Samsung SP-A800B 1-Chip DLP Projector 
Home Theater Front Projectors DLP Projectors
Written by Kevin Miller   
Friday, 01 August 2008

Samsung first showed their latest flagship front projector, the SP-A800B, at last year’s CEDIA show in September of 2007. Having used the previous 720p model, the SP-H710AE, as a reference for well over a year, I had very high expectations of the new 1080p-resolution one-chip projector. Now that I have had the opportunity to live with the SP-A800B for an extended period of time, and having run it through its paces, I can say with confidence that I am not in the least disappointed with its performance.  It is also beautifully designed and elegant-looking. When compared with my previous reference, the Samsung SP-H710AE, also designed by Joe Kane, the new 800B exceeds its predecessor in performance in a number of key areas. Of course, the 1080p resolution means you get more than double the number of pixels on the screen, but in fact that isn’t the most important improvement. A far brighter, more stable lamp provides longer lamp life and significantly more light output than its predecessor, which also means that the contrast ratio on the 800B is quite a bit higher than on the previous 710AE.  The lens is also significantly better, delivering sharper more defined images with far fewer chromatic aberrations. Considerably better blacks also add to the improved contrast ratio, provided the right iris setting is used. A comprehensive feature package with some unique elements is combined with generous connectivity, giving you an unbeatable package for just under10 grand.

When compared to the previous 710AE design, it is clear that Samsung did a complete redesign for their new SP-A800B. Sleek and sexy would be the two words I would use to describe its looks. The soft rounded edges and a lens assembly centered on the chassis give it an extremely elegant and high-tech look. Reminiscent of Pioneer’s famous glossy black finish, the 800B is truly one of the most attractive projectors on the market today, making it easy to integrate into the design of any media room.

The remote control design is a mirror image of the projector, also sporting soft rounded edges with a sexy black gloss finish.  It is completely backlit – another improvement over last year’s 710AE – which makes setting up and adjusting the projector in a darkened theater environment much easier. It fits in the hand quite comfortably, and most of the keys are easily accessible to the thumb. The Internal menu system or GUI (Graphical User Interface) is simple to navigate and intuitive to use.

A comprehensive feature package is mainly aimed at aiding in the set-up and optimization of the projector. A total of seven Picture Modes – Dynamic, Standard, Movie 1, Movie 2, and User 1, 2 and 3 – seems somewhat like overkill. Movie mode is the best and most accurate for both out of the box and post-calibrated use.  The 800B’s most unique feature, which I still have not seen on any other projector in its class, is selectable color space. The three choices available are SMPTE C (for America), EBU (for Europe) and HDTV for the future when film to disc transfers become available in that slightly wider color space area.  I have to admit that out of the box performance in this regard is relatively accurate. After a full calibration, which includes the manipulation and correction of the primary colors of red, green, and blue, the color accuracy of the 800B is impeccable. The Color Pattern feature allows you to isolate blue for setting color and tint properly, and the feature also allows you to analyze the excellent decoding on the 800B by looking at red and green only. An Overscan feature allows you to overscan the image for a cable or satellite input, which is often desirable, as cable and satellite boxes frequently introduce compression artifacts, which this feature will eliminate. I do wish there were small selectable increments of overscan so you could control the amount of overscan. Unfortunately, there is only “on” and “off,” and “on” appears to overscan the image by at least five percent, which may be more than you want or need.  In my system, I have a DVDO VP50Pro that has increments of .4 percent, which is ideal for minimizing the amount of overscan employed and getting the benefit of eliminating the compression artifacts.

Of course, there are several selectable color temperatures to choose from: 5500K (for Black & White), 6500K (for Color), and 8000K and 9000K for bluer grayscales. Needless to say, the 6500K is the setting you will want to utilize the most, but being able to select 5500K for an accurate grayscale when watching a black and white source is really a plus. Three Gamma settings are on tap, including Film (the best for Home Theater applications), Video and Graphic. Grayscale (Gain and Bias) controls are available in the User menu for fine-tuning of the grayscale if it is necessary after the service menu calibration is completed. I found on my review sample that it was necessary to make some small adjustments to these controls for optimum grayscale tracking results. The Dynamic Black feature is where you will find the iris adjustments. These settings respectively open and close the iris for achieving a balance between good blacks and an acceptable amount of light output.  I found the Middle setting to produce the best results. I highly recommend you do not use the Auto setting, which will open and close the iris depending on how bright the content of the picture is. This effectively makes black level and white level shift up and down when both these parameters should be constant. The Off and Light settings produce brighter pictures with significantly compromised black level performance, while the Deep setting produces phenomenal blacks, but with an unacceptably dim picture. This was the case on my 80-inch wide (92-inch diagonal) Stewart Grayhawk RS screen. Although it is made of a low-gain gray material, the Grayhawk is still a relatively small screen size by home theater standards. The 800B does have vertical lens shift, but not horizontal, which I was disappointed by, considering its price range. Finally, the 24fps feature is selectable when feeding the projector a 24fps signal from a Blu-ray source, which will help reduce the judder effect commonly associated with 2:3 pull-down in the video processing.

Connectivity is fairly comprehensive for a front projector, with two HDMI and two component video inputs heading up the list as the most important video connections on board. There is also a 15-pin VGA-style input for use with a PC. Last but not least, an RS-232 port is on tap, which will enable custom installers to program the projector's functions into a touch panel remote system like a Crestron or AMX. Of course, there are also S-video and Composite inputs (one of each) for older video formats like VHS and Laserdisc.

As far as performance is concerned, there is a lot to talk about when it comes to the SP-A800B, and it is all good, especially when you compare it to the competition. You name it, and the 800B does it extremely well: color accuracy, black level performance, contrast ratio, resolution and light output are all exceptional for a sub-$10,000 projector. This is in part due to the fact that Samsung is one of the few television manufacturers with the foresight to hire one of the industry’s brightest video display engineers, Joseph J. Kane, Jr. of JKP (Joe Kane Productions), and give him free rein to implement what he felt necessary to build a true reference-quality product. This is now the fourth front projector that Kane has been involved in designing for Samsung, and each new design surpasses the last in terms of performance and accuracy.  The SP-A800B improves on previous designs in several very important aspects of performance. First and foremost is the fact that it is a 1080p-resolution one-chip, while all three of the previous designs were based on one of Texas Instruments’ 720p DMDs (Digital Micro Mirror Devices). The lamp is now far brighter and light fall-off is dramatically better than with the previous 710, which had somewhere in the order of 40 percent light fall-off in the first 300 or so hours of its life.  The lens on the 800B is also far superior to anything the company has used to date. Blacks are also significantly improved over the last 720p resolution model if the correct iris setting is used. I settled on the Middle setting, which produced compelling blacks and plenty of light output. Improved black level performance combined with a significant increase in light output capability significantly increased the 800’s contrast ratio, which is perhaps the most important aspect of performance in any display.

Color fidelity is one of the main differentiators between the 800B and virtually all of its competition, and in my mind is unmatched by any projector at or near its price range both straight out of the box prior to professional calibration and, of course, after a professional calibration. The calibration process is more sophisticated than that for most DLP projectors, regardless of cost. Samsung has wisely incorporated a Texas Instruments utility for primary color correction in all of their previous DLP projector models, as well as their consumer DLP RPTVs. This allows for extremely accurate color reproduction if done correctly, and is a utility that most manufacturers don’t incorporate in their projector designs, probably because of additional expense in the light engine. In any event, it is this utility that allows qualified technicians with the proper instrumentation to dial in the primary colors, which in turn corrects the secondary colors, to near perfection. This feature, when combined with accurate color decoding, excellent gamma and a flat accurate grayscale, helps make the 800 capable of producing uncannily accurate and engrossing pictures. Some of you might wonder why professional calibration is necessary if it is relatively close right out of the box. To that, I would say that if perfection is obtainable for a $10,000 projector, why in the world would you settle for less, when the cost is relatively small at $400 to $500? Video processing is courtesy of a generic Taiwanese chip set and, although not from a company with a big name in the video processing world, is nonetheless quite good.  De-interlacing is excellent and motion artifacts are kept to a minimum, thanks to good 3:2 pull-down.

I began my evaluation of the 800B alone without an external video processor, and was quite impressed with its performance as far as video processing and scaling were concerned. It handled film and video-based test patterns from the Silicon Optix HQV Blu-ray test disc extremely well. I then finished my evaluations with the DVDO VP50Pro, which is my current reference video processor. Yes, the performance with the DVDO is better, and it also acts as an excellent HDMI switcher, which is important if all your video sources are being output digitally, as mine are.

Television and Movies
Watching HDTV programming from my Time Warner cable system for weeks leading up to this review, I was immediately impressed with the
800B. The incredible snap and pop in the images indicated excellent contrast ratio, primarily due to the good blacks and high light output of the 800B. As far as color was concerned, skin tones and colors in general were engrossingly realistic-looking, even before I calibrated the unit. New York Yankees baseball on the YES channel in New York never looked better in my theater. It also handled standard-definition signals well. I have the HDMI output of my Time Warner cable box set to native, which means the cable box puts out the broadcast natively, leaving all the scaling and processing to the projector. I also really appreciated being able to select 5500 for those old black and white gems on TCM (turner Classic Movies), as well as for older movies on DVD.

On Blu-ray, I initially watched the opening scenes of Blade Runner: The Five-Disc Collector’s Edition (Warner Home Video), an excellent transfer on Blu-ray, to take a critical look at the 800B’s black level performance. The opening disc is an excellent black level torture test for any type of HDTV display. Blacks were quite compelling and there were no false contouring artifacts and minimal, if any, low-level noise, no matter how dark it got. A few chapters in, when Decker first meets Rachael, I could see the super-fine detail in her black dress even in the darkest parts of the scene. This kind of shadow detail was a real testament to the 800’s excellent overall black level performance. Other scenes, especially the night shots of a futuristic Los Angeles, revealed excellent shadow detail and depth in the picture.

I also sat through a second viewing one of my favorite recent releases on Blu-ray, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Warner Home Video). This movie is muted as far as color goes and very realistically shot, with no stylization whatsoever. The film was rendered beautifully by the 800B and all the subtle nuances were clearly revealed.

For a look at brighter material, I turned to the excellent transfer on Blu-ray of The Departed (Warner Home Video). This disc, which is an exceptionally sharp transfer, showed off the 800's 1080p resolution relatively unmarred, because of the projector’s competent scaling, which was preserved by an excellent lens. Scaling and lens issues are common problems that rob a significant amount of resolution from many projectors that are competitive in this price range. In the beginning scene that takes place in the diner, there is a sharp right to left pan that is an excellent test for a display’s ability to handle 24fps on Blu-ray. This pan, when the young girl comes down the counter to meet Jack Nicholson’s character, was rendered more smoothly and film-like on the Samsung SP-A800B than on any other display I have seen recently. 

The Downside
One of the few downsides I can think of on the SP-A800B is the lack of horizontal lens shift. At $10,000, most of the competitive products in DLP and LCoS have this helpful feature. Another plus at this price range would be electronic control over zoom (for sizing the image) and focus, as well as lens shift, a feature that the Sony VPL-VW100, a.k.a. the “Ruby,” offered at $10,000. However, it doesn’t even come close in picture quality and performance to the 800B. If I had to trade, I would keep the lack of amenities for the superior performance any day of the week.

Samsung SP-A800B is certainly the best one-chip 1080p DLP front projector on the market today, regardless of price. There are a couple of esoteric models that cost a little more. Digital Projection and Runco have one-chip models at significantly higher price points, to name just two.  In fact, I would say the SP-A800B outperforms everything right up to the entry level three-chip DLP projectors that start at around $30,000. An excellent lens and a lamp with much higher light output and good stability are both improvements over the previous 710, and are superior to anything at or near the price range, including the $15,000 Sony VPL-VW200 SXRD projector I reviewed for AVRev earlier this year. Gamma, primary colors and grayscale accuracy are all also superior to the Sony. The connectivity and feature package are both excellent. The SP-A800B also includes some cool features that enhance its performance. Design-wise, it is a pleasant surprise to see that Samsung has the ability to turn out such a highly stylized and extremely attractive unit.  The Samsung SP-A800B is my new reference in front projectors below $30,000, and I will be saving every penny to purchase one
Manufacturer Samsung
Model SP-A800B 1-Chip DLP Projector
Reviewer Kevin Miller
Chipset 1-Chip
DVI Input No
HDMI Input Yes
# of HDMI Inputs 2
HDMI Version 1.3
# of Component Video Inputs 2
Native Resolution 1080p
Refresh Rate 24Hz

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