The meteoric rise of the widescreen TV has robbed home theatre projectors of much of their former allure. Once considered the ultimate in cinematic luxury, they have since become something of an endangered species — rather like the bearded, middle-aged men who swear by them (you know the type we’re talking about: most of them are also fans of Betamax and/or LaserDisc).
However, there’s no need to beat the funeral drum just yet. If ViewSonic's LCD-based Precision Pro8100 is anything to go by, there’s still plenty of mainstream mileage to be made from projection technology. Granted, at $3999 this isn’t something you’d go out and buy on a whim, but it does manage to bestride the gulf between the consumer and enthusiast markets. Sporting ‘full HD’ 1080p resolution, PCS Color Enhancement technology, two HDMI v1.3 inputs, 10-bit colour processing, a 13,000:1 contrast ratio and 33 levels of gamma correction, it is one of the most feature-rich LCD projectors in its price range.
Before we peek under the Pro8100’s shiny hood, let’s take a look at the overall design. From the very first glimpse, there’s no mistaking this for anything other than a high-end projector. When we showed it to some passing friends, the words "Juggernaut", "Colossus" and "Behemoth" were uttered in hushed, awe-filled tones (admittedly, they were on their way to a Ray Harryhausen movie marathon, but that’s neither here nor there). With dimensions of 543x136x388mm, this is a truly gargantuan piece of kit that will form the (rear) centrepiece of any home theatre setup.
Its tapering oblong design is finished in a sleek midnight black, with superfluous lights and logos kept to a minimum. This helps to give the device an appropriately professional feel, with the saucer-sized lens dominating proceedings. (For those who’d prefer something a bit more colourful, ViewSonic also offers red, grey and white versions of the same model.) All up, we don’t have any qualms about the Pro8100’s design, although finding somewhere to store it could be a bit of a problem. (Mind you, if you’re the type of person who can afford a $4000 projector, house space probably isn’t much of an issue.)
Thankfully, the superb level of build quality also extends to the user interface. Whether you prefer a ‘bums-on-seats’ patron experience, or the hands-on role of a professional projectionist, the Pro8100 has you covered.
The number of colour-tweaking options on offer is particularly impressive, with the ability to adjust individual skin tones, picture modes, grey scale optimisation, colour saturation, hue and temperature (with a choice between presets or full customisation), isolated colour calibration, plus no fewer than 33 segments of gamma correction — and that’s just scratching the surface. You can also adjust the level of blackness via five separate presets, including the Spinal Tap-inspired ‘Blacker Than Black’.
Zoom and focus are controlled digitally via a side-mounted directional pad. Unfortunately, because both functions are represented by a single button, it’s all too easy to adjust the focus when you want to adjust the zoom and vice-versa (despite the brief appearance of an onscreen icon). We feel a separate toggle switch wouldn’t have gone astray here, though it’s a small quibble to be sure. Naturally, vertical/horizontal shift can also be achieved via the directional pad.
A clearly focused image can be projected from as close as 1.25 metres, up to a maximum of 9.36 metres from the screen or wall. The projector is able to project a maximum image size of 300in; this compares favourably with other projectors in this price range. While brightness from the unit is a comparatively low 1100 ANSI lumens, it should be acceptable for use in a moderately lit room.
To test the Pro8100’s high-definition capabilities, we hooked up the device to an Olin ODBP-1000 Blu-ray player using the included HDMI cable. We then watched the rubbish Kevin Costner action movie The Guardian, which was the only Blu-ray move we had to hand. (The things we do for our readers…)
Even with default settings enabled, the level of detail was nothing short of remarkable. Each crevice on Costner’s weather-beaten face was etched in terrifying detail. Never one to pass up a scientific opportunity, we paused the film during a close-up shot and attempted to count every individual wrinkle (for a total of 36). Kidding aside, the sharpness and clarity exhibited was exceptionally impressive.
Likewise, colour reproduction was uniformly excellent, with the system’s 10-bit colour processor and professional-level HQV video scaler upping the vibrancy while reducing image noise. This is further enhanced by the projector's Precision Colour System, which automatically finetunes and corrects colour errors in any given image. We can’t stress enough how good this projector’s output looks. But the jewel in the crown is arguably its near-soundless operation: perfect for those tense silent bits in movies just before somebody gets shot.
The Pro8100 comes with a solid selection of connectors: two HDMI 1.3 ports, a pair of component inputs, a D-Sub PC port, S-Video and a composite video jack, along with a USB and RS-232C port for additional home theatre integration. In addition to the projector itself, the New Zealand-sized sales package includes a power cable, component cable, user guide, a micro-fibre wiping cloth, a velvet projector dust cover, a remote control (with batteries) and an HDMI cable.