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Best 2016 LCDs: Sharp

Highlights: 2016 Sharp LCDs feature curved screens, local dimming, and quantum color

Sharp's TV business in the Americas has been acquired by Chinese TV manufacturer Hisense, and Sharp's 2016 TV lineup may represent the last "pure" offering from the company before the brand takes new direction. That said, Sharp's best 2016 televisions will offer the latest in picture quality enhancements and advanced multimedia capabilities.

A new UI
Sharp's 2016 HD and ultra-high definition (UHD) televisions have received a user interface (UI) make over that makes better use of higher screen resolutions. The result appears to provide a cleaner look that finally does away with the clunky retro-looking menus of past designs.

Ideally, the clean interface presented above extends to all sub-menus for a consistent presentation.

Best 2016 TVs + Tech

The Flagship - AQUOS N9000 Series
The Sharp N9000 series UHD TVs feature the company's SPECTROS quantum dot technology for producing chromatically-rich white light that enables improved brightness efficiency and color saturation. The N9000 series also marks the first time the company has offered HDR compatibility in both flat and curved screen design options.

Other N9000 series features include:

  • Full array local dimming backlight
  • High-dynamic range (Open HDR spec)
  • Quantum dot color (91% Rec.2020)
  • 2x2 dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac
  • dbx-tv sound
  • 8-core processor
  • VP9 and HEVC decoding
  • 4K media support
  • App store + web browser

The 65-inch Sharp AQUOS N9000U (LC-65N9000U - pictured above) is the company's first curved screen TV offering, and the addition of full array local dimming (FALD) should enable brightness and contrast on par with similarly spec'd premium LCD televisions like the Samsung JS9500 (read review). Good FALD isn't cheap or easy to do, but the resulting improvement in picture contrast makes it my favorite LCD feature. The 65-inch N9000U is expected to ship early-to-mid 2016 with a price of $3000 (MSRP).

If you are not a fan of curved TV screens, then the 70-inch Sharp AQUOS N9100 (LC-70N9100U - pictured above) gives you all of the same picture performance and features of the curved N9000 in a flat screen design. The 70-inch N9100U is expected to ship early-to-mid 2016 with price of $3300 (MSRP).

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Sharp AQUOS N8000 Series
Bringing more value to increasingly popular large UHD screen sizes, the Sharp AQUOS N8000 series televisions will feature fewer zones of local dimming compared to the company's flagship N9000 series while providing similar core specs and compatibility with HDR video sources. The N8000 (pictured below) achieves its wide color gamut (WCG) support through the use of optimized color filters and polarizers, and I'll be curious to see how the TV's color gamut coverage compares to other LCDs using quantum dot or phosphor-enhanced LED backlight systems. The 70-inch Sharp AQUOS N8100U (LC-70N8100U) has an MSRP of $2300 and is styled similarly to the N9100 pictured above.

The N8100 features a full array local dimming backlight system while its larger sibling, the 75-inch Sharp AQUOS N8000U (LC-75N8000U - pictured above) is edge-lit with local dimming capabilities. The Sharp LC-75N8000U has an MSRP of $3000.

Review: LG LED Projector

Sharp AQUOS N7000 Series
Sharp's N7000 series of UHD TVs is also HDR-ready but sacrifices wide color gamut support to be an even better value. The N7000 series features similar wireless networking, CPU power, sound, and multimedia support as Sharp's premium models. However, only the larger 70-inch Sharp AQUOS N7100U (LC-70N7100U) will feature full array local dimming while the smaller sized Sharp AQUOS N7000U series (pictured below) lack hardware local dimming altogether.

MSRP pricing for the Sharp AQUOS N7000 series TVs is as follows:

  • 70-inch LC-70N7100U: $1,999.99
  • 65-inch LC-65N7000U: $1,499.99
  • 60-inch LC-60N7000U: $1,199.99
  • 55-inch LC-55N7000U: $799.99
  • 50-inch LC-50N7000U: $699.99
  • 43-inch LC-43N7000U: $499.99

Review: Great Portable BT Speaker

Sharp N6000 Series
Rounding out Sharp's 2016 UHD TV offerings is the N6000 series. This series delivers many of the same base features of Sharp's premium 2016 TVs including an 8-core CPU, wireless networking, and apps. The N6000 TVs are also compatible with HDR-encoded content albeit without the wide color gamut or local dimming capabilities of more expensive models. The big deal here is attractive pricing for mid-sized UHD resolution LCDs.

  • 55-inch LC-55N6000U: $749.99
  • 50-inch LC-50N6000U: $599.99
  • 43-inch LC-43N6100U: $449.99

Robert's Favorite Home Theater Gear

Updated: Great TV Deals

     This article will be updated as new information becomes available

Best 2016 LCDs: LG Electronics

Updated March 19, 2016: 8K and HDR update

LG Electronics has introduced its premium 2016 lineup of ultra-high definition (UHD) LCDs branded under the moniker "LG SUPER UHD". LG's latest UHD TVs include four distinct series for North American markets with three of them highlighted for preview today. The fourth series is a "production-ready" 98-inch 8K TV - 4x the resolution of a regular UHD TV.

All of LG's 2016 Super UHD TVs will feature the company's latest LCD/LED picture technologies including:

  • High-dynamic range (HDR10/PQ Curve compatible)
  • Wide color gamut (WCG)
  • Updated IPS panel
  • 120Hz refresh rate
  • HDMI 2.0a/HDCP 2.2
  • Flat slim designs
  • Edge-lit LED backlight
  • SDR-to-HDR conversion engine
  • webOS 3.0

One item of note above is HDR10 support: an LG representative stated that all of LG's 2016 OLED 4K TVs and SUPER UHD LCDs will support all current HDR formats including the Dolby Vision format supported by VUDU and soon Netflix. Amazon and YouTube HDR playback compatibility are also arriving in 2016.

Review: LG Portable LED Projector

webOS 3.0
Aiming for an interface that provides the user with "simple connection, simple switching, and simple discovery", LG's webOS 3.0 is paired with an upgraded Magic Remote that adds DVR controls and improved universal control. The webOS 3.0 platform introduces the following new updates and features:

  • Magic Zoom - screen magnification without quality degradation
  • Magic Mobile Connection - Android/iOS compatible streaming
  • My Channels/Live Menu - check favorite channels easily
  • Channel Plus - free over-the-top (OTT) content
  • Channel Advisor - displays frequently viewed TV shows
  • Multi-view - view two sources simultaneously
  • Music Player - use TV speakers when display is off
  • IoTV app (Internet of Things) - control compatible devices via TV

Among the many new features of webOS 3.0 that are listed above, I'll be looking to see if Multi-view allows for the use of two HDMI-connected source devices - something that most TVs are unable to utilize for picture-in-picture (PiP) or side-by-side simultaneous viewing.

Review: RIVA Turbo X

The lineup
LG's 2016 SUPER UHD TVs have transitioned away from the use of quantum dot technology to improve brightness efficiency and color saturation. Instead, these TVs will feature an upgraded phosphor-coated LED backlight system paired with a tighter, thicker color filter layer to expand color coverage for supporting 4K UHD video sources. LG claims this technology dubbed Color Prime Plus achieves 91% coverage of the Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) color space that is used in commercial cinema. DCI's enhanced color (compared to HD) has become available via streaming 4K UHD video services as well.

UH9800
There aren't many details available about LG's production-ready 98-inch 8K Super UHD TV (model UH9800). Last year, LG demonstrated a very similar 98-inch 8K LCD that boasted an HDR-benefiting "ultra" luminance algorithm and a wide color palette. However, LG has announced that this TV will feature a superMHL port to wrangle an 8K video signal into this massively detailed screen.

Review: Vizio 5.1 Sound Bar System

UH9500
The flagship UH9500 series TVs feature LG's latest display improvements and design concepts. The 9500's bezel is a sliver-thin strip of trim with slightly rounded corners leaving the eyes to focus on its triple-filtered 10-bit screen that reduces glare and reflections by a claimed 50% better than last year's tech. Compared to LCD panels that operate at 8-bits per color channel or less, a 10-bit LCD should better reduce the appearance of banding and posterization artifacts.

Other noteworthy features of the UH9500 include:

  • 10-bit panel/10-bit processing
  • Color Prime Plus
  • Ultra-thin chassis (6.6mm/0.22in)
  • harman/kardon-enhanced audio
  • "Magic Sound Tuning" room audio analyzer
  • "Near invisible bezels"
  • Screen sizes: 55- to 86-inches
  • Triple layer anti-glare/low-reflection film

The "sound tuning" room audio analyzer has my attention - I'm hoping it uses the microphone on the remote to listen for setup tones (stay tuned!)

Review: Channel Master DVR+

UH8500

The LG UH8500 also features the company's Color Prime Plus technology for a greater range of color saturation. However, instead of the UH9500's triple layer of anti-glare/low-reflection film, the UH8500 gets a double layer that LG claims provides a 40% improvement over 2015 TVs. Like the flagship UH9500, the UH8500 also features a 10-bit panel. Screen sizes for the UH8500 series are 55-inches and 60-inchesNote: the UH8500 was originally described as an 8-bit LCD - LG has since clarified that it is in-fact a 10-bit LCD.

Review: Samsung's Best 2015 TV

UH7700
Rounding out LG's Super UHD TV lineup is the UH7700 series that features the company's Color Prime technology (not Plus) that will presumably be slightly less colorful compared to the UH9500/UH8500 TVs. The UH7700 also features an 8-bit IPS panel with improved dithering to minimize artifacts like banding in fine gradients. Screen sizes for the UH7700 series are 49- to 65-inches.

Robert's Favorite Home Theater Gear

Updated: Great TV Deals

     This article will be updated as new information becomes available

Comcast/Xfinity Video Setup

Updated December 8, 2015: Charter subscribers report success with similar hardware and technique

If you subscribe to Comcast/Xfinity cable TV service, chances are you have a set top box from the company connected to your television using an HDMI cable. Too many times I've encountered these boxes in a misconfigured state that negatively affected picture quality. Given how expensive a year's worth of HD cable TV service costs, it's worth spending 5-minutes checking some basic settings in that box's 'hidden' menu.

Note: this information applies to regular Comcast/Xfinity set top boxes and not the newer X1 hardware.

Robert's Favorite Home Theater Gear

For this operation, you will need the Comcast/Xfinity remote control and the remote control for your TV. If you haven't already, easily configure your Comcast/Xfinity remote to control your TV and other home theater gear!

Step #1
Turn your TV ON and make sure the Comcast/Xfinity box is OFF.

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Step #2
Press the MENU button on the Comcast/Xfinity remote.

At this point, the front of the set top box should display the current video aspect ratio (16:9 or 4:3).

The TV screen should now display the 'hidden' setup menu.

If for some reason the TV Type setting is anything other than 16:9, change it to 16:9 to match the shape of widescreen televisions. Next, I would verify the settings under the Additional HDMI Settings menu.

The configuration pictured above is my recommended setup for all modern HD and UHD televisions. Next, Return to Main Menu and configure HDMI/YPbPr Output to Native or 1080i.

The Native output setting passes the video signal to the TV unaltered. Use of the Native setting enables a sub-menu of Native Mode Settings that needs some attention.

In the menu pictured above, select all video formats that the TV supports. Most modern televisions will accept all of the above listed video formats, but some TVs balk at receiving a 480i video signal over HDMI (leave unchecked if this is the case). An alternative to using the set top box's Native video mode is to configure it for 1080i output. Use of the 1080i output option will have the set top box convert all standard and high definition channels into the 1080i video format. The 1080i format is the maximum resolution currently used by broadcasters, and today's TVs are quite good at processing this video format resulting in terrific picture quality. Not only does 1080i convert almost perfectly into the 1080p format, a 1080i signal containing content originally captured at 24 frames-per-second (most movies and primetime TV shows) is easily processed to recreate the source material's natural film-like look.

DIY: TV Picture Setup Guide

Best 2016 TVs + Tech

Step #3
You are done! Press the Comcast/Xfinity remote's Menu button again to exit. If you decided to use the box's Native video mode, confirm that your TV is configured to eliminate overscan with 720p and 1080i channels. Often, a TV's overscan setting (aka Picture Size) is custom for all video formats so eliminating overscan with 1080i channels like NBC and PBS doesn't automatically eliminate overscan with 720p channels like Fox and ESPN.

For more information about TV settings related to optimal picture quality, I've created a short video that will help clarify what needs to be done.

Professional Video Calibration

What is video calibration?
Video calibration is the process of precisely measuring a display's color characteristics and adjusting its picture controls in order to produce the most accurate output possible. Video production for movies and TV conforms to an industry specification that defines a very specific color pallet and detail levels.

tl;dr Robert brings tens of thousands of dollars worth of test equipment, software, and know-how to a location and perfects picture quality.

Any video display device (LCD, OLED, plasma, projector) that hasn't been properly calibrated isn't showing you the intended vision of the content's creator, and no consumer display produces accurate imagery right out of the box!

Why calibrate?
There are several benefits of having your TV or projector professionally calibrated:

  • Accurate color - a display's depiction of color should accurately represent the information contained within a video signal. Finding and properly adjusting the appropriate picture settings to exacting broadcast and film production standards will result in faithful video reproduction.

  • Which picture setup is correct? Image credit: Samsung

  • Revealing picture detail - an improperly configured television or projector often sacrifices bright and dark details that should otherwise be visible to the audience.

  • Is your display sacrificing detail?

  • Consistent color mixing - Almost all televisions and projectors generate color by mixing red, green, and blue (aka the primary colors in additive color mixing). With these display systems, the color white is generated by mixing the three primaries together. Shades of gray, like those depicted in the picture above, are created by collectively reducing the brightness of the primaries until there is no light (aka black). The signals in our video sources are often encoded as high resolution grayscale pictures with relatively low resolution color information that is combined to form the imagery that we see. A critical aspect of professional video calibration is to fine tune a display's depiction of grayscale information to be neutral-colored so as not to negatively influence the color information in the video signal.
  • Minimizing artificial enhancements - most televisions and projectors are factory configured to produce as bright of a picture as possible regardless of color or detail accuracy. Many LCDs also enable a motion resolution enhancement that unnaturally smooths the appearance of movies to the point that it appears as if they were recorded on a camcorder. Professional video calibration minimizes these unwanted artifacts resulting in a more eye-pleasing picture!
  • Efficiency - while we strive for optimal picture performance, a side-effect of professional video calibration is often a display device that also consumes less electricity.

Today's televisions and projectors are capable of producing some of the finest imagery yet seen, however, variances in manufacturing along with the myriad of picture adjustment options mean that even the best models from top manufacturers leave room for improvement.


Robert uses CalMAN calibration software from SpectraCal

Contact
Robert is a THX/ISF trained calibrator based in Northern California/Bay Area, and he welcomes project requests from anywhere in the world!

For more information, questions, or to schedule an appointment, please contact Robert directly.

Review: LG PF1500 LED Projector

Note: this projector has since been surpassed by the remarkably similar (and even more affordable, and recommendable) LG PF1500W.

Projectors are the ultimate flat screen display that can transform a blank wall into supersized video viewing nirvana. Sure, the setup and maintenance of a video projector is more involved compared to a regular television, but the visual reward is almost always worth the effort. The LG Portable LED Projector with Smart TV (PF1500W) is a compact wonder of a display device that features useful multimedia capabilities and technologies that help ensure long-term, hassle-free enjoyment.

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Best 2016 TVs + Tech

Size, style, and setup
The compact design of the LG PF1500 measures about 5.25" x 3.5" x 9.25" (WxHxD) and weighs in a 3.3 lbs. The projector’s stylishly well-ventilated exterior is textured to resist fingerprints and mask dust while improving grip when handling. The PF1500’s exterior controls are simple and effective with a chromed 4-way joystick, a matching lens focus ring, and a slide for adjusting the relatively limited zoom control (1.1x zoom ratio).

The PF1500 projects its image slightly above the plane of its lens so it can be placed on flat surface and pointed at a nearby wall or screen. The projector’s wide front foot is height-adjustable with the press of a button, and automatic vertical keystone correction ensures a square picture no matter the angle of the projector. A 4-corner keystone adjustment is also available for when the projector is placed in a less than optimal location.

The bottom of the PF1500 features three points for connecting a standard ceiling mount, and a fourth centralized point is compatible with tripod adapters. Use of a tripod made it easy to quickly square the PF1500's image without resorting to digital keystone correction that sacrifices picture resolution. Use of a tripod also made it easier to live with the PF1500's limited zoom (and related throw range) when filling a fixed-size screen. In the case of using an 80-inch portable screen that I'm particularly fond of, the PF1500's zoom control left less than a foot of throw distance to work within. For fixed installations with the PF1500, carefully consult a projection calculator before finalizing a potential mount location.

Power for the PF1500 is supplied by a brick-style switching adapter with a rated output of 19V at 5.79A. Input voltage compatibility is listed as 100V-240V at 50/60Hz (1.5A maximum). During operation, the power brick became very warm to the touch and measured up to 130F (54C) according to my infrared thermometer.

Robert's Favorite Gear!

Projection tech
A lamp module is a key component of any projector, and its eventual failure is all but guaranteed to occur immediately prior to an important viewing event. The LG PF1500's lamp module ditches the old school bulb in favor of an array of RGB (red, green, and blue) LEDs that are rated for 30,000 hours of operation - about 5-7 times the longevity of a typical lamp module. The projector's LED array also enables very fast start up and shutdown times - less than 7 seconds before a usable picture appeared! The only downside to the projector's LED system is that it isn't user replaceable. LG rates the light output of the PF1500 at 1400 Lumens making it ideal for screen sizes up to 120-inches with adequate ambient light control.

The PF1500’s imaging system centers around a single Texas Instruments DLP chip. Traditional single-chip DLP projectors utilize a segmented spinning wheel to generate color from a white light source, and increasing the rotational speed of the wheel as well as the number of segments help reduce the perception of a distracting artifact known as color breakup (aka rainbows). The use of fast-switching RGB LEDs in the PF1500 eliminates the need for a color wheel, and another potential source of unwanted noise, while minimizing rainbow artifacts as well as I've seen with any single-chip DLP projector.

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Audio
The speakers built into most portable projectors are there for convenience rather than epic audio quality, and the dual 3W speakers of the PF1500 are certainly convenient. I appreciated having sound without the added bulk of external speakers, and the projector's stereo output had enough volume to overcome modest amounts of background noise in indoor and outdoor environments.

For augmented listening, the PF1500 provides several audio output options including an HDMI-ARC port (Audio Return Channel), optical, Bluetooth, and a headphone jack. Bluetooth streaming to a quality portable speaker like the RIVA Turbo X (read my review) greatly improved the listening experience, however, Bluetooth output had the unfortunate side effect of disabling the projector's game mode feature that reduces video lag.

Inputs and networking
The selection of inputs on the PF1500 gave me everything I could ask for in a projector of any size. Ports included dual HDMI (MHL/ARC) and dongle adapters for component/composite video with analog stereo input. Dual USB ports support a lengthy list of popular multimedia file formats as well as office documents including PDF files, spreadsheets, and text files.

The projector's Ethernet and WiFi networking gave a solid performance for accessing local files and streaming content via its built-in apps, and an RF input feeds the projector's ATSC/QAM tuner.

Remote
The projector's Freespace-enabled Magic Remote provides Nintendo Wii-like cursor control for fast and precise menu navigation. The remote's contoured shape and simplified button layout with a clickable scroll-wheel made it easy to orientate and operate, and its RF link eliminated the need for line-of-sight to the projector. The on-screen cursor appreciably enhanced the use of virtual keyboards and interactive apps, and its built-in microphone proved adept at responding to a variety of spoken commands including search queries, channel selection, and changing inputs.

Free TV
Every television sold today includes a built-in digital tuner that enables the free reception of local stations using an antenna. The PF1500 marks the first projector I've used that also incorporates an over-the-air (OTA) digital tuner. Using a quality indoor antenna, the projector's impressively sensitive tuner captured my local stations with ease and stability. The PF1500 lacks a channel guide, but station and program information is displayed at the top of the screen along with the time and date. Also, the remote's scroll-wheel made it easy to quickly zip through and select available stations.

Gaming
With its selection of analog and digital video ports and input signal support up to 1080p at 60Hz, the PF1500 would seem to be a near-perfect companion for any game console made in the last 20 years. However, video lag measuring 170.2ms with my calibrated picture setup was certainly less than ideal for any game that requires precise timing, and the 70.2ms of lag using the projector's Game picture mode translated into more than 4-frames of delay with 60Hz video input - some of the best gaming TVs feature sub-20ms lag measurements.

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Apps
Another feature of the PF1500 not typically associated with video projectors is its selection of popular apps. The PF1500's menu of apps was limited at best, but some of the must-haves like Netflix and YouTube were there. Other apps included MLB.TV, VUDU, Spotify, and Google Maps. Obviously absent from the lineup is Amazon Instant Video and Hulu. App performance was very good, and consistent integration with the Magic Remote's cursor control made the projector's app experience all the easier.

Fan noise
Projectors require active cooling to prevent a meltdown, and the PF1500 brightest picture configuration produced audible fan noise that thankfully wasn't overly annoying. Moderate amounts of volume from the projector's speakers easily masked fan noise, and reducing light output using the mid or low power settings all but eliminated cooling-related sounds.

Review: Epson Home Cinema 3500

Video processing
With all keystone correction features disabled and the projector focused on an 80-inch screen, the PF1500 breezed through my suite of 1080i video tests. The classic HQV benchmark revealed terrific deinterlacing and 24p source detection, and results from the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray test disc further confirmed solid video processing with only a slight roll-off noted in the benchmark's chroma tests.

Calibration
Grayscale optimization using the PF1500's 2-point white balance setup proved effective at taming the default response that was too blue and lacking green in the brighter shades. However, I found that the white balance controls for the darker shades of gray were ineffective, and a 20-point white balance setup was available but I didn't use it.

Color measurements showed that red at 100% saturation was very oversaturated compared to the HD video spec. Also, yellow and cyan exhibited the most obvious chromaticity errors. The PF1500's color management system (CMS) proved effective at optimizing primary and secondary colors, but it was unable to reign in the overly saturated 100% reds and blues. Also, unlike the white balance calibration that could be copied to other inputs using a menu option, CMS adjustments required tedious manual entry on a per-input basis.

Viewing exams
My time with the LG PF1500 included many hours of enjoyable video viewing. Having live TV and some of my favorite video streaming apps built-in was further enhanced by the speed at which the projector could achieve full brightness and produce a viewable picture. Using the PF1500 on a tripod mount, it was easy to relocate the projector to different rooms and have it quickly up and operational.

Local HD stations broadcasting in 720p and 1080i looked crisp and detailed. Sports on the big screen looked great with no signs of issues related to fast on-screen action. Likewise, prime time HD programming revealed excellent post-calibrated color and detail. Netflix and YouTube content at up to 1080p resolution loaded quickly and looked as good as expected. The red-heavy logos of these particular streaming services did appear a touch too colorful, but this characteristic of this LED projector didn't obviously taint the content I enjoyed.

For Blu-ray movie exams, I configured a player for 1080p/24Hz output and switched off the projector's video motion smoothing feature (aka TruMotion) for faithful cinema reproduction. Loading up The Dark Knight revealed excellent picture detail with this classic Blu-ray title. Skin tones among the movie's wide variety of characters appeared natural and properly represented in the many bright and dark-lit scenes. However, the Joker's painted smile did appear a bit too colorful with the projector's RGB LED light source.

The audio and visual treat that is the Blu-ray edition of Samsara takes the viewer on a worldwide journey exploring people and places in exquisite film-captured detail. The PF1500 adeptly recreated the cinematic viewing experience with careful preservation of fine detail and naturally colorful imagery that avoided the projector's tendency to over-saturate some red and blue hues.

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Bottom line
The LG Portable LED Projector with Smart TV (PF1500) impressed me with its useful integrated features including compatibility with a wide variety of multimedia and office file formats. Its LED lamp technology gives this portable 1080p projector impressive light output for its size as well as hassle-free longevity and fast start up times. A good 720p projector can be had for half the price of the 1080p PF1500, but none incorporate a DTV tuner and smattering of popular streaming applications. The projector's Magic Remote brings everything together with precise navigation and functional microphone control. A dedicated home theater room may be better served by a projector with greater zoom range and installation-friendly lens shift capabilities. However, the PF1500's light weight, good video performance, and feature-rich functionality make it a great option for less than $1000.