Projectors

Samsung SP-A900B Single-Chip 1080p DLP Projector

ARTICLE INDEX

The Design

The Samsung SP-A900B is a single-chip DLP projector with a 300-watt UHP lamp. Rated bulb life is 2000 hours (1500 on the high setting). The DMD chip used is Texas Instruments’ newest, the DarkChip 4. This offers a higher contrast ratio than Samsung’s previous SP model, the 800B. The 900B also has a superb lens that is an improvement over its predecessor. Maximum brightness is a claimed 1000 lumens and my testing did not dispute this figure. There is more than enough output for screens up to 250 inches diagonal. Also new is the iris or Dynamic Black feature. You can opt for an automatic setting that changes based on image content or stop down manually with 101-step control.

The SP-A900B goes through a unique quality control process that differs from other mass-produced displays. After coming off the assembly line, all units are bench calibrated. In this process, the meter is aimed at the lens rather than the screen. They are then shipped to DVE Distribution, the sole vendor for this product. DVE opens each box and does a final quality check of the lens, the cleanliness of the light path and the accuracy of the calibration. Another calibration is done when the projector is installed to properly match it with its screen and viewing environment.

The projector’s case is quite a stylish piece with a very curvaceous design. The top has basic controls that are touch-sensitive rather than traditional buttons. You can turn the power on and off, change inputs and navigate the menu. There are also status lights for standby, lamp and temperature. The lens is dead center with inputs in a recessed panel on the back. In addition to the two HDMI inputs there are two component, and one each of S-video, composite and VGA via 15-pin D-sub. There is also an RS-232 control/service input. Underneath are adjustable front feet and a dial for the vertical lens shift. Focus and zoom are handled by rings around the lens. All lens controls are manual with fairly precise movement; no cheap gears or worm drives here. At this price point, it would be nice to have a motorized focus control. A lens of this caliber deserves the most precise focus and that is harder to achieve when you have to go back and forth between the screen and the projector to dial it in.

The remote comes in one of the coolest shapes I’ve ever encountered. It’s a lot like an elongated egg which has been sliced through the middle lengthwise. It feels great in the hand and is very easy to pick up when you lay it buttons-down. There is a raised ridge around the edge that prevents the buttons from contacting whatever surface you leave it on. At the top are separate power on and off keys and one for the backlight. Seven buttons cover the projector’s discreet input selection. In the center are menu navigation controls and a button for the info screen. Lowermost are toggles for picture size (aspect ratio), picture mode, dynamic black (iris), still image, installation orientation and the three User picture modes. I imagine most installations of the A900 will include a control system or some sort of universal keypad but those users will be missing out on a really neat remote!

Menu System and Options
The menu system is very efficient and easy to navigate. The first submenu, Input, allows you to choose a source and rename it if you wish. The Picture menu has all the typical calibration controls along with a selection of seven picture modes: Dynamic, Standard, Movie 1, Movie 2 and three User modes. Movie 1 defaults to Rec 709 (HD) color space with a 6500k color temp and the Film gamma preset which measures around 2.5 with flat tracking. After calibration which I’ll discuss later, you can select Movie 1 and touch nothing else. Selecting a picture mode brings up all the calibration controls on two pages. Brightness, Contrast, Color and Tint are perfect at the default settings and the Sharpness control is set at 0. You can turn this up if you wish but it will only add unnecessary edge enhancement. Tint is only available when a composite or S-video signal is input.

The second page of picture controls has color temp presets (5500K, 6500K, 8000K and 9300K) along with gains and offsets for red, green and blue. The gamma control has three presets called Film, Video and Graphic. Film is around 2.5, Video is around 1.8 and Graphic is lower yet. You can ask your installer/calibrator to change these presets in the service menu as there are more curves available. The Dynamic Black control is for the projector’s iris. The options are Off, Manual (101 steps) and Auto. Finally there is a Save command which will write your settings to one of the user modes. You can also reset the projector to factory defaults here.

Moving on to the Size control, there are six options: 16:9, Zoom 1, Zoom 2, Wide Fit, Anamorphic and 4:3. Anamorphic is for use with an anamorphic lens which you can get from DVE Distribution. The 16:9 mode is 1:1 pixel-mapped with zero overscan. The Position control lets you shift the image digitally. Digital Noise Reduction is available for analog signals. Black Level lets you set a 0 or 7.5 IRE setup for analog signals or select light or dark for HDMI signals. This option will be grayed out if the A900 senses the correct black level from your source as it did for me. In every instance, the below-black information was displayed just fine.

The next control is called Color Pattern and it lets you show one color at a time ostensibly so you can adjust the color decoding. I found however that as soon as I tried to adjust the Color control, the gating shut off and all the colors returned. It was of no matter as I did not have to change the default color setting thanks to a very unique and precise calibration system I’ll cover on the next page. The Overscan option is either on or off and introduces about 3% overscan when turned on. The next option is for 1080p/24 signal acceptance. The A900 will accept a 24Hz signal and display it at either 48Hz or 60Hz. Thanks to DLP’s 100 percent digital signal path, there is no flicker at 48Hz as there would be on an LCD or LCoS design. The final option is called Film Mode. When this is activated, interlaced signals are inverse-telecined.

The Setup sub-menu begins with installation options (front-floor, front-ceiling, rear-floor, rear-ceiling) flipping the image appropriately according to the projectors placement. The Light Setting for the bulb has two steps, Theater and Bright. Theater was more than enough for my setup as I had to stop the iris down nearly 75 percent to get to a comfortable 13 foot-Lamberts. Bright will shorten the lamp life to 1500 hours and increase the fan noise. Setup is also where you’ll find test patterns including a crosshatch, a sizing pattern showing different aspect ratio markers and full-field red, green, blue and white patterns. These color patterns factor into the unique calibration procedure which I’ll outline in the Setup section. The next control, Color Standard, lets you choose between three color spaces, HD, EBU (Europe) and SMPTE-C. The cool thing about this is you only have to calibrate the HD color space. The others are calculated automatically by the projector’s software.

The final submenu is called Option and has controls for language; and menu placement, translucency and timeout. The A900 allows you to set the menu to never time out if you wish. I absolutely love this feature as it makes calibration SO much easier when menus don’t pop up or change in the middle of a measurement. Controls for the LED indicators are next and a control called Light Effect. This refers to a large blue bar that lights up on top of the projector. You can turn this off completely or have in active in standby or power on states. The final item is Info which brings up a very complete screen of information about signal type, white balance settings, lamp hours and other parameters. This screen is also accessible from a button on the remote.