Home Electronics: Chip Off the Old Block

Home-Projector Technology continues to evolve, which is good news for consumers longing for improved performance and simplified installation and operation. It is especially welcome for home theater owners who prefer small, easy-to-operate DLP projectors rather than the larger, difficult-to-maintain CRTs. A number of compact front-projection units featuring the new HD2 processing chip have recently arrived on the market, including the InFocus ScreenPlay 7200 ($9,995), SharpVision’s XV-Z10000U ($10,995), and Toshiba’s TDP-MT8U ($9,995). Vidikron, which was acquired by Runco last year, also offers a DLP unit ($9,995). It resembles the classic vivid red Vidikron projector and incorporates Runco’s Vivix processing.

As the descendant of Texas Instruments’ HD1, the Mustang/HD2 chip offers manufacturers a 1,280-by-720 resolution with 12-degree mirrors and a black substrate, all of which allow sharper contrast and superior brightness—features that once distinguished CRTs from DLPs. “The one benefit that CRTs have is great contrast,” says Scott Hix, vice president and general manager of business development at InFocus. “For the true home theater enthusiast, we try to achieve the types of blacks and whites that they’re used to seeing in CRT technology.”

The native resolution makes the projectors high-definition compatible, but do not be fooled by the “official” rating. The numbers bandied about are ambiguous at best, with many claiming contrast ratios above the 2,000:1 range. Keep in mind that contrast and brightness are trade-offs; a high contrast ratio is usually achieved at the expense of brightness. Still, their contrast is not merely good, it is downright impressive.

As DLPs close the performance gap on CRTs, their benefits are becoming more compelling. Size, of course, is a factor, because it affects installation and maintenance. Second, DLPs have out-of-the-box usability. While it requires a skilled technician to calibrate a CRT, many of today’s DLPs are ready to use as soon as you bring them home.

Ultimately, though, home theater consumers may view the evolution of HD1 to HD2 chips in much the same way as PC users identify the progression from Pentium III to Pentium IV processors. A computer with either chip will run virtually any program, but the P-IV provides a quicker, more powerful performance. Similarly, some owners of DLPs that use HD1 technology may opt to upgrade to an HD2 machine for the improved experience.

One final note: The evolution continues. Expect to find HD2 chips in rear-projection units by the end of the year. Purists still swear by the analog images of CRTs, but with projectors continuing to push chip technology, many users will find themselves tempted to join the DLP fraternity.

InFocus, www.infocus.com; SharpVision, www.sharp-usa.com; Toshiba, www.toshiba.com; Vidikron, 510.324.7777

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