The AIG HD Projector Project #1 - The Knoll HDP460 1080p DarkChip4

      Date posted: May 19, 2008

Knoll HDP-450-F Projector
Knoll HDP460 Projector

Sugg. Retail: $8499USD

Manufacturer: Knoll Systems,
12140 Horseshoe Way,
Richmond, BC V7A 4V4

(604) 272-4555 Orders/Info (800) 566-5579

We’ve profiled several projectors over the years, but have yet to make a major project of it, so here we go! With picture quality going up exponentially, and prices coming down the same way, it’s time to find that perfect meeting point of both. There was a time, and not too long ago either, when a really good projector had a name like Vidikron or Runco, and cost about $40,000. Faroudja was a big name in video processing, and now they’re just a small adjunct to Meridian.

What happened? Well, as the pictures got better, that is, the source became purer, its reproduction began to require greater pixel power. And the explosion of new picture possibilities from an extraordinary range of developments in picture reproducing technology made projectors better and better, and in the process, simpler, which then led to an astonishing downramping of prices. It also meant that all those outboard compensation and pixel correction boxes became largely irrelevant. And the new pixel-popping picture technologies keep right on coming.

I won’t go through them, as some are dropping off the map as I write, but the ones that are sticking to the screen, so to speak, just keep getting better. JVC’s DiLA is one, along with recent vastly improved LCD displays in both projectors and flat screens, and, of course, DLP, with its millions of micro-mirrors, the subject of this first essay in our series. We won’t get terribly technical about these technologies as we review each projector because so much info is available online, and will try to concentrate on the specifics that apply to each projector. Which leads us to the Knoll HDP460.

According to the press release provided with the unit, “This projector delivers enhanced brightness of 1600 video-optimized lumens contrast of 5,000:1 native, or up to 15,000:1 by activating the onboard iris.” “The HDP460 boasts future-proof HDMI 1.3 with Deep Color. The new HDMI standard can display up to 1.07 billion colors for a smooth picture without color band artifacts.”

The “important specifications” include: 1080p DLP DarkChip4; Pixelworks DNX 10-bit video processing; built-in scaling support for 2.35:1 aspect ratio; Knoll color gamut calibrator and ISF day and night presets. Perhaps the most important one in this day of fixed-pixel longevity anxiety is the “Knoll exclusive two year 100% no dead pixels guarantee. From the date of purchase, if even one pixel is inoperable Knoll Systems will replace the optical engine at no charge!” [italics ours, exclamation point theirs]
Knoll Remote
This model is brand new, and started shipping in April 2008. In a phone discussion, Knoll Marketing Manager Richard Hanson noted that not only does the HDP460 use the DarkChip4, but the highest quality selected version, which probably accounts in part for the higher price than some other DarkChip models. Each projector is also fine-tuned at the factory to provide optimal performance right out of the box.

The HDP460 comes with a swivel base that can be removed, as well as a ceiling mount kit. It is designed for larger rooms, and a chart on page 8 of the manual shows that for a screen size of 92″ diagonally the picture throw distance is a minimum of 149″, just over 12 feet. I’ll come back to this spec later in the review. As important, the vertical offset, at 16″ for a 92″ image (0.177 x screen diagonal size), is essentially designed for ceiling mounting, and the supplied swivel base mount offers limited adjustment.

This means that the projector must be set up quite low, say, on a coffee table, and must ideally therefore be in front of the viewer, demanding an even larger room, with at least 12 feet between projector lens and screen. These are important considerations, and became moreso in our 14 x 16 foot home theatre room. I simply can’t mount a projector that way, and use a pedestal bass trap about 5 feet high offset to the right of the central viewing position, over the shoulder, so to speak for standard projector position.

This is more akin to what you’d find in a movie theatre on a miniature scale, and usually works well, though in this case the parameters were pushed a bit. It also requires a bit of keystone adjustment, something I’ll expand on in a bit. With the 460, I had to remove the base and adjust throw height using a shim underneath, in this case a soft plastic VHS tape box, and managed to achieve a maximum picture size of 86″, which was a little less than that allowed by my screen and front speaker spacing, which is around 92″. Still, it was a very good picture for the roughly 10-foot viewing distance from the couch.

As far as keystoning is concerned, I achieved this naturally, by slanting the screen laterally, which is quite simple with my new VUTEC  pull-up 92″ 16×9 screen. Electronic keystoning is not desirable because of picture distortion and resolution loss, and for that reason is limited on this projector. However, other adjustments and fine tunes abound, and are explored in the excellent and concise ring-bound manual. These include a nice Overscan adjustment (on the remote) that allows trimming of those nasty network feed edges and bars, and full control of Aspect ratio (Native, 16:9, 4:3, Letterbox, and Natural Wide), as well as all the normal picture adjustments. The Advanced Menu provides Iris, which can be varied to increase contrast and control the amount of light emitted to suit room conditions; Phase and Tracking to properly size and screen-locate computer images in particular; Gamma presets for various light conditions, White peaking, and various Sync and Sharpness modes, as well as Fleshtone correction. You can fine tune this projector to a T.

The HDP460, then, is a very sophisticated projector in its feature complement, but you know what? The picture was damn near perfect right out of the box. And the Picture Size and Focus wheels on the left side (facing the unit) allowed almost instant and precise accommodation to the screen. A little work on the contrast, and voila, a truly beautiful, detailed, accurately colored, and perfectly shaped 1080i picture!

I watched mostly off-air (Zenith HDV420)  broadcasts from both Toronto and Buffalo, which offer all networks, but not sports and other specialty channels, and ExpressVu satellite with my now ancient 6000  HDTV receiver. I did try a little Blu-ray, but, frankly the variability of picture quality from film to film in my limited collection made this less useful then the broadcast HD signals, even with the 1080p signal. And, as is usual in my experience, a properly set up component picture with really good cables (CinemaQuest YIQ) is at least as good as HDMI.

Besides, in April broadcasts there were The Masters, impeccably shot and presented by CBS, and other golf tournaments, NBA playoff basketball, my favourite CSI shows, Navy CIS, and the original Vegas one, as well as lots of other sports, drama, comedy and movie programs. It was indeed a month-long feast for the eyes!

During the course of The Masters golf tournament I can’t say I was ever bored, but I did find myself counting blades of grass, just because I could! (a friend of mine calls watching golf “like watching paint dry”. Whatever…) The accuracy and purity of colour from the Knoll projector continued to impress me with all kinds of viewing; CIS’s frequently film noir palette was there with detail and subtlety, unlike the pictures of some over-corrected plasmas I’ve seen recently. The ongoing attempt of some flat-screen TV makers to perfect the picture tends to lead to a sameness of bright, vivid colour that eschews the proper greyscale and hue variety of real life.

Not so here. The HDP460 has a riveting realism that is not so kind to so-so pictures, but makes the best even better. And just to get the testing out of the way, this display scored right up at the top in its geometric accuracy all over the screen, its greyscale and colour values, and in the tricky motion tests from Video Essentials. I really could find nothing to fault.

What I could certainly observe with some sadness was the visual dreck that passes for HD on some specialty channels on satellite, especially the sports ones. Think of Steve Nash darting down the basketball court surrounded by a plague of electronic mosquitoes. And network feeds seem to sometimes disappear into a kind of digital fog, and boy, can you ever tell 480p from 1080i, not to mention 720p…and the winner is, every time, 1080i! I wish all the broadcasters would adopt and, more important, maintain, this broadcast standard. I know, bitch, bitch, bitch…

This projector does make one very critical of sources, just like a true high end audio system. That may be its only downside. In a month I watched a lot of broadcasting, a few movies, and in every case, saw what was there with utter clarity and accuracy. The Knoll HDP460 is the best projector in our quite long experience, and the most fuss-free as well. And at under ten grand, it’s an incredible value. We’ll be reviewing some less expensive models soon, but I doubt that I’ll see (quite literally) one that surpasses this one in picture quality. But, you know, I am prepared to be surprised.

Andrew Marshall

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