There's DLP, and then there's three-chip DLP. Comparing the picture from a three-chip projector to single-chip models is like comparing DVD with normal videotape. A year ago, three-chip models generally cost as much as a house, and have so far been the domain of the professional, commercial market.
But as is often the case, high-end technology has filtered downwards towards a price that makes it a bona fide home cinema option. Granted - the £20K-plus price tag of Barco's Cineversum 110 hardly makes it mainstream. But we know for a fact that there are a surprising amount of people out there prepared to spend such sums on a prostyle home cinema display - and as for the rest of us, well, there's no harm in aspiring...
At least you get plenty of weight for your money. The Cineversum 110 is a projector colossus, weighing in at 25kg and leaving a footprint that a 28in CRT TV would be proud of. Which means it's not designed for much moving around.
The fixed installation aspect of the Cineversum 110 is emphasised by the extreme complexity of some of the settings on the on-screen menus, especially when it comes to high definition and progressive scan pictures. That said, after you've had the Cineversum professionally installed, you soon learn which bits of the on-screen menus you can tinker with and which ones you shouldn't.
The Cineversum 110 is an exceptionally flexible beast, too. It can be purchased with any of 12 different lenses (see Practical Tip) to suit any room size and layout. But also it has not one but two lamps inside, drivable in mono or dual mode depending on how bright an image you want. With both lamps on, it's possible to enjoy the 110's pictures in daylight without having the curtains drawn - at least on a dull day. What's more, whichever lamp option you opt for, you'll still be left with a hugely impressive 2,500:1 contrast ratio.
On the connectivity side, the 110 includes progressive scan and high-definition-ready component/RGB BNCs, a DVI input, a standard PC input, and an S-video input. Which seems to cover all the key bases.
As advised, you should be careful which tweaks you mess with on the 110's menus. For the record, the only ones I found myself getting serious mileage from was an exceptionally flexible picture-in-picture system, gamma adjustment, noise reduction, film mode detection, colour temperature (complete with easy source-specific presets like Film and Broadcast), and a handy bunch of internal test patterns to help you if your projector gets moved after its initial installation.
Feeling mean, I started out by feeding the 110 a fairly low-rent diet of a Sky digital signal and a standard (ie, non-progressive) DVD feed. And within seconds my jaw had hit the floor.
The Cineversum 110's pictures are simply stunning. So much so that it's hard to break down particular elements that make them so good. But I'll give it a go...
Perhaps the most immediately dazzling thing is just how bright the picture is. It makes an instant impact on your eyeballs, and keeps your attention rapt on your screen no matter how dire the movie is.
What's more, unlike many single-chip, single-lamp designs, this extreme brightness doesn't compromise contrast levels. In fact, the black levels are possibly the best I've witnessed in the non-CRT projection world - especially as they manage to retain subtle gradations and details while completely avoiding the 'grey mist' effect of poor contrast performers.
This excellent contrast performance gives the 110's pictures enormous depth too, and plays a part in serving up a magnificently rich, overwhelmingly solid colour palette. What's more, provided you're careful with your colour temperature settings, this palette is sublimely natural in tone, genuinely giving Barco's esteemed CRT models a run for their money in this key department.
The combination of brightness and contrast on the 110 means that it often has to handle some extreme edge contrasts - but it does so flawlessly, without a trace of ringing, ghosting, tizzing, jaggedness or over-emphasis, especially if you use the DVI input.
The 110 also proves supremely talented with fine details, bringing out the most minute texture from a well-mastered DVD with ease.
The longer I watched the 110 in action, the more I started to appreciate the astounding cleanliness of its pictures. Noise of any sort is nonexistent, opening the door to a full appreciation of just how much the three-chip design brings to the party by doing away with single-chip models' colour wheel induced rainbow effect and dithering problems.
It goes without saying that the 110 looks magical with high-definition footage. For me, it's actually a greater testament to the 110's confidence and class that it's willing to pull out all the stops even with lower quality sources. If this Barco had any weaknesses in its video processing, sources like that would show them up. But it doesn't, so they don't.
The only minor disappointment I felt with the Cineversum 110 is that even after an outlay of more than £20,000, it still can't get past the gentle green dotty noise DLP projectors show over really dark parts of the picture. But perhaps it's not fair to pull the 110 up for a currently universal DLP problem.
The Cineversum joins similarly specified three-chip models from the likes of Sim2, Marantz and InFocus, as a landmark projection device. It reveals all the filmic joys three-chip DLP has to offer - and at the same time shows us that finally trusty CRT has met its match when it comes to high-end projection.