Planar 8150 Mini Review

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June 6, 2009

The Planar 8150 has had a relatively quiet launch but interest in this projector has been building as word of mouth has spread.  Planar has also updated this product with new firmware enhancements that have significantly improved performance in several key areas.  Most notable of these improvements are updates to Planar’s unique implementation of dynamic contrast which utilizes Texas Instrument’s Dynamic Black (DB) technology.  As of today the 8150 has garnered much praise in the industry and performance has improved enough to warrant a new look at this projector to see if it lives up to these expectations.

After spending several weeks with this projector one thing is abundantly clear.  The Planar has not targeted this projector exclusively for the masses and has instead focused on delivering a very accurate projector that can be appreciated by both sophisticated and unsophisticated viewers alike.  A good example of this is Planar’s decision to eschew the grossly over-saturated colors that have unfortunately become all to common as manufacturers try to entice unsophisticated buyers with dazzling colors.  Planar has delivered an accurate gamut out of the box, and this same no nonsense philosophy holds true in other areas that will be discussed in more detail below.

Color Performance

First, let me mention that this unit was loaned to me from a friend and AVS Forum member Darin Perrigo (thanks Darin!) and it came well setup, although, by the time I got around to measuring it, it had about 40 hrs on the bulb and white had deviated a little from D65 (which is normal for a new lamp).  I decided against calibrating it because I didn’t want to mess with Darin’s settings, so rather than provide a detailed examination of color performance and measurements of xyY and dE of the grey-scale and primaries, I’ll simply provide a high-level chromaticity diagram and mention that the colors seemed to be very good.  If I get another unit to review, I’ll perform a full calibration on it and provide specific color measurements.  The lack of xyY and dE of the gamut is the primary reason why I’m calling this a mini-review.  The chromaticity diagram is shown below and as can be seen the the gamut is very close to the Rec. 709 standard.   As mentioned in the color wheel section below, the Planar also uses Unishape lamp technology which improves color saturation and gives the 8150 excellent color performance and according to Planar, better than what 1-chip DLP solutions with a 6x color wheel and mercury lamps have been able to attain in the past.  As is discussed under the video processing section, the Planar can also be set to a SMPTE-C color gamut although the chromaticity diagram below was obtained from the Rec.709 setting.

Color Gamut

 Grey-scale Ramps and Gamma

The 8150 delivered excellent grey-scale ramp performance with minimal banding or artifacting.  The 8150 also processed blacker than black and whiter than white properly so that near blacks and whites were not crushed and it was easy to calibrate the brightness and contrast settings.  Five gamma choices are provided of which the user will probably tend to favor two: “Film” which delivers a gamma of about 2.2 and “CRT” which delivers a higher gamma of almost 2.5.  Both of these gammas were well calibrated and the decision to use one over the other will come down to personal preference.  I tended to use the CRT gamma setting with most film content even though shadow detail is slightly less obvious than the lower gamma settings.  The CRT gamma setting was measured and is shown below:

gamma_crt

 Video Performance

The 8150 uses a Gennum GF9450 video processor which handles the latest per pixel motion adaptive de-interlacing (MAD) algorithms.  The 9450 also provides MPEG artifact reduction, 3d noise reduction, detail enhancement, Brilliant Color (a way to expand the gamut and add more saturation to the colors beyond the Rec.709 spec), a number of of gamut presets (Rec.709, SMPTE-C, EBU and native) and also a number of frame rates (48, 50 and 60Hz) along with the gamma settings previously mentioned.  Offering a 48Hz frame rate is a nice option that bypasses the typical 3:2 pull-down typically used when viewing 24fps film content on a 60Hz display.  Bypassing 3:2 pull-down helps to reduce judder and provides for smoother motion.  The 9450 seemed to handle things very well and it is a good example of how far the industry has come as far as offering built-in, high-performance, video processing in a relatively inexpensive, single chip solution.  Offering both Rec.709 and SMPTE-C gamuts is also a nice touch as it provides the user with a way to switch between these two gamuts and view the subtle differences with source content.  There has been much discussion about the merits of calibrating the primaries for each standard and by providing both gamuts the user is free to experiment and decide for themselves which they prefer.

Sharpness

The 8150 uses the larger DC3 DMD (.95″) which delivers a very sharp image, although, screen door is a little more obvious with this projector than others that are also less sharp.  Pixel definition is excellent.  As an example, if a person carefully focuses the image, it is possible to barely make out the center dimple on some of the DMD pixels.  The sharpness of the 8150 is definitely one of it’s strengths and it’s  close to what I’ve seen out of some of the best and most expensive single chip DLPs.

Color Wheel

The 8150 delivers the best performing color wheel that I’ve yet seen from the standpoint of a lack of rainbow artifacting.  RBE can still be seen in some scenes (usually dark scenes with a small but bright light source in the image), but overall the 8150 has tamed RBE to where even the most sensitive users should find it acceptable.  The 8150 uses a 6x color wheel and Brian Carskadon, Planar’s Director of Product Management provided some interesting tidbits about the Planar implementation here at AVS.  From this post, Brian thinks that use of Unishape lamp technology is one reason that rainbows may be less apparent.  In this post, Brian says that using Unishape allows the lamp to be modulated on a color wheel segment basis which according to Brian has many important benefits.  The first benefit is that it allows for full color saturation which previously was not possible when using a 6x color wheel and a mercury lamp source.  The other benefit of unishape is that it allows the lamp brightness to be reduced so that the DMD gain (note: I assume he means dynamic gamma) can be simultaneously increased in some scenes which effectively increases the bit depth by 1 bit and helps to reduce dithering noise by 50%.   One thing to note that I don’t think has been mentioned elsewhere is that the color wheel operates at 6x the frame rate, so it’s possible that someone who is rainbow sensitive may see more rainbows if this setting is set to 48hz rather than 60hz.

Dynamic Black

The 8150 uses a proprietary Planar variation of Texas Instrument’s Dynamic Black, a dynamic contrast enhancement technology.  Planar’s implementation seems to use a very fast dynamic iris which was confirmed by Brian’s comments, that the iris is a low mass actuator design that operates at the frame rate.  During my time with the 8150, I viewed many hours of content and performed quite a few low APL intra-image contrast measurements that I’ll post later in another article.  For now though let me just say that this is the best implementation of a dynamic contrast technology that I’ve seen so far.   There are three reasons for this:  1) Iris movement and pump is almost nonexistent, the image is so stable that most people would be surprised to know that it has a dynamic iris if they didn’t know better 2) The DB implementation is very good at keeping white levels matched when the iris position changes (up to 200 iris positions available) and 3) The iris implementation is not very aggressive so that brightness compression and clipping may only apply to a very small number of pixels (more on that in my other article).   Bottom line, the Planar yields the most native-like performance of any dynamic contrast technology that I’ve yet seen.

Another thing that is worth pointing out about Planar’s implementation of dynamic black is that according to Brian, the brightness range is expanded to fit the full brightness range of the DMD and this helps to reduce dithering noise further and is the equivalent of adding an additional 1.6 bits with some content (not sure how they calculated 1.6 bits but if true, it represents a significant reduction in dithering noise).

Contrast Performance

The 8150 delivered 560:1 modified ANSI contrast (modified pattern using a single center probe position).  This is respectable performance and about 2x what JVC LCOS projectors deliver, but still well short of the stratospheric 1k:1 values that some DLPs have attained.  The 8150 bests other high ANSI DLPs with better on/off contrast though.  The 8150 delivered 2760:1 on/off (native) with dynamic black (DB) disengaged and slightly over 15,000:1 with the iris engaged.  The unit is spec’ed at 15k:1 on/off and the unit bested this mark which is rare for most manufacturers.  Enabling DB improved on/off contrast by a whopping 5.5 times. 

Because on/off contrast is not measured at the same time and with the same image, it’s not clear by the on/off measurement alone what happens with intra-image contrast at the bottom of the luminance range with dark images.  For example, is the higher on/off measurement due to an iris aperture that simply closes down more resulting in less light and roughly the same intra-image contrast or does it actually provide true intra-image contrast improvements?  I mentioned that this will be discussed in depth in another article but I will post a tidbit here – the 8150 is capable of delivering at least a 4.5X improvement in true intra-image contrast.  Not with all content, but with some content that lacks bright whites, which in turn allows the iris to close more while the same white levels are maintained.

Overall the 8150 behaves remarkably similar to a projector with a native contrast of 15k:1.  As I mentioned earlier, it’s one of the most neutral and artifact free dynamic contrast mechanisms that I’ve come across.   Black level performance is also very good, although it is bested by the top JVCs in this area.  The only feature that I would like to see added to the Planar is a second more aggressive DB mode for people wanting to trade-off some brightness compression and possibly more DI artifacts for better blacks and a lower black level floor.

Subjective Viewing Impressions

The 8150 renders outstanding images.  In bright scenes where dynamic black does not play a role, the 8150 images clearly benefit from the sharpness advantage of it’s large DMD.  Image depth which I presume is partially due to the good ANSI contrast performance was very good too although perhaps a touch less so than very high ANSI displays that I’ve had a chance to view.  In dark scenes, the dynamic black performance is superb and it has clear advantages over every other DLP that does not have this technology.  Colors were excellent and I did not see any obvious banding or artifacting.  Dithering noise in dark scenes which is typical of DLP displays was muted compared to other DLP products.  Overall the Planar sets a high bar for image accuracy and it did not suffer from any serious artifacts.

Overall Pros

  • Bright – The 8150 is brighter than typical 1-chip DLPs despite the excellent contrast performance
  • Quiet – The 8150 is very quiet which is very surprising considering the fast 6x color wheel and the fast dynamic iris mechanism.
  • Superb DB implementation – possibly the least artifacting dynamic contrast implementation on any video projector to date.  This is primarily due to a fast iris and the fact that it’s not very agressive and is designed not to crush whites.
  • Excellent color rendition – From an accurate color gamut to the improved color saturation from the color wheel and Unishape lamp, the 8150 delivers great colors.
  • Sharp images.
  • Outstanding 6x color wheel implementation and with very muted rainbow artifacting.
  • Excellent grey-scale ramp with reduced dithering in dark areas.  Whiter than white and blacker than black are also handled properly so that near whites and blacks are not crushed.

Overall Cons

  • Compared to 3-chip projectors, color sensitive users may still see an occasional rainbow, although I think most RBE sensitive users would rate the Planar as being very acceptable in this regard.  When compared to other 1-chip DLP projectors, the 8150 is exceptional in this respect.
  • The black level performance of the 8150 is excellent although a JVC RS20 can still best it in this respect.

Conclusion

Planar has succeeded in delivering a no-nonsense, exacting, projector that delivers top performance in many key areas, most notable of which is Planar’s implementation of dynamic black, and it’s integration of a 6x color wheel with Unishape Lamp technology.  A good implementation of dynamic black directly translates into large improvements in image quality and it’s not a surprise that this is becoming a key differentiator among DLP projectors.

Is the 8150 the best sub $15k projector on the market?  I think the Planar can make an excellent case for this crown, although, the JVC RS20 is probably the only other projector that can give the 8150 a run for this title.  Comparing the two is difficult and represents an apples to oranges comparison, because each has strengths where the other has weaknesses.  The RS20 excels with dark content and delivers the most depth in dark and some mixed scenes that I’ve ever seen before with a digital projector.  With dark scenes, the Planar performs well, but it doesn’t have the dynamic range nor does it have the black levels of the RS20.  Subjectively, I think most people would perceive these differences to be that the Planar doesn’t quite have the same degree of depth as the JVC’ in some dark scenes.  With brighter content though, I think the situation is reversed and the Planar has more depth and the “pop” that people typically associate with DLP.   The 8150 is noticeably sharper than the RS20 and does not suffer from convergence errors, although SDE is more prominent for those seated close.  On the other hand the 8150 also has a little more dithering noise with dark content than the RS20 and it can throw an occasional rainbow.  Overall it comes down to personal preference (as is usually the case) and I don’t think a person can go wrong with either machine which is why both of these machines deserve a crown as the best of the sub $15k projectors that are currently on the market at the time of this writing.

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