A few weeks ago, I had a chance to spend time with the good folks of Optoma learning about their company and their products. Today, Optoma is a leading manufacturer of award-winning digital display products and home entertainment projectors for consumers, businesses, education, professional audio/video (Pro AV), and C.E.D.I.A. (Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association) channels. Primarily, it manufactures front video projectors for both the commercial and home entertainment markets utilizing Texas Instruments’ Digital Light Processing (DLP) technology. In fact, they have quite an impressive line-up of 720p and 1080p projectors and have just returned from C.E.D.I.A EXPO 2006. Previously, the company had also produced high-quality rear projection DLP HDTVs, but simply couldn’t compete with the likes of Sony, Samsung, and others and as a result left that segment of the marketplace.
However, Optoma did not abandon rear projection DLP HDTV all together. They simply made it bigger and better. Someone, somewhere had the idea to take one of their 65-inch rear pro sets and put them in a wall for the built-in look. The idea for their proprietary BigVizion was born, and it’s now available in three identical model sizes. BigVizion is available in 80-inch, 90-inch, and 100-inch in-wall sizes. I had a chance to spend time with the 100-inch model, and, at $30,000, it’s worth every penny.
Granted, a 100-inch TV is not for everybody. BigVizion was created for that person who truly wants “the Big Picture.” Now, you ask, who would buy it? First of all, probably anyone who is thinking about Panasonic’s new 103-inch Plasma HDTV, since that display costs $70,000. It could also be the person who is planning on spending tens of thousands of dollars on a state-of-the-art front video projector from a larger and possibly more recognizable company. However, front video projectors, while capable of producing some awe-inspiring images, can only be viewed in a darkened room and also require a scaler and screen (both of which can add several more thousands of dollars to the package).
BigVizion, on the other hand, is a complete system and can be viewed in all lighting situations. And, unlike either the plasma or front video projection high-definition displays, BigVizion is upgradeable. Yes, that’s right. It’s upgradeable. So, as the technology changes or chipsets are improved, it’s a simple matter to replace them, from chips in the scaler to new chips from Texas Instruments (TI). Upgrading chipsets will be a lot less costly than replacing components or display systems. This makes the BigVizion unique in its own right.
Nuts, Bolts, and Installation
BigVizion uses the TI DarkChip3 DLP light engine with a 6-segment color wheel that produces images that have a pixel resolution of 1920 x 1080, or 1080p native. The screen itself features a 16:9 aspect ratio and measures 100 inches diagonally (model HDBV3100). There are different exterior frames, which can be changed or painted to suit different decors. Optoma claims that the contrast ratio is 10,000:1, but it was measured as approximately 5,800:1. Thanks to a 180-watt lamp, images were quite bright and punchy. The display uses a first surface glass mirror with honeycomb support backing for added stability and an optical screen with 1.8 grain high contrast, along with a fresnel lens.
The BigVizion system is modular, coming in three crates on one pallet; the crates contain the screen assembly, the assembled electronics (assembled and all on one rack), and the mirror. The pre-assembled electronics are comprised of the light engine and system controller, which are tethered together by an HDMI cable. The system controller houses the video scaler and processor along with all connectivity, which is quite versatile and well thought out. There are three HDMI inputs plus an additional one from an A/V Receiver, two component video inputs, two S-Video inputs, and two composite video inputs. There’s an HDMI output to the display and an HDMI output to A/V Receiver. There’s also RS 232C connectivity, a 12v trigger, and an IR extension module.
To set up the wall, all you need is for your carpenter to create the wall opening and space with two-by-fours, into which the screen assembly is simply attached by screws. In fact, it appears to be very easy installation; the carpentry is the hardest part. Once the screen assembly is in place, it’s simply a matter of the installer attaching the shelf that houses all of the pre-assembled electronics, which are already bolted into place. From there, the installer puts the mirror in place and attaches the HDMI cables, the source components such as an HD DVD player, Blu-ray Disc player, a satellite system (DirecTV HD was used for this evaluation), and an A/V Receiver. Obviously, you could hook up all of the sources to the BigVizion or to the A/V Receiver. Either way, the audio can be easily ported out the A/V Receiver or brought into the BigVizion via its very own HDMI port.
The Optoma BigVision
The Proof is in the Picture
Going into this evaluation, I had a certain amount of trepidation about a rear projection set of this size. The more you blow images up, the more the imperfections of the picture become apparent. So, you might say that I am very pleased to report that both standard- definition and high-definition images looked exceptional! While some of the credit goes to the TI’s 1080p DLP chip, the Gennum VXP video processor helped tremendously. Was the image perfect? No, but it was very compelling. I used three primary video sources: the Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD player, the Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray Disc player, and the DirecTV HD DVR set-top box. This gave me a broad palette of images from over-the-air, cable-type channels, HD channels (including HBO, Showtime, ESPN, and UniversalHD), and high-definition optical discs.
Besides watching content from various sources, test patterns were placed on the screen (from Joe Kane’s Digital Video Essentials to Silicon Optix’s test disc) to ascertain image quality in a more scientific manner. The various test patterns showed some slight imperfections in the picture, which could be corrected. Also, BigVizion does offer ISF calibration modes, including preset Day and Night modes, which are very handy. Of course, the set can be calibrated by the installer or even the end user.
The two best images sources were HD DVD and DirecTV. Sadly, Samsung’s Blu-ray images from House of Flying Daggers and other BD titles were soft and did not pop. This problem is not with BigVizion, but the Samsung BD player itself and Samsung’s choice of softening the image from its Gennum chipset. Poor choice! Images from Toshiba’s HD DVD, on the other hand, looked terrific. Content viewed included: The Phantom of the Opera, Serenity, and Unforgiven. Images were crystal-clear. While there was some noise in the image, it was the content itself and not BigVizion generating them.
Turning to DirecTV, while the over-the-air standard-definition The Price is Right image appeared soft, it was virtually free of any video noise. This says a lot for BigVizion’s processing power. Cable channel type fare at 480p looked quite good and free from visible artifacts. While movies on HBO and Showtime looked perfectly fine, I was very impressed with watching Live HD coverage of the U.S. Open on DirecTV’s UniversalHD channel (No.74). It was really like I was sitting in the stands and watching the players up close and personal. Truly amazing! What was even more amazing was watching it in a brightly lit room. Yes, I could turn off all of the lights and get that true Home Theater experience, but it was nice to be able to watch content with the lights on. And, let’s face it: no one wants to watch sporting events in a darkened room.
While Optoma’s BigVizion is not inexpensive at $30,000, it does fill a specific niche in the market. The creative engineers at Optoma saw a specific market need and found an innovative way to fill it. For that buyer who wants the “the Big Picture” and has the bucks to spend, the HDBV3100 makes a lot of sense for several reasons. Image quality was superior from all sources and can be viewed in a lighted room—a big bonus. While sitting in a darkened theater is nice for watching a movie, you don’t watch normal TV in the dark. With regular room lighting, the images were still bright, crisp, and robust. You can’t do that with front projectors, or even plasma TVs, for that matter; like their projector brethren, plasma displays look better in the dark.
Here’s another reason to think about the Optoma BigVizion to fill that big wall space. Unlike a very large plasma display, it’s upgradeable! As better video processing chipsets comes along from Faroudja, DVDO, Gennum, or Silicon Optix, for example, they can be easily incorporated by the custom installer, making for a continued revenue stream—both the installer and the customer benefit from upgradeability. This is something that I found very compelling. With other displays, once you’ve bought it, you’re locked into time. This is not the case with BigVizion. As technology changes, you can change right along with it without having to toss out your old display. You can’t do that with any other flat-screen display.
Also, BigVizion is not just for the home theater enthusiast. It could easily go into boardrooms or any corporate setting that requires a screen. It could also go into commercial venues that need “the Big Picture,” but won’t suffer from plasma “burn-in” issues or LCD blurring/lag of response time. I was also told that some cruise lines will be putting BigVizion on their ships, as it’s very secure against the turbulence of the seas and can fit into more settings than other types of displays.
Lastly, if 100 inches is just too big for your installation, Optoma also offers BigVizion in 80-inch (HDBV3080, $22,999) and 90-inch (HDBV3090, $24,999) versions for the smaller household.
So, all in all, Optoma’s BigVizion is a worthy contender for “the Big Picture.”