HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



December
2001

Reviewed by
Wes Marshall
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2001


PLUS
HE-3100 Piano
DLP Projector

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: HE-3100 Piano DLP projector
Price: $2999 USD
Dimensions: 9.3"W x 7.8"D x 3.6"H
Weight: 4.4 pounds

Warranty: Two years parts and labor (90 days on bulb)

Features

  • Texas Instruments DLP technology
  • Single-chip DMD (Digital Micromirror Device)
  • Component (RCA), S-video, composite inputs
  • Video input (composite, S-video): NTSC 3.58, NTSC 4.43, PAL, PAL N, PAL M, PAL60, SECAM
  • Digital RGB (DVI-D) input (T.M.D.S. compliant)

Features (cont'd)
  • 450 ANSI lumens (brightness)
  • 700:1 contrast ratio
  • 508,800 Pixels (848 x 600) resolution
  • 36" to 200" image size
  • 16.7 million colors (simultaneously)
  • 130W high-performance compact lamp
  • 32dBA noise level
  • Manual focus
  • Brightness, contrast, tint, sharpness, color temperature adjustments
  • Projection angle control
  • Digital keystone correction
  • Gamma correction
  • Remote control
  • Storage case
  • Available in white, blue, silver, red and black finishes

The new PLUS HE-3100, code-named Piano, has been getting the kind of underground whispers most manufacturers can only dream of. Check any Usenet group or chat room devoted to the art of visual reproduction and you’ll find myriad posts about the Piano. HT&S was among the first in the United States to get one -- and now we're getting the word out to our readers.

The Piano is based on Texas Instruments’ DLP digital chip for projectors (see November’s "The Director's Chair" for an in-depth description). Most commonly used in professional projectors aimed at the presentation crowd, this little chip has been a favorite of tweakers, who have been hot-rodding it for a couple of years for use in the home. The main problem with presentation projectors is that they are maximized for brightness, not film quality. They look great with PowerPoint presentations, but when you run a DVD through them, the picture looks washed out from the lack of blacks.

PLUS Vision Corporation of Japan, one of the largest manufacturers of presentation projectors in the world, looked around and thought they might like to throw their hat in the ring with the home-theater market. So they changed the internal workings of their color wheel to highlight color saturation and contrast over brightness, added a Silicon Image chip set that obviated the need for an expensive scaler, and voilà, the Piano was born.

Other manufacturers have done something similar -- at around $10,000. PLUS decided to sell their effort for $2999 USD. If it proven at all good, the Piano would be setting a new standard. Talk about a shot across the bows of the biggies in the home-theater industry! While the price is immediately attractive, all would be for naught if the Piano didn’t produce a good picture delivered by a package capable of drawing folks to the PLUS brand. So how did they do?

Set up

Let’s start with the package. For a comparative frame of reference, my Runco Cinema 750 projector weighs over 100 pounds and is the size of a two-drawer legal file cabinet. The PLUS, on the other hand -- well, let’s just say when UPS delivered it, my wife carried it in under her arm and thought it was a little box of CDs. After we opened it, we were amazed to see that its footprint is smaller than an 8" x 11" sheet of paper -- and its weight is a trifling 4.4 pounds! For the decorating conscious, not only is this Piano small but it also comes in five different colors.

Choosing a location for the Piano is a piece of cake. It is happy mounted above or below the screen and can be used as a front or rear projector. Noise is lower than any bulb-driven unit I’ve experienced, so if you want to place the Piano right in front of you, it won’t be too unsettling. PLUS has also managed light-spill better than most. So the projector shouldn’t provide much visual distraction from the business at hand.

The only problem you might have with installation is the on/off switch. It is on the front of the player and is not addressable by the remote. Therefore, you have to be able to lay your hands on the machine, a potential problem if you mount it on the ceiling. Since the fan runs whenever the Piano is on, ceiling-mounters will have a constant fan. You can always hook up a wall switch, but be sure to remember that the fan must run for several minutes after shutdown. If not, you’ll be replacing your very expensive light bulb a lot more often than you want to.

The PLUS Piano also comes with a small remote control. The simple-to-use unit includes an input selector, control of the aspect ratio and on-screen menu operations, and the on/standby button.

The manual is translated from Japanese a little too literally, but it contains all the needed info. Setup of the Piano is a breeze. Use the conversion table in the manual and figure the distance based on the size of your screen. Center it, square it up, manually focus the lens and you are watching your new projector! The setup menus are the embodiment of simplicity -- none of the browbeating associated with the manual convergence of CRTs. Hallelujah!

Computer users will be happy to see a DVI-D input on the back. I decided to start with two different DVD players, a Pioneer DV-434 and a Sony DVP-NS700P, using Straight Wire Ghost Buster cables hooked into the component inputs. After trying to use the progressive-scan outputs from both DVD players, I finally figured out that the PLUS doesn’t accept them. The Piano asks for an interlaced input, and then uses the internal Silicon Image 503 chip set (also used in the ultra-high-quality Princeton monitors and the DVDO iScan Pro) to convert the signal to progressive and detect 3-2 pulldown. This means the Piano depends on the quality of the SI 503 (see www.siimage.com/products/sii503.asp for an excellent introduction to the system) for extracting the best from the interlaced input and converting it internally to progressive scan. It worked beautifully.

The big picture

The picture is what really put a grin on my face. Starting with the Sony DVD player, I watched Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. When Austin is catapulted back to the 1960s in his VW, the Piano threw us back in a time warp. The picture was so good, I lost track of my purpose for a few minutes and just fell in love with the colors: deep, well-saturated primary colors that burst off the screen. No artifacts, no crawlies, no jaggies.

Take two with Jeff Fritz

Having been impressed at CEDIA Expo 2001 by the PLUS Piano, I was very interested to hook up the little Piano in my home-theater system. In Indianapolis, the movie shown in the demo was Vertical Limit, so that was one of the first movies I watched at home. I wanted to see if using the same movie on DVD would produce the same impression.

I remember commenting to my fellow SoundStage! Network colleague Roger Kanno that the skin tones of the actors during the mountaintop close-ups were vivid. Well, I have good news! The whiskers, skin chaffing, and rosy hues of the player's faces were displayed with excellent detail and color. I was as close as I wanted to be, and with all the excitement I could handle. This movie impressed me again over the Piano. Déjà vu.

Moving on to one of my favorite films of all time, the 16:9 Braveheart, I was thrilled. The color of the landscape was presented with good contrast, which was made even more compelling due to the widescreen presentation of the field of battle. Those of you moving up from a 4:3 monitor in the 27" to 36" rang will find the 80"-plus PLUS Piano to be truly cinematic by comparison, especially with a widescreen DVD. I’m not going to use the cliché "size matters" line, but in this case size does make a difference, especially with a movie like Braveheart.

I wasn’t finished yet. I couldn’t wait to load Shrek into my Technics DVD-A10 to see if the colors were displayed with the vibrancy and diversity I know are present in this truly fun movie. The various characters, including Shrek himself, looked, well, not real, because they aren’t, but they were really saturated, especially in the case of Shrek’s green skin! Edge definition was excellent with no washed-out images. The contrast between competing colors was notable, making this enjoyable movie even more fantasy-like from a visual perspective.

I had a great time with the PLUS Piano, and my guess is that you will too. At its price, it is a real-world upgrade possibility to those of you looking for a larger screen and a wonderful picture to display your DVDs. It’s a no-fuss, easy-to-set-up and -maintain unit that won’t intrude on your life. DLP technology is here, it’s affordable, and it works flawlessly in the case of the PLUS Piano.

...Jeff Fritz
jeff@hometheatersound.com

Next up, I tried Dinosaur. The detail was breathtaking in chapter 3. This gives us our first look at the close-ups of the monkeys’ faces -- the fur was astounding in its resolution. In fact, the Piano really excelled with digital-based film. Shrek had texture and depth, a clean picture with intense colors, especially Shrek’s dazzlingly attractive ogre skin. Final Fantasy also looked impeccable in detail and color. Again, it is a very dark movie that should show the typical failing of DLP -- poor blacks. But the Piano provided plenty of punchy contrast and sufficient picture quality. I forgot reviewing again and just enjoyed the film.

Citizen Kane is an excellent disc to evaluate a projector’s ability to resolve countless shades of gray. Gregg Toland’s groundbreaking B&W cinematography came through with brilliant resolution in this frequently dark film. Blacks were better than any I’d seen from any digital projector. They were still not quite the match of those from the best CRTs, but they were within spittin’ distance. Other than some moiré problems when Joseph Cotton wore checked coats, everything was perfect.

Switching to the Pioneer DVD player with composite output, I found that the picture quality dropped drastically. Problems started appearing when I spun Swordfish. Troubles everywhere: rainbows, crawling dots, total inability to throw a white field without colors intruding where they shouldn’t. Since the picture was so right with the Sony, I can only state the obvious: GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). The same thing happened when using the tuner in my Toshiba S-VHS deck. This was not the fault of the Piano at all, but it should be obvious that with a piece this good, you want to feed it high-quality gear. The Pioneer DV-434 looked just fine when I used Straight Wire Ghost Buster component cables, but not the composite interface.

My Philips DSR 6000 DirecTV with the built-in TIVO system and the new adaptive-recording-speed system also worked well. Even a venerable Pioneer laserdisc player provided excellent pictures. We spent one night just auditioning laserdiscs of old Hollywood musicals, notable for their reliance on primary colors -- and lots of them. The picture was wonderful in its accurate reproduction of these colors.

But there were a few minor problems. First, the location of the sensor for remote control makes it necessary that you have a sight line to the back of the projector. If it is on a table in front of you, you’re in like Flint. In my case, I have the Piano set up as a rear projector, which means any setup changes I have to do are a pain. I recommend that anyone not using a front-projected table mount invest the few dollars in acquiring a remote-control extender. Second, because the Piano has a fixed lens, its distance to the screen is non-negotiable. Personally, I’ll take the dramatic cost savings and figure out a way to put it where it needs to be. But if you have no choice in the matter, be aware of this limitation.

Note the light output of 450 lumens. I have a light-controlled room, and the picture never looked less than vibrant. But the Piano cannot to be used in a room with lots of ambient light. If PLUS had hiked the light level of the Piano, the unit's ability to throw a convincing black would go out the window. I think they chose the right trade-off. Finally, the PLUS does not present HDTV at full resolution. The DLP is 848 by 600 pixels. That gives you a clean 800 by 600 for 4:3 sources, and still allows you 848 by 480 resolution, so that you can get the full 480 lines offered by DVD. Again, this is a smart trade-off.

So who is the PLUS Piano for? Let me start by saying it is not for folks who must have the final bit of HD resolution. It is also a bust if you can’t control the light in your room (but then, so is every other high-resolution display device). Other than these, this is a breakthrough product for the rest of us. Do you find the rear-projector boxes too small? The PLUS Piano goes comfortably to 120" diagonal. Above that, the pixels start to become visible in large areas of white. Want the space savings of a flat-screen plasma TV? I’m advising a friend to look at a power drop-down screen and an innocuous mounting for the PLUS on top of his shelf system. No space taken, and the combination costs less than a plasma TV one-quarter the size! Do you mostly watch DVDs? The Piano is a perfect projector for DVD. Built-in internal conversion to progressive scan and 480 lines of resolution to match the DVD’s 480 lines make it a great choice.

But most important of all, the price! Other DLP possibilities are coming soon to a store near you. I’ve had the opportunity to check out the new Sharp XV Z9000U, a projector with almost twice the pixel count and double the brightness of the Piano. With DVD, I’m not sure the Sharp is any better. For sporting events in HDTV, the Sharp has a clear advantage. But the price is $10,000. Other possibilities include the Dwin Transvision ($13,000), Yamaha DPX-1 ($9995) and the Runco VX 101C ($9995). All of these are over three times the price of the PLUS Piano.

Color me impressed

Does it sound like I’m impressed with the Piano? I am. Every night, we looked forward to seeing a new DVD on the Piano. The picture was so strong it simply drew us into the movie. I’ve been struggling for an audio analogy for how important this product is. The closest I could come is the original 1970s Advent loudspeaker, a standard-setting product capable of blowing away speakers at three times its cost. I can’t think of any other current product that has the chance to dominate its competition like the PLUS Piano.

I’ve also tried to come up with competitive items to recommend to you. I can’t. You can get a comparable picture, but at three times the cost. That’s not competition. This is a superb projector at a terrific price, and it's intelligently designed by clever engineers. The PLUS Piano has just energized the entire large-display market, and thankfully we are the winners.

Review System
Speakers - ATC SMC 50A (mains), Sonance Symphony (surrounds), KEF Model 100 (center), Sunfire True Subwoofers (2), Sunfire True Subwoofer Signature, Bohlender Graebner Radia X3 (mains and surrounds), Bohlender Graebner Radia X1 (center)
Processor - Lexicon MC-1
Amplifier - B&K Video 5
Sources - Pioneer DV-434, Sony DVP-NS700P, Philips DSR 6000 (DirecTV/TIVO)
Cables - Canare GS-6 interconnects, Monster Cable speaker cable, Straight Wire Ghost Buster video cable
Projector - Runco Cinema 750
 

Manufacturer contact information:

PLUS Corporation of America
80 Commerce Drive
Allendale, NJ 07041
Phone: (800) 289-7587
Fax: (201) 818-2708

Website: www.plushometheater.com

 


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