Runco QuantumColor Q-650i LED-DLP Projector Page 2
Single-chip DLP projectors often have a common weak spot: a rotating, mechanical color wheel that’s not only a potential source of wear, but more importantly, can produce the rainbow artifact. DLP rainbows are brief flashes of multihued colors that can pop up on certain types of programming (bright highlights on a dark background are particularly susceptible to them). They can be highly distracting to those sensitive to them (not all people are). But the Q-650i needs no color wheel. It performs the same function by sequential flashing of its multicolored LEDs. LEDs can operate at a much higher rate than any color wheel, which largely eliminates the problem. I can’t speak for those who may be even more sensitive than I am to this artifact, but it has always annoyed me. In the weeks I lived with the Runco, I didn’t see a single rainbow. The Q-650i is a DLP projector without tears.
Of the features offered by the Q-650i, perhaps the most unusual and controversial is the ability to expand the color gamut far beyond what is called for by the HD-color standard. Projection lamps can do this trick also, and sometimes do, but they can’t widen the gamut as much as LEDs can. There are problems with this, however. If you expand the playback-color gamut beyond that used to produce the source (and there are indeed color standards for source production, including Rec. 709 for HD), the color you see will be wrong. While we can accept unnatural color on many things, flesh tones are another matter. To compensate for this, Runco adds a feature called Runco Smart Color (RSC). It is designed to bring flesh tones back into the believable range while producing a wider-than-standard color gamut for everything else.
Because we are mainly interested here in how accurately a video display can reproduce our current program sources, all of the following commentary, unless noted otherwise, refers to the projector when calibrated as closely as possible to the HD standards for grayscale and color gamut. The projector’s creative color options can be turned off; they were not used in this review apart from checking them out. How did they work? They weren’t nearly as cartoonish as you might expect, and on some material they could be addictive. But how you choose to use—or not use—them is a personal decision. It’s your $10,000 that buys the projector. Just be aware that these settings produce creative, but not accurate, color. (For more on this, see the sidebar, “Color Commentary.”)
Light Me Up
The Q-650i sailed through our Video Test Bench cleanly; in fact, it did even better than required to earn passing grades. It only went below video black (level 16) by a few steps (it clipped below level 12), but that’s satisfactory for video sources. More importantly, it went well above video white without clipping. You can push the Contrast level from the setting I used (60) up to 70 or even 80 and still maintain a reasonable clipping margin above white if your screen demands a little more brightness. But high Contrast settings will clip green and red well before they clip white. The Q-650i clips Blue at any usable Contrast level, but that’s common to most of the projectors we test. Blue clipping does not appear to have visible consequences with typical program material.
Even at $10,000, the Q-650i will not produce sufficient brightness on very large screens to satisfy everyone. Runco recommends screens between 72 and 92 inches, although it doesn’t specify if that is wide or diagonal, nor the screen gain. I had two screens available to me: my 12-year-young, 78-inch-wide Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 130 (16:9, gain 1.3), and a 101-inch-wide Elite Osprey (2.35:1, gain 1.1, reviewed in October 2011). I elected to conduct the tests, and most of my viewing, on the StudioTek 130. Because the brightness on a screen is proportional to screen size and gain (all else being equal), I calculated that the roughly 17 foot-lamberts the Q-650i produced on the StudioTek would be reduced to under 9 ft-L on the larger, lower-gain Elite. The Q-650i has no high- or low-Lamp options. The choice was a no-brainer; I used the Stewart throughout this review.
If you do want a larger screen with this projector and, as I do, like a bright image, your only option is a higher-gain screen. (For more on those, see “Screen Play: Got Gain?”)
How did the Q-650i fare on the StudioTek screen? Exceptionally well. The only place it faltered slightly was in its black-level performance, and there only in comparison to some of the better LCOS and LCD projectors that offer state-of-the-art blacks, some with dynamic irises, some without. The ConstantContrast feature, which simulates the effect of a dynamic iris, was very effective, and to get the results I describe here, you must use it. In its Medium setting, the resulting black level and shadow detail were typical of what we’ve seen and measured from other good, single-chip DLPs. Dark scenes with bright highlights in films such as Real Steel came across convincingly. Films that were almost exclusively photographed in dim lighting, such as any of the last few Harry Potter movies, didn’t quite elicit the, “Wow, look at those blacks” reactions we’ve had with recent non-DLP projectors from Sony and JVC.
But the Q-650i’s black level and shadow-detail shortcomings, compared with those other projectors, were only obvious with a full-black screen, or, sometimes, on the black bars visible with sources other than 16:9. Dark scenes never looked grayed out unless the brightness level was set too high or the chosen gamma setting was inappropriate. As noted earlier, I found that my preferred gamma varied between the 2.2 and 2.35 settings, depending on the source. The 2.35 setting could look a little too dark when used with the Brightness setting optimum for a gamma of 2.2; dropping the Brightness two or three steps with the 2.35 gamma setting helped counteract this. Gamma and brightness should be largely independent of each other, but sometimes they’re not.
Single-chip DLPs can’t have the panel convergence issues of multichip optical engines, so they have a greater potential for crisp detail, and the Q-650i scores big here. I did notice a trace of chromatic aberration on crosshatch test patterns (this resembles panel misalignment but can vary across the screen since it originates elsewhere in the optical path, usually in the lens). But this was inconsequential on normal program material, and I haven’t seen any projector at anywhere near this price with superior reproduction of fine details with no artificial edginess at all.
Detail is simply not a concern with this projector. When it comes to motion blur, DLP technology is generally superior to either LCD or LCOS, and that’s the case with the Q-650i. There is some loss of detail on rapidly moving images, but that’s true not only of other DLPs we’ve seen but on theatrical film projection as well; 24 fps will never have fast motion that’s both glassy smooth and blur free. The motion interpolation some projectors offer can help, but at a cost to the familiar film look many of us don’t want to pay. In any event, the Q-650i doesn’t offer motion interpolation.
I’ve already spilled a lot of ink discussing the Runco’s color performance. So I’ll only say here that when it’s properly calibrated, I had absolutely no issues with it. Both technically and visually, it was just about ideal. Whether I was watching brightly lit, animated features like Beauty and the Beast, naturally photographed material like Legends of Flight (a documentary I highly recommend for both picture and sound), or stunningly colored, live-action films like Shakespeare in Love, the Q-650i left me with nothing to complain about. I can’t imagine you’ll be disappointed, either. But do get it calibrated, and unless you like exaggerated color, save that Native/RSC setting mainly for your next get-together featuring party hats and confetti.
You can get slightly better black levels and shadow detail with a few competing (and even cheaper) lamp-based projectors. They will also be bright enough to light up a larger, modest-gain screen in a way this Runco can’t. And they’ll likely offer 3D to boot. But none of them will provide better color or crisper detail than the Q-650i. Nor will they offer the freedom from concerns about gradual lamp deterioration.
You’ll never have to worry after 1,000 hours or so if your picture has somehow gone south, prompting the need to write a check for a new lamp and another for a fresh calibration. In fact, the 650i doesn’t even have a amp timer. I expect that LED-based consumer projectors will eventually offer higher brightness and cost less. But that will be a gradual process, one that is sure to be slowed significantly by the requirements of 3D home projection, which is none too bright even with a lamp behind the lens. But for now, the Q-650i is the most affordable 2D LED projection game in town, and I enjoyed every minute I spent with it.