For the past few years, Viewsonic's projector division has been making affordable, high-performance projectors for business and home entertainment. So it came as something of a surprise when they announced the Viewsonic Pro9000, a 1080p projector for home theater with an LED/laser engine. Home theater enthusiasts have been demanding long-life light sources for years, and Viewsonic the first company to introduce a home theater projector with a 20,000 hour light engine that is priced for the wider consumer market.
While the idea of a LED/laser home theater projector is sure to excite the imagination of many readers, the reality is somewhat less compelling. The Pro9000 is capable of projecting 1080p film and video, but it lacks many of the refinements that users have come to expect from home theater projectors in the last few years. Furthermore, at $2999 it lands in the same price range as several more fully-featured 1080p projectors, giving it some stiff competition. The good news is that it is uniquely appropriate for video game use, where its low heat emission and very quick 1-frame input lag make it a better choice than some of its competition. But while the Pro9000 is indisputable proof that lampless home theater projectors can be built, it is not a particularly ideal solution as a home theater projector.
It's been a while since we've seen a home theater projector without 3D capability, but here we are. We fired up the Pro9000 in its default Theater mode. Startup time is very fast, and the projector is warmed up and ready to go in under ten seconds. Unlike traditional arc lamps, the hybrid LED/laser system in the Pro9000 reaches maximum brightness seconds after startup, then loses a small amount of brightness over the next few minutes. Our test unit exhibited a 5% decrease in light output from initial startup over the first few minutes of operation before output became stable.
Watching a 2D Blu-ray movie, we noticed that the Pro9000 was applying overscan by default on the order of about 3%. One of the benefits to watching a 1080p movie on a 1080p projector is that there is no scaling of the image, so overscan is something you will almost always want to turn off. The exception is if you find artifacts around the edge of the image, which can sometimes be present on live broadcast material or poorly-mastered DVDs.
We initially began our review of the Pro9000 with a pre-production sample. That unit had non-defeatable overscan; that is, even with overscan set to 0% the projector was still cutting off a portion of the image. So we tabled the review and requested a production unit. We are happy to report that the overscan issue has been resolved in the main production run. While the projector still defaults to 3% overscan, it can be completely disabled via the menu system.
Overall, the picture from the Pro9000 is solid. Theater mode measured 478 lumens on startup and 454 lumens after the warm-up period, which isn't as bright as most home theater projectors these days. It is still plenty of light for a 120" diagonal screen, especially since 3D brightness is not a concern. White balance by default is slanted heavily towards magenta, so we spent some time tweaking the projector and ended up with a better balance of color in the mid-range of the grayscale. Shadows and highlights retained a color cast due to the projector's adjustment limitations. There was some slight crushing of detail in the deepest shadows, but raising brightness very quickly washes out black levels so we decided to live with it.
Better still is Standard mode, which after some tweaking (a reduction of blue and an increase to green) actually had similar white balance to Theater mode plus a cleaner 100% white. Standard mode's 943 lumens might be too bright for some smaller screens, so plan accordingly.
While the Pro9000 has plenty of competition in the home theater space, one application in which it excels is video games. Video games are typically played at a multiple hour stretch, so the Pro9000's low heat emission will keep the room from getting uncomfortably warm. The projector has very little input lag at 17ms. And, since there's no lamp to change, you won't feel bad about running the projector for hours and hours on end.
The Viewsonic Pro9000 is a remarkably streamlined product. It lacks many of the features normally discussed in this section, such as lens shift, extensive zoom, frame interpolation, and 3D compatibility. As such, the projector's biggest key feature is something that many home theater enthusiasts have been asking about for years.
LED/Laser Light Engine. The main draw of the Pro9000 is its hybrid light engine. Instead of using a traditional arc lamp, the Pro9000 displays a picture by using light emitting diodes and a powerful laser. The result is a projector that never needs a replacement lamp and has an estimated "lamp" life of 20,000 hours.
That sounds like a long time, and it is. The average projector lamp lifespan these days is between 3,000 and 5,000 hours. If you were to watch one two-hour movie per day, seven days a week, the Pro9000 would run for 27 years assuming nothing else broke. At six hours a day, which is a reasonable approximation of some people's television habits, that's still nine years. Obviously, most people will replace their projector during that timeframe, so what the LED/laser engine really does is take lamp replacements out of the equation.
Low input lag. In all image modes, the Pro9000 has a low input lag of 17 milliseconds, or one frame on a 60 Hz signal. For gamers, this makes the Pro9000 an attractive option, as it is one of the fastest projectors around.
Three year warranty. The Pro9000 has a three-year warranty, while most of its competitors are limited to two years or less. When a projector has an estimated life measured in the tens of thousands of hours, having a longer warranty period can be quite helpful.
Light output. One of the biggest obstacles to the use of LEDs in projectors has been brightness. That is in part why many manufacturers, including Viewsonic, are now looking at hybrid systems using both LEDs and lasers in order to make up the LED brightness limitations.
LED/laser based projectors measure their maximum possible light output immediately after startup, so that is how our readings were taken. After the projector has run for ten to fifteen minutes, light output decreases by roughly five percent. The post-warmup numbers are listed in parentheses after the initial numbers.
The Pro9000 is rated at 1600 lumens. Its brightest mode, called Bright, measured 1471 (1395) lumens on our test sample. Bright mode has a green cast, but it is suitable for presentations, non-color sensitive computer applications, and the occasional football game in the living room as long as the teams aren't wearing similar jerseys.
Theater mode is the projector's default. Theater mode measures 475 (454) lumens, and color balance is biased towards magenta about as much as Bright mode is slanted towards green.
Our preferred mode for the best color balance was Standard, which sits squarely between Bright and Theater as far as light output is concerned. Our test unit measured 943 (895) lumens in this mode, and color balance was more visually pleasing than either Bright or Theater mode. This is mostly due to Standard mode's cleaner white, while Theater mode's highlights were tinged green. This is a side-effect of the projector's single-axis white balance controls; by canceling out the magenta shift in the rest of the grayscale, whites are pushed too far and take on a green cast.
While there is no lamp-preserving rationale to engage an Eco mode, the Pro9000 includes one anyway. It cuts light output by 33%, bringing Bright mode to 970 (920) lumens, Standard mode to 632 (600) lumens, and Theater mode to 313 (296) lumens. Since Standard will be the preferred operating mode, this results in a light level that hits the sweetspot for many home theater enthusiasts. Eco-mode also reduces fan noise from a rush to a soft whisper.
Contrast. The Pro9000 specifications list a contrast ratio of 100,000:1. However, the projector has some characteristics that limit the impression of dynamic range in the projected image. For one, it can be difficult to get a "clean" white out of the projector due to white balance concerns. We will discuss this further in the Color section, but an obviously tinted white makes contrast appear less dramatic. Second, the projector's black level is higher than that of other home theater projectors that have been released this year. Third, the projector's gamma adjustment is limited, so the slight detail crush in the projector's deepest shadows can be difficult to eliminate. Gamma is controlled by a simple slider. The default setting of 6 tended to crush detail, while a setting of 4 reduced but did not eliminate this behavior. These factors combined make the projector appear lower in contrast than other projectors rated at 100,000:1.
Color. By default, the Pro9000's Theater mode uses the Medium color temperature preset, which over-emphasizes magenta (or, conversely, under-emphasizes green). You can see that in this chart, which shows our test sample's white balance before any calibration.
Pro9000 Theater mode before calibration
The Pro9000 has limited color correction ability. Instead of separate gain and bias sliders for each color, the white balance controls are limited to Red Gain, Green Gain, and Blue Gain. As a result, we were only able to balance color correctly in a portion of the grayscale.
Pro9000 Theater mode after calibration
What does this mean? As mentioned before, whites don't look as clean as they do on competing projectors due to color cast. Shadows likewise take on a color tint in some instances. The middle of the grayscale is more or less in line with the 6500K standard, but we were not able to calibrate the grayscale correctly in Theater mode on our test unit.
Standard mode, while far from perfect, does yield a white balance similar to that of Theater mode, as can be seen in the graph below. 100% white in particular is far better in Standard mode, which helps give the impression of higher contrast and a more natural image compared to Theater mode.
Pro9000 Standard mode after calibration
As for gamut, you can see from the CIE chart below that the Pro9000's red and blue points actually fall outside the Rec. 709 specification. This in part contributes to the Pro9000's seemingly overemphasized color. The projector does have a complete color management system, allowing adjustment of hue, saturation, and gain for primaries and secondaries, but in order to use it you need access to a color meter and specialized software. You can either hire someone to do the job for you, or buy the gear and learn to do it yourself. The latter can be fun if you enjoy tinkering, but if you are the kind of person who wants your projector to "just work" the former is probably easier.
Sharpness and clarity. Most 1080p projectors are pretty sharp just by virtue of being 1080p projectors showing 1080p content. Due to the Pro9000's comparative lack of contrast and crushing of fine shadow detail, it can look a touch softer than its competition at times.
Input lag. One upside of the Pro9000 is that it measured about 17 milliseconds (1 frame) of input lag in all of its different image modes. While the projector has a Game mode, it is no faster than the other operating modes. Competing home theater projectors in the Pro9000's price range generally have greater input lags and are therefore less desirable for fast video gaming.
Lumen degradation. One of the purported perks of LED/laser projectors is that, unlike traditional arc-lamp models, their light output does not degrade over time. We have not found this to be strictly true. After running the Pro9000 for just over 120 hours, our test sample shows a loss of about 10% of its initial light output. So after 120 hours of use, the maximum light output in Theater mode became 427 lumens compared to the initial 478 lumens out of the box.
In the past we did extended burn tests of a first-generation Casio LED/laser hybrid projector and found a 25% lumen degradation over the first 200 hours of operation. We were only able to run the Pro9000 for 120 hours, but that test indicates that lumen degradation on this model is not as severe as on those early Casio models. Only time will tell how much light output may be curtailed over many thousands of hours of use.
Color. Most home theater projectors can be calibrated fairly easily. However, there are two problems with the Pro9000. First, the default calibration -- the settings the projector ships with from the factory -- is visibly incorrect. Secondly and more importantly, the projector's color controls are simplistic and difficult to use, such that we could not calibrate our test unit to the desired 6500K.
By default, the projector's white balance pushes magenta, which makes the entire image appear purplish. To counteract this, one must add green, which is the opposite of magenta in the additive color model. But that doesn't fix the problem completely, since the Pro9000 only provides one axis of adjustment. The Pro9000 has controls for Red Gain, Green Gain, and Blue Gain, while other projectors typically split these adjustments into Gain and Bias, allowing you to independently adjust highlights and shadows.
Locked Image Modes. The Pro9000 has a number of image modes, but the projector does not allow complete calibration of these modes. You can freely change brightness, contrast, and color saturation, but if you attempt to alter Color Temperature, you are prompted to save your changes to either of the projector's two User modes. Since the projector's default calibrations all have significant white balance issues, most people will find themselves in User 1 or User 2 mode before long.
Placement Flexibility. The Pro9000 has a 1.2:1 zoom lens and no lens shift. As such, it is best placed on a low table or in a ceiling mount. It is typical for low-cost home theater projectors to have this type of lensing, and it is likewise common to see the same setup on many business and presentation projectors. However, on a home theater projector priced at $2999, it is unusual.
No Frame interpolation. Most home theater projectors in this price range feature some kind of frame interpolation, which smooths out the judder created by fast action and camera pans. Some of those systems are less successful than others, but there have been $1500 home theater projectors that still managed to include FI systems. The Pro9000 does not have any frame interpolation on board.
No 3D. Love it or hate it, almost all home theater projectors these days are able to display 3D. The Pro9000 is, so far, the only home theater projector around the $3000 price point released this year to lack 3D.
Value. The primary attraction of lampless technology is, obviously, that users no longer need to buy lamps. Unfortunately, the Pro9000's $2999 asking price is just as much as the most popular models in today's market, and despite this the projector lacks now-common features that appear in many other projectors. Click over to the Competition page to learn exactly what the differences are.
The Pro9000 has an MSRP of $4499, but sells for significantly less at $2999. That puts it on a level with other popular consumer home theater projectors. This year, the consumer home theater market is shaping up around three models: the Epson Home Cinema 5020UB, the Mitsubishi HC8000D-BL, and the Panasonic AE8000.
The major difference between the Pro9000 and the other three projectors is that the Pro9000 uses a hybrid LED/laser illumination system while the latter three use the same high-pressure arc lamps that have been used in projectors for many years. However, that is by no means the only difference between these products. They share very little in common.
Light output. The Pro9000's sustained light output in Theater mode is about 450 lumens. The most comparable modes on the AE8000 would be the Rec709 or Cinema 1 modes, both of which measure right around 820 lumens in full power and 533 lumens in Eco mode. On the HC8000D-BL, Cinema mode measured 626 lumens with the lamp at full power and 454 lumens in Eco mode. The Epson 5020UB's THX mode measures 766 lumens in Normal lamp mode and 575 lumens in Eco mode.
Some people will prefer the Pro9000's Standard mode, at 943 lumens. However, the AE8000's Cinema 2 mode measures 1047 lumens with the lamp set to low power, while the 5020UB's Living Room mode, once calibrated, measures 1294 lumens in Eco mode.
Why is this important? Both the AE8000 and the 5020UB can exceed the Pro9000's Standard mode light output while in Eco mode. Using Eco mode increases lamp life but it also decreases fan noise. Since the Pro9000 is louder than average in its full-power mode and all three of its competitors are whisper-quiet in Eco mode, this can be an important factor to consider in small rooms.
Lumen loss over time. High-pressure arc lamps can lose about 50% of their total light output over their lifetimes, which is used as an argument in favor of hybrid light sources. Over the 120 hours we were able to test the Pro9000, its light output decreased by about 10%. We do not know whether or to what degree it may continue to degrade as the LED/laser system ages.
On the other hand, the light output of a projector using a high-pressure lamp is usually higher than one using a hybrid system. The AE8000's Cinema 2 mode measured 1612 lumens with perfectly balanced color and excellent contrast. So even after losing 50% of its light output, the AE8000 would still be delivering the same amount of light as the Standard mode of the Pro9000 when new.
Contrast. The HC8000D, 5020UB, and AE8000 have deep black levels and excellent shadow detail. All three projectors also have comprehensive gamma adjustment systems to ensure the correct display of highlights and shadow detail. The Pro9000 has a gamma slider, but no in-depth adjustments. It crushes detail in the deepest shadows and its black levels are not really comparable with the aforementioned projectors.
Color. While no projector is perfect, the AE8000, 5020UB, and HC8000D-BL all start out with acceptable default color calibrations. They have reasonably accurate default white balance, on the order of 6500K plus or minus 500 degrees. That's not great, but they require comparatively little adjustment to bring them in line with the 6500K standard. They also feature comprehensive color controls, allowing independent adjustment of RGB gain and bias. All three projectors likewise have full color management systems. The Pro9000 starts off pushing magenta, and the color controls are not precise enough to fully calibrate the projector to 6500K across the entire grayscale.
Sharpness and Detail. The AE8000 has a smart sharpening system called Detail Clarity, while the 5020UB has a similar system called Super Resolution. Even without the smart sharpening system, though, the HC8000D, 5020UB, and AE8000 were incrementally sharper and more detailed than the Pro9000.
Placement flexibility. The Pro9000's 1.2:1 zoom and lack of lens shift make it difficult to compare against the AE8000, with its 2.0:1 zoom and H/V lens shift. The 5020UB's 2.1:1 zoom and H/V shift likewise put it head and shoulders above the Pro9000 in this category. Even the HC8000D-BL, with a 1.5:1 zoom and vertical shift, has a distinct advantage.
Frame interpolation. All three of the Pro9000's competitors have frame interpolation to smooth out judder in fast action and camera pans. The Pro9000 does not.
3D. The AE8000, 5020UB, and HC800D-BL are excellent 3D projectors, and all three have the brightness required to create a vibrant 3D picture. The Pro9000 is not 3D-enabled.
Fan noise. The 5020UB, HC8000D-BL, and AE8000 are quieter in full power mode than the Pro9000 is in Eco mode.
Value. The Epson 5020UB currently sells for $2599. The AE8000 and HC8000 are both available for $2999. The Pro9000 also sells for $2999. While the Pro9000 shares the price point of the other three projectors, the other projectors include features that are missing on the Pro9000.
If you want to compare the Pro9000 to a projector that matches its features and abilities, a good choice is the BenQ W1200. Both projectors are DLP-based, no-frills home theater projectors without 3D capability. Both have relatively limited placement flexibility and no lens shift. Both projectors have onboard speaker systems, picture-in-picture capability, and good but not leading edge contrast. The W1200 is significantly brighter, but after 50% light loss from lamp burn the two projectors have roughly equivalent light output. The W1200 also has frame interpolation and complete color controls, neither of which are present on the Pro9000. And while neither projector has lens shift, the W1200's 1.5:1 provides a bit more placement flexibility than the 1.2:1 lens found on the Pro9000.
The Pro9000's 20,000 hour lifespan beats the 4,000 hours of the W1200, but the price difference between the two would allow you to purchase five additional lamps, giving you 24,000 total hours of runtime. Some lamps may fail early, so call it 20,000 hours as a conservative estimate. And just like that, the Pro9000's major advantage disappears.
This comparison illustrates an important point - the Pro9000 has the capabilities of an entry-level home theater projector, but is priced like a mid-range product. While the LED/laser light engine has some benefits, potential buyers should not be blinded by the thought of never replacing a lamp again. Essentially, you're buying an entry-level home theater projector with the cost of the replacement lamps already built in to the retail price of the projector.
At its core, the Viewsonic Pro9000 is a promising concept - a home theater projector built around a hybrid light source. Its LED/laser engine boasts a lifespan of 20,000 hours, making lamp replacements a thing of the past. As one of the first LED/laser projectors to be specifically built for home theater, many people will find themselves salivating at the prospect of a maintenance-free projector. Gamers in particular will appreciate the projector's one-frame input lag and low-heat exhaust.
However, there are some disadvantages to the Pro9000 as well. It lacks 3D capability, frame interpolation, good placement flexibility, high contrast, and comprehensive color adjustments. It is not as bright as most other home theater projectors. Other than the 20,000-hour light source and rapid one-frame input lag, the Pro9000 is more similar to 1080p projectors priced under $1500, but even against these lower-cost projectors its features and ease of use are somewhat limited.
For LED/laser projectors to be attractive, they need to be price-competitive. The Viewsonic Pro9000 is a groundbreaking product, but it is also an early generation of a new technology. In the future, you can bet on most projectors using solid-state light engines, whether they be LED or hybrid or some other technology. Those future projectors will become more reasonably priced and more competitive as the technologies mature.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our ViewSonic Pro9000 projector page.