If you have any familiarity with the world of video projection, you're sure to know about Runco. The company became a home theatre legend with its CRT projectors, once the mainstay of big-screen entertainment.
A while ago, Runco acknowledged that some of the new digital projector technologies are fast approaching, and in some areas exceeding the capabilities of the traditional CRT. And so it is with DLP technology that Runco has chosen to make its main thrust in recent years.
Back in 2003, Runco was the first manufacturer to show a projector based on the TI Matterhorn 1,024 x 576 native 16:9 widescreen DMD (Digital Mirror Device) and using the same chassis the new CL-510 is available in two versions, the standard lens alternative reviewed here, and a higher cost version with a long throw lens designed for installations in larger rooms.
The projector is built into a robust and well finished metal box, with an extended rear section that has a small access door to hide the input socket panel, allowing the cables to be dressed so they are not seen whether the unit is mounted upright or inverted for ceiling mount.
Mechanically the unit is fairly quiet, with a slightly noticeable box-like colouration from the otherwise subdued fan and a colour wheel with no discernable whine at all. From these points of view, the Runco is closer to what would be expected of an LCD projector than a DLP, which is a significant achievement. Practicality is enhanced by a design with negligible light spill and a sealed cooling system which doesn't live on a diet of replacement filters.
A key part of the design comes under the collective name Gen 3. Gen 3 is a package of technologies, some developed in house, designed to yield better contrast, lower black levels, more uniform grey scale tracking, better colour temperature control and enhanced colour saturation and fidelity.
It sets out to achieve these worthy ends with a sophisticated light engine, an improved chroma reproduction system and other factors which work hand in hand with the new features in the HD2 DMD (Digital Mirror Devices) optical chips, such as the design of the 12° mirrors.
The colour wheel is also a key part of the Gen 3 strategy. The one used here is a 6 segment, 5 speed device which offers good black levels and strong immunity from the rainbow effect, which to these eyes is responsible for no more than occasional flashes of colour fringing. There is some trade off of output brightness, but the unusually powerful 210W UHP lamp more than makes up for this, with a specified 900 ANSI Lumens output, or using Runco's favoured and much more rigorous measurement, 17.8 foot-Lambert. Setup and calibration also falls under the remit of the GEN 3 package.
The CL510 has a respectable range of inputs, which includes a DVI input with HDCP encryption, allowing direct connection to a DVD player with a similarly encrypted DVI or HDMI output (the latter via an adaptor lead). These are increasingly becoming the norm from big-brand names. For other users, there are video and component inputs. Various aspect ratios are available including anamorphic, 4:3, letterbox and virtual wide, in which the central portion is little affected, and the 16:9 display is achieved mostly by stretching the edges of the picture.
The remote control works extremely well, even when used from a considerable distance, or when pointed in the wrong direction, but control illumination would have been nice.
Overall the Runco CL510 is a strong performer, one that without excelling in any specific area, works more than adequately well in all areas. If there is one area of relative weakness, it is the Runco's proprietary deinterlacing, which on the whole was effective at getting rid of most motion artefacts, but which sometimes seemed to be working hard to achieve this. Most of the time this was almost subliminal but some jerky lateral motion of large area backgrounds could sometimes be seen.
This apart, virtually everything was sweetness and light. The CL510 has one of the brightest lit pictures I have yet seen from a DLP projector, and it combines this with an overall picture contrast that is perhaps better than the 1,700:1 contrast ratio number implies. Towards the black end of the spectrum, picture detail does tend to die away, but it is easy to set the projector so that this part of the gamma curve is visible as almost pure black, and the result is strikingly bold and punchy looking.
But there were other factors underpinning the CL510's good showing. Colour reproduction is extremely well saturated and chroma stability is notably strong, perhaps because of the software. Sky and cloud areas reproduced particularly well, and although there was a trace of magenta in skin tones, the picture was genuinely cinematographic, with the kind of transparency that gives a walk-in quality.
There was just a hint of noise, rendered more noticeable perhaps because of the projector's unusually strong contrast, but this was always at a low level, close to the limits of perception.
Mention should be made of the Matterhorn DMD itself, which not for the first time showed just how strong a performer it is. Although resolution is strictly medium class (all video signals are upsampled/downsampled to 576p for internal processing), the lack of an obvious grid pattern around each mirror element makes for a clean, uniform picture.
Bottom line is that this is a first rate, DLP projector of exacting specifications, which appears to be have been built to last. I would insist on ownership of the service menu code, and be prepared for hefty lamp replacement costs. Its biggest competition will come from rival Matterhorn-based projectors, which can sell for as much as two grand less. But there's no doubt that this is a fine addition to the famed Runco-lineage.