We’re not sure if it’s just our age, but for some reason whenever we hear the word ‘laser’ we feel a rush of childish excitement. Maybe it’s those games of LaserQuest with our school mates, or maybe it’s the those amazing laser effects at the posh fireworks shows we used to go to at Alton Towers. Whatever the reason for our curious laser obsession, it apparently still holds good today as we take receipt of the new ViewSonic Pro9000: the first specialist home theatre projector we’ve tested that uses Laser Hybrid LED technology.
The advantages of using a laser to illuminate the pictures of the £1,600 ViewSonic Pro9000 rather than a traditional lamp are five-fold, so far as we can tell. From a picture quality point of view, probably the chief advantage is that there’s no need to use a colour wheel - a fact which should result in the end of single-chip DLP’s rainbow noise and motion fizzing problems.
Also, ViewSonic maintains that laser hybrid LED projectors deliver a 50 per cent wider colour gamut than standard UHP lamp projectors, and benefit contrast too, with the ViewSonic Pro9000 claiming an eye-catchingly high 100,000:1 contrast ratio.
On top of this there are the practical benefits of laser lighting. For instance, ViewSonic claims a 20,000-hour lifetime for its solid-state lasers - between five and 10 times as long as you’ll get from a typical projection lamp. With replacement lamps for normal projectors costing £150 and beyond, the ViewSonic Pro9000 could thus present heavy users with a considerable long-term saving - a fact which makes the £1,600 price look a little more potentially reasonable than it was already for a projector using ground-breaking tech.
ViewSonic also contends that the Pro9000 doesn’t need to use fans to keep the lighting system cool. You can thus unplug the projector as soon as you’ve switched it off rather than having to wait for the lamp to cool down. Plus, of course, no fans means no fan noise. Or it would do if the ViewSonic Pro9000 sadly didn’t require a (thankfully not too noisy) fan to prevent other parts of the projector’s innards from overheating.
At this point we should quickly explain how laser LED technology - used in conjunction with a DLP optical system - actually works. It essentially employs a combination of blue and red LEDs, blue lasers and green phosphors, with the blue laser passing through a clear segment to excite green phosphors on the other side. The primary light colours are then consolidated, before being reflected from a typical DLP’s digital mirror device (DMD) into the lens.
If you’re wondering why this approach can deliver an enhanced colour gamut, the main reason is the way it allows for an enriched delivery of the green primary colour. Green is responsible for around 60 per cent of colour composition, yet conventional lamp technologies struggle to recreate this green dominance effectively, leading to pictures that can look either too red/warm or too blue/cool. Especially at the relatively cheap end of the projection market.
Moving away from the laser system in search of other key features, the ViewSonic Pro9000 is a full HD model that accompanies its 100,000:1 contrast ratio claim with a surprisingly high 1,600 Lumens of claimed peak brightness. This is exciting because the only other laser-based projector we’ve ever seen, the Microvision ShowWX ‘Pico’ model, was let down by a pretty fundamental lack of brightness. Hopefully the ViewSonic Pro9000 will also prove immune to the aggravating speckling problem exhibited by the Microvision effort.
Before we get too excited by the ViewSonic Pro9000’s apparent brightness, though, the spec sheet also only recommends a maximum image size of 150-inches diagonal, while truly bright projectors tend to work comfortably at 200-inches and beyond.