New Projector Preview

Loyal readers of this blog will know that one of my goals for 2008 is to replace our sanctuary projectors. A two weekends ago, this became a top priority. During the 5 PM gathering, the projector at house left decided to turn off. Attempts at remotely re-starting it failed. So as our speaker introduced the video we were about to roll, I trudged back to the projector cove to restart the offending unit. Though it powered up, it promptly shut down again. I tried it again, this time covering the lens, so it wouldn't distract as much. This time it stayed on for a few minutes. It was just teasing me, however as the moment I unblocked the lens, it shut down again. A final re-start kept it going throughout the rest of the night. All for reasons unknown. During the next week, I placed 4 calls to Barco to try to get help with this problem; not a single one was returned. Doesn't say much for their tech support team…

Ultimately, the entire affair turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Not wanting to throw good money after bad (or in this case old), I started campaigning to the leadership of the church that we should move on new projectors. We had it in the plans anyway, so why spend anything fixing the old ones, that when at their best are 1/2 as bright as we need them to be, when we could just get new ones. I had been researching projectors already, and had my eye on one that looked really good on paper; the Eiki LC-X80. Having not seen the projector, I didn't want to just order them up. And again, we were blessed.

A local company has them in their rental inventory, and had them available last weekend. I arranged for a rental for our weekend services. They arrived Thursday night, and I was anxious to set them up Friday morning. Now, I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, and there are many things I wish I could do over. But once in a while I do something that works out really well. This was one of those times. My first step was to pull down the projector with the happy on/off circuit, and place the first rental Eiki. I powered it up, made a few image adjustments then fed it some signal. Just for fun, I powered up the remaining Barco. The difference was night and day. In a fully lit sanctuary, with all the windows open, the Barco was barely visible. In fact, if you got off axis, you could hardly tell it was on. The Eiki however, looked like a giant TV. And this was when I had the stroke of brilliance. I started rounding up some of the church leaders, many of whom would be influential in freeing up the funds to purchase the projectors and invited them to take a look. The results were just as I had hoped.

Now, when it comes to gear, I'm a bit jaded. I've spent most of my career working around really high level equipment and have just come to expect that level of performance and quality. I'm such a gear snob that I consider our Canon GL-2 a consumer-level toy (I know I'll get e-mail on that one...). I've done shows with some really incredible projectors, and expected we would have to pay a small fortune to get a decent projector in there (small fortune defined as $50,000+). I have to say, my expectations were greatly exceeded with these projectors.

As I said, the look great on paper: 6500 lumens; 2000:1 contrast ratio; 90%+ uniformity; UXGA capability including 1080p and 24p support; DVI, VGA and 5 BNC inputs; a new single bulb design and a really cool self-advancing filter. I'll come back to many of these features in an upcoming full review once the new ones are installed. For now, I want to focus on the main thing—picture quality.

Put simply, they look great. We're in a series that requires a lot of use of videos each week. Until last weekend, the videos looked really lousy. They lacked punch, clarity and any level of brightness, even in a totally blacked out room. Last weekend, we ran part of an older black and white film. It looked stunning. Our lyrics for worship looked amazing. In fact, that was one of the biggest differences from the Barco. Whites always looked grey, so they never really popped off the backgrounds. With the Eikis the whites are pure, clean white and jump off the rich hues of the background images. As I stood over our presentation tech last weekend, I had in my lower view the 17" lcd "program" monitor and just above that, 70' away, was the 9x12 screen. The Eiki looked better than the lcd monitor right in front of me.

At this point, I had not done any calibration or anything else to adjust the picture. I sized it and squared it up, focused it and flipped it for reverse. Yet the colors were deep and accurate. Saturation was excellent, without being overblown. Whites were white and blacks were black. In fact, that's another noticeable improvement, no doubt a function of the high contrast ratio. When we went to a black screen, it was black. So black in fact, that our lighting director commented that he thought we switched them off.

If it sounds like I'm enthused about these projectors, you're right. What is exciting and amazing to me is that they don't cost any where near the $40,000-50,000 I expected we'd have to spend. Remarkably, the pair with lenses, spare bulbs and filter pacs come in at a bit over $16,000 (just $2,000 more than we paid for each of the Barcos 9 years ago—thank you Moore's law!).

Once we get them installed, I will be running them through their paces and will post a complete review. While we wait for the processing it takes to fund the purchase, we are renting again this week. Seems no one wanted to back to the dark ages. Especially me!

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