Up to now, US outfit Vidikron hasn't really made a major splash in the UK. But that could all be about to change. How come? Because Vidikron is now actually owned by Runco, another US outfit that already has made waves in the UK with its uncompromising approach to home cinema projection. So if enough of Runco's traditional quality has rubbed off onto Vidikron's Model 40, we could have something rather special on our hands.
Fans of 'serious and functional' aesthetics will just love the Model 40. It's just an imagination-free rectangular hunk of dull white plastic with all the aesthetic appeal of a pile of dirty plates. Hmm. This could be a good candidate for a permanent install in a cabinet, methinks...
Connectivity includes a set of 480i-only component video inputs, a second set of wide-bandwidth BNC components for either PC or high definition/progressive scan video use (these can be configured for RGB/HV or component), and an HDCP-ready DVI jack for all-digital connection of any suitably socketed DVD player or PC.
For better or for worse the Model 40 is really designed for a professional installation, and as such setup tweaks available outside a special passcodeprotected Service menu are few and far between. In fact, the only really useful thing you can do yourself (though see Practical Tip) via the simplistic onscreen menus is tweak the vertical keystone correction and colour temperature.
The Model 40 in standard form has a little bit of zoom available to help you fit the image to your living room, but people with really big spaces will be pleased to hear that there's a version to be had with a long-throw lens (1.83:1 to 2.40:1 rather than the standard 1.38:1 to 1.63:1) if you've got an extra £900 in your pocket.
It's worth just running over a few of the Model 40's specs before we find out how it performs. It uses Texas Instruments' HD-2 Mustang chipset, boasting a native resolution of 1,280 x 720, 950 ANSI Lumens brightness and around 1,600:1 contrast. It's important to say, too, that the latter two measurements are taken using Runco's Cinema Standards Measurement System (CSMS), designed to give more realistic values than the 'optimistic' systems adopted by some rival manufacturers when coming up with their brightness and contrast specs. The Model 40 also uses 3:2 pulldown to smooth pictures out, and is fully compatible with all HDTV formats.
The Model 40's picture is very good - but a pinch short of exemplary. The high point unquestionably is the awesome greyscale. There's a phenomenal subtlety to gradations in hue across all aspects of a picture, be it facial close ups or shadowy backdrops. This gives the picture a depth, vitality, texture and sheer believability that has to be seen to be believed, especially if you're lucky enough to be able to try a high definition DVI feed...
As long as you're careful what temperature setting you opt for (I found the 0 option worked for me), the Vidikron's colour tone is also impressive. The cave troll sequence in the LOTR:The Fellowship of The Ring is a hard test of colour for a projector thanks to all the low-lit fleshtones. But, the Model 40 managed effortlessly, coping almost perfectly with the various blue, green and orange light sources the scene applies.
Also impressive is the image's brightness level. That's not to say it's actually the brightest DLP projector around - it isn't. But actually that suits us just fine in that the sensible brightness level deliberately adopted by the Model 40 is ideally suited to a natural video presentation, allowing the unit's very decent (though not, it has to be said, out of this world) contrast range full rein.
If the Model 40 was a couple of grand cheaper than it is, I might be able to leave on this high note and finish with an unequivocal thumbs up. But by selling for £7,000 the Vidikron sets itself amid some seriously accomplished company - and within such company one or two weaknesses do become apparent. The worst is a slight softness to the picture. In general I actually don't mind a touch of softness if it helps a projector avoid grain and noise, but the Vidikron takes things too far.
The other main problem is the old DLP menace of fizzing dot interference over motion, particularly when skin tones and camera pans are involved. This doesn't occur regularly enough to be heinously annoying, but in view of the advances made in this area by one or two other mid to high-end projectors recently (not least the Marantz model featured elsewhere in this issue), I still didn't feel wholly happy having to suffer it on a £7,000 product.
A final, much slighter, niggle is that high definition pictures look a tad grainier than I've seen on some rival projectors at this price point - though considerable compensation for this comes from the reduction in the softness found with other sources and also, more surprisingly, a jump in black level response.
Things are advancing at an almost frightening rate in the video projector world right now, and for all its undoubted strengths the Model 40 slightly falls foul of this rate of progress.
When it was first released in the US, back in September of last year, it would doubtless have been up there with the very best DLP projection had to offer. But in the nearly 12 months that have passed since, it's started to show its age to the point where while we could heartily recommend it at a price of around £4-5k, we can't help but feel that £7k is asking a bit too much.