In recent times, LCD home-cinema projectors have lagged behind those of the DLP variety. OK - both have their disadvantages; the 'rainbow effect' introduced by the colour wheel in the case of DLP, and the 'chicken wire' presentation caused by the pixel structure of the panels in LCD designs.
Today, DLP's rainbow shimmers are nowhere near as obtrusive. And DLP's superior black-level performance has won the technology plenty of friends. But could the goalposts be ready to shift once again? Quite possibly, on the evidence of Yamaha's LPX-510 - an exciting 1280 x 720p LCD design with all kinds of visual tricks on board.
The LPX-510 certainly looks like three-and-a-half grand of projection hardware. It's sleek, silver and - by contemporary LCD standards - a fairly bulky beast. A sizeable short-throw lens (at a projection distance of 12 feet, it can serve up a 100in. diagonal 16:9 image), can be adjusted in both vertical and horizontal planes by means of a pair of adjustments mounted on top of the projector - which also duplicates the compact handset's full range of controls (menu, input selection and so on). Turn to the back panel, and you're greeted by an impressive collection of connectors.
There are two sets of five phono terminals (marked A and B) that can be configured to accept RGB - Scart sources are thus catered for, provided the right cables are used - or component signals. They're perfectly happy with hi-def (both 720p and 1080i) and standard-def progressive and interlaced (480i/p and 576i/p) sources, meaning that the LPX- 510 can cope with practically everything you could chuck at it.
You also get composite and S-video inputs - which would typically cater for your VCR - and a Japan-specific 'D4' terminal (analogue component, basically) that you'll probably never use. The crowning glory is a high definition compatible HDMI digital input. Finally, there's a serial port and a 12V output which could trigger a motorised screen.
Installing this quiet-running projector is straightforward - adjustable feet are a boon for shelf-mounting, while a combination of lens shift, focus and zoom settings help you eke out a decent picture. Even the last resort that is digital keystone correction worked surprisingly well. As with most projectors, the LPX-510 can be configured for floor/ceiling mounting and front/rear projection flipping the image vertically and/or horizontally depending on your selection.
These settings are driven via a sensibly-organised onscreen menu system and back-lit remote control. Full marks to the in-built pattern generator, which can be used to adjust parameters like zoom and focus without a source connected. Points are, alas, lost because the menu structure clogs up the screen when carrying out video adjustments (it is, however, possible to shunt the menu around so it doesn't block a particular feature you might be using as an adjustment reference). An unusual submenu control is 'iris', which allows you to regulate backlight brightness and thus improve black-level performance in darkened viewing rooms.
Other options allow you to set colour temperature, and tweak RGB levels (gamma, gain and offset). There are also six picture mode presets optimised for different source material, deinterlacing and motiondetection tweaks - the LPX-510 uses DCDi deinterlacing technology bought in from Faroudja via its FLI2300 chip.
It also has a choice of seven aspect ratios (including 4:3, 16:9, 4:3 'smartstretch' and letterbox-resize - the latter a must for laserdisc diehards!) can be brought up directly from a dedicated button on the remote. You can even 'grab' a frame from your favourite DVD (or whatever) and use it as a start-up logo. Performance, in a word: Wow! I'd rate this Yamaha as easily one of the best LCD projectors I've come across.
The chicken-wire effect (called 'screen door', by the Yanks) is still there, but is scarcely noticeable (a 1280 x 720 native resolution means those pixels are pretty tiny to start off with!). You need to sit quite close to the screen for the pixel structure to become evident. Colours are vividly-rendered with sublime fidelity, with an absence of obvious 'banding' (the LPX-510's 10-bit video processing is clearly doing a good job). When the projector is properly calibrated for use in a darkened viewing room, black-level, image-depth and dynamic range are astounding for an LCD projector.
Fine detail performance is excellent. DVDs - including demo faves like the Lord of the Rings trilogy - and standard digital TV sources both acquit themselves well enough. But the LPX-510 tended to surge forward when an HD satellite receiver was connected via HDMI. Viewing Euro 1080's HD1 channel was a truly memorable experience. Switching to HD1 via a component feed resulted in little deterioration of picture quality - a barely-perceptible reduction in depth and resolution, coupled with a slight increase in noise. It would appear that Yamaha's designers have paid a lot of attention to the analogue circuitry. To do better, you would need to drive the LPX-510 from a high quality scaler.
Amongst the increasing tough DLP competition, this Yamaha is a dark horse. Image quality is excellent, and for those susceptible to DLP's rainbow effect, it's a real solution. We often use the description 'filmic' to really emphasise how effective hardware is at conveying the emotion of cinema. Well here it comes again: this Yamaha projector delivers an utterly filmic experience. Consequently, it comes highly recommended.