NEC HT1100 DLP video projector
The HT1100 is, in most ways, the HT1000's twin—not a bad thing. The input complement is the same, and the HT1100 has the same short-throw zoom lens; as with the BenQ PE8700 (reviewed elsewhere in this issue), plan on positioning the NEC relatively close to the screen—a maximum of about one foot away for every eight inches of screen width. Zoom and focus are manual, and there is a continuously variable iris setting but no lens shift. NEC's so-called 3D Reform feature provides both horizontal and vertical keystone correction; like all such controls, it is best used sparingly, if at all.
Carried over from the HT1000 are selectable overscan (best set to "0%") and full picture adjustments; there are nine discrete color-temperature settings, plus full color-temperature calibration controls in the user menu as well. The new NEC uses the same 4:3, 1024x768 chip as the HT1000. When set for 16:9, it produces a maximum widescreen resolution of 1024x576. It will rescale and show HDTV images at this pixel count, but can't display them at full HDTV resolution.
The HT1000's menus appear to have been extensively redesigned for the HT1100. The design of the new, smaller remote is a tradeoff neither better nor worse than the old model: this one is partially illuminated, but with smaller, less finger-friendly buttons.
NEC's Sweet Vision IITM feature is supposed to increase contrast, but as far as I could tell, it mainly enhanced detail. Still, it has a wider, more precise range of adjustment than before, and now operates with 480p sources as well as 480i. Most of the time I left it off; at any setting above "4," the image looked artificially sharpened.
NEC claims superior brightness for the HT1100, though it uses the same bulb as the HT1000. Perhaps it's the new 5x color wheel (I doubt it), but I did sense subjectively more brightness than before, even though the measured brightness was essentially the same. I used the lamp's Economy setting, as I had with the HT1000 (the fan is very quiet in this setting), but this time with the Iris control at mid-position instead of fully open.
I got the best picture from the HT1100 with its specialized video controls set somewhat differently from what I'd used with the HT1000. Here I had good results with the Video Filter, Noise Reduction, Sweet Vision II Black Expansion, and Contrast Enhancement all turned off (I'd used the latter two with the HT1000), and Gamma Correction set to Black Detail. The only downside to this last setting was that images could sometimes look a little dark on my FireHawk screen; a small tweak of the Brightness control fixed this for most program material.
Color in general, and flesh tones in particular, were beyond serious complaint. My sample of the HT1000 had had a slightly rosy hue to the mid-gray region, even after calibration. Not the HT1100. Rainbows, while not completely absent, were not distracting.
I'd hardly change my July/August 2003 comments on the HT1000 to describe the HT1100. Yes, a few new, pricier projectors with very good black levels and shadow detail have passed through my studio since that review. Nevertheless, as set up with my Stewart FireHawk screen (80 inches wide, 16:9), the HT1100 gives up little, even to a number of more expensive competitors, in moving DLP performance further along that elusive path to CRT quality.
Only when I compared it directly to Sharp's much more expensive ($11,999), HD-capable XV-Z12000 (reviewed in the May 2004 Guide) were the NEC's limitations clear. DVDs were a little crisper on the Sharp, but otherwise, the differences with good standard-definition material were not dramatic. The NEC looked surprisingly good with hi-def material, but switching over to the higher-resolution projector produced an obvious improvement in clarity and that "looking out a window" experience—something the standard-def NEC could not provide.
One option that I didn't test with the HT1000 is an outboard anamorphic lens ($1295 estimated street price) that NEC makes available for the HT1100. Fastened to the projector's own lens, it allows you to use the chip's full vertical resolution—meaning that the number of horizontal lines (rows of pixels) increases from 576 to 768, while the horizontal resolution remains at 1024. It's still not full HDTV, but it's closer.
The anamorphically lensed image appeared brighter and a little crisper, but there was a problem: With the projector and lens set up to produce what should have been a properly proportioned, undistorted image from an enhanced (anamorphic) DVD, the picture was actually stretched vertically by about 2.5%. This may not sound like much, but the aberration was easy to spot as an elongation on familiar objects, particularly human faces. Without the anamorphic lens, the HT1100's geometry was essentially perfect. I can't recommend the anamorphic lens option.
The HT1100's DVI input worked well with a DVD source, but after much fussing with the video adjustments, I preferred the component image. It produced—surprisingly—better subjective contrast and more 3-dimensional image. The only problem with the component input was that it would not display below black on a PLUGE test pattern from either an interlaced or a progressive source. The DVI input did.
In my review of NEC's HT1000, I remarked that I was more than excited by the projector's performance. That goes double for the HT1100. I conclude here as I did then: The HT1100 is "a whale of a projector in a guppy-sized package." I hope that NEC is now burning the midnight oil to bring us the same value in a model that uses Texas Instruments' latest widescreen, HD2+ chip, for full high-definition capability!