DreamVision Starlight 3 Three-Chip D-ILA Projector Reviewed

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DreamVision Starlight 3 Three-Chip D-ILA Projector Reviewed

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Even though the scene between our hero and his arch nemesis was largely a monochromatic affair, there were still punches of color, mainly in the actors' flesh tones and clothing that were rendered naturally (albeit a bit cross processed) and in stark contrast to their surroundings. Moving out of the shadows and into the light, the race sequence was a cornucopia of rich, vibrant colors that despite being a bit hyper real (per the director and colorist's intent) never felt unnatural given the film's overall color pallette. Reds and blues were especially captivating and possessed excellent composure and subtlety, especially in terms of texture and monochromatic color rendering, evident in Tony Stark's racing suit and portable Iron Man armor. Speaking of armor - the Starlight 3's rendering of reflections in the various metallic surfaces, especially those seen in the black sheet metal of Stark's Bentley and often blown out highlights of his suit, were testament to the Starlight 3's ability to resolve even the finest of details that are often glossed over by lesser projectors.

Motion across the board was smooth, natural and artifact-free with this reviewer seeing no need for 120Hz processing in order to achieve proper, natural looking motion, be it in camera or by the camera itself. Edge fidelity was also top-notch with no artificial sharpening present or needed in order to create a well-focused, appropriately deep three-dimensional image. Another nicety about the Starlight 3's natural, crisp focus was that it didn't betray many of the film's CG effects and/or compositing the way other HD projectors can and often do.

Switching gears, I cued up Knight and Day (20th Century Fox) starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz on Blu-ray. Knight and Day is a largely comedic action romp across the globe featuring beautiful locals, large explosions and wanton chase sequences. Knight and Day features a far more realistic color pallette over that of Iron Man 2, though the colors in Knight and Day have clearly been enhanced, especially when it comes to primary colors and their saturation points. That being said, the Starlight 3 showcased them all and kept them from impeding on one another without so much as hiccup. Skin tones, especially those of lead actress Cameron Diaz, were natural (well, as natural as you can expect in Hollywood) and smooth, yet didn't appear glassy or porcelain-like thanks to the Starlight 3's ability to resolve fine detail and texture while maintaining the film's natural grain structure.

The chase sequence through the streets of Spain at the end of the film was simply glorious and at times overwhelming for me. There is a sequence during the chase in which Cruise and Diaz, chased by baddies, race through the center of town littered with cafes, fountains and pedestrians. During these moments I was utterly amazed at just how much detail the Starlight 3 was able to capture as the action, camera and subsequently the viewer went racing through. Fine detail such as the texture of the handmade bricks, cobblestone streets and wrought iron window frames down to the lettering in the windows of the corner shops was present and rendered as cleanly as it would've been had the action and camera been still.

There is an effect in Knight and Day that the filmmakers use to visually illustrate when our heroes, mostly Cameron Diaz's character, are coming out of a drug induced sleep. During these sequences highlights are blown out, there is a steep contrast curve and colors, while not as detailed, appear punchier if not a little "streaky." The combined effect is one that is a touch warped around the character's edges that transitions into a Gaussian blur towards the edges of the frame itself. The reason I call attention to these shots is that despite the filmmaker's intent to blow out the highlights, the Starlight 3 didn't do so at the cost of the rest of the image, instead allowing the highlights to be brilliant without blooming. More impressive still was the fact that the Starlight 3 didn't show banding throughout the highlights as the detail towards the edges of the frame became less thanks to the filmmakers' introduced blur. As impressed as I was with the Starlight 3's ability to render everything from the darkest of shadows on to the most brilliant of colors, I think I was most impressed by its ability to retain its composure in the face of almost zero pixel information, such as ultra brilliant whites or bright, largely out of focus, highlights which have little to no information for the sensor to "hang on to."

I ended my evaluation with a film that needs no introduction, Warner Brothers' The Dark Knight (Warner Brothers) on Blu-ray. If there was ever a doubt as to the Starlight 3's ability to convey a true cinematic experience in the home this film erased it. I cue up The Dark Knight every time I get a new projector for review, if for no other reason than to see how one compares to the other. I won't wax poetic about contrast, sharpness, color fidelity etc, instead I will simply leave you with this: the Starlight 3 was able to reproduce the feeling I got whilst sitting in a IMAX theater watching The Dark Knight for the first time opening weekend. Obviously my screen wasn't as large but it took a film that I've seen more than a hundred times by now and made it feel special again. As an audience member that's why we go to movie theaters and as a home theater enthusiast that's what I want my projector to recreate: a test that the Starlight 3 passed with flying colors.

Comparisons and Competition
When you discount the added cost of the Starlight 2:35 Wide System kit and look solely at the Starlight 3's retail price and performance there are a number of projectors that come to mind that directly compete with it, the most obvious being the JVC RS35U, which the Starlight 3 is based upon. Retailing for $10,000 the RS35U is technically capable of the same image quality as the Starlight 3, though it lacks the designer industrial design and lower fan noise. Not to mention the in-house internal tweaks and dedicated, custom installer support which comes standard with all DreamVision products; whereas you can purchase JVC via the Internet. I'm not saying JVC is bad, I'm just stating that the $3,500 up charge you'll pay for the Starlight 3 isn't completely unwarranted given DreamVision's commitment to its customers and specialty dealers.

That being said, you can easily purchase less expensive D-ILA based front projectors. My personal reference, Anthem's LTX-500, is a JVC sourced D-ILA projector that retails for $7,499. While the LTX-500 is a fine projector at half the price of the Starlight 3, the two can't really be compared, for the Starlight 3 is in a whole other league in terms of image quality.

Of course there are fine DLP designs out there that rival the Starlight 3. Two examples that spring to mind are Digital Projection's M-Vision series of projectors and Marantz's VP-15S1. Both the M-Vision and VP-15S1 are DLP based designs, which yield a slightly different looking, though equally impressive image in their own right and cost roughly the same as the JVC RS25U and the Starlight 3.

For more information on front projectors or for help in deciding which front projector may be right for you please visit Home Theater Review's Front Video Projector Reviews and Information page.

The Downside
My first downside is going to sound utterly ridicules because it's a problem many projectors wish they had - the Starlight 3 is too quiet. Too quiet, how can that possibly be a downside? It's not a downside when the projector is in operation, however I cannot tell you how many times I've mistakenly turned the projector off, thinking I was turning it on for the first time, because the Starlight 3 makes virtually no noise. I kind of wish the folks at DreamVision would add some sort of startup "chime" or sound letting you know the Starlight 3 is, in fact, warming up and not ignoring its remote control.

Speaking of warm up, the Starlight 3's warm up procedure is very long and if you don't have the internal menu set to display a warm up image or color you will be sitting in the dark for a minute or so before enjoying the show.

Because of its custom designer chassis the Starlight 3's mounting points are the same as the JVCs; however they require a slightly longer screw to account for the added thickness of the case. It's an easy enough problem to fix (a quick trip to Lowes for me) however it's something to keep in mind if you're considering using a JVC-friendly universal mount. Obviously, your local DreamVision dealer will probably have to deal with this "problem" for you but it's worth pointing out.

I'm not a huge fan of the Starlight 3's side positioned inputs for the same reason I'm not a big fan of side mounted inputs on today's super thin HDTVs: cable routing is rather difficult for it's hard to hide wires and power cables that are jutting out from the side of a projector (or display) versus bundled in the back. DreamVision moved the Starlight 3's manual controls to the back of the projector (they used to reside on the top) so I have to think they can do the same with the inputs.

Lastly and with regards to DreamVision's Wide System kit, a little bit better instruction and/or markings are in order to ensure proper installation each and every time. The Schneider lens is a vertical compression lens however with it being round (like most all lenses) it's difficult to tell top from bottom, meaning you can accidentally install the anamorphic lens sideways causing for a wildly distorted image. You can hold the lens up to a light and deduce which way it should be mounted but if you go off of the printed text on the lens, or the mounting bracket itself you may be in for quite a shock...I was.

Let's be honest, $13,595 is a lot of money when it comes to today's crop of HD front projectors. It's a lot of money considering the very projector the Starlight 3 is based off of costs less. So how should the Starlight 3 be viewed then? In my opinion you should view the Starlight 3 against costlier rivals, for that is its competition. I feel the Starlight 3 is all the HD projector one will ever need.

Now, if you're looking to rock a screen in excess of say 150-inches (roughly 12 feet) diagonal in a non-light controlled room, then perhaps you should look elsewhere, but the vast majority of home theaters feature screens ranging in size from 92 to 120 inches, which is right in the Starlight 3's wheel house. Not to mention the typical theater that will play host to a Starlight 3 is one that has been purposely built and designed by a qualified custom installer, meaning the Starlight 3 is going to be put to use exactly how it was intended to be. Keeping those parameters in mind, I do not believe there is any reason to spend more than the Starlight 3's asking price, for I honestly don't believe it will yield more performance, at least when it comes to D-ILA based projectors.

Now, there are those who will gravitate towards DLP technology, which can be brighter, punchier and in some instances cheaper than D-ILA or the Starlight 3. One technology is not better than the other, they're simply different and present images differently as well. Which one you'll like is ultimately up to you. For me, D-ILA is the way to go and because of this I would recommend the Starlight 3 in a heartbeat, for it is one of the finest projectors I've ever seen.

The Starlight 3's outer beauty is surpassed only by its inner beauty and ability to reproduce accurate images complete with natural colors, detail and contrast that you're simply not going to find in less expensive D-ILA designs. More impressive still is the Starlight 3's black level detail, which is among the best period, regardless of make, model or price.

To say that I've enjoyed my time with the Starlight 3 is an understatement -it's far and away the best projector I've reviewed thus far and one I'm going to be sad to see go. This includes projectors from the likes of Runco and SIM2 for far more money. This projector rocks.

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HTR Product Rating for DreamVision Starlight 3 Three-Chip D-ILA Projector

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