Runco QuantumColor Q-750i LED Projector Reviewed

Runco QuantumColor Q-750i LED Projector Reviewed

LED lighting may have a strangle hold on today's HDTV market but it's only just debuting among front projectors. Runco, a leader in the front projection marketplace, was one of the first to unveil an LED powered DLP projector and reviewer Andrew Robinson weighs in on if they were successful.

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 HomeTheaterReview.com 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.

Performance
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.

Runco-QuantumColor-Q-750i-projector-review.gif

Next I cued up the Tony Scott remake of The Taking of Pelham 123
on Blu-ray (Sony Pictures). The first thing that struck me about Pelham
123 through the Q-750i was its uncanny ability to render textures.
While Pelham 123 is an uber-vibrant, almost hyper-real film, in its use
of color and camera wizardry there is an awful lot of “natural” New
York grit present in the many subway tunnel scenes, all of which the
Q-750i skillfully brought to light and life in a way few projectors
can, regardless of make. On the GrayHawk 3G the black levels were,
again, excellent. The sheer level of detail present through the Q-750i
was amazing, showcasing the good and bad aspects of the film’s
production. I say bad because in certain scenes the razor burn on
Travolta’s neck from his poorly constructed Village People goatee was
distractingly evident, something I hadn’t really noticed through lesser
projectors. In terms of motion the Q-750i was smooth as silk, adding
zero artifacts or anomalies to the image during rapid camera pans or
character action. As with Cars, the sheer depth the image seemed to
possess was just amazing, especially in the scenes featuring the glass
clad subway control center.

To test the Q-750i’s true contrast and grey scale tracking I cued up
Darren Aronofsky’s breakout film, Pi, on DVD (Artisan). Pi is an
entirely black and white film shot on a Bolex H16 super 16mm camera,
which gives it a great deal of stark contrast complete with a heavy,
almost chunky grain. Projected onto the GrayHawk 3G screen, the
Q-750i’s presentation of Pi was the best I’d ever seen, better than the
theatrical release I recalled viewing some years ago at a film
festival. When called for, the smooth transition from black to white
was virtually seamless with little to no banding present, which is
rather impressive considering I was watching a standard definition DVD
and not a 1080p Blu-ray disc, a testament to the Q-750i’s internal
video processor. There are moments in the film where the whites can and
do bloom quite a bit, creating a halo around the film’s characters
and/or set pieces. Through other projectors I’ve seen this visual get a
bit out of hand and bleed into surrounding spaces where it should not;
this was not the case with the Q-750i, which held the film’s “spikier”
moments in check. In terms of grain, the Q-750i presented the film in
all of its 16mm glory, adding nothing nor removing any of the
imperfections from the film. I sometimes find that when viewing filmed
material through a digital projector, the projector imparts a sense of
“digitalness” to the image that you don’t get when pushing light
through a frame of celluloid. With older films this is bothersome to
me, for there’s something refreshing about the rawness and imperfect
look of film from time to time. The Q-750i faithfully reproduces the
feeling of watching good old celluloid when necessary, which is a good
thing and evident in my screening of Pi. Lastly, I was pleased to
discover that while the Q-750i may be revealing and prefer HD content,
it’s not a bad projector for, nor is it overly critical of, SD
material.

I ended my evaluation of the Q-750i with James Cameron’s Avatar
(20th Century Fox) on Blu-ray. While I don’t like that the current
Blu-ray transfer does not retain the film’s proper aspect ratio of
2:35, it’s still a good demo and a nice transfer to Blu-ray. The
biggest thing I noticed about Avatar through the Q-750i, besides the
obvious, was how it rendered the CG elements more lifelike than any
other projector I’ve seen to date. What I mean by that is for me, there
has been a slight disconnect between the film’s live action elements
and the CG world of Pandora, where the two are clearly different yet
never fully mesh or integrate visually. Either the live action
sequences feel a touch flat (despite all the CG and 3D elements) or the
world of Pandora is rendered too cartoonish to feel like they can
co-exist with the human elements. I didn’t feel or see this when
viewing the film in theaters, but it’s been bugging me since the film’s
release on Blu-ray. It’s a nit-picky thing, and perhaps I’m the only
one who notices; suffice to say I didn’t experience that same
disconnect when watching Avatar on the Q-750i. I’m not sure if an
audiophile reference is appropriate when describing video but there was
a definite “analog-like” quality to the Q-750i presentation of Avatar
that I wasn’t expecting but which was an absolute pleasure to take in.

Overall, I found the Q-750i to be a more than capable performer,
definitely a leader in its class. More surprising was the fact that I
felt that the Q-750i competed favorably and in some cases bested its
own, costlier Runco brethren. In terms of color accuracy and saturation
I’m not sure it gets better than what I saw projected via the Q-750i.
While LED-based projectors take their fair share of knocks for their
less-than-perfect black levels compared to traditional LCD or D-ILA
projectors, the Q-750i with the right screen proved to be as good and
in some cases is actually better than its rivals. The Q-750i’s internal
video processor worked wonders with SD material, making it one of the
more legacy-friendly HD projector’s I’ve seen in a long while. In all
honesty, given my last experience with a Runco product and the
tumultuous time the brand has had over the last couple of years, I was
not expecting to be as impressed as I was.

The Downside
A few things I took notice of in terms of the Q-750i’s performance had
more to do with the Q-750i itself then the image it was capable of
reproducing. The included remote is just terrible. The buttons are too
small and are laid out in such a way that logic didn’t seem to enter
into the equation. Furthermore the push button backlighting, while
helpful to a point, does emit a weird buzzing sound that is very much
audible even at a distance. I would hardly classify the Q-750i’s
awkward remote as a deal breaker considering most Runco clients are
bound to have some sort of control system from the likes of Crestron or
AMX. Still, a product this good should come with a craptastic remote.

Next, I found the Q-750i’s fan to be quite noisy, especially
considering its LED design. As far as LED-based projectors go, the
Q-750i is one of the noisier designs I’ve demoed, including products
from Digital Projections and SIM2.

The fact that the Q-750i’s lens controls are manual is bound to
cause headaches for some consumers and installers. While I prefer to
make manual adjustments, it doesn’t make tweaks on the fly very
convenient, especially if the projector is ceiling mounted.

Because LED-based projectors are still in their infancy,
manufacturers still haven’t cracked how to harness 100-percent of the
LED’s light output, meaning if you’re wanting to rock a screen in
excess of 120-inches diagonal you’re probably going to want to stick
with a traditional lamp-based projector for which Runco makes quite a
few sweet products. However, if you mate the Q-750i to a high contrast
screen like a Stewart Firehawk 3G and keep the diagonal size to
100-inches or so, the Q-750i is one hell of a projector to put on your
shopping list.

Conclusion
I recently reviewed a new Krell power amplifier that retailed for
$18,000 and labeled it a bargain to the chagrin of many of our readers,
for how can anything costing more than $500 be considered a bargain?
Well, I’m about to do it again, for I consider many of the current crop
of LED projectors to be exactly that – bargains. Among the
cost-no-object crowd, a $15,000 projector is a bargain. However, I have
to say the Runco Q-750i at $14,995 may just lead the pack, for its
performance is on par and in some cases better than projectors
retailing for upwards of $50,000 or more, and this includes some of
Runco’s own models.

If you don’t need an outrageously large screen (keep it below
120-inches and you are golden), and can control the light in your room,
then I argue that the Q-750i is all the projector any hardcore
videophile or home theater enthusiasts needs. While I’m sure this
conclusion will be met with some criticism from readers, keep in mind
that the typical Runco customer isn’t a DIY’er but instead one who is
bound to rely on a custom installer, and a custom installer simply
isn’t going to design a home theater around a sub-$1,000 DLP projector.
It’s not that there is anything wrong with budget projectors – it’s
just not a fair comparison. For the consumer or custom installer
considering brands like Christie, BARCO, Sony CineAlta and beyond for
your projection needs, I suggest you take a good hard look at the
Q-750i from Runco. You’ll be glad you did because this projector has
the power to rock others costing many times the price.

Additional Resources
• Read more projector reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com’s staff.
• Find the right projector screen for your theater.

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