As far as settings are concerned, Faroudja and Mr. Phelps did their jobs so thoroughly well that I had no desire to fiddle with anything at all. I dialed in the black levels for HD and SD and never touched anything else.
Viewing—The CRT’s Worthiest Successor Yet!
Since I’ve already called this D-ILA the best fixed-pixel projector I’ve seen, there’s no suspense about how good it looked. This three-chip D-ILA provided the most startling sensation that the image starts at the screen plane, rather than being confined in that two-dimensional space, that I’ve seen from anything not a CRT. It layered and resolved images with breathtaking depth and dimensionality, in the most silky, pure, and natural fashion imaginable. There was nothing about the 1080pHD’s image that betrayed its digital origins, beyond an absolute black level that was merely very good by the standard of today’s better fixed-pixel projectors (HD2+ powered DLPs).
Its colors, and other adjustable parameters tweaked by Mr. Phelps, were not just spot-on by the numbers; they were utterly, obviously, and wondrously convincing to the eye, no matter what the program material. Not only were there no hot lime greens, there were terrific delineation and separation between even the darkest shades of green. Red weren’t tinged orange either, making not only reds but also shades of brown and flesh tones look sumptuous.
Phelps’ two gamma curves ensure that the 1080pHD contours smoothly and seamlessly down toward black, offering maximum shadow detail to the limits of the projector’s black capabilities. Even notoriously dark and detailed DVD transfers like Spider-Man 2 and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban were a breeze. It’s only when nearly all the lights go off (think of a scene picturing a cabin in the woods at night) that the single chink in this projector’s armor is revealed. But that kind of scene is rare, even in dark movies. Every image above near-total darkness is rendered with strikingly natural gradients and sensational shadow detail. I’ve never before seen a digital display as smooth, refined, and natural in this key regard.
If you haven’t seen HD on a full 1920x1080 display, you haven’t lived yet. Bright vivid material popped from the screen. One of DirecTV’s HD movie channels showed a movie called Drum Line, which is filled with bright scenes, indoors and out, and features marching bands dressed in vibrantly colored, richly textured uniforms. This movie looked so rock-solid, so sensationally three-dimensional, that I’d have to say I’ve never seen HD look better—and only Sony’s Qualia 004 may have looked as good. Note that the DVP4000 does not perform 3-2 pulldown detection and compensation with film-based 1080i sources. (Each successive pair of 540-line interlaced fields is simply converted to 1080p with some additional processing.) Faroudja’s nextgeneration processors will, in fact, do 3-2 with film-based 1080i. As scary as it is to contemplate, this projector’s HD performance could actually get better!
Of all the things this projector package does exceptionally well, nothing carried so much weight with me as the way it made top DVD transfers of films like Master and Commander and Seabiscuit look frighteningly close to their HD counterparts on HBO-HD— not quite as razor-sharp as full-bit-rate HD from HDNet Movies or Universal HD (it’s known that HBO’s HD is compressed), but breathtakingly spectacular for DVD in terms of color, detail, and resolution of the finest textures.
To me this superlative DVD playback is the great separator, and it’s born out of Faroudja’s processing and Phelps’ calibration work. The waters surrounding high-def on an optical disc are getting murkier by the minute. We’re all going to be watching a lot of DVDs—whether we see some packaged media HD this year or not—and this Faroudja package nails DVD. How does this Faroudja D-ILA compare to other top-end projectors available? Very well, thank you! Its single weakness—absolute black levels— is not one that the three-chip DLP projectors I’ve seen can exploit. Although some three-chip DLPs may now be shipping with the HD2+ chip, the majority do not, and the 1080pHD more than holds its own against the blacks I’ve seen from HD2-powered DLPs. On top of that, the three-chip DLPs I’ve seen have been optimized for high light output at the top end, not for inky blacks.
The resolution of this 1080p D-ILA simply blows away 1280x720 DLPs, especially when 1080i HD is on the menu. As impressive as 900,000 pixels are, two million trumps ’em every time. And what’s more, the D-ILA does 1080p in a more relaxed, easy-on-theeyes way than I’ve seen from any DLP. No fixed-pixel projector I’ve yet tested matches the intangible, CRT-like naturalness of this D-ILA.