|Meridian MF1 HD-ILA Video Projector|
|Home Theater Front Projectors HD-ILA Projectors|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Monday, 01 January 2007|
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The more I talk to video experts, the more I am seeing video enthusiasts fall into one of two camps: movie freaks and diehard sports fans. I am definitely in the sports fan camp and, with the Meridian powering my theater, my fall weekends have been nothing short of fantastic. Most memorable was watching the highly-anticipated HD broadcast of my Philadelphia Eagles vs. the hated Dallas Cowboys (Fox HD on DirecTV) and the returning but emotionally flawed Terrell Owens. The hype for the game was ridiculous, as the Eagles had everything to prove against a very good Dallas team who now had the Eagles’ best yet outcast receiver on their squad. I have a conspiracy theory about the NFL on DirecTV, which is that they save their best bandwidth for football. That being said, the game looked spectacular. The edges of the dark green Eagles jerseys looked crisp and well-defined, even when moving fast and/or panned across by the camera. Upon zooming in on Terrell Owens childishly yelling at his own teammates on the sidelines, you could see the whites of his eyes, which were visibly a little bloodshot, even from afar. The best aspect was the lack of dot crawl or any kind of video maladies on the curve of Owens’ head as he dropped pass after pass that game. The game wasn’t just a glorious outcome, it was a glorious picture.
After a good USC Trojan or Eagles win (or God forbid loss), one needs to find one’s happy place for some calm Zen video and have I ever found the show for the Diet Coke, screaming-at-the-screen caffeine addict in you. It’s called Destination HD (Discovery HD Theater) and it takes super-mellow tours of the world’s most exotic locales to provide which can only be described as HD porn. Now, nobody really ever takes their clothes off, but the video is something to get excited about. I watched an episode of the show where the producers traveled a road from the middle of Australia to the northern coast, near Darwin. At one stage of traversing dirt roads and red rocks, the crew comes upon a pub. As they stop and zoom in on the signs, you can read not just the large font but the smaller font below it from the perspective across the street. Lesser projectors blur that kind of image. Once in the pub, there is some sort of tradition of sticking a dollar coin onto a structural post in the building. The HD camera, from a moderate distance, panned the post from top to bottom, and it looked better than being there. Without the benefit of a close-up, you could see the subtle differences in the coins. Even in shadows, you could resolve details of the coins. The MF1’s ability to resolve detail is nothing short of spectacular.
Back to sports, an even higher art form than college or NFL football for me is NHL hockey. There is no sport that needs HD more than professional hockey. Consider that the game is played on a surface that is basically rectangular (with two round ends by the goalie), as opposed to most people’s TVs, which are practically square in size. Then consider the fact that the puck is a small, black dot that moves at up to 125 miles per hour. It’s easy to see why people love hockey in person, but it takes them years to learn to watch hockey on TV. Well, I have the solution for that. Hockey in HD on a nine-foot screen powered by a Meridian MF1 and Faroudja processor is the cure. Despite hockey’s problems with standard definition’s low-resolution and 4:3 screen shape, hockey truly looks spectacular in HD. Being scaled from 1080i to 1080p using Faroudja’s deinterlacing technology, the motion is smooth and the resolution is like sitting in section 319, row 1, seat 5 at the Staples Center – in fact, better, in many cases. The ice provides a beautiful, bright canvas and the jerseys look cartoonishly good on the ice. The motion, which looks blurry in SD, is realistic and flawless in HD. Even on the rare occasion when the HD cameras zoom in on the newly installed netting above the ends of each end section, you don’t see nearly as much blurring and visual distortion as you do on lesser HD projectors. Pixels matter. Calibration matters. With the Meridian MF1, you are getting both.
In getting to movies, the film that Bob Hodas and I watched most when calibrating the audio for the room (which includes a Meridian 800 DVD player and 861 AV preamp as part of the rig) was U-571. While the submarine thriller is on HD DVD, I have it on the old D-VHS format. For a period of a few years, D-VHS and satellite TV were the only HD formats out there for a reviewer to use and, as good as satellite TV can look, other formats like D-VHS and now HD DVD and Blu-ray are far less compressed in terms of their video performance. What I like about U-571 as a video demo (the depth charges are a great test of the integration of a subwoofer in a theater system – it should sound low, loud and tight when the charges explode) is the juxtaposition of resolving subtle skin tones in a dingy submarine and then popping above the water to fight the Germans in bright daylight. Having owned three other D-ILA projectors in my life and even spending a few weeks with Meridian’s earlier projector based on the JVC HD2k – not the HD10k that the MF1 is related to – the knock on D-ILA projectors is their ability to reproduce dark blacks. This criticism was right regarding earlier versions, but on the MF1, you can see the shade of Harvey Keitel’s cheek during a camera zoom in U-571. You can see in low light the incredible detail of the German gauges on the sub. Then, as the submarine pops up above the water to fight, you see the beaming brightness that is the strength of the projector. With the camera flying over the bow of the German destroyer, you can see spectacular levels of detail on the bridge. There is no shaking or distortion on the railings or guns on the ship. It’s an exhilarating demo. If you have an HD DVD player, you will want to put the film on your short list of discs you need to own for demo purposes.
Speaking of HD DVD, I bought the top of the line Toshiba player the day it hit the streets for my reference system. Although it comes with many problems, including HDCP connectivity and slow load times (as much as 45 seconds), one thing you can’t deny is the picture. I spun up an old favorite of a video demo in Apollo 13 (Universal HD DVD). While this isn’t the newest cinematography and some criticize it for looking grainy on HD DVD, the demo scenes are still something to behold. The level of detail continues to make me impressed with the Meridian MF1, especially when the camera pans around the control room. Zooming in on the buttons that are fabricated to look like those in the original control room creates a true suspension of disbelief. The picture looks so good that you believe you are there and, if by no other criteria, this should tell you how emotionally powerful a tool the Meridian MF1 projector is and that HD DVD ain’t half bad, either.
I hate to have to end with such a pathetically lame movie, but xXx (Columbia) on Blu-ray offers one of the first really stunning looks into what 1080p can do. Yes, this highest format of HD is a work in progress, as is the $1,000 Samsung player. However, if you want to test the water with real badass video, look no further. I still feel the need to apologize for the movie xXx, which features a buff yet marble-mouthed Vin Diesel playing the role of James Bond merged with Johnny Knoxville from Jackass. With that said, there are two absolutely fantastic scenes in the movie for demoing a 1080p video projector such as the Meridian MF1. The first scene shows a spy dressed up in a tux stealing some sort of device and ending up fleeing from the bad guys into what turns out to be a Rammstein concert. Rammstein is a new-school German metal band that amazingly creates some compelling melodies to go along with ultra-hard-hitting metal. The scene features some of the most amazing pyrotechnics you will ever see and, on the MF1, you will be riveted. The lead singer dons a flamethrower face mask and lights it as he sprays fire over the audience, to their great pleasure. In a relatively dark venue, you can compare the subtle details of the back walls of the room vs. the beaming glow of the flame. Working towards more eye candy, chapter 12 features Diesel being air-dropped onto what looks like Mt. Everest. He parachutes to a running start to snowboard down an impossible hill. The blue sky paired with the white snow looks impressively good, but it is the deep black of Diesel’s outfit that takes the demo over the top on this scene when evaluating a projector. But the scene doesn’t let up. After Diesel stops his 75-degree descent down the hill, he decides to toss two explosive devices on the hill behind him, thereby causing an avalanche. I personally wouldn’t recommend such behavior when on the slopes of Park City or Telluride, but the ensuing explosion makes for a sight to be seen on your projector. The oranges are glowingly good, yet it is the blacks that require your greatest attention. They come and go quickly, but they look dark and dissolved. If you are having a dinner party and want to show your theater off to your friends without getting an earful from your wife later, simple cue up this scene and let it roll at top volume. It will show you all you need to see and will leave you and your guests floored at how good home theater can look.