Planar PD8150 1-Chip DLP Projector 
Home Theater Front Projectors DLP Projectors
Written by Kevin Miller   
Monday, 01 September 2008

Planar, a large front-projector manufacturer on the professional and industrial side of the business, broke into the home theater market late last year after purchasing Runco International, a well-known high-end HDTV manufacturer.  Their recently introduced PD8150 is a one-chip DLP projector with a native resolution of 1080p (1920 x 1080), retailing for $7,999, which isn’t the cheapest option in its class, but when you consider its lineage and Runco brethren, its price tag seems to be something of a bargain.  Following in the Runco tradition, the PD8150 does have the ISF C3 lockable Day and Night mode features, which allow the installer/calibrator to create two new picture modes per input, locking in the calibration settings to ensure that they are never lost.  It is an excellent performer with a couple of flaws, one of which will be remedied in a future iteration of the product.

The design of the 8150, with its roundish (if not perfectly circular) shape, is quite original as most front video projectors are physically boxy.  The outside case is finished in a glossy piano black, reminiscent of the Pioneer Elite product line, which has been very well-received by dealers and consumers for years.  Sleek and sexy, the projector should please most interior decorators and anyone who cares about a projector’s aesthetic.  The lens assembly is mounted directly in the center of the projector, which gives it a symmetrical and attractive look.  It also makes installing it on the ceiling a bit easier than units that have the lens on one side of the chassis.  There is a removable back plate on the rear of the chassis that, when removed, reveals all of the projectors connections.  It is a rather well-built and hefty projector for a one-chip model, weighing in at a little over 23 pounds without the lens, and measuring nearly 21 inches long by 18 inches wide and nearly eight inches high.

The remote control is a fairly basic design, with nowhere near the design flair of the projector itself.  It is finished in matte black and is relatively small and fits in the hand comfortably.  On the lower right side is a Light button that fully illuminates the remote for use in a darkened home theater environment.

On the top of the unit, there are direct access keys for all the inputs.  Directional arrow keys and an Enter button are near the center of the unit, and the Menu button, probably the most used key of all, is to the lower left of the arrow keys.  There are also direct access keys for all three memories, and some of the most common picture controls, like Contrast and Brightness.

The internal menu system or GUI (Graphical User Interface) is relatively straightforward and easy to navigate.  First, the main menu page comes up, and then there are five other pages to the right, addressable by navigating horizontally with the right arrow key.

Cool features, not available on many one-chip DLP projectors, include both vertical and horizontal lens shift, which greatly aid in the installation process relative to the screen.  Zoom, Focus, and Lens shift are all manual at the projector itself rather than electronic.  This makes the set-up process more time-consuming, but electronic controls like these are a luxury and typically come at higher price points.  As mentioned earlier, Planar has incorporated the ISF C3 software interface, which allows the installer or technician performing a calibration to create two new modes per input, ISF Day and ISF Night, and lock them so that the calibration settings are safe and sound.   A slew of set-up features in the Advanced Menu include multiple color space and gamma options.  Selectable color temperatures include 5500K for black and white, 6500K for color, 7500K, 9300K and Native.  There are frame rate options, including a 48fps setting that works well with a 1080p/24fps source from Blu-ray discs.

Questionable features include Brilliant Color, Dynamic Black (an auto iris feature) and Adaptive Contrast, all of which should be turned off for the best performance and picture quality.  Finally, an RGB adjust feature gives technicians like myself the ability to fine-tune or calibrate the grayscale.  Grayscale prior to calibration was relatively close to the broadcast standard color temperature of D65, clocking in at 7000K to 7300K from the top to the bottom of the spectrum.  While this is relatively good when compared to other projectors’ presets for optimum color reproduction, the RGB menu should be utilized to fine-tune the color temperature to as close to the standard as possible.  Finally, the PD8150 comes with a choice of two lenses.  One is the standard lens with a throw ratio of 1.85 to 2.40.  The other is a short throw lens with a throw ratio of 1.56 to 1.86.  I wish I had known this earlier, as I would have requested a short throw for my review sample, as the standard lens is too long a throw for me to fill my 80-inch wide Stewart Filmscreen Grayhawk RS screen from my custom projection shelf.

Connectivity is reasonably comprehensive, with two HDMI 1.3-compatible inputs heading up the list.  Two component inputs are on board as well, with one being three BNC connections.  An S-Video and Composite input are on tap, as are a 15-pin VGA input for use with a PC, an RS-232 control port and two 12-volt trigger ports.

Television and Movies
Overall, the performance on the PD8150 is good, with only a couple of flaws.  Black-level performance is excellent, with one exception.  The company has implemented the wrong RGB reference for white and black.  It is set at 0-255, which is right for computing, but wrong for home theater.  It should be 16-235 for video, which would increase the contrast ratio of the projector, as well as improve its black-level performance and shadow detail capability.  When it is set at 0-255, whites and blacks are slightly clipped.  It did not reproduce below black or above white on PLUGE and Reverse Gray ramp patterns on the HD Basics Blu-ray test disc.  This was verified by Planar, which states that this issue is being fixed for the next iteration of this model.  Hopefully, it will be an in-field firmware update for existing owners of the PD8150.

Speaking of black levels, the opening scene of the excellent transfer recently released on Blu-ray of Gangs of New York (Miramax Home Entertainment) provides good dark scenery as the Dead Rabbits prepare for battle inside a dingy dark building.  The Planar 8150 reproduced the beginning of this scene extremely well, indicating good shadow detail capability and solidly convincing deep, inky blacks. Chapter 2 of the same disc provides more material suitable for evaluating the display’s prowess at reproducing dark scenery and revealing good shadow detail. It starts out with Bill the Butcher walking the streets of New York City at night, as surrounding citizens are protesting Lincoln’s abolition of slavery.  Again, blacks were excellent and shadow detail was impressive.

Detail and clarity are also extremely impressive on the 8150. Its 1080p resolution from the Texas Instruments 1920 x 1080 resolution DMD (Digital
Micromirror Device) chip and good video processing, which preserves that resolution, are largely responsible for this aspect of performance.  It passed both the Video Resolution and Film Resolution Loss tests on the excellent HQV Blu-ray test disc from Silicon Optix.  The other key factor in the delivery of crisp sharp images on a 1080p-resolution projector like the PD8150 is the lens.  The 8150’s lens is fairly good, with few chromatic aberrations.  Detail abounds in Gangs of New York, indicating that it is an excellent transfer.  Close-up shots of people’s faces reveal fine details like individual pores and strands of hair.

Overall color accuracy is quite good.  Color decoding is accurate for both HD and SD sources, and there is a selectable color gamut for HDTV, SDTV and even for EBU, the European standard for their SD broadcasts.  While not spot-on, the color points for red, green and blue were extremely close to the HDTV specification.  Unfortunately, they are not addressable, as the projector lacks a Color Management System, which is available from T.I. (Texas Instruments) and could make them nearly perfect.

The importance of accurate primary and secondary colors becomes obvious when you hone in on objects you know very well.  For me, the New York City yellow cabs (many of them) in Chapter 6 of The Day After Tomorrow (Paramount Home Entertainment) were obviously rendered extremely accurately.  Most projectors, particularly in this price range, skew yellow to the green side of the spectrum, and yellow objects like NYC cabs tend to look greenish.  Skin tones were also rendered extremely naturally, which is a sign of a good, accurate grayscale.  Chapter 12 of Gangs of New York, where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character betrays Daniel Day-Lewis’ Bill by trying to kill him, is full of extremely saturated colors from the costumes of the players at the hall. The reds of the Chinese costumes in particular were reproduced extremely well by the 8150.  These reds and the reds of the meat at the Butcher’s place in an earlier scene were very saturated, while skin tones were reproduced naturally without too much pink in them.  This is an indication of excellent color decoding and a reasonably accurate red primary color.

White-field uniformity is also excellent.  This is an area of performance where DLP-based projectors excel, compared to their LCD and LCoS competitors.  The 8150 reproduced the snow-capped Austrian Alps in the
beginning of Chapter 5 of The Italian Job (Paramount Home Entertainment) very well indeed, with no red or blue splotches on the sides of the screen that you would be likely to see on an LCD or LCoS-based projector.  Sky shots and hockey games are often the downfall of a good LCD or LCoS projector, because they reveal the poor white-field uniformity of those devices. This is an area where DLP display technology demonstrates clear superiority.

The Downside
Although the PD8150 is an excellent projector, there is always something a picky reviewer like me wishes was just a little better.  The RGB reference is my biggest complaint.  It should be fixed as soon as possible and the fix should be made available to current owners of the PD8150.  It should also be a fix provided for current owners of the PD8150.

If I had my druthers, I would like to see addressable primaries built in to the Advanced menu as well, although the primary and secondary colors are a lot closer than those on most projectors in this class, close enough that it doesn’t adversely affect the overall color fidelity the way most projectors do.  The vertical and horizontal lens shift feature could also be improved if they were implemented with some sort of a dial, as opposed to the more difficult Allan key method currently employed.

Planar’s newest home theater projector, the 1080p resolution one-chip PD8150, is an excellent projector in its price range.  In fact, at pennies under $8,000, there isn’t anything in its class that can outperform it in terms of color accuracy and black-level (Contrast Ratio) performance. I would compare it to a much more expensive LCoS projector, the Sony VPL-VW200, which is nearly twice its price.  It virtually smokes the 200’s smaller sibling, the VPL-100W a.k.a. “The Ruby,” in light output, black level, contrast ratio and overall color fidelity.  Color fidelity is for the most part very good. Color decoding is excellent.  It is far superior to most projectors in its price range in these key areas of performance.  Considering how well it performs, the comprehensive feature package and good connectivity, I consider it a hell of a bargain in one-chip 1080p resolution DLP projectors.
Manufacturer Planar
Model PD8150 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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