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I started this "Living With 4K" series of articles back in 2012.

As you may recall, after Infocomm 2015 in Orlando in June, I covered with interest the evolution of 4K projector technology from the commercial industry in the hope that soon consumers could have more options than Sony 4K projectors, and the faux-4K projectors from JVC, Epson, Panasonic, Wolf, and others.

Several years ago I thought that introducing faux-4K projectors at a lower price, primarily by JVC, was a clever move considering that the only alternative for a consumer 4K projector was the $25,000 Sony VPL-VW1000ES, unless you consider a consumer product the 6-$digit-monsters from Christie, Barco, Digital Projection, etc., I do not.

JVC was filling a price gap between 1080p and 4K pricing, perhaps for one or two years, and I was hoping that after a short period they would then introduce a real 4K product at a competitive price, considering they already have true 4K commercial projectors for years.

However, that short-term alternative is now 4 years old. E-shift projectors did more than mainly appealing uninformed consumers thinking they were getting a real 4K product for a considerable lower price.

When you talk to JVC at every electronics show, including CES 2016 a few weeks ago, they still insist their projectors are 4K because they project 8 million pixels on the screen, regardless how that is done.

During those first four years of 4K projection in the market Sony introduced at least 3 generations of true 4K consumer projectors, from the $28,000 top-of-the-line VPL-VW1100ES (which I have, and enjoy every day since 2012), to the lower priced lines under $10,000, with lower lumens, lower quality of lens, less features, etc. but still a 4K projector.

JVC capitalized from introducing faux-4K at comparable attractive prices, offering a "like 4K" product at half price of the first Sony 4K projector (VPL-VW1000ES, $25,000 in 2012, now discontinued). The temporary opportunity and considerable lower price was not a bad idea. The projectors were showing convincing images on the screen to casual consumers, and they still do, particularly the contrast level that was always a salient factor in JVC projectors.

Although Texas Instruments have had 4K DMD chips for DLP Commercial Cinema projectors for years, during these four years of Sony 4K domination TI was silent regarding offering something similar on DLP for the consumer.

At Infocomm 2015, when I heard from Christie and others that TI was about to release a 4K DLP chip for consumer home-theater projection toward the end of 2015, some projector manufactures at Infocomm guessed possible price ranges, and elaborated about methods of encasing the projectors with smaller cabinets (some said were already working on them back then), and light engines that could be adapted to the smaller chip when TI delivered it. The expectations were very exciting, finally we are getting somewhere in DLP 4K, I said to myself, because I really liked DLP images for the years I owned DLP projectors.

What it concerned me was that TI did not want to discuss "any" technical details at our exchanges, nor at Infocomm, nor at arranged phone interviews. Not even at the CES 2016 demo of their actual application on a prototype projector, probably from Optoma, the micro-mirror spatial resolution of the chip was disclosed after asking several times, although TI freely mentioned that it has 4+ million micro-mirrors, and that instantly told me they were using two cycles of time to shift the mirrors to complete the 8+ million pixel 4K image. Sounds familiar?

At CES TI did a comparison of their prototype projector with 3 other projectors (Epson, JVC, and Sony 4K lowest model). In all honesty I have never seen any of the other 3 projectors showing such weak picture quality, the images they projected individually should have been objected on any technical review which would have easily identified those flaws, where were those negative reviews? I am not convinced that the comparison was to the best they could be, not because TI's was obviously the better one, as it was to be expected, but because those projectors would be full of bad reviews by owners all over the Internet not just by magazine reviewers.

Because the purpose of projection is displaying an image on a screen, not about counting pixel elements on a panel, like LCD or OLED with picture elements that have to be physically there, TI (and all faux-4K proponents) have a valid point in that the higher cost of true 4K may not be worth to many consumers, especially those that believe they are viewing native 4K at a bargain price, so why paying more for it?

However that cost difference is shrinking and the tables may turn soon, or they already turned enough with Sony's lower lines for those consumers that justify a reasonable difference in cost for the sake of true 4K projection because they know the difference.

I am Always Hesitant to Accept Shortcuts in Audio/Video Quality

If someone is already looking for a better picture why accepting TI's Smooth Picture DarkChip2 in 2004 with a 960x1080 (half 1080p video frame) mirror-array DMD .85" xHD3 chip claiming to produce one 1920x1080 full frame in 1/60th sec by showing each half frame in 1/120th sec?

About the .55" HD3 TI DMD chip with a mirror-array of 640x720p (half 720p video frame) claiming to produce one full frame of 1280x720p in 1/60th sec by showing each half frame in 1/120th sec.

Both HD3 chips using 45 degree angled mirrors that shifted quickly at each interval.  The method was named "wobulation" by consumers since then.

About interlaced TV since the 1950's with two halves of 240 lines claiming to look like a 480-line image, even when recorded at different points in time, viewed from a typical distance on a small CRT? (I believe 17" at that time). And the TV industry perpetuated that with HDTV 1080i in the digital era 50 years later.

About 3D-with-passive-glasses showing 540p lines per eye claiming both eyes will see 1080 lines when the brain blends them together, although there were recorded from different camera angles (I guess you never paid attention to the horizontal line-grid shown in between lines, until someone tells you about the blinds).

I guess the concept of short-cut quality, even when technology is advanced enough not to need it, will never go away.

How TI does it?

TI's new DMD 0.67" chip (about the same size of the 1080p chip) is suited with 4+ million DMD micro-mirrors which are physically spread as 2710 DMDs+ horizontal x 1530 DMDs+ vertical (approximately, Optoma informally mentioned it at their booth demo, TI did not disclose it at their demo), to create a 3840x2160 image of 1.78 aspect-ratio by tilting the micro-mirrors rapidly.

The light engine displays 4+ million pixels every 120th second in two intervals to complete 8 million pixels "on the screen" within the 60th second interval. This maybe fine considering current consumer content maxes at 60fps, but UHDTV is moving toward 120 fps for UHD content, a subject that has been discussed at SMPTE for already 3 years as the overall preferred frame rate of content, which also facilitates frame rates conversions of 24fps and 60 fps content.

TI did not disclose how exactly the half-4K DMD draws the full grid of pixels of the 4K image, for example, if the DMD would have been 1920x2160 one could assume that the second 120sec cycle would shift horizontally the other 4+ million pixels (or vertically if the DMD would have been 3840x1080), but having 2710x1530, approximately, implies that the second 120sec cycle is not exactly horizontal or vertical to complete the 4K image (at least JVC shows clearly how their e-shift technique draws the pixels on the image, it would be useful that TI does the same).

I have to admit that 4+ million pixels shifted is better than 2+ million pixels of the 1080p JVC DiLA chip e-shifted with their creative overlapping to complete the appearance of a smoother 8+ million pixel image, but TI is still short of a true 8+ million DMD chip for consumers in 2016, and let Sony dominate the true 4K projection market with already 3 generations of 4K projectors since 2012, and left manufacturers and consumers of projectors empty handed when looking for a 4K DLP option.

I would have accepted if TI came out with this display method in 2012 to compete with JVC's e-shift, but I am disappointed of the late introduction of a short-cut technology in 2016 while the industry is pushing fast toward 4K, High Dynamic Range, Wide Color Gamut, and Faster Frame Rate to offer better image quality to consumers.

At CES 2016 Optoma was the only manufacturer that showed a prototype of a projector using this DMD chip, I was not impressed with the picture quality perhaps because the demo room did not help with its large openings on both sides for viewers (and exterior light) to enter the room. It was not an appropriate viewing environment to appreciate a product that was long expected and would be under the magnifying glass.

Do not take me wrong, I am grateful that TI has finally introduced a consumer solution for DLP 4K projection, which TI mentioned was oriented to a commercial, education, and home-theater market under $5,000, it is just that I was expecting a full 4K introduction after waiting for so long, and I asked that question. TI's representative returned a smile when I asked if they may be working on a consumer version of a true 4K DMD in parallel to this approach.

I wonder if TI will come out with a 4K consumer DMD chip when Sony will demo their 8K consumer projectors.

Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, February 15, 2016 5:30 PM

More in Category: 4K (Ultra HD)

About Rodolfo La Maestra

Rodolfo La Maestra is the Senior Technical Director of UHDTV Magazine and HDTV Magazine and participated in the HDTV vision since the late 1980's. In the late 1990's, he began tracking and reviewing HDTV consumer equipment, and authored the annual HDTV Technology Review report, tutorials, and educative articles for HDTV Magazine, DVDetc and HDTVetc  magazines, Veritas et Visus Newsletter, Display Search, and served as technical consultant/editor for the "Reference Guide" and the "HDTV Glossary of Terms" for HDTVetc and HDTV Magazines.  In 2004, he began recording a weekly HDTV technology program for MD Cable television, which by 2006 reached the rating of second most viewed.

Rodolfo's background encompasses Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, and Audio and Video Electronics, with over 4,700 hours of professional training, a BS in Computer and Information Systems, and thirty+ professional and post-graduate certifications, some from MIT, American, and George Washington Universities.  Rodolfo was also Computer Science professor in five institutions between 1966-1973 in Argentina, regarding IBM, Burroughs, and Honeywell mainframe computers.  After 38 years of computer systems career, Rodolfo retired in 2003 as Chief of Systems Development from the Inter-American Development Bank directing sixty+ software-development computer professionals, supporting member countries in north/central/south America.

In parallel, from 1998 he helped the public with his other career of audio/video electronics, which started with hi-end audio in the early 60’s and merged with Home Theater video, multichannel audio
, HD, 3D and UHDTV. When HDTV started airing in November 1998, and later followed by 3DTV and 4K UHDTV, he realized that the technology as implemented would overwhelm consumers due to its complexity, and it certainly does even today, and launched his mission of educating and helping consumers understand the complexity, the challenge, and the beauty of the technology pursuing better sound and image, so the public learn to appreciate it not just as another television.