Gear & Now | Projectors Part 1: Projecting a Positive Image
Posted Jan 23, 2006

How and where your final product is consumed goes a long way in determining how it's received, and how much it's enjoyed. No, we're not talking food preparation here, but think about how presentation can make or break a nice meal. Now apply the same thinking to your video.

Presentation is critical. Mostly, it's on a TV, and for the time being, that TV is probably standard def, NTSC, 4:3. But widescreen, high-definition imagery will overtake that established norm at some point. And digital projection may soon overtake screen display as the most enjoyable way to watch video, at home or elsewhere.

Many wedding and event videographers have been taking advantage of the power and impact of big-screen projected images on location to screen finished videos, same-day edits, or live-switched camera feeds for a waiting audience. Video projections are a staple of church and worship video scenarios—at least where they have media departments and budgets. In the event space, projected video screenings can deliver added emotion to the video, more engaged audiences at the event, and terrific referrals for your company, when done properly.

What's more, new products for image control and calibration of projected images mean that discerning videographers can have more influence over the integrity and fidelity of their projected images—much more than they had using an old TV set!

 In this two-part examination of projection technology as it relates to and intersects with our event video space, we'll look at new video projectors, portable screens (even in HD), cabling options, and related accessories. In this first installment, we'll explore some of the criteria used to identify video projection requirements and applications in the first place.

Projector Types and Technologies

Generally, there are four different projector categories: home, portable, fixed-installation, and large-venue. There are also three projector technologies used in most of these products: LCD (liquid crystal display), DLP (digital light processing), and the older CRT (cathode ray tube). D-ILA (direct drive image light amplification) and L-COS (liquid crystal on silicon) are becoming more and more popular due to their inherent capacity for higher-resolution imagery.

Every projector will have its own brightness, color, and contrast settings; some have unique features like dual-lamp redundancy, integrated smart card or storage devices, wired remote or wireless control, multi-purpose connectivity choices, and the like.

And there are more resolution specifications—and still more acronyms—than most of us would care to know.

For years, data and video projectors were seen as one and the same; you can still cause confusion in the market today if you aren't careful to define what you mean by "video" when talking about projection. Do you mean video? Or animated graphics? Or PowerPoint? Or alpha-numeric data?

If you answered "yes" to more than one of these questions, you may encounter problems when you project different types of media on the same projector.

Resolution Issues

Resolution, of course, is defined by the number of physical pixels in a display.

Projectors rated as VGA offer 640x480 (horizontal by vertical) pixel resolution. That may not be up to snuff for a software-based presentation from a laptop computer (it certainly won't show you the type of resolution you're accustomed to seeing on-screen—which may be as a high as 1,920 horizontal pixels—but it is actually just fine for video. Or, at least it was for standard-def, NTSC video, which typically weighs in at 640x480 for 4:3 TVs and DVDs.

SVGA, another common projector specification, has a resolution of 800x600. That's just not a typical video format.

At the other extreme, the WSXGA projector specification refers to a display with sufficient resolution for a 16:9 aspect ratio; it has 1,600-1,920 horizontal pixels and 900-1,080 vertical, and so can be adjusted to match certain video specs, including high def.

Regardless of native resolution, projectors can display greater or smaller images, using scaling or transposing techniques, in order to match the native resolution of the source device or material. Many projectors use such adaptation to handle both video and data chores.

But most image-scaling produces artifacts in the image that's being scaled; some are more apparent and objectionable than others. Wide shots may look fine. On-screen text may not. Hard edges and high-contrast or fast-motion imagery may appear slightly truncated or aliased.

Today's projectors use various methods to minimize such artifacting. These include motion-adaptive smoothing, line doubling or interpolation, color processing, progressive scan, and software-based 3:2 image pull-down, and all can help deliver video with fewer artifacts.

Built for Video

Another way to minimize artifacting and make sure your projector can handle video effectively is to buy a dedicated video projector that matches ATSC format specs.

One such example is the new PT-AE900U from Panasonic, called a native high-definition home theater projector. It can be ceiling-mounted, but at just under eight pounds (dimensions 13-3/16" W x 3-23/32" H x 10-5/8" D), it is not out of the question to use it as a location projector.

The PT-AE900U's three imagers are 16:9 native LCDs, with 1280x720 pixel (2.76 million effective pixels) dimensions. Sound familiar, 720p HD fans? Videographers will also like the unit's HDMI input—compatible with HD sources—as well as component video connections from progressive-scan DVD players. Composite, S-Video, and other inputs are included.

With a manual zoom and focus lens, the AE-900U projects a 100-inch picture from less than 10 feet or more than 19 feet. There's a handy, joystick-controlled optical system that permits for shifting the lens vertically, and a horizontal lens to adjust projected images without physical movement. The PT-AE900U lists at $3,199.

JVC's DLA-SX21 is also called a home theater projector, even though it's a little heftier at about 13 pounds (which might just be too heavy to qualify as truly portable). But its clear, high-resolution imagery may make it worth the effort.

The SX21's three D-ILA chips are native 1400x1050, and are compatible with 720p, 1080i, and even 1080/24sF HD formats. With H/V digital keystone correction, image-scaling technology, and color-processing management, this professional projector is well-suited for the most demanding video assignments.

It carries a suggested list price of just under $10,000—which may not be the price point you wanted to hear, say, if you're wondering just how long it will take your sameday edits to start paying for themselves.

Vidikron has a list price of twice that for its new Vision Model 90 HD projector, a DLP projector specified at 1280x720 resolution, 2,250 lumens, and a 3000:1 contrast ratio. It features the company's Imagix video processing designed to improve image and provide artifact-free scaling on higher-resolution formats.

The Vidikron has electronic horizontal and vertical shift, multiple inputs, video processing, and aspect ratio control, among other features. The projector is available with any of four lenses to handle angle of view and long/short throw distances. Replacement or optional lenses, where available, can be pricey all by themselves—as much as or more than a projector itself. Sanyo, for example, has an optional long throw zoom projector lens that itself is priced at over $10,000!

Future Projections

OK, maybe we are going the wrong way here, price-wise. There are six-figure-plus projectors out there if you want, but there are units for less than a grand if you must.

Just for fun, as there are no immediate plans to market the technology, Epson recently showed a 3LCD mini-projector prototype, using an LED light source. It's about the size (W x H) of a sheet of paper, weighs less than a pound, and could fit in your hand. It's a sign, the company says, of where the best projector products can go.

We'll look at more projector options—both big and small—in Projectors, Part 2, next month.