Madrigal Imaging MP-9 CRT projector Page 2
Manual convergence of the MP-9 was not difficult but required more patience and skill than the average owner is likely to be blessed with. For those cursed with short tempers and 10 thumbs, the ACON II auto-convergence system works well. While not quite as precise as a careful manual setup, it's a worthwhile feature for the less technically inclined. You should be aware, however, that the auto-convergence feature involves several minutes of colored squares flashing across the screen. Flashing lights have been known to trigger seizures in susceptible individuals.
I lived with two samples of the MP-9 over several months. The first worked well at first, with no obvious faults. It seemed a bit less bright than I expected from 9-inch CRTs—I wasn't able to get much more than 8 foot-Lamberts of light output onto my 7-foot, 1.3-gain screen without noticeable image degradation. But I attributed this to both the screen size and the light-blocking, color-correcting filters. The latter can sacrifice as much as 20% of a projector's potential brightness.
Later, however, the projector's color quality and detail deteriorated slightly. I was becoming vaguely unhappy with the picture, though there was no clearly visible degradation I could point to with ordinary video material. But a recheck of the gray scale revealed that it was not tracking well. It had shifted noticeably to green in the midrange, and slightly to red on the bright end. The projector also jumped unbidden into the wrong setup mode several times (at turn-on, never during actual viewing), which caused it to lose both accurate geometry and convergence. The proper settings were still in the projector's memory and could be retrieved, but this had to be done by looking up the correct setup number in the onscreen menus and selecting it manually. This was another clue that something was amiss.
Setup man Grieco confirmed that the first sample was not performing up to par. It would not track a gray scale even at the low light output of 4.5ft-L. Madrigal ultimately concluded that the problem was somewhere in the motherboard, which is located beneath the CRT/lens assemblies. Rather than wait for a major repair, they submitted a second sample of the projector. The replacement was a noticeable improvement. The gray-scale tracking was vastly better, clearly demonstrating the advantages of color filtering (see "Calibration" sidebar). The peak brightness was still limited by the filters, but I was able to increase the output to 10.4ft-L with no visible loss of sharpness and only a small sacrifice in gray-scale linearity. The image on the second sample also looked slightly more detailed, though the improvement here was relatively subtle. Finally, in about six weeks of service it never jumped out of the proper setup.
The overall picture quality provided by the second, properly functioning sample of the MP-9 was anything but subtle. From a technical perspective, it performed about as well as any CRT I've seen—perhaps as well as anyone is ever likely to see from this mature technology. Most of the important test patterns on Video Essentials and The Avia Guide to Home Theater looked about as good as is possible with standard-definition images.
It wasn't perfect, but what is? On a crosshatch pattern, the geometry at the periphery of the picture wasn't perfectly straight. The blue convergence on the first sample was never spot-on. And while the second sample converged very well and the convergence was stable (assuming proper mechanical setup), I would have preferred a few more convergence zones than the 45 provided. That number seems generous, but I sometimes wished for a little more control in the areas between the zones.
However, none of these minor problems was visible with real-world program material. With DVDs, the quality of the MP-9's picture could set me back on my heels. On the new anamorphic transfer of Fly Away Home, the colors were superb, from the green of the foliage to the deep red of Amy's flight suit and helmet. Flesh tones were accurate. The image was crisp, easily revealing the presence of excessive edge enhancement on some scenes, and the shadow detail and blacks were impossible to criticize. Enemy at the Gates is an even better transfer—extraordinary, in fact, and one of the best I've seen this year. The MP-9 was a standout here as well, producing convincing depth and realistic though subdued color. The film itself is deliberately drab-looking, although, unlike Saving Private Ryan, it's not grainy. The picture was sharp without going over the edge into an unnatural "video" look. There was simply nothing to complain about.