One consideration when buying a projector is the potential life span of the UHP bulb that powers almost all projectors under £10k. The usual expectation is that the half life of such items is usually around the 2,000 hour mark when brightness is almost half what it was when new. And then you have the day that the bulb will ultimately give up the ghost and die, usually but not exclusively around the 3-4,000 hour mark. The other downside to a UHP lamp is the colour spectrum and wavelengths produced which are usually high in blue and green and lacking in red. So wouldn’t it be great for a consumer projector to have the same lifespan as a Plasma or LCD TV and better colour from the light source?
While perhaps not quite a consumer level product - it costs over £10,000 – the Vivitek H9080 DLP projector might just have the light source technology of the future onboard. You see this model is one of the first home cinema projectors to feature LED lighting instead of the usual UHP lamp, so it promises a lifespan of over 20,000 hours and better colour purity than its bulb rivals. Have we finally reached the Holy Grail of projection?
Design and Set up
The first thing that hits you about the Vivitek is its size and weight; this is no portable unit that you can store in a cupboard and bring out when you fancy a big screen film. This model is very much a professional custom installation product that requires careful set up and ceiling mounting in a dedicated room. The chassis measures (W x H x D) 20.5Inch x 8.8Inch x 21.6Inch and weighs in at 36lbs and, it is never going to described as a designer unit. That’s not to say it looks ugly, it is just a large black and silver box with no new designer flourishes.
The design follows the traditional projector chassis layout with the lens unit centrally mounted on the face plate and the connections to the rear. A slight difference at the rear requires you to unscrew the back plate to gain access to the connections. The idea here is to hide the cabling when the unit is ceiling mounted, with a cable channel provided towards the bottom (top when ceiling mounted) so the installation is neat. And taking the unit apart during set up doesn’t stop there. To gain access to the lens shift controls you have to unscrew the silver metal strip that runs along the top of the projector body and move this back about 6 inches. This opens up two holes next to the lens assembly where you use the provided allen key to adjust the vertical and horizontal shift controls. Once everything is connected and screen alignment is done, you put the projector back together again. This is an unusual approach, but certainly points to the fact it is designed for the custom install market and a slick ceiling installation. Set up is certainly not a quick 10 minute job here.
While we have the back plate of the projector what connections do we get? Well in typical professional product fashion we get two HDMI V1.3 slots, two sets of component connections (one with pro BNC connectors), and legacy s-video and composite along with an RGB/PC input. Also featured are two 12V triggers an IR input and RS232 communication port.
So, connecting video devices to the H9080 is straight forward for both HD and SD sources, plus the unit has plenty of scope when installed into automated home cinema systems. Moving to the silver strip on the top of the projector we have access to the power button, a source input and the menu keys with directional buttons for use in the menus. This provides total manual control over the projector and was the way I had to set everything up as the remote control unit was not included in the box. This was an oversight by the distributor but not one that caused any major issues using the H9080.
In this regard I cannot comment on the remote control or its use other than looking at the same pictures that readers can see on the manufacturer’s website. But it’s not a major issue as the controls we have access to on the projector offer the same menus and control. So, lets move on to the menu system and the control we have over the projector.
The menu system on the Vivitek is fully featured and allows complete control over most aspects of the unit’s performance. As with all manufacturers some of the ways the controls behave will be different to what you may expect them to do. For example the half way point for the front panel controls (Brightness, Contrast etc) is 100 on the Vivitek. So you may assume that this is too high and is at the top of the range on initial viewing. But the controls move either side of that 100 reading in the menu allowing accurate set up of these options. The main menu screen on the Vivitek is more like a house keeping menu. It allows you to say how many of the inputs you have connected and switch off those not being used. In this case we used HDMI for the main testing (although we did test all inputs using a calibrated sencore pattern generator) and because we selected this and turned everything else off, touching the source button did nothing. This is a really useful tool and will save time moving through input selection where there are no sources connected to the projector.
Moving to the menus we have the main picture set up screen. This provides control over the aforementioned front panel selections as well as an advanced sharpness feature, a noise reduction submenu, HSG submenu, overscan settings and a resync control. All of those selections are more or less self explanatory but HSG may seem strange. This is in fact the 3D Colour Management Control (CMS) and in most settings it is greyed out. This did prove to be a distraction as I went through the unit initially as we really want access to the CMS for calibration later down the line. I will explain why a little later in the review.
So next we move to the Advanced Menu and my first little bit of feedback to Vivitek would be that the HSG (Hue, Saturation, Gain) CMS controls should be in this section of the menu and not the main picture menu. Maybe a slight irritation but one that would have made set up that little bit easier in terms of workflow during a calibration. The advanced menu offers all kinds of options that will affect image quality on screen. These range from colour space selection, video standard, Gamma, Colour Temperature, frame rate selection, colour gamut, brilliant colour, dynamic iris, RGB adjust and fine sync. That’s some list of selections and is certainly a recipe for advanced calibration by those who know how and a disaster for those who don’t. We would expect that anyone not conversed in the world of display set up and calibration will have their dealer set it up, or use the auto setting options.
Selections such as colour gamut and colour temperature are for the industry colour spaces for the material you will watch and are named as such. So we have Rec.709, Smpte-C, ITU, EBU etc. If you are not sure which one to use, leave it in auto and the projector should be able to tell what colour space and temperature the material was mastered in.
Other selections like Brilliant colour and the dynamic iris can be switched on or off and after testing I decided to leave both off for a more consistent image to assess. And at this point I move back to the HSG (CMS) menu option and why it appeared greyed out. It appears that you have to select the native colour space and temperature selections in the advanced menu, to unlock the HSG (CMS) selection on the main menu. So, the CMS will only work with the native colour space and not allow fine tuning of the Rec.709 or other presets. This is not very clear when moving around the projector menus or when resorting to the manual to see what is going on (as the manual doesn’t mention this). It is also the reason I suggest that HSG (CMS) is moved to the advanced menu as you can then see when it is greyed out moving between colour spaces (and it would have saved me a good 30 minutes of work!). Why not have the HSG (CMS) active in the Rec.709 or SMPTE-C selections?
Once unlocked the HSG (CMS) menu is straight forward for those skilled in colour management correction. The main selection at the top of the menu moves between Hue, Saturation and Gain (Brightness) and below we have the 6 axis selections of RGBCMY. This is a full 3D system and should allow us to correctly set up the colour management for the production standards of the material we will be watching so it matches the screen and environment the projector will be used with.
Another important part of picture set up is also fully featured on the Vivitek with RGB controls for a two point greyscale correction. Again this is an important part of the image to get set for the environment, sources and screen we are going to use. Both the CMS and RGB controls need to be set up using a quality meter and software as they cannot be set by eye. It is good to see that a premium product like the H9080 is fully capable of correct image calibration. If any prospective purchasers want the best image possible for watching Film and TV images as they were mastered and intended to be seen on video, then a full professional calibration is a must and the Vivitek should be able to perform; we will see below.
The LED Difference
The Vivitek projector uses LED lighting instead of a UHP bulb, so how does it work? Well it is simple yet very effective in its design. Each primary colour (these make up all colours by being mixed together in varying amounts) has its own LED light source, so Red, Green and Blue light is produced by separate LEDs. This light is then channelled into a DLP DMD chip and then through the high quality lens onto the screen. Because the LEDs are producing the colour spectrum as individual RGB channels and can be switched in mere milliseconds there is no need for a colour wheel as seen on normal single chip DLP projectors. What this should provide is a light source that has greater colour purity, especially in the red channel and no rainbow effect sometimes seen with a colour wheel.
And in practice this approach works perfectly in achieving its goals. Not once through the entire testing process of this projector did I see any rainbow effect (trailing red, green or blue light on fast moving objects or when moving my head). Plus the major benefit of this LED approach is the colour spectrum and purity of the coloured light being produced. Below is the colour spectrum of a typical DLP using a UHP lamp and the Vivitek using the LED source.
These scans below are taken from a white 100ire pattern shown by the projector. As many will know white is made up by mixing red, green and blue at a given amount. If we look at the UHP lamp image (below) first you can see that the primary colour spectrums are not entirely correct with green energy too far towards the yellow tones and red lacking in energy.
Moving to the LED spectrum we can see a vast improvement in green and blue wavelengths and red is now pure and full. As you can imagine this adds excellent levels of colour purity to the spectrum available and hopefully this simple demonstration and explanation gives you an idea of why LED light sources will help to produce a better result over the UHP route.
Out of the Box Measurements
There are many selections to make out of the box for your colour space and colour temperature settings. During measuring we found that the Rec.709 selections were reasonable when it came to accuracy, but the colour gamut was still wide and the greyscale while excellent, was still open to improvement. However, in these selections the adjustments for the CMS were greyed out so there is no scope to calibrate from these selections out of the box. It is almost impossible to get presets to be that close to accurate in any type of display device, even the great THX modes on other projectors still need some work. And the reason is simple, how can the manufacturer know what sources, screen and room environment you are using with the display? So as far as trying to get accurate out of the box is concerned, the Vivitek performs well and is consistent with other picture presets which attempt to do the same on rival products.
The interesting thing with the Vivitek is that the native set up and the default setting this projector ships with, takes full advantage of its LED light source to produce a very wide colour gamut. This almost mimics the DCI digital projection standard used in commercial cinema. I can see why users would be tempted to use this preset as it offers that level of wide gamut not normally seen on a consumer display. But a word of warning is in order here. Just because the display is capable of this wider colour gamut does not mean that the material you are going to feed it will match the wide colour shifts. Infact, it’s a certainty that it will not, after all even Blu-ray is an 8-bit video delivery system and as such has a set colour space of its own. By watching such material on the Vivitek in its wide native colour space you are adding in what isn’t there in the original material and of course adding in errors to the image quality. Even with animation material this will produce oversaturated images that have no resemblance to what was intended when the content was mastered to Blu-ray or DVD.
So it is interesting to see but ultimately useless if your goal is the best possible image for your film and TV content. Of course there will be some who take the view that Blu-ray and DVD images should be set up to their personal choice, and we can understand why that might be the case, however flawed the reasoning is. For the best quality image from any display, and of course full enjoyment of the material you watch without tinkering every five minutes, the ultimate goal with a display is to see it as it was intended and mastered. Once correctly set up then all 8-bit material (and it's here for the long-run, people) will be enjoyed with the correct colour and image quality visible.
But for completeness here are the results of the Vivitek in native mode for you to see how wide the colour gamut is (remember the inner triangle is Rec.709) and how much blue is in the greyscale to produce a bright result.
Although the Rec.709 presets do quite well as out of the box options on the Vivitek, as always we set out to see just how accurate the projector can be towards the international standards for video playback. As it’s the goal to see the whole picture and, as intended, there is simply no other way to achieve this. It is also important that we have control over the presets for source, screen and environment set up.
Running a full calibration correcting the greyscale with the supplied RGB controls and colour points using the CMS, was thankfully straight forward and the controls allowed for a great deal of accuracy. In fact what we finally achieved in terms of picture accuracy can only be described as reference level when looking at the greyscale and colour points against the Rec.709 standard.
As you can see from the results above the Vivitek allows full control and consequently we were able to achieve probably one of the best results for a while when it comes to a consumer level display. When using any electronic CMS, there is a risk of adding in some issues such as a non-linear colour response or banding. However, after fully checking the results here, I am happy to confirm that they were spot on. So in terms of Greyscale and Colour reproduction the H9080FD can be marked down as reference quality.
As always in comparison with every other projector we test in this room in a repeatable manner, the on/off contrast measurement in our light controlled test room was 2,178:1 calibrated, so just a little down on the 100,000:1 advertised claim. There is a dynamic iris within the H9080 but I found this rather distracting and as with all such devices you sacrifice some of the consistency in the dynamic range available by using it. As always I went with the off selection and calibrated for the most consistent performance. After all, the image quality needs to be high enough with or without the iris, it doesn’t suddenly improve an image in a dramatic way. One last area to comment on is the slight lack in lumens and dynamic range, even in a light controlled home cinema room. This is not the brightest of projectors so really needs to be used in a dedicated room with the correct screen size and material. Although having ambient lighting in the room doesn’t completely wash out the image, it’s recommended that it is only installed in an environment with full black out conditions and darker walls.
Video processing tests were also passed with flying colours, even the tricky Pal 2:2 cadence tests managed to look correct after a quick pause while the processor locked on. As expected from a US machine all NTSC centric tests also passed with full marks.
The Vivitek uses the Gennum processor and I didn’t find any obvious issues with its scaling or de-interlacing performance on a mixture of testing scenes and test discs, and 24fps material was handled correctly with no need for frame interpolation technology. I couldn’t fault the H9080s performance with the vast amount of material we throw at every display and there are no issues with any added motion interpolation features which for such an expensive projector is a good thing!
Picture Quality and Comparison
I guess the question most readers will want answered straight away has to be can the Vivitek compete with our current reference projector, the JVC HD750. Well, yes and no.
Lets start with the positives of the H9080FD. The calibrated greyscale and colour gamut is sublime and certainly competes with the JVC in my opinion. The image has good detail and is sharp with superb natural colour performance and stunningly good skin tones. There is no colour shift seen at any stage and fine shadow detailing on faces or dark sides of mountains are fully produced as they were mastered with the correct white balance. The image has a good sense of depth with Gamma set at the standard 2.2 curve. With the HD750 it is hard to tell them apart at this stage, each produces calibrated colour correctly (Although image depth is not quite as good on the H9080FD). Even in terms of colour purity it is hard to separate the two projectors so we are talking about reference levels of performance here.
But I guess we can’t always just have good news and sadly where the Vivitek struggles is with its dynamic range and ultimate black levels. The lack of overall contrast does affect the full range of the image and it’s in the lower reaches that the H9080FD struggles to produce the same levels of shadow detail and gradation when compared to the HD750. Plus, unlike what has been suggested by the use of LEDs, there is no ultimate fade to black available here. There is always an underlying level of light spill even on complete 0ire fields, the LEDs do not switch off completely. And there is a good reason for that as the projector needs to maintain a video black level when in use. Sadly the black levels are not as deep, detailed or fluid as the JVC.
The picture quality when calibrated is sublime with colour reproduction and despite a lack of absolute dynamic range in the lower reaches, screen uniformity, details levels and sharpness are very good from the high quality lens. There is much to like about the images produced by the Vivitek.
Vivitek H9080FD LED DLP Projector Review
One big plus point of the projector is that for a single chip DLP model the lack of any rainbow effect is great and not replacing the light source for 20k plus hours must also enter the overall equation.
Calibrated performance for colour and greyscale are reference level with just a lack in absolute dynamic range and black levels slightly denting an otherwise excellent performance. There is much to like about the Vivitek and the new LED light source. And like most new technologies the performance levels will only get better as time passes, but that’s not to say that the H9080FD is flawed. At the price and performance level we have to expect high performance and it does most things better than the vast majority of projectors in the consumer market, and as a custom installation product it will perform well in the right environment. It is only when compared to its competition in the form of the reference level JVC that the slight lack of overall dynamic range will become an issue.
We can highly recommend that if you are in the market for a high-end solution and you have a bat cave, you have a look at the H9080FD.
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