InFocus IN76 Video Projector Review

August 14, 2006

InFocus IN76It’s odd to think that video projectors with 720 lines of vertical resolution and 800 lumens are available for less than $3000, considering that when I got into the business a comparable projector would have sold for nearly five times that, not that we even had 720p then but that’s a different story altogether..

For the past two weeks I’ve had the opportunity to spend some time with the InFocus IN76, 720p front projector. The IN76 is part of InFocus’s latest generation of Play Big video projectors; the new line fills many of the gaps left between the SP4805 and SP7205.

The IN76 sports some impressive features for a projector that can be found (with some hunting) for considerably less than its suggested retail of $2999. Features like 1280×720 resolution, 3000:1 Contrast Ratio and the Texas Instruments DarkChip2 DMD. One departure from previous InFocus projectors in this price range is the addition of an HDMI input but just as important as this addition, is what wasn’t removed from the projector.

The IN76 still includes InFocus’s M1/DVI (HDCP compliant) input; this might not sound all that important to those of you who have never owned an InFocus projector but current owners who never bothered to run an HDMI cable can rest safe in the fact that your current cabling method will still work.

I’m all for adding the current interface standards to new CE devices but it’s refreshing to see a company with the forethought to recognize that older (existing) cabling methods need to be supported as well.

The most striking cosmetic difference between the IN76 and previous InFocus projectors is the case design. Gone is the grey handled, utilitarian case design of the past. The new Play Big series of projectors from InFocus are housed in a sleek, black dare I say sexy case, that to my eye at least is much more pleasing than the previous case design.

Setup, Interface, Measurements and General Observations:

Source equipment used for this review consisted of a Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD player and Comcast HD DVR. If you’re not familiar with the XA1 don’t fret that standard definition DVD’s were omitted from the review, the XA1 plays both SD and HD DVD’s. The XA1 was connected directly to the IN76’s HDMI input while the Comcast DVR was connected to the IN76’s M1/DVI input.

I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the hassle of removing my SP7205 from its ceiling mount to hang the IN76, so I opted for table-top installation and in doing so quickly discovered that the IN76 is a very quiet projector. I placed the IN76 on a sofa table behind the couch, which put the projector at about 1.5’ behind and roughly level with our ears. Even at this extremely close distance the noise wasn’t the least bit distracting with normal listening volumes.

The most obvious comparison I had on hand for the IN76 was my own InFocus SP7205. (approaching 700hrs on its latest lamp) After calibration with the combination of the THX optimizer and Digital Video Essentials, I was ready to make some off the cuff observations. I noticed good red reproduction and convincing black levels both of which weren’t all that surprising considering the IN76 uses the Texas Instruments DarkChip2, a DMD that has proven itself more than capable of producing top-notch video.

The images weren’t quite as punchy as with the 7205, this certainly wasn’t attributable to the contrast ratio of the IN76 as it’s rated at 3000:1 where the 7205 has a contrast ratio of 2200:1. One notable difference between the two projectors however was their actual video optimized (calibrated) light output with a full-field white frame.

I measured my calibrated 7205 at 34.37 foot-candles versus the IN76 at 23.78 foot-candles, again not surprising as the 7205 is rated at 950 lumens in whisper mode versus the IN76 at 800 lumens in whisper mode. So while the IN76 does indeed have a higher contrast ratio, brighter displays typically offer better perceived contrast.

So in this case we have a perfect example of raw lumens overpowering a technically better DMD and a higher contrast ratio. None of this is surprising or revolutionary but worth noting when comparing specifications. Or in other words raw specs don’t always paint an accurate portrayal of real-world performance.

Moving onto menu functions I immediately noticed the inclusion of noise reduction that can be turned on and off. This might sound like a minor feature but as someone who’s seen first hand, the differences the very presence of noise reduction can make to overall image quality, I was very pleased to see this included.

Ah lets see what else, oh light spill. The IN76 has noticeably less light spill than the 7205, it seemed to ‘frame’ what little light spill was evident versus the 7205’s which is somewhat scattered around the image.

The remote control for the Play Big series also got a makeover, the color matches the projector (black with silver trim) and some of the backlit functions are a little easier to see in a dark room but I found the remote adequate at best and still preferred my universal remote to the one included.

HQV Benchmark Results:

•Color Bar/Vertical Detail: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Jaggies Pattern 1: Pass – Score 5 of 5
•Jaggies Pattern 2: Pass – Score 5 of 5
•Flag: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Picture Detail: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Noise Reduction: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Motion Adaptive Noise Reduction: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•3:2 Detection: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Film Cadence: Pass – Score (Combined) 15 of 40
•Mixed 3:2 Film, Horizontal Text Crawl: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Mixed 3:2 Film, Vertical Text Crawl: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Total Score:105 out of a possible 130.

Interesting test results as the 7205 scored 105 as well with interlaced video but the individual tests panned out a little different with the Play Big Projector. The IN76 actually scored better in the noise reduction tests but slightly worse in the mixed cadences.

The IN76 however did pass the critical 3:2 pull-down, jaggies, detail and noise reduction tests, so in real word terms the IN76 while missing a few ancillary cadences , passed the tests that actually matter in real world applications. Again raw specs alone would have given an inaccurate image (more puns) of this projector.

Image Quality, Video Results HD Cable:

IN76 Side ViewI watched a wide range of programming via Comcast, both HD and standard definition and I found that the IN76 fed 1080i gave the best results. Once again straying from the feed your display its native resolution mantra. The whole ‘send your display its native rate’ argument is diminished by how many displays are including high quality video processors of late.

Simply put if the display has a superior video processor you’re often better off feeding it a interlaced signal and letting the internal processor work it’s magic versus the source component. Of course there are obvious exceptions to this rule and quite frankly too many to mention here. Suffice to say that I take a lets see approach to any such example these days but I’ve actually gotten to the point where I can predict the results with reasonable accuracy.

Back to my results with HD cable and the IN76, overall HD cable through the IN76 was quite satisfactory and some material was even presented slightly better than with my 7205, I attribute this to the IN76’s Pixelworks DNX PW390 video processor but I did notice one oddity. Occasionally fast moving transitional shots left a bit of artifacting noise behind but this was a rare occurrence and presented itself infrequently enough to be of only minor concern.

Luckily enough, I still had a recent 2:35:1 HD airing of ‘The Hunt for Red October’ on the DVR. Again the colors were spot on and the IN76 put the increased resolution to good use. Titles were crisp and clear and suffered from no apparent de-interlacing troubles with the 1080i source material.

Later in captain Ramius’s quarters as the political officer meets his early demise, I was again struck by how well the IN76 was able to recreate every detail of the dark uniforms in the scene. Wanting to contrast this with something a little more recent I switched over to another HD recording from HBO HD, ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’.

First off if you haven’t seen Riddick and consider yourself a sci-fi fan, shame on you. You’re missing one heck of a good time. Anyway back to the task at hand, I moved forward to the scene where Karl Urban and Diesel square of on Crematoria. The subtle shades of gray, black, gold, and brown in the Necromongers armor were rendered with vivid accuracy.

When the approaching scorching sun fell on the actors, the increased brightness in the scene never washed out or grayed the other colors. The IN76 handled the scene with as much punch and contrast as one could expect of a projector in this price range. Overall I found the IN76 more than capable of rendering excellent images with HD cable but with just a touch of softness compared to my closest on-hand comparison, (the 7205) which retailed for significantly more than the IN76. All in all not a bad showing (pun) but of course I wanted to move on to some pre-recorded content.

DVD Performance and Optical Observations:

It’ll be a shame when I get tired of this title because I really love ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’; anyway I immediately got a better feel for the IN76’s black level with this disc. In particular during the race for the idol scenes early on in the film, I was able to make out fine shadow detail throughout the cave. Interestingly for a projector in this price range it was also able to convincingly recreate near total darkness.

As Indy leaps across the open pit in chapter 3, I could make out good detail in the rocks that crumbled in his hands as he scrambles to make his way back up. Afterwards as flies off to safety, I noticed the red trim in the sea plane rendered as a true red rather than the all too common orange’ish red as many projectors in this price range favor.

At the risk of painting an overly rosey image of the IN76’s video performance I do have to point out one area where the IN76 (and most projectors in this price range) fall behind projectors in higher price brackets. Projectors like most other CE devices are by and large the sum of their parts, that’s not to say that engineering and design aren’t critical to performance but as you move up through the price brackets there are certain features afforded, that just cant be included with budget to mid-range models.

The quality of a projectors optical path is paramount in determining the image on-screen; projectors range anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars these days and everything in-between. Invariably one area that receives more attention as you increase through those price brackets is the quality of the optical path.

The tipping point for all-glass precision-optics slides throughout the price ranges differently with the various manufacturers and more often than not the exact lens used in the projector isn’t differentiated in product literature or official specifications, sans the occasional mention of the lens manufacturer. For example the SP7205 literature mentions ‘Carl Zeiss’ optics where the IN76 only states “Glass Lens” to distinguish its optics from the all too common plastic lens’s found on many budget projectors.

The trade off with medium grade optics versus high quality, precision all-glass optics often manifests itself in a slightly softer image than the later. Now while I wouldn’t describe the IN76’s image as excessively soft, do be aware as you move up through any manufacturers projection line, the quality of the optics offered likewise increases and along with that so does the sharpness of the image. Now that we’ve gotten that little bit of projector manufacturing 101 out of the way, let’s get back to some more DVD observations with the IN76.

One DVD in particular I find indispensable for judging over all image clarity is the super-bit version of ‘Hollow Man’, to be quite honest I find the disc to be one of the best transfers the medium has ever seen and certainly one of the best discs I own.

In chapter 9 of ‘Hollow Man’, Kevin Bacon prepares to disappear as it were, and once again this DVD didn’t disappoint. The colors in the monitors behind the action were as vivid as I remember in previous viewings and the patients transformation was just as impressive. The clarity and overall image quality of this disc on the IN76 was quite striking.

From ‘Hollow Man’ we shifted to ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ Early on I noticed very nice shadow detail and true blacks. For example, when we first see Harry awakening from his nightmare, I noticed the wrought iron bed’s frame was jet black without the slightest hint of gray.

The entire film is somewhat dark but from time to time I noticed impressive color reproduction. One scene in particular, the students pass by a stained glass window, the window dripped with color. With HD cable and DVD performance accounted for, I was twitching for some HD DVD. Yes this is an unfortunate side effect of owning an HD DVD player, everything else pales by comparison.

HD DVD Results:

The first HD DVD I cued up for the IN76 was ‘Training Day’, the opening titles were very crisp without the slightest hint of ringing, banding or halos. The detail in Denzel Washington’s face was impressive for a projector in this price range and again the IN76’s black level reproduction impressed.

The IN76 is definitely capable of rising to the task when provided a high quality source. I skipped forward to Chapter 19 where Hoyt plays a friendly game of cards, the colors, detail, and fleshtones were all spot on and again better than I expected from a projector in this price bracket.

From there I wanted to move on to another HD DVD, one I was a little more familiar with, so I popped in Blazing Saddles. I skipped ahead to Chapter 10, where the Sheriff first meets ‘The Kid’. The detail in Cleavon Little’s face and Gene Wilders unshaven mug got me to thinking about how far we’ve come in digital projection.

The IN76 at $2500 (or so), a HD DVD player at $500, and a decent screen, equals out to about 3.5K. Another 1.5K for audio would bring the entire system to right around 5K. For less than one half of what a comparable projector alone cost ten years ago, you could have an entire HD home theater today, gotta love progress. Anyway enough of my day dreams with your money, I had one more scene to view in Saddles.

From there, I skipped to Chapter 17. Here I noticed some slight non-liner softness just below the center of the image. Nothing major, it’s just that this particular scene (in the sheriff’s office) accentuated the effect. Later in the same chapter, where the sheriff meets up with his old friends, I got a good dose of that 3-D effect HD DVD is capable of. No I don’t mean that images jumping off the screen, 3D, but that sense of depth between the foreground and background objects.

Moving on from Blazing Saddles we cued up ‘Serenity’. Every time I watch this film I catch another interesting bit of dialogue and find yet another reference scene. This time for instance, I noticed how much detail is in the text Summer has in front her in Chapter 1, at about two minutes in. The text is crisp, bold, and easy to read. That is if you’re quick with the pause button. The top two lines read “ee=02” and “ae=1”. No clue what that means if anything but its just one example in hundreds of the little bits of subtle detail you can find with the right display.

Chapter 4’s “Going for a Ride” is another of my favorites. This scene proved that lumens aren’t in short supply with the IN76, but to be honest I’ve yet to see an InFocus projector that suffered from this problem. Skipping ahead to Chapter 15, “Caught in the Middle”, I was again impressed with the IN76’s black level. Deep space was inky black but at the same time enough contrast was on tap to make out fine details in the Reaver ships. With that I felt I’d seen enough to make my recommendations.

Summary:

Normally specific recommendations are a tough cookie to crack, often times there are just too many variables in any given product to make across the board recommendations but I feel the IN76 affords such recommendations in several categories. Firstly if your new to front projection and 720p will suffice, I’d say the IN76 should be on your short list of must see projectors.

Secondly if your upgrading from something like the InFocus SP4805 or SP5700 and you know you want more resolution than either of those models direct replacements offer, again be sure to audition the IN76. Lastly if your ultimate goal is indeed full 1080p resolution but you aren’t comfortable with current 1080p front projection price points and want to wait it out a little longer, then the IN76 would likely hold you over quite nicely until those 1080p projectors fall into the sub 6k range.

I found the IN76 to be a capable 720p front projection performer; it’s bright, color accurate and provides good overall detail and black level. No its not perfect and rightfully so, projectors in this price range still have a ways to go before they challenge the current king of the mountains in the 720p range. That said the IN76 does offer features not found in other projectors in its range, the Pixelworks DNX-PW390 10-bit video processor performs admirably and the projector has good grayscale right out of the box, all in all the IN76 is worth an audition if your in the market for a sub 3K front projector.

Product Details – InFocus Play Big IN76.
Retail $ 2,999 – Availability now.
Resolution – 1280×720.
Brightness – 800 ANSI (Whisper Mode) 1000 ANSI (High Power).
Contrast – 3000:1
Inputs – DVI/M1 (1), HDMI (1), Component (1), S-Video (1), Composite (1).
Color Wheel – 6-segment, 4-speed.
Display Technology (DMD) – Texas Instruments DarkChip2.
Native Aspect Ratio – 16:9.



Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Home Theater Projectors, Reviews


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