For true home cinema fans, the arrival of 3-chip DLP projectors was perhaps even more significant than flatscreen TVs. These super-premium products offers Odeon-quality projection in the home along with full high definition compatibility. The only downfalls are their enormous physical size and a price tag that eliminates all but the rich and super-hardcore. When they launched in the consumer market at the end of last year, they averaged around the £20,000 mark. They are now available for half the price, so while they still sit in the upper echelons of the market, it's a taste of what might be commonplace within a couple of years.
If you have the money, the ScreenPlay 777 is a massively impressive piece of equipment. It's the sort of thing gadget-heads and AV fanatics will dream about owning, because, aside from owning your own cinema, there really isn't much else that's better. Its strength is offering such a wonderful high definition cinema experience, so the investment will really start to make sense in 2006. Thankfully it's also strong enough to support the DVD movies likely to be taking up residence in your home.
The InFocus ScreenPlay 777 is a huge projector, but the impression of bulk is alleviated by its smooth, UFO-like styling. There are no buttons to be found on its chassis -- it's designed to be hung from the ceiling and installed by a professional. You wouldn't want its huge 20kg body falling on your head.
Connectivity on the rear is substantial. The projector is HD Ready, and will accept DVI and HDMI inputs (albeit only via an adaptor). InFocus wanted to offer support for HDMI and DVI, so it has opted for a proprietary connector on the projector itself that will allow both types of digital cables to connect up. It's a shame, because accessory manufacturers like Monster make standard HDMI-DVI converters that high-end home cinema fans probably own -- InFocus' method means you have to buy more accessories from them. It's not a real problem though, InFocus' semi-official line is that you should consult your dealer regarding your individual requirements, as the likelihood is they'll throw in the required adaptor for free.
For a high definition projector, the standard video input allocation is generous.There's an adaptor included in the box so you can connect an RGB Scart up to the component inputs, plus there're three inputs, two S-video and one composite, on the rear. There are two sets of component sockets which are also high definition compatible -- perfect for a games console or DVD player. The physical design of the projector means that the large connection board is well hidden, while still offering room for all these sockets plus a panel so you can change the bulb. Predictibly, there are also sockets that let you wire the 777 in to an automated home system, so that you can have the projector come on in tandem with an electronic screen at the touch of a button. Ah, what it must be like to live in such luxury…
Lamps cost around £500 and have an average lifespan of 3,000 hours. So, if your average movie lasts 2 hours, that gives you about 1,500 movies before you have to buy a replacement. That's not too bad by our reckoning -- the average lamp life these days seems to be around the 2,000 hour mark.
It's a shame that InFocus' remote is the exact same model as the one included with the rest of its range and not a premium model that reflects the extra investment. It's simple to use, with a backlight that can be activated via a button on the side, but we found it often didn't do as told, from turning it on to changing inputs. All the more infuriating when there are no buttons on the main body.
We've reviewed InFocus' other projectors here on the site before, and the basic user interface and features are the same here too. Your money is quite clearly going towards the crème de la crème technology inside, but there are still some useful premium features to be found. The benefit of using three chips instead of one is that there's no need for a colour wheel, and subsequently no dreaded rainbow effect. The contrast ratio and brightness are also way ahead of one-chip devices. And with three of Texas Instrument's DarkChip3 DMDs offering a 1,280x720 pixel resolution, the 'Ferrari of the projection world' analogies may be clichéd, but they're fully justified.
Like many projectors, the InFocus ScreenPlay 777 uses Faroudja's DCDi picture processing technology. Like the picture processing developed by major manufacturers for their LCDs and plasmas, this helps to keep the picture flicker free while making it appear more detailed. This is necessary because the picture resolution is higher than the majority of video sources available at the moment. And when the image is being blown up to sizes of 80 inches or more, masking these artefacts is a tough job indeed.
Unlike cheaper projectors that have a manual zoom over the lens, the 777 has seven different lenses available, all of which can be focussed electronically. With the standard lens we were able to get a 120-inch image from only 185-inches away. InFocus also allows you to shift the lens so that you can position the projector off-centre to the screen. It's worth repeating: you really do want to employ a home cinema expert to set this thing up. Perhaps most importantly (and indeed surprisingly, given its physical size), the projector is ultra-quiet, keeping under the 30dB mark. It takes about 20 seconds to show an image once you turn it on, and about a minute and a half to cool down after a movie.
The 777's design is clearly intended to cater for ceiling use, but you can use it from the rear as well, and the brightness of the lens means it will cope with a good deal of light intrusion. So while you don't necessarily need a dedicated home cinema room to enjoy its pictures, we'd still suggest complementing it with some decent chairs and a full surround sound system.
Although the 777's price has dropped by half over a year, there are 3-chip DLP projectors coming out from rival manufacturers (Italian specialist Sim2) that are around the same price, but much smaller. We can't compare them side by side (although we do have Sim2's C3X booked in for review), but it's obvious that next generation projectors aren't far off from other manufacturers, and perhaps even from InFocus.
While its hard to fault the 777's performance, there's always room for improvement. The Darkchip3 chipset is the best on the market at the moment, boasting the highest contrast available, but true high-def purists may yearn for a true 1,080 line picture. And of course, if you still want to consider the super-high-end competitors around the £20,000 mark, Sony's Qualia 004 is due to arrive in the U.K. soon. Despite being based on a different (and older) projection technology, it runs at a higher 1,080 line resolution, and when playing Spider-Man 2 from Blu-Ray, it's the single most impressive piece of home cinema technology we've ever seen.
If you like movies then watching films on the 777 is a rare treat. Like most of the finer things in life -- a vintage wine or a tailor-made suit -- someone who's never experienced the jump in quality may question the price. But when you've seen this class of product, it's hard to go back to 'normal' £3,000 models.
The brightness, rich colours and fine detail combine to make the projector's image seem almost three dimensional. Playing back high definition movie clips from Microsoft and Apple's online libraries was enough to make us go weak at the knees.
Like LCD and plasma TVs, one of the problems with high definition projectors is that they're not that strong with standard DVD movies or digital TV. Playing Ronin back through the projector we saw a small amount of MPEG artefacting, no matter how hard the internal processing worked to sort it out. At least it's not too long to wait until Blu-Ray DVD players arrives -- and we doubt the extra £500 will bother potential buyers. We'd even say it would be a false economy to invest in the 777 without budgeting in the full Blu-Ray player, Xbox 360 and Sky HD suite of accessories, as well as a superb sound system.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield