InFocus has an excellent reputation for mid-priced home cinema projectors. It was one of the first companies to break the £1,000 barrier for a DLP (digital light processing) projector, and now with the Play Big IN76, priced at £1,699, InFocus has set its sights on the affordable end of the high-definition projector market. With Telewest's HD service just launched, and Sky set to roll out its HD service in May, the timing couldn't be better.
Previous home cinema projectors from InFocus performed well but were let down by industrial design that looked better suited to businesses rather than the home. Most of the ScreenPlay range were chunky silver boxes, the notable exception being the stunning -- but expensive -- three-chip ScreenPlay 777.
The IN76 adopts the black gloss exterior of the SP777 and succeeds in looking good in the living room. Its main competition comes not from other projectors, but from rival TVs. You can buy a good quality, 40-inch HD-ready LCD TV for the same price. That said, you'll get a much bigger picture with the IN76, so if you're serious about the home cinema experience, this high-def projector is well worth considering.
In terms of styling, the IN76 owes a lot to the good-looking SP777. The casing is a curvaceous gloss black that makes the projector look less bulky than it really is. On first impressions it looked great, but we did feel that black was the least practical colour for a product which -- by InFocus's own estimation -- is ceiling-mounted by between 30 and 40 per cent of users. The option of an interchangeable cover in white would make much more sense for users who know that they're going to ceiling mount.
The projector has a large, square footprint and comes with swivel stand designed for using the IN76 on, say, a coffee table. The stand is solid, as is the projector itself, and only adds just over 40mm to the overall height. It can be removed by undoing three screws, revealing another set of screw threads designed for ceiling mounting. These seem strangely positioned, as they are all in either the centre or back half of the projector, but they do the job of securely mounting the projector.
All connectors are well laid out on the rear of the IN76. Analogue S-video, composite and component inputs are there (Scart can be connected by using an adaptor that converts it to four RCA plugs that go in to the composite and component sockets). There are also two digital inputs -- one HDMI and one M1-DA socket. The latter can be used to connect DVI or HDMI using an adaptor. You can also get a cable to connect a USB cable to the M1-DA socket. There's an RS232 socket, for connection high-end control systems from the likes of Crestron, and a 12V DC output jack typically used to trigger a motorised screen when the projector is switched on.
The lens on the IN76 is recessed into the front of the projector, which means the zoom and focus controls are dials on top rather than rings around the lens. This works adequately but feels less intuitive than the traditional way. The only other controls on the projector itself are six buttons on a neatly arranged keypad towards the rear of the top of the IN76.
The remote control is slightly busier, with a total of 14 buttons allowing you to instantly select a source and access other features without paging through the menus. The remote is also gloss black, and a nice touch is a button on the underside, where your index finger naturally sits, that lets you backlight the controls.
Like any home-cinema projector, setting up the IN76 in a fixed position requires some maths. If you're projecting onto a screen, you need to calculate the correct throw distance, which is how far apart to position them. The IN76's throw distance is pretty standard -- projector to screen is roughly 1.5 to 2 times the screen's diagonal measurement. For an average-sized living room this limits you to a screen of around 2m. Other projector manufacturers such as Toshiba are starting to launch home cinema projectors with much shorter throw distances, ideal for people who want a big picture in a small room. While this is optically challenging for product designers, it's surely the way to go.