The LS-1 is about as mass market as Runco will ever get - but it's still a mighty fine projector
US home theatre brand Runco is not generally associated with aggressive pricing. In fact, its most famous, compromise-free products belong squarely in the ‘if you need to ask how much it costs it’s not for you’ stratosphere. Today, though, I’m rather excited - and extremely startled - to be testing a Runco-branded projector that even I could just about imagine affording.
The name of this wallet-friendly surprise is the 'LightStyle' LS-1, and it can be yours for just £4,000. A price which becomes even more eye-catching as you start to appreciate just how much the projector has in common with much more expensive models higher up the LS range.
For instance, it’s aesthetically identical to its ‘LightStyle’ siblings, sporting the same unusual vaguely circular design, and the same imposingly large footprint.
The LS-1’s size is significant because it suggests a markedly better build quality and internal design than you usually get with projectors at the sub-£5k price level.
Hidden away beneath a detachable cover on the LS-1’s rear is a respectable set of connections, including two HDMIs, a component video port, a D-Sub PC port, and 12V trigger/RS-232 jacks designed to aid the professional installer who will almost certainly set your LS-1 up for you given Runco’s ‘custom install’ distribution channels via its UK dealer Pulse Marketing.
It’s actually pretty handy that setting the LS-1 up won’t likely be your responsibility, for it’s one of the least user-friendly projectors I’ve seen. Its onscreen menus are boring to look at and so cluttered with tweaks that they’d likely have most ‘normal’ users running for the technophobe hills.
When it comes to adjusting the projector’s vertical image shifting, meanwhile, you have to use an allen key rather than a simple wheel or knob adjustment. To be fair, though, this unfriendly approach does allow the LS-1 to provide more image shifting precision.
Actually, there’s an upside to the cluttered menus too. For the sort of options and tweaks they’re cluttered with are comprehensive enough regarding issues like colour management and gamma controls to bag the official endorsement of boffins at the independent Imaging Science Foundation. This essentially means the LS-1 is deemed to have every key tweak a professional calibrator needs to optimise its performance to suit each owners’ individual room conditions.
Considering it’s comfortably the cheapest projector in Runco’s LS range, it’s pleasing to find the LS-1 still clinging on to some of the key features sported by its more expensive siblings. You still get Runco’s acclaimed ViVix video processing system, for instance, along with a proprietary ConstantContrast dynamic iris system and Runco’s SuperOnyx technology for boosting the contrast delivered from its single-chip DLP engine.
Its 230W lamp is reasonably powerful too - though Runco’s high-end desire to always make sure its projectors produce images with plenty of punch and dynamism means the brand only recommends that the LS-1 be used with screens in the 63in-85in size range. Mind you, I tested it on a 90in screen (don’t tell Runco!) and didn’t feel shortchanged on brightness in the slightest...
In fact, I didn’t feel shortchanged by the LS-1 in any department. For it delivers more of Runco’s traditional picture authority than I could ever realistically have hoped for.
The brightness noted earlier really is striking for the LS-1’s price level, for instance. It ensures that images are propelled off even my neutral IMAGE screen with exemplary pop and punch. Even better, this potency at the bright end of the light spectrum is impressively counterpointed by deep, natural black tones.
As I would expect, given the LS-1’s expansive contrast range, Runco’s entry-level projector is also a tasty colour performer. It delivers a range of colours that’s wider than I’d normally expect to see for £4,000, and even better, it’s got the processing power to deliver the most subtle of colour nuances with startling finesse. Colour striping or blotching are things you don’t have to worry about on the LS-1, even when watching notoriously tricky sequences like the Mines of Moria segment of The Lord of the Rings.
The LS-1’s images are also exceptionally detailed and sharp when showing HD, yet there’s no sense that this sharpness is in any way forced or ‘created’ by sharpness processing. Runco’s projector just happens to be extremely good at letting through and reproducing every last pixel of detail from whatever HD source it’s fed.
Couple this image purity with the colour finesse noted earlier and you’ve immediately got a picture that exudes the sort of stability, solidity and accuracy usually only found on projectors costing substantially more.
This sense is underlined, moreover, by the way the LS-1 handles motion. So fluid and sharp does movement across the frame look that it’s hard to believe the LS-1 is a £4k single-chip DLP model. It’s important to stress, too, that moving skin tones don’t suffer with any of the fizzing noise that can still appear from time to time on many single-chip DLP PJs.
That’s not the only traditional single-chip DLP flaw the LS-1 keeps a much-appreciated lid on, either. For considering how bright images are, there’s also impressively little sign of rainbow effect (where stripes of pure red, green and blue either flicker over stand-out bright image elements or in the periphery of your vision, especially if you flit your eyes around the screen).
To be clear about this, I'm not saying the LS-1 is a total rainbow-free zone. But even though I would consider myself relatively susceptible to seeing rainbowing (some people seem blissfully immune to it), I found its appearance so rare and low-level on the LS-1 that it scarcely troubled me at all. Which clearly points to an excellent colour wheel spinning away under the Runco's hood.
Inevitably for its money, the LS-1 isn’t completely perfect. For instance, your installer may find they have to put a bit of effort in to shielding you from the slightly high levels of fan cooling noise it produces. Though their job here is helped, at least, by the fact that its noise is at least regular - rather than ebbing and flowing or going up and down in tone - so it’s easier for your brain to ‘cancel out’.
When it comes to pictures, the only performance area that gives you a significant clue that the LS-1 is Runco’s most affordable projector is shadow detailing. During the many dark scenes that populate David Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake, for instance, I did sometimes notice that areas of the picture looked a touch hollow as the projector’s post-calibration picture settings failed to hold on to enough brightness to reproduce some of the subtlest shadow detail data.
You can ‘retrieve’ more of this shadow detail if you ratchet up the projector’s brightness output, but this takes the richness out of the black level response.
If this pair of so-called niggles I’ve rustled up with the LS-1 sound a bit desperate, that’s because they are. For the simple happy truth is that the excellent LS-1 is something I never thought Runco would ever bring us: a genuine home cinema bargain.
Runco LightStyle LS-1
Price: £4,000 Approx
Highs: Excellent picture quality; plenty of calibration tools for your installer; good value for money
Lows: Not thet quietest projector around; lack of shadow detail at times; very slight and rare rainbow effect
3D: no You'll need the LS-12d for that
Full HD: yes 1,920 x 1,080
HDMI: yes 2 x v1.4
Component video: yes One input
12V trigger: yes One output
Brightness: 541 ANSI Lumens in Home Theater Calibration (CSMS)
Dimensions: 455(w) x 200(h) x 530(d)mm
Features: Runco SuperOnyx contrast system; ViVix processing; Runco ConstantContrast system; full colour management and gamma controls; ISF certified; multiple lens options; 230W lamp; 4000-hour lamp life
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