Meridian MF1 HD-ILA Video Projector 
Home Theater Front Projectors HD-ILA Projectors
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Monday, 01 January 2007

Introduction
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.

Installation
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.

Other Goodies
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.

The Picture
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.

The Downside
My old recording teacher at music school used to talk about fixing bad recordings by saying, “You can rub all you want, but you can’t polish a turd.” The same goes for the Meridian MF1 and Faroudja DVP1080MF1. There is no question that they can make mediocre video look better and good video look simply fantastic, but when it comes to spectacular crap – well, it can still look like crap. For example, when watching a local broadcast of an NHL game in standard definition (channel 56 for Anaheim Ducks games, to be exact), the video is so compressed that the MF1 and Faroudja simply can’t resolve the details. The scoreboard looks blurry, the puck is hard to follow and you feel like you need glasses. Conversely, CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada (not in HD on DirecTV) looks five times better to me, with great resolution, beautiful colors and compelling game action. Movies and content from DVD tells the same story. As much as I love HBO’s The Sopranos, the DVDs (and the HD broadcasts) are shot dark by David Chase and his crew. This makes the inside scenes coming from the Meridian 800 DVD player, one of the world’s best if not THE best, look low-resolution when compared to the way things look on a better-made movie in HD. At the same time, playing back South Park episodes from DVD on the Meridian 800 in the MF1 and Faroudja show a brightness and life that you would expect from your HD receiver. While the Faroudja can fix a host of video problems, this rig still loves getting fed high-octane fuel.

Conclusion
Until you start looking at professional 4k projectors from Sony that you literally can’t buy, because they are designed for professional Cineplex use on 20- to 40-foot screens, you simply can’t do better than the Meridian MF1 three-chip D-ILA video projector and the Faroudja DVP1080MF1 video processor. Yes, they are expensive, and yes, they will be worth less when video progresses to the next stage (they say 1440p at some point after 2010), but for right now, this is as good a video projector as you are going to set your eyes on. The colors are rich, vibrant and lifelike. The blacks, which some critics say are better on DLP, can hang with the best that DLP has to offer when calibrated the way Meridian does it. Factor in per source calibration as we did and each source looks even better. The Faroudja processor can’t turn standard definition into native HD, but it does fix many of the awful maladies that you get on SD broadcasts, a remedy that is very welcome. Then consider that no company in the history of home theater has had a better record of upgrades than Meridian and you see why your investment is going to be a good one. I am not saying they can magically upgrade your projector to some new resolution, but I am saying they have the staff, the interest and the track record to support, calibrate and care for your video investment as well as any other.

At the ultra-high-end, it always comes down to the cliché of you get what you pay for, but this isn’t always true in video. There are cheap projectors that make a big beautiful picture, but they aren’t truly high-end complete with the service, the performance and the overall results of a top-performing projector and processor like the Meridian-Faroudja. On the other hand, there are high-end projectors that cost less than the Meridian that you can make the mistake of getting – and then becoming half-pregnant. SIM2’s three-chip DLP for under $20,000 comes to mind as a projector I would avoid. Instead, I’d either buy a less expensive projector or go all the way with the Meridian MF1.

With Meridian MF1 and the Faroudja DVP1080MF1, you get the best that the world of high-end video has to offer, paired with a total system solution that also includes some of the world’s finest electronics and speakers, coupled with some of the best customer service and performance calibration available at any price. When you add all of these factors together, you not only have one of the world’s best projectors, you have a tremendous value as well. If you are in the market for the world’s finest video for your home theater, the Meridian MF1 and the Faroudja DVP1080MF1 must be on your very, very short list of auditions. Even if the idea of $30,000 on a video system would require you to sell your wife and children, it’s worth considering.
Manufacturer Meridian
Model MF1 HD-ILA Video Projector
Reviewer
Chipset 3-Chip





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