|$12,999 Samsung.com; Dvedist.com|
|• 1080p resolution
• 1.3x zoom lens
• Vertical lens shift
• Accepts 1080p/ 24 input signals
• Inputs: (2) HDMI, VGA, (2) component-video, composite-video, S-video; RS-232C, USB (for firmware update)
• Dimensions/Weight 77∕8 x 17 x 183∕8 in; 21.6 lb
Audio/video experts often find themselves at odds with audio/video equipment manufacturers. That's because audio/video experts seek perfection, while audio/video manufacturers have to seek profit. In the last few years, though, we've seen a rare partnership between a renowned video expert and a major videoequipment manufacturer, the two working together to create a series of extraordinary front projectors.
The video expert is Joe Kane, a consultant and clinician who practically taught the video industry what a good TV image should look like. The video manufacturer is Samsung, the Korean giant that for years has ranked among the top three TV makers. The latest example of their collaboration is the SPA900B DLP front projector.
The SP-A900B is designed to suit Kane's priorities: perfect color, maximum detail, and a minimum of video artifacts. To those ends, the unit incorporates a lens that Kane says is considerably better than those found in most video projectors. The projector is bench-calibrated (straight through the lens, not on a screen) at the factory. DVE Distribution, the company that handles the SP-A900B in the United States, unboxes each projector and checks the lens quality, optical path, and video calibration before shipment.
For final calibration in the home, the SPA900B employs a routine in which the installer measures the values of red, green, and blue on the screen and enters those numbers into a service menu. The projector then adjusts itself precisely to the screen and the environment. Texas Instruments, the inventor of DLP technology, created this calibration method; we also saw it used in the projectiondesign Avielo Optix dual-lamp DLP projector.
A curvaceous black chassis shrouds the SP-A900B; it's the same enclosure used for Samsung's earlier SP-A800B. However, the unit's guts have changed. For improved contrast, the 900 uses TI's DarkChip 4 DLP chip, where the 800 used the DarkChip 2. And while the 800 offered a three-step manual iris in addition to automatic iris adjustment, the 900 offers a 101-step manual iris. The 900 also includes a processing mode for use with horizontal-stretch-type anamorphic lenses, allowing the use of a super-wide 2.35:1 projection screen.
Perhaps in acquiescence to Kane's purist aesthetic, the SP-A900B comes up a little short on features. It offers vertical lens shift but not horizontal shift, which robs the installer of the freedom to mount the projector a bit off-axis and then move the picture into place by moving the lens. (At least the lens is centered on the chassis to simplify installation.) The lens's zoom range is only 1.3x instead of the more common 1.5x or 2x, limiting the range of lens-to-screen distances at which the SP-A900B will work. Zoom and focus are manual, not remote-controlled, which makes installation less convenient. Bulb life is relatively brief at 2,000 hours in Theater mode and 1,500 in Bright mode. I'm sure many, and probably all, of these limitations result from conscious decisions to sacrifice user-friendliness for the sake of picture quality.
The SP-A900B proved more difficult to set up than most projectors near its $12,999 price. Not only did I have to center the projector stand exactly in line with the screen, but its limited zoom range meant I had to get the lens-to-screen distance more precise than usual - especially since I always try to keep the lens of a projector roughly in the middle of its zoom range to assure maximum performance. The manual zoom proved no problem, but the manual focus required me to go up to the screen, check the focus, return to the projector, make a small adjustment, and then repeat the process over and over.
However, once I had the image centered and focused on my Stewart StudioTek 100 1.0-gain white screen, it was easy to get the picture looking good. All I had to do was set brightness, contrast, and color, and then select the Movie 1 mode. This small effort on my part yielded excellent color accuracy, with a color temperature averaging 6,664 kelvins - just a bit off from the standard of 6,500 kelvins.
The Bright lamp mode proved way too bright for my dark theater room, so I stuck with the dimmer Theater mode. Although Samsung's DynamicBlack auto iris didn't produce the pumping and flickering that some auto iris mechanisms exhibit, I preferred the picture with the manual iris dialed down to darken the blacks and also subdue the SP-A900B's superbright whites.
As I was making these adjustments, I noticed the great feel of the unusual, elliptical-shaped remote. Most buttons felt comfortable under my right thumb, and I appreciated that.
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