When I first heard that Samsung had retained the services of video guru Joe Kane to help them design a DLP front projector, I couldn’t wait to see the result. When I finally had an opportunity to review the SPH700AE a year and a half ago, I was blown away by its color accuracy. (What else would you expect from Joe Kane?) The only problem was the price: $12,000 for a single-chip 720p DLP projector was almost astronomical, even back then.
Fortunately, Samsung found a way to offer essentially the same projector for a third the price of the original. How did they manage that, you ask? Primarily thanks to greater manufacturing efficiencies, not to mention a shifting market and the introduction of a higher-performance model, the SP-H800BE, which offers DarkChip3 technology among other enhancements for $6000.
Like the SP-H700AE, the 710 offers a number of unique features that set it apart from other projectors. First, it provides three color-gamut choices: SMPTE C, HDTV, and EBU (for the European and Asian markets). The color-temperature settings are not labeled Warm, Medium, Cool, or anything like that—they are labeled with color-temperature values, including 5500K, 6500K, 8000K, and 9300K. Most of these presets measure slightly higher than their labels indicate, but not much. Also available are three gamma presets (which determine how quickly the light level rises out of black) optimized for film, video, and graphics; not only that, there are 12 gamma settings in the service menu that can be assigned to the three presets.
Although there is no horizontal lens shift, the projector does include the ability to shift the image slightly up, down, right, or left to achieve perfect alignment with the screen, and this can be set independently for each input resolution. Overscan can be turned on or off, and Samsung’s Digital Natural Image engine (DNIe) can be turned on or off or placed in a demo mode that lets you see the difference in a split-screen configuration. (Like all such processing, I kept it off.)
Film Mode (3:2 pulldown) can be turned on or off, though it’s available only for the analog inputs. When it’s on, this mode picks up 3:2 pulldown quickly and reliably. It seems to do nothing with video-based material, so I left it on and had no problems.
Each input includes three separate user memories in which all picture-control settings (including the ubiquitous Contrast, Brightness, Color, Tint, and Sharpness) can be saved. That’s 15 user memories in all (the S-video and composite inputs share the same three memories).
Another unique feature of the SPH710AE is the calibration procedure. I won’t describe it here; suffice to say it’s much easier than any other video display I’ve seen, and it results in far more accurate color reproduction.
The lens provides manual focus and zoom on the barrel; there’s no electronic control from the remote or front-panel controls. The same goes for vertical lens shift, which allows the projector to be placed up to 5% above or below the picture area.
There is no horizontal shift at all. It’s best if the projection axis is perpendicular to the screen; the 710 includes vertical keystone correction, but it’s better to avoid using it if possible to prevent a loss of perceived resolution.
Despite its simplicity, the illuminated remote is remarkably well-designed, with separate On and Off buttons that make it easy to manage the power from a universal or learning remote. Direct-access buttons for all inputs are very welcome, and other buttons provide direct access to the menus that let you specify the aspect ratio, picture preset, picture settings, and vertical keystone correction.
The menu system is a model of good organization; I never had any trouble finding my way around once I learned the meaning of the four icons on the left that represent the main menus. A text label for the selected menu (and submenu) appears at the top of the screen, but I do wish all the main-menu icons were also labeled in the left column.
I used the SP-H710AE in my home’s theater room on a 60-inchwide Screen Research ClearPix2 woven screen at a throw distance of 93 inches. At that distance and screen size (using the low-output lamp setting), the black level was quite good. The 710’s black level could be lowered by using a larger screen, but I wouldn’t go a lot larger or you risk lowering the peak white level too much.
There are those who express concern that the weave pattern of the Screen Research screens tends to soften the image. This is certainly true at close viewing distances, but I’ve found that the softening is not particularly evident at the right distance, which is a bit farther than the optimum viewing-distance- to-screen-size relationship.