4K Projectors Come to Home Theaters
Anyone who has seen 4K-resolution images on big-screen displays knows how detailed and impressive these images can be. Now it is possible to have 4K projectors for personal home theaters.
by Chris Chinnock
HOME-THEATER PROJECTORS, those with 1080p resolution and higher, represent a small but important segment of the display industry. With ever increasing performance and falling prices, high-quality 1080p home-theater projectors can now be purchased for as little as $1500. Other products span the range to over $100K, so it is possible to pay anything you want (or can afford) for a home-theater projector.
At CEDIA 2010, the big news was the introduction of the first 1080p 3-D projectors using LCOS and DLP technology. At CEDIA 2011, Insight Media saw the expansion of 3-D projector models with LCOS and DLP technology as well as the introduction of 3-D projectors using 3LCD technology. In addition, we saw the debut of 4K projectors from Sony and JVC – but using different technical approaches. Such innovations continue to make this segment interesting and relevant.
Sony Goes for Native 4K Approach
Sony Electronics has unveiled the VPL-VW1000ES4K projector, which uses a trio of 4K (4096 x 2160) native-resolution SXRD (LCOS) panels to create a beautiful image. The new projector uses 0.74-in. SXRD panels – half the diagonal size of previous 4K micro-displays from the company. That represents a pixel pitch of just over 4 μm – a state-of-the-art density.
With 2000 ANSI lumens of brightness, the VPL-VW1000ES4K projector (Fig. 1) delivers nearly twice the output of previous Sony home-theater projectors, making it suitable for screen sizes up to 200 in. diagonally in 2-D mode and 150 in. in 3-D mode. The VW1000ES4K model also employs an entirely new SXRD 4K panel, which produces deep black levels. When combined with Sony's Iris3 technology, the projector can achieve a dynamic contrast of 1,000,000:1.
Fig. 1: The Sony VPL-VW1000ES4K projector includes a 4K "upscaling" feature that enables 4K playback, even from pre-existing media.
The VW1000ES4K projector includes an exclusive 4K "upscaler" that dramatically enhances all content – SD or HD, 2-D or 3-D – allowing viewers to see 4K playback, even from their existing media libraries. Other features include an integrated IR transmitter that drives the projector's TDG-PJ1 active-shutter 3-D glasses, dual triggers, a 2.1 motorized zoom, expanded throw distances, a RS232 interface, control over IP, and compatibility with leading home automation systems.
Sony acknowledges that there is no infra-structure for delivering 4K video to homes today, but the company hopes to see new Blu-ray players and AV receivers that can support 4K content and for Hollywood to release content in this resolution. The HMDI 1.4a standard does have provisions for delivery of 4K content, but to the best of our knowledge, no silicon solutions can support this data rate yet. The one source of 4K content available to consumers is still images that they can capture with imagers that have more than 8.8 Mpixels. These are readily available today and 4K consumer video camcorders are probably not that far off either.
We had a chance to see a demo of Sony's 4K projector vs. a 1080p projector with 4K upscaling. Identical 4K images were used with the native-resolution image fed to the VW1000ES4K projector and a downscaled 1080p image fed to the other projector. What was unclear is how this 1080p image was then processed to show the 4K image.
The side-by-side comparison did show a difference in image quality, with fine details being sharper on the native VW1000ES4K projector. Sony said the VW1000ES4K will sell for under $25K, but JVC's e-Shift 4K projector (described next) will be half the price, which will certainly be appealing to consumers.
Sony said the VW1000ES4K is the first in a new line of projectors the company will offer with native 4K panels. Mike Abary, Senior Vice-President of Sony Electronics' Home Division noted, "We're also adding resources to support our leading service programs and working with channel partners to provide dedicated support and training that no other company can match." The VW1000ES4K should ship in December, but it is unclear if this includes a lens or not.
JVC Debuts e-Shift QFHD Technology
While Sony has taken a native 4K panel approach to offering a 4K home-theater projector, JVC has taken a different path. JVC achieves 4K (actually QFHD resolution of 3840 x 2160) images by using a 1080p panel and electronically shifting it in space to create a 4K image at the screen surface. JVC calls this e-Shift technology, and it will probably have a big impact on the home-theater and professional markets (see Fig. 2).
Fig. 2: JVC's DLA-X90R projector incorporates the company's new e-Shift technology.
The concept of spatially shifting a projected image to fill in additional pixels and thereby increase the on-screen resolution is not new. Insight Media knows of at least three efforts that have produced higher-resolution images in this manner. One question that many are sure to ask is Who controls the IP around this issue?
We saw a demo of this e-Shift technology at CEDIA and found the resulting image to be excellent. JVC includes algorithms that focus on identifying and enhancing fine details – and they are apparent in the upscaled QFHD image.
JVC will offer the upconverting technology in four of its seven new 3-D-enabled projectors (see Table 1) that boast a wide range of advancements. However, the 3-D mode does not work with e-Shift, so 3-D content is shown in 1920 x 1080 resolution.
Earlier this year, NHK Science & Technology Research Laboratories, NHK Engineering Service, Inc., and JVC Kenwood Corporation collaborated in the development of a Super High Vision projection system that utilizes e-Shift technology. Now, that technology is available in the DLA-X90R/DLA-RS65 and DLA-X70R/DLA-RS55 projectors. These projectors replace last year's DLA-X7/DLA-RS50 and DLA-X9/DLA-RS60 pairs but add all the new features for the same pricing.
The paired models are essentially the same, but with different distribution channels. These models are also scheduled to undergo THX 3-D certification, which uses more than 400 laboratory tests to evaluate color accuracy, cross-talk, viewing angles, and video processing to ensure superior out-of-the-box 3-D and 2-D display performance.
These e-shift models include a new 1/16 pixel-shift function to precisely tune convergence via 121 adjustment points (11 vertical x 11 horizontal) and an increased number of screen-mode preset positions. There are also three xenon-lamp color modes that emulate the characteristics of high-end movie projectors.
All seven of the above projectors are available now, are 3-D-enabled, and offer several 3-D performance and feature enhancements:
• A 2-D–to–3-D converter that converts 2-D program material to 3-D using technology derived from JVC's professional 2-D–to–3-D converter. Included are user adjustments for 3-D depth and subtitle geometry correction.
• JVC's 3-D anamorphic feature combined with an optional anamorphic lens make it possible to enjoy 3-D movies in the popular 2:35 scope format.
• Compatibility with a wider range of 3-D broadcasts, including 1080p/24 and 720p side-by-side formats.
• Brighter 3-D images than previous models through the use of an improved driver that keeps the shutter on the active-shutter 3-D glasses open longer, thus allowing more light to enter, while at the same time minimizing cross-talk.
• A cross-talk canceller further reduces cross-talk through analysis of the left-eye and right-eye signals and by applying appropriate correction (this sounds similar to "ghost busting" technology developed by RealD).
• A parallax adjustment allows the user to tailor the 3-D image effect.
• Direct access to 3-D formats and settings on the remote control.
Epson and Panasonic Introduce 3-D Projectors Using 3LCD Imagers
Thus far, 3-D projectors based on DLP and LCOS technology have dominated the commercial and custom install markets. Now, 3LCD technology can offer 3-D images too. At CEDIA, Epson took the wraps off five 3-D projectors, while Panasonic showed its first 3-D 1080p home cinema model – all using newly developed 3LCD panels that operate at a 480-Hz refresh rate, which Epson calls "Bright 3D Drive."
This high-speed addressing allows 3-D images to be about 1.5x the brightness of 3-D images produced by 240-Hz HTPS panels. Note that Epson is not claiming the projectors are 1.5x brighter than DLP 3-D projectors, but that the drive scheme of a 240-Hz panel will enable this increase compared to a 240-Hz panel. This high speed of addressing is enabled by the use of the Epson D9 process for the high-temperature polysilcon (HTPS) backplane.
The increased brightness comes from the reduced blanking time required for 480-Hz addressing compared to 240-Hz addressing, as shown in Fig. 3. In 3-D HTPS systems, the image needs to be blanked while both the left and right images are on the screen. This can be done either by turning off the light source or by closing both shutters in a shutter-glass system or by using both techniques.
Fig. 3: Epson's 3-D timing diagram for its 480-Hz projector panel shows how 3-D imagery can be made brighter. Source: Epson.
In 240-Hz addressing, portions of both images are on the screen for 1/240 sec or 4.2 mS for each image while for 480-Hz addressing, portions of both images only appear on the screen for 1/480 sec or 2.1 mS. Note that with either 480- or 240-Hz drives, one addressing cycle must be blanked when a 3-D image is displayed. The increase in brightness comes from the fact that this addressing period is significantly shorter with 480 Hz than with 240 Hz.
In either the 480- or 240-Hz case, however, the overall refresh rate seen by each eye is 60 Hz. While these panels are discussed by Epson in terms of shutter-glass 3-D systems, the polarized nature of 3LCD projectors would also allow the panels to be used in projection systems that employ passive glasses. The 1.5x brightness advantage of 480-Hz panels vs. 240-Hz panels would be the same regardless of whether active or passive glasses are used.
In its Home Cinema line, Epson introduced four new models: the 3010, 3010e, 5010, and 5010e. Perhaps the most interesting unit in this lineup is the entry-level Home Cinema 3010. This unit offers 2200 lm, FHD resolution, a dynamic comtrats of 40,000:1, split-screen mode for watching two pictures at once or watching TV and using the Internet at the same time, built-in 2-D–to–3-D conversion, and 3-D operation via shutter glasses for only $1600. The panel updates at 480 Hz, but 3-D images are refreshed at 120 Hz. The extra cycles are used for frame interpolation to reduce motion artifacts. The 3010e version is the wireless model ($200 extra). It uses the WirelessHD standard to send uncompressed high-definition video over short distances to the projector. Both will ship this fall.
The step-up 5010/5010e models offer the same features and functions (speced with a slightly higher brightness of 2400 lm), but with a much higher contrast of 200,000:1. The 5010 has an an MSRP of $2999; the 5010e goes for $3499. Both are available now.
The 6010 model is part of the Pro Cinema line with specs similar to the 5010, but it is distinguished by having ISF certification, two anamorphic lens modes, two pairs of glasses, color isolation, a ceiling mount, cable cover, and an extra lamp for installation flexibility. The 6010 is available for $3999.
We had a chance to see the 6010 in action at CEDIA, where the 3-D movie Yogi Bear was playing in Epson's theater. The colors and contrast certainly looked good, but there were some motion artifacts that were visible, plus some minor ghosting and cardboarding. A second demo featured Epson's 2-D–to–3-D conversion technology. The quality of this conversion was just fair.
Panasonic's new projector using these panels is called the PT-AE7000. The optical system features a new 200-W red-rich lamp and the new LCD panels offer a higher aperture ratio for increased red luminance and brightness output. The result is a 1080p projector with 2000 lm and a 300,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio. The projector is also equipped with a dual-core processing engine so that it can process 3-D signals with all of the benefits of 2-D image enhancements. It is a shutter-glass-based solution that also includes 2-D–to–3-D conversion and the ability of the user to adjust the disparity and color of the left- and right-eye images independently. The three HDMI inputs support x,v Color and Deep Color, and there is lens-shift capability for 100% vertical adjustment and 26% horizontal adjustment. This should be a pretty sweet home-theater projector. It is available now with an MSRP of $3499.
In conclusion, it is fair to say that innovation continues to drive the home-theater market. The projectors profiled here will offer some of the best images consumers can see – albeit at a price point that is much higher than a comparable flat-panel TV. But a market exists for these projectors and as long as it does, we should continue to see cutting-edge performance from this product area. •