Video Accessories Misc

Anamorphic Lenses and Projection Screens: Affordable?

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Conclusion about the Affordable Anamorphic System

With an anamorphic setup there are a few choices to make, and each has their own side effect. One might wonder why we would use an anamorphic lens over a projector with lens memory now. After all, lens memory comes built into many projectors, and can do many different positions including one for 70mm films and their 2.20:1 ratio. It also keeps you with perfect 1:1 pixel mapping and avoids the stretching and scaling that the lens requires.

Using lens memory has a few side effects as well. It can be slower and sometimes won't line up perfectly. It also has light spill-over on top and bottom of the screen so that you will see reflections above and below the screen. This isn't as bad with newer projectors and their lower black levels, but you can still see it. The largest side effect that I find is that zooming from 1.78:1 to 2.40:1 drops your light output by 30-40%. If you have your 1.78:1 image set to 16 fL, then your zoomed image will only be 10-12 fL at most. This means you either have to run the projector on high lamp mode and shorten its life, or continually adjust the iris as you watch different films.

One downside of the anamorphic lens, beyond the already discussed issues, is that it is designed for content to be either 1.85:1 or 2.40:1, but not ratios in-between. 70mm films are a 2.20 ratio, and when viewed using an anamorphic lens you lose a bit of the top and bottom of the film. This could be fixed using an external processor like a Lumagen Radiance, but then you need to scale the film in two directions to make it fit correctly, possibly leading to more image issues. With 70mm films and an anamorphic lens you lose around 7% of the vertical content due to the 1.33x expansion. For some this won't be acceptable, but if you only have a few 70mm films, or none, it may not be a factor at all.

The Black Diamond screen also has its trade-offs depending on your environment. Compared to the SolarHD 4K material, it has a hot spot that you might notice, and large patches of color can make sparkles from the high-gain material visible. As soon as you turn a light on these issues are forgotten, as the Black Diamond puts out a picture in a room with light that no one can touch. It is like having a giant LCD screen in my room; only I don't need to have a reinforced wall to support it. If you have a pitch-black room and never want to watch with the lights on, then the SolarHD is going to be your ideal choice, but the Black Diamond lets me do things with my theater I didn't think possible before.

Coming into this review, I was a bit indecisive about the anamorphic lens. I worried about the loss of resolution for 16:9 content, and about the lack of 1:1 pixel mapping. I thought the scaling might look bad, and that geometry issues would drive me away. Having had the lens around for a few weeks now, I want to keep it here for good. The cinemascope image is brighter, I don't notice any flaws unless I'm looking at a test pattern, and switching between 1.78 and 2.40 content takes only a couple button presses on the remote. All the things I worried about don't bother me a bit, and the obsessive purist in me goes away as soon as a movie begins to play.

For less than a lens cost just a few years ago, you can now put a full cinemascope experience into your house. Then you can sit back, throw on Star Wars, and relive it like it was the first time you saw it. Now you really do have the full movie theater experience at home, and at a price that wasn't possible before.