Ok, after deciding to return my Epson 8500 I have just purchased a Pioneer Elite FPJ1. copied and pasted from my other "help me pick a projector" thread...
I'm pleased to say that on Sunday I discovered that video nirvana does in fact cost $2900. And its name is the Pioneer Elite FPJ1. Mated with the hipower screen in my theater is producing the sharpnest, clearest, blackest, most colorful images I have ever seen in video reproduction. Better than a 9" CRT. No kidding.
So here's what happened... Steve (an AVS member) pointed me in the direction of an online classified add for a Pioneer Elite (RS2 Clone) PJ for around $3000. After an email or two the seller responded to my request to call me in person to discuss. Quick note to anyone trying to sell gear: CALL YOUR POTENIAL BUYER and talk over the phone. It really goes a long way to creating a trust and comfort zone about a potential on-line purchase.
During the conversation Derek (also an AVS member) explained that he was actually selling off all of his eletronic HT gear to raise some cash, but keeping his basic HT room in tact to then re-outfit a year or two out with new equipment when he's ready to make the investment again. He had already sold off his amps and speakers and the PJ was the last item on the list. Once we realized that we were physically only about 2 hours drive away from each other, he offered to have me come and personally audition the unit. That's a rare and welcome opportunity... basically getting to evaluate the like-new (only 70 hours on the bulb of a 4-month old machine) PJ in person to check for all of my potential areas of concern like over-saturated primaries, convergence, image sharpness etc. Having the chance to evaluate the *actual* unit you're interested in buying is entirely different than just evaluating another projector of the same model, especially when we're talking about 3-chip machines with potential convergence issues and color/black-field uniformity variations etc.
After enjoying a Saturday evening of a gorgeous snow-fall here in the D.C. area, Sunday morning after the roads had been plowed I jumped in the truck and headed for PA. Yes, I had already fore-warned the significant-other that a new projector purchase was a possibility. I've spent the last few months pointing out all of the deficiences of my current PJ in order to try to "set the stage" for a new purchase so that some of the justification would already be laid.
After one heck of a stunning drive through the snow-covered hills of PA, Derek welcomed me inside, I greeted the dog, and saw his really top-drawer home-theater room which was still impressive even with no audio equipment. I had brought the obligatory bag-of-blu-rays and had expected to stay about an hour swapping out BARAKA, All the PIXAR titles, Blade Runner, Dark City etc.
I decided to give the debut demo honor to BARAKA and we sat down to enjoy the soundless HD picture (remember, he had already sold off his audio system. Which meant that not only were we focusing only on the image, but the lack of fan-noise of the PJ in low-lamp setting was also easily demonstrated).
We had only switched from BARAKA to Cars when I knew I would be taking the FPJ1 home with me.
I was SHOCKED by how sharp, clear, and resolved all of the fine detail was in the image. The first thing I noticed was that all of talk of "LCOS softness" didn't apply to this machine. When we pulled up the menu each pixel could easily be seen defined on the screen from about 3 feet away with perfect convergence and crystal-clear definition. Moving 5 feet back and beyond the pixels melded into a symphany of solidity that, as those of you who have these PJs know, looks like a (high quality) projected film and not like a "digital" picture at all. Smooth, solid, color with perfect uniformity. I'd like to point out that IMO JVC's LCOS sharpness is like "real life sharpness". In real life you have crisp, clear, and unobscured edge-definition of the real objects that you're looking at. Yet you don't constantly feel that they are overly sharp. The LCD "sharpness" you hear about is because the added noise/SDE is in effect acting as a sort of edge-enhacment by amplifying edge transitions with a slight pixel-separation. The LCOS manages to create solid line transitions that aren't soft or obscured, but simply aren't edge-enhanced with SDE noise (yes, I know that DLP can do an even more realistic sharpness given its ability to do discrete on/off with adjacent pixels with no inter-pixel interaction). The sharpness and lack of SDE have allowed me to move closer to the screen again to enjoy my usual 1.3 scren-width distance which I feel is more immersive than 1.5.
Saturation was vibrant but not obviously over-punched, and I've seen a first-generation RS1 which I did think had ultra-saturated greens and reds. Color and contrast were incredible: lifelike, and the shadow-detail is so incredible that movies look like they never did before: I'm seeing detail and dimension in pictures I've NEVER known existed. It's like when you get a new pair of high resolution speakers and a top-performing d/a converter and suddenly your CD library opens up a whole new level of information that had been hidden, undiscovered in your favorite long-loved albums.
Oh and the blacks. The FPJ1 produces as close to "true black" as I need in a home-theater. When your eyes are adjusted from the bright image a fade to black looks "black" for a few seconds before your eyes are able to adjust and confirm the slightest hint of light output on the screen. But even then, it's blacker than anything I've seen outside of CRT... and MUCH blacker than any theatrical projection (film or digital) I've seen. It "feels like black" which is all I need.
Is is really possible that outide of not being able to project 3D, that this machine can produce what I'd consider to be the "perfect" picture (by "perfect" I mean not lacking in any obvious way that compells me to seek improvement)? It's so strange to watch a movie and rather than think about what I'd like to be improved, instead to just be abosorbed into the visual feast. We watched UP as our inaugural film when I got home and mounted the PJ and the colors, details, image purity, and shawdow detail had to bee seen to be believed. I've seen this film twice in the theater, on LCD and Plasma screens, and twice on my HD2K. This was honestly the FIRST TIME I've ever really seen the artwork as it really exists: seeing details and color naunces that blew my mind. Even my partner, who had really lectured me for daring to spend so much on a PJ when I'm still paying off the new kitchen, kept saying over and over during the film "look at that color" and "look at that detail" and "I can't belive how much detail there is in those dark scenes". Our visiting guest kept commenting on the depth and sense of 3D space in the 2D image. Sigh.
Can I say something about this PJ that I feel doesn't get stated enough?
TEXTURES LOOK LIKE THE REAL THING.
Water looks wet. Metal look shiny. Cotton looks like cotton. Silk looks like silk. Sand looks like sand. It's incredible how our 1920 x 1080 resolution media can communicate the subtle details that genuinely portray these facsimilies on the screen.
In Baraka, the "key hole" sceen on the california beach was a perfect example: the rocks looked like *real rock* and the water coming through the keyhole looked like real spashes of water which were wet.
That's the experience I crave with high-end audio reproduction: when the musical textures take on that "inner detail" and liquid "air" soundstaging where musical forms begin to actually *sound like* what they are... when the saxiphone ozzes all sorts of resonating overtones and the drum kick has a realistic presence, attack, and decay. That's what this JVC/Pioneer PJ is doing with video. Incredible.
Needless to say this surpasses the Epson in EVERY way, including sharpness. Yes, including sharpness. There is MORE visible detail with the FPJ1 than I ever saw on the Epson. Oh, and all of the "motion smearing" I lived with on the HD2K is gone as well. The FPJ1 handles motion like a champ... no smearing. And I don't want frame-interpolation so I'm not bothered by its ommision on this unit.
I don't plan to buy any CMS processor. The color balance is so pleasing, and this unit hasn't even been calibrated: all presets are to factory! I think with some tweaking it could get even better.
I'm really glad that I bought the Epson because had I bought the Panny I might have been happy and kept it... no SDE and no red-fringing defect. However, the RS2 clone that I have is in another league, so I'm thrilled that my debacle with the Epson was the catalyst I needed to push up the budget and get a machine that makes my image reproduction dreams come true.
$2900 may seem like a high price for a "used" machine that was going for $2500 during the blow out, but with perfect convergence, this level of sharpness, and the warrantee card, I couldn't be happier. And folks... let me also say that despite being retro-reflective, my hipower screen is producing a very bright picture even with the ceiling mounted PJ set to low lamp brightness! If I could lower the PJ down towards head-height the image gets even better. I may do that when I reconfigure the room after my next renovation. Also, I think that the image is MORE DETAILED on my hipower than on the angular reflective studio-tech screen or silverstar were I've also seen the RS2. Wow. I think that those surface textures of those screens obscure fine detail. The smooth nature of the hipower screen produces an image that's perceptively more silky-smooth, detailed, and sharp. Also important to note: the ceiling-mounted PJ is producing an as-bright or brigher image on my 106" highpower than on the 100" angular reflective screen in Derek's HT. Folks who are considering ceiling mount PJs with good brightness should not be dissuaded from the hipower just because of the retro-reflectivity... you might be surprised!