Planar PD8150 DLP Projector Real-World Performance
Black level is just one area in which the PD8150 excels. The key here is Planar's DynamicBlack feature, a dynamic-iris technology first developed by the DLP gurus at Texas Instruments. For the PD8150, Planar claims to have improved on the TI original. I didn't have a projector on hand with a "stock" TI DynamicBlack implementation, but based on my results, the claim isn't hard to believe.
Up to now, dynamic irises haven't been particularly successful on DLP projectors, but Planar's DynamicBlack changes all that. Its measured black level, even with DynamicBlack engaged, is not exceptional—it's about average for a good DLP design—but it is remarkable when you consider the projector's high brightness, even with its lamp in Economy mode. The Planar is significantly brighter than any other DLP projector I've tested that offers comparable blacks.
I spotted the dynamic iris pumping only once. In chapter 4 of The Golden Compass on Blu-ray, there's a dinner scene in which I could see the brightness shift up and down slightly as DynamicBlack searched for the right setting, which it never quite found. It almost looked like lamp flicker. But this was so rare, and the advantages of DynamicBlack are so obvious, I never seriously considered switching it off permanently.
I've frequently referred to the opening, under-deck scenes in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World as severe tests of black level and shadow detail, but this is the first time I've been able to check it out in high definition, courtesy of the new Blu-ray transfer. The scenes remain as difficult as ever, and the Planar isn't the best I've seen on them. In the projector world, that honor is reserved for the JVC DLA-HD100 and its professionally distributed twin, the DLA-RS2. But apart from a slight gray haze that crept into the darkest shots, the result was fully convincing on the Planar.
In chapter 4 of Signs on Blu-ray, as Graham (Mel Gibson) glances out the window, he spots a shadowed stranger standing on the roof next to the chimney. The shot of the stranger lasts only about a second, with very little illumination to lend detail to this low-contrast scene, but the PD8150 allowed me to see the character's outline clearly.
The Planar also excelled at detail. Whether it was that simple, shadowed figure on the roof, the massed armies in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, or the incredible detail in of The Golden Compass—a flawed film but a gorgeous transfer—the Planar brought out all the resolution you could possibly want from the best Blu-ray titles.
I had no complaints about the color, either. It was as impressive as the measurements indicate, with precise flesh tones and greens that were more natural-looking than I've seen on most digital displays.
All single-chip DLP projectors are subject to the so-called "rainbow effect"—flashes of color caused by the rotating color wheel and the characteristics of the eye. And the brighter the projector, the more obvious this effect can be. Some people are totally immune to seeing this effect, while others are not. I'm in the latter group. I did occasionally spot rainbows on the Planar, but they were infrequent and merely a minor distraction.
A few miscellaneous thoughts: Overall, the Planar was reasonably quiet, though its case creaked occasionally as the lamp warmed it up. (This appeared to diminish as the hours on the review unit increased past 50.) As I write this, I'm still undecided on my favorite Gamma setting—Film or CRT—though my preference seems to vary with the program material. I found BrilliantColor useful occasionally, but again, this was highly dependent on the source.
One important point is that the Planar will not currently reproduce above-white or below-black. This did not appear to compromise the subjective quality of the projector, but it does make setting the brightness and contrast more difficult. Planar has informed me that a fix is in the works, and a firmware update will be issued for existing units.
I ran into another problem when I rechecked the other inputs just before deadline. Apart from HDMI 1, none of the HDMI or component inputs worked properly. HDMI 2 displayed a bright-green image, and both component inputs were distinctly purple. This could not be corrected with any Color Space setting. The most puzzling thing was that the Component 1 input looked fine when I used it to measure component resolution early in the review, but when I tried it at the end, it was definitely not fine.
After consulting with Planar, it became clear that the problem was related to saving setups into memory. When I did a factory reset from the user menu, the problem cleared up, but when I then saved some settings in memory for the HDMI 1 input, it reappeared on the other inputs. (I had performed my resolution tests on the component input before saving any settings, which is why that input looked okay early on.)
Next, the company rep suggested that I perform a factory reset from the service menu, which seemed to clear up the problem altogether—all inputs looked right even after saving something in a user memory. Just to be sure, Planar shipped me a second sample with the same firmware, which did not exhibit the problem.