ACER VL7860 DLP PROJECTOR
WITH DLP PROJECTORS capable of displaying 4K Ultra HD signals now selling for $1,500 or even less, they present an affordable alternative to higher-cost 4K LCOS models from Sony and JVC. Even longtime LCOS stalwart JVC has jumped in on the game, with the company recently announcing its first DLP projector, a $2,500 4K-capable model.
What separates the new DLPS from most 4K projectors in the LCOS camp is the way they display UHD. Starting with a Texas Instruments Digital Micromirror Device chip that has a native resolution of 2716 x 1528 pixels, a combination of video processing and pixel-shifting is used to present two half-uhd frames in quick succession. This sequence happens so rapidly that the eye processes a full 8.3 million-pixel UHD image, one virtually indistinguishable from what you see with projectors that use native 4K-resolution imaging chips with a full set of discrete pixels.
One of this new breed of 4K-capable DLP projectors is Acer’s VL7860, a model that, at $4,000, doesn’t exactly have an entry-level price tag. What elevates the VL7860 in value is its laser phosphor light engine, which delivers 3,000 lumens brightness and is rated to last
30,000 hours in Eco mode. It’s also compatible with HDR10 high-dynamic range (HDR) signals, provides 10-bit processing, and has onboard Isfccc modes for a video calibration tech to store custom picture settings for both daytime and dark room viewing.
Acer pitches the VL7860 as the “world’s smallest 4K UHD laser projector.” Not surprisingly, the VL7860 has a relatively compact form factor, its white case measuring 18 x 6.2 x 11.4 inches (WXHXD). Inputs on the rear panel include a pair of HDMI jacks, one of them labeled “UHD/4.” That’s where you’ll want to plug in your Ultra HD Blu-ray player or other 4K/hdr-compatible source. There’s also a VGA input for a computer and a 5-volt DC output to power a Chromecast or other compact streaming stick connected to one of the projector’s HDMI inputs.
The small remote control that Acer packs with the VL7860 has a fully backlit keypad and buttons to call up a range of basic and advanced picture settings. These let you quickly tweak brightness and contrast or switch between gamma settings and HDR display modes
without having to route through a succession of onscreen menus. It also lets you switch on the Super Resolution feature to heighten image detail in soft-looking TV programs or discs without having to resort to using the coarser standard Sharpness adjustment.
I evaluated the VL7860 with the projector positioned 10 feet from a 92-inch diagonal, 1.1 gain Stewart Filmscreen Cima screen, a distance that placed it approximately in the middle range for the projector’s 1.6x zoom lens. Zoom and focus controls on the VL7860 are manual, with both surrounded by ribbed control rings that make it easy to dial in fine adjustments. The projector provides adjustable feet to correct geometry when placed on a table or shelf, and it has a vertical lens shift control wheel that lets you adjust for up to 15% of picture height.
The VL7860 has plenty of “display mode” presets, including a Rec.709 mode that delivers mostly accurate Rec.709 color when selected. Since the VL7860 makes no claim to display a set percentage of P3 color space — a vague 110% of Rec.709 color spec is all you get — I was happy to start my adjustments from this mode. Grayscale tracking was fairly off with Rec.709 mode’s default CT2 color temperature setting active, but I was able to correct for the imbalance during calibration using the projector’s two-point RGB Gain/bias adjustments.
Gamma tracking with the Eco mode and 2.4 Gamma preset selected was mostly accurate, averaging out to 2.3. Using the same settings, the projector’s native contrast ratio measured 508:1 — a weak showing compared with the other 4K-capable DLP projectors Sound & Vision has recently tested, most of which also displayed limited native contrast. But switching on the projector’s Dynamic Black setting literally turbo-charged performance: contrast now measured 14,666:1, a range you typically get with LCOS models. Maximum brightness, meanwhile, measured 325 nits with the Bright display and HDR 1 modes active, although I did most of my viewing in Rec.709 mode with the contrast setting reduced to preserve highlight detail.
Like many DLP projectors, the VL7860 has a Brilliant Color feature. This is used to boost brightness and contrast, though that typically comes at the expense of color saturation. Since Brilliant Color on the VL7860 is an on/off setting as opposed to a variable adjustment, I opted to shut it off for my viewing. The VL7860 also has a 120 Hz display mode that uses Acer’s Acumotion frame interpolation processing to render video with smooth, judder-free motion. But like other similar processing modes on TVS and projectors, it adds a “soap opera effect” to film-based images, so I also left that setting off as well.
Since I was most curious to see how the Acer’s Dynamic Black setting would affect its contrast performance, I went straight to the dark side by watching an episode of Twin Peaks, The Return on Blu-ray. In a scene where the agent Dale Cooper doppelgänger (you’d have to watch the series from the beginning to understand) follows a fellow criminal into a field at night with the intent to kill him, the dark sky behind the pair displayed excellent depth and there was a good amount of shadow detail visible in their clothing. When I first started my testing, dark scenes like this one would cause the Acer to lock up and continue to project a dark image even after the scene’s average picture level changed. Fortunately, that problem was eliminated after I shipped the projector back to the company for a firmware update.
Watching the same episode post-update, a scene where the band Nine Inch Nails performs at the Roadhouse tavern displayed a rich range of shadows and the image had an impressive level of contrast and “pop.” Watching a brighter scene where an unhinged teenager shows up at his ex-girlfriend’s trailer (the thrills come a mile a minute in Twin Peaks- land), the green grass and flowers surrounding the mobile home’s exterior looked natural, and I noted a subtle rendering of light on its surface.
Switching over to watching 4K Blu-rays with HDR, the first disc I checked out was Passengers. In a scene where the stranded space travelers share a drink at an android-attended bar, colors looked natural, though it required careful calibration of the projector’s picture settings specifically for HDR to make that happen. While all four of the Acer’s HDR display modes reduced highlight detail to a degree, the HDR 1 setting proved the least destructive. Watching a spacewalk scene
from Passengers with HDR 1 active, the ship’s exterior lights displayed a powerful glow.
The expanse of space in the background also came across as a deep, solid black and the scene revealed a wide range of above-black detail. All in all, it was a powerful HDR showing for a projector.
The Acer continued to impress when I next screened the new 4K Blu-ray release of The Matrix, a film I'd been waiting to see in an Hdr/atmos version. While The Matrix is not known for its naturalistic look, I noted subtle color shifts between the cool lighting of Neo’s office workplace, his apartment, and the nightclub that he ends up in when “following the rabbit.” Although highlights did look a bit burned out in some scenes, the Acer’s rendering of blacks and shadows were both very solid, and the picture literally bristled with fine detail.
While it’s hard to ignore the appeal of a 4K projector that sells for under $2,000 (and even less than that in a few instances), the tradeoff in picture contrast that some inexpensive new DLP models present makes them hardly worth considering. With its ability to deliver both detailed Ultra HD pictures and impressive contrast, Acer’s VL7860 is in another league altogether. Additional benefits that this projector brings to the table include a laser light engine that guarantees years of maintenance-free operation and HDR10 compatibility. And though it took careful tweaking to get the VL7860 to look good when displaying HDR movies, in the end the struggle was worth it. If you’re looking for an affordable, but not cheap, 4K projector, one that doesn’t come with serious picture quality compromises, the VL7860 is easy to recommend. The VL7860 provides a pair of HDMI inputs, but only one is compatible with 4K/high dynamic range content from disc players or streamers.
The Acer VL7860’S detailed picture and impressive contrast elevate it above the entry-level 4K DLP projector pack. In this case, 4K for 4K is a good deal.
A fully backlit remote allows for easy operation in a dark room.