Yamaha DPX-1 DLP video projector Page 3
I could see no clearly visible evidence of the DPX-1's pixel structure from a viewing distance of about 12 feet. The images produced by the Yamaha were superbly sharp, and looked consistently crisper than those from most CRTs—even CRTs with theoretically higher resolution. It's a fact that the grid of hard-edged, intersecting lines dividing the individual pixels in any fixed-pixel projector provides a degree of artificial sharpening, even when you're not consciously aware of it. I never was, but with some program material the subjective detail from the Yamaha could look a little unnatural. This was particularly true of material with with excessive edge enhancement—The Wedding Planner, for example, did not look as effortlessly detailed as Snatch or Proof of Life. But avoiding excessively high settings on the projector's Sharpness control helped considerably (a setting of 1 or 2 worked best, with 2 just starting to show the telltale white lines indicating overenhancement on the Avia DVD). It also helped to use a DVD player with the added control provided by onboard sharpness adjustments (such as the Pioneer DV-38A in my test system, which has both High and Medium Sharpness controls). At its best, with careful setup and a good-quality DVD or high-definition input, the DPX-1 produced crisp, real-looking images with excellent resolution.
Cable television was another matter. I watched a bit of this source through the Yamaha, and, with the highest program quality I could find, the results weren't bad, but they weren't anything to write home about. The picture was watchable, though soft and moderately noisy. This wasn't the Yamaha's fault, of course, but some video display devices—and scalers—work better on mediocre program material than others.
The Yamaha's noise-reduction control was of limited value with noisy broadcasts. I left it off for all my other viewing.
Yamaha is proud of the scaler built into the DPX-1, and they should be. It's not perfect, but I generally found little advantage in switching the Pioneer DVD player's output from interlaced—where I used it for most of this evaluation—to progressive. On the infamous Titanic test (chapter 7, when the bow of the ship approaches the camera), minor rippling of the ship's superstructure was visible to an equal degree with both progressive and interlaced settings of the Pioneer. MPEG-encoded desert sand is also very hard to reproduce without artifacts, and in the DVD of The Beast there's lots of it. You can see the ground squirming in a number of places on this film with either an interlaced or progressive feed to the Yamaha. But some of these artifacts were still visible—though clearly reduced on The Beast—when these films were viewed on a 9-inch CRT projector combined with a state-of-the-art outboard scaler—the Madrigal MP-9 and Snell & Wilcox Gold (scheduled for review in an upcoming issue). But the Snell & Wilcox alone costs more than four times as much as the Yamaha DPX-1.
Except for light output, that far more expensive CRT projector outperformed the Yamaha in other important respects. It produced richer colors, more detail (though not always more subjective sharpness), and, most significant, far richer blacks. While I couldn't make out the DLP's pixel structure from my viewing seat, the CRT's image was noticeably smoother and creamier. But the sharpness and light output of the DPX-1 will make a potent case for DLP technology when compared with similarly priced CRTs. Even this dyed-in-the-wool CRT fan has to admit that the competition is starting to look very interesting—something I would not have said two years ago.
With all DMD panels having a 1024x768, 4:3 structure, 16:9 images can comprise only 576 horizontal rows of pixels if the image is to use all 1024 pixels in each row. Remember, the panel is fixed, and (1024)/(16/9)=576. That means that in 16:9 mode, the effective panel resolution is 1024x576. Widescreen high-definition will be scaled to 576p, not 720p or 1080i. The resulting images are not, technically, hi-def. We won't get true hi-def from a single-chip DLP projector until there are either 1280x1024 or true widescreen 1280x720 chips available for use in home projectors (see "Viewpoint" in this issue). This limitation can be circumvented with an anamorphic lens, but that's an expensive after-market tweak best left for discussion on another day.
Despite this restricted resolution, high-definition material still looked noticeably better than standard definition on the DPX-1. It didn't quite pass the window-on-the-world test; the images were a little lacking in depth, and the full, vivid color palette of HD was not quite there. In short, as with SD material, the hi-def images from the Yamaha, for all their sharpness and brightness, could not quite equal the quality available from a state-of-the-art CRT. Nevertheless, I suspect that many potential buyers will be floored by the Yamaha's hi-def performance on a big screen, and just about anyone will be favorably impressed by it. I was.
When is black black?
While the DPX-1's blacks were superior to those of most fixed-pixel projectors we've reviewed, they were nonetheless a dark gray rather than true black. This not only caused a loss of punch in low-contrast scenes, but reduced black-level detail as well.
But the story is actually more complex than that. There are two types of dark scenes in most films (I'm generalizing here, but stay with me). First are dark scenes that are also very low in contrast; that is, there are no bright areas in the picture. While even CRTs can't make such scenes look punchy, they generally do reasonably well with them (unless we're talking about The Relic; then, all bets are off). Some movies, like Sleepy Hollow, have a lot of scenes like that. But even brighter movies, like The Wedding Planner, can have one or two—check out the night scene in Golden Gate Park (chapter 28). Such material looks drab on the Yamaha, but few home-friendly, fixed-pixel projectors will do much better.
Fortunately, much more common are movies that appear to have a lot of dark scenes, but in actuality those scenes have well-lit highlights. Armageddon falls in this category, as does, oddly enough, Unbreakable. The Yamaha actually does reasonably well with these and similar films. It can't bring out the shadow detail like a CRT, but those highlights are most of what the director wants you to see; even though you aren't seeing everything in the image, you aren't keenly aware of the loss.