Projectors

Runco LS-10i 3-Chip DLP Projector

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction

I am often asked when recommending projectors why some models cost upwards of $20,000. The simple answer is – light output. You can get a state-of-the-art projector for $8000 and have a superb image, as well as excellent build quality. But you won’t be able to fill a 180-inch screen from 25 feet away and achieve 20 foot-Lamberts. For this you need a high output model, preferably a 3-chip DLP like Runco’s new LS-10i. But, you will need that $20,000.

This is the projector to get if you have a large screen, a large room with multi-row seating or if you want to watch with the lights on. You heard that right – the LS-10i has enough brightness that when used with the right screen, you can get a perfectly watchable image even with the lights on.

Specifications

  • Panel type: Three-chip SuperOnyx DMD (DLP)
  • Native Aspect Ratio: 16:9
  • Anamorphic Lens Support: Yes
  • Resolution: 1920 x 1080 at 48 Hz, 50 Hz, or 60 Hz
  • Lens Throw Ratio: 1.74-2.17
  • Lens Shift: Vertical ± 65%, Horizontal ± 30%
  • Light Output: 2,100 Lumens
  • Contrast Ratio: 10,000:1 (Dynamic)
  • Iris Control: Off, Auto
  • Screen Width: 72" - 120” Recommended, 180” Max
  • Inputs: HDMI 1.3 (2), Component (2), S-Video (1), Composite (1), 15-pin VGA (1)
  • Control: RS-232, 12v Trigger (2), IR Input
  • Lamp Power: 230 Watts (Economy), 260 Watts (Standard)
  • Rated Lamp Life: 3,000 Hours (Economy), 2,000 Hours (Standard)
  • Dimensions: 8.9" x 20.4" W x 25.3" D
  • Weight: 41 Pounds
  • Warranty: 2 Years, 6 Months/1000 Hours on Lamp
  • MSRP: $19,995 USA
  • Runco

Every Runco projector I’ve reviewed has impressed me with top-shelf build quality and unparalleled image accuracy. If ever there was a display that could be simply installed and watched with little or no attention to calibration, it’s a Runco. Of course that makes it all the more fun to see just how close to perfection I can get when I do calibrate! I was excited to have the opportunity to put the LS-10i through its paces. This was my first chance to see what a 3-chip model can really do. As you’ll see as you read on, my experience brought some pleasant surprises.


Design

The case design is just like the other projectors in Runco’s Lightstyle series except it’s a bit larger – five inches deeper and three inches wider to be exact. This stands to reason given the greater space needed by the 3-chip DLP light engine. The case is a satin-finished black plastic with the lens front and center, and a shrouded jack panel in back. You can remove the cowling covering the inputs to provide easier access and I left this off since I have limited space on my mounting shelf. For ceiling mounts, you’ll want to leave the cowling on as it completes the shape of the projector and hides the cabling nicely.

The LS-10i is a 3-chip DLP which means there is no color wheel. Each primary color has its own DMD with a fixed color filter. If you see rainbows with single-chip DLP displays, you won’t with a 3-chip one. With any three-chip device, there is the concern about convergence. This issue is more prevalent with LCoS and LCD models. I looked at several crosshatch patterns both internal to the LS-10i and from my signal generator and a test disc. I saw no convergence errors whatsoever, nor did I see any lens aberrations. In fact, the quality of the rendered patterns exceeded most of the single-chip DLP projectors I’ve reviewed. Not only are the imaging chips perfectly aligned, the lens is the best I’ve seen to date.

My review unit shipped with a standard zoom lens offering a 1.74-2.17 throw ratio. Five other zoom lenses are available with ratios ranging from 1.45 to 6.76, or you can get a fixed .77 throw lens for rear projection applications. There are also a full range of anamorphic lenses available for constant-height widescreen setups. The lens is fully motorized for shift, focus and zoom. This makes installation a breeze. The controls are very precise and it takes only a few minutes to center and focus the image using the internal test patterns. Lens shift is a generous 65% vertical and 30% horizontal. You should have little trouble fitting the LS-10i into any kind of installation and the screen can be up to 180 inches wide.

Inputs include two HDMI; two component, one of which has BNC connectors; one S-video and one composite. There is also a 15-pin D-sub input for RGBHV or a computer. For control purposes there are two 12-volt triggers, RS-232, and an IR input. This last jack is a surprising rarity in projectors and I was glad to see it included. On top of the case are buttons for power, source selection and menu navigation. The sides consist of large vents which, along with a relatively quiet internal fan, move a tremendous amount of air across the 260-watt lamp inside. These vents do leak a bit of light but it did not impact the image in my completely darkened room.

Runco’s excellent and efficient menu system has become very familiar to me now and the LS-10i does not depart from the standard layout. Principal sections are titled Main, Advanced, System, Control, Language and Service. All the picture controls are in Main and Advance. Besides the basic Brightness, Contrast, Color, Tint and Sharpness, there is a single Noise Reduction slider which is best left at its default of 100. Aspect Ratio choices are 16:9 which maps every pixel one-to-one, Letterbox (stretches a 2.35:1 image to eliminate black bars), 4:3, Virtual-Wide (stretches a 4:3 image non-linearly), Cinema for an anamorphic lens and 2.35:1 screen setup, and Virtual Cinema which creates a bar-less 2.35:1 image without an additional lens by stretching the sides of the image more than the center. You can also add overscan or mask the picture if you wish.

The Advanced menu contains presets for Color Space (which is actually the color conversion matrix, Auto is fine in almost all cases), Video Standard (NTSC, PAL or SECAM), Gamma (1.8 to 2.5), Color Temp (5500 to 9300 Kelvin), DLP Frame Rate (Auto, 48, 50 or 60 Hz; Auto worked fine for me), Color Gamut (Auto, Rec 709, SMPTE-C (Rec 601), EBU, Native or PCE which is the Color Management System), Constant and Adaptive Contrast (best left off), RGB Adjust (white balance), and Fine Sync (image position and pixel phase). Leaving the color options on Auto worked for all my source material and the 2.2 Gamma preset actually measured a nice, flat 2.2; so no need for a gamma curve editor here! RGB Adjust works just as it should and required only small adjustments to achieve the excellent results you’ll see in the Benchmark section. The PCE (color management system) was not as useful as the one in Runco’s Q-750i LED projector but as you’ll see, the default color is very accurate.

Once you’ve set the picture to your liking, you can save everything to one of two picture modes. If you have the ISF passcode, that opens up two additional modes called ISF Day and ISF Night. This can be done in the Main menu under Memory. Moving to the System menu, there are options for PIP position, menu position and translucency, lamp power, projector position, and the power-on chime. This chime is very useful because the fan is surprisingly quiet considering the 260-watt bulb it’s cooling. I have experienced louder projectors with far less light output than the LS-10i. You can also turn off unused inputs here to avoid cycling through the eight available connections.

The Control menu lets you program some of the keys on the remote to make it easier to access a specific input or slide an anamorphic lens into position. This gives you one-button access to change aspect ratio and lens position when you want to watch a cinemascope title. The Language menu gives you eight choices for the menu language. Finally, the Service menu is the place to go for signal information, serial numbers, firmware version, lamp hours and internal test patterns.

The remote is well-designed and includes all necessary functions. At the top are discrete power keys and a button to turn on the soft blue backlight. Next down are individual source selectors. This is followed by menu navigation and picture controls. There are four picture memory presets which can be programmed by the user or an installer if you want ISF Day and Night modes. Then we have aspect ratio controls which can be used along with the 12-volt triggers to control an anamorphic lens sled and/or screen masks for the different image widths. There is a numeric keypad and then at the bottom are the controls for lens shift, zoom and focus. As in other Runco remotes, the backlight is a soft blue to prevent eyestrain in darkened theaters. While this may seem like a small thing, it shows real attention to detail.


Setup

After placing the projector on my shelf, which was no easy task considering its 41-pound weight, it took me only minutes to center, zoom and focus the image on my Carada screen. The LS-10i has an internal sensor which detects its orientation and flips the image accordingly, very slick. With a non-inverted installation like mine, I had to use most of the available lens shift to get the image fully on the screen. Kudos again to Runco for including motorized lens functions. It’s so easy to focus when you can stand right up by the screen and simply push a button to achieve razor-sharp focus.

Once I had put about 60 hours on the lamp, calibration was no different than previous Runco models I’ve reviewed. Since I was using a relatively short throw on a small (for this projector) screen, I selected the Economy lamp setting. This runs the lamp at 230 watts instead of 260 and results in a roughly 15-percent reduction in measured light output. How much are we talking about? You’ll have to read the next two sections to see!

At Runco’s suggestion, I turned off the ConstantContrast before performing the calibration. Dynamic iris controls always play havoc with gamma and can make proper adjustment difficult. I also found this feature negatively affected grayscale accuracy. After calibrating I turned it back on and immediately saw a color shift. This was verified with measurements. I observed this same issue in my evaluations of the LS-5 and Q-750i projectors. ConstantContrast not only manipulates the iris, it also shifts the dynamic range of the DMD chips. While it does increase perceived contrast, I find the color shift an unacceptable side effect. You can use the Adaptive Contrast control if you only want an automatic iris but this produces clipped blacks and brighter whites. Honestly, the native contrast of the LS-10i is so good, these features are unnecessary. If you want even greater image depth, I suggest a neutral density filter and a gray screen.

After lowering Contrast to 0 from its default of 100 I proceeded to dial in the grayscale. As you’ll see in the benchmarks, required adjustments were slight. Gamma was set at 2.2 and the color gamut was set to PCE so I could tweak the color management system. As it turned out, the default color gamut was nearly spot-on but I can never leave well enough alone so I made some small adjustments. The CMS only has controls for the six colors’ x and y values; none for luminance, so you can’t make huge changes, but there really isn’t any need. You’ll see in the measurements that I was only able to make the tiniest improvement. When I completed the calibration, I had a peak light output of over 33 foot-Lamberts. This was the lowest number I could achieve. The only way to reduce this would have been with neutral density filters as the LS-10i does not have a manual iris.


In Use

Before I get into the material I viewed on the LS-10i I want to talk about my experience with the tremendous light output available from this projector. After completing the calibration and getting the peak down to 33 foot-Lamberts, I expected some fatigue in watching an image this bright. After all, SMPTE specifies 16fL for film projectors and 12fL for digital cinema as an ideal level. Many commercial theaters don’t even get this bright. My reference projector puts out about 15fL. Well, I was quite surprised at how much I liked a picture more than twice as bright. And I never had a moment of fatigue during the entire review period. In fact, after reinstalling my Anthem, I set the lamp power to High which bumped me up to around 18fL. Yes, the blacks weren’t quite as inky as before but the increased punch and clarity of the image more than made up for this. If you have stuck to the SPMTE standards as I have, you should at least try a higher output level for a week to see if you might like it better. I was convinced and now run my projector on High all the time.

Runco LS-10i 3-chip DLP Projector for the Home Theater

The Switch on Blu-ray has a bit of a cool color palette which can sometimes make the image look flat. The Runco did a pretty good job of preventing this effect. Detail in the transfer is excellent and the top-flight optics and perfect convergence of the LS-10i kept things looking pretty good throughout. Nighttime scenes didn’t quite show the deep blacks I’m accustomed to from my LCoS projector but considering the LS-10i’s extra brightness, they looked quite good. I think this projector would look best with a gray screen or perhaps one of the Black Diamond models from Screen Innovations. This would match up with Runco’s design intent of running with the room lights on. Still, on my positive gain white screen, contrast was excellent at all times. I’ve tested many DLP models and Runco always seems to coax slightly better black levels from their projectors than everyone else. Of course there were no rainbows thanks to the 3-chip light engine. I don’t normally see them with single-chip units but if I flick my eyes back and forth during a starfield scene, I can. I could not see the effect at any time with the LS-10i.

I always like to watch at least one CGI animated title for my display reviews so I chose How to Train Your Dragon on Blu-ray. I know movies like this make any display look good but after a while, you can see subtle differences in color detail, textures, highlight and shadow effects, and especially dimensionality. A well-made film like this can truly look 3D on the best projectors and the LS-10i demonstrated that incredibly well. The extra brightness probably had something to do with it but from beginning to end, the image just popped like a kid stepping on bubble wrap. Dreamworks doesn’t quite achieve the texture detail that Pixar does but I really enjoyed the freckles and hair effects on the character’s faces. The lighting used in the film really worked well to create the illusion of 3D and this projector looked simply stunning. You’ll see in the benchmark section just how good the contrast performance is and it really showed here. Color was always bright and saturated but never un-natural. Motion was also very crisp and smooth with no perceived resolution loss during quick pans or on fast-moving objects.

Runco LS-10i 3-chip DLP Projector for the Home Theater

Guns n’ Roses may be just another 80’s hair band but they do put on a good show and I thoroughly enjoy both their music and their stage antics. The Use Your Illusion Tour DVDs are not a paragon of great video quality, and they’re only 4:3 aspect but on the LS-10i, the show looked pretty darn good. There are many fast pan shots where the camera follows Axl Rose running across the stage (he does this a lot!) and I never saw any hint of motion blur. This is one of the strengths of DLP displays thanks to their super-fast sampling rate. The Runco’s excellent video processing made the most of an otherwise average DVD transfer. Detail in the original material wasn’t stellar but thanks to this excellent projector, it looked great even on my 92-inch screen.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is not the very best Blu-ray transfer of the Star Trek movie set released last year. There is added edge enhancement in some scenes and overall detail is a bit short of the sharpest I’ve seen. One thing it does do well is present a natural color palette. This is where an accurate display like the LS-10i really shines. Flesh tones were especially nice showing just the right shades with neither too much nor too little red. Because of the bright picture, I was able to clearly see the heavy makeup worn by the actors. While this might be considered a negative by some, it shows just how unfailingly accurate the LS-10i is. With the high light output I expected space scenes to wash out but the quality of the blacks really impressed me. It wasn’t as black as my Anthem LTX-500 but that projector won’t put out anything close to 33 foot-Lamberts like the LS-10i.


On The Bench

Equipment used: EyeOne Pro spectrophotometer, CalMAN Professional 3.7 analysis software, Accupel HDG-3000 signal generator, Spears & Munsil Benchmark Blu-ray disc.

All measurements were taken off the screen (Carada Brilliant White, gain 1.4) from the seating position (10 feet back). Video processing tests were performed using an Oppo BDP-83 connected directly to the projector and set to Source Direct mode.

The lamp was set to Economy mode for all measurements. Before calibration this resulted in a peak white level of 49.5 foot-Lamberts. All dynamic picture controls were turned off and the color gamut was fixed to the Rec 709 preset. Out-of-the-box color is pretty close to perfect with the exception of magenta. Average Delta E was around 3, which is right at the threshold of visibility. Luminance is also nearly perfect which makes a greater difference in perceived color accuracy than the CIE values.

Pre-calibration grayscale and gamma are also quite good though not as good as Runco’s LS-5 which I reviewed last year. At the 6500K preset, white balance runs a little blue. Gamma is spot-on with an average value of 2.19. With an average error of 4.7 Delta E, the blue tint will be visible in whites from 50 percent on up.

The color management system did help somewhat though I couldn’t quite get it perfect. This is a nit-pick though; you can see the measurements are excellent. I was able to get all errors under 3 Delta E.

After some small adjustments, grayscale tracking was perfect from bottom to top. There are only presets for gamma but you can see from the chart that further tweaks are not needed. It doesn’t really get better than this.

After calibration the peak white measurement was 33.3 foot-Lamberts. This was the lowest number I could achieve. Since the LS-10i has no manual iris control, my only option was to lower the Contrast to 0. If I wanted to go further, I would have had to use neutral density filters. I do wish Runco would include a manual iris since this is an easy way to increase native contrast without the artifacts caused by an automatic iris. If you plan to use the Normal lamp mode, which increases output about 15 percent, you can rest assured it will not affect color, grayscale or gamma. With the Contrast at its default setting of 100 I measured over 56 foot-Lamberts – brighter than most televisions!

The only way to increase contrast further is to use the ConstantContrast feature which is either on or off. While the measured contrast is noticeably better, the effect on color and gamma is a problem for me. You can see from the below grayscale and gamma chart what happens.

Video processing was excellent as I’ve come to expect from all Runco projectors. As usual, I ran the tests by directly connecting an Oppo BDP-83 to the projector and setting it to Source Direct mode. All the important cadence tests passed with flying colors. Even the tough 2:2 test showed only the barest hint of moiré before locking on. Only the rarely-used cadences like 5:5 and 6:4 showed failure. Bad edits were handled without any artifacts whatsoever. Jaggies performance was quite good except for near-horizontal edges which showed a bit of line twitter. As you can see in the below table, the LS-10i earned a perfect 100 percent score on our standard battery of video processing tests.

Contrast performance exceeded my expectations for so bright a projector. With a calibrated output of 33.294 foot-Lamberts, you would think black levels would be mediocre at best but they were actually quite good. I measured a minimum level of .003 fL which means the calibrated contrast ratio was 11,098:1. This is amazing performance – nearly the best I’ve ever measured from a front-projector. With Constant Contrast turned on, the ratio is even higher but I found the color shift and crushed blacks to be a problem. There really is no need for any kind of dynamic light control on the LS-10i. With a gray screen, I suspect it would measure and look even better.


Conclusions

It’s pretty evident that I enjoyed my time with the Runco LS-10i. Its prodigious light output altered my perception of what a projected image could be. While the SMPTE standard of 12 fL looks great to me, 33 fL looked better! Even going back to my Anthem projector and bumping it up to around 18 fL was a significant improvement. Having this kind of brightness made image and color detail pop like I’ve never seen. I’ve always looked to get the most light possible from flat panel TVs; now I have the same goal with front projectors. Even in a totally darkened room, the extra punch is really enjoyable and completely non-fatiguing. I like to think it’s all about balance. If you have the proper levels, gamma, and color accuracy, you can turn up the light output higher than you might think.

Of course, a 3-chip DLP like the LS-10i is aimed at those with large theaters having multiple rows of seating and a big screen. With the flexibility of its many lens choices and easy integration into a constant-height anamorphic setup, you have a true Swiss Army knife of projectors. Throw in motorized lens controls, generous lens shift and a complete set of calibration and convenience options and I can’t imagine what feature has been left out. OK, there’s no 3D but the value of that has yet to be determined. With the LS-10i, Runco has produced another winner and receives my highest recommendation.