Setting the SP8600 up uncovers arguably the projector’s most aggravating – though entirely predictable for its money – compromise. For there’s no manual vertical or horizontal image shift for the lens, meaning getting the image in the right place on the screen will potentially be quite fiddly for you, and will likely involve the use of keystone correction.
We usually try to avoid using keystone systems, as essentially they digitally adjust – or maybe distort would be a more appropriate word – the picture to give it a properly rectangular shape. And if there’s one thing AV enthusiasts hate, it’s anything which digitally processes their lovely pictures.
Before anyone gets too despondent about this, though, the simple fact is that no other projector at anything like the SP8600’s price point offers vertical image shifting either. And actually, as digital keystone adjustments go, the one on the SP8600 seems pretty solid. Another slightly disappointing thing about the SP8600 that materialises during set up is its fairly measly 1.2x level of optical zoom. But again, this is entirely par for the budget projector course.
Features within the SP8600’s tidy onscreen menus are remarkably numerous for such an affordable projector. For a start, you can store three different ‘user’ picture setting profiles beyond the ‘bright’, ‘normal’ and ‘movie’ presets the projector ships with. And when it comes to fine tuning, as well as a flesh tone adjustment you can adjust the colour temperature and gamma settings, and even tweak the hue, saturation and gain values for not only the red, green and blue primary colours but also the cyan, magenta and yellow secondary colours!
The SP8600’s specifications and features have mostly considerably exceeded expectations based on its price. And happily the same deal applies with its picture performance.
Two things immediately put the SP8600 in a whole different performance world to pretty much anything else we’ve seen for similar money: it’s black level response, and its colour resolution.
In terms of black level, there’s much less of the obvious greying misting over dark areas than you usually get with super-budget projectors – especially ones that use LCD technology rather than the DLP system in the SP8600. Delivering a believable black level response is fundamental to producing a truly cinematic picture, yet it’s also the area where most budget projectors fail the most. So for the SP8600 to perform so strongly in this crucial area is a massive boon.
As for colours, they impress on two levels. First, they’re strikingly punchy and dynamic, emerging from our screen with a degree of vitality and verve that we don’t recall seeing before on such a cheap machine. To be more specific, while we’ve seen ultra-cheap LCD models that can deliver even more brightness than the SP8600, this brightness has never been joined at the SP8600’s price by anything resembling a decent contrast range. And it’s the combination of high brightness with a healthy black level response that sets the SP8600 apart and makes it a true movie machine rather than just a cheap general-purpose, multimedia-friendly machine.
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It’s in this startling dynamism of the image, we suspect, that you can most see the benefit of using a DC3 chipset. Especially as the picture’s ‘pop’ is delivered while retaining much more natural colour tones than you usually get with budget projectors, which are often calibrated as much with multimedia/PC use in mind as video.