The rapid shift to affordable Full HD projectors, typified by a battalion (other collective nouns which might be appropriate include horde, mob, cineplex... sugestions on a postcard) of affordable LCD models, has clearly put pressure on the traditional mid-range PJ market, which is the accepted stomping ground for upscaling DLP models.
After all, why pay more when you can get so much for less? DLP-inventor Texas Instruments, however, clearly believes that its technology still offers plenty of advantages over the competition, which justifies a modest price premium. And in the shape of the InFocus IN82, typically priced around £3,000, its argument does indeed appear to be compelling.
Little black number
Despite being markedly bigger than the HD Ready InFocus IN78 that impressed so much before, this slick new PJ is still a looker. It employs a dramatic gloss black, prettily-curved chassis, that will definitely turn heads. Inventively, the main body of the projector sits on a ball-jointed foot, which allows you to manually rotate and tilt it to your heart's content. This makes it perhaps a tad easier to install in potentially awkward-shaped viewing rooms than 'normal' projectors.
The only slight niggle about this innovative design is that it's rather difficult to make small and precise movements with the ball joint. But this seems a relatively small price to pay for the flexibility it offers.
The IN82's connections include two 1080p/24-capable digital video inputs (one HDMI, one M1-DA multipurpose job) both specified to the v1.3 standard, permitting compatibility with DeepColor sources such as PS3 games and AVCHD home-made HD movies.
Also noteworthy on the connections panel are 12V triggers for driving a motorised screen and triggering aspect ratio adjustments, and an RS232 port, making the InFocus custom-install friendly.
The chipset at the IN82's heart is a 1920 x 1080 DarkChip3, which combines with the projector's optical system to deliver a phenomenal claimed maximum brightness of 1,500 ANSI Lumens, and an even more remarkable potential contrast ratio of 12,000:1.
As you might expect, though, there's more to this 12,000:1 contrast figure than meets the eye, only made possible via a variable iris control.
You can manually adjust the amount of light emitted through the lens in 12 selectable steps. The idea is that, in a suitably darkened room, you can sacrifice some of the lamp's brightness in return for deeper, more natural black levels. This is a useful tool that other projector makers would do well to support.
Another key element in the IN82's picture make-up is its PixelWorks' 10bit DNX video processing engine - the same silicon that worked so well on the IN78, and which will hopefully adapt itself equally efficiently to the demands of Full HD resolution.
Other features well worth a mention include colour gamut adjustment; the facility to have the projector professionally calibrated by an Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) engineer; flesh tone calibration, black level calibration, and the software element of TI's BrilliantColor system for richer, more natural colours.
InFocus also claims that the IN82 sports D65 (video-optimised) colour calibration out-of-the-box. However, our Tech Labs actually measured it at 6,158K, not 6,500K - although it was quickly tweaked to an almost spot-on 6631K. So, there's no shortage of picture enhancing technology onboard. But how does the PJ shape up in actual operation?
The IN82 certainly doles out instant eye-candy. An outstanding combination of vibrant colours and extreme contrast are immediately attention grabbing. The model is also a bit of a light cannon; its images are eminently enjoyable to watch in even quite substantial ambient light. Darken the room to more naturalistic cinematic levels and the model also delivers deep, natural and punchy black levels.
During the opening shots of Mr & Mrs Smith, recorded in HD from Sky, the dynamic range between the almost total darkness of the psychiatrist's office behind our troubled marrieds and the almost spot-lit way they're shown in the foreground is really quite stunning.
Of course, the impact of this sterling brightness/contrast combination wouldn't be nearly so strong if the projector's black level wasn't on the money. There's real depth to the movies dark scenes (such as when the Smiths try to kill each other in their own home); even when using the iris at its maximum brightness setting.
In addition to the dynamic range of its images, there's also some outstanding sharpness and texture on show. The IN82's two-million pixel DMD (digital mirror device) reveals every stain, mark and wood grain in the decaying walls of the hotel where Mr & Mrs Smith first meet. It's even possible to inspect the actual weave in the long coat Mr Smith wears to his card game assassination.
Detailing this acute confirms that DLP is every bit as good at detail delivery as its LCD/LCoS-based rivals. Indeed, I believe it delivers the same level of detail accuracy that other DLP models offer for significantly more. The projector more than compensates for common video noise irritants such as grain, dot crawl or stressy edging, especially if you deactivate the projector's overscanning circuitry.
Over the rainbow
Increasingly, DLP as a technology has been less troubled by the rainbow effect, where strips of red, green and blue colour flit about over particularly contrasty parts of the picture.
InFocus' IN82 also does a fine job of suppressing this effect. This is obviously welcome on such a bright projector (I've found that the brighter affordable DLP projectors are, the more they tend to bring the rainbow effect into play).
Although this projector is first and foremost a high-definition display device, it will undoubtedly find itself displaying standard-def material for some time to come, be it in the form of the ubiquitous DVD or digital terrestrial TV. With this in mind it's pleasing to note that the IN82 handles SD sources with aplomb.
The PixelWorks processing engine upscales all but the most horrible of standard-def fare to the projector's Full HD resolution unusually well, making them enjoyable to watch even on my reference 140in screen. Diagonals are smoother, noise is suppressed and there's a genuine 'faux HD' ping to the images.
Don't expect miracles though. Good as the projector's image processing and brightness levels are, the IN82 can slightly exaggerate any MPEG blocking artefacts that a really weak source may contain. Nuts TV is always gonna look awful, regardless of the tech at your disposal.
So far so good. But there are some caveats which potential buyers should consider. Significantly, the projector runs quite noisily (InFocus quotes this at 33dB, which is approx 10db louder than some comparable LCD models). Consequently, you'll need to place it as far from your seating position as possible.
This is certainly not a projector you'd want to hookup and use in a smaller viewing room. It's also worth taking care with all the picture tweaks available; it's possible to mess things up quite severely if you're not careful with some of the provided features (especially flesh tone correction). Inquisitive owners will almost certainly find themselves having to reset to the factory setting and starting again.
Minor reservations aside, the IN82 is an interesting, high-performance alternative to its rivals. Its dramatic lines and the clarity of its Full HD images are compelling reasons to shortlist. Personally, I'd have liked to see more noise management control but this may not be an issue, depending on the type of installation its auditioned for.