|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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In the last year, I took on the costly and often frustrating process of adding on 850 square feet to my relatively small 1,500-square-foot 1959 “post and beam” home in Los Angeles. The process amazingly and unexpectedly included no less than $75,000 in cement to make sure a modest two-story addition wouldn’t come crumbling down if, or should I say when, the Earth starts a-rocking and rolling. The overall design of the addition features a master bedroom and master bath cantilevered over a light-controlled, purpose-built, stadium seating-based theater with a 16x9 screen from Stewart, fabric walls, acoustical treatments from RPG and beyond. While working on the design of my theater with Beverly Hills-based installation and design firm Simply Home Entertainment, I sold off my trusty JVC Professional DLA-HS2U projector, tore out my existing theater in what was always supposed to be my living room and headed toward what I would call the Dark Ages – a world with one 26-inch LCD and $13 speakers connected to an Apple G4 for Internet radio. A dominatrix I met in Düsseldorf once told me, “You have to get past the pain to get to the pleasure.” I found out with the addition that she couldn’t have been more right.
Nearly eight months into a project that was supposed to take four, the time came to pick a projector. Much research was put into the process by a number of experts, including Tim Duffy at Simply Home Entertainment, video guru William Phelps, ISF instructor Kevin Miller and others. While scared about the fast-paced changes that have radically improved the world of high-end video, I dedicated myself to an investment that would be significant, since the video in the room was hopefully to be equal in performance to the very carefully treated and engineered audio and acoustics. The short list for projectors under consideration included the Sony Qualia 004 (now discontinued), a number of Runco’s really sweet DLP projectors with their Cinewide 2.35:1 options, and the Meridian MF1 three-chip D-ILA projector paired with the Faroudja DVP1080MF1.
After owning each and every generation of D-ILA projector and working with video guru William Phelps on all of those systems, I opted for the Meridian system and prepared my installation for a projector that was physically larger than projectors I have used in the past.
I had the Simply Home Entertainment crew install the Meridian MF1 projector into its purpose-built box and the Faroudja DVP1080p video processor into my dual seven-foot Middle Atlantic pull-out Axis racks. My contractor built a soffet in the back of the room that would house the projector. Forced cool air would be run into a paint-grade wooden box and summarily sucked out the other side with the vacuum power of 1,000 Hoovers. Conduit was run for cables of varying types, yet things were far from problem-free. Directly above where the projector is installed is the crapper in the master bath. When the plumber was installing the pipes that run to the septic system, he sacrificed much if not most of the room for the projector. After some level of tantrum on my part, we were able to salvage much of the depth of the area, but didn’t get all of the room we needed. During the time I was using the older Meridian D-ILA projector as I waited for the MF1 to arrive from England, everything fit fantastically. The MF1 is more in the size class of the Qualia 004, with good looks equal to an AV component, which is no small compliment, as both the Meridian and the now-discontinued Qualia are projectors worth of drooling over and potentially paying big money for.
The MF1 takes only a 1080p input as it is a true 1080p projector, which begged an interesting video question. Many HDMI cables do not carry 1080p content very well over long runs. In the case of my installation, we used a Dtrovision fiber optic cable, which can reportedly run 1080p over lengths as long as 300 feet. Mine ended up being much shorter than 300 feet and included two connecting blocks at each end of the cable. The connection between projector and processor needed to be DVI, so a few adaptors, or “dongles,” were used. The connectivity of the processor and projector has been flawless since then.
I cannot report the same connectivity success for many of my HD sources, such as a first-generation HD DVD player, a Samsung Blu-ray player, a DirecTV HD TiVo, a Microsoft Xbox 360 and a JVC D-VHS deck. While HDMI gets a bad rap and many are “waiting for HDMI 1.3,” I blame HDCP copy protection for many if not most of the maladies. In no way do I blame Meridian, any of the cable companies or the switcher companies. Their gear works flawlessly when running non-copy-protected sources. It’s the copy protection and the dreaded “handshake” that caused such headaches for me and the Simply Home crew. We spent literally thousands of dollars trying to get HDMI switching to work, with no long-term success. The guys would leave with it working, but by the end of the night, it was so frozen up that I would need another visit from the installers to get the system live again. Ultimately, we yanked all but one HDMI input and opted for component video, not because it looks better (though some think so), but because it works and it in fact does work well. The one component we have been able to make work with HDMI is Blu-ray, which is lucky, considering it is the only commercially available source on the market today that can output 1080p video. Soon the new Toshiba HD DVD players will output 1080p, as will possibly Playstation 3, as well as many other sources. I will readdress the topic of HDMI switching in my rack, but considering all the money that goes into installation, replacing six-month-old HD disc players and the programming that is needed to make your Crestron work, I simply needed to get my system working reliably.
Professional Calibration – Consider It Included
One of the many reasons you look to a top specialty video company like Faroudja or Runco is because they provide the best installation and calibration. Having an F1 race car that is bad need of a tune-up will not win you the pole, let alone the race. Meridian, when buying the Faroudja brand, inherited the services of an old friend in William Phelps. One of the most respected video gurus, Phelps helped Meridian take the guts for this three-chip D-ILA projector and make it into a super car. He defined the standards by which they set up the projectors to get the best color resolution and the deepest black levels from the system they have. Meridian assembles and calibrates these projectors by hand at a rate of no more than two per day. When spending $30,000 for a video system, it is nice to know you are getting quite a bit of attention and an awful lot of personalized performance tweaks.
As my projector was installed, Meridian thoughtfully sent Luke Rawls out from Atlanta to check the installation, along with the guys from Simply Home Entertainment. After my theater was physically installed, I had another video guru, AVRev.com video writer Kevin Miller, fly in from New York to calibrate my other sets around the house. While my projector was in very good shape, he was able to make a few fine adjustments for each source to eke out even more performance. So, in case you missed it – I value video calibration very highly. Whether you bought a 50-inch Vizio plasma at Costco or are investing in a Meridian, top-performing Sony or Runco projector, you must factor in having your installer or a guru (or both) measure and test your system. At $30,000, this isn’t an option: this is standard.
The bulb in the Meridian MF1 is a vast improvement over the many D-ILA projectors I have owned in the past. It is a 200-watt high-pressure mercury lamp that lasts 2,000 hours. This is double the lifetime of past D-ILA projectors. The MF1 can have its bulb replaced without taking the projector down. Earlier D-ILA projectors also lost significant contrast in the first 100 hours of use. The MF1 is much more stable in terms of performance as the bulb ages.
There is a short-throw version of the projector, which you may prefer, depending on where you will be installing it. The Faroudja video processor is supposedly optional, but it is so good that is hard to consider the system without it when you look at how much content is still in non-HD formats. The processor has 2:3 pull-down to make sure your progressive sources look sexy. If you are into tweaking, the Faroudja allows you to make adjustments on the fly. If The Sopranos look too dark when being played from DVD, you can tweak the contrast without messing up the calibration. While not one to miss a chance to tweak a projector, I found myself not reaching for the remote drawer to mess with the settings too frequently. The power is there if you need or want it, which is reassuring, to say the least. The Faroudja doesn’t have a ton of inputs for video switching, so you need to use your AV preamp for many of your sources, which is the easiest way of integrating audio and video. If you are going to take a shot at HDMI, which I can pretty much recommend you try in the next few months, you will use a switcher from either the likes of Meridian or, say, Dtrovision. This will allow you more room to connect your growing collection of digital video sources.