Although ViewSonic has dabbled with AV-centric technology over the years, it's yet to show real commitment and consistency to the serious home cinema market. But that may be about to change...
Occupying a surprisingly sizeable chunk of our test bench is ViewSonic's new Pro8100 projector, a Full HD 3LCD model with video-friendly presets, specifications and image processing galore. And the result is a PJ that should have enthusiasts doing a double-take.
At the heart of the Pro8100 is a C2FINE LCD panel block, bolstered by Silicon Optix Reon VX-210 video processing and ViewSonic's proprietary Precision Color System technology, which features enough processing power to deliver 33 levels of gamma correction, 3D colour management, H-Edge enhancement for increased sharpness, and automatic contrast adjustment.
ViewSonic claims that the sort of finesse offered by all this firepower would normally only be found in an external processor.
The Pro8100 houses processing features dedicated to removing all signs of blurring from the picture; making details stand out more clearly; delivering more colour tones; and adjusting the projector's motion-processing to suit the differing demands of film, video and TV sources – including, as you'd expect in these heady days of high-definition, 1080p24 Blu-ray feeds.
So already the Pro8100 has done enough on paper to easily justify its £2,000 price tag. Yet this price becomes even more appealing still when you factor in the impressive-looking 13,000:1 claimed contrast ratio.
As ever with LCD technology this high contrast ratio does come with a rider: it's only even remotely achievable via an auto-iris system that automatically reduces or increases the amount of light the projector emits depending on how bright, or otherwise, the content of the image is at any given moment.
The performance of auto iris systems can vary dramatically between brands. Here it does its work reasonably well, although occasionally it distracted me with some quite extreme brightness shifts.
Although the Pro8100 is a sizable (though not particularly heavy) chunk of machinery, it's not unattractive. Its glossy black finish, curved lens barrel and tapered sides scream class. And if you find the black paint job too 'serious', then white, grey and – cripes – burgundy options are available too.
Connectivity suggests that ViewSonic has studied the AV market carefully while preparing the Pro8100; it includes two HDMIs built to the latest, DeepColor-compatible v1.3a specification. Plus you get two component video inputs (which is unusually generous), a D-Sub PC port, and USB, RS-232C and 12V trigger jacks for easier AV system integration.
Blacker than black
Other thoughtful features carried by the Pro8100 that warrant at least a passing mention are five black level presets, with 'Blacker than Black' being a particular winner.
The mode does not, as you might imagine, plunge an image into total darkness. One of our test discs features a brightly-lit mountain bike, parked and illuminated in bright sunlight.
With regular 'dark' presets the black paint job, and in particular the tyres fill, with impenetrable black ink. But in the 'Blacker' mode more subtle shadow details comes to the fore. The tyre wall suddenly gains texture and a sense of shape. It's very impressive.
The onboard Silicon Optix processing does an adequate job of upscaling standard-definition sources to match the panel, but it does tend to leave some skin tones looking waxy. When choosing to upscale, it's worth looking at all the components in the chain to see which does the best job.
The projector is also delightfully quiet. An Eco mode reduces the lamp output and running noise to whisper levels; indeed, ViewSonic quotes a noise level of just 18dB if you're using the Eco mode – a volume level DLP rivals, at least, don't seem able to even get close to.
There's also a wickedly clever tool that lets you adjust skin tones, by actually manually selecting the ones you want to tweak from the picture.
If the Pro8100 is starting to sound intimidatingly complicated, fear not. For while you can certainly spend
an eternity tinkering with the setup options, the Pro8100 is careful to make sure that the vast majority
of the trickiest stuff is optional.
If you want to just get the projector out of the box, point it at the screen and 'go', you can – and getting your picture on the screen is made soooo easy by the provision of both vertical and horizontal image shifting, a decent 1.6x powered optical zoom, and plenty of keystone correction. Great stuff.
Depending on your home cinema tastes, you might find the Pro8100's pictures 'great stuff' as well. They enjoy more verve and 'pop' than those of any other projector in the Pro8100's price bracket.
Or at least they do once you've got things calibrated right. Unfortunately the projector's out-of-the-box settings are really quite dire. Thankfully, though, it's possible to turn this sorry state of affairs almost completely round with some careful calibration and experimentation.
Without doubt the single most significant option available is to activate the Precision Colour System (PCS). Doing this is like 'turning a light on' in colour terms.
Suddenly the balance of colours across the picture during a visually-complex, colour-rich outdoor scene – like Bond and Vesper's meeting with Mathis in a crowded café-laden square in Casino Royale – becomes vastly more credible, with the extreme colour vitality levelled out across the image's full palette.
In fact, 'extreme colour vitality' scarcely does the Pro8100's fidelity justice. The intensity of its colours
is remarkable. Even reds – difficult for LCD (they tend to look orangey) – are convincing.
Skin tones look far more believable with PCS in action, too, despite the vibrancy; calling in the Blacker than Black black level setting and nudging down the brightness a bit introduces real credibility to dark scenes.
Image detail is excellent. My Casino Royale disc is particularly impressive on this front, and the Pro8100 does a superb job of squeezing clarity from the disc – especially if you ensure it's set to its 'dot by dot' picture mode, which means no video scaling noise need come into play.
The Pro8100's motion processing works equally well – Casino Royale's early free running sequence,
for example, blazes by with impressively consistency, even over the protagonists' pumping arms and legs.
However, there are some niggles which take some calibration to mitigate. To achieve a really convincing black level I felt I had to reduce the image's brightness more than I would normally want to.
I also feel that the Pro8100 has a tendency to emphasise video noise at times in a way not witnessed with, say, the Panasonic PT-AE2000 – the projector with which this ViewSonic appears to have the most in common.
Conversely, the Pro8100's pictures are more detailed than those of the Panasonic while the specification definitely has the edge.
And, lastly, the projector's user-interface is less than intuitive and hardly easy on the eye.
ViewSonic's Pro8100 is a surprisingly accomplished, brilliantly-specified LCD projector with much to recommend it.
It runs remarkably quietly, has up-to-scratch connectivity, delivers excellent HD pictures and comes with a pocket-pleasing price tag.
ViewSonic has come out of left field and hit a home run. Very impressive.