SIM2 Grand Cinema HT300 DLP video projector Calibration
Because our test gear is located at our California headquarters and Steven Stone lives in Colorado, the measurement and calibration of the HT300 took place after SS had finished his review.—Ed.
While the Grand Cinema HT300's gray scale, as delivered, provided a reasonably natural, acceptable picture, it did not measure well. In all settings there was an excess of green and a lack of red. At Low and Medium, the coordinates were off enough to prevent our measurement device, the Photo Research PR650 SpecraScan spectroradiometer, from registering a number for the color temperature. At High, the color temperature measured above 9000 kelvins.
While separate red, green, and blue adjustments are provided in the User color-temperature option, I had better success calibrating the HT300 using the gray-scale controls in the service menu. These provide separate adjustments for the three primary colors at both the high and low ends of the brightness range. The results are shown in the accompanying chart. The final color coordinates were just slightly minus red at the low and top ends, and a little plus red from 40 to 80 IRE. There was also just a trace of measurable (but invisible) excess green across the range. The gray scale can be separately adjusted for standard and high-definition sources.
The measurements shown here were taken on a Stewart FireHawk screen (16:9, 80 inches wide), which we have determined to have a gain of 1.08. On this screen, the peak white output was 14.1 foot-Lamberts before calibration, 10.9 ft-L after. The latter was the maximum the projector would produce; attempts to further increase the contrast just clipped the peak white and did not result in a higher output. Measurements were also taken on a Stewart StudioTek 130 screen. The color temperatures of both screens were virtually identical, differing by an imperceptible maximum of 118K. But the output on the higher-gain StudioTek, with the controls unchanged, was 13.2 ft-L. This verified our previously measured FireHawk gain of just under 1.08 (this figure assumes the StudioTek gain to be 1.3, as specified).
We haven't yet met a DLP projector that could meet or exceed its manufacturer's specs for contrast, and the HT300 was no exception. On the StudioTek 130 screen, I measured a full on/full off contrast level of 472, still a very good figure for this type of projector. The On condition was the measured output from a 100 IRE, full white field; the Off reading was taken on the black field produced by selecting an inoperative input. Interestingly, with the FireHawk screen this figure increased slightly, to 495. But measured differently, the contrast improved significantly with the FireHawk. Using a 16-square ANSI checkerboard pattern and discarding the low and high readings, the averaged, measured contrast was 70 on the StudioTek, 105 on the FireHawk. Using a 100 IRE window and comparing the peak center output with an average of five readings taken in the middle of the black border, the contrast on a StudioTek was 172 vs. 274 on the FireHawk.
Both the ANSI checkerboard and 100 IRE figures are slightly compromised by the fact that some light from the environment reflected back onto the screen, reducing the depth of the blacks. My home-theater space is not a black hole to such reflections, and neither, I suspect, is yours. But while these contrast figures are therefore intended for comparative purposes only and not as laboratory-grade numbers, we suspect they're representative of the results most users will encounter in real-world use in light-controlled rooms.
As measured with the Avia Guide to Home Theater DVD, the HT300 resolved a full 525 horizontal lines and its response extended up to 6.75MHz. Overscan measured 2% left, 1% right, and 0% top and bottom. One problem I encountered was that the keystone adjustments actually reduced the size of the picture in the dimension being altered. In other words, if you change the vertical keystone to a setting other than "0", after a few steps the picture no longer quite fills the screen from top to bottom, though the proportions of the image itself are not visibly affected.
Like SS, I found the high-pitched noise from the HT300's color wheel clearly audible in a quiet room. The excess light coming from the case is not as serious as with the InFocus ScreenPlay 110, and shouldn't be much of an issue if the projector is mounted behind the seating position. Nevertheless, more light spills from this projector than from any other dedicated home-theater DLP we have reviewed recently, except the far cheaper InFocus.
While I, too, occasionally saw rainbows from the HT300, I was not much bothered by them. They did seem to be more obvious on a StudioTek screen (the model SS used) than on the FireHawk, suggesting that higher light output makes them more visible. In any case, I did not see them in my dreams, nor was I bothered by the sort of DLP fatigue SS mentions. Perhaps, like rainbows, this reaction is strongly viewer-dependent.
I've found that some LCD and DLP projectors benefit from minor tweaks to their gamma curves. Gamma is the relationship between the luminance signal from the source and the light output produced by a display device. Because the similar relationship at the source end (DVD, broadcast, etc.) is not linear, the playback gamma must be nonlinear also, preferably in an inverse ratio to the source. The HT300 does provide Video, Film, and Graphics gamma settings, but beyond those I used the gamma control offered in the Kenwood Sovereign DV-5700 DVD player, set to -1 or -2. (Many other DVD players offer similar adjustments, though their implementation varies widely; experimentation will be required to determine which settings, if any, are suitable.) This produced a slight enhancement to the punchiness of the image, without degrading the visible contrast or hyping the picture to an unnatural degree.
Used as described above, calibrated, and viewed on the FireHawk screen, the HT300 performed impressively. On some material, in fact, the result was better than impressive—it was amazing. Like SS, I found the picture strikingly sharp and crisp, though not as highly resolved as the best CRT projectors—maximum resolution and subjective sharpness aren't the same thing. Colors were well saturated and believably natural, with particularly rich reds. As received, the HT300's flesh tones were tinged a bit yellow on some material, but that largely disappeared after calibration. The lack of a light "halo" around the image, made possible by the true 16:9 panel, was welcome.
On the FireHawk, blacks were surprisingly good for a DLP. Not CRT-good—the new projection technologies aren't yet that far along—but satisfying. The image rarely had that washed-out, gray-haze look, even on my favorite black-level test scenes from High Fidelity. But there was a tradeoff: At 10.9 ft-L, the picture on the FireHawk screen could look just a little drab. Daylight scenes, in particular, were not fully convincing. Inherently bright material looked more real on the StudioTek, but dark scenes on that screen returned to the gray- rather than black-shadows look typical of most DLPs. The StudioTek also reduced the colors' richness.
For me, the FireHawk produced the best compromise overall, but only for relatively small screens. Sim2 also recommends a gray screen for use with this projector. But because the HT300 produced just under 11 ft-L output on my 80-inch-wide FireHawk, I would not recommend this screen material for a picture much over 7 feet wide. The light reflected from a screen is directly proportional to the screen's size. An 84-inch-wide screen is 1.1x the size of an 80-incher; 11 ft-L becomes 10 on the larger surface. Increase the screen's width to 8 feet and the light output drops to 7.6 ft-L. But on the higher-gain StudioTek, that 7.6 ft-L jumps back up to 9.1. On a larger screen, moreover, the benefits of the gray material become less significant. Larger screens can, in themselves, provide better blacks because the increase in size reduces the reflected light in both bright and dark parts of the image in the same proportion.
SS was unable to view high-definition material on the HT300, but I did. It performed superbly with both 720p and 1080i signals—the latter, of course, rescaled to 720p by the projector. This rescaling did not appear to produce significant artifacts, at least not on the material I viewed. All the qualities I saw on DVDs were also present on HD, enhanced by HD's improved resolution, detail, and wider color gamut.
The only concern I have about the HT300 on the hi-def front is its lack of any sort of DVI or FireWire connection. This may prove more than an inconvenience in the future, should the film studios have their way and down-rez the quality of HD tuners' analog outputs. At present, the likelihood of that eventuality remains fuzzy (pun intended) but not inconceivable.
As I write this, there are five major players in the single-chip home DLP market offering projectors with true widescreen chips: Dwin, Marantz, Runco, Sharp, and Sim2. As the competition heats up, others will surely follow. None of these are cheap, but of the group, only the Runco is more expensive than the HT300—something to consider in any purchase decision, as well as the fact that, by next year, we'll be seeing projectors based on the new, lower-cost HD2 chip, with supposedly better blacks. (At this point, the latter improvement remains conjecture.)
But technology forges ahead, and there will always be something new over that next hill. Here and now, the HT300 is a superb DLP projector that even this die-hard CRT proponent could happily live with. —Thomas J. Norton