Time and time again DLP's dominance of the quality home cinema projection world has led many to relegate LCD technology to budget alternative. And time and time again LCD supporters like Sony, Panasonic and Sanyo have unleashed an LCD star in the nick of time to make us put our LCD funeral plans on hold. Today's it's Fujitsu's turn to get in on the LCD Lazarus act, with its LPF-D711: perhaps the most definitive display of LCD's home cinema potential I've ever seen.
You can tell as soon as you look at the D711 that it's something out of the ordinary. It's a huge, black, hulk of a thing, with jutting corners and square bulges denying it any sort of eye-pleasing symmetry. It's not actually ugly, though; just unsettlingly different. It's not alone, either. Accompanying it is another black box - this one rather slinkier - which houses all the projector's AV connections. And what a lot of them there are. A cursory glance will reveal HDMI and DVI digital video inputs (both HDCP enabled), no less than five sets of component video input, two D-Sub PC jacks, and all the lower quality backups you'd frankly be bonkers to use with so many better options at your disposal.
So that's why it's £17k...
Looking inside the D711, you'll find three high-resolution LCD panels. And when we say high-resolution, we mean it: these babies clock in at 1920 x 1080, enough to deliver unscaled 1080i and 1080p HD video (yes, this projector can handle 1080 progressive). Yowzer. Compare this to DLP, which currently boasts a commercial maximum native resolution of 1280 x 720, and you start to understand just why Fujitsu feels OK about pricing the D711 at £17k...
The D711's LCD panels aren't just unusually high resolution, either. They're also unusually high contrast, as evidenced by the D711's claimed contrast ratio of 3,300:1 - astoundingly high by LCD standards. Not that the fine structure of the panels themselves is solely responsible for the contrast; it's also helped by the D711's innovative use of two rotating, neutral-density polarised filters to adjust the amount of light delivered through the lens, rather than the normal automatic iris control system. Fujitsu also claims this filter design helps reduce colour artefacts for more cinematic results.
Despite Fujitsu's apparent focus on contrast with the D711, it hasn't abandoned LCD's usual claim to fame: brightness. The quoted light output for the D711 of 1200 ANSI Lumens is up there with what most similarly-priced three-chip DLP models can deliver.
Yet more justification for the D711's extravagant price comes from its healthy suite of picture processing systems. Grouped under the umbrella name of 'AVM II', these systems include: Image Adaptive Processing, which separates and processes onscreen text/graphics and video images simultaneously to ensure that neither receives prominence over the other; MPEG Noise Reduction for minimising block and mosquito noise, as well as banishing edge haloing; de-interlacing circuits for making contours look less jagged; Low Luminance multistage processing, which Fujitsu claims delivers over a quintillion colour gradations to make the picture more pleasing to the human eye; and finally Colour Management circuitry, which tackles colours on a pixel by pixel basis for more authentic tones.
Detailed study of Aliens
This all sounds very promising indeed on paper - and happily it translates superbly onto the screen. Particularly startling is the astonishing amount of shadow detail to be seen. Put to work on an HD D-theatre tape of Alien, I could suddenly make out background details and textures in the dark footage of the Nostromo that I'd never seen before - even when compared to viewings on a high-end three-chip DLP projector.
The impact this single remarkable greyscaling talent has on pictures overall cannot be overstated, with 3D depth, solidity, sharpness, authenticity and the sheer sense of immersion in what you're watching all benefiting from this strength.
It's not just shadow detailing that reveals the prowess of the D711's greyscaling either; colours also enjoy a subtlety of blend and shade that at times almost beggars belief. Yet the picture is also bright enough to ensure that this subtlety of gradation is not achieved at the expense of vibrancy or richness. Furthermore, this vibrancy is in turn not achieved at the expense of the colour tone, which appears authentic at all times. As the icing on the colour cake, all this fidelity appears with little more than a sniff of noise.
General artefacting is also notable by its absence, as even the fastest camera pan or horizontal motion exhibits no sign of LCD smearing. Perhaps more telling still is the fact that horizontal movement shows no trace of the buzzing noise which tends to accompany movement on single-chip DLP projectors.
As a rule of thumb, LCD projectors all exhibit, to a lesser or greater extent, visible pixel structure. This is sometimes called the 'chicken wire' or 'screen door' effect. However, there's barely any trace of 'chicken wire' effect here; colours, even skin hues, are also free of any 'old-school' green toning; and black levels are profound enough to provide a truly cinematic foundation for the rest of the picture to build on.
Yet more stunning work can be seen in the picture's fine detail response. If there's any projector out there able to do sharper, cleaner justice to all the lovely detail in a high definition movie, I haven't seen it. But the quality of its onboard upscaling also means that I greatly enjoyed watching standard definition sources too.
If really pushed to find a flaw with the D711, I might say that while black levels are outstanding for any sort of LCD technology, I have seen DLP models hit deeper ones. But never while maintaining the D711's extreme shadow detailing.
Launching the D711 is undoubtedly a hugely brave move on Fujitsu's part. Backing the rank outsider in a technology race is one thing; daring to then use that technology at the highest end of the market is quite another. But Fujitsu's chutzpah has paid off more handsomely than I'd have believed possible.
The LPF-D711 rivals, and in some cases exceeds, the performance of more expensive three-chip DLP projectors. How it'll fare against the upcoming generation of budget three-chip DLP models remains to be seen. But there's no doubt this is a superb piece of kit. John Archer