Equipment Review No. 1   September 2002

Studio Experience Cinema 17 SFXGA DLP Projector

Specs:

**M.S.R.P.: $4,599.00
**ANSI Lumens: 1000
**Contrast: 1000:1
**Display Type: 0.7” single-chip DLP
**Resolution: Native XGA (1024x768), compressed SXGA (1280x1024)
**Aspect Ratio: Native 4:3, 16:9 compatible
**Compatible Formats: HDTV 1080i, 720p; DVD 480i/p
**Lamp Life: 2000 hours
**Dimensions: 3.3”H x 10.9”W x 8.9”D
**Weight: 6.4 pounds
**Warranty: 3 years

Studio Experience
19332 Powder Hill Place
Poulsbo, WA 98370
1-800-667-6147
http://www.studioexperience.com/


Intro

With the popularity of DVD movies and home theater systems at an all-time high, it appears as though consumers are more eager than ever to recreate the enjoyment of the local Cineplex in their homes. While there is no dearth of equipment on the market to aid in building a great home theater system (i.e. DVD players, A/V receivers, surround sound speakers, etc.), the single most important element in building a great system, in my humble opinion, is the video display device. Even within the video display category, there are several equipment choices to meet consumers’ needs including flat-screen televisions, rear projection sets, and plasma monitors. However, if a truly realistic home theater experience is what you are seeking, front projectors are the only way to go. While front projection systems were once considered luxury items for only the wealthy, new technologies have made these projectors more affordable and even comparable in cost to the other video display devices.

Studio Experience is one company that is leading the way in offering high-quality projectors especially designed for home theater applications. The company’s first two product offerings in its “Cinema” projector line, the 12SF and 13HD, were warmly received by consumers and industry experts alike. Its newest offering, the Cinema 17SF, has been greatly anticipated as it purports to offer top-flight brightness/contrast specs, high quality video images, and a price point well below $5,000. Being fortunate enough to receive one of the first 17SFs available for review, and being interested in advanced DLP technology, I was anxious to see what this unit had to offer.

Features


The 17SF is a DLP unit that is able to project images in both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios. It is compatible with formats such as NTSC standard TV, progressive scan DVD, and 720p and 1080i HDTV. The unit’s state of the art Silicon Image processor with built-in 3:2 pull down detection can display progressive scan images even without the benefit of a progressive scan DVD player. The projector’s 1000:1 contrast ratio, coupled with its 1000 ANSI lumen rating, allows it to shine brightly in a variety of light settings. The 17SF is equipped with several display controls that are accessible via the top panel or remote control. Among the image settings that can be adjusted are brightness, contrast, color, tint, sharpness, white segment, keystone correction, aspect ratio, and color temperature. The unit has manual zoom and focus rings (1:1.2 zoom ratio, F/2.44-2.69) which help fine tune images that can measure diagonally from 28” to 305”. On the audio front, the 17SF has two 3.0 Watt speakers that are useful for video-on-the-go applications, plus a very quiet fan (32.0db) that doesn’t create annoying background noise. Lastly, it has a lamp life rated at 2,000 hours.

Physical Appearance

Out of the box, the 17SF is packed within a black padded carrying case. This makes storing and/or transporting the unit very convenient (should you ever have occasion to do either of those things). The projector is off-white in color thereby allowing for less-obtrusive ceiling mountings. Unit controls are located on the top panel and the connections port is located on the left side panel. The 17SF is compact in size (3.3”H x 10.9”W x 8.9”D) and surprisingly lightweight (6.4 pounds). Overall, it has a very sleek and aesthetically pleasing look.

Connections

The 17SF incorporates all of the types of connections necessary to accommodate most home theater systems. For those out there who want to use this projector in conjunction with a computer, there are single video inputs for RS232, 15-pin VGA, and DVI, as well as audio inputs for DVI and computer. Home theater enthusiasts will be pleased to discover that with regard to video connections, the 17SF has one 15-pin input for HDTV or component (Y-Pb-Pr) video, one S-video input, and one composite video input. On the audio side, the unit has a mini-jack audio input for a video component. Finally, there is one audio mini-jack output and a 12-Volt relay connector input for triggering an electric projection screen.

A potential downside to the connections port layout, coming from this home theater enthusiast’s viewpoint, is that there is only one component input connection available and this input is of the 15-pin VGA variety. So while the 17SF fully supports HDTV, progressive scan DVD, and high definition video games, some type of component switching device must be utilized to connect multiple component video-enabled equipment to the projector. I would like to see future incarnations of this projector become a little more “home-theater” friendly in the connections area by (1) providing multiple component video inputs and (2) furnishing RCA, rather than 15-pin, component video connections.

Set-Up

Having limited experience with DLP projectors prior to receiving this unit for review, I thought that set-up might be a time-consuming and involved process. I couldn’t have been more wrong. First, I placed the 17SF on a table centered approximately 16 feet back and directly facing my reference projection screen, the 106” Da-Lite Da-Snap (16:9 with high contrast screen material). Next, I connected the 17SF to my reference DVD player, the Pioneer DV-37, via my reference component cable, a 39-foot BetterCables.com Silver Serpent HD15 to 5 RCA Breakout. After plugging in both units’ power cords, I removed the lens cap and flipped on the power switch for the 17SF. I let it warm up for 2 minutes and then I hit the ‘power’ button on the top panel. Lastly, I turned on the DVD player’s power button. The projector automatically detected the DVD player as an input source and thereafter projected the start-up menu from the DV-37. I spent a couple of minutes fine-tuning the image with the zoom and focus rings, popped in a DVD of Shrek, hit ‘Play,’ and I was instantly ‘at the movies.’

Performance


When it comes to projectors, I realize that specs and features are important, but the critical measure for any unit is how well it displays the source material. Well, the Cinema 17SF really delivers in the quality of the images it displays. I was completely blown away with what I was seeing on-screen. There was Shrek himself, larger-than-life, being displayed in all of his green ogre glory in splendid 16:9 widescreen. Colors were bright and vibrant, images were crisp and well detailed, and there was also solid depth of contrast. One knock I had heard of DLP projectors was that they couldn’t display dark black levels. Maybe that’s the case with other DLP machines but it certainly didn’t hold true here. Blacks were consistently deep and dark. Overall, the image quality was remarkably smooth and film-like. I honestly couldn’t detect any imaging problems at all, including artifacting or pixelation. I recall recently reading an article stating that all XGA-resolution DLP projectors have an invisible pixel grid on any size screen. While I’m not sure if that statement is a universal truth, I can testify to the fact that the 17SF’s pixel grid was invisible to my eyes as it was displayed upon a 106” screen.

I should point out that I had set the Pioneer DV-37 to automatically default to output a progressive signal when it detects a 16:9, widescreen-enhanced DVD. As Shrek is a 16:9, widescreen-enhanced title, the 17SF was fed a progressive scan signal. I now wanted to see how the projector handled an interlaced signal so I programmed the DV-37 to output the Shrek source material as 480i. This prompted the 17SF to use its internal Silicon Image deinterlacer to convert the interlaced signal into a progressive display. The results were that there was not much difference, if any, between the progressive and interlaced input signals from the DVD player. The interlaced signal that was converted to progressive display by the 17SF was also of the highest quality. Reflecting upon the results here, my feelings are that if you have an external video component that can output a high caliber progressive signal, then by all means feed the 17SF progressive signals from that particular component. If, on the other hand, you don’t have a progressive scan device or that device’s progressive scan abilities aren’t top-notch, then feed the 17SF an interlaced signal and let the projector’s internal processor work its magic.

One last test I had for the 17SF was how well it handled a native 4:3 signal. I popped in an episode from the Star Trek: The Next Generation- Season Three DVD box set. Being that the DVD was in a 4:3 format, the projector was not only required to display the image in its proper aspect ratio, but it also had to use its deinterlacer as the Pioneer DV-37 was sending it a 480i signal. The 17SF was up to the task as it displayed Captain Picard and his crew in their correct 4:3 aspect ratio, plus it converted the image into a progressive display.

[Note: Since my reference Da-Lite screen is in a 16:9 aspect ratio, the 4:3 image being projected here leaked outside the top and bottom boundaries of the screen. This required me to have the 17SF convert the 4:3 image into a 16:9 image to fit the screen. The resulting conversion left the 4:3 image looking a little stretched and squeezed, but not so distorted that it was unpleasant to watch. While I was unable to fit this 4:3 image in its proper aspect ratio within the boundaries of the 16:9 screen through any combination of settings on the DV-37 and the 17SF with the component video cable attached, I was, however, able to accomplish this task when a composite or S-video cable was used in lieu of the component cable. Setting the DV-37’s menu settings to output to a 16:9 monitor, and adjusting the 17SF to display in its 4:3 mode, the Star Trek episode did fit in its proper aspect ratio within the screen boundaries, albeit with black bars on both the left and right sides of the screen].

Remote Control Unit

The remote control that comes with the Cinema 17SF is small and fairly easy to navigate. It has a neat little backlit function that enables you to view all of the keys even in a dark theater room. Offering the same functions as the projector’s top panel, the remote control can also adjust such things as input source, screen size, color, and contrast. Heck, you can even do a picture freeze right from your seat on the sofa if you so desire. The remote is of the infrared variety, which does require you to point it at the remote sensor located on the projector unit. It is not a universal remote, but all in all, it’s a good remote that gets the job done.

Conclusion

The Studio Experience Cinema 17SF is an excellent DLP projector. It has an incredible picture quality plus enough brightness to fill most home theater rooms. It addition to offering multiple mounting options (tabletop, ceiling, and rear projection), this projector has very minimal fan noise. I really liked how simple it was to adjust the image settings and I was impressed with the unit’s high caliber Silicon Image processor with 3:2 pulldown detection. While I didn’t have an opportunity to audition the unit with any HDTV source material, it is comforting to know that it is ready to fully display 1080i and 720p (especially since HD-DVD may be here sooner than first thought). Really, the only fault I could find of the 17SF is that its connections port could have benefited from using more component video input connections, and having those inputs be of the RCA jack variety.

Studio Experience offers the following warranties and services for the 17SF: (1) 15-day full money back guarantee; (2) 30-day upgrade policy, (3) 3-year parts and labor warranty (upgradeable to 5 years); (4) 120-day lamp guarantee; and (5) free 24-hour-a-day/7-day-a-week technical support for the life of the product. You definitely owe it to yourself to check out how this projector can help bring the fun and excitement of large-screen theater right into your residence.

- Calvin Harding Jr.

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