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InFocus SP8604 DLP Projector Review

Phil Hinton takes a close look at the new InFocus DLP offering

by Phil Hinton
Home AV Review

3

InFocus SP8604 DLP Projector Review
SRP: £2,500.00

Introduction

Many DLP projectors from many manufacturers can start life based on the same chassis and software package from one central source, with the manufacturer then adding or subtracting the features they desire. In today’s cut throat AV marketplace that approach makes perfect sense and still gives the manufacturer the ability to customise the design and the features they desire to make their product stand out. Take the InFocus SP8604 as a good example of this approach. Those who follow the latest projector offerings will notice a resemblance to Optoma and Vivitek models, to name two. This is no coincidence as they are all based on the same chassis and software, but at the same time they all employ their own way of doing things.

The InFocus SP8604 looks like a very promising proposition. It should have the latest DLP darkchip technology on-board, a choice of lens options to help with installation, a 6 segment colour wheel to help reduce rainbow side effects, a claimed 1700 lumens light output, 10 bit processing and a very decent price tag. But, as we are about to find out, not all things are made equal. You can read the full review after the summary and scores.

Design, connections and set up

The design of the SP8604 offers a black coloured chassis with the lens mount central on the face plate. Around the lens is a blue coloured ring to add the only bit of colour to the projectors body and around the back on the rear plate are the video connections. On the top, and centrally placed, are the hard controls for using the projector without the supplied remote control and just above the lens, to the front, is a hidden compartment. Inside here (which slips open to the front) are a lens release button to swap over the lens used, as well as the lens shift dials for vertical and horizontal movement. There are a choice of three different lens for the SP8604, a short throw, standard and long throw. This adds to the flexibility of set up and should allow the projector to be used in almost every type of home theatre or living room. To each side there are plastic fins which conceal the exhausts for air intake and output is towards the rear. Last - but not least - are the screw on feet for levelling the projector should you use it table mounted.

InFocus SP8604

The supplied remote control is a plastic affair with well laid out and logical buttons. Whilst it feels cheap the remote is responsive and fast, when pointed at the screen, and all the major controls are where you would expect them to be. It is also backlit to help navigation in your cinema room bat cave environment.

InFocus SP8604

Moving to the rear of the unit and we have the video connections. Here we have a generous three HDMI slots, one set of component video sockets and legacy S-Video and composite connections. There is a USB connection which is for service only, along with a PC/VGA input, an RS232 control port and two 12v triggers. For the vast majority of installations and users there are more than enough connection options available here.

Set up of the SP8604 is again very easy to achieve once the projector is in the correct position where we will require the minimum (if any) adjustment of the lens shift. Never install a projector and use the keystone correction as this immediately adds in picture artefacts to the image, even if they are not apparent to the eye straight away with content playing. Stick up a multi-burst HD test pattern and move the control one click on the keystone and our advice will become apparent straight away. We have to keep repeating this point in projector reviews as there are some set up guides out there advocating the use of this control to your images detriment.

InFocus SP8604

The lens shift offers +/-10% shift on the Horizontal plane and +20% and -40% on the vertical. This should be enough cover to get the SP8604 installed into even the most awkward of rooms, but as we always say, take your time and plan the positioning as per the manufacturers specifications. Correct installation of any projector is paramount to getting the best out of it, so if you need assistance with this, find a good dealer who offers it as part of their service. Again with lens zoom and focus it is a manual affair at this price point and is easy enough to set up correctly. If you have an anamorphic lens system, the SP8604 will also oblige with a picture stretch mode and you can use the triggers to control masking and/or lens sleds.

The lens used on the SP8604 (we tested the standard option) is of good quality and offers a nice sharpness to images at this price point. The fact that you have a choice of three lens options is a nice design point and helps make the InFocus an ideal model for the custom installation market. The projector also uses dynamic black technology with a dynamic iris to help improve the black levels on offer by changing scene by scene. This is married to the UNISHAPE lamp with its claimed millisecond adjustments in light intensity. Of course, as purists, we look at such technology with sceptical eyes as we would like the display to offer natively good blacks and contrast before any electronic trickery is involved, but we have to be complete in our assessment of what is here, even if we switch everything off again!

Menus

If you are familiar with Optoma, BenQ or Vivitek projectors then the menu system used on the InFocus will be instantly recognisable. All these projectors use a similar software package where the manufacturer installs the functions they want to include. Here on the SP8604, even given it price point, there are some features which are missing when compared to even the £1400 BenQ W1200.

InFocus SP8604

The most important of these is the White Balance (greyscale) controls which are completely absent from the InFocus. I had to double and triple check this fact before calling our contacts to find out what was going on. InFocus were somewhat unhelpful explaining why they would release a £2500 projector without the most basic of picture controls and the most important! There is no firmware update according to InFocus and they even refused to provide the service menu code so we could check for a work around to at least give us the means to calibrate the greyscale and help the InFocus improve its performance. To say that in this day and age it was frustrating getting that kind of response is an understatement. That the £1400 BenQ - that we reviewed at the same time - is ISF certified, has ISF menus and also has the entire menu options switched on, including white balance within its menus, is equally baffling and further frustrating.

InFocus SP8604

I also understand that the Vivitek H5080 - which is based on the same chassis - also shipped without white balance controls but Vivitek did, as I understand it, release a firmware update. We tried to work with InFocus to solve this issue before publication of the review but they stated there was nothing they could do with this model and that future projectors would indeed feature white balance in the user menus in future. Well that’s a result of sorts, I suppose. The only white balance control we have are a few presets in the menu, but no manual adjustment. To be fair to InFocus this is the first time we have noticed such an error from the company, as their previous projectors did have manual white balance controls. Shame really as the SP8604 is a very promising projector.

InFocus SP8604

The really frustrating aspect of the missing white balance controls is that the SP8604 has an excellent full 3D Colour Management System (HSG) on board for correcting the colour gamut to the Rec.709 HDTV standards. But, unless we can find a fairly accurate white balance selection preset, then the CMS is almost redundant if we can’t have everything calibrated to correct co-ordinates. There are no controls in the CMS for white balance either, before readers ask that question – we thought of that when we couldn’t find the usual manual controls in the menu, but it is just RGBYCM. Comparing to the BenQ W1200 we have for review at the same time and uses the same software menus, it looks like InFocus just haven’t activated the white balance controls, yet have added the full-fledged CMS, again, quite baffling really.


InFocus SP8604

The picture menus include most of the other desired controls such as Gamma preset (not manual), Iris settings, frame interpolation (smoothing) and dynamic black. We can also set up the triggers and lens type within the advanced menus system. Overall there are enough choices and set up options available on the SP8604 but the lack of white balance may yet prove to be a deal breaker.

Measured results out of the box

As always in this section of the review we try to find the best possible picture settings that get as close as possible to the industry standards. This is a bench mark that means that the projector can show the film and TV material as it is supposed to be seen, or not. With the SP8604 we have the issue of no white balance controls, so we have to hope that at least one of the presets available for white hits the right mark. Otherwise we are going to be dealing with some inaccurate colour balance when it comes to trying to replicate the desired and intended look of film and TV content. We found the User preset with colour profile Cinema and white balance selection Normal to give the closest out of the box image quality close to the industry standard.

InFocus SP8604

With no manual white balance controls on the SP8604 much will depend on the result above and as we can only test this sample for review, we cannot say that other samples will perform the same out of the box, which is why manual controls are so important. With this sample the Normal white balance setting produced a very good greyscale result which was very close to being perfect in terms of tracking and deltaE errors. We have errors at 3 and under and in most cases this would mean that errors would not be perceived by most viewers. Gamma sadly didn’t track any better towards our desired 2.2 target, but again it wasn’t a massive error that would give that much of an impact. Personally I would aim a little higher in our review room conditions. So, certainly on this sample the out of the box results were excellent, but we cannot confirm if this would be the case with other samples.

InFocus SP8604

Looking at the colour gamut we ideally want to have the correct co-ordinates for Rec.709 playback for film and TV. However, the gamut performance is not great out of the box with some pretty big errors that are visible on screen. Red is over saturated which adds too much rosiness to cheek bones and Green has a large hue error and off saturation so grass, and so on, just doesn’t look correct. There are other errors such as blue which our guess is caused by the colour wheel as blue is very difficult to get correct in such circumstances, so it is over saturated but, in mitigation, blue is the colour we least find offensive in terms of errors to our eyes. DeltaE errors as you would guess are quite large especially in hue and saturation. So out of the box we don’t find any preset which gives us a closer match to the Rec.709 standard, so calibration using the CMS is going to be a must for accuracy.

Calibrated results

As there are no white balance controls we cannot correct that aspect of the image any further, however we do have an HSG (Colour Management System) to try out and see if we can get the colour gamut more correct towards the HDTV standard for colour. So, what were the results?

InFocus SP8604

The CMS was surprisingly accurate and easy to use with good results available. Obviously our white point was not perfect, but it was pretty close out of the box. By correcting the colour points we have made the white point error slightly higher but still within our accepted bench mark errors. The only two areas where we struggled to get better results were Green and Blue which is a result of the native colour wheel not giving us just enough room to correct fully. However, these results with those two points are far better than the out of the box results and are still very close to being correct. I doubt any viewer would be able to pick out any obvious errors without a side by side with a reference display. The most important aspect, whenever calibrating the colour points, are the luminance results where we could get issues with clipping, but as you can see we hit almost perfection here. Overall, the CMS works well and the results with this sample rely, in a big part, to the better than average white balance preset. However, had that not been the case then using the CMS system perhaps would have been a moot point.

Video Processing

Armed with our usual pile of test material we set about giving the SP8604 a hard time in terms of video processing. In the vast majority of tests it did manage to pass with flying colours, although there was an annoying bug that affected 24p playback.

Starting with SD; the projector handled scaling and deinterlacing with aplomb with no signs of scaling errors of jaggies. The usual HQV tests were passed in good order with nothing that overly worried us. Even with tricky cadences the SP8604 managed to lock on and pass the vital 2:2 and 3:2 tests. With HD material in most cases this was fine and played back correctly, however, a slight bug that was similar to that seen on the Optoma popped up now and again. With motion smoothing switched off and playing 24p material there still appeared to be some motion compensation going on from time to time. This would correct itself in most cases by resetting the sync to the HDMI input. It looked like the SP8604 was playing back at 60Hz in some instances and then motion compensated in others. Thankfully this wasn’t a problem that appeared too often and was quickly sorted with a resync.

Talking about motion compensation frame interpolation, called motion smoothing on the SP8604, this works as you would expect with each upper level selection adding more smoothing. We found this added a large amount of unwanted image artefacts and was best switched off for movie watching. The only occasion we would see it being used would be with fast sports - and in the low setting.

Picture Quality

With any projector that comes with a dynamic iris and dynamic black setting we switch these off where possible, for the majority of testing, as we want to see what the native performance of the projector is. We did test the SP8604 with these turned on and, to be honest, we found them to be distracting with constant gamma shifting with the entire image luminance moving between scenes on a regular basis. The iris is slow and this is why it is so obvious. Again this will be a personal preference issue with most users but for us, and our aim for as accurate an image as possible, we left it at the lowest possible, which was level 1.

Black performance and dynamic range are good when compared to other projectors in the SP8604’s class. We ran it side by side with the Panasonic PT-AE4000 and it was obvious that while the InFocus offers more lumen output, even in calibrated modes, it did suffer with shadow detail where blacks became solid areas of dark grey in reference viewing conditions. Black depth was slightly higher than the Panasonic as well, but when we added ambient lighting things went the opposite way thanks to those extra lumens in the SP8604. This is a projector best suited to a room with light coloured walls and the curtains closed, rather than all out bat cave conditions. Compared to the W1200 from BenQ, the InFocus was certainly better at handling black levels - by a smidge - and its lumens were again a factor in calibrated modes, however both models were quite similar in overall images terms which we found surprising.

Colour performance on the SP8604, in out of the box settings, leaves a lot to be desired if it is image accuracy you are going for. Colour is oversaturated with greens and reds the most obvious areas where things were just a tad off. However, calibration certainly helped with the colour gamut and the performance improvement was like night and day. Skin tones suddenly looked more natural and primary colours for the most part were natural and well behaved. It is a pity that we have to rely on the out of the box white balance results (in this case we got away with it) but this might not be the case with other samples.

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Nice design
  • Fast remote control
  • Good CMS system
  • Good light output for use in normal living rooms
  • Good video processing
  • Good 24p playback

Cons

  • No White balance controls for setting greyscale
  • Cheaper projectors based on same software offer more control
  • Frame interpolation adds artefacts with fast moving action
  • While good, blacks are rather grey at the price point
  • Lacking shadow detail at the lower extremes
  • Dynamic range not the best at the price point

InFocus SP8604 DLP Projector Review

There is a lot to like about the InFocus SP8604 as it offers genuinely good images with enough lumens to suit the average living room. It is however not perfect and little things like no white balance controls are infuriating when you know that it will affect results, especially as the bulb ages. Blacks at the price point are good but nothing special and the dynamic iris is too noticeable to use, especially in a bat cave environment. The kind of customer the InFocus will suit are those with rooms that are not perfect in terms of décor where the extra lumens DLP offers come into their own to provide a picture that doesn’t look as washed out as its LCD companions. However, it does struggle more in perfect bat cave surroundings where the lack of shadow detail and out of the box colour gamut means it looks too garish with colour and lacking in black depth. This was obvious when compared with the PT-AE4000 which was just better in all areas in the bat cave surroundings.

There is no doubt that DLP is now a well-established technology at both ends of the market and it is at this price level where the SP8604 and its ilk offer good value for money images. Those not to fussed with image accuracy and who like their images well saturated with colour will like what is on offer here, and those who like more accuracy will get good results here, but could do better elsewhere. So, it will come down to what exactly you want from your projector as to whether the SP8604 is for you to demo. On this occasion the lack of white balance controls to us is a sin that no display manufacturer should be committing in 2011 and as such the SP8604, along with the overall performance assessed, misses out on our recommended badge. That doesn’t mean it is a flop as we are sure there will be many who will like the images produced and the features on offer, but against our bench marks at the price point it just fails to hit top marks in a few areas. There is much to like here with the SP8604 and armed with what we have found here our readers should be well prepared for a demo.

Scores

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels

.
.
.
7

Colour Accuracy

.
9

Greyscale Accuracy

.
9

Image Uniformity

.
.
8

Video Processing

.
.
.
7

2D Picture Quality

.
.
8

Features

.
.
.
7

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
7

Build Quality

.
.
.
7

Value For Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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