HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



January
2003

Reviewed by
Wes Marshall
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2003


PLUS
Piano Avanti HE-3200
DLP Projector

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: PLUS Piano Avanti HE-3200

Price: $3299 USD
Dimensions: 9.3"W x 7.8"D x 3.6"H
Weight: 4.4 pounds

Warranty: Two years parts and labor

Features

  • Texas Instruments DLP technology
  • Single-chip DMD (Digital Micromirror Device)
  • Manual zoom (1.2x)
  • Manual focus
  • 508,800 pixels (848 x 600) resolution
  • 34" to 224" image size

Features (cont'd)
  • 450 ANSI lumens (brightness)
  • 700:1 contrast ratio
  • Component (RCA), S-video, composite inputs
  • Video inputs (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)
  • RGB-15 input
  • Projection angle control
  • Digital keystone correction
  • Gamma correction
  • Remote control
  • Storage case
  • Available in white, yellow, silver, red, and black

PLUS introduced their groundbreaking Piano HE-3100 DLP projector just one year ago. Winner of Home Theater & Sound’s 2001 Outstanding Product award, and picked as a SoundStage! Network Reviewers’ Choice, the HE-3100 was invincible at its price point. Still, technology marches on and Moore’s Law seems to have hit the projector market with a vengeance. Plenty has changed during the last year. The new Texas Instruments (TI) HDTV chipset (codenamed HD-2) is out and hitting the market fast and at ever-lower prices. LCDs are showing new life by adding good black levels and contrast to their already bright pictures. Also, both CRTs and D-ILAs are coming down in price. The home-projector market is heating up and PLUS obviously doesn’t intend to be left out of the kitchen. Enter the Piano Avanti HE-3200 priced at $3299 USD.

Product description

From the outside, the new Avanti looks identical to the PLUS Piano HE-3100. That means you still get one of the smallest footprints in the business. A regular-sized sheet of paper is larger than the Avanti, which stands less than 4" tall and weighs just over four pounds. The Avanti also retains four of the HE-3100’s colors -- white, silver, red, or black -- and adds an electric yellow for those who want their projector to be seen by everyone walking into the room. The light spill is still well managed and the fan’s noise level is just as low as before. Unfortunately, the Avanti retains the difficult-to-use height-adjusting system and problematic on/off switch (about which, more later).

Inside the machine, we get the same 848 x 600 TI DLP dual-mode chip, which makes it a perfect match for DVDs and Fox’s 480p pseudo HDTV. Brightness remains the same at 450 ANSI lumens and the contrast ratio is the same at 700:1. Inputs still include composite, S-video, and DVI-D. So what do you get for your extra dough?

You get plenty -- and important stuff too. Let’s start with the biggest improvement over the HE-3100. In the old model, the lens was fixed. Therefore, placement of the projector was non-negotiable. With the Avanti, we now have a 1.2x manual zoom that allows a great deal more positioning flexibility. They also upgraded the digital processor from the Silicon Image (SI) 503 to the newer 504, the same chip used in Denon’s $3500 DVD-9000. This allows you to use a progressive-scan component input. You can also feed the Avanti an HD signal (1080i or 720p) and it skillfully downconverts the image to fit the 848 x 600 chip. The final change is the addition of an RGB-15 analog input.

Setup, use, and performance

Manufacturers working at the lower ends of the pricing scales have to make some decisions about where to cut corners. You can’t sell someone a Lexus SC-430 for the cost of a Toyota Corolla. There has to be a trade-off for the ultra-low price of the Avanti, and PLUS chose to hold back on a few convenience features for the setup. Luckily, most folks will only have to do it once.

As I mentioned earlier, PLUS fixed the biggest problem -- the permanently set lens. With the 1.2x zoom, you gain a good deal of flexibility over placement of the projector. This significantly improves the ease of setup: The Avanti can be configured as a front or rear projector and can be placed parallel to the top or the bottom of the screen

Setting up the Avanti is very easy, doable in less than 20 minutes, but I wish they could afford an easier height adjustment. PLUS makes four different solutions for the problem. They cost between $89 (for a table-top tilt stand) to $260 (swivel, tilt, and telescoping ceiling mount). Since I got the standard Avanti, sans optional extras, I ended up having to rig up some spacers to square the picture. Thankfully, it was a one-time-only problem.

There is plenty of flexibility for hook-ups. PLUS now accepts component-video inputs with either progressive-scan or interlaced signals. That allows you to check whether your DVD player or line doubler does a better job than the Avanti’s SI 504. Though I appreciate the addition of an RGB-15 input, when they made room for it, something had to go. We lost the separate composite input. The composite input is now only available through the component "y" input. That means you can’t use both the composite input and the component input at the same time. Most projectors allow you to use the inputs separately, say for a VCR and a DVD player. With the Avanti you have to choose.

One final cost-driven issue exists for users who will position the Avanti somewhere difficult to reach. In order to turn off the fan, you have to turn the power off. You can only turn off the power by pushing the power switch on the front of the projector. Unlike most projectors, you can’t use the remote control to turn off the power, only the lamp. If you have a hard-to-reach installation, like a ceiling mount, you’ll either have to leave the fan on 24/7, or set up a switch, or crawl up a ladder to turn it off. If you choose the switch route, be sure you leave the fan on for at least five minutes after you turn off the bulb. Otherwise, your 1000-hour lamp life will drop to nearly nothing. A new bulb costs $259.

Setting up the Avanti's picture requires almost no work (especially compared to my mature CRT-based Runco Cinema 750, which takes a twice-annual $350 setup by a technician). I started by using the intro screen to Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me for setting the geometry. It has a perfect 16:9 picture with bright edges and that helps make placement a snap. Next, I established the basic settings using the AVIA: Guide to Home Theater disc, which turned out to be very close to the factory settings. Everything looked correct, so I ran the Avanti through the gamut of my favorite torture tests.

Any decent projector should do well with bright primary colors. I like to use chapter 10 of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. It delivers bold colors, plus, I never get tired of seeing Heather Graham ("Felicity Shag-very-well" as she calls herself) slide down the fire pole. It also provides many pans across the vertical balusters on the railing, with horizontal lines flashing in the background, all with rhythmically blinking bright lights. A true torture test, but the Avanti makes everything look great: no jaggies, no break-up. From a color standpoint, Austin’s suit looks a little orange instead of the bodacious red it should be, but the shift is miniscule.

Citizen Kane hits DLP-based projectors in their weak spot -- resolution of dark-gray to black. PLUS has gone against the prevailing wisdom and headed for lower light output to achieve a higher contrast level. This should give them a leg up on the darker films. Personally, I like to watch movies in the dark. It reminds me of the theater. Citizen Kane looks stunning in a dark room, but turn on a light and the magic diminishes. The film is still perfectly watchable, but some of the snap is gone. Don’t misunderstand: The Avanti does as good a job as any DLP projector I’ve had in my home. I think Texas Instruments still has a little bit of improving to do on the DLP contrast ratio.

Dinosaur has a bright, clear picture that generally shows off DLP at its best and the Avanti put up a perfect image. Watch the hairs on the monkeys’ faces move gracefully across the screen in chapter 3; there’s no sense of digitization or jagged movements across the pixels. The Avanti is also very revealing. As Spider-Man slings himself across the sky, you can easily see the jumpy moves of the computer graphics and their divergence from reality.

Perhaps the best part of the Avanti’s performance is how well it handles the less-than-state-of-the-art discs that form the majority of most people’s collections. I’ve been on a Brian De Palma kick recently, and I’m continually surprised at how beautiful the photography looks in Body Double. Close-up skin tones are film-like in their resolution. The opening to Carrie resolves the gorgeous picture through the steam and slow motion. Even though a slow picture with bright backgrounds can reveal pixels, they are nonexistent on my 4.5’ x 8’ screen, as I sit 14 feet away. That’s a pretty good trick for an 848 x 600 pixel projector.

Comparison

The obvious comparison is the Piano Avanti HE-3200 with the Piano HE-3100, still available at the recently reduced price of $2699. Since they share the same DLP engine, you have to decide whether the new features are worthwhile. The important additions include the zoom lens, the ability to downconvert HDTV signals and, thanks to the change to the Silicon Image SI 504, the acceptance of progressive component feeds. I don’t have both projectors to make a direct comparison of the picture, but my notes from the two evaluations are nearly identical. Given my setup, the addition of the zoom lens is reason enough for the extra money. But the ability to downconvert the HDTV signal gives the Avanti a much longer potential life. If you, like me, have very little HDTV available, the Avanti makes a neat compromise, giving you the full goods on DVD, and allowing you the ability to watch HDTV until there is enough programming to warrant a more expensive projector.

The last 848 x 600 machine I reviewed was the Boxlight Studio Experience Cinema 12SF DLP projector ($4999). Compared to the Avanti, the 12SF’s Faroudja processor seems to be just a little more imperturbable, especially in fast-moving scenes. Not a big difference, though. The 12SF is quite a bit brighter, but the Avanti has better blacks. The ease and number of connections on the 12SF beats the Avanti. But the GUI is much better on the Avanti than the 12SF. For example, the 12SF requires 29 keystrokes to switch from 16:9 to letterbox. The Avanti requires no more than four, and usually just one. Remember, the 12SF is identical to the InFocus Screenplay 110 except for the 12SF’s longer warranty. Therefore the comparison also holds for the 110.

I recently received Studio Experience’s Cinema 20HD ($6499), an LCD projector also produced as the Sanyo PLV-70. While I haven’t been able to put it through the full evaluation, I can tell you that they seem to have just about solved the black issues that have plagued LCD; the Micro Lens Array has greatly minimized the screen-door effect. The 20HD has fabulous connectivity, an extremely bright picture, a brilliantly simple GUI, and native high definition. It’s a potential winner, but the price is also virtually double that of the Avanti.

Which brings me to the most important point -- the Avanti has no competition in its price range. Oh, you can find cheaper LCDs and some of them are supposedly getting very good. Boxlight and InFocus can be expected to keep on fighting it out with PLUS for supremacy in the affordable sector, but if you want something significantly better today, be prepared to spend a good deal more money.

Conclusion

Is this the projector for you? It’s compact, light, and quiet. It puts out a beautiful picture from DVD as well as a nearly HD picture. It’s easy to use and the adjustments are basically set-and-forget. The price is unbeatable. Negatives? The 450 ANSI brightness means you can’t have a huge picture or an over-lit room. The physical setup is a hassle. And I wish I could use composite and component at the same time. That’s it.

PLUS has done a beautiful job again.

Review System
Speakers - ATC SMC 50A (mains), Sonance Symphony (surrounds), KEF Model 100 (center-channel), Sunfire True Subwoofer Signature
Processors - Lexicon MC-1, Sunfire Theater Grand Processor III
Amplifier - B&K Video 5
Sources - Pioneer DV-434 DVD player, Panasonic DVD CP-72 DVD player, Philips DSR6000 DirecTV/TiVo
Projectors - Runco Cinema 750, Boxlight Cinema 20HD
Cables - Canare, Monster Cable, Straight Wire
 

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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