In one of his many riffs on the excesses of American life, comedian Stan Freberg poked fun at the audiophile’s pursuit of bigger, better, all-encompassing sound. The butt of his joke ended up moving out of his house, which no longer accommodated human occupants. “That’s it,” Freberg declared victoriously. “Your entire house becomes a giant hi-fi!”
Optoma Technology has taken this concept into the video realm—consuming not your whole house, thank heaven, but one large wall in one large room. Because even the smallest BigVizion is too large to ship to reviewers, we spent a day at Optoma’s Milpitas, CA, headquarters getting an eyeful of the monster monitor and a full download on its development from Optoma product manager David Tuttle and product engineering division director Wing Chung.
The BigVizion is available in three sizes, with screens measuring 80, 90, and 100 inches (diagonal) priced at $23k, $25k, and $30k, respectively. The pappa bear weighs in at 350 pounds, and requires 30 inches of depth behind the screen for the light engine, processor, frame, and mirror. All three sizes must be installed with the aid of a licensed contractor.
The frame comes with the proprietary DLP/DarkChip3 light engine pre-positioned, but not perfectly dialed in. Adjustable mounting bolts enable trained installers to center and focus the image. The aspherical short-throw glass lens is made by an Optoma sister company in Taiwan, and a Fresnel lens ensures even illumination across the entire screen. An outboard processor box provides all inputs and connects to the light engine with one HDMI cable.
The company has a team of trainers in the field, instructing dealers on the fine points of BigVizion setup. Installation time—not counting construction work—should be “about two to three hours with two skilled guys,” Tuttle noted, but wall modifications could stretch the whole project to five days.
The frame provides plenty of space below the screen for home-theater components, center-channel speaker, and subwoofers. Anticipating that most BigVizions would be installed in kid-friendly environments, Optoma engineers tried to make the exposed parts of the display as durable as possible. For example, the screen’s surface is tough enough to resist scratching with a No. 2 pencil. Optoma supplies a removable, paintable bezel for a nicely finished look. It will also accept wood veneer.
Optoma’s demo room had the BigVizion installed in a mock wall, so we could walk around either side to examine it. The specs are impressive: 1920x1080 resolution (thanks to Texas Instrument’s SmoothPicture technology), 10,000:1 contrast ratio, 1.8-gain “black screen,” ISF day/night custom viewing modes, and motion-adaptive deinterlacing to name a few. The modular design concept extends from the finished product down to its individual components; according to Chung, “All service and upgrades can be done by the dealer in the home.” For easy access to the electronics, the screen opens like the hood of a car.
So how did it look? We started with a cursory exam using some D-VHS clips of The Tonight Show. Initial impressions: bright, vibrant, rich, with excellent black level and shadow detail. With static white and blue screens, we noticed some drop-off in light toward the edges of the screen, but this wasn’t apparent when watching full-motion video.
Even after calibration, the grayscale was inconsistent (see “Wall Color Matters”), though this wasn’t really apparent in any of the clips we watched. The BigVizion allows each input to be tweaked independently, so we were able to compare pre- and post-calibration images. The factory presets made The Tonight Show pop, but the calibration gave the image a level of depth and sophistication that any viewer would appreciate. Hot spots such as Leno’s white dress shirt were toned down, and the color difference between it and a guest’s pale ivory suit was clearly apparent.
The calibration also brought out details in the shadows that we hadn’t noticed before. Calibration is something that every purchaser should have done. Any trained BigVizion installer should offer a full calibration as part of the installation.
Using a Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD player, we were able to watch some scenes from HD DVD films and compare them to their standard DVD versions. It was a subtle comparison, because Optoma’s scaler does a superb job of upconverting 480i/480p to 1080p. In the opening scene of The Last Samurai, there was better detail and image depth on the HD version than on standard DVD. It wasn’t a night-and-day difference, however—certainly not of the magnitude of HD vs. standard-def. D-VHS clips also looked fantastically good—evidence that Optoma has put its money where its mouth is in making the huge rear projector as good as it can be from input to output.