There are luxury brands that we all know—Mercedes, Louis Vuitton—and there are luxury brands that are known primarily among aficionado groups—Cohiba cigars, Sage fly fishing rods. Runco tends to be a brand that falls more in the second category. It has a reputation for offering spectacular, and spectacularly expensive, home theater projectors. For instance, at a CEDIA Expo press conference in 2011, the company spent most of the 40 minutes demonstrating a jaw-dropping projector that clocks in at over $200,000. That’s without the screen or the popcorn.
Why do I point this out—because alongside such extravagances, the company now offers a product that will get the Runco name, along with a lot of the Runco prowess, into homes for a lot less. Last year the company introduced the LightStyle line of projectors which tend to be less expensive than Runco’s other systems (though the three-chip models do get up there). They also don’t don’t look like industrial air conditioners. The LS-1 reviewed here carries an MSRP of $3,999.
Actually, being round and squat, they look a little like Roombas. That’s not a bad thing. These are stylish little projectors (you can also customize them with a color palette or team logo) that won’t look at all bad snugged up against your ceiling.
The LS-1 is a single-chip DLP projector. The company specs rate it as having a 10,000:1 contrast ratio and 780 ANSI lumens brightness. That seems a bit low since other companies offer cheaper models with more than 1,000 lumens, but you’ll see from my testing, that performance wasn’t hindered by that number.
Setting up the Runco, I found that while it’s an entry-level product, it certainly didn’t feel like it when I lifted all 18 pounds of it out of the box. With that kind of heft, either the company packed in some extra sand bags, or it’s got a lot of heavy-duty features making it work.
The second thing I noticed was that the inputs all seemed to be missing. Actually they’re nicely covered by a removable panel. This is one of those features that make the projector look more like something you’d want in your family hang-out room and less like something hanging from the ceiling in a classroom. Accessing the input panel I found two HDMI ports, 1 component, 1 RGB, s-video and composite plus an RS-232 for control systems.
On top there’s a small control panel for access the menu and such, but you’re much better off depending on the remote for all those operations.
Speaking of the remote—it’s backlit so you can use it in the dark, and it’s logically organized and easy to use.
Runco has being catering to the video enthusiast long enough to know what people expect, so it wasn’t a surprise to find features like ISF day/night settings for calibration, built-in test patterns and Runco’s ViVix processing. All of that shows the projector was designed to be tweaked for a good picture.
Of course, in this case, the projector didn’t need to be tweaked very much. I aimed it at a 106-inch Seymour Screen Excellence screen with a .98 gain. Runco includes a manual vertical lens shift to help you hit the bulls eye—in this case you access the lens shift by lifting up the Runco logo and turning a mechanism with an included allen wrench. After that, a little adjusting in the picture menu and I was off to watch some video.
First, the projector did an excellent job on test patterns, so I played a few Blu-ray movies. I started with the snow board documentary The Art of Flight. This disc is a beauty, so get it if you don’t already have it. The wide shots of snow-covered peaks against blue skies looked stunning. The picture captured all the depth and variation in the different shades of white to gray you find in snow and ice coupled with the shadows of the mountains.
In one scene a helicopter hovers over the mountain, its blade rotating in slow motion. I expected the spinning of the chopper blades to create artifacts, but there no jagged edges or mosquito noise anywhere to be seen. In another scene where a brightly-clad snow boarder launches across the screen, his board at a diagonal and nothing but a blue sky behind him, every edge was perfect.
I moved onto footage with more dark scenes, including Avatar and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows II. In both movies, the projector created very rich colors with fine detail, and dark scenes also looked good. Blacks were deep and showed detail in shadows, though I’ve seen equivalent on LCoS projectors in the same price range and maybe a little less.
As noted above, this projector is not excessively bright—it’s best in a dark to moderately dark room. If you want to watch a football game during the day with the lights on, don’t expect the deepest contrast.
Some people shy away from single-chip DLP because of the rainbow effect—an artifact caused by the projector’s color wheel. I’m not terribly sensitive to that anomaly, but I can see it and know how to look for it. On this Runco I did not experience it even once. I tried, but nothing. This is the only single-chip projector I’ve seen that, at least for me, exhibited no rainbow effect at all.
Altogether, this is a great, reasonably-priced projector that gives a significant improvement over the bargain projectors in the $1,000-$3,000 range. If I had to nitpick, I’d have to say the lack of 3D might be a turn-off, considering the fact that there are several 3D projectors for about the same price (JVC’s DLA-X30 comes to mind). This unit also seemed a little loud, but most of the time I used it without any accompanying audio (and I was sitting right next to it). In a normal ceiling installation the projector will be farther from the viewers and have a soundtrack to cover any fan noise.
You can check out the complete specs here.