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Technical

October 2008

by Nick Wilcox-Brown

Back in the days of film, every photographer had a slide projector. They were used for showing family pictures, projecting backgrounds, and checking client work amongst other applications - the uses were wide and the quality was good.

Digital projectors, otherwise known as ‘beamers’, have been around for over 40 years. The early models were characterised by high price, poor, under-saturated colours and low contrast. Consequently, take up in the photography market has been low and the technology has subsequently dropped off from the radars of many photographers.

Canon has been involved in the projection market for several years, but early models used standard Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) technology; fine for business presentations and bright graphics, but not ideal for the subtleties of photographic images. Canon still produces the LV range of LCD machines for the office market, but it is its XEED range of projectors that are of real interest. Boasting near perfect colour and bright, contrast-rich images, they are perfectly suited to the needs of the photography and video markets.

Uses of beamers

Like the slide projectors that came went before them, ‘beamers’ are versatile tools. Not only can they be used for projecting still images and video in the office or studio, their high light output can make them a valuable tool for projecting digital backdrops for product or even portrait shoots. Broad connectivity means that it is possible to plug in video cameras directly into the XEED projectors to show work in progress at events or in the studio.

© Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos

Magnum Photos photographer Jonas Bendiksen has used XEED projectors to display his work on urban slums. His multimedia installation is running until February 2009 at the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo, Norway.

Do you hate having an art director looking at your images over your shoulder? Fear not. Plug the composite video output from your EOS DSLR directly into the projector and let them see your images on a large screen (don’t forget to set the colour space on your camera to sRGB - it makes the images look more saturated and contrasty).

There is nothing quite like the big screen to show your work to clients. Forget the laptop screen; projected stills and videos projected take on a new dimension and are guaranteed to impress the client.

For portrait and wedding photographers, transproofing was a technique frequently used to increase sales by projecting negatives converted to slides into frames on the wall. Often the show had to be accompanied by an excuse or two about the quality or colour. With a XEED projector, there is no need. Out of the box colour is excellent which is one reason that many camera clubs are now adopting them to project the weekly competition entries.

LCD projectors are characterised by images that have a fine grid or lattice on them whilst the XEED LCOS technology gives a defined and lattice-free image.

 

A blow up from an LCD projector showing the characteristic latticed effect.

 

A blow up from a Canon LCOS projector with the AISYS optical system displays a much more defined image.

Display panel technologies

The digital projector market now comprises three main display panel technologies:

DLP - Digital Light Processing (DLP) was invented by Texas Instruments in 1987. Used heavily in digital cinema projection, the image is created by microscopically small mirrors on a silicon wafer. The number of micro-mirrors equates to the projector’s resolution. The combined mirrors and wafer are known as the Digital Micro Mirror Device. Projectors are available with either one or three DMDs. Single chip devices use a spinning colour wheel to produce the primary colours and this can cause a rainbow effect that many viewers some find disturbing. Three chip machines have no need for the colour wheel and have the ability to resolve a far greater tonal range.

LCD - Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) projectors utilise a prism to split the light source to three panels, one for each primary colour. Just as with pixels on an LCD monitor, a combination of pixels that are opened or closed produces colours and shades in the image that is projected. LCD images are characterised by a lattice or grid on the image that's caused by the small surface area of each pixel in relation to the transmissive LCD panel.

LCOS - Liquid Crystal On Silicon (LCOS) is the technology that Canon has adopted for its high-end XEED projectors. A micro-display technology like DLP, LCOS uses reflective liquid crystal panels instead of mirrors to generate the image. Light is split into primary colours that are each directed to an individual LCOS panel by the polarisation beam splitter (PBS) that forms a part Canon’s unique optical system, otherwise known as ‘Aspectual Illumination System’ (AISYS).

 

The schematic of the AISYS projection system in XEED projectors.

The Canon XEED range

Canon introduced the first XEED model, the SX50, to the market in 2004. This first model boasted SXGA+ resolution (1400x1050 pixels) and 2500 lumens output.

From a photographer’s perspective, the first XEED was revolutionary for a number of reasons. Out of the box, the colour was accurate. With no adjustment, the image that appeared on screen matched the computer display - a rare feat at that point.

Despite the native resolution of the projectors being ‘only’ 1400x1050, the XEED models contain some clever circuitry that enable them to effortlessly display a UXGA image, 1600x1200 pixels, or for a Mac user, 1680x1050. Only if you present regularly can you understand quite how important this is. Fighting with lesser machines to make a presentation at 800x600 (bad day) or 1024x768 (bearable) can be stressful. Try demonstrating Photoshop or Digital Photo Professional (DPP) on an 800x600 screen. Conversely, the new XEED WUX10 supports WUXGA resolution (full HD, 1920x1200) as well as Full HD (1080p), a sure recipe for success.

 

The SX80 is an HD Ready projector with 720p format capability and USB connectivity to flash drives and PictBridge-compatible digital cameras to deliver ‘PC-Free presentation’.

The XEED projector range has now grown to a total of seven models with a variety of features appropriate to the photography and video markets. They are the WUX10, the SX7, the SX6, the SX80, the SX60, the X700 and the X600.

Colour

All XEED models support the sRGB colour space. The SX6 and SX7 also have dedicated photo and Adobe RGB photo modes and are capable of exceptionally accurate Adobe RGB reproduction in 86% of the Adobe RGB colour space (86% in the case of SX6, putting it on a par with a high end, dedicated graphics monitors). Importantly, all models can be profiled (like a monitor) with hardware colour measurement devices like the GretagMacbeth Pro Eye-One or the X-Rite Color Munki, for absolute colour precision.

Resolution

XEED models are capable of displaying resolutions that range from XGA (1024x768) on the lower end X700 and X600 models, to 1920x1200 (WUXGA) for the new flagship model, the WUX10. The fact that the WUX10 has native 1920x1200 resolution also means that it is capable of displaying not only a high resolution PC or Macintosh desktop, but also a Full HD image (1920x1080 pixels) – without any compression or loss of quality.

The 1920x1200 resolution of the WUX10 is an important milestone, representing as it does the standard for HD; high definition video and television that is rapidly gaining ground in both the consumer and pro markets. Both interlaced and progressive Full HD signal formats are supported.

 

The XEED WUX10 supports interlaced HD at 1080i and the progressive ‘Full HD’ format of 1080p.

The WUX10 supports the interlaced form of HD, 1080i, and also the emerging 1080p or 1080 progressive format. The latter (1080p) is now the dominant HD signal format, due not least to the increasing amount of material available on high-density optical storage media, such as Blu-Ray disc. This support confirms the WUX10 as a true multimedia projection device, ideal for still or video presentations to clients or consumer audiences alike.

Luminance

High-resolution projection is no use without a powerful light source. The following are commonly accepted values for luminance required for specific purposes (see the table below):


16x9 ratio screen, Lumens = Lm
* 1000lm Smaller screen, 1.15x2m. Partially darkened room
* 2000lm As above with controlled ambient light
* 2500lm 1.3x2.3m screen with bright ambient light
* 3000lm 1.5x2.65m screen with bright ambient light
* 4000lm Large screen with bright ambient light

As size increases, the brightness decreases proportionately. Increasing the diagonal measurement by 25% cuts light by around 2/3 of a stop.

To help you to calculate throw distances for a given luminance requirements image size, Canon provides a small and free downloadable application to calculate requirements – click here for more information.

As premium models in the multimedia market, XEED models have luminance ratings ranging from 2500 on the SX60, through to 4000 lumens on the X700 and SX7. Coupled with versatile and motorised zoom lenses derived from EOS film camera technology it is possible to project an image of consistent size, over a wide range of throw distances. This flexibility of placement makes it very easy to set up the regardless of the distance between screen and the projector.

Projector placement is always a key feature in any presentation environment. One of the commonly used reference figures is the minimum distance for projection on a 100inch (2.54m diagonal) screen. All XEED models are capable of filling the screen from a throw distance of only 3m. Equally, all models can project from 1.2-9m with screen sizes ranging from 40-300 inches (0.81x0.61m to 6.1x4.75m).

Video

Not only do XEED projectors ‘do’ colour well the LCOS chips, with their rapid response rate, are particularly suitable for projecting video. All models have a movie mode to make the process easier and all support video up to 720p/1080i. Additionally the WUX10 will support full 1080p. The machines support PAL, NTSC and SECAM standards out of the box, so there is no need to purchase a region specific model.

 

The WUX10 is the flagship model in the XEED range and offers a huge range of connectivity.

Connectivity

No multimedia device is of much use unless it has a wide range of connectivity. XEED models feature a wide range of inputs including DVI, component and composite video in, meaning that all Canon EOS cameras and DV camcorders can be connected directly as well as a wide range of other devices.

The newest XEED models feature a built in HDMI connector port, together with RJ45 connectors for networking. Older XEED models can be connected to networks with an optional adaptor/accessories. The SX80 is the first model to offer computer-free presentations with support for projecting images directly from a USB flash drive.

 

The wide range of inputs on the XEED SX60 projector.

Set-up

Functionality is king, but many modern devices need a manual like a telephone directory to make them work. Thankfully Canon has thought ahead. Turn on the machine and within four seconds it is set-up and ready for use. This is all made possible by auto setting of four key functions.

1 - Auto input: Plug in the input before turning on the projector and the input will be auto selected.

2 - Autofocus: Like any EOS camera, the XEED models have sophisticated autofocus that is activated at start-up.

3 - Auto Keystone: Keystone is when the projector is tilted upwards towards the screen. The angle is detected by the projector and correction automatically applied.

4 - Auto Screen Colour: Projection screens vary enormously. The XEED emits a beam of white light and corrects the colour output based on the result.

It is easy when you know how.

Conclusion

Just as slide projectors provided the means to show off work to best advantage in the past, the XEED range of projectors now extends that into the future. For photographers looking for perfect colour or videographers looking for full HD, the XEED range has a solution.