In a market where Johnny-come-latelies are on the increase, Barco is starting to look like the older statesman of the projector world. Should we take this to mean that it's 'past its sell-by date', or a 'timeless symbol of quality'?
On past evidence we favour the latter. But the new DLP CineVersum 70 could change that. With so much DLP and even LCD quality nowadays available for prices as low as £1,000, can the £7,490 CV 70 really carry enough extra class to keep the Barco flag flying? And, more pertinently, to justify such extreme devastation on your bank account?
The CV 70 certainly looks like it should cost a lot. Its body is big and, by DLP standards, heavy. The aesthetics also manage to portray the correct air of seriousness mixed with subtle style, with the 'hardcore' grilles around the robust lens arrangement giving way to a slick, neatly curved silver top cover.
The innards are pretty high-spec too, thanks especially to Barco's employment of Texas Instruments' HD2 DLP chipset, able to offer contrasts of more than 2,000:1 and a sterling native 16:9 resolution of 1,280 x 720 pixels.
The CV 70's connections are tucked discreetly out of sight under a clip-on panel to its rear. But just because they're hidden doesn't mean they've got anything to be ashamed of. The highlights are separate component video inputs for video and PC uses, plus a DVI jack for direct digital connection of any kit with a DVI output. All your more basic PC and video connections are there too if you really insist on using them, together with two 12V trigger outlets, one for automatically activating a screen when you turn the projector on, the other for automatically adjusting your screen's aspect ratio in order to suit whatever you're watching.
So far, so good. But unlike most DLP projectors we come across, the CV 70 is a bugger to set up. Despite Barco's heritage as a purveyor of high-end CRT projectors that need to be professionally installed, it would do well to remember that not everyone setting up a CV 70 at home will have a degree in projection technology. For instance, while the CV 70 is to be applauded for having a manual vertical optical shift system, forcing you to adjust it via a specially provided wrench and underside nut is horribly fiddly.
The automatic input detection mechanism seems curiously outmoded too, requiring you to manually choose, for instance, whether your feed is progressive or interlaced - most projectors can figure this out for themselves. And even then the projector frequently struggled to recognise and display inputs correctly, calling for much more manual intervention than we're used to.
On the plus side, if you put the effort in, the availability on the CV 70 of first-rate vertical/horizontal scaling, horizontal and vertical keystone correction and two different lenses (long and short throw, with your selection fitted at purchase) gives you almost endless flexibility when it comes to getting the best results possible from your particular living room situation.
There are plenty of tweaks on hand to optimise the image to your tastes, including blanking for top, bottom, left or right; and colour temperature settings helpfully described in terms of the different sources they work best with. For more on this, see our Practical Tip.
The uncompromising front end of the CV 70 may not make it the most user-friendly projector in the world, but it certainly promises movie-friendly picture quality. And for the most part, that is precisely what we get.
For starters the CV 70 strikes a perfect balance between its brightness and contrast. The image is thus vibrant enough to have real punch and intensity without compromising on the delivery of a totally believable black rendition and perfectly controlled peak whites.
These talents play their part in the CV 70 delivering superb colour definition, too, in terms of both saturation levels and, especially, hue. Colours look fantastically natural and authentic - and this even applies to skin tones during dark scenes, a combination that seems to catch 95 per cent of all DLP and LCD projectors out in one way or another.
Fine detail levels are astutely judged, too. There are enough of the smaller things in life on show to give the picture an instantly believable snap and threedimensional depth. Yet the quest for fine detail hasn't been taken so far that common attendant nasties such as grain and over-stressed edges are even slightly apparent.
Another sign of the CV 70's class is the smoothness with which it portrays motion. There's a cinematic fluidity to it which, together with those exceptionally natural colours, is probably the main reason why the CV 70's £7,490 asking price really does look like money well spent.
While the CV 70 really sings when fed progressive scan, a direct digital feed via the DVI jack or high definition proves surprisingly tolerant of less dreamy sources too, with even a straight S-Video feed looking unexpectedly clean.
In fact, notwithstanding its lack of user-friendliness, the only flaws with the CV 70 are those of DLP technology in general rather than anything specific to Barco. And so I sporadically (though thankfully not often) spotted flashes of rainbow colours caused by the colour wheel; rather more regularly noticed buzzing image lag, especially on fleshtones, during fast camera pans; and was sometimes distracted by the amount of fan/wheel noise the unit produced - a characteristic of all DLP projectors.
Because of these inherent DLP issues, picture purists may still prefer Barco's similarly priced Cine 7 LT CRT projector to the CV 70. But for many people, affordable CRT projectors simply aren't practical enough to install and use, and don't deliver the same level of PC prowess and brightness that this DLP model can. So if it's both performance and practicality you're after, the CineVersum 70 is as good as anything else we've seen this side of 10k.