but our Video Optimized setting is Standard mode without changes, which is also the default.
Skin tones and memory colors like grass and sky are on target--or close enough to it--in all modes. Color balance is a little off in some, however. It's excellent with ViewMatch sRGB, with fully neutral grays at all levels from black to white and nearly as good in Movie mode. Brightest mode shows a slight green tint at all shades but white, but not by enough for most people to notice except when watching black-and-white content. Standard and Dynamic modes also have a slight green tint, but it's even less of an issue than in Brightest mode.
One minor shortcoming for theater dark lighting is that the contrast ratio isn't high enough to give the deep, dark blacks you would expect at this price. However, the 3500-lumen brightness defines the LS820 as being designed for ambient light, where the dark areas of an image tend to get washed out and the lack of a higher contrast ratio won't matter.
The LS820 does well on most other aspects of image quality, holding both shadow detail and highlights well, for example. If you see rainbow artifacts easily, you'll see them occasionally, but with color content they show rarely enough and are fleeting enough that few people will find them bothersome. With black and white film/video they are a bit more noticeable as usual. The good news is that the single-chip DLP design eliminates any possibility of misconvergence, which is a potential issue for all three-chip light engines.
Somewhat surprisingly, the LS820 lacks some video processing that's common in this price range, most notably noise reduction on the HDMI input and frame interpolation. Not having noise reduction for HDMI isn't much of a problem, however. I saw very little noise in our test clips and only in scenes that tend to show noise.
3D Video. The LS820 can switch between using DLP Link and Vesa RF glasses. To use the RF mode, however, you have to buy a third-party emitter.
The image quality in 3D gets mixed reviews. On the plus side, I didn't see any crosstalk and saw only hints of 3D-related motion artifacts. Unlike most projectors, however, the LS820 delivers dramatically different image quality for 3D than 2D. Colors are notable less vibrant compared with any of the 2D predefined modes, and there's no way to change modes or customize the settings. The brightness drop for 3D is also a bit more than typical. Overall, 3D video is good enough to be watchable, but disappointing compared with 2D.
Data Presentations. The LS820 can do a great job with data and graphic presentations. As with most DLP home theater projectors, its color brightness is a higher percentage of its white brightness than typical for DLP business projectors. That helps give data and graphics images vibrant color in all modes, and it makes full color images like PowerPoint slides brighter than you would expect with a DLP data projector with the same lumen rating. It also helps that the LS820 resolves detail extremely well. In my tests, white text on black was highly readable at 5 points, and black text on white was crisp and clean at sizes as small as 4.5 points.
Brightness. The measured brightness is a little higher with VGA than HDMI. Because this a home theater projector, it makes most sense to report the results with HDMI as the primary set of measurements. However, it's worth knowing that with a VGA connection the brightness is higher by roughly 7% to 25%, depending on the lamp mode and preset. Using an HDMI connection, we measured the ANSI Lumens for Normal and Eco lamp settings as follows.
Video Optimized Lumens. Video quality in all modes is more than good enough to let you simply pick the mode that delivers the right brightness for the image size and ambient light level. That said, our Video Optimized setting, with the best color quality, is Standard mode with no adjustments. At about 2080 lumens, it's bright enough for a 130" diagonal, 16:9 image in moderate ambient light.
Presentation Optimized Lumens. For presentations, Brightest mode offers vibrant, saturated color with the highest brightness, at about 3420 lumens with an HDMI connection or 3650 lumens with a VGA connection.
Zoom Lens Effect. As is standard with ultra short throw projectors, there is no optical zoom and no telephoto setting to curtail light.
Brightness uniformity. The measured 81% brightness uniformity is good in general, and very good for an ultra short throw projector. You can see some luminance variation on a solid white or light color image, primarily as a slightly dim strip along the left side of the screen. However it is uniform enough so the difference isn't noticeable when viewing video or any other subject matter.
Color brightness. Color brightness for the LS820 ranges from about 55% of white brightness in Brightest mode to 73% in Dynamic mode to 85% or higher in Standard, Movie, and ViewMatch sRGB modes. None of these differences is enough to hurt color quality. Only Brightest and, to a lesser extent, Dynamic modes have enough difference to make the brightness of full color images significantly less than you would expect based on the white brightness.
Fan noise. In both Normal and Eco lamp modes the fan is audible from 20 feet away. There is no difference in volume or sound quality between Normal and Eco. However, fan speed varies based on the internal temperature, which can vary with the ambient temperature and can take some time before it changes enough to affect fan speed. In any case, the sound is a constant, low hum that I don't find bothersome. Some people might, but with the projector right at the screen thanks to its ultra short throw, you likely won't hear it from a typical seating distance except during quiet moments. Switching to High Altitude mode--which ViewSonic recommends for 4920 feet and above as well as 95 degrees Fahrenheit and above--made no obvious difference with Eco mode. In Normal mode, however, the volume was noticeably higher. If you have to use High Altitude mode, you'll want to stay with Eco mode or consider getting home theater furniture with a sunken area for the projector, to block some of the fan noise.
Input lag measures at 50 ms in all modes, making it fast enough for casual gaming. Serious gamers will likely consider it too slow.
Lamp life. ViewSonic rates the laser-phosphor-wheel light source at 15,000 hours in Normal mode or 20,000 hours in Eco mode. Either way, it should last the life of the projector.
Warranty. The price includes a three-year warranty for parts and labor, including the light source.
Weighing 22 pounds and measuring 6.5" x 12" x 15.4" (HWD), the LS820 is obviously meant for permanent installation. The ultra short throw makes it appropriate for a wall mount above the screen, but its natural home is on a flat surface just in front of and below the screen.
The lensing system uses a mirror as the final element, with the image emerging from a window near the back of the projector. Throw distance is measured from the window, with a range of 14.5 to 31.4 inches for a 16:9 image size of 67" to 144". At the lower limit, the front of the projector nearly touches the screen. Going beyond the upper limit tends to cause geometric distortion and focus issues.
For a 120" 16:9 image, the throw distance is roughly 26", with the front roughly 14.5" from the screen.
With the LS820 sitting on a table, the window near the back is in a small depressed area, about 2" lower than the top surface. The image offset shifts the bottom of the image above the window by roughly 21% of the image height. For a 120" image, that translates to having the bottom of the image about 13 inches higher than the window, or about 11 inches higher than the top surface.
ViewSonic says that unlike high pressure lamps, the laser-phosphor wheel light source retains well over 90% of its brightness over the first 500 hours. However, the brightness still degrades over time, and you should plan for it. If you make sure it's initially bright enough in Eco mode for the screen size and ambient light level, you can switch to Normal mode as the light source ages. You can also start with one of the lower-brightness color modes and switch to brighter modes as needed.
HDMI port access. Only one HDMI port is on the front of the unit where it's easy to get to. A second, which is the only one with MHL, is in a compartment on the bottom of the projector, under a cover held on by two screws. It's meant primarily for a streaming media dongle.
No frame interpolation. Most home theater projectors in the $3000 price range have it.
Rainbows in B/W. Rainbow artifacts may be bothersome if you watch a lot of classic B/W films or other black and white video. They are not typically visible in color video.
Black level. The black level isn't deep enough to deliver the inkiest blacks you'd want to see when viewing in a dark home theater. This projector is designed with ambient light in mind.
Disappointing 3D. Colors are muted in 3D compared with 2D.
The ViewSonic LS820 gives you a bright picture with excellent image quality and rich, vibrant color in sizes up to 144". Its 15,000 hour light source (20,000 in ecomode) eliminates the need for lamp replacements, and its ultra short throw makes it a snap to install with no ceiling mounts and no need to snake cables through walls or ceilings. The contrast is a little low for dedicated dark room use, but you won't notice that with any ambient light in the room.
In the end, in today's market only the Viewsonic LS820 combines 1080p resolution, 3500 lumens of brightness, long-life laser, and ultra short throw convenience into a package costing only $2999. It's a combination a lot of people have been waiting for. If you're one them, there's a ViewSonic LS820 with your name on it.
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