Samsung, with the help of video guru Joe Kane, again delivers outstanding performance in the high-end front projection DLP category with the flagship SP-A900B. This 1080p resolution, one-chip DLP projector sports the latest Dark Chip 4 chip from Texas Instruments, but otherwise appears virtually the same as the SP-A800B that I reviewed last year. The new chip results in superior black levels, which also increase the contrast ratio of the projector substantially. The 900B retains the same superb color found on its less expensive brother, along with its other stellar image quality characteristics, and as a bonus remains one of the most stylish and attractive designs in front projection. At $12,999 list, the Samsung SP-A900B is definitely on the pricey side for the one-chip DLP category, but as with so many things in life, you get what you pay for.
(Editors' note: Many of the Design and Features elements are identical between the Samsung SP-A900B and the SP-A800B we reviewed earlier, so readers of the earlier review may experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.)
Rounded lines with a lens centered on the chassis, along with a glossy-black finish, make the 900B one of the most elegant designs in front projection. It is not overly large, and at less than 22 pounds, it won't bring the rafters down in your basement. All in all, it should merit a relatively high WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor), as well as the approval of the interior decorator.
The remote control matches the look of the projector with smooth lines and a glossy-black finish. It fits comfortably in the hand thanks to the contoured shape, and is fully backlit at the touch of a button. I especially liked having direct access keys for the most important functions like input selection, aspect ratio and picture mode. The menu system is unchanged from the 800B, and remains intuitive and easy to use and navigate.
The SP-A900B includes nearly everything we expect in a high-end front projector, starting with scads of picture adjustments. A total of seven Picture Modes seems somewhat overkill in fact. They are Dynamic, Standard, Movie 1, Movie 2, and User 1, 2, and 3. Movie proved best for both out-of-the-box and post-calibrated use.
Some unusual adjustments are onboard. The Color Pattern feature, similar to the Blue Only modes on Samsung's TVs, allows you to isolate blue for setting color and tint properly. It also enables you to isolate red and green to confirm the excellent color decoding on the 900B. The overscan function can eliminate compression artifacts that appear as interference along the extreme edges of cable or satellite sources, but beware that it overscans at least 5 percent, which may cost you too much of the image in the process.
Perhaps one of the most beneficial features is the choice of color gamuts. You can choose between SMPTE C (for America), EBU (for Europe), and HD for standard Rec 709 material like Blu-ray Discs. Although calibration improves the color gamuts somewhat, they do measure extremely close to the Rec 709 specification right out of the box, which is something few projectors can boast.
An adjustable Iris is another really useful feature for achieving the best light output and black-level performance for your particular screen size and material. These settings differ slightly on the 900 from the 800, with the Manual setting being the best choice for most applications. In my theater, for example, with an 80-inch wide by 45-inch high Stewart Filmscreen Grayhawk RS screen, the manual setting at 50 in the middle of the range yielded 16.75 fTL of light output (12 fTLs is the standard for projected film in a movie theater), and still produced deep blacks. I ran the lamp in the Theater mode, which is the lower power of the two lamp modes.
There are three Gamma settings: Film (the best for home theater purposes), Video, and Graphic. In addition to the grayscale (RGB gain and bias) controls in the user menu for fine-tuning the grayscale, there are four color temperature presets: 5500K (for Black & White), 6500K (for Color), and 8000K and 9000K for bluer grayscales. The 6500K option is the setting you will want to utilize the most, but being able to select 5500K for an accurate grayscale when watching a black and white source is a rare feature that will be welcomed by die-hard movie fans. Such fans will also appreciate that the projector automatically locks onto a 24fps signal from Blu-ray and doubles it to 48fps, preserving the native frame rate of film.
The 900B does have vertical lens shift, but not horizontal, and adjustment is manual and not electronic. Zoom and focus are also both manual, which I found disappointing considering the unit's price. Electronic adjustments make setup of the projector much easier.