Planar PD8150 review

Planar proves it can do high-end home cinema

TechRadar Verdict

A powerful and impressive premium projector


  • +

    Excellent picture quality

  • +

    Lots of user control including ISF calibration mode


  • -

    Could run more quietly

  • -

    DLP rainbow effect

  • -

    No remote zoom/focus or keystone correction

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While undoubted value for money, I found Planar's first wave of UK projectors - the extremely affordable PD7010 and PD7060 - a little more 'downmarket' than expected.

With the PD8150, though, the company has raised the performance bar. This is reflected in the unit's price: at £4,400 it's roughly four times as expensive as the previous Planar PJs mentioned.

It's also reflected in the PD8150's design, which is considerably heavier and larger than the earlier models.

Distinctive styling

A high-gloss black finish and unusual near-circular shape ensure the extra bulk is worn well, though, and the design is also practical - Planar maintains that it limits stray light output.

Oversized fans and a colour wheel 'sleeve' are employed to reduce operating noise, too.

Video connections are pretty much as I'd expect for a projector at the PD8150's price point, and include twin v1.3 HDMIs, two component video inputs (one phono, one BNC), a 15-pin D-Sub for PC hookup, and S-video and composite fallbacks.

Three other connections, meanwhile, point to the PD8150's custom installation ambitions: 12V trigger, an IR jack, and an RS-232 port to help integrate the projector into a wider AV system.

Full HD projector

The PD8150 is a single-chip, Full HD DLP projector. This basic spec can now be found elsewhere for much less than £4,400, so I really need to find out just how - or if - the PD8150 justifies its extra cost.

A good place to start is its trio of image boosting processes: Texas Instruments' DynamicBlack and BrilliantColor systems, and Unishape Lamp technology.

The first of these is the most significant, since it claims to boost contrast levels by a factor of three, by analysing the image frame-by-frame for its brightness content, and then expanding the image's brightness range to meet that of the DMD.

Finally, an adjustable aperture that can be closed to any of 200 possible positions is used to ensure that the final peak brightness matches the original (as in, pre-expanded) image.

The net result of this is that even though light is being blocked by the aperture to boost black levels, the apparent brightness of the image doesn't appear to change and dithering artefacts are reduced.

BrilliantColor benefits

BrilliantColor tweaks the balance of grey levels and secondary colours to make the image look brighter and contrasty, and skin tones look more natural.

Obviously this means the picture isn't necessarily as clinically accurate as it is without BrilliantColor applied, but my experience suggests it can improve the look of some kinds of material.

That said, I also think that in use, BrilliantColor can slightly emphasise the noise in relatively low-quality sources.

The final image-boosting process, Unishape Lamp technology, adjusts the lamp brightness for each segment of the DLP colour wheel, claiming to deliver a more natural (for video) colour palette without compromising saturation, and reducing DLP's common 'rainbow effect' artefact.

Limited flexibility

Despite being positioned as a 'custom install' grade projector, the PD8150's setup flexibility is varied.

For instance, it comes with a thread for adding an optional filter so you can optimise the image's brightness in small rooms, and there are 11 built-in test patterns.

However, there's no electronic keystone correction, so the PJ will be intolerant of pretty much anything other than perfect square-on positioning to screen. There's also no remote control of focus or zoom.

However, Planar stresses that with vertical and horizontal lens shift, and independent focus and zoom, perfect optimisation will be achieved at the time of setup by your installer.

Creating depth

Ergonomic considerations aside, the PD8150 is very good. Built around the DarkChip3 chipset, the PJ creates a tangible sense of depth. For instance, during the opening credits of Casino Royale (Blu-ray)

I was really drawn to the multiple layers of graphics they contain. Normally these credits just slide by like a flat, one-dimensional cartoon.

This sense of three-dimensionality extends through to the film's live footage too, making every location feel that bit more enticing.

Deep black levels

Black level response is excellent. The movie's opening black-and-white sequence contains some almost pitch black corners - and pitch black is exactly how they look on the PD8150.

The 'crushing' of dark areas sometimes seen on all but the most expensive projectors just isn't obvious, yet there's still subtle shadow detailing that helps give images depth.

The model supplied for review featured a long-throw (dubbed standard) lens. You'll need a big room to get a large image with this glass. A short throw model is also available.

Colour of magic

The PD8150's colour fidelity is admirable. I'd go so far as to say that the colour palette is as expressive and natural as any best-in-class DLP projector I've seen this year.

Consider the close-up of Bond as he studies the security monitors in a Bahamas hotel. Every freckle and minor colour discrepancy on his face is rendered with outstanding accuracy. These colour tones retain their vigour, even during dark scenes.

Fine detail performance is also excellent. Throughout my test I was consistently impressed by the amount of detailing visible in skin, clothing and other such minutiae.

This sharpness is delivered without any significant traces of dot crawl or artefacting, either.

Noisy machine

Standard-definition sources are bolstered by the customised Gennum GF9450 video processor. 10-bit video processing smooths gradations while 1080i deinterlacing and noise reduction limits artefacts .

Although the model is a single-chip DLP offering, the 'rainbow effect' is negligible. There's a minor amount of three-colour flicker over picture areas of extreme contrast, but this is unlikely to prove a deal-breaker unless you're particularly susceptible to the effect. On the downside,

I would say that despite the sound-dampening and colour-wheel sleeve featured as part of the build, this PJ emits a little more noise than I'd like.

Planar makes no dB claim itself, but I suspect it's in the high 20s. I've heard worse from a DLP model, but conversely I've heard less (if that makes sense!) from LCD rivals.

Superior addition

Overall, Planar's PD8150 is a very satisfactory projector.

There are some areas which clearly could be improved, including keystone correction and remote/zoom and focus, but that doesn't stop the PD8150 from being a superior addition to the DLP range, thanks to its excellent picture performance