Anyone who might be familiar with my posts would know I, like many on AVS, have been obsessed with image quality and have evaluated and compared many of the well-regard displays over the years - especially plasmas/flat panels but also including RPTVs, Front Projectors etc. Since these forums are often about sharing our personal experiences - our journeys in the HT world - I thought I'd share how my own decision process has led me to Front Projection as the choice for my next display. It's long...but hey...it's a big subject to me. (And it's always fun to preach to the choir).
I'm a film lover first of all. I watch very little TV, including our HD channels (even though a good HD channel looks quite amazing even on my little old 42" Panasonic ED plasma). But my interest in displays is on how they impact the movie viewing experience. To that end my two favorite display technologies have been plasma and front projection, because they each bring their individual strengths to reproducing movie images.
To many people, and especially those on the FP forums, it's a no-brainer: Front Projection for movies. Yet, over many years of comparing displays of all types, many FPs included, I still found myself most mesmerized by the vividness, color richness, dynamics, clarity and sheer reach-in-and-touch-it solidity of the best plasma images. The best of the breed produce in me a Pavlovian drool effect I can't resist. I still have yet to see a front projected image that has the sheer window-like realism, even with HD-cam footage or the new hi-def movie formats - that seems effortless on plasmas like the new Panasonic 65" 1080p model (let alone the giant 103" Panasonic plasma, with which I've spent a lot of time viewing lots of material).
But...the lure of projection has always been there. In fact, I've actually wanted to break my plasma-habit so I could get more into projection. Especially as I've been deciding which type of display to use for my new Home Theater room project, in which I would use the much more suited front room of our house, allowing for a much bigger screen, vs the ill-suited, narrow back room of our house into which my plasma and modest surround system is currently crammed.
The turning point came for me when my wife was away for the weekend...at which point this "mouse" began to play :-) I re-arranged our front room (living room) to put all the seats viewing the big wall. Then I borrowed my pal's LCD projector. I must tell you I have no doubt this was the worst projection device currently still running on earth. It is an old boardroom LCD projector on it's last legs, with some defect producing tons of blue light spill across a large section of the screen, and a fan that's like sitting beside a jet engine. But....I loaded up a DVD, turned it on and the front wall lit up with a huge image. Ignoring the defects, I just sort of drank in the "gestalt" of the whole thing, flinging through many favorite DVDs. It was just too magical to resist - my whole front wall suddenly becoming a movie theater!
Now, I've seen and demoed PLENTY of projectors, but the effect of actually seeing these images at home on my wall just struck a previously unsung note. The impact of the image size sunk in like never before. It just does something for the viewing experience in terms of allowing an effortless level of immersion into the
film, that you don't get with a smaller display.
I've been very focused on the Panasonic 65" plasma with a lot of fiddling around with measurements, seating distances, tests in stores etc. But it's an effort to get the immersion I'm craving - especially in my new HT room which is bigger than my current room. And even sitting closer to the Plasma doesn't get me there in terms of immersion...it's there sometimes, especially in close-ups, but fleetingly. I'm still extremely seduced by the vividness and richness of the plasma image, but in some ways the sheer realism can have almost adverse effects on my experience of the film image. One is the "puppet" or "toy" effect, which derives from the smaller size of the image. For instance, watching scenes from the Star Wars movies, the space-ships can look spectacularly dense and palpable...but especially as the shots get wider the effect can be looking at very realistic toys buzzing around the screen. The images are just too small to convey the scale. Playing a fun sci-fi/horror film like "Event Horizon" on the projector made for an utterly different experience than watching it home on my plasma. On the projected screen it looked like a movie and the ships and planets looked appropriately HUGE and convincing. On smaller displays these things look more like models...and unfortunately that's just what many of them are, especially the further one goes back in the film past. On my small plasma, one of my favorite movies, "Alien," looks populated by model ships. On the big screen they get that boost they need in size, giving them the more convincing illusion, the grandeur, that I enjoyed so much when seeing that film endlessly in the cinema.
Along those lines even on the 65" plasmas, close-ups of actors can look cinematically big and in-your-face. But as the shots move to medium or long shots, I can get the "puppet" effect, in which people now look puppet sized, compared to what one gets in a cinema or big FP image.
The effect I get from good Front Projection images is a more consistent connection to the actors, largely due to the size. As the shots change from close up, to medium shot, to full shot the actor's face remains large, clearly visible and life-sized to that I easily see his/her expressions and I remain fully connected to the performance throughout the scene. (Whereas what happens on small screens is that it's a close up - we connect with the actor's emotion, then a full shot...and we are watching action...but on the big screen you don't loose the impact of the actor's emotion).
Then there is the other difference that I perceive between technologies like plasma and Front Projection. To ME (and I'm not expecting everyone to agree), as I've said I find plasma produces an almost through-a-window realism, even to movies. But as a movie lover, while this aspect is what excited me most for a long time, I've found it has had something of a hindrance as well sometimes. It would be too crude to cast the look of plasma vs front projection as "video" vs "film." (Given I think plasma looks more realistic than the pejorative connotation given by "video"). But it captures the general idea. The problem
so many film lovers (and viewers in general) have had with video in the past - before all these programs arrived that make it look more like film - is that it had a sort of "too real" look. This despite the technical deficiencies of video vs film (e.g. shallower dynamic range/color range/resolution etc) But It was too direct, unvarnished, like a direct view on to the set without ever having the images committed to film. Even Hi-Def video has this look, when it is not consciously being pushed or processed to look more film-like.
Whereas film looks mediated. I remember reading an interview with Steven Spielberg in which he told of how his pal George Lucas kept trying to push him to start shooting on HD video, talking of all the technical advantages he (Lucas) had reaped in doing so on the Star Wars prequels. But Spielberg pointed out that, to him, the HD stuff looked "too clear" "to direct" like a window on to the set vs a movie on film. To Spielberg this detracted from the fantasy effect of film and he said that with images that are too "real" or direct one loses the sense of the artist between the viewer and the film - again, the experience feels unmediated by artistic intent. And we can see Spielberg puts his money where his mouth is, as he is especially fond these days of pushing film stocks in all manner of directions that increase grain, contrast, color shifts etc.
And much as Spielberg says, I find this can happen to my viewing experience with certain technologies. With really direct, vivid, less film-like technologies such as plasma, while I can luxuriate in the gorgeousness of the image, I can also find myself struggling somewhat to slip into the fantasy of the film. Because it looks more like I'm standing beside the actor watching him do his lines on set, rather than watching a "movie."
This was again emphasized when I recently played several DVDs on the Sony Pearl projector at a store. Especially Jaws, which was for a long time my favorite movie. I was struck by just how much it looked like the film Jaws that I experienced so many times in the theater. It just brought me right back into that wonderful vibe. The image was smooth, film-like, dimensional in that "film" way and the shark finally looked BIG, as it had not since I last saw it in the movie theater. My eyes roamed the expanse of spielberg's BIG widescreen images, along for a ride on the "Orca" with Brody, Hooper and Quint, much as I used to experience it in the cinema (some 40 times or so!) How amazing it would be to be able to re-experience so many movie moments like this in the comfort of my home!
So....I'm bit by the projector bug, pretty hard. Looks like I'll be trading one obsession - plasma - for another. Then, there's the Wife Acceptance Factor which could be quite a hill to climb to say the least. Being a perfectionist I'll want to do everything I can to ring the best quality from the image. I'm willing to go with dark colored walls...but is my wife? (Shudders at the thought of the upcoming domestic work ahead). I'm very excited by the reports of the new JVC projector. DLPs are out as I see rainbows, 3-chips are too expensive and I do like the film quality of LCOS/SXRD.
There you have it. Thanks for listening (especially if you got this far).