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What’s more, the extra contrast potentially speaks volumes about other picture aspects, too. For the reason for the extra contrast is simply that the Optical Wire Grid D-ILA chipsets inside the HD990 are the absolute cream of the crop, hand-picked for their perfection from the same product line that produces the chipsets going into the HD950. This is significant because as well as delivering superior light control and efficiency (responsible for the superior contrast figures), the improved optical systems could potentially improve other less easily quantifiable picture elements too, such as colour and sharpness.
Setting the HD990 up is a job that will most likely be taken on by a professional installer. But if you do get hold of an HD990 without going through a custom installer, you will doubtless really appreciate the projector’s x2 optical zoom, which makes it unusually easy to adapt to different room sizes/positions.
The projector also inevitably carries vertical and horizontal optical image shifting, accessed - like the projector’s zoom and focus tools - from the comfort of your armchair via the projector’s backlit remote control.
While we believe there’s still room for improvement when it comes to providing picture fine-tuning features, the HD990 just about covers the calibration bases we need an £8k projector to. The single most important tool is a colour management system, with the provision to tweak the brightness, saturation and hue of the red, green, blue, cyan, magenta and yellow colour elements.
You’re given three memory slots for storing different colour settings (for different source types or inputs), and a pure patch of each colour you want to adjust is presented on screen while you make your tweaks.
There’s still more that could be done where colour calibration is concerned; indeed, arguably Panasonic’s PT-AE4000 offers more flexibility and calibration aids, and that costs just £2k. But the important thing is that the HD990’s system is at least flexible enough to give you genuinely worthwhile results. It would just be nice if it were a bit easier to get there.
Other picture tweaks of note include block and mosquito noise reduction, multiple Kelvin-based colour temperature settings, colour transient improvement circuitry, and some very helpful gamma adjustments, including various presets and the facility to adjust the white, red, green and blue image elements using a 12-point gamma curve.
With all these tweaks on board, it’s not surprising to find the HD990 joining the HD950 in being backed by both the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) calibration experts and the THX quality assurance organisation.
So can merely refined optics really deliver with the HD990 more than £2k’s worth of picture quality improvement over the HD950? Well, it depends on your perspective - or rather, how much money you’ve got!
The most obvious area where the HD990 betters the HD950 is, predictably enough, its black level. For somehow it manages to get even deeper with its black colours than the already outstanding HD950. This is easily the most convincing black colour we’ve ever seen on a projector costing less than five figures.