One of the best things about going to tradeshows is that there is always a chance you'll discover a manufacturer or product you wouldn't otherwise have noticed. At CEDIA 2010 I had such an encounter at the Audio Plus Services booth - with the front projection company DreamVision. Audio Plus Services is hardly an unknown distributor, representing lines such as Focal, Cambridge Audio and Pathos, but it was their intimate display for DreamVision that caught my eye. Tucked inside a small covered booth was the DreamVison Starlight 3 showing Iron Man on Blu-ray. The room itself wasn't crowded, there wasn't even a representative (when I stopped by) on hand to speak to, leaving the Starlight 3 to do all the talking.
And talk it did.
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The image quality was stunning, so good in fact that I immediately requested a review from Audio Plus Services' Peter Hoagland. A few weeks later the Starlight 3 arrived at my doorstep. My particular review sample was finished in DreamVision's own faux Carbon Fiber finish, which is crazy-sexy-cool if you're into the look, which I am. For those of you looking for something more subdued, DreamVision also offers the Starlight 3 in white, black and red, with custom colors available at an extra cost. Speaking of customization, it's a large part of what DreamVision is all about for everything about their product, distribution and support is geared towards giving the consumer a customized experience.
Start with the projector, which begins its life as an OEM JVC D-ILA (JVC's RS35U to be exact) that DreamVision then takes to their factory for a series of tweaks. Physically, the differences are immediately noticeable for the Starlight 3 looks nothing like a JVC projector other than its lens and input placement. The outer shell or shape of the Starlight 3 is the work of French designer Antoine Beon who has also done design work for Focal's Electra line of loudspeakers. The casework is more than just a simple facelift, helping to cut fan/machine noise considerably over the original JVC design, which I'll talk about later. In its new skin the Starlight 3 measures 15 inches wide by nearly 20 inches deep and eight inches high, which is large but not unruly as is the case with some other high-end, high style projectors I've seen. The Starlight 3 is a little on the heavier side tipping the scales at just under 30 pounds, which isn't too much of an issue when you consider the vast majority will be installed by a custom installer.
Beyond the cosmetic changes, DreamVision takes each Starlight 3 and hand calibrates it at the factory, maximizing the power supply and internal circuitry before specifically adjusting gamma, using its six axis color management system for each of the projector's colors as well as adjusting its hue, saturation and luminance settings.
From there the Starlight 3 is sold exclusively through a dedicated dealer network that can provide the increased level of service DreamVision demands in order to bring the consumer the best possible home theater experience. But what is the added cost for all this customization, hand calibration and specialty treatment? Try $13,595 retail, or $3,595 more than the original JVC projector the Starlight 3 is based on.
Beyond the upgrades the Starlight 3 is still, at its core, a three chip D-ILA projector with a native resolution of 1920 by 1080 into a 16:9 aspect ratio suitable for screen sizes ranging from 60-inches to 240-inches diagonal. It has a reported brightness of 900 ANSI Lumens, courtesy of its single 3,000-hour lamp, and an outrageous contrast ratio (claimed) of 70,000:1. The Starlight 3 features 120Hz motion processing, which JVC calls Clear Motion Drive, though DreamVision makes zero mention of it on their website, which made me happy, that was until I later discovered it in the Starlight 3's brochure. DreamVision calls their 120Hz processing Crystal Motion. I like to call it the "ruin Blu-ray feature." The DreamVision uses an internal HQV Reon-VX video processor and carries with it ISF and THX image certification. The Starlight 3 features a motorized lens with a 1.4-2.8:1 throw ratio, 16-step aperture and control for 2x zoom and 80-percent height and 34-percent lens shift. Speaking of lenses ,the Starlight 3 also has an anamorphic lens mode, which allows for the proper display of anamorphic or 2:35.1 content when used with an anamorphic lens attachment for which DreamVision offers several at an extra cost.
In terms of inputs the Starlight 3 offers two HDMI 1.3 inputs as well as a single composite, component, S-Video and analog PC input. There are also 12-volt triggers as well as a detachable power cord, all of which are located along the right side of the projector itself. The Starlight 3's manual controls are located on the back of the projector, but most users are going to stick to using the remote or better yet, a home automation system.
In terms of a remote, the Starlight 3's is nicely laid out, if not a little long, with full push-button backlighting and hard controls for all of the picture modes, picture controls, lens controls, aspect ratio selections and inputs. There is even a button marked "test," which you can press to cycle through the Starlight 3's numerous internal test patterns and calibration aides. While I wish it was a little more compact, the Starlight 3's remote is clearly and intelligently laid out and exceedingly simple to use.
Integrating the Starlight 3 into my reference system was a breeze since it would be replacing another OEM JVC projector, my reference Anthem LTX-500 D-ILA projector. Both the Starlight 3 and my Anthem have the same mounting points, which made mounting the Starlight to my ceiling a cinch, though I wouldn't recommend doing it alone due to the Starlight 3's size and weight. (The chances of you mounting a Starlight 3 on your own are practically zero for your local Starlight dealer will most assuredly do it for you.)
Once on my ceiling I affixed the Starlight 2:35:1 Wide System kit that DreamVision kindly sent along with the review unit. The Wide System kit consists of a Schneider sourced anamorphic or 2:35:1 lens and bracket system that connects to the Starlight 3 via a pair of mounting holes located along the front bottom edge of the projector. The Wide System kit is a $7,995 add-on, which allows for the Starlight 3 to display 2:35:1 native material without black bars top and bottom. It also brings the total price of the Starlight 3 to a bit over $21,000 retail should you require a constant height 2:35:1 / 16:9 solution.
Mounting the Wide System kit was a little trickier than my reference anamorphic lens kit from Panamorph, for it features a few tiny screws that are somewhat difficult to get your hands and tools around in order to secure the lens to its mounting bracket. Ultimately, I ended up taking the projector down off the ceiling to affix the lens before re-installing it on my ceiling to ensure a safe and secure fit.
A quick note on the Starlight 3's Wide System kit, and all anamorphic lens adaptors for that matter: they are not required to view 2:35:1 material on a 2:35:1 screen. You can simply zoom your projector out until the projected black bars top and bottom simply "fall off" the screen, i.e. onto the surrounding black frame. Obviously if you wish to view 16:9 content after adjusting for 2:35:1 content you'll have to re-adjust the image or zoom in so that that the image fits within a 16:9 frame. The reason anamorphic lens kits or adaptors are so popular is, one, a matter of convenience and two, they work with many high-end projectors' vertical stretch modes, meaning you're using all of the projector's sensor to display the image versus wasting it on projecting black bars top and bottom as is the case with 2:35:1 material not shown through an anamorphic lens. On the flip side, when using an anamorphic lens adaptor or lens, you're losing a bit of vertical resolution when viewing 16:9 content but it's not enough that you're ultimately going to notice.
With the Starlight 2:35 Wide System kit in place and the projector securely mounted to my ceiling, it came time to "dial" things in, which for me began with setting the distance, positioning and focus, of which all three are easily controlled via remote. I currently have three screens in my reference home theater; Elite Screens Osprey Dual Series Screen, which is a 2:35:1 / 16:9 unity gain, motorized drop down combination and a Screen Innovations (SI) Reference Motorized 16:9 Lunar HD screen. I went ahead and got the Starlight 3's image configured on the Osprey Screen's 2:35:1 screen first since going from 2:35:1 to 16:9 was simply going to require me to hit the "Aspect Ratio" button on the Starlight 3 remote control and taking the projector from its native 16:9 aspect ratio to an old-school 4:3 (the Wide System kit is a vertical compression lens).
With alignment and focus out of the way I began to calibrate the Starlight 3 using my trusty Digital Video Essentials disc on Blu-ray. I should point out that the Starlight 3, along with several higher-end JVC projectors, features a "THX-Pro" picture setting (selectable via remote or through the on-screen menu), which some would say means the projector is calibrated out of the box. Perhaps they are correct, however that setting and certification come from a "laboratory" where conditions are ideal, but not ultimately real-world. Is it a good place to start? Sure, though a lot of the image controls are disabled in THX-Pro mode, but it's not a bad way to check your work or compare results if you feel so inclined.
For me, I began by loading up the "standard" picture setting and modifying from there. In my real-world media room, THX-Pro is a bit subdued in terms of brightness, contrast and saturation. Then again I don't watch movies in a cave, complete with black carpet, walls and floors. With minor tweaking to the Starlight 3's "standard" picture setting I was able to achieve a more suitable image for my environment overall. I did end up using the THX-Pro's color temperature settings and curves, for I found them to be very accurate, adjusting only brightness, contrast and sharpness in order to create my own personal picture setting with the help of my Digital Video Essentials disc. I should point out that all of my adjustments to the Starlight 3's image were minor and the result of my wanting to get a more suitable image in my particular environment and not the result of poor image settings and/or out-of-the-box calibration from DreamVision's factory.
Calibrating the Starlight 3 was a breeze thanks to its very thoughtful and through onscreen menu, which I happened to know like the back of my hand since it was the same menu architecture as my Anthem LTX-500. The last menu option I had to "tune" before getting down to business was disabling the Starlight 3's 120Hz processing, which I personally cannot stand, though I understand it's a feature many consumers value and enjoy.
I began my evaluation of the Starlight 3 with Iron Man 2 (Paramount) on Blu-ray. Right off the bat what struck me was the Starlight 3's superb black level. Deep, rich blacks are the Achilles heel of any front projector, though you wouldn't know it from watching the jailhouse sequences in Iron Man 2 featuring Mickey Rourke and Robert Downey Jr. The Starlight 3's ability to resolve low light detail and transition from video black to the scene's lighter elements, mainly the areas directly surrounding the overhead lamps without banding was simply amazing. The texture the Starlight 3 was able to convey in the dark, damp quarters of the French holding cell was equally impressive.
Read more about the performance of the Starlight 3 on Page 2.