Jack of all trades

This single-chip DLP projector can be converted to 3D with off-board hardware. But it’s trying to please too many different users, says Martin Pipe

The Viewsonic Pro8450 is a 720p single-chip DLP projector with a variety of applications.

It can be used as a home cinema projector, but many of its features don’t grace most of the PJs listed in our buyer’s guide. First and foremost, the Pro8450 can be networked using Ethernet or an optional wi-fi dongle. This facility allows the projector to be remotely controlled via a web interface operating on a PC, smartphone or other device. System integrators will appreciate that Crestron’s ‘E-Control’ standard is also catered for.

However, pwPresenter, an application bundled with the projector, is aimed primarily at corporate and educational markets. It enables the Pro8450 to be fed with the desktop (screen area) of a PC via the network. pwPresenter may be fine for presentations, where changes in screen content are minimal, but it’s not intended for use with home cinema PCs displaying fast-moving fullscreen HD video. Also embedded are a USB photo-reader (good for PC-free slideshows!), a presentation timer (‘change PowerPoint slides NOW!’) and a 2x10W audio system that doesn’t pretend to meet home cinema specifications. .

Available as an optional accessory is the VP3D1. This standard width unit converts 3D signals from various sources. Blu-ray sequential and Sky’s side-by-side formats are both supported into the 3D DLP-Link protocol recognised by this projector, and a select band of other compatible units. 3D DLP-Link is a 120Hz frame sequential system that operates at 720p. Between each frame is inserted a short ‘burst’ of sync that tells the active glasses when to ‘flip’ shutters. None are supplied with the VP3D1, although some retail ‘bundling’ is expected.

In other words, infrared line-of-sight isn’t a problem; as long as the glasses are looking at the screen, then reliable 3D is assured. Without the unit in position (it’s connected between the sources and PJ) the Pro8450 is a standard 2D projector. When 2D content is displayed, the VP3D1’s conversion process is bypassed. There’s no insertion loss, and even when 3D is active the processing delay is too short to introduce severe lip-sync problems.

But back to the PJ itself. Superficially, there’s an impressive amount of connectivity on the rear panel. However, much of it is of little interest to pure home cinema hedz. Amongst these are RS232, USB for firmware upgrades, two more USB ports for storage devices/wi-fi terminals and a direct PC connection (the projector’s diminutive handset with laser pointer can be used as a mouse), the aforementioned Ethernet, VGA loopthrough for driving a ‘local’ monitor (enabling a presenter facing an audience to see what’s being projected) and various audio inputs for the onboard sound system. One of these will accept a microphone.

Cue screen

However, the Pro8450 does boast a switchable 12V output for triggering motorised screens and the like. With the exception of RGB Scart, all varieties of analogue AV are accepted here: VGA/D-Sub (a boon for advocates of home cinema PCs), component, composite and S-video. Only one HDMI port is provided, although the VP3D1 is equipped with a two-input HDMI switch.

The VP3D1 doesn’t have any onscreen menus. All controls – source-selection, bypass, standby and side-by-side mode – are located on the front panel. In contrast, the Pro8450 is groaning with them. Filling much of the screen, these give you a fair degree of control over the displayed image, which can be inverted or flipped, thereby covering ceiling mounting, front/rear projection and desktop use. Annoyingly, though, they’re still present when you adjust parameters such as contrast or brightness. Other projectors take the menus off the screen, easing the lot of calibrators. All you can do here is increase the menu transparency so that the underlying video is more visible, or shunt them around the screen so they’re slightly less obtrusive. Focusing and (1.5x) zoom are not motorised and cannot be adjusted from the handset.

Amongst other things the menus do cover are gamma; colour temperature; noise reduction; network configuration, (digital) keystone correction, photo playback and 3D sync. When you’re using the VP3D1, remember to turn the latter on, otherwise the resulting onscreen jumble will convince you there’s a fault.

Scaling up

Aspect ratio, like input selection, can be selected via dedicated handset buttons. Natively, the Pro8450’s 1,280 x 800 picture has a 16:10 aspect ratio that’s the same as many notebook PCs. Thankfully, a 16:9 mode displays widescreen video in the correct aspect ratio. If you feed in 720p video, there’s no unwanted scaling to spoil the picture.

This PJ is also compatible with 1080i/p video, but it’s downscaled, of course. The VP3D1 will downscale full HD 3D material to the necessary 720p mode as part of its job. A 4:3 mode will satisfy those with a love of old movies and anyone with Laserdisc or VHS player connected via the analogue inputs. That’s it for aspect ratios, although an electronic zoom and simple picture ‘freeze’ have been thrown in for good measure.

One field in which the Pro8450 really stands out is brightness. There’s plenty of it – even when a large image of over 4m is being projected (achievable with a projection distance of around 5m). ViewSonic’s own spec claims a stonking 4500Lumens output from its 280W lamp. But there’s a downside to this. In addition to a significant degree of fan noise, black levels are rather poor. I recommend switching to the ‘eco’ mode, which tames brightness to a level at which many home cinema PJs would still be proud. Even in this mode, which does improve blacks and quietens the fan, one disturbing artifact was still noticeable, at least, with my review sample.

Towards the bottom of the screen, I noted faint circular patches of light. With the letterboxed 16:9 image, these could be intrusive in a darkened room. Leakage in the (powerful) light path is undoubtedly the cause.

The Devil’s in the detail

This may only be a 720p projector, but subjective detail is surprisingly good with pristine CGI-driven Blu-rays such as Battle: Los Angeles. Contrast range also proved more than acceptable, considering the modest 3,400:1 claim, although I’ve seen better from dedicated home cinema projectors at the same price point.

My main criticism of the Pro8450’s performance is that the rainbow effect associated with single-chip DLP’s colour wheel (two-speed, five-segment, in this projector) is rather noticeable on occasions.

There’s also a prolonged flickering if the input changes in any way. This is caused by the colour wheel’s need to re-synchronise. With the VP3D1 in tow, I switched to 3D material. Ice Age 3 yielded a modicum of depth, with a surprising freedom from crosstalk. Long-term viewing could be rather fatiguing, though. Furthermore, no brightness compensation for the light-attenuating property of the glasses has been incorporated; the 3D sync setting itself reduces brightness, too. Both factors contribute to a darker picture, but better blacks.

I encountered another problem during the review period. On one occasion, it failed to respond to the handset. Not even the unit’s standby button would shut it down. Clearly the user interface had crashed, necessitating an unwelcome shut-down procedure – unplugging it.

Does the business

ViewSonic is pushing the Pro8540 and VP3D1 combi as a serious 3D proposition for home movie/gaming fans – much like the Optoma HD67N/3DXL offering. Yet it suffers immensely from its price point; there are projectors around from both Epson and Optoma that provide integrated Full HD 3D for less outlay. As such, it’s difficult for me to recommend it, despite the generally likeable picture quality.

On the other hand, and assuming that the anomalies I experienced can be attributed to a well-travelled review sample, the Pro8450 could be an ideal choice for the business user in need of a projector that can be smuggled home at weekends…


HCC VERDICT

ViewSonic Pro8450 & VP3D1
Price:
£1,700 Approx

Highs: Astonishingly bright picture; good detail for a 720p projector
Lows: Blacks and contrast fall short of competition; sample problems

Performance: 3/5
Design: 3/5
Features: 3/5
Overall: 3/5


Specifications

3D Ready: yes with optional processor
Full HD: yes 1080p/24
Component video: yes one input (HD-compatible)
HDMI: yes 1 x HDMI v1.3  
PC input: yes 15-pin VGA analogue D-Sub  
12V trigger: yes one
Resolution: 1,280 x 800
Brightness (claimed): 4500 ANSI Lumens
Contrast ratio (claimed): 3400:1
Dimensions: 333(w) x 110(h) x 263(d)mm  Weight: 3.86kg
Features: Supports 3D DLP-Link protocol; ‘eco’ mode; single-chip (0.65in.) DLP with 16:10 native aspect ratio; manual x1.5 zoom and focus; fan noise 32dB (27dB in eco mode); 16:10/16:9/4:3 aspect ratios; adjustable feet