As most of you know, the world of home theater is one of my true passions. Nothing (except for friends and family) puts a smile on my face like watching a great movie or concert video on a high performance theater. So I’ve watched with great anticipation the evolution of the latest light source technology: LED (light-emitting diode). We first saw LED replacement light bulbs that last 30,000 hours. Then we saw back-lit LED flat panels provide stunning performance. Now, some top manufacturers of front projectors (SIM2, Runco, and Digital Projection) have at last introduced the LED front projector!
LED will probably revolutionize the world of lighting and could be the Holy Grail in home theater, keeping in mind a couple of requirements. The first thing needed is a true home theater with full control of the lighting so you can keep it really dark. The next thing required is the right screen size. The LED light engine output is less than most current front projectors, so a 144” screen won’t work with LED. However, if you meet these two requirements, the experience is just incredible!
LED projectors provide several advantages. The first is operating cost. Most front projectors need replacement lamps every 1500-2500 hours. This is a cost of $250-$1200 per replacement (not to mention the extra space these lamps take up in our landfills). The LED engine only consumes about 25% of the power of a typical LCD or DLP projector and promises to last 60,000 hours! WOW, that’s a long time. (Plus, it’s very quiet.)
Then there is the picture. The image produced by the LED engine is very different from a DLP or LCD image. With LED, there are no motion artifacts at all: they are gone! Black levels (which have been a special LCD weak point, and DLP to some extent), are totally there, and all shades of color are easily revealed.
Colors take on a different character as well. To the human eye, the colors produced by the LED engine seem much more saturated, like Super Technicolor. For a great animated film like “UP,” the saturated colors look fantastic. It’s a whole new experience. For this kind of movie, this is extremely appealing. For other movies, though, you may think that this look is not natural. Well, I was lucky enough to get one of the first Runco LED projectors to take home and play with. After talking with Runco techs, I learned that the LED engine is extremely flexible in how you can set it up. They showed me how to get into the service menu and change saturation levels. After playing with the levels, I got the color saturation to a point that did look natural. But what’s really a bonus is that you can set up different memories. For regular film you can leave your setting at the natural level. For animated movies like “UP” to really pop, just move back to the more saturated memory level and you are set!
We’ve had demos in of the new SIM2 Mico 50 LED projector and the new DPI LED model. Each of these companies and Runco get LED light engines from the same supplier, a small company from Boston named Luminus. That’s where the similarities stop though, with each manufacturer adding its own technical spin. I must say, right out of the gate, the SIM2 is by far the best looking from both an external chassis standpoint with its sexy Italian design, and it also seems to have the best and brightest image. Its price point is also at the top price point of 22k, with the Runco at 15k and the DPI at 16K. The DPI is the most compact and quietest of the bunch.
If you are considering a new home theater or upgrading your current projector, there is no question that you should take a close look at this new technology. In my opinion, all of these projectors are bargains just considering how great the picture is. Then add the fact you will not be buying lamps for the next twenty years: that in itself pays for the projector! By then, I am sure we will be designing theaters for holograms!