Projectors

Runco LS-5 Single-Chip 1080p DLP Projector

ARTICLE INDEX


Introduction

When one thinks of home theater, it’s difficult not to think of Runco. Since 1987, Runco has been at the forefront of home theater video technology. Founder Sam Runco is even credited with coining the term “home theater. ” They are one of a handful of companies that concentrate solely on video products. Their product line includes LCD and plasma displays, DLP projectors and even two new LED projectors. They also market a video processor and an in-wall rear projection system. Runco’s current line of front-projectors includes 13 models that cover every kind of installation. The LS-5 reviewed here is designed for small to medium theaters with screens ranging from 72 to 120 inches.

Runco projectors have always held a certain mystique for me. One of the first displays I saw at my ISF training course was a Runco DLP. It was showing a Victoria’s Secret fashion show in glorious 1080p. It was the best video reproduction I had ever seen at that point in my life. Since then, I had hoped to get the chance to put one of these projectors through its paces. Once the LS-5 arrived on my doorstep, I knew I’d be spending most of the next couple of weeks in the darkness of my theater.

Specifications

  • Design: Single-chip SuperOnyx DMD (DLP)
  • Native Resolution: 1920x1080 at 48, 50 or 60 Hz
  • Throw Ratio: 1.85-2.40 (Standard Lens), 1.56-1.86 (Short Throw Lens)
  • Anamorphic Lens Capability
  • Lens Shift: Vertical +120% to -50%, Horizontal ± 15%
  • Light Output: 1000 Lumens
  • Contrast Ratio: 15,000:1 (Dynamic)
  • Iris Control: Off, Auto
  • Inputs: Two HDMI 1.3, Two Component Video, One S-Video, One Composite Video, One PC (D-sub)
  • Control: RS-232, 2-12v Trigger, IR Input
  • Lamp Power: 180 Watts (Economy), 230 Watts (Standard)
  • Rated lamp life: 4000 Hours
  • Dimensions: 7.8" H x 17.9" W x 20.8" D
  • Weight: 24.3 Pounds
  • MSRP: $6,995 USA (Standard Lens), $7,790 (Short Throw Lens)
  • Runco

Design

The LS-5 is a single-chip DLP projector. The similarity to other DLP models ends there however; as Runco has employed some interesting technologies to improve image quality. First up is ConstantContrast. This is the LS-5’s auto iris but with an added twist. In addition to the 200-step aperture, the dynamic range of the DLP chip is expanded on a frame-by-frame basis to increase perceived contrast. This also reduces dithering artifacts common to DLP displays at low light levels. Secondly, the LS-5 employs Unishape lamp control. This varies the lamp power on a continual basis to improve grayscale accuracy. This also further reduces dithering. Additionally, the color wheel runs at six times the frame rate. That means for 60Hz material, the color wheel is spinning at the equivalent of 360Hz. This reduces the rainbow effect for those few people that can see it.

The projector’s case is quite rounded with a centrally-mounted lens. Ventilation slats curve around the sides. The two front feet are independently adjustable for use in a tabletop setup. The input panel in the rear can be covered with a cowling that continues the shape to a nice taper. This cowling also hides cables nicely for a very clean look when installed. Inputs include two HDMI 1.3, two component (one with BNC connectors), one S-Video, one composite, and a VGA input for a computer. In a neat touch, the labeling on the jack panel is printed so it is readable in either tabletop or inverted orientations. For control there is an RS-232 port, an IR input (quite rare on any display) and two 12V triggers. Focus and zoom controls are handled by rings around the lens and shift adjustors are under a pop-off cover on the top panel. These adjustors must be turned with an allen wrench which is included. Also up top are buttons to change sources, navigate the menu, and toggle the power. To appeal to video purists like myself, there are no status lights on the projector which could taint the image in an otherwise dark room. Included in the accessory box is an extremely long power cord, which was much-appreciated. Most projectors come with a standard six-footer which is nearly useless for ceiling mounts as it won’t reach the floor. It was great to see this kind of attention to detail and consideration for installers. Runco even includes decent-looking component video cables and an HDMI cable.

The remote is very efficiently designed containing only the most necessary controls. At the top are discreet power buttons followed by five keys for input selection. These can be reassigned in the menu to whatever input you wish. In the center are menu navigation and an aspect ratio toggle. The bottom button block has three keys for user memories, direct access to brightness, contrast, sharpness, gamma, overscan, noise reduction, picture-in-picture, and PIP swap, and a control to activate the remote’s backlight. This backlight by the way is a very subdued red which I found quite nice as it doesn’t dazzle the eyes like most remotes. Runco does this intentionally so as not to affect your dark-acclimated vision, very nice! This remote is also the most responsive I’ve ever used with a projector. I could point the remote in the general direction of the screen from any distance and get instant results.

Menu System & Options

The menu system is very intuitive and like the remote contains only what you need to dial in the picture with no fluff or superfluous features. That being said, it is still quite extensive. There are six sub-menus starting with Main. The first option is Aspect Ratio with 16:9, Letterbox (for anamorphic lenses), 4:3, 4:3 Narrow and Native (no scaling). Next you’ll find basic picture controls like brightness, contrast, color and tint. Color and tint are grayed out for HDMI signals. You can also access the memory controls to save settings in one of three slots accessible from the remote. There are also ISF Day and Night modes available with an entry passcode. These memories can be locked to prevent changes. The sharpness and noise reduction options are quite extensive giving you control over many parameters. I didn’t need any of them as the default video processing is quite excellent as you read later in this review. The next option, Overscan lets you either crop (mask) the image by three percent or zoom it out to 106 percent. Source Select lets you choose from any active inputs. You can eliminate unused ones if you wish. PIP Select allows you to see a picture-in-picture representation of two sources simultaneously. Resync will reacquire the signal if the image becomes unstable for any reason. This never happened to me.

The Advanced sub-menu has choices for Color Space (Auto, Rec 709, Rec 601, RGB-PC and RGB-Video). This is actually the decoder matrix and I was able to leave it on Auto. There is a separate control for gamut selection that allows you to choose between Auto, Rec 709, SMPTE-C, EBU and Native. Native will use the Rec 709 color points for the secondaries but raw color wheel values for the primaries. Again I had no problems leaving it on Auto when using my disc player in source-direct mode. You can also choose the video standard if you want to use something other than NTSC. The additional options are PAL and SECAM. The Auto setting will usually work fine here as well. The gamma presets are 2.0, 2.2 (default), 2.5, Graphic for computer presentations and Video which alters the curve at the darker end of the scale to match consumer video cameras. Color temp presets are 5500K, 6500K, 7500K, 9300K and Native. Native will display the white point of the incoming signal without correction.

Moving lower in the Advanced sub-menu, you can choose a frame rate of either 48Hz, 50Hz, 60Hz or Auto. Auto will lock onto the incoming signal displaying 24p material at 48Hz and 60p/i material at 60Hz. This worked perfectly and I never saw even a hint of flicker at 48Hz from Blu-ray discs. The next three controls are labeled SatCo, ConstantContrast and Adaptive Contrast. SatCo boosts overall light levels by 20% and secondary colors by 10%. ConstantContrast widens the dynamic range with an auto iris and manipulation of the DMD to increase contrast. According to Runco, the full luminance range of the DMD is used at all times on a frame-by-frame basis. It works like the auto level control in Photoshop. Adaptive Contrast also widens the dynamic range but without the use of the iris. Next are the RGB gain and bias controls. There is a huge 200-step adjustment range for these but I only had to tweak them a little to achieve accuracy. The Advanced menu ends with Fine Sync which allows you to shift the image digitally and adjust phase, tracking and sync level for analog signals.

The System sub-menu starts with Source Enable which let’s you deactivate unused inputs. PIP Position gives you options for the picture-in-picture layout. You can set up a split screen here if you wish. Next up are Menu Position and Translucency; self-explanatory. Lamp Power defaults to normal which is the higher 230-watt setting. You can also choose economy which drops it down to 180 watts. Blank Screen lets you choose a no-signal screen color of black, white or blue. Auto Power Off will shut down the LS-5 after a 20-minute no-signal condition. Auto Power On will turn on the projector whenever AC power is present. This is really cool because it allows you to power up using a wall switch if your outlet is so controlled. Rear Projection and Ceiling Mode change the image orientation for different installations. The LS-5 will automatically sense if it is inverted and flip the image for you, very handy! Power On Chime turns on a short beep whenever you power up.

The Control sub-menu lets you program the functions of the five input selector keys on the remote. These can be set to any of the Runco’s eight inputs. You can also assign up to three picture memories to the remote’s buttons. The two trigger outputs can be set to fire on power-up or when different aspect ratios are chosen. The triggers can alternately be controlled by the RS-232 interface if you wish. There is also a setting to change the remote code set if you have other components accidentally controlled by the projector’s handset. Finally, Auto Source, when turned on, will scan all inputs for active signals when the current one is lost.

The fifth and sixth sub-menus are Language and Service. Language gives you a choice of 12 languages for the menus, very worldly! Service is mainly an information screen with values for Active/PIP Source, Pixel Clock, Signal Format, H/V Refresh Rate and Lamp Hours. Here is where you can view the projector’s serial number and software version. Controls include a lamp hour reset, blue-only mode, high-altitude mode for greater fan speed and test patterns. The patterns consist of full-fields for all colors plus white, an ANSI checkerboard, a gray ramp and a focus grid.


Setup

Despite the generous vertical lens shift capability, I had to invert the projector to install it on my high shelf. Once in place, it was fairly easy to get the image centered and focused on the screen. The shift controls are beneath a removable cover on the projector’s top panel. An included Allen wrench is used to turn the adjustors. Focus and zoom are also controlled manually with rings around the lens. I missed the motorized controls of my Anthem LTX-500 but in the end, I had a nice sharp, squared image. Unlike any projector I’ve tested previously, the Runco automatically sensed its orientation and flipped the image for me. Usually I have to access an upside-down menu to rotate the image but the LS-5 allowed me to avoid tilting my head for a change!

I performed the calibration after a 50-hour burn-in period to settle the bulb. There is a full set of controls for white balance. There is no color management system and gamma adjustment is by preset only. This was not an issue as the LS-5 was very accurate out of the box. Leaving the color space and gamut options on Auto produced near-perfect Rec 709 color points. DVD was correctly rendered in the SMPTE-C gamut when my Oppo BDP-83 was set to source-direct mode. If you use your player’s upconversion however, you will need to select SMPTE-C manually when playing SD content. The default gamma setting of 2.2 also measured accurately. Grayscale errors were all below the threshold of visibility. As recommended in the manual, I left the ConstantContrast off for the pre-cal measurements and subsequent adjustments. After a few minutes of tweaking the RGB gain and bias controls, I achieved perfect grayscale tracking with an average error of .8 Delta E. I discovered the color temp presets cannot be individually calibrated. When I dialed in the 6500K memory however, the others measured accurately to their stated offsets.

To control peak white level, I prefer to use a projector’s manual iris. Since the LS-5’s iris is automatic only, I was left with the lamp power setting and contrast control. By default the lamp is set to Standard which is the brighter mode. Setting the lamp on Economy reduced output by about 30 percent. Unfortunately it also introduced some slight color errors. The CIE triangle shrunk a bit from the Rec 709 color points. Since there was no CMS to help me with this, I left the lamp on the Standard setting. I found by reducing the contrast control, I could get the light level to a more comfortable point. The adjustment range is extremely wide with 100 steps available in either direction from center. Anything above 104 (the default is 100) would crush white detail. I was able to turn it down as far as I wanted however. I dropped it down to zero to achieve 14 fL. Grayscale tracking was still excellent as was gamma. Another method of controlling light output is with neutral density filters. Runco has thoughtfully provided a threaded lens that accepts 72mm SLR-style filters. This would probably be the better solution as it provides the additional benefit of improved black levels. I would also recommend a gray, low-gain screen.


In Use

Runco LS-5 Projector

As I had watched the first X-Men film recently, it was only natural to drop in the sequel, X2: X-Men United. This Blu-ray looked fantastic in every way. Color and texture literally popped off the screen. I really enjoyed the effect the SatCo control had on the color presentation and delineation. Since its effect on color accuracy was very small, I left it on for all my viewing. Skin textures on the various actors were rendered with excellent detail. Facial close-ups revealed every pore, every wrinkle, and every bead of sweat. I found myself wiping my own brow on a few occasions! While watching I experimented a bit with the ConstantContrast and Adaptive Contrast options. As I had discovered during the benchmark tests, Constant Contrast had a negative effect on color which I could plainly see. The iris action was completely seamless with no visible brightness pumping or any noise from the actuator. The color shift however was not in keeping with the image this projector is capable of. The accuracy just wasn’t there so I turned it off. I have included extra graphs in the Benchmark section to show the effect. Adaptive Contrast does its thing without the use of the dynamic iris. While color was not perceptibly affected, low-level detail looked a little crushed. In most medium to bright scenes, I saw little to no difference. Dark scenes on the other hand looked more contrasty with deeper blacks but with the sacrifice of some shadow detail.

Runco LS-5 Projector

10 Things I Hate About You is a recent Blu-ray re-release of a 10-year old movie. The transfer isn’t too bad but the original print shows quite a bit of grain. Despite these drawbacks, the LS-5 rendered highly saturated colors and good dimensionality. I was glad for the SMPTE-C color gamut option as I believe this film was telecined in Rec 601. Despite the fact that all Blu-rays are 1080i or 1080p, and therefore should conform to Rec 709, this is not always the case. Many movies are still mastered with CRT monitors and thus constrained to the slightly smaller gamut of Rec 601. If you ever find a movie just a bit red in the flesh tones, this may be the reason. Since recently reviewing other projectors with a SMPTE-C option, I have created this color preset on my reference Anthem LTX-500. I always prefer to view films in their originally mastered gamut. With the Runco’s easy to use memories, I was able to change this by pressing just two buttons on the remote.

Runco LS-5 Projector

To test the LS-5’s abilities in dark scene content, I turned to U-571 on Blu-ray disc. The undersea shots are plentiful and will test any projector’s rendering of shadow detail and muted colors. They don’t call them the murky depths for nothing! Though blacks weren’t the inkiest I’ve ever seen, the intra-scene contrast was fantastic. The dimly lit submarine interiors looked amazing with small bright details like belt buckles and sweaty faces showing clearly on barely visible backgrounds. Despite strong highlights, the darker parts of the image retained every nuance. There was never a hint of crushing at either end of the brightness scale. Color also held up well at minimum and near-minimum luminance levels. It’s quite easy to see color errors in the darkest hues but the LS-5 showed none of that. The cold blues of the ocean also looked great whether the action was above the surface or below.

Runco LS-5 Projector

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a somewhat forgettable remake of the classic horror novel. I say somewhat forgettable because my wife and I realized most of the way through that we had seen this movie at the theater back in 1994! The recent Blu-ray release of this film shows a fairly flat and drab color palette with lots of soft focus and noisy grain. Despite these image-flattening elements, the Runco made this average transfer look pretty good. Dimension and color separation were very good and detail, what there was of it, was preserved well. I was always engaged with the action and as with the other content I watched, color was unfailingly accurate.

Runco LS-5 Projector

I couldn’t help but watch some CGI-based content so I cued up Star Wars: The Clone Wars, animated series. This Cartoon Network show has somewhat simplistic rendering compared to the average Pixar title but surfaces are always covered with grime and grunge portraying a well-used appearance. Fine color gradations were easy to see without a hint of noise or moiré patterns. Clone Wars also displays excellent use of lighting. The excellent intra-image contrast once again made the image pop with a great 3D look.

Runco LS-5 Projector

To test color accuracy, I watched two Blu-rays that I know to have accurate and highly saturated palettes, Seabiscuit and Mission Impossible. The lush scenery surrounding the horse-racing tracks of Depression-era America looked simply gorgeous. The detail in dark scenes was also superb. In my experience, the LS-5 renders the best shadow detail of any DLP I’ve tested to date. Mission Impossible also has a rich color palette. Flesh tones were just right with clear differences between the various characters skin colors. Again, darker content showed superb detail with nary a hint of noise or dithering.

Runco LS-5 Projector

I don’t watch much black and white content so when I saw the 5500K preset in the Runco’s menu, I had to try out the original cut of The Day the Earth Stood Still. This is a science-fiction classic, a real benchmark in storytelling and moviemaking. The slight warmth added by the 5500K color temperature setting was quite pleasing. It gave the picture greater depth and dimension than the usual 6500K white point. This is another feature I have since added to my Anthem LTX-500. I also created a preset for D55 on my Pioneer plasma using the ISF Night mode. Now I can watch old movies in the same way they were seen in the movie theaters of Hollywood’s Golden Era. If your projector or flat panel supports multiple color temp memories, I highly recommend setting one to D55.


On The Bench

Equipment used: EyeOne Pro spectrophotometer, CalMAN Professional 3.6 analysis software, Accupel HDG-3000 signal generator, Spears & Munsil Benchmark Blu-ray disc.

All measurements were taken off the screen (Carada Brilliant White, gain 1.4) from the seating position (10 feet back). Lamp power was set to Normal (the brighter setting); and SatCo, ConstantContrast and Adaptive Contrast were turned off. There are no picture mode presets on the LS-5. I simply saved my settings to one of the three available memories.

Out-of-the-box measurements for color were excellent. The primary and secondary points were almost an exact overlay of the Rec 709 triangle. Luminances were within 1 foot-Lambert across the board. This is excellent performance.

The pre-calibration grayscale and gamma measurements were very close with no visible errors. Anything below 3 Delta E is below the threshold of perception.

Since I only calibrated the grayscale on the LS-5, the color data remained nearly unchanged. You could easily set up the LS-5 without a calibration as long as your screen is color neutral.

Post calibration grayscale and gamma performance was also excellent with very flat tracking and excellent gamma performance. Only minor adjustments to the white balance controls were required. Again you could set up the LS-5 without a calibration and still have an extremely accurate display.

When I measure a display, I usually check out the various image enhancements to see their effect on overall accuracy. The ConstantContrast control produced some interesting data which I’ve included below. Since it involves a dynamic iris, the gamma is altered in a way I’ve seen with other projectors. What surprised me however, was the change in grayscale performance. Above 60 percent, the tracking goes quite green which I could plainly see in actual content. While ConstantContrast does have a positive effect on perceived contrast with an iris that doesn’t draw attention to itself, the color shift is a problem for me. I would have liked to see a dynamic iris control that only controls the iris and not the DMD as Runco does here.

Video processing was some of the best I’ve seen from any display, flat panel or projector. Not only did it pass all the significant cadence tests, it did a better job than my reference Oppo BDP-83. Normally, the Oppo takes a split second to lock on to the 2:2 and 3:2 clips. You can see the moiré in the Super Speedway clip grandstands for just a blink. Not so with the Runco. I ran the tests repeatedly and at no time did I see the moiré, not even for a moment. The jaggies tests were equally impressive. The ship ropes were pretty much perfect and there was only a hint of line twitter in the horizontal lines on the ship’s hull. The 480i clips looked better than I had ever seen them. Once again, the scaling bested my Oppo. You could connect any flag-reading disc player and get excellent results with the LS-5.

Contrast performance was on par with other high-end DLP projectors I have tested. Minimum black level measured .003fL and peak white was 17.63fL for an on/off contrast ratio of 5874:1. This was with the SatCo turned on. This control raised the peak white by 3fL and increased the intra-image contrast perceptibly. 17fL is on the edge of too bright for my room but the image was never fatiguing to watch. The on/off contrast was a bit higher without SatCo at 7250:1 but the image had less punch. Turning on Adaptive Contrast raised the peak white level to over 25fL. For most content this wasn’t a problem but the brightest scenes were too intense for me. Adaptive Contrast produced the best on/off contrast at over 25,000:1 but with a loss of shadow detail due to crushed blacks and slightly darker mid-tones due to the altered gamma response.


Conclusions

Runco has always been known for its high-end, no-compromise designs. They have been an innovator since day one and their projectors have a stellar reputation. The LS-5 represents a new entry-level model for them. In my opinion they have put out an excellent product that more than deserves the Runco label. Color accuracy is excellent right out of the box. Installation is flexible with its two lens choices and generous shift capability. Light output is more than adequate for a small to medium-sized rooms. Optical quality is top-shelf with a very sharp and precise lens. Build quality is also top-of-the-line and rivals a few more expensive projectors I’ve worked with. The LS-5’s control options are also a cut above most with the inclusion of an IR input; something I’ve seen on no other projector. All in all, I’d say Runco has given the market something to think about. If you’re shopping for a projector in the $5,000-$10,000 range, the LS-5 merits serious consideration. I give it a very high recommendation.