Sound & Vision - - CONTENTS - By Al Grif­fin

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 Ver­dict

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.

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