Projectors

Flagship Home Theater - Part 1: Anthem LTX-500 LCoS Projector and SI Black Diamond II Screen

ARTICLE INDEX
Anthem LTX-500 LCoS Projector and SI Black Diamond II Screen


Introduction

Flagship Home Theater.  The very words evoke the highest quality in audio and video reproduction.  Anthem, a well-established maker of high end audio products has just released their first display, the THX-certified LTX-500 LCoS Projector.  Like their audio gear, Anthem is marketing this unit as a reference quality piece.  In their own words, “A full HD 1920x1080 ‘Reference’ point of view… brings the scale and excitement of the Cinema experience home.”  Have they achieved their goal?  Boy did I ever have fun finding out!

For this review, Anthem sent me a package consisting of the LTX-500 projector, Statement D2V Surround Processor, Statement A5 Multi-Channel Amplifier and a Black Diamond II Screen from SI Screens.  Because of the tremendous number of features engineered into these components I have divided the article into two parts.  Part 1, which you are reading now, will focus on the LTX-500 and Black Diamond II.  Part 2 covers the Statement D2V and Statement A5.

Anthem is a company that pretty much needs no introduction.  They have manufactured high-end audio components for over ten years.  Their multi-channel processors and amplifiers have achieved an almost legendary status.  When they announced their first front projector, I took particular notice.  New displays from high-end manufacturers are a rarity in this highly competitive market.  Anthem knew they’d have to bring something very special to the table.  As you’ll see when you read on, they most definitely have.

Paired with the LTX-500 for Part 1 of the review, I installed the new Black Diamond II screen from SI Screens.  The Black Diamond II has a twofold design goal.  Firstly it provides a very high contrast rendition and secondly the image holds up well under ambient light.  It does this with a very special screen material that directs more light back to the viewer rather than allowing it to scatter off to the sides.  The material is available in two gains, .8 and 1.4.  I was fortunate to have both materials on hand to test with the LTX.

Projector Specifications

  • Panel type - Three 0.7" LCoS
  • Native Resolution: 1920x1080
  • Zoom Ratio: 1.4-2.8
  • Light Output: 900 lumens
  • Contrast Ratio: 50,000:1
  • Screen Size – 60”-200” diagonal
  • Throw Range: 6-39 Feet
  • Inputs – 2 HDMI, 1 component, 1 S-Video, 1 Composite, 1 PC (D-sub)
  • THX certified
  • Fan Noise: 19 dB
  • Control: RS-232, 12v Trigger
  • Lamp Power: 200 Watts
  • Dimensions: 6.6" H x 14.4" W x 18.9" D
  • Weight: 24.3 Pounds
  • MSRP: $8,000 USA
  • Anthem AV

The Projector Design

The LTX-500 is a very compact and efficient design.  The overall size and weight is a bit less than other LCoS models.  The lens is offset to the left as you look at the front of the projector and is protected by a motorized door.  The door opens and closes automatically on power on and power off.  The case is finished in a high-gloss black with just a hint of metal flake.  Ventilation is handled by a small intake in the front and an exhaust at the side.  There is a cleanable and replaceable filter on the left side.  The ventilation system has internal baffles which reduce fan noise to a whisper.  The LTX is among the quietest projectors I’ve ever encountered.  The red striping on the top and side adds a bit of flair that I found attractive.  Overall the design strikes a nice balance between style and function.

The LTX has four independently adjustable feet.  This makes it easy to get the geometry just right when shelf mounting as I did.  The projector weighs just under 25 pounds so you won’t need a particularly beefy ceiling mount if you choose to go that route.  There are controls on the top of the unit for Power, Input, Hide (image blanking) and menu navigation.  There are also three status lights for power, lamp and system warning.  The input jack panel is on the right side at the bottom.

Anthem LTX-500 LCoS Projector and SI Black Diamond II Screen

The remote is well-thought out and comfortable to use.  I had no problems bouncing IR commands off the screen to control the projector.  There is a backlight that can only be turned on with a large button at the bottom.  The remote features direct control of picture mode selection, aperture, aspect ratio, gamma, color temperature, color, tint, noise reduction, brightness, contrast and sharpness.  There are no discrete buttons for inputs, only a toggle.  This is rarely an issue as most users will use a single HDMI input switched by a receiver or other means.  In the center of the remote are the menu navigation buttons along with a button that selects a series of built-in test patterns.  There are color bars, a grayscale step pattern, steps for red, green and blue and a cross-hatch for setting geometry.

The last button is labeled lens and brings up the fully-motorized lens shift, focus and zoom functions.  It is so easy to dial in geometry when everything is motorized.  You can use the projectors built in patterns or your own if you wish.  It took me all of ten minutes to set the geometry and focus to perfection.

Anthem LTX-500 LCoS Projector and SI Black Diamond II Screen

Projector Installation and Setup

Once I had the projector in place it was time to explore the LTX-500’s vast menu structure.  This display has absolutely everything you could possibly want for a complete calibration.  There are full controls for gamma, color management and grayscale.  As you’ll see later in the bench testing, I was able to achieve nearly perfect results in all areas.

There are five main menus labeled Picture Adjust, Input Signal, Installation, Display Setup, Function and an Information screen.

The Picture Adjust menu includes all the controls necessary to calibrate the projector.  There are six preset picture modes (Cinema 1, Cinema 2, Natural, Stage, Dynamic, THX) and three customizable user modes.  The THX mode locks out all other calibration settings.  I made all of my adjustments in the User 1 mode.

After the traditional picture controls (brightness, contrast, color and tint), there are selectors for color temperature and gamma.  The color temperature list has four presets ranging from 5800K to 9300K plus High Bright and three Custom memories.  Each memory has a wide adjustment range for both RGB highs and lows.  The gamma selector has a similar arrangement with four presets plus three Custom memories.  The gamma curve adjustment screen lets you change the overall value (1.8-2.6) and the values for each step in the curve starting at 5%.  You can adjust the curves of the individual colors if you wish.  Once you save a gamma or color temp memory, it is accessible from any picture mode (except THX) and any input.

In the Advanced sub-menu there are controls for Sharpness, Detail Enhancement, Noise Reduction and Color Transient Improvement (CTI).  CTI and Noise Reduction are only adjustable for non-HD signals.

Also contained in the Advanced menu is the Color Management System (CMS).  Again there are three memories available to save your settings to.  The CMS on the LTX-500 is the best and most complete I’ve yet encountered, with one caveat.  You must update the projector’s firmware to version 1.1 to make it fully functional.  I’ll explain this in more detail in the Bench Testing section.

The CMS allows adjustment of hue, saturation and brightness of each primary and secondary color.  This makes it possible to achieve a perfect gamut with perfect luminance.  Once I installed the firmware update, I was able to make this projector more accurate than any display I have previously worked with.

Finally, there is a Lens Aperture control with 15 steps and a button to reset all parameters to the factory defaults.

The Input Signal menu lets you set the Input level (Standard, Enhanced or Auto) and Colorspace (RGB, YCbCr 4:4:4, YCbCr 4:2:2 or Auto) for HDMI signals.  You can usually leave these set to Auto.  In my case Auto Input level worked fine for my Accupel signal generator but I had to select Enhanced with my Panasonic Blu-ray and Denon DVD players to see below-black and above-white information.  You can also toggle HDMI control on and off.  There are Level and Colorspace options for the component, composite/S-video and PC inputs as well.  You can also adjust Picture Position, Aspect Ratio (4:3, 16:9 and Zoom (SD signals only)).  There is a V-Stretch mode for use with an anamorphic lens.  The Overscan control lets you toggle a 2.5% overscan for SD signals.  Mask will hide the outer area of the image and Film Mode will perform inverse-telecine when an interlaced signal is input.

The Installation menu has controls for the lens (shift, focus and zoom) and the geometry patterns.  If you want to use a different pattern than the built-in ones, you can turn them off here.  The Pixel Adjust is a convergence control that lets you move each color horizontally or vertically one pixel at a time.  This is a bit coarse to be practical but the convergence out of the box was excellent so I didn’t have to make any adjustment.  The Installation Style option lets you flip the image for ceiling or tabletop mounting and front or rear projection.  Keystone correction is available in this menu as well though I don’t recommend using this at any time as it will degrade the image slightly.

The Display Setup menu has options for controlling the background color, menu position, menu display, line display (input), source display (signal type) and whether or not to show the logo on startup.  The menu display option is of particular interest.  When set to on, all menus will remain on the screen until you turn them off.  This includes individual adjusters displayed at the bottom of the screen.  This is one of the coolest features I have seen on any display.  It’s so nice to be able to take my time with a particular setting without having to worry about the menu timing out.  Bravo Anthem!

The Function menu has options for lamp power (normal or high) and the function of the 12v trigger.  One neat option here: you can activate the trigger when you select the V-Stretch option.  This will work in conjunction with an anamorphic lens mount so the lens will slide into place at the appropriate time.  The test pattern selector runs through the six built-in patterns.  There are color bars, grayscale steps, steps for red, green and blue and a crosshatch pattern for setting geometry.  The Off Timer has options to turn off the power automatically after 1, 2, 3 or 4 hours.  The High Altitude Mode increases the fan speed to maintain proper lamp cooling in altitudes above 3000 feet.

The Information Screen shows the current input, signal type, resolution, and frequency for PC signals, the color depth, and lamp hours.


Using the Projector's Menu to Calibrate the Image

Calibration of the LTX-500 covers four major areas:  levels, grayscale, gamma, and color management.  I did all my measurements and adjustments in one of the three User modes.  As with any display calibration, adjustment of grayscale, gamma and color management must be done with instruments to achieve accurate results.

When I initially installed the projector, I was unable to see below-black and above-white information output from my Accupel signal generator unless I turned on the Enhanced setting in the Input Signal menu.  After upgrading the firmware, below-black and above white bars were visible in either the Enhanced or Auto modes when I used my Accupel signal generator as the source.  When I tried disc-based patterns from my Panasonic and Denon players I had to turn on the Enhanced mode again to see them.  After viewing a lot of different patterns I settled on -5 for brightness with the lens aperture at -6 out of 15.  Contrast was left at the default.

Grayscale adjustments were up next.  I was able to easily achieve flat grayscale tracking with the RGB high and low controls.  Gain (high) is adjustable with 256 steps but the scale starts at the maximum value.  Therefore you can only reduce colors to make your adjustments.  Offsets (low) have 100 steps of adjustment but start in the center of their range.  The fine gradations are nice and make precision adjustments a snap.

The gamma curve editor is quite ingenious.  You can move the entire curve up and down with the Correction Factor control.  You can also copy and paste one of the preset curves to use as a starting point.  Then you can tweak the gamma to perfection by adjusting each point starting at 5% up to 90%.  If you want to adjust individual points for red, green and blue, that function is available too.  When you’re done, the LTX-500 prompts you to save the data before exiting the gamma screen.

As I said earlier, the Color Management System (CMS) is the best I’ve ever used, after the firmware update.  When I first calibrated the LTX I could only correct the color luminance.  The Hue and Saturation controls did not allow me to bring the color points in to the correct positions on the CIE triangle.  Out-of-the-box, the LTX-500’s color is oversaturated, especially for red and green.  I could not lower the saturation control enough to correct this.  Once the update was installed, I found I had greater range in the saturation control and so was able to bring the colors to the correct positions.  More on this in the Bench Testing section.


The SI Screens Black Diamond II Projection Screen

The physical design of the Black Diamond is similar to other fixed-frame screens.  The main difference is the unique and innovative material used for the projection surface.  Although many buyers of this product will have it installed professionally, it well within the realm of the do-it-yourselfer to hang this screen.  Clear instructions are provided along with the necessary Allen wrench and even a pair of latex gloves for handling the screen material.  No other tools are required.

Screen Specifications

  • Design: Fixed Frame
  • Wall Mountable (brackets included); Can Also be Placed on Stand
  • Available Gains: 0.8 and 1.4
  • Viewing Angle: 440 to Half Gain
  • Aspect Ratios: 4:3, 16:9, 16:10, 2.35:1, 2.40:1 and Custom Sizes
  • Maximum Sizes: 2.40:1 - 142” Diagonal; 16:9 - 113” Diagonal; 4:3 - 93” Diagonal
  • MSRP: $2,199-$3,899 USA
  • SI Screens

Most fixed-frame screens have material that snaps to the frame but the Black Diamond works a bit differently.  The material is a semi-rigid plastic sheet with holes punched around the edges.  It is then held in the frame with heavy-duty rubber bands looped over studs you install before assembly.  SI provides a handy tube tool to help you stretch the rubber bands over the studs.

The frame assembles easily (after installation of the studs) with four pieces of angle iron.  Simply slide the pieces together and tighten the set screws with the Allen wrench.  Then it’s only a matter of carefully unrolling the material and attaching it to the studs with the rubber bands.  Once the screen is on the wall, you finish by removing the protective plastic layer from the material.

The hanging system is common to fixed-frame products with a tongue-in-groove setup.  I was fortunate that my Carada wall bracket fit the groove in the SI frame perfectly.  Once I shimmed the bottom of the screen to make it perfectly vertical, I was ready to watch some movies!


The Projector and Screen In Use

In the time I spent evaluating the LTX-500 I watched quite a few movies on both Black Diamond screens and my Carada screen.  They pretty much fell into two categories:  those with stylized color and those with natural color.  Many modern films have an interpreted color palette.  Since so much of movie-making is done in the computer realm, the possibilities for color rendition are pretty much endless.  Here is a sampling of some of the content I viewed.

Taken Blu Ray

The action film Taken uses a fairly natural color palette that has been punched up a bit.  The result is a pleasingly high level of saturation without the overblown cartoonish colors of some other films.  Flesh tones were rendered pleasingly and it was easy to see the different types of lighting used for the various indoor scenes.  Dark material showed superb contrast and shadow detail without a hint of noise or other artifacts.

The World is Not Enough Blu Ray

The Lowry Digital re-masters of the James Bond films are a benchmark for film-to-video transfers.  As an ardent 007 fan, I have been quick to add these Blu-rays to my collection when they hit the market.  The later films starring Pierce Brosnan have a very natural color palette and The World Is Not Enough is no exception.  The LTX-500 faithfully reproduced this.  The projector’s 96Hz refresh rate made action scenes very smooth without any noticeable judder or motion blur.

Twilight Blu Ray

Twilight is a shining example of the interpretation of color.  If you watch the bonus features, you will be amazed at how some scenes look before the post-production process.  Most outdoor scenes have an obvious blue tint making it look overcast and mysterious even in the middle of the day.  Many displays exaggerate this stylized color making it fatiguing to watch; not so with the LTX-500.  The director’s vision came across clearly in all respects.  Once again, dark scenes showed a high level of contrast and dimension.  The excellent shadow detail helped to retain the depth of the image.  Monotonal scenes with colored highlights were also very effective.

Underworld:Rise of the Lycans Blu Ray

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is a tough, tough movie to render well on any display.  The color palette is extremely muted.  In fact it’s almost a mono-chromatic blue throughout.  Nearly all scenes are dark with lots of detail.  Most displays would have a tough time showing all the low-level detail present in this film.  Not so with the LTX-500.  Fine textures like stone walls or rooms lit by candlelight were presented beautifully.  The dynamic range of this projector was tested to its limit and it passed with flying colors (or color in this case).


The Anthem LTX500 LCoS Projector On the Bench

The LTX-500 is both a simple and an extremely complex display.  On one hand, you can engage the THX mode and simply enjoy the projector as-is.  As you’ll see in the below charts, it’s quite accurate.  In fact the LTX measured better out-of-the-box than any other display I’ve measured before.

If you want the ultimate in accuracy however, you must calibrate the projector.  Every aspect of display performance can be adjusted.  It is extremely rare that any display has as complete a set of controls as the LTX-500.  The data I collected shows that a thorough calibration is well worth the effort.

A few weeks into the review I received a firmware update for the LTX-500.  This update can be downloaded from Anthem’s website and installed via laptop through the projector’s USB port.  It’s a simple process that took all of about ten minutes.  The update makes some very positive changes to the color management system.  As you will see below, the color measurements before and after the update are quite different.

Equipment used:  EyeOne Pro spectrophotometer, CalMAN Professional 3.3 analysis software, Accupel HDG-3000 signal generator, Spears & Munsil Benchmark Blu-ray.

All measurements were taken off the screen (Carada Brilliant White, gain 1.4) from the seating position (10 feet back) with the iris set to -6 out of 15 steps.

Grayscale and Gamma

The THX mode measured very well.  Tracking for both gamma and grayscale was well within standards.  The average gamma of 2.03 was mainly affected by the higher stimulus points.  The gamma at lower levels was closer to 2.2.  This means shadow detail was well-rendered.  The color error from 20 to 70 percent was below the range of visibility.  The slight tendency toward blue was not a problem when viewing content.

Anthem LTX-500 LCoS Projector and SI Black Diamond II Screen

After calibration in the User mode, grayscale and gamma tracked to near-perfection.  The firmware update did not affect my ability to adjust either parameter.  Since the update erased all settings from the previous calibration, I started from scratch

Anthem LTX-500 LCoS Projector and SI Black Diamond II Screen

The only minor difference can be seen in the RGB Level Tracking chart.  After the update, I was able to get things a bit flatter at 20 percent.  We’re talking nits here!

Anthem LTX-500 LCoS Projector and SI Black Diamond II Screen

Color

Without calibration, the only accurate color mode is THX.  The color accuracy is quite good with a near-perfect gamut and decent luminances.  The projector is very watchable in this mode and few people would have issues with image quality.  In the THX mode all adjustments are locked out for grayscale, gamma and color management.  You can change brightness, contrast, color and tint.  You can also select the standard, enhanced or auto modes for black level setup and colorspace.  (Figure 11)

Anthem LTX-500 LCoS Projector and SI Black Diamond II Screen

With firmware 1.0, this was the best color gamut I could achieve in the user mode.  I’ve included the Ideal Secondaries chart to show that despite the inaccurate primaries, the LTX properly calculates the secondaries.  The Luminance chart shows what I was able to do with the color management system.  This is a very good chart.  (Figure 12)

Anthem LTX-500 LCoS Projector and SI Black Diamond II Screen

These are the results of the CMS adjustment with firmware 1.1.  There was no need to use the Ideal Secondaries chart because as you can see, it is possible to achieve a perfect CIE Gamut.  Luminances are superb as well.  Only a tiny number of displays, of any type, can achieve this level of accuracy.  (Figure 13)

Anthem LTX-500 LCoS Projector and SI Black Diamond II Screen

Color accuracy can be a very subjective thing.  On one hand, the projector was immensely enjoyable with the oversaturated gamut.  I would consider it to be the finest in its class and finer than many projectors costing more without the firmware upgrade.  With the ability to achieve perfection though, this display is in a whole different league.  As I watched movies with the 1.0 firmware I couldn’t help but wonder what the image would look like if the color were perfect.  It’s a personal thing with me: knowing how a display measures affects my perception.  I’ve measured and calibrated a lot of TVs and projectors and I always prefer accuracy, but that’s me.  Your mileage may vary.

Contrast Performance

The LTX-500 achieved the highest contrast ratio I have ever measured from a front-projection display.  Arriving at these numbers was difficult, mainly due to the limitations of my color meter.  The EyeOne Pro has a lower practical limit of .001fL (that’s really dark).  When I measured a 0 percent pattern I often got no reading whatsoever.  I took 20 measurements and got .001fL on 12 of them.  Rather than measuring the maximum light output, I set the iris to give me around 12fL at 100 percent stimulus.  So in my theater for practical purposes, I achieved a contrast ratio of 12,000 to 1.  The projector is obviously capable of greater output as I had set the iris at -6 out of 15 steps.  So I might have achieved a higher CR measurement but the image would have been too bright to be watchable.  When using the Black Diamond II screen, I was unable to get a single measurement for 0 percent.  I adjusted the iris to give me the same 12fL peak.  The contrast ratio with the Black Diamond II was therefore higher than 12,000 to 1.  To my eye, the Black Diamond II did give the image a little more punch and saturation.  I found it very pleasing to watch.  In fact it reminded me of a certain plasma TV that will be unavailable soon!

Video Processing

Obviously the best source material for this and any 1080p display is Blu-ray disc.  Keeping the content at its native resolution from the beginning to the end of the signal path means there is no processing required.  That being said, most of us have large DVD collections and will likely continue to watch SD content for some time to come.  For this reason, the LTX-500 uses the Silicon Optix Reon solution.  When fed 480i content from my Denon 2930CI DVD player, the LTX did an excellent job with all aspects of scaling, de-interlacing and cadence detection.  You could pair this display with a simple flag-reading player and enjoy excellent image quality.

For 24p content from Blu-ray disc, the LTX-500 refreshes at 96Hz.  There is no option for frame interpolation.  The cadence is simply 4:4.  Though some like the smoother motion inherent in frame interpolation, I find it odd-looking and unnatural.  I did not miss this feature.

Performance of the Black Diamond II Screen

The Black Diamond II is built for two things:  high contrast and ambient light rejection.  It performed extremely well in both areas.  Contrast (both perceived and measured) was definitely greater than my Carada screen, even at the same gain of 1.4.  I noticed a slight color shift towards blue which was verified by measurements.  Gamma also required some tweaking.  If you use this screen, you should calibrate the projector by measuring off the screen for best results.

When I first set up the 1.4 gain Black Diamond, I noticed a very slight sparkle effect at the center.  I could only see it when there was a uniform image like blue sky or a road for instance.  In all fairness, my wife could not see it even when I told her what to look for.  I did ask SI Screens about this issue and they told me it is known and they are working on it.  The .8 gain material did not exhibit this tendency.  Overall though, I preferred the extra pop from the 1.4 gain screen.  It certainly did not reduce my enjoyment of watching movies!

To test ambient light rejection I used a torche-style lamp which I moved around the room to see its effect on the image.  Even with the lamp directly across from the screen at full brightness, I could easily see medium to bright images with almost no reduction in quality.  Darker scenes took on a slight color cast from the lamp but detail was still nicely preserved.  When I placed the lamp on the sides of the screen, there was almost no effect on the image.  If your room has indirect lighting that does not throw light on the screen, you can have an extremely watchable picture without creating black hole conditions.  Of course to enjoy the full contrast potential of the Black Diamond II, you’ll need to turn off all the lights as I did.


Conclusions

The Anthem LTX-500 is the best projector I have tested to date.  If I were to write a marketing tagline for it, it would be, “Simply Accurate Color.”  So few displays are this accurate and that made it all the more pleasurable to watch.  Contrast performance is simply unmatched.  The blacks are so dark I had to dim the panel displays of my electronics - and they’re off to one side of my theater!  You may have concluded by now that I am very particular about image quality and accuracy.  The LTX served up such a generous helping of excellence in both areas; I found I could not part with it at the end of the review period.

The Black Diamond II screen was an equally amazing product.  To see such good preservation of image quality and contrast with the lights on was a unique experience.  To have the added bonus of great contrast performance even with a positive gain screen was icing on the cake.

Paired together, the Anthem LTX-500 and the SI Screens Black Diamond II truly earn the title of Flagship Home Theater.  Now I really have no reason to go out to the movies!

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Anthem sent me a Statement D2V Surround Processor and Statement A5 Amplifier as part of this package. Click here to read Part 2 of the Flagship Home Theater review!