1080p LED DLP Home Theater Projector
September 8, 2009
Many believe that the next major advance in front projectors will be the move away from high-pressure mercury lamps and towards LED light sources. LED technology has several perks, like cooler operation and much longer life than traditional lamps - sometimes on the order of 20,000 to 40,000 hours. As such, its arrival on the scene has been highly anticipated by home theater aficionados and enthusiasts.
The new H9080FD from Vivitek is the first 1080p LED projector to reach our offices, and the first time we've seen LED technology in anything but a pocket- or pico- projector. It is also the first time we've seen LED illumination which even begins to approach the brightness of a traditional lamp, at 800 ANSI lumens. However, the H9080FD is not just a technology demo - it's a serious home theater projector. It has a 1.3:1 manual zoom lens with vertical and horizontal shift, for added flexibility. The LEDs cycle quickly enough to eliminate the appearance of rainbow effects, as it is supposedly the equivalent of a 20x-speed color wheel. It has a 100,000:1 contrast ratio. While there are some quirks (there always are), the projector is not just a proof-of-concept. That said, it still has a price that's commensurate with an early-adopter product, at $14,999. While subsequent generations will surely come down in price, those who want the latest and greatest will have to pony up the cash. Advantages
High lumen output. The H9080FD is not the first LED projector to hit the market, but it is the first one bright enough to be used in a home theater. Using settings appropriate for home theater, the H9080FD produced 360 ANSI lumens, which is enough for a 100" diagonal 16:9 screen in a light-controlled environment. Using BrilliantColor, lumen output was boosted to 467 ANSI lumens without significantly decreasing apparent color saturation or image quality. This increase in lumen output is useful if you wish to use a screen larger than 100" diagonal, or if you have some ambient light in your projection environment that cannot be removed.
A word about lamp degradation: it is common knowledge that the high-pressure mercury lamps used in the vast majority of front projectors lose brightness as they age. Projectors nearing the end of a lamp's life will appear half a bright as they did with a fresh lamp. One of the advantages of LED lamps is that they do not degrade like mercury lamps do. What does this mean for you? The H9080FD will appear just as bright in 20,000 hours as it does when you take it out of the box.
Contrast. The H9080FD boasts an on/off contrast rating of 100,000:1. In real-world terms, the projector's black level beats that of several traditional LCD, DLP, and LCOS projectors released recently. Since the LEDs can actually be turned off (or at least nearly turned off) when an all-black image is displayed, the H9080FD has an excellent black.
Where this projector really shines, though, is ANSI contrast. ANSI contrast describes the relative black and white levels that can appear in the same image at the same time - in other words, ANSI contrast measures the maximum contrast in any one particular image. In the past, the best projectors we've seen measured around 580:1 or 600:1, while many very good projectors measured 450:1 or lower.
This background information is provided in order to put the following number in perspective: the Vivitek H9080FD measured 844:1 ANSI contrast in our test lab. This is nearly half again as much as the next nearest competitor, and very impressive by any reasonable standard. The dynamic range on screen at any given time is broad enough to do justice to even the highest-contrast content available.
Color. As an LED projector, the H9080FD uses three separate light elements, of red, green, and blue, rather than one white lamp. This allows for some notable improvements in color reproduction, which becomes obvious the first time you start it up. Color saturation on this projector is rich, and among the best we've seen. Even in BrilliantColor mode, which on many projectors boosts white light output while doing very little to color, the image does not appear unbalanced or undersaturated.
Color balance is likewise excellent - more than excellent, really; the H9080FD can deliver colors outside the normal gamut. Color temperature came out very close to the preferred 6500K without much adjustment. This is one of the strong suits of the projector.
Sharp, detailed image. The H9080FD's image is razor-sharp and intricately detailed, without suffering from any artificial edge enhancement. 1080p content, especially that on a well-recorded Blu-Ray disc, really needs a sharp, clear projector in order to look its best. The H9080FD is such a projector.
No color wheel. The H9080FD does not have a color wheel. Part of the advantage of LEDs is that they can be pulsed very quickly with no detrimental effect on overall life. As such, Vivitek claims that the LEDs in the H9080FD can be pulsed quickly enough to equal the performance of a 20x speed color wheel. Certainly, while watching the H9080FD, we did not see even a hint of rainbow effect.
20,000 hour lamp life. Obviously, a 20,000 hour lamp is an attractive advantage, and possibly the most heralded aspect of LED projection. 20,000 hours is a long time - too long to comprehend, almost. In other reviews, we have discussed some "real-world" estimates for lamp usage, and conventional lamps can last for three to five years with normal use. Well, using that same metric with the H9080FD, you can watch one two-hour movie per night, every night, for over twenty-seven years. Of course, chances are pretty good that another part of the projector will fail long before your twenty-seven years run out, but you will never have to dismount a projector from a ceiling mount in order to change a lamp ever again.
Placement flexibility. The H9080FD has a manual 1.3:1 zoom lens as well as horizontal and vertical lens shift. Vertical shift has a range of 2.4 picture heights, which can place the image either completely above or completely below the centerline of the lens. Horizontal shift has a range of 1.3 picture widths - enough for fine-tuning of placement, but no major shifts in position. This range is exceptionally wide for a DLP projector, and helps to make the H9080FD useful to a wider range of people.
Connectivity. The H9080FD has a veritable cornucopia of connections, including two HDMI 1.3 ports, two sets of component connections (one using RCA connections and the other using BNC connections), a VGA port, and two 12V triggers. The system comes standard with a cable cover to keep all of this under wraps, and Vivitek was thoughtful enough to print the names of the connections both right-side up and upside-down, so when the projector is ceiling mounted you'll still be able to read the labels.
Remote control. The H9080FD's remote control has a soft red backlight, which has minimal detrimental effect on night vision. The buttons' functions are printed in clearly visible type on the buttons themselves, so when the backlight is activated they are very easy to read. The remote's signal bounced very easily off of our screen and back to the projector, making it easy to use at long ranges.
Three-year warranty. Some people might feel a little hesitant about purchasing an LED projector when they are still so new and relatively unproven. There are some risks that come with being an early adopter, including "quirky" products and unknown bugs that do not emerge until months - or years - down the line. To assuage these concerns, Vivitek offers a three-year warranty with the H9080FD, which should be more than enough time to work the bugs out. Limitations
Large and heavy. There's no two ways about it - the H9080FD is a big machine. It weighs more than 35 pounds and has a huge, boxy case to match. Vivitek has attempted to spice up its appearance with some brushed aluminum trim, but at its heart, the H9080FD is still a big heavy box of a projector. It is also black, meaning there's no chance it will blend in with a white ceiling. If aesthetics are at all a concern for you (or your significant other), the H9080FD may be a bit of a hard sell.
Lens shift hard to use. Most projectors with lens shift have simple, easy-to-adjust knobs on the front or top of the projector's housing, allowing lens shift to be adjusted quickly and easily. Not so with the H9080FD. To adjust lens shift, one must remove some tiny screws on the back of the case, just above the connection panel. These screws are not captive; they can and must be completely removed, so try not to lose them. Then, slide the entire brushed aluminum top panel to the rear, exposing the projector's delicate interior. Finally, use the included allen wrench to adjust lens shift. Once you are finished, close up the projector again. If the thought of poking around the insides of your $15,000 projector with a long piece of metal sounds nerve-wracking, you are not alone. It's not a very good system.
Audible noise. Let's make this clear up front: the H9080FD is not a "loud" projector. On the contrary, it is very quiet most of the time. However, we sometimes heard a buzzing noise that could change in pitch several times over the course of a minute. As you might know, a noise that changes pitch or intensity is one that's hard to ignore. We would rather the projector be slightly louder and consistent than reduce audible noise but cycle all the time. If audio on a film is being played at normal levels, you probably will not notice anything, but it could become evident during quiet interludes.
Expensive. The H9080FD has a retail price of $14,999. It costs slightly more than the excellent Samsung A900, which bests its performance in lumen output, color accuracy, and the ability to project a "film-like" natural image. Many videophiles, who are most likely to have $15,000 they're willing to spend on a projector, would prefer the image of the Samsung A900. Features like long lamp life and placement flexibility, which are areas where the H9080FD excels over the A900, really appeal to the do-it-yourselfer, but the average do-it-yourselfer may not be able to afford this projector. Conclusion
The Vivitek H9080FD is revolutionary. It is more than just an LED projector - it is a serious home theater product that just happens to use LEDs for illumination. The distinction is fine, but important. This is not a gimmick product, nor is it merely a proof-of-concept. It is a projector that many of us would be proud to use in our own theaters. It has the best ANSI contrast we've yet seen, a broad color gamut, great saturation, a razor-sharp picture, and some nice ease-of-use features like lens shift - which, even while it is hard to adjust, has an overall range which exceeds that of most competitive 1080p DLP projectors.
As a first-generation product that is cutting-edge in many ways, the H9080FD still carries a premium price tag. For $14,999, you get the latest and greatest technological advances, an impressive warranty, and a promise that you will never have to purchase another projector lamp ever again. While it costs dearly, rest assured that your money is buying you a fantastic product that is among the first of its kind.