Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Getting Great Color on Projectors

Bad Projector Color vs Better Color*
Bad Projector Color vs Better Color*
Outback Print Printer Evaluation Image by Jack Flesher

Are you a photographer who has a day job in addition to your passion for photography? Have you noticed how horrible your photos, PowerPoint slides, Excel charts, etc… look on many business class projectors at work?

Copyright (c) Ron Martinsen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Colors like this should look vivid on all devices - including projectors

I’ve noticed and it was driving me crazy! The colors weren’t anything at all what they looked like on my computer, tablet or phone! Instead beautiful flowers like the ones above looked like they had been dead for weeks instead of having the vibrant pop that you should be seeing right now on your personal device.

Introducing Color Brightness

At the beginning of 2013 for CES I read about a measurement for projector color quality called Color Brightness. This was very different from the brightness figures that I had often seen advertised by projector companies because it didn’t measure the traditional white brightness but instead it looked at the brightness of color.

I then ran across this awesome video that finally quantified what I had been seeing in business conference rooms in terms that made logical sense:

Click here for the 1 Minute version

To compare projectors or find out the color brightness for a projector you may be interested in purchasing, be sure to check out All results were independently tested by Intertek and Lumita, so I feel confident in the results – especially since they mirror what I see with my own eyes!

Consider the following 4, XGA resolution business projectors with similar White Brightness:


Notice how if you just paid attention to what you normally see advertised, the "Brightness", which only references White Brightness, then you'd think that the InFocus and BenQ projectors outperform their Epson counterparts. However, if you view these projectors side by side – as I have done – then you are scratching your head as to why the Epson’s color blows away these other projectors which are “better” on paper. However, when the color brightness of these projectors were measured there finally became a figure that quantified what my eyes were seeing – the color brightness of the non-Epson projectors were not in the same league!

My Testing

My testing was very simple – I connected my laptop to four different projectors in a completely black room. The projectors were all placed and set to where they displayed an image of the same exact size on a piece of white foam core board. I then focused and distortion corrected the projectors to where the image seemed properly proportioned to my eyes. I then proceeded to look at a series of test images and made notes about what I thought about each of them. I then switched between the various preset modes and finished with doing a factory reset on each model to make sure I had an accurate understanding of the out of box experience with each model.

To try to keep myself from being influenced in advance, I did not research or know anything about the models that I tested. I was not aware which models had 3LCD or 1-Chip DLP, nor did I know the cost of any of the models other than they were the same resolution with similar White Brightness. My only bias was that the 3LCD group provided the projectors, so I figured they’d probably send me units that performed favorably against the competing models tested.

My Background

Prior to my obsession with photography, I was a home theater junkie. I was the type of guy who owned and used Digital Video Essentials, & Avia to calibrate my displays because I cared so much about color. When I could afford it, I’d also get ISF calibrator to use a Sencore calibration device to make my TV look it’s best. In short, I was obsessed with great color and would lust for the best Runco projector.

Fast forward to today and I’ve been named a member of the X-Rite Coloratti (web site update pending) so I understand color management very well. In fact, I became obsessed with color management during my Printing Series. I captured images using the ColorChecker Passport for accurate capture color, I edited photos using X-Rite calibrated displays from Eizo and NEC, to create prints using the best print technology from Canon and Epson, and I analyzed those results under a GTI light box in a studio with Solux lights.

My obsession with color has been also recognized by NEC.

Overall I feel like my eyes are very well trained to visualize the color accuracy of an image on all possible media types (both electronic and physical).

My Findings

At least with the four models I’ve tested, I have found the Color Brightness measurement to be an accurate reflection of color quality. While comparable models had similar levels of White Brightness, there did appear to be a significant difference in how they rendered color. It was possible for me to make improvements on every model with the user controls that would result in an image that I considered to be "useable", but only so in a completely dark room.  In that completely dark room, my preference was still for the Epson models and their overall color rendition.  In a room with moderate levels of ambient light found in typical office environments the 1-Chip DLP projectors I tested were significantly darker.

It should also be noted that these are all business class projectors, so their performance would be considered inferior to more expensive photography, home theater or medical class projectors. None of the models I tested would be suitable for accurate photo editing or color sensitive design work. However, the Color Brightness measurement could be used as a tool to know that a Epson PowerLite Pro Z8255NL (10,000 Color Lumens) or Sony VPLFX500L (7000 Color Lumens) display significantly better color than the Epson PowerLite 1880 (4000 Color Lumens) that I tested.

In the end it is safe to say that projectors whose Color Brightness most closely matches its White Brightness will outperform those units with a large delta between those two values. This is where 3LCD has a clear advantage over 1-Chip DLP. Click here to see the 3LCD buyers guide which highlights how many common projector models perform.

Epson & Color Brightness

Epson PowerLite 905 Multimedia Projector
Epson PowerLite 905 Multimedia Projector

Color Brightness: 3000 lumens

Epson has created this color brightness landing page to help consumers understand what they are doing to improve the color brightness of their products. They are also promoting their 3 LCD design over popular DLP projectors with color wheels that break up the color as you can see in this video:


While none of the projectors tested in this article are “photography class” projectors, the reality is that images are displayed on business class projectors every day around the world. While these business class projectors might not make our images look as great as they do on a NEC PA Series or Eizo display, I don’t think it’s necessary for our images to look completely lifeless either!

The goal of this article is to give business people a tool they can use to help quantify to their management the value of a projector with great color brightness over alternative brands that might have previously looked superior on paper. Be sure to check out when doing research for your next projector, or for making a case to replace your existing unit so that the bean counters don’t force you to compromise color in your conference or class rooms.

My bottom line advice is to get the highest color brightness projector you can afford, and if at all possible try to get one where the Color Brightness is similar to its White Brightness. To get the best picture for photography, you’ll usually find that the sRGB mode in a completely darkened room is your best starting point (for all models, including DLP).

* = The image at the top of this article is for illustration purposes only. I wanted an image to reflect the difference level I saw with my own eyes during my testing. This image features distortion, blur, and color clipping that are not 100% representative of any model featured in this article, and these issues were introduced by photographing a projected image.

Where to order

Click here to order a Epson PowerLite projector at B&H, or click here to order on Amazon. Whether you buy Epson or other projectors, don’t forget to check out to compare color brightness levels of models that you are considering to make an informed decision about the the color quality you’ll get for your investment. Not all models have color brightness values, so you can also research listings and its forums for more advice on any given model.

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I approached Epson (a respected partner of this blog) about this topic after hearing about Color Brightness at CES. Since I knew Epson sold projectors I was hoping that they could help me understand this topic. It turned out that they had done a lot of work to help promote this new measurement standard. As a result of this conversation, they offered to let me see with my own eyes what this measurement was about by having 3LCD sending me 4 projectors to review (which are being returned) to prove this wasn’t just marketing hype.

I was not paid to do this review – I chose to do it to help educate my readers who might have been as frustrated as me with the poor quality of color found in many business class projectors.

If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

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