InFocus SP8602 Review
InFocus bring back the ScreenPlay home cinema projector line for 2010
Continuing our look at the new breed of projectors for 2010 brings us to InFocus and the product which re-launches their screenplay line of home cinema projectors. The SP8602 is the first home cinema projector to come to market in almost two years for the US manufacturer and boasts the latest single chip DLP technology with a chassis and design aimed squarely at custom installation in a dedicated room. So how will this new DLP perform and how does it compete against its main rivals?
If you are looking for a small sized, quality projector to place on a shelf in your cinema room then the SP8602 is not going to suit your needs. The chassis of the InFocus takes up a surprising amount of real estate whether you ceiling mount or table mount its bulk. Measuring in at 17.8cm x 54cm x 36cm (H x L x W) and weighing in at just over 7.5kg this is a large chassis that needs careful set up and placement.
Uniquely the SP8602 offers a number of top plates for the projector chassis which means you can chose a number of coloured and wood effect panels to customise the design and look of the projector for your viewing room. Whatever finish you decide to go with, there is no taking away the fact that the design of the InFocus is industrial with a feeling of weight and bulk. The lens unit is centrally placed on the front plate with a ribbed design to the central edges all the way around the body. As mentioned the top plate is removable and this allows access to the lens shift wheels as well as the lens focus and zoom rings. This means that if you want to use the zoom approach to cinemascope Blu-rays you will be removing this top plate on a regular basis. Also on the top of the projector towards the rear is what InFocus calls LiteTouch. This is a strip of menu and picture control buttons that are touch sensitive and backlit in an ice blue colour. Obviously this kind of design is going to be very personal to the individual looking to buy such a unit, but there is no denying that you are given some choice of finish.
Connections and Set up
The SP8602 is going to require a little more care and thought with the positioning and set up in your viewing room. I say that because the SP8602 while offering lens shift wheels under the top plate, still has a fixed offset that requires the projector to be placed above or below the screen. The recommended placement is approximately 5% of the total screen height under or below the screen edge. There are lens shift options using the provided wheel controls under the hood, but these are limited in movement and initial placement is paramount. You could go beyond this recommended placement point and use the keystone controls to bring the image back to look straight and fit your screen. However we would point out that using keystone will introduce further issues and artefacts and suggest you do not use this approach. The standard throw ratio is adequate for most standard sized viewing rooms with a minimum throw at approximately 4.9 feet and a maximum of 38ft. The lens shift capabilities are 105% to 130% on the vertical plane and +/- 15% horizontal movement at 105% vertical – meaning that if you use more than the standard offset you lose control of the horizontal shift. So again, do your homework when it comes to the best placement within your room to get the best out of the InFocus. The official website offers a projection calculation tool to assist you.
Moving on to the connections available and these are placed at the rear of the chassis and hidden under a removable cover. This approach allows for a sleek and cable free installation if ceiling mounted and, is a nice touch in this reviewer’s opinion. The connections available are two HDMI 1.3 slots; three component (RCA) inputs; legacy s-video and composite inputs and, for PC connections a VGA port. Also on the back is an RS232C port, three 12 volt triggers and a USB slot that is for service use. So, overall the connections available for sources should allow flexible set up options and for custom installation jobs where automation is required.
Rounding off we have the rather small remote control unit. This is designed like a modern mobile phone and is indeed no bigger than an iPhone. There is a small light button on the right side of the unit which lights up the keys in a dark room. Although the design is sleek and looks cool, it is not the easiest remote to use by touch only as it has no raised keys. I found this quite annoying and even after using for a good 7 days it still annoyed me by the end of the InFocus’s stay. So it certainly seems more like style over ease of use, here.
Moving on to the menu system of the SP8602 and we are met with what looks like a very comprehensive list of adjustment parameters. The main menu hosts what we have come to expect with the main front panel controls such as Brightness and Contrast. Strangely here with the SP8602 we don’t have access to the Colour and Tint (Hue) controls when using the HDMI input. Instead we have a choice of colour space options such as SMPTE-C, REC 709 and EBU to name three. We will just have to cross our fingers and hope that the colour performance does mirror those standards below in the measurements. Also a little strange on the InFocus is the picture profile selection. Here we have Presentation, Video, Blackboard, White Board, Beige wall and Custom. For a high quality DLP I do find these options rather strange. Also here are save options for day and night settings under the ISF name. There is no stand alone ISF menu, however.
Other options that are available for picture quality are full two point greyscale controls for gain and bias, a selection of preset white balance (colour temperature) choices plus a selectable gamma option. For a unit that carries ISFccc credentials it is annoying that there is no 3D Colour Management System (CMS) or custom gamma options. Maybe Joel Silver needs to have a look at his licensing strategy as it is not forcing manufacturers to add in controls for full calibration and we find that unacceptable. As the SP8602 is a DLP projector we are also given options for the dynamic black iris control in steps of 10%. However, like the Brilliantcolor selection there is no off switch. Whilst this shouldn’t cause us that many problems in assessing the InFocus we would like to defeat any Iris control so we can assess picture consistency without dimming technology getting in the way.
Rounding up the picture controls are a number of aspect ratio selections which include a letterbox option that introduces a vertical stretch for use with an anamorphic lens. For image motion there is the now familiar frame interpolation technology that makes things up as it goes. We have options for low, normal and high along with the all important off selection. I did a few experiments with this system and will cover it in full in the video processing section. Further menu options are set once and forget in nature including noise reduction selections which we left off.
Out of the Box Measurements
Once the projector was set up in the review room, a basic calibration was carried out by finding the most accurate settings out of the box along with adjusting brightness and contrast using test patterns. This is what the vast majority of users will do prior to use, so it will be interesting to see how close to the industry standards for film and broadcast playback the Sp8602 gets. We chose the video picture selection with the Rec709 colour space and the CRT gamma selection and the warmest white balance selection, plus contrast and brightness set by eye with test patterns.
Starting with the greyscale, we are met with some excellent results. Greyscale is the back bone to any image on screen as it determines every level from black to white in the image. If there are any obvious errors here we will get a colour cast to the image which will affect shadow detailing, skin tones and the general tone of the image. Thankfully the results from the InFocus are extremely good for an out of the box set up. Looking at the tracking box and colour balance we can see that all three colours are tracking in a uniform manner with the mix just slightly away from the 100% across the board target. This also means that errors (Delta E) are also extremely good with no errors over 2.8. This means that in most cases, unless you are used to assessing accurate images, most people will not notice these small errors on screen. Sadly gamma is not as well behaved here and is overall under the 2.2 reference point we would want. This is down to only having a small selection of points to chose in the menus and not a custom system which would fully correct the curve result.
Moving to the colour gamut and we are met with mixed results. Here the colour points have reference points in 3D space that they must hit to comply with the industry standards for playback. In the main graph image the black points of each colour should line up with the primary and secondary points on the CIE chart. As you can see there is a lack of blue as the point lands short of where it should be and this is a restriction of the native colour gamut (having tested all options and measured them). This result is not a disaster as all the points while out; do line up somewhat to the points with just small hue or saturation point errors (barring yellow which is some way out). We can see that errors (Delta E for hue, colour, luminance and overall) are somewhat under control but there are also pointers to some design choices here. With a lack of blue in the overall native gamut it appears that the luminance for blue has been pushed in an attempt to counter the deficits. However, yellow is a bit of a mystery in its over saturation and hue errors which makes yellow appear as a mustard hue which could be down to a number of issues. Sadly as I pointed out earlier the InFocus does not come with a CMS so there is not a lot we can do to correct the issues here. It will come down to how much of an effect these errors have on viewing real world material.
So with the best out of the box settings explored and measured, how does the SP8602 stack up after a full ISF calibration.
Looking at the greyscale results first we can see that some improvements have been made here to finer tune the tracking of RGB. Whilst we were not able to hit reference levels the overall results are excellent and get Delta E (errors) under 2 which should mean that almost any viewer will be unable to notice them. It also improves the overall image tone to highlight extra detail with correct white levels now achieved. By improving the greyscale mix we were also able to slightly improve the gamma tracking which while still a little low in the bottom reaches and high at the top end, onscreen images do not suffer and still have plenty of dynamic range. What we did find was that the white balance controls on the InFocus were just too coarse to get perfect results and with a lack of custom gamma control we have to accept what we have here. However, that is not to say that the results here are not very good for a consumer grade projector.
Sadly due to a lack of that CMS control that really should be on an ISF certified projector, there wasn’t much we could do to improve things here, other than the effects of a corrected greyscale.
The InFocus uses the Pixelworks video processing chip at its heart which produced some pretty mixed results. One major fault we did spot straight away was with SD material (or 1080i/60hz) and when the letterbox (anamorphic) mode was selected. Feeding the SP8602 standard definition (or 1080i/60hz) with the anamorphic lens in place and in letterbox anamorphic mode the image would tear in the centre of the screen on fast moving scenes or with changes brightness on screen. This has been reported directly to InFocus who replied straight away to say they are looking at fixing the issue with a firmware update. This issue was not seen using Blu-ray at 1080/24p/60p in the same image set up.
Staying with SD material, we ran the usual test sequences with the Pal HQV benchmark DVD and noticed a few issues. With the jaggies test the results were not perfect and would normally score a fair. That’s to say that the processing did a fair job at dealing with the diagonal jaggies but was not completely effective with the bottom two bars suffering slightly from jaggies. This was also apparent in the now famous flag test where some slight jaggies appeared on the flag and the background appeared soft. With cadence tests the InFocus displayed flickering and jaggies in both telecine A and B tests. When watching real world material these issues were present within many scenes. However, switching to NTSC material (region 1 DVDs) this was improved greatly with correct 3:2 cadence detection. We would suggest a good quality DVD/Blu-ray player with its own scaling and de-interlacing rather than feeding the projector a standard definition interlaced signal.
Update: We reported the above issues to InFocus through their UK PR arm and within hours of doing so I had email correspondence to say that they would be fixed via a firmware update. The review projector we had here was an early production sample with the original firmware. I am happy to report that InFocus has indeed issued vA72 of its firmware as of the 13th of May and it fixes all the issues we have raised in this section of the review. This points to excellent product support from the company and we have added back some score marks to highlight the fact the issues are now fixed.
Moving to HD material and the HQV BD disc, we found no issues with 1080i material and 1080/24p material playback was excellent.
The motion smoothing selection available in the menus is the projectors frame interpolation system for adding in extra frames to improve motion. We are not fans of this technology at AVForums reviews as we think it robs film material of its natural look and natural movement. However, with video based material, such as documentary material in SD or 1080i some slight additional FI might look ok. Here on the InFocus our fears were confirmed with Blu-ray film material taking on the ‘soap opera’ look and introducing image artefacts. This was present on all the available selections. With Planet Earth which is a BBC documentary on Blu-ray the low setting on the InFocus was acceptable with no obvious artefacts. However, going to any higher settings we felt it introduced to many issues. Our advice is to have it switched off at all times, but end users are free to experiment and chose what works for them.
With the SP8602 being a single chip projector it will cause issues for some users when it comes to rainbow effect. This is where users see stripes of bright colour in fast moving scenes or in scenes of mixed contrast images. It only affects a small proportion of users but it is best that you demo any single chip DLP with your family members before buying.
The InFocus SP8602 uses a 6 segment RGBRGB colour wheel at its heart and in most tests and viewing mixed content the instances of rainbow effects were low. This reviewer is particularly sensitive to the effect but didn’t have any issues with the SP8602. As always its best to demo it yourself before a purchase.
Anamorphic or Zoom methods for 2.35:1 scope screens
With more and more enthusiasts moving to 2.35:1 scope screens we tested the InFocus with our resident CAVX lens as well as the zoom method on our screen.
Looking at the zoom method first and this will be a real pain for users with the way the projector is set up. There is no automatic zoom and shift memory functions like the Panasonic here so it’s a fully manual affair. Plus the zoom and focus rings are set within the body of the projector so this will require the user to remove the top plate between every change in aspect ratio. This will be particularly difficult if you go for a ceiling mount. So its safe to say that the InFocus doesn’t suit those looking for a projector to use with the zoom method.
However, if you want to employ an anamorphic lens with the SP8602 it should work with no issues. We tested it with our CAVX lens and after careful set up the InFocus produces a nice sharp image and easy switching between the vertical stretch mode (letterbox) and normal native 16:9. You will just have to find a way to move the lens or a way to leave it in place with an off board processor.
So we finally get to the most important part of any display review and that’s Picture quality. With such great measured results for greyscale out of the box and an ok colour gamut result, the images on screen really do come to life with excellent contrast and balance. Colours while not perfect in measurement do look very good on screen with just the odd off hue here and there pegging things back for those looking for perfection. In both out of the box and calibrated settings the InFocus offers very good black levels and shadow detailing in a light controlled room. Image depth and dynamic range is excellent with good colour performance making up a very fine projected image. Even with some ambient light in the room the brightness of the InFocus even in calibrated settings offers a watchable image but contrast and black levels do suffer.
With film material on Blu-ray the SP8602 offers a very strong performance with excellent skin tones and shadow details. Blacks in the right environment are strong and match most of its rivals at its price point. Only the JVC DLA-HD550 would better the InFocus in contrast or black level performance, but the SP8602 does offer better colour accuracy even with its slightly off gamut measurement.
Make sure you position the projector away from your main seating area as it is one of the more noisy out there even in low lamp mode. Also remember to switch off the blue lens cover light if using the projector in a light controlled environment as it will affect contrast performance.
In terms of image quality with Blu-ray discs in its best out of the box and calibrated settings the InFocus offers excellent image quality with strong blacks and very good colour accuracy. It also offers a unique chassis which while big and bulky can be customised to suit your cinema room with ease. So overall the InFocus SP8602 offers a solid performance from the single DLP projection camp and we recommend you add it to your demo list.
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Single chip DLP Projector
Suggested price: £3,000
Reviewed 17th May, 2010 by Phil Hinton
To get the best out of your TV or projector, consider getting it calibrated.