The Samsung SP-A800B looks quite unusual.
Even fans of SIM2 design would appreciate what appears to be a cross between a prop from one of the more recent Alien movies and Darth Vader's head.
Reflecting its futuristic design is a set of touch-sensitive controls that you can't see until the projector is turned on. They're then highlighted with cool-blue LED backlighting.
Cynics might argue that finding the standby button in the first place is difficult, but wouldn't you instead use the ovoid remote handset? This is sensibly-designed, with red LED backlighting and separate buttons for selecting the various sources.
Given its futuristic appearance, it may come as a surprise to learn that the SP-A800B is based around the now ageing DarkChip2 chipset rather than the more recent DC3 or latest-generation DC4.
According to Samsung, the latter wasn't available when the projector was designed. And, although the DC2 is inferior in terms of black level relative to the DC3, designer Joe Kane has expressed the opinion that the older technology fares better when it comes to shadow detail.
The SP-A800B does, however, incorporate a variable-iris system ('DynamicBlack') to improve contrast ratio and black level.
Clearly at this price level, you shouldn't expect a three-chip projector - and indeed you don't get one.
That single 0.95in 1920 x 1080 DC2 chip is complemented by a six-segment colour wheel. The optical path on either side, meanwhile, consists of a 300W lamp and an adjustable zoom lens capable of producing images between 40in and 300in in size.
Connectivity is good. You get a pair of HDMI ports able to accept 1080p24 (or lower) sources, two component ports (1080i or under), S-video, composite and - for those who appreciate the big-screen PC experience - a VGA input.
Irritatingly, there's no 12V trigger for motorised screens and so on (surprising, given Joe Kane's home-cinema credentials) although a RS232 serial port is provided for system integration.
Easy to set up
Setting up the projector is straightforward. Samsung states that the SP-A800B has been 'designed to show images optimally on a 100-120in screen' - and funnily enough, my Unity-gain One fitted the bill nicely.
To get that 100in 16:9 image the projector needs to be between 3.8m and 5m (depending on how the lens' zoom lever is set) away from the screen. This shouldn't pose too many problems as far as the average UK viewing room is concerned - these things tend to be mounted towards the back of the room on the ceiling. On which subject, the menu's configuration options cover rear/front and ceiling/desktop mounting.
For calibrators, a 'color pattern' feature switches in various colour filtering. Amongst other test-patterns are the cross-hatch and screen-size, for which Kane was responsible. These will certainly be recognisable to anyone who's used Video Essentials before.
Other menu options allow you to rename the seven possible sources and carry out picture adjustments (brightness, colour, contrast, sharpness and so on), and tweak DynamicBlack, noise-reduction and colour-temperature settings.
Superb colour performance
After calibrating and feeding a number of HD and SD sources into the machine, I can say that my overall experiences were positive.
This may be a single-chipper, but the dreaded rainbow effect seldom puts in an appearance. I think I can assume that TI's boffins now have this problem licked! The colour performance is superb, and I haven't seen delicate fleshtones rendered so realistically for some time.
Saturated colours are also handled adeptly. Tricky shadow depths are resolved surprisingly well - the relevant details can be picked out, as opposed to merging into an overall dark-greyness. The absence of chromatic aberration (colour fringing) points to a good lens.
Lacklustre black levels
There are some minor caveats. On rare occasions the SP-A800B would not let me select a valid source; instead, I was treated to nothing more exciting than a 'not available' message. Happily, power-cycling the projector rewarded me with vision.