Runco QuantumColor Q-750i LED Projector Reviewed

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Runco-QuantumColor-Q-750i-projector-review.gifWhile 3D may be dominating nearly all of the HDTV talk these days, the hot technology among front projection aficionados is LED projectors. The Runco Q-750i is such a projector, employing Runco's own InfiniLight LED illumination technology. The Q-750i retails for $14,995 and is 100 percent Runco, clad in trademark black and off-white/silver duds. There are two LED projectors in the QuantumColor lineup, the Q-750i and Q-750d. The more expensive Q-750d ($17,995) features an outboard video processor and HDMI switcher, whereas the more affordable Q-750i has both its video processing and inputs housed internally.

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The Q-750i is a large projector by today's standards measuring in at approximately 22 inches deep by 10 inches tall and weighing a hefty 49 pounds. Among its LED projection peers. the Runco Q-750i sits somewhere in the middle in terms of size and weight, not quite as compact as Digital Projection's LED offering but not as large as the SIM2 Mico50. The Q-750i has all of the modern connection options one could ask for or need, including two HDMI 1.3a inputs, two component inputs (one RCA the other BNC), a single RGB monitor input, an S-video input and one composite video input. The Q-750i has the ability to be controlled via RS-232 and also features an IR repeater as well as a few 12-Volt triggers.

As I stated earlier, the Q-750i utilizes Runco's own InfiniLight LED illumination system, featuring three high-output LEDs: one for red, green and blue. The Q-750i also features Runco's Smart Color and Color Equalizer systems, which I'll dive into in a moment. The Q-750i's LED light, like all LED-based projectors currently available, is funneled through a single 16:9 DLP chip courtesy of Texas Instruments. The Q-750i's use of LED negates a need for a color wheel, a DLP staple (that is, until LED hit the scene). The Q-750i has a native resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels and is compatible with every video format from 480i to 1080p 24/50/60. The Q-750i has a reported contrast ratio of Infinity, 20,000:1 and 10:000:1 depending on how you have the contrast ratio settings configured, but according to the Cinema Standards Measurement System (CSMS) the Q-750i has a contrast ratio of 330:1. In terms of brightness the Q-750i claims 700 ANSI Lumens; however after performing CSMS calibration, the actual light output of the Q-750i is rated at 450 ANSI Lumens, according to Runco. Runco even goes a step further than the competition and states the Q-750i's brightness in foot-Lamberts (fL) to be 29, which according to the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) is more than double (12 fL) SMPTE's target brightness for digital projectors. Of course all of these measurements were achieved in a darkened and controlled environment on a 72-inch, 1.3 gain screen at Runco's own test facility, so actual results may vary. I have to say I applaud Runco for not trumping up their specs and for giving them to consumers straight, complete with explanations and associated equipment used to arrive at their final performance figures. Because of their findings as to the Q-750i's true performance, Runco doesn't recommend using the Q-750i with a screen larger than 108 inches diagonal, though I've seen reports of the Q-750i being used with screens up to 120 inches.

There are three key features that set the Q-750i apart from the competition, first being its use of automatic self-calibration: upon startup the Q-750i uses a sensor that checks the projector's current white balance against its internally programmed reference and adjust accordingly. The process is completely "invisible" and occurs without the viewer's knowledge, for once the projector begins to emit light from its lens, the process has been completed. While I'm not sure if I'd go so far as to call the feature "self-calibration," for there is a lot more to calibration than just setting your white balance, it's a neat feature nonetheless. The next notable feature is the Q-750i's use of Runco's SmartColor system, which essentially enhances the projector's color output through saturation manipulation. With SmartColor, engaged highly saturated colors, like primary colors, get an extra "kick" whereas less saturated colors, those more associated with skin tones and/or low light scenes remain unmolested. The other neat feature is Runco's Color Equalizer, which allows for the user to customize the projector's color palettes depending on their application. While home theater and videophiles will most likely skip this feature, those shopping for a projector with commercial applications will no doubt go nuts for this, as it allows the Q-750i to display Adobe's RGB and digital cinema's DCI color space properly.

The Hookup
I was able to secure some face time with the Q-750i on two different screens, a 100-inch diagonal Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 130 and a Stewart Filmscreen Firehawk G3. The Q-750i was setup on a commercial projector stand and was placed dead center of the narrow room approximately 13 feet from the center of the screen. The Stewart StudioTek 130 material has a gain of 1.3 and is both THX and ISF certified. The Stewart Firehawk G3 material has a gain of 1.25 and is designed for use in non-light controlled environments and is also THX and ISF certified. Both screen materials were displayed in Stewart Luxus Delux Frames, which feature three and a quarter inch aluminum frames clad in VeLux finish.

The Q-750i was connected to a Sony Blu-ray player and had been professionally calibrated before I laid my hands on the unit, but thankfully I was left alone to my own devices to tweak the setup and calibration as I wanted for my extended time with this projector. I promptly reset the projector to its factory settings so that I could calibrate the Q-750i myself and get to know its control and menu options. Adjusting the Q-750i's zoom, focus and lens shift is an entirely manual affair, using either a steady hand or the included Allen wrench. I know many of today's modern projectors allow you to set things like focus, zoom and lens shift via remote, but I have to say I like when those adjustments are done manually, for it ensures that they're not going to be accidentally altered courtesy of an unlucky button push. In terms of the Q-750i's menu, I found it to be intelligently laid out, rendered beautifully and minus a slight delay with some video processing settings, mainly color gamut, among the best I've seen, if not the best among other LED projectors.

Surprisingly, out of the box the Q-750i is dangerously close to being calibrated, requiring only minor adjustments on my part before the image was reigned in to my liking. I did all of my calibration using my trusty Digital Video Essentials disc on Blu-ray. I went ahead and ran the Q-750i (really its internal video processor) through all of the Digital Video Essentials' video tests and found that it passed each and every one with flying colors. This is a first for in that most projectors and nearly all flat HDTVs need significant calibration changes to meet SMPTE and other broadcast standards. Its not rocket science to get there but few, if any, video products before the Runco have been able to auto-calibrate this well.

About the only gripe I had with the whole setup and calibration process came by way of the Q-750i's remote, which features some of the smallest buttons I've ever seen that, despite its push button backlighting system, required surgeon-like precision when executing simple commands.

I began my evaluation of the Q-750i with Disney/Pixar's Cars on Blu-ray (Disney). If one ever wanted to make a case for Runco's SmartColor technology, Cars would be the disc you'd use. For image, this movie on Blu-ray nails color uniformity, saturation and brightness. The red, green and blue hues of many of the lead characters' sheet metal was so brilliant in its rendering that the image itself appeared less like a projected image and more like what you'd expect from a high-end calibrated LED or plasma-based HDTV. Black levels were very good, better than some other LED-based projectors I've seen, though they never plunged into true black, evident by the visual 2:35 aspect ratio bars top and bottom. However, when I switched screens from the Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 130 to the Stewart Filmscreen Firehawk G3, the black level did manage to dig a bit deeper, allowing the bars to blend seamlessly together with the screen's black velvet bezel. While the depth of the black seemed to rely a bit on what surface it was being projected upon, the detail held within it did not. The level of texture and detail residing in even the darkest regions of the image was incredible, especially in Lightening McQueen's undercarriage when he took to the sky to overtake one of his rivals, for every strut, hose bolt and rivet was visible from my viewing position regardless of which screen I was using. Edge fidelity was top notch, something I've come to notice in many LED-based designs, giving the image a tremendous sense of depth and dimension.

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