The X-1, introduced by INFOCUS in late 2002, is aimed primarily at the business projector market. It features an excellent Faroudja DCDi de-interlacing chip and is combined with a Pixelworks scalar chipset used for scaling and other functions. It is an SVGA resolution DLP (Digital Light Processing) projector (800×600 native resolution) that utilizes a single chip display with a rotating color wheel, but the picture quality belies the numbers. Not surprisingly, shortly after its introduction it was discovered by home theater enthusiasts and quickly became the entry level standard for that market. When INFOCUS dropped the MSRP from $1500 to $999, it took off in popularity as the low cost ticket to front projection home theaters.
While it suffers minor deficiencies when compared to projectors costing three to four times as much, as a first home theater projector (or business display projector) it is unparalleled. Once it is seen it in the proper environment, anyone will be impressed by the picture quality that a projector under $1000 can deliver.
It might come as a surprise that the INFOCUS X-1 doesn’t show up in the INFOCUS line of Home Theater projectors, but it was introduced in late 2002 for the business market primarily as a display projector for conference or group presentations. It was part of a market of small business oriented DLP projectors that were, overall, poorly suited for home theater display. However, with the introduction of the X-1 boasting capabilities its business brethren were lacking, all that changed. Once videophiles discovered the image quality this “pinstripe suit” DLP projector could deliver, it became very popular at the then MSRP of $1500. When that price dropped to $999 in early 2003, the X-1 became an overnight sensation as an affordable entry level front projector for the home theater.
Design and Features
The product itself is what is known as a DLP (Digital Light Processing) projector. It utilizes a single Texas Instruments 0.55 inch Digital Mirror (DM) SVGA display chip (black and white 800×600 pixels), and using a rotating RGBW color wheel it is able to produce crisp projected images with excellent color saturation and decent blacks – superior blacks to LCD projectors many times the price. The light engine, or lamp, initially rated at 3,000 hours has (based on field experience) been upgraded to a projected lifespan of 4,000 hours.
The projector video signal inputs are composite video (standard RCA plug input), “Computer” (VGA 15 pin HDDSUB female), S Video (utilizing a 7 pin input but will accept a 5 pin male plug), and USB. Component video input is received either through the S video connector (for interlaced signals) or through the “computer” (VGA) input for progressive signals. Progressive input through the VGA connector bypasses the de-interlacing of the projector. An adapter cable for component to either S video or VGA is available as an option from Infocus, or you can buy component to VGA cables from a variety of aftermarket sources.
Component inputs produce the best picture quality on this projector. Practically speaking this means a consumer will want a DVD player to feed the component input for optimal picture quality if watching movies is the main pursuit. Interestingly, the de-interlacer in the projector is significantly better than most DVD players – meaning progressive DVD players are not a “must” with this projector (try it both ways if your DVD player will output the component 480i format and see which works best).
Videotape and Standard Broadcast Television benefit from the excellent de-interlacing and scaling this projector has to offer, but even at their best they don’t compare to the DVD picture quality. Although there was not a high definition signal to input in the testing, the general HT user group’s consensus is that the X-1 picture quality with a HD signal (which requires scaling DOWN, not up) is better than DVD, but not significantly better. The fact that a scaled down HD picture looks better at all on an 800×600 display is in itself somewhat surprising, as is the picture quality from a 480 line DVD. As one X-1 owner put it, “there’s pixie dust in this machine.”
The next revolution in display device signals is coming in the form of DVI (Digital Video Interface) inputs. These feed a digital signal directly to the digital display device – no digital-analog (D/A) and back conversion occurs. The signal never leaves the “digital domain”. The artifacts and degradation in picture quality caused by D/A and A/D conversions is larger than believed – the resultant picture quality from the use of DVI is visually quite apparent, if not amazing. Unfortunately the X-1 does not have a DVI input, which is probably its single significant omission. It can be argued, though, that at 800×600 definition the difference would be slight – still, never having a signal leave the digital domain should eliminate some conversion artifacts, resulting in an improved picture overall. The lack of DVI on this machine is a forgivable sin – if the X-1 boasted a higher resolution, it would be more of a problem.
Use and Testing
The X-1 has the highly regarded Faroudja DCDi de-interlacer, which can take a non-progressive video signal and internally produce a 480p (progressive) signal. Coupled with the Pixelworks chipset the projector will scale this resolution to fit the 800×600 pixel map of the display chip, resulting in a displayed image that (while not truly High definition) clearly delves into the realm of extended resolution. Even viewed on a screen seven feet wide, the resulting picture from a good quality DVD transfer is crisp and sharp. The rated light output (always a dangerous number since the manufacturers rate their projectors far higher than what the usual light output really is under standard usage conditions) is 1,000 lumens in “presentation” mode. In this mode the white segment of the RGBW wheel is turned on, producing the brightest image. In “film” or “video” mode the white segment is turned off and the lumen output drops by about one third. In real world terms this means is that if a large screen image is required for home theater use, there better be a good light control in the viewing area. Ambient light can overwhelm this projector when it is used to throw big pictures. Used to project a picture the size of the biggest plasma or rear projection televisions (50 inches diagonally or less), the ambient light is not as much of a problem. Screen door effect – the apparent screen display of individual pixels which ends up looking like a window screen over the image – is all but unnoticeable at normal viewing distances of 1.5 to 2 times the screen width. Contrast is excellent, something the DLP system has to its advantage over more expensive LCD setups.
Single chip DLP devices, by their nature, can produce what is called the rainbow effect. Because the projector light stream is a series of red/green/blue bursts of light painting a single image that the eyes blend into a color image, in a dark scene the DLP output can produce a flash of what is best described as a “rainbow comet tail” from fast moving bright images contained within that dark scene. The same effect can be achieved by standing to the side of the projector and looking at the lens and rapidly moving one’s eyes. Interestingly, the susceptibility of people to see, and be affected by these rainbows varies from individual to individual – all a part of how the brain and the eyes are individually wired differently from one individual to the next. It was found that using “presentation mode” to watch movies (not a recommended method as the highlights tend to appear washed out) seemed to create more rainbows than “Film” or “Video” did. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the so called “rainbows” are annoyingly apparent to about 10 – 15 % of viewers. In 50 hours of testing, and involving about a dozen visitors, not one complained about rainbows. Knowing that they are there can be detrimental, as once one is seen, it becomes a search to look for more after that. This is not to say that some people are not more susceptible than others. For them the phenomenon is very real and can be very unpleasant. For this reason alone this is a projector that is highly recommended for the consumer to take for a test drive. When on this “test drive” think of rainbow susceptibility as being akin to “car sickness.” For those who have it, it’s misery. Those who do not suffer from it have difficulty understanding what the fuss is all about.
Were rainbows seen during the test? Sure, in maybe 50 hours less than half a dozen times. Were they found to be objectionable? No. Tweaking the picture and avoiding “presentation mode” can help too. However, if a consumer is like the susceptible percentage of the population who do see them often and is affected by them, he/she will need to keep looking elsewhere for a projector. However, it is not recommended rejecting this projector without testing it on one’s own (best done with a spouse or significant other who may have his or her own susceptibility issues).
The projector itself is surprisingly lightweight – about 6-1/2 pounds. It has 3 threaded holes in the base for inverted ceiling mounting. Its light weight makes a ceiling mount worry free. Although a ceiling mount is not included, INFOCUS offers one and many aftermarket companies have capitalized on this projector’s high popularity by offering cheaper versions of their own.
The controls located “on projector” are pushbuttons mounted on the top of the projector (and repeated on the remote control) and a side mounted ON/OFF rocker switch. It was annoying that to completely power down the projector one had to toggle this switch – not easy once it was ceiling mounted (the remote will turn the projector lamp off, but the projector itself stays in a standby mode and the fan runs at a low speed during this mode.).
Fan noise, a problem in high light output devices like projectors, were not found objectionable. This projector is not “whisper quiet” but maybe because of the pitch of the noise, it wasn’t found to be obtrusive even during quiet passages in program material. INFOCUS reports the noise level at 37 db, but in the testing it didn’t seem significantly louder than the Sony HS-10 rated at 32 db.
Speaking of noise, the projector has a built in a mono 2.5 watt amplifier and will input an audio source for playback through the projector’s built in speaker. For business presentations this speaker is more than adequate. For the videophiles utilizing this projector for home theater, it’s probably the one feature on this projector that will never get used.
The projector’s lens has an independent manual focusing ring and a zoom ring, although the zoom capability is very limited (more for use in the final adjustment of the image to a screen where the fit is close than for major adjustments in size). Ultimate screen size (projected image) is determined by projector to screen distances rather than by the zoom control.
Use and Testing Continued…
The on screen menus are logical and easy to navigate. Adjustment can be made in color (Red, Green and Blue), black level (brightness), white level (contrast) and sharpness. There are preset settings for “Presentation” (business display – higher light output, obtained by turning on the white segment of the color wheel), “Film” and “Video”. Several “user settings” can be designed and recalled using the onscreen menu. The overall image color tonality can also be adjusted between “warm” and “cool”. For ceiling mounting, or use as a rear projector, menu settings automatically invert or reverse the image. Display aspect ratios can be adjusted between 4:3, 16:9 and “native aspect.”
The remote control’s buttons and layout are ergonomically friendly (something remote control makers seem to have forgotten as a rule these days). With the prospect of a ceiling mounted projector, the remote control takes on added importance. One nice feature is the “effect” key, which can be user programmed to any single function. During the test, it was set up to alternate between the three aspect ratio displays.
The projector is a native 4:3 device (as the 800×600 pixel display would suggest). The display can be changed between 4:3, 16:9 or “native aspect” using the remote. It was found that the projector in the 4:3 aspect ratio would automatically scale the widescreen 1.85:1 (16:9) and 2.35:1 (Panavision) images properly on the screen when fed a 480p component input (for maximum DVD playback resolution though, set the DVD player to 16:9 and the X-1 to 16:9 and no scaling occurs within the X-1). However, since the test screen was 16:9, a 4:3 image displayed in 4:3 ran off the top and bottom of the screen. The “native resolution” aspect ratio setting rescued the overlarge image and displayed 4:3 with pillars on each side within the confines of the 16:9 96-inch diagonal screen. The slightly smaller image was more pleasing, since most 4:3 material is either SDTV or videotape – both of a lower resolution than DVDs. One thing newcomers will discover in front projection onto a large screen is the old computer adage: “garbage in – out”, except in this case the garbage is magnified. This, and virtually all home theater front projectors, delivers their best images when given clean, high quality signals. A signal that is inferior will result in a projected display that can make one think something is seriously awry with his/her projector setup. Fed a 480p signal from a DVD optimized for a 16:9 display, the X-1 will display it in 800×450 resolution, producing an astoundingly beautiful picture. The first time one sees it it’s hard to believe that this diminutive projector that cost under a grand is the source of such a great image.
Of the dozen or so viewers of this projector and the image it displayed during this test, at least one decided to buy one of his own. The universal reaction was one of awe and amazement, not only of the picture quality but of the price as well. All that is needed is a light controlled room with about 15 feet of depth so the projector can project an acceptably large image (80 to 90 inches diagonally would be about the optimal maximum for this projector, although it can go much larger than that.) Given an image size suited to the light output, this projector will put a rear projection television to shame – for much less money. Of course the screen cost must be factored in, but for the “do it yourself” folks, a suitable screen can be made for under $100, or the image can be projected onto a wall until a commercial screen can be afforded to add to the setup.
The X-1 has, in its own way, revolutionized the move to front projection home theater. What was once in the realm of the super wealthy and movie moguls has slowly been working its way down the economic scale and into the realm of the everyday video enthusiast. With the arrival of the X-1, front projection home theater has finally reached an affordable level for a large segment of the consumer market. For the money, or even twice the money, it is hard to beat the image quality the X-1 delivers. It is rumored that the X-1 will undergo changes in the next model due out after the first of the year, including the loss of the excellent Faroudja DCDi de-interlacer. Add to that the extended 3 years on the 2 year warranty for purchases made before 10/31/03, and the advice becomes – Don’t walk, but RUN to the closest dealer and test drive the X-1 before then. It’s that impressive and that great a bargain.