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The Three Reasons to Love 3-Chip

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

By Jennifer B. Davis

LS-10You may have read or heard the term “3-chip” when referring to a projection system and wondered what it meant. Some misappropriate the term to apply to a lower-performance LCD projection system that uses 3 LCDs (sometimes using vague terms like “Certified 3 Chip” or the like), but in most cases the term refers to the use of 3 distinct Digital Light Processing® (DLP) chips from Texas Instruments® (TI) to deliver exceptional projector performance. Each chip is essentially a microscopic landscape of mirrors that shift to direct light to the projection lens within the light engine of the projector. This DLP 3-chip architecture is the technology used in 99% of commercial movie theaters and is a favorite of home theater enthusiasts as well. It is the architecture of the new LightStyle™ LS-10i and LS-10d announced to critical acclaim at the CEDIA Expo in 2010. So, why should you care about 3-chip? Here are the top three reasons:

3. No Color Wheel

3-chip projectors are built with a dedicated chip for each of the three primary colors of light: red, green, and blue. Note: these differ from the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue that you learned in fingerpainting in elementary school, but that color theory is a whole other topic. For now, just trust me that red, green, and blue combine to create white light. If there wasn’t a chip for each color (as is the case in a single chip or 1-chip projector), the system requires a rotating color wheel that moves in rapid speed in front of the chip to deliver the right color to the lens. Some people can see the effect of a moving color wheel in the form of a rainbow effect, especially if those systems are poorly implemented. In any case, it introduces additional projector noise and another point of possible of failure as color wheels are a moving part with high-duty cycles.

2. Enhanced Contrast

Contrast is a measurement of the difference between the brightest white and the darkest black. Because each color is modulated individually in a 3-chip system, we are able to achieve contrast that makes the video appear more 3-dimensional and lifelike (even without glasses).

1. Brightness

SC-50Three-chip systems are famous for their brightness, measured in lumens of light coming from the projection lens or foot lamberts as measured off the projection screen when implemented. To achieve the recommended brightness for cinema content on a large screen, 3-chip systems are recommended. This is why you will find 3-chip DLP architecture in products like the Runco VX-22i, VX-22d, VX-33i, and VX-33d of our VideoXtreme® series and in the new top-of-the-life SC-50d and SC-60d of the Signature Cinema™ series projectors, as well as our Digital Cinema Concierge™ service.

We have now made 3-chip performance, in full 1080p HD resolution, more affordable than ever with our LightStyle™ LS-10i and LS-10d products. For really large screen theaters and for those wanting top-of-the-line performance we still highly recommend the VideoXtreme® or Signature Cinema™ products, but for those looking for value performance or a sleek design that fits in a media room and can be personalized with FinishPalette™ matched to your décor, the LightStyle is a good choice.

All this said, the distinction of 3-chip has been misused in the marketplace and isn’t necessarily synonymous with high-performance video. For instance, Runco offers products that are not 3-chip, but also do not have color wheels and boast infinite contrast. These are the QuantumColor™ products, like the Q-750i, Q-750d, and Q-1500d. That is possible because the InfiniLight™ LED illumination system in these products includes distinct light sources for red, green, and blue, in some ways replicating the effect of a 3-chip product. Specs on a data sheet can be misleading if not understood in the context of your room design. A product that may be conservatively specified (as all Runco products are) can outperform products in terms of the image that is on the screen, which is the ultimate performance specification. And in this, Runco outshines them all!

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