Well, as great as being a first adopter can be, sometimes being a holdout can pay dividends too, which brings me to Digital Projection's M-Vision Cine 230 DLP projector. Retailing for a far more manageable $6,995, the M-Vision Cine 230 is the same projector as the Cine LED, only without the LEDs. The Cine 230 features the same chassis and matte black/faux carbon fiber finish as the Cine LED; in fact, all M-Vision series projectors are built into the same housing, which measures in at a little over 16-inches long by nearly 18-inches wide and seven inches tall. The Cine 230 tips the scales at a hefty but not unmanageable 26 pounds.
Around back, the Cine 230 has two HDMI 1.3a inputs accompanied by VGA/analog RGB (15-pin female), component video, S-Video and composite video inputs. The Cine 230 has a female USB as well as an IR emitter output (3.5mm stereo jack) and RS-232 inputs to aide in communication and control, be it via a computer or home automation system.
The Cine 230 is a single chip 1920 x 1080 HD projector utilizing Texas Instruments' latest DarkChip technology. With a reported brightness of 1,000 ANSI Lumens via its single lamp, and a realistic 3,000:1 native contrast ratio, the Cine 230 is ideal for dedicated home theaters featuring screens 120-inches diagonal (10 feet) and smaller, or for media rooms with ambient light considerations. The Cine 230's 230-Watt lamp is rated for 2,000 hours in its "normal" mode, though its life span can be extended when placed in "economy" mode.
The Cine 230 can be ordered and fitted with a few different lenses: a 1.56-1.86 lens or the more common 1.85-2.40 lens, both of which are manually adjustable via Digital Projection's Allen wrench system located under a small trap door bearing the company's name and logo. Don't mistake the 1.85-2.40 lens for an anamorphic lens, for it is not. To watch native 2:35:1 or 2:40:1 source material you'll still need to use an anamorphic lens adaptor like Digital Projection's own TheaterScope system or one from a third party such as Panamorph. Digital Projection does offer several M-Vision projectors with what they call Conversion Lenses, .8:1 and 1.25:1 versions are available. The .8 converts the standard 1.56-1.86 lens to 1.25-1.48:1, while the 1.25 converts the 1.85-2.40 lens to 2.32-3.0:1. Basically, these lenses allow for native 2:35:1 viewing without the need for an anamorphic lens adaptor, though that technology isn't offered here with the Cine 230 - a cost saving measure no doubt.
Which brings me to the Cine 230's remote. The Cine 230's remote is small, in comparison to other high-end projector remotes, features full back lighting, and is straightforward as they come. The Cine 230's remote isn't sexy but it is supremely functional with only the necessary controls present to get the maximum performance from the Cine 230 without having to thumb through menu after menu. In terms of pure functionality and ease of use I believe Digital Projection has the best remote in the business. Not that you'll be using it much, for once you've setup a Digital Projection projector about the only thing you'll ever need the remote for is for powering on the projector and powering it off when you're done, which I'm confident many will use a universal remote or home automation system for.
The Cine 230 arrived amidst a video projector orgy at Casa de Robinson, which included a two JVC-sourced D-ILA projectors as well as my own reference Anthem LTX-500 D-ILA (also a JVC to start). With three projectors installed in my house I had to summon my inner MacGyver to accommodate the Cine 230.
I ended up using a five shelf, free-standing steel shelving unit from Lowes which allowed me the ability to connect each of the four projectors to my system by placing two projectors, side by side, on each of the top two shelves. Normally, I would've mounted each projector to my ceiling using my universal projector mount from Omni Mount; however this was a rare and somewhat unique circumstance so more drastic measures had to be taken. The rig was incredibly solid and worked beautifully, for I had to employ less lens shift than was customary in my system had I ceiling mounted the Cine 230.
Once placed and centered on the shelf, I dialed in the Cine 230's alignment using the included Allen wrench, which when placed in one of the Cine 230's two adjustment holes allows for manual movement of the lens left to right and up and down. Once I had the image centered on both my SI Lunar HD .85 Grey Reference screen and Elite Osprey screen, I reattached the small plastic piece that covers the Cine 230's manual adjustment controls, thus "locking" them in place.
From there it was time to calibrate the Cine 230, which proved to be exceedingly simple thanks to Digital Projection's stellar on-screen display(s) and lack of digital or optical trickery that other manufacturers find so compelling. Using my Digital Video Essentials disc on Blu-ray I was able to dial in the Cine 230's image, which didn't take much, for its out-of-the-box performance was damn close to calibrated, at least in my viewing environment.
In total - setting up, aligning and calibrating - the Cine 230 took approximately one hour, though I'm sure few Digital Projection customers would be completing this task on their own for it's a job that would most assuredly fall on the dealer or custom installer's shoulders.
With regards to associated equipment, I connected the Cine 230 to my Sony Blu-ray player via Transparent High Performance HDMI cable. I used two screens in my evaluation of the Cine 230's performance: my .85 Lunar HD Grey Reference screen from Screen Innovations (SI Screens) and the unity gain, 16:9 screen that is a part of the Osprey Dual Tension Series Screen from Elite Screens. Both screens were 80 inches diagonal with a 16:9 aspect ratio resting approximately 11 to 11 and a half feet from the Cine 230's lens.
I began my evaluation of the Cine 230 projector with the Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz action comedy Knight and Day (20th Century Fox) on Blu-ray. Knight and Day features a warm, vibrant color pallette throughout with somewhat blown out highlights and slightly crushed blacks, though the blacks lean warm too. The Cine 230 reproduced Knight and Day's hyper-real color pallette with ease without enhancing it beyond what the colorist and director intended. Colors were rich, well saturated and above all accurate to the artists' intent. Skin tones looked incredible possessing wonderful texture and contrast without any excess grain or noise. In fact, I'm confident Cameron Diaz has never looked better, high praise for the cinematographer as well as the Cine 230. There was a natural sharpness to the image that, coupled with the vibrant colors and rich panoramic shots throughout the film made the image appear more or less like it was being displayed via a direct view HDTV than a front projector - especially when viewed using a high contrast screen. The Cine 230's reported light output of 1,000 ANSI Lumens appeared to be accurate, for regardless of which screen material I used I was always greeted with a dynamic, uniformly lit visual presentation.
Speaking of screen material - I did find that the high contrast surface of my SI Reference Screen did cause the blacks to crush a bit more than I expected, which caused some of the more subtle transitions between light and dark to be less apparent, though the material did boost perceived contrast in the lighter regions of the image as well as give the color a slight kick in the pants. Edge fidelity, already one of the Cine 230's strong points, also seemed to firm up a notch or two when viewed on my SI Screen.
Motion was smooth and film-like throughout with no motion artifacts or compression anomalies present, including excess grain, though I did notice the occasional "rainbow" but only when I averted my eyes from the screen and returned them suddenly. Because all DLP-based projectors project light through a rapidly circulating color wheel (or two), there is the possibility one will see what is commonly referred to as the "rainbow effect," whereby the viewer sees brief flashes of a red, blue and green "tail" following close behind a moving object. The anomaly is most common in scenes featuring fast movement and/or light objects passing in front of darker objects, such as the credits at the end of a film. Some viewers can see this so-called "rainbow effect" consistently, whereas others cannot see it at all. In my tests I was only able to view this anomaly when I averted my eyes away from the screen and focused on something else before returning them back again. Even then the effect was subtle and lasted less than a split second. I will say this however, when projecting onto a high contrast screen versus one made from a unity gain material, the rainbow effect did seem to be easier to reproduce, thus making it a bit more visible, though neither surface produced the anomaly if I kept my focus fixed on the screen.
Overall, while I liked many aspects of the Cine 230's performance when used with a high contrast screen, I found its performance on a unity gain surface to be more natural and film-like, though on two occasions guests to my home commented that they preferred the high contrast or grey material over that of the unity gain.
Which got me thinking...
DLP versus D-ILA (and LCD)
Historically I've been a fan and proponent of D-ILA based projectors. It's not that I have anything against DLP or the Cine 230 reviewed here, it's just that I prefer how D-ILA recreates an image. I find D-ILA to be more subtle, textural and film-like, though it is still capable of recreating the often dynamic richness required for HD broadcasts. On the other hand, DLP - especially the Cine 230 - is far more exciting visually, possessing more punch that at first, second and even third glance is simply captivating. There's no denying the impact of DLP and when placed side by side with a D-ILA projector, the D-ILA almost seems drab in comparison. It's not that the DLP image is artificial or inaccurate, it's just different; all of the details, colors and textures are present, they're just presented differently. Think of it this way: D-ILA is to plasma TVs what DLP is to LED TVs. While all of this may seem like a strange tangent, it's the best analogy that I've come up with to describe the Cine 230's overall visual performance.
Performance Part II
I continued my evaluation with Transformers Revenge of the Fallen (Paramount) on Blu-ray. Transformers is far from a cinematic masterpiece, though as a video demo it's one of the best. The Cine 230's ability to resolve the various metallic textures, regardless of sheen or condition, was impressive, especially when it came to the rusted surface of the Devastator, which was so beautifully rendered and clearly defined that I felt as if it would have a tactile quality if I were to reach out and touch the screen. Again, the colors both in their rendering and saturation were gorgeous. Black levels were deep and well defined with stunningly good resolution throughout allowing for even the minutest of detail in the some of the Transformers' various mechanical parts to be seen.
In the forest battle between Optimus Prime and Megatron, the depth present in the image was stunning. In fact, it was at this time that I jotted down the words "3D can suck it" in my notebook for I was getting all the dimension, impact and immersion I could handle and didn't have to wear stupid glasses to do it, an effect I was able to replicate when watching The Dark Knight (Warner Brothers) on Blu-ray.
Speaking of The Dark Knight - the IMAX sequences were just breathtaking, especially the aerial shots of Hong Kong, both in the day and at night. The Cine 230's clarity, resolution and macro detail breathed life into the image, giving it a you are there type of presence. Projecting onto a unity gain surface, the Cine 230's ability to resolve fine details in largely monochromatic tones such as the carbon fiber weave of Batman's suit or the imperfection of the threads and differences in tone in the pin striping of Bruce Wayne's suits was amazing.
Overall I found the Cine 230 to be a remarkable performer, possessing performance that you'd expect to see in a costlier projector, not one well below ten grand. The Cine 230's performance was consistent across the board, by which I mean always enjoyable regardless of the source material, be it Blu-ray, HD or even SD. I even watched an iTunes downloaded movie by way of The Next Karate Kid (Columbia Pictures) and found the Cine 230 to be quite complimentary to the highly compressed file, showcasing the film's beautiful visuals while downplaying a lot of the compression artifacts - though in a few of the night and dimly lit scenes they were unavoidable.
Competition and Comparisons
The Cine 230 is a remarkable projector though Digital Projection has now waded into the waters of affordability, for which there is a great deal of competition, especially when it comes to DLP-based projectors. Optoma's new HD8600 DLP is a fine projector boasting specs similar to the Cine 230's and costs roughly the same at $7,499 retail.
If light output is what you crave then there are several offerings, albeit LCD-based, from Sanyo that put out DLP-like numbers. Take for instance the Sanyo PLV-Z4000 LCD Projector which costs $2,495 retail and has a reported ANSI lumen rating of 1,200 and is capable of producing a surprisingly good image, with bright, punchy, colors that are very DLP-like, though not quite as refined as the Cine 230.
Then there is D-ILA, which doesn't quite pack the same light output as a lot of DLP based designs, including the Cine 230, but does possess the same level of refinement. There are several JVC D-ILA designs at or below the Cine 230's asking price that I would consider to be contenders, specifically JVC's new $3,000 offering the DLA-HD250Pro.
While all of the above-mentioned projectors may be similar on paper, you couldn't ask for a more varied approach to image reproduction, which is why your eyes, tastes and budget will be the deciding factors in choosing which projector is ultimately right for you. For more on front projectors or for help in deciding which technology may be right for you please check out Home Theater Review's Video Projector Page.
While I believe the Cine 230 to be a rather special projector, there are a few aspects of its performance that one has to be aware of. For starters the Cine 230 is largely a manual affair, and by largely I mean completely, in that you have to manually adjust lens shift as well as zoom and focus. This is not a huge deal to me; in fact I prefer it. However for many, including installers, it's a bit cumbersome given that so many projectors allow you to make adjustments via remote.
The Cine 230's fan is noticeably louder than most projectors, at least it was louder than all the other projectors I had on hand. It wasn't annoyingly loud but during quiet scenes in some of the films I watched it was noticeable. Along with the fan noise, the Cine 230 churns out a considerable amount of heat from its rear mounted vents, again not a huge issue for those mounting their Cine 230 on a ceiling or in a properly ventilated cabinet but it is something to be aware of.
Lastly, the Cine 230 did showcase a bit of the dreaded "rainbow effect" during my viewing tests. With your eyes fixed on the screen no rainbow effect is present, however avert your eyes for a moment and then return them to the action and you'll be seeing rainbows - but only momentarily. This is not a fault exclusive to the Cine 230; in fact single chip DLP projectors can and often do suffer from this anomaly. It's not a defect, just a quirk one must be aware of. In my tests I found that the rainbow effect was more readily seen and easily reproduced when using a high contrast screen versus one featuring a unity gain material, something to keep in mind should you purchase the Cine 230 or any DLP based projector for that matter.
The amount of performance Digital Projection has managed to pack into their new M-Vision Cine 230 DLP projector is staggering. What is more amazing is how affordable the Cine 230 is. Retailing for $6,995 the Cine 230 is Digital Projection's entry-level projector, though I'd hardly classify it as a budget performer. For roughly seven grand the Cine 230 represents a phenomenal value and a first for Digital Projection, who historically has offered products well above the $10,000 mark. The Cine 230 manages to pack all of the performance one would expect from a costlier Digital Projection projector but at a price many enthusiasts can now afford.
While the Cine 230 isn't without its faults - it does have a slightly noisy fan, expels a lot of heat, offers only manual control and flashes the occasional rainbow - its issues aren't exclusive; instead they're shared by many of its DLP based brethren. Shortcomings aside, what the Cine 230 excels at is providing the viewer with a bright, well saturated, colorful image with smooth, rich blacks and brilliant highlights that together recreate a visual experience that is always clearly defined and involving, whether you're watching HD or SD source material.
While there is definitely a "DLP look," I have a feeling many of today's modern home theater enthusiasts, who are used to seeing large LED TVs in their local big box retailers, are going like the Cine 230's image, for it really is the front projection equivalent of a LED TV. More compelling is the fact that there are currently LED TVs selling between four and six thousand dollars, none of which boast screen sizes larger than 65-inches, so for a nominal increase in price you could feasibly welcome a projector, like the Cine 230, into your home and not only double your screen size but also possibly your enjoyment. Granted the Cine 230 doesn't feature 3D or Internet Apps but where it counts - recreating the cinematic experience at home - the Cine 230 will mop the floor with any big screen HDTV.
So, if you're in the market for an affordable, well rounded, front projector that is as comfortable in a dedicated theater as it is a living room, then look no further than the M-Vision Cine 230 from Digital Projection - it's likely all the projector you're ever going to need and then some.