InFocus Play Big IN83

The InFocus IN83 works beautifully out of the box, delivering smooth, rich pictures. That said, it fails to sizzle, plagued by a mild black crush despite a new DarkChip4 engine.

CNET Rating

For home theatre buffs following InFocus's offerings, the Play Big IN83 is a logical progression for its recently released full-HD line-up. It all started with the IN81 and IN82, powered by Texas Instruments' DarkChip2 and 3 engines. These share an identical design and features, and are only slightly differentiated in performance. Now that the DarkChip4 is finally gaining momentum, there's no better time to roll out the latest IN83.

The Play Big comes with an integrated swivel stand.

E.T. phone home! For Steven Spielberg fans, the attention-grabbing design of this Play Big beamer could bring back nostalgic memories of the classic sci-fi flick. Design similarities to the lovable alien arise from the unique eye-like lens and InFocus's smooth front and curvy silhouette.

The detachable swivel stand is another simple yet clever touch and is brilliant for coffee tabletop set-up. It also doubles as a platform to create enough clearance for the bottom intakes. These draw cool air for ventilation which is exhausted from the left grilles — not exactly an ideal spot but it does work well as a personal heater!

While the projector's beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we were not particularly impressed by two omissions resulting from the facelift. To start off, going without a lens cover is a serious no-no in our books when it comes to dust accumulation. In the same light, "vaporising" the almost standard on-board controls for a AU$6,999 flagship model just doesn't make it any more enticing, either. What you do get for your money is a status indicator panel for one-glance operational updates, as well as dual covers to camouflage the focus/zoom dials and input jacks, both mounted within recessed compartments.

The remote features a torch which is invaluable in a dark projection room.

Despite the paucity of on-board controls, the remote control is thankfully excellent. As a testament to InFocus's ingenuity, you also get a handy torchlight integrated into the remote, fired up by simply holding the backlighting button. The combination of soothing blue key illumination and matching black piano finish gives the infrared wand a polished look, though it could have been better if there were dedicated input buttons. To be fair, it does have automatic source detection and programming capability to ignore untapped inputs. That's besides a Custom key assignable to a variety of functions, such as toggling test patterns or freezing on-screen images.

The IN83's intuitive software menu should pose little challenge for the layman as many settings have accompanying descriptive icons, while tech jargon is kept to the minimum. Selections-wise, there are quite a handful to fiddle with for personalised visuals, from basic colour saturation to manual iris for regulating light output, and advanced greyscale cuts and gains. These can be permanently stored in three user presets and called up for any input.

What InFocus has cleverly done here is swap out the IN82's internal engine for a spanking new Texas Instruments DarkChip4 (DC4). This gives the IN83 bragging rights as one of the first single-chip DLPs, and a new lease of life with a 25 percent dynamic contrast boost to 15,000:1. This figure may pale against the 20,000:1 DC3 BenQ W20000, though this Play Big does measure up in light output with a high 1,600 ANSI lumens brightness. Lastly, both models are equally adapted to reproducing vibrant colours with a palette of 1.07 billion displayable shades.

If you are a videophile with an eye for colour accuracy, the projector features tailored image settings conforming to ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) standards. With both daytime (ISF Day) and evening (ISF Night) use catered for, they prevent user adjustments and instead can easily be turned on or off via the menu.

Another similar enhancement is the relatively new DLP Brilliant Color technology. According to Texas Instruments, this uses six separate hues for processing and is capable of not only improving accuracy but also increasing colour brightness by up to 50 percent.

Three 1080p24-ready inputs to get the best out of your investment.

We reckon most HD junkies should be delighted with the IN83's generous spread of 1080p24-ready jacks. There are three to be exact, comprising an HDMI, a proprietary M1-DA (free HDMI adaptor is included) and component-video, putting aside S-Video and composite for legacy decks.

For professional installers, its extensive automation-centric terminals also open up various funky options. For example, you could manipulate the projector by using a PC to issue commands through its serial port or operate a motorised screen and side-masking curtains via dual 12V DC triggers.

However, there are gaps in the feature set that mar the goodness listed above. The biggest let-down is a modest 1.2x optical zoom which eats up a whopping 4.1m throw distance to cast a theatrical 100-inch projection. And for its price, taking out luxurious bits such as electronic zoom and focus is just a little too stingy.

To get an accurate grasp of the DarkChip4's prowess, we had the computer-calibrated IN83 lighting up a neutral 100-inch Draper white screen. Running at low lamp power mode, it was a little too noisy for our liking, but held its stride with visibly smooth brightness uniformity and negligible light spill. Screen door effect was near invisible from a normal seating distance. Experimenting on various settings of the manual iris enabled us to enhance black levels, but this came at the expense of image "punch" and depth.

Test driving the InFocus using synthetic Avia test patterns, we were able to gather a near-perfect colour-decoding performance. However, what caught us by surprise was a mild black crush for the deepest shades of black during greyscale tracking. This was subsequently verified after we tried out a DVD copy of Blade 2, whereby some familiar shadow details were lost in the darkness of the warehouse ninja assault. Low-light scenes were far from shabby, though, cushioned by clean, jagged-free-yet-adequately-sharp DVD upscaling — courtesy of the IN83's PixelWorks processor.

Like an excitable puppy, the pictures came alive when we switched over to Disney's reference-quality Cars Blu-ray transfer. Subtle details were matched by mind-bogglingly deep blacks and a riot of vibrant hues. The InFocus valued film-like quality above all with a strong combination of naturalness and contrast "pop" which gave pictures a floating, 3D-like depth. The IN83 also did remarkably well rendering accurate skin tones in Casino Royale's Madagascar chase scene. Similarly, fast-paced panning shots were mostly judder-free when fed the PS3's native 24p output.

The projector's strong showing continued for the challenging HD-HQV benchmarks. Here, it rendered the one pixel-thick bars in our Video and Film Resolution Loss tests effortlessly, indicating full detailed reproduction for deinterlacing 1080i material.

Since we've just scored a new Xbox 360 Pro for our Lab, we felt obliged to give it a go on both HDMI and component-video. The two connections were on par in clarity terms for the 1080p-encoded Need for Speed Pro Street, though rainbow anomalies or streaking colours were intermittent distractions, particularly for some static text and graphics.

Late into the full-HD race, InFocus is definitely catching up with the release of the Play Big IN83. The on-board DarkChip 4 engine may have failed to sizzle, but this is still quite a solid-performing 1080p DLP set. If you've already set your sights on the IN82 for a while, this is a no-brainer as it's available for three grand less than its stablemate's launch price.

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