Madrigal MPD-1 HD-ILA Video Projector 
Home Theater Front Projectors HD-ILA Projectors
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Monday, 01 April 2002

One of the most exciting sectors in the audio-video marketplace right now is the realm of the new fixed-pixel digital projectors, powered by technologies such as DLP and D-ILA. For years, analog CRT projectors have ruled supreme for video enthusiasts, but the size, cost and constant need for maintenance made it hard to say "yes" to the devices. The new fixed-pixel projectors use chip(s) and very bright lamps to create a video picture that is exponentially brighter than a CRT by means of a physical projector that is a fraction the size and weight of the old models. The added convenience has made large-scale front-projection video possible for more and more people who are now building real home theaters into their homes.

Madrigal Imaging's MPD-1 video projector is a $26,000 projector based on the D-ILA technology created by JVC. In fact, the MPD-1 is a modified projector from JVC with both cosmetic and performance enhancements. The key difference between the MPD-1 and the $15,000 JVC professional projector is the actual performance of the chips utilized. Believe it or not, the chips themselves are a commodity. The better the chips, the better the picture, especially in regard to the essential issue of contrast (the difference between white and black in video). Madrigal has an exclusive deal with JVC, which supplies the top-performing chips for their projectors, thus the higher price tag of the Madrigal over the JVC unit. The JVC doesn’t always need as much contrast because of its many non-home theater applications, such as conference rooms. In such applications, the D-ILA’s impressive brightness is more important than exacting resolution. People like you and me need both the insane brightness and the resolution, because if you're paying $26,000 for a video projector, who wants to compromise?

Setup for a D-ILA can be as easy or as complex as you want it to be, but one thing is for sure -- making a D-ILA actually function and even look pretty good is so much easier than the same thing is with a CRT projector, it isn’t even funny. The basics of the setup are truly simple. All you have to do is rest your D-ILA on a table about 15 feet or so from your screen, plug in your source (an RGB feed from a video processor, for example), zoom the projector onto your screen and you are making a picture.

For more permanent installations, you will likely want to consider hanging your projector from the ceiling as I did, using a Chief bracket costing about $600. The ordering process was complicated and the installation was quirky. You might look to a company called Haropa Products for a better, more stable mount (see link at the end of this review). Madrigal should make (or order from an external manufacturer) a perfectly-engineered bracket for the MPD-1, but they don’t at this point.

Getting the projector actually installed onto the bracket is a breeze and only requires one person to accomplish the task, unlike a CRT, which can take as many as four strong men or even an industrial wench to lift. Once the projector secure on the ceiling, you will want to consider whether you want to install a new component called a hush box to silence the projector’s fan noise when it is on. The D-ILA fan is quite loud and, depending on where your MPD-1 is located in your system, you will want to factor fan noise into your equation. The Madrigal hush box costs approximately $2500 installed and uses whisper fans to disperse heat while keeping the projector quiet. The hush box can be painted to match your décor and does a good job at physically hiding the projector, which is really cool in systems like mine that use roll-down automated screens.

The next level of setup, once you have your projector installed and making a picture on your screen, is using a setup disc such as the AVIA disc or the upcoming (late Spring 2002) Digital Video Essentials setup DVD so you can calibrate black levels, work with contrast and set your brightness.

Screens For a D-ILA Projector
I have written an entire article on the topic of screens for digital projectors, The key here is to understand that D-ILA projectors have tremendous amounts of light output, so you need to calculate the specific needs of your environment, so you’ll want to consult an expert system designer before you place your order because using the right screen can make or break the contrast of your picture.

The Picture
The most striking thing about the Madrigal Imaging MPD-1 is its outrageous brightness. You can absolutely light up a huge screen in a way that is practically impossible with even the best CRT projectors. I have a 4:3 screen, measuring 100 inches diagonal, and my MPD-1 makes a picture so bright I couldn’t believe it. My former reference Sony 1252 seven-inch CRT was literally a joke in comparison. The D-ILA has as much if not more presence and pop as a nine-inch CRT. Without question, brightness is the D-ILA’s best attribute. Where D-ILA’s have a hard time compared to CRTs is in terms of contrast. The dark areas lack the detail and resolution that you’ll see on a CRT. At first, this made DVDs look lousy, but through proper tuning and then high-end professional setup, I was able to get the contrast to a measured level of 540:1, which is quite good for a digital projector by today’s standards.

The color reproduction on the MPD-1 is excellent, especially on HDTV sources. I mentioned in my review of the Proceed PMDT DVD Transport that on the Imax transfer of the documentary "Mission To Mir," my system was able to reproduce bright orange colors found on the safety equipment built into the launch pad of the Soyuz rocket with color so lively that they seemed to be the product of HDTV rather than 480p.

Digital projectors have a limited amount of pixels to allocate for video reproduction (1365 x 1024 in the case of D-ILA), so during visually complicated passages like the tree section of the test sequence of the original Video Essentials DVD, if you look very closely, you can see the picture pixilate. Movement also can cause some digital artifacts, but I found that the Faroudja Native Rate Scaler, specifically set up for D-ILA, did a great job of smoothing those issues out.

For real-world video testing, I watched lots of Philadelphia Flyers hockey games, recorded and in fact compressed on my Sony Sat T60 TiVo PVR. The word "stunning" doesn’t do justice in describing how good the picture looks. The ice was wonderfully bright, while the players were crisply three-dimensional. On closeups, you can see details as refined as the stitching where the trainers sewed the players' names on the back of their jerseys. Really, I expected TiVo to look like garbage, but it didn’t on the MPD-1. Instead, it had the pop and life that you would expect from a DVD.

I used the HDTV pass-through of my Faroudja for HDTV from DirecTV and local L.A.-based terrestrial programming. I had the most success with the content from the satellite, including NHL hockey games on HDNET and many movies on HBO. I got suckered into watching a bunch of old fart actors in "Space Cowboys" on HBO (channel 509) simply based on how devastatingly good the picture looked. The shots of Earth from outside the planetary atmosphere were nothing short of breathtaking. There is a frequently-repeated PBS documentary about Italy that features the most incredible helicopter shots of seaside cliffs, swordfishing boats, the Coliseum, and more. The resolution is jaw-dropping. You can see physical details on people standing in crowds of 10,000 in shots taken 1,000 feet above the Coliseum.

DVDs had the widest range of results on the MPD-1. "The Sopranos: Second Season" (HBO Home Video) really struggled on the dark scenes. During day shots, the MPD-1 kicked butt, with only nine-inch CRTs capable of keeping up with the Madrigal's performance. However, when Tony headed over to the visually darkened Bada Bing strip club, the background details got lost in the mix, unlike the results with the HDTV broadcast. When Christopher was grinding up Richie Aprea in the meat grinder before the meat-packing employers got into work, it was hard to see the specific details of Richie’s bodily parts being jammed into the grinder – perhaps for the better. With a brighter source, like "The Simpsons First Season" (Fox), the characters showed good color resolution and lots of visual energy or pop. "South Park" episodes also looked great. "Super Speedway," another transfer from Imax 70-millimeter film, showed the MPD-1 off to its best advantage, with really smooth-looking action scenes. At the end of the film, when Mario Andretti takes the Lamborghini F1 race car out for its first test drive after its restoration, the racer's skin tones look real while the foliage on the trees makes for a color palate that tests the MPD-1 to the max. With the Faroudja in the loop, the trees and leaves blowing up from the road do not suffer from as many motion artifacts as the Video Essentials test sequence mentioned earlier.

Video Processors
I had the chance to use both the $1,500 Proceed PVP internal 480p video processor found in the Proceed PMDT transport and the $4,500 Faroudja Native Rate scaler specifically designed for the D-ILA format. You don’t need to use a video processor with a D-ILA in principle, but these computers help to address flaws inherent in the digital video genre. For a number of reasons, I chose the Faroudja as my reference. Its DCDI technology made a noticeable difference on motion artifacts and its HDTV pass-through allows you to hook HDTV into your projector without video processing via component video connectors. My Proceed AVP preamp doesn’t have component video switching or HDTV pass-through, although the updated version called the AVP2 promises such functionality.

Video processors for fixed-pixel projectors have an entirely different set of goals to accomplish than line doublers, triplers or quadruplers for CRTs. Honestly, the results aren’t as dramatic as the effect when you used to plug a trusty old Faroudja LD 100 into a CRT projector. On the other hand, the improvements the Faroudja and the PVP made were significant enough for me to justify the investment.

The Downside
D-ILA projectors at 1365 x 1024 struggle with 720p HDTV. The reason for this, according to Joe Kane, the author of the Video Essentials DVD, is that the actual math needed to upconvert a 720p signal found on, for example, an ABC HDTV broadcast is a very awkward calculation that causes a real struggle for the internal projector scaler. Remember, the Faroudja is just passing the signal through for HDTV and thus is powerless in solving this malady. The result is that 1080i looks better on the MPD-1 as compared with results in 720p. Kane says this just isn’t the case in a perfect world. For Kane, 720p looks far superior to 1080i, especially in terms of motion artifacts. No one who has seen my system would agree with him. 1080i found on PBS, HDNET, HBO and elsewhere looks far superior.

There are an entire range of inputs on the MPD-1. However, you’ll likely use SXGA 1 and HDTV 2 predominantly as your sources. The problem is that neither you nor your dealer can program the projector to automatically switch from one input to another. You have to switch inputs manually with the remote, going two levels deep into the menu. If you use a Faroudja, you also have to switch inputs there. The result makes you want to stay in whichever mode you are already in, because it is such a pain to make the switch from HDTV to NTSC.

The cost of doing business in the digital world is $1 per hour because of the longevity of the bulb used in the projector. The bulb lasts 1000 hours and automatically shuts off. Experts say the bulb lasts statistically 1800 hours, but because of the way it blows up when it burns out, JVC and Madrigal don’t let you go a minute past the 1000 hours limit. New bulbs are costly at about $1,000.

Going For The Ultimate Level of Performance
Out of the box, the Madrigal MPD-1 is a fine projector that can only be compared with the best nine-inch CRTs, but what if I told you that there was quite a bit of performance still left under the hood that JVC or Madrigal couldn’t get for you? Well, the performance is there, but it requires some work. Contrast is the biggest issue relating to D-ILA projectors and video guru William Phelps has written an entire suite of software dedicated to making your D-ILA look brighter, with more pop and more life. In the case of my projector, he was able to test the factory contrast at 335:1, despite claims of 550:1 on average from Madrigal. I had more than one MPD-1 in my home during the review process and the one I own is the best of the batch. Phelps ran his modifications on my projector, which got my contrast measurably up to 540:1. This alone is worth the $900 he charges for his services. He has many more tricks up his sleeve as well, including a software solution around the above-mentioned input switching problem. Phelps's services are performed mainly in his lab, so before you set your projector up, you send it to him for the mods. Luckily, the MPD-1 is so light that the shipping costs aren't prohibitive. Trust me on this one (and if you have read my reviews in the past, you know I am not some delusional audiophile tweaker) -- these modifications are worth every penny in a system with an MPD-1. Especially when DVDs are involved, the contrast improvement is like giving your car 50-horsepower boost.

You can go for yet another level of performance by installing a $2,500 Panamorhic Lens from Visual Systems Research. The lens mounts to the ceiling and focuses the picture more tightly on the screen without causing any throw distance problems. The result is a smoother, less pixilated anamorphic picture, perfect for movies in widescreen formats. When watching 4:3 sources like traditional TV, you simply slide the lens to the side. Faroudja used the lens with rave reviews at this winter’s CES tradeshow, but I wasn’t able to install it during my review period because of the difficulty I was having drilling into my cement ceiling. However, for those who are going all out with the system, the lens is worthy of consideration.

Lastly, you would be well served using a top notch AC power product with a projector like the Madrigal MPD-1. In my system I went with a $750 Richard Gray’s Power Company RGPC 400s which I installed, hidden in the ceiling near my projector. It ultimately ended up all neatly covered up with drywall. Video products more than audio demand consistent AC power and unfortunately in a condo like mine, clean AC is a luxury more than the norm. To see what the RGPC 400s does for your video all you have to do is swap the projectors plug from the main AC socket to the RGPC 400s. I found the colors more vibrant and alive with the RGPC in the loop. Another advantage of the 400s is having a surge protector of industrial capabilities in line between a lighting strike and my $26,000 projector. If you can’t pop for the $750 with the RGPC 400s I recommend the PS Audio Ultimate Outlet which also helped make the MPD-1 look incrementally better and is priced at under $300.

Nine-inch CRT projectors are still the absolute state of the art but their size, maintenance and cost are not worth the hassle anymore. D-ILA is one of the most important technologies to come along in the history of video and, as of today, you can use it to make a big, bright picture that is perfect for home theater applications. The Madrigal MPD-1 is the pinnacle of the D-ILA world. It is for those who want to go for the gold with the highest-performance projector in the fixed-pixel domain today. At $26,000, it is a significant investment, but considering its performance, diminutive size and relatively maintenance-free operation, many enthusiasts are making the decision to invest in D-ILA. I own my projector and, while I had to learn how to get it up to speed as an early adopter, the route to success with a D-ILA is pretty clear now. Enthusiasts, other reviewers and regular old friends and neighbors agree, the picture I have in my system is spectacular.
Manufacturer Madrigal
Model MPD-1 HD-ILA Video Projector

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