Ah, Norway. Home of fjords, picturesque mountain ranges, Winter Olympians, moose and, if Norwegian outfit ProjectionDesign is to be believed, home cinema projectors. The evidence proffered to back this brave claim up is its preposterously monikered Action! Model One Mk III: a projector that's as uncompromising in its specification as it is cheeky in its design.
Why cheeky? Well, just look at it. This is supposed to be a premium grade projector. It costs £5,000, for heaven's sake - yet it's tiny (about the size of an Oxford Dictionary); sexy (there are curves on top of curves, plus a lovely racing car-esque vent system down the side); and almost preposterously chic with its glossy, rich Pearl White finish. And as if that wasn't enough, you can also get the projector in Maranello Blue, or even a colour of your own choosing if Projection Design can manage it.
As you'd expect of a £5,000 projector, the Mk III's connections are fully futureproofed. Which is to say they include component video input (two sets, as it happens) and an HDCP-capable DVI jack. Other bits and bobs of interest comprise a PC jack, a USB port, and a couple of 12V trigger jacks.
Texas is my home
It's when we get to the Model One Mk III's inner specifications, though, that we really get to the meat of why it's a far more hardcore home cinema machine than it at first appears: Texas Instruments' new state-of-the-art DLP chipset, the DarkChip 3.
Improvements apparently afforded by DC3 include better colour control, muchenhanced contrast (around 25 per cent up on DC2), and even less evidence than before of visible pixel structure. On the evidence I've seen of the DC3 in action so far - see our recent reviews of the Marantz VP-12S4 and Sim2 HT300E elsewhere in this issue - in the right hands it really is capable of delivering on all of its promises.
Other specifications worth noting are the superb quoted contrast ratio of 4000:1, brightness of up to 1000 Lumens, an HD-friendly native resolution of 1280 x 720 (fulfilling the projector's HD Ready requirements), and a 7 segment colour wheel that should hopefully reduce artefacting over motion and even, touch wood, DLP's Achilles heel, the dread 'rainbow effect'.
Despite its obvious internal sophistication, though, the Model One Mk III goes out of its way not to stressout technophobes. Its onscreen menus are as approachable as its design, providing plenty of flexibility without being intimidating. Options available include a contrast 'enhancer', a black level adjustment, a series of gamma presets, digital noise reduction, colour temperature presets, and both horizontal and vertical keystone adjustment.
The only downside to the Mk III's operating system is its remote control, which doesn't have a backlight, and relies far too heavily on a horribly fiddly tracker ball-style menu navigator.
The third dimension
However, I quickly forgot about any sourness raised by the remote, though, when I clapped eyes on the Mk III's exceptional pictures. Particularly striking - and this is becoming almost a ProjectionDesign trademark - is the sheer scale of the image. Thanks to a variety of key picture strengths, the Mk III's image has a phenomenal amount of depth, delivering exactly the sort of almost three-dimensional sense of space usually only experienced with high quality celluloid projection.
The Mk III's black level response is outstanding. If anything the quoted figure of 4000:1 seems actually pessimistic, as black picture areas look exactly that: black. There's practically no trace of the greyness that blights lowercontrast DLP and LCD models. What's more, there's nothing remotely forced about this black level, although inkily black, dark picture areas do also contain subtle shifts in greyscale and reams of background detail, rather than just looking like 'black holes'.
The Mk III image's three-dimensionality also owes much to its freedom from noise. You have to stick your nose practically on your screen before you make out any of DLP's trademark green dot crawl; grain is practically non-existent, even without using the available noise reduction routines, contours look stunningly free of jaggedness or overemphasis, and fine details are entirely free of shimmering or moiring problems.
Another key success of the Mk III is the way that it achieves its A black levels without seriously compromising brightness. Picture highlights are dynamic and full of impact - especially where rich colours are involved.
The Mk III scores highly in terms of colour fidelity, with the provided temperature presets helping the projector to be unusually adaptable - there really is a setting to suit whatever type of source you use. (For DVD viewing you should go for the 6500K option, since this delivers superb fleshtones.)
Another hurdle the Mk III leaps with ease is fine detail response. Pictures have immense amounts of texture and detail delineation - all delivered with seemingly no visible DLP panel structure. Even while viewing programmes on a 240in screen...
There are a couple of things that perhaps stop the Mk III from reaching the truly giddy heights of more expensive single-chip DLP projectors like Sim2's HT300E and Marantz VP-12S4. First, you see more of DLP's rainbow effect over very contrasty picture sections. Second, there's slightly more evidence of DLP's fizzing noise over motion. But I should stress that while these elements are handled better by more expensive models, they're seldom a serious distraction here.
One other negative worth a passing mention is the amount of light that spills out of the Mk III's side and rear grilles. If you've got a fairly small room this could potentially cause enough ambient light to impact the picture.
While I have to mention these little niggles, though, I strongly advise that you don't get hung up on them.
Overall the Action! Model One MkIII is an outstanding, cool-looking projector that wears its £5,000 far more comfortably than you might expect. Connectivity is very good, performance and design is excellent while running noise (fans and colour wheel) is refreshingly low. I was very impressed with this model, and suspect that it will go along way to enhancing ProjectorDesign's growing market reputation.