Go to Home Page

Click Here to Go to Index for All Televisions and Projectors

 

 

Product Review
 

Hitachi Home-1 Three-Panel 16:9 LCD Digital Projector

December, 2003

Steve Smallcombe

 

 

Specifications:

 

Three 16:9 LCD Panels
854x480
700 ANSI Lumens
800:1 Contrast Ratio
Connections: Composite, S-Video, 15-
    pin, Component
Video
Noise: 28 dB

Weight: 7.9 Pounds

MSRP: $1,795 USA

 

Hitachi

www.hitachi.com

 

(Available at Projector People for discount)

Introduction

Life is full of surprises, and I must say that the Hitachi Home-1 was one of the more pleasant ones because of its flexibility and its performance. The Home-1, based on three 16x9 WVGA (854X480) LCD panels, is clearly aimed, and well aimed, and the low end of the Home Theater (HT) market.

Major features include a wide-ratio zoom lens combined with both horizontal and vertical (positive and negative) lens shift. Together, these features make the Home-1 suitable for a very wide variety of installation options. The critical specifications of the Home-1 are a light output of 700 ANSI Lumens, and a specified contrast ratio of 800:1.

As you will see, the Hitachi Home-1 projector is quite an achievement for its price and should be well received by consumers. Expect more of these cost-conscious projectors to appear this coming year (2004).

Inputs and Connectivity

The audio and video inputs for the Home-1 are behind a door on the rear of the projector. The inputs include the standard Composite and S-Video jacks, and one set of Component Video RCA jacks. There is also a D-sub 15 pin VGA input for hookup to a computer.

The Home-1 does not have the DVI input found on many projectors today, but this projector is aimed at a specific price point, and a DVI input would have raised the cost. It should be noted that although DVI may have its biggest impact on HDTV signals, it can also improve regular 480p material, like DVD, since it is a digital signal.

There is also a set of audio inputs, if you want to use the Home-1 in a business environment. However, the customer for this projector is most likely to use it in a home theater with a receiver. So, it might be a good idea to leave out the audio connections and put in the DVI jack in the next version of this and other projectors in this price range.

Controls

Zoom Lens and Lens Shift

The controls on the top of the projector include manual knobs for horizontal and vertical lens shifts, power, and menu controls. Zoom and focus are also manual and are accomplished by the typical arrangements of rotating rings on the lens assembly.

One of the outstanding features of the Home-1 is its lens and various lens associated control functions. Most HT projectors come with a zoom lens, but typically with a fairly limited zoom range. As a consequence, projectors and are often characterized as either “long throw” if they are designed to be placed behind the seating position, or “short throw” for projectors placed at, or in front of, the audience. The Home-1 has a 2x zoom range that essentially covers both long throw and short throw installations.

Once you choose the right distance and zoom settings, the next issue is placing the projector at the right vertical height so that the projected image is both centered on the screen and perfectly rectangular in shape. Most projectors are designed so that the bottom of the projected image is roughly at the same height as the projector’s lens. Let’s say you put your projector on a table that is not quite the right height, and the image falls below the screen. In a conference room you might simply tilt the projector up at the front, and then use the projector’s digital keystone correction to make the image rectangular . For HT, the use of digital keystone correction is discouraged, as it throws away some of the pixels and can lead to artifacts.

A far better solution is to shift the lens mechanically, relative to the to image source, thus shifting the position of the image on the screen without distorting its geometry, i.e., the image remains rectangular. Projectors with lens shift capability are therefore much easier to set up for a proper image than those without lens shift capabilities. Usually, lens shift is a feature of expensive projectors, so it is certainly a very nice thing to see it on a projector retailing for less than $2,000.

There are many advantages to mounting a projector high in the room, typically on the ceiling, on a high shelf, or in an enclosure at the back of the room. For a ceiling mount, you would typically invert the projector and mount it so that the lens is at the height of the top of the screen. (You will also need to select “Ceiling” or "Vertical Invert" in the appropriate menu, so that it is right side up on the screen.)

If you want to mount the projector on a high shelf, such as the one I have at the back of my room, this need to invert the projector can be problematic. In order to accommodate an upside down projector on my high shelf, I would normally use three or more 3/4" thick felt pads to support the projector, thus protecting its finish and freeing the controls on the top of the projector from unwanted contact with the shelf, while providing some airflow under the inverted projector. Clearly this is not ideal.

What really delighted me was that the Home-1 had a lens shift capability that matches the zoom lens in terms of placement flexibility. With the Home-1, you can shift the lens to place the whole image either above the projector lens (table mount) or below the lens, as you would need for use on a high shelf.

Thus, I was able to set up the Home-1 on a table in the middle of my seating area, as I would a typical short throw projector, or on my shelf, high on the back wall of my room (long throw). I simply placed the projector right side up, on its feet so to speak, and used the lens shift to bring the image down to fill the screen. Simple, convenient – no inverting the projector, tilting, felt pads, or keystone needed.

But wait, it gets better! The Home-1 also has horizontal lens shift. The shelf at the back of the room does not need to be in the center of the room; it can be off to the side, and the horizontal lens shift will keep the image rectangular, again without any need for digital keystone correction. The combination of the x2 zoom lens and the extremely flexible lens shift make this projector extremely easy to place. If you want a projector and are not too sure which of several locations will work the best, try the Home-1; it will most likely work in all of them!

Remote

The Home-1 came with a very small remote control that has all the basic functions, including access to the user video memories. The remote is not lighted, but the various keys did glow in the dark – enough to see where the buttons are, but not necessarily to read their labels. My only minor complaint about the remote is that it is thicker on the front end than the bottom end, and my natural tendency was to pick up and hold the remote backwards - certainly not a big deal – just something I had to get used to.

The user menu system was quite complete, with the main menu allowing adjustment of brightness and contrast, aspect ratio, the ability to invert the image, e.g., for ceiling or rear projection usage, and the “Whisper” control. The "Whisper" control lowers the overall light level of the projector, as well as the speed of the cooling fan, thus reducing the noise level. At either setting, the Home-1 was one of the quietest projectors I have tested. Its specification for noise level is 28 dB.

The Picture 1 menu allows control of sharpness, color and tint, as well as color balance and gamma. The gamma entry allows a custom setting where the gamma and RGB levels can be set – just the sort of control I look for when I tweak a projector. About the only thing that was missing was the ability to adjust the RGB bias or offset (more on this in the measurements section.

Measurements and Viewing

User Level Adjustments

I connected the Home-1 to my DVD player using component cables and did a few quick calibrations using the Avia test disk. The default settings for contrast and brightness, 0 and 0, produced a fairly dull image, but I found that I could raise the contrast to +22 without blowing out the whites, after setting the brightness to its proper value, +9. These settings gave a very satisfying image with good shadow detail and reasonable light output. Color and Tint were properly set at 0 and 0, and the Color Decoder Check (Avia) suggested no significant “push” for any color – in other words the color decoder was accurate.

The sharpness setting was very sensitive (using the Sharpness test on Avia), with a setting of 1 and 2 softening the image considerably, and settings above 3 giving unacceptable ringing. I left the sharpness control at 3 for subsequent viewing.

The Cinema setting for the Gamma/Color Balance in the Picture 1 menu, looked close to ideal, but instead, I chose the Custom mode that allowed me to tweak the color balance to be right on my reference standard (D6500). I could also adjust the gamma itself to meet my taste – 2.4 in this case.

Measurements

When I evaluate a projector, I not only look at images, I measure the color balance of the projector at various light intensity levels and determine the quality of what is called ‘grayscale tracking’. The idea is that black, white, and all shades of gray, should have the correct ratio of the three primary colors used in video projection Red, Green, and Blue. You can read more about the testing method in my past projector reviews on Secrets, or at http://www.smartavtweaks.com

In the Color Intensity graph for the Home-1, shown above, the intensity of Red, Green, and Blue are measured, as a function of IRE level. These and subsequent measurements were taken using my Custom Gamma setting. Notice that all three colors track each other very nicely and form an almost perfect curve, representing the gamma of the projector.

The Color Balance graph for the Home-1 shows the same data as the Color Intensity graph, but as graphed ratios between the various colors. It is therefore a more accurate indication of actual color balance, especially at the lower IRE levels. The Color Balance graph again indicates excellent grayscale tracking at the medium to high IRE levels, but indicates a slight shift to the red and blue at the lower IRE levels. This red shift was visible to the eye in the IRE 10 and 20 windows on the Avia test disc, but rarely evident with actual video materials. While the Home-1’s user menu offers both fine and coarse control of the overall RGB levels (gains), I did not find any way to adjust the bias or offset values for Red, Green, and Blue in the user menus. Nor did I have access to a service menu. With access to a bias control, this red shift at the lower IRE levels could, no doubt, be easily corrected.

As calibrated, the light output of the Home-1 at my 102 inch diagonal DaMatte screen, in the “Normal” mode, was 11.2 FtL corresponding to 348 Lumens from the projector. The measured contrast ratio was 540:1, a good value for an LCD-based projector. In the “whisper” mode the light output dropped to 9.2 FtL or 285 Lumens.Gamma tracking.

The other thing we can measure is gamma tracking, or how the light output of the projector responds to the input signal. If the projector's gamma tracking is off, then details in the image will either be lost, or the image may look flat and have little contrast. The Gamma Tracking graph shows the combined light intensity at various IRE levels relative to a theoretical level. If the projector is accurately producing the intended light intensity level as a function of input or IRE level, all values should be close to 1 in the gamma tracking graph.

In the Gamma Tracking graph above we can see that the Home-1 has very accurate gamma tracking that is well described, with an overall gamma of 2.35 – an ideal gamma for a video display!

Scaler and Deinterlacer – the Video Essentials Montage

I checked the performance of the Home-1’s deinterlacer using the montage on the Video Essentials (VE) disc, with the interlaced component output from my Denon 1600 DVD player. Using an interlaced signal, the waving flag showed jaggies (jagged diagonal lines), and there was a bit of twitter in the trees and bleachers. This was no worse than the deinterlacers I have tested on many other projectors, but not a good as when the progressive output of the Denon DVD player was used. I suggest that you try both progressive and interlaced modes of operation with your DVD player and see which gives the best results in your setup.

The montage of images showed good blacks and shadow details in the opening and in many other scenes. I must say that it was nice to see the accurate colors one gets with an LCD projector. The colors looked well saturated and very similar to my reference Sony 11HT.

Viewing and Comments

While viewing various DVDs and High Definition sources, the Home-1 looked very similar to my reference projector with rich well-saturated colors, i.e., very good! The contrast ratio and black levels were slightly better than my reference projector, and believe me, I paid a whole lot more than the cost of the Home-1 for my 11HT, not too many years ago.

The only real issue I would raise with the image quality of the Home-1 is the presence of the Screen Door Effect (SDE), common with LCD-based projectors, and typically more noticeable the lower the projector’s resolution. SDE is the common name for the viewer’s awareness of the grid, or spacing between the pixels, as the effect on the image can be thought of as similar to viewing the picture through a screen door. The pixel resolution of the Home-1 is 854X480, considerably less than my reference Sony 11HT’s 1366x768 pixels. It is therefore not surprising that the SDE was more visible with the Home-1 than with my 11HT. Nevertheless, I found the picture very pleasant with SDE most noticeable only in very bright scenes.

The lower resolution of the projector (compared to my reference) was noticeable while viewing DVDs, especially with images that have text, e.g., credits or setup menus. Continuous images looked very similar. High Definition (HD) images from my DISH 6000 looked great on the Home-1, but were not as sharp or three-dimentional as when the same material was viewed with my 11HT – a projector that is hard to beat with HD images. This is completely a matter of pixel resolution and not a failing in the design of the Home-1 in any way. It was nice to see that when switching between DVD and HD sources using the same input, the Home-1 handled the change without any hassle.

The noise level of the Home-1 on my back shelf was really not an issue for normal viewing in either the “Normal” or “Whisper” modes, so I used “Normal” for the greater light output. In the “Normal” mode, the light level at my 102 inch screen was 11.2 FtL, a very acceptable value, (a bit less than my reference projector), but at the lower end of what is now considered ideal for HT usage. Given SDE and light output considerations, I would likely choose a somewhat smaller screen if I were to use a Home-1, and perhaps a screen with some gain, i.e., a gain of 1.3.

The other issue that needs some discussion is the Home-1’s lack of a DVI input. A DVI input (or HDMI) that is HDCP compliant is considered to be the best way of assuring compatibility with the High Definition copy protection measures likely to be imposed in the future. If you are worried about this, then you should consider another projector, one with a HDCP compliant DVI input. For viewing DVDs and HD sources today, this is far less of an issue. I currently own neither a DVI capable projector, nor a DVI capable DVD player, but DVI will be a consideration in my future purchase decisions in both of these areas.

Conclusions

The Home-1 is a very low cost projector aimed at the HT market, and yet it offers features such as a wide-ratio zoom lens and very flexible lens shift capability rarely found in projectors costing many times the modest price of the Home-1. As a consequence, the Home-1 can be set up in an amazingly wide range of installation options.

The image quality of the Home-1 is very good within the limitation of its 854X480 LCD panels. Screen Door Effect is an issue with most LCD-based projectors, and the Home-1 is no exception. The Home-1 also lacks a DVI input, a capability often found with recently designed, and higher priced, projectors, and which may be a concern for some consumers. Nevertheless, given the low cost, flexible placement options, and very good image quality of the Home-1, I have no trouble giving it a hearty recommendation.

 

- Steve Smallcombe -

Related to the article above, we recommend the following:

Primer - TVs
   

© Copyright 2003 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
Return to Table of Contents for this
Issue.
Go to Home Page

 

About Secrets

Register

Terms and Conditions of Use