HD Projectors in Boardrooms
Feb 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Jay Ankeney
The golden 1080p standard leads the way in corporate installations.
HD projectors are all the rage for corporate boardrooms and meeting centers these days, yet the question of what “high definition” really means is becoming increasingly confusing. In addition, several manufacturers have started producing HD projectors capable of handling 1080p even though there is precious little source material currently available in that resolution. This resolution has been universally considered the Holy Grail of HD displays ever since the FCC accepted the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) A/53 standard for digital television in 1996. But outside of the struggling Blu-ray/HD DVD entertainment market, some of your teenager's video gaming systems, and the highest end of computer workstations, few video sources likely to be utilized in a corporate boardroom can currently provide 1080p output.
Many HD projection systems have advanced further than much of the content they are intended to display. The situation is sort of analogous to being able to buy a sleek, expensive sports car capable of traveling faster than the legal speed limit. Yet, in the same way that a select few are still willing to plunk down megabucks for a Lamborghini or Maserati, forward-looking corporations find themselves attracted to 1080p as a future-proofing protection against formats as yet unspecified, and for the prestige of equipping their top floors with the latest and greatest HD projection systems.
Just last month, Pacific Media Associates, a global marketing information expert on large-screen displays, predicted that overall sales of 1080p-resolution front projectors will grow from $215 million in 2006 to $370 million in 2007.
“1080p resolution is preferred for HDTV content,” said Vice President Michael Abramson in the Pacific Media Associates report. “We have already seen strong demand for higher-resolution products in the flatpanel and rear-projection HDTV markets. Recent releases of new 1080p front-projector models from Sony and Mitsubishi shook up the market with street prices below $5,000, which makes them more affordable. We expect this to fuel strong growth for this segment.”
But as with expensive sports cars that can drive well over 55mph, do you really need all that horsepower? Another worldwide projection market tracker, iSuppli, expects overall front-projector unit shipments to reach 6,249,737 by the end of this year, but half of these will be in XGA or WXGA resolution, which is considerably less than the full glory of 1080p.
Still, thanks to the wizardry of the latest resolution-scaling technologies, many of these lower-pixel-count displays will let you see HD content, if not necessarily at HD resolution. So what do we actually need to project high-definition material? Knowing a bit of HD's history will help put this into context.
What we call “high definition” is derived from high-definition television, or HDTV, that was intended to improve on the U.S. 525-line NTSC (National Television Systems Committee) analog TV standard announced by the FCC in March 1953. There have been several “higher-definition” versions since then that tried to find international acceptance. Many countries opted for the 625 PAL (Phase Alternating Line) system introduced by Telefunken in Germany in 1963, which is still used in various forms around the world. In 1985, the European Commission attempted unsuccessfully to up the ante with HD-MAC (Multiplexed Analogue Components), producing 1,250 lines. But after the Japanese tried to push the limits of analog HD broadcasting with the 1035 active-picture-line MUSE system in the 1990s (marketed as Hi-Vision by the NHK broadcaster), most folks stateside agreed that HDTV would only become a practical reality using digital technology.
Wanting to give the marketplace plenty of options, the ATSC proposed 18 or 36 flavors of high definition (depending on how you define the specs) whose major intersection on the image side is a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. These days, two formats have risen to the top for both video production and broadcasting: 720p (720 lines of vertical resolution by 1280 horizontal pixels scanned progressively) and 1080i (1080 vertical lines by 1920 horizontal pixels scanned interlaced, meaning the odd lines are painted in one field and the even lines in the next).
Proponents of the 720p and 1080i camps each have strong arguments for their preferred format best suiting specific applications, but because TV broadcasters are required by the FCC mandate to send their signals out using MPEG-2 compression over the air, the difference is a matter of choice for them. Corporate infrastructures can use a growing smorgasbord of far more efficient compression schemes, such as multiple variants of MPEG-4, so for them, the lesser bandwidth requirements, or data transfer rate, of 720p have come into favor.
Still, everyone agrees that the gold standard, 1080p, although not currently being used by any domestic broadcaster, combines the best of both worlds for HD displays if you can afford it. Consider, however, that so-called high-definition material can even be viewed on an Apple iPod screen these days. What HD really means is ultimately in the eye of the beholder.
When choosing which HD projection resolution is best suited for your installation, it would be ideal if there were an exact pixel match between source and display, whether from a high-definition video or high-speed computer, but that's not always necessary to get an HD presentation on the screen. Digital display technology has advanced to the point where sometimes “good enough” is good enough.
When it comes to hardware, there are several considerations for choosing the right HD projector for corporate use. DLP (Digital Light Processing) from a single Texas Instruments (TI) chip or a combination of three TI chips is becoming the most widely used display technology in projectors intended to present HD material. There are also several fine LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) designs, and the difference between LCD and DLP is dwindling compared to a few years ago. LCD proponents claim more efficient brightness at a given lamp power with more natural color fidelity, while DLP advocates assert greater potential maximum brightness overall, finer detail in their displays, smoother imagery that best suits video output, and an immunity to color decay over time.
The newer LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) technology is also making inroads, with Sony having its own version called SXRD (Silicon X-tal Reflective Display, with the “X-tal” standing for crystal). LCos designs claim to eliminate flickering or the “screen door” effect — sometimes called fixed-pattern noise — of DLP, and to a lesser extent, LCD. LCos also boasts seamless photo reproduction and sharp display of small text.
Whichever light engine is chosen, a projector for HD material should be capable of producing a 16:9 image. But that doesn't necessarily mean the projector has to have a native 16:9 imaging system. In fact, if most of your source material is 4:3, the extra output on the sides of the widescreen display may be an unneeded investment in unused pixels. When presenting widescreen images on a square field, the top and bottom will be letterboxed. If the more common square images are going to be seen on a 16:9 screen, the sides will be seen in a pillar box (also called reverse letterboxing). To add to the complexity, there have recently been laptop computer screens in a 16:10 aspect ratio so that graphic artists and CAD designers can see their toolbars above or below the 16:9 working area; these won't fit on many conventional wide HD screens without some adjustment.
The practical point is that what we consider high definition most often refers to the source material, and not necessarily the resolution you see on the screen. In addition, several projector designs have multiple scaling engines, one for moving video and another for computer graphics, so an investment in the capabilities of the projector should match its intended purposes.
To that end, a projection system should have inputs for both video including HDMI (High-definition Multimedia Interface), component and composite video connections, and as many inputs for computer sources as possible. Don't forget an extra USB slot for memory sticks. Weight for portability should be considered if it is going to be mobile, and a flexible single-lens design will be needed for different room sizes if the unit is going to be on a cart. Installing a fixed projector, on the other hand, will provide the benefit of a choice of interchangeable lenses with optical horizontal and vertical lens shift for keystone correction. There is also noise level to consider. Because many projectors incorporate fans of varying audibility, it should generally be less than 32dB. In addition, most manufacturers agree that because the conference room or meeting area will undoubtedly have lots of ambient light to let people read at their desks, at least 2500 to 3000 ANSI lumens are needed for sufficient brightness.
Here is a sampling of the HD projection systems major manufacturers would recommend for corporate installations. Many are designed for a variety of purposes, including crossovers from home theater installations, but all will display high-definition material in one form or another. Exactly how high that high definition will ultimately appear on the screen will be the result of matching the client's investment with the client's needs.
The flagship 3M Digital Wall Display Plus series combines state-of-the-art 1080i-scalable, 60in.-diagonal HD DLP projection; digital annotation; and mouse control in a unique wall-mounted arrangement. In addition, the new line of 3M Digital Media Systems projection designs that started shipping in December can present a 4:3 display via a short-throw telescoping Vikuiti Super Close projection arm extending directly out from a wall.
Even with only 1500 lumens, the compact design of the 3M Digital Media Systems projectors gives brightness perceived to equal much higher output levels, because the projector head is so close to the screen. The 3M Digital Media System 700 single-chip DLP projector can throw a 60in. Hollywood Quality Video (HQV) image from just 30in. away or up to 180in. from 89in. away, and the 3M Digital Wall Display 710 adds a built-in standard-definition DVD player with 5.1 audio output. Just last month, 3M began shipping its new 3M Digital Media System 800 series, which incorporates digital annotation so it can be mounted over an interactive whiteboard for collaborative presentations — even with remote locations.
Barco is expanding its line of iCon projectors with the iCon H400 — Barco's first network-centric single-chip DLP HDTV projector with a 16:9 screen aspect ratio and a light output of 4000 ANSI lumens. Just starting shipment in January, the iCon H400 uses an RGBW color wheel to produce a bright DLP-quality image in true 1920×1080 resolution that is ideal for graphics. Barco also has the iCon H250 with a RGBRGB color wheel optimized for video.
In the LCD realm, Barco's iCon H600 offers native 1920×1080 resolution, has a powerful integrated Window's XP display server that can easily be connected to the user's network infrastructure (enabling collaborative meetings between remote meeting sites) and can show up to four external sources simultaneously.
With its Senseye color enhancement technology, the BenQ MP770 is able to accurately render the subtlest tints with 3200 lumens brightness. The BenQ MP770 has the newest DDP3020 DLP data processor from Texas Instruments built inside and offers 800 percent zoom to reveal the finest detail. Depending on your presentation, its Picture-in-Picture (PiP) mode allows the simultaneous display of PC and video sources. To accommodate different room ambience conditions, the MP770 also allows users to save two custom preference modes covering brightness, contrast, color saturation, hue, sharpness, white-peak gamma, and color temperature. Finally, BenQ's projector design incorporates an advanced off-and-go feature that can cool down the system even when the projector is unplugged.
With a native resolution of 1024×768, the Pro4500DP DLP projector from Boxlight can put out 5000 lumens from two 250W lamps, providing a contrast ratio of 800:1 in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Capable of accepting 1080p inputs, Boxlight's Pro4500DP can handle 16.7 million colors and has a power zoom and focus projector lens. For a native 16:9 display, Boxlight offers its Broadview DLP line of portable 1280×768 WXGA projectors designed to display widescreen-formatted computer spreadsheets. Although not HD native, the Broadview projectors are compatible with 1080i, 720p, and also 480p inputs.
The Realis family of projectors from Canon combines LCoS technology with Canon's proprietary AISYS light-engine technology. At the top end of this line is the Realis SX6 with 3500 ANSI lumens and SXGA+ resolution, letting the SX6 present the widest range of Adobe RGB color space of any projector. Although native 4:3, its 1.7X ultra-wide powered zoom lens with Autofocus gives you the greatest zoom range of any of Canon's projector lenses. Canon also offers the Realis SX50, whose SXGA+ resolution provides 1400×1050 lines of HD display in true 16:9 aspect ratio. Its Memory/Vivid Color Correction lets you adjust the degree of vividness of each of the primary colors (red, green, and blue) and each of the secondary colors (cyan, magenta, and yellow).
Christie Digital Systems is a leader in digital cinema projection systems, and it has adapted that technology for DLP, LCD, and LCoS projector designs for corporate installations. Christie's HD5K is its smallest 3-chip DLP design with 5000 lumens, a 2500:1 contrast ratio from Christie's Xenon Bubble lamp system, and two HD input channels that will also take 4:4:4 signals.
The Christie Roadster HD12K offers 1920×1080 native resolution, crisp images from 10-bit processing at 12,000 lumens brightness, and a variable contrast ratio of 1600-2000:1. Launching just last month, the Christie Roadster HD18K upped the brightness to 18,000 lumens at native 1920×1080P resolution in both 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios. All of its projectors feature ChristieNet — a powerful, easy-to-use IP-addressable networking system.
For corporate installations, Dell recommends its 5100MP, offering the highest level of performance and brightness at 3300 lumens in Dell's DLP projector portfolio, and providing a 1080i output along with 5.1 sound. With a 2500:1 contrast ratio and SXGA+ (1400×1050) resolution, the 5100MP comes with an RF remote for ease of operation during presentations. The 5100MP comes with built-in web management software, and will even power itself off after a few minutes of idleness.
Digital Projection is just bringing out its Titan 1080p-500 3-chip DLP Professional Series projector, producing 6000 lumens with a 2000:1 contrast ratio. The Titan 1080p-500's seven standard inputs accept nearly all video and computer formats, including HD-SDI and HDCP compliant DVI. Digital Projection also has a new dVision 1080p projector featuring display technology utilizing a 0.95in. DarkChip DMD in a 3-chip configuration for native 1920×1080 resolution with 2500 lumens brightness. Connectivity of the dVision 1080p to input devices is provided via Digital Projection's VIP 2000, an external video processor featuring the Realta integrated circuit from Silicon Optix.
Just shipping this month, the LC-W4 16:9 projector from Eiki puts out 4700 ANSI lumens at a native WXGA resolution with 900:1 contrast, and is compatible with HDCP and scaling video input resolutions up to 1080i. Its top-end LC-HDT10 native 1080p projector, compatible with UXGA computer inputs, is capable of 5500 lumens at a 1000:1 contrast ratio. The LC-HDT10 features four input channels through interchangeable input modules that permit easy reconfiguration and an optional Network Control module for network monitoring and control. The LC-W4's new Quick Change lens installation system makes a wide choice of lenses available.
Epson's PowerLite 830p and 835p include three Epson LCDs, which work together to produce 3000 ANSI lumens and XGA resolution. With four input connections each and dedicated audio, the PowerLite line of projectors is easily adaptable to any situation. A power focus and ultra-wide 1.6X zoom ensure easy setup for both ceiling-mounted and desktop presentations. The Epson PowerLite 835p comes standard with an Epson wireless 802.11g/b WiFi card. There's even a USB and PCMCIA input connection, so you can project not only your presentation without a computer, but digital photos and video, as well.
Featuring native SXGA+ resolution at 3500 ANSI lumens, the CP-SX1350W LCD projector from Hitachi has a reverse image function for ceiling mounting. Its 3-chip liquid-crystal panel structure features 0.99in. poly-silicon active-matrix TFT chips with Micro Lens that puts out 1,470,000 pixels (1400×1050). The CP-SX1350W also offers a progressive scan with 650:1 contrast ratio at 3500 ANSI lumens, network control, diagnostics and monitoring and even email alerts. It produces a native 4:3 aspect ratio with a 16:9 resizing mode, and boasts 16.7 million colors with color temperature and gamma correction.
The new Work Big IN42 LCD projector from InFocus boasts 3500 ANSI lumens with 1024×768 pixels in a native 4:3 display. The Work Big IN42's new industrial design features RS-232 and RJ-45 connections enabling seamless integration to your existing IT infrastructure. As a protective measure, the lens has been recessed, and a bright, intuitive LED feedback panel is built-in to keep all users informed. The InFocus Work Big LP840, LP850, and LP860 line of HD projectors have true SXGA+ (1400×1050) resolution for outstanding clarity and compatibility. Each employs power zoom, focus, and lens shift, plus horizontal and vertical keystone correction for ease of installation.
Calling it a crossover projector combining the best of home theater and business application needs, Mitsubishi Digital Electronics offers the HD4000U, its first high-definition 1280×768 native resolution projector designed for wide-format laptops and imaging applications requiring the 16:9 aspect ratio. The HD4000U projector boasts Texas Instruments' DDP3020 DLP TrueVision image processing and Mitsubishi's BrilliantColor, which uses Mitsubishi's own color processing algorithm and system-level enhancements. Mitsubishi also recommends its latest WD2000U model for corporate installations, a 3-chip DLP 3000 lumens high-definition projector offering native WXGA resolution with a five-segment color wheel for enhanced graphics reproduction and powered vertical and horizontal lens shift capabilities.
NEC Visual Systems' NP2000 corporate installation projector puts out 4000 lumens at XGA (1024×768) native resolution, and has vertical and manual lens shift, allowing flexible projector placement with its five optional bayonet lenses. NEC's NP2000 includes integrated high-speed wireless LAN IEEE 802.11b/g connectivity via an optional wireless card. Also included is integrated RJ-45 connection for quick integration with a wired network LAN with 10/100baseT capability. NEC's NP2000 provides a suite of networking technologies and asset management features to fit into a wide variety of corporate IT infrastructures.
At January's CES show, Optoma premiered its latest HD81-LV 1080p DarkChip3 DMD DLP projector with 2500 lumens brightness. With a two-piece design for simplified installation, the HD81-LV has extensive connectivity options, including three HDMI ports plus one external HDMI expansion, two BNC component (YPbPr/RGBHV), two component, three S-Video, three composite video, one VGA, RS-232, two 12V triggers, and one IR port extension. The HD81-LV will begin shipping in April. Optoma also recommends its EP910 native SXGA+ (1400×1050) with 3500 lumens and a 300:1 contrast ratio. The innovative “Wind Tunnel” cooling system of the EP910 is designed for whisper-quiet operation and minimal light leakage.
Panasonic's PT-DW5000U projector uses a single liquid-cooled DLP chip to deliver 1280×768 WXGA resolution at 4500 lumens with up to 2000:1 contrast ratio. The PT-DW5000U's BriteOptic dual-lamp system reduces downtime, each providing up to 4,000 hours of use (in low-lamp mode). Its 3D Color Management automatically corrects color saturation, hue, and brightness, resulting in a more accurate image reproduction. If 6000 ANSI lumens are needed, Panasonic's WXGA large-venue DLP projector has unique wide-aspect (1366×768) panels at up to a 4000:1 contrast ratio. The PT-DW7000U is the world's lightest 3-chip DLP projector at only 48.5lbs.
Projectiondesign was the first to show native 1080 content on HD projectors at CEDIA 2005. Today, the company offers the Cineo3+ with a native 720p display at 1100 ANSI lumens, and the new Cineo3+ 1080, putting out 3500 lumens in a true HDTV resolution projector with its 1920×1080p 3-chip DLP technology and six lens options. The patented Du Arch illumination architecture in the Projectiondesign Cineo3+ 1080 allows hot-swapping of lamps while still in operation, keeping the image on the screen. It features dual color wheels, illumination optimizers, and illumination optics.
Sanyo's PLV-80 is a wide XGA 16:9 projector with 3000 lumens output and a 1000:1 contrast ratio. Its inputs can handle 1080-24psf/25psf/30psf signals through a newly designed color management system. For true 1920×1080p HD resolution, Sanyo's PLV-HD150 has 7000 ANSI lumens brightness and is 24p/60p capable through DVI and SDI inputs respectively. With 12-bit progressive IC for 2:3 pulldown and 1080i to progressive conversion, Sanyo's PLV-HD150 is a true multimedia HD projector. All Sanyo projectors can be used with Crestron or AMX controllers by using RS-232 commands.
Sony's latest HD projector for corporate installations is the VPLFE40 3LCD-technology projector that started shipping at the end of 2006. It produces 720p SXGA+ resolution (1400×1050) or WXGA (1280×768) at 4000 lumens in a 4:3 aspect ratio. For 1080p resolution, Sony is just bringing out the VPLVW100/P with a 15,000:1 contrast ratio and quiet 22dB operation using three SXRD panels. Although it only has 800 lumens brightness from its Sony 400W pure-Xenon lamp, the VPLVW100/P boasts a center-mount lens for a more finished appearance once installed. The VPLVW100/P's Advanced Iris technology improves images by adjusting the iris diameter so bright scenes are crisp while keeping black levels in dark scenes deep and detailed.
Last October, as a next step in its strategic plan to diversify its projector portfolio, ViewSonic introduced the Cine5000, which uses Texas Instruments DarkChip2 DLP technologies and an advanced color wheel. Displaying either 720p or 1080p, the Cine5000 includes Faroudja DCDi video processing technology and has OptiSync technology featuring versatile HDMI connectivity options, including HDMI with HDCP (high-definition content protection) to accommodate the widest spectrum of input sources. Then, at last month's CES show, ViewSonic unveiled the PJ258D ViewDock projector, the industry's first 1024×768 XGA resolution DLP model with an integrated iPod dock. The PJ258D even charges the iPod's battery while its digital content is being played.
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Jay Ankeney is an industry consultant and former TV network engineer living in the Los Angeles area.
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