Barco Residential Bragi CinemaScope projector

‘Beware the artificial ceiling’ was one of the take-outs from the Australian tour of the Barco Bragi CinemaScope projector, where staff from Barco Residential and its Australian distributor National AV Solutions were demonstrating and explaining the new projector’s considerable abilities to assembled integrators.

They were referring not to a physical artificial ceiling but to the potential of limited expectations in the home cinema projector market, something in which Sound+Image must admit to a role with our reviews of entry-level pixel-shifting 4K projectors in the sub-$5000 market, along with our recognition of the quality delivered by higher-level projectors using native 4K panels.

But as Barco Residential was demonstrating, there is a level beyond, and for those seeking the highest image quality, and plenty more besides, it’s worth considering Barco’s claim that 90% of all actual cinemas are now using digital DLP projection, and that of those, Barco has a 53% market share, representing some 85,000 screens worldwide.

So that’s the message of the artificial ceiling — don’t think the main consumer brands of projectors are as good as it gets. If it’s real cinema at home you’re seeking, Barco is bringing those real cinema technologies to its Residential range. These leverage the technology of Barco’s commercial projection, but with different priorities, such as CinemaScope and HDR (the latter not a commercial priority), and similarly focusing on domestic quality criteria such as delivering improved contrast and colour fidelity, as opposed to the primary commercial drive for greater brightness.

Barco Bragi CS
The new projector uses a solid-state light source rather than a lamp, incorporating LED and HLD (High Lumen Density, a Philips technology) illumination which promises up to 50,000 hours of operation. The presenters from Barco Residential, Bart Devos from the Belgian HQ and Andy Jones from the UK, noted that this long operation time goes for the whole projector, whereas some rival laser systems quote a similar figure even though other elements, such as LCoS panels, they noted, may have only 10,000 hours life. 

The Bragi is quoted at 2100 ANSI Lumens brightness, and again we were warned about comparisons, both for brightness and contrast. The LED source can be perceived as 25-30% brighter than the specification might appear to deliver, thanks to a perceptual phenomenon called the Helmholtz–Kohlrausch effect, where deep saturation of colours is perceived by the eye as higher luminance.

As for contrast ratio, we were advised to ridicule infinite contrast ratios given for rival projectors; Barco’s figures are proper checkerboard white-to-black ratios, rather than separate full-off/full-white measurements.  

All this is supported by a high quality optical engine shared with the bigger Barco Residential brother Balder projector, with all-glass low-dispersion optical elements to maintain exceptional colour fidelity and sharpness. The Bragi has a motorised DCI/P3 filter for HDR performance, meaning that the projector will support both SDR (Rec.709) and HDR (DCI/P3) viewing, and switches automatically depending on the content. This auto detection of material — resolution, aspect ratio and HDR — seems to us a major merit of this projector. 

Andy Jones (left) and Bart Devos (right) from Barco Residential flanking the Bragi CS projector.

Resolution and auto-detection
The Bragi uses an 0.9-inch Texas Instruments digital micromirror device (DMD) of 2560 x 1080 resolution, but doubles this up in the time domain using an actuator to reposition the pixels  (no overlap, we were told), thereby achieving a total of 5120x2160.

It is this wider-than-4K ratio which allows the Bragi to scale CinemaScope content to full width at maximum height, rather than the more usual result of leaving black bars top and bottom, effectively reducing resolution and overall brightness.

It can similarly pick optimum scaling results within this resolution for other aspect ratios.

The combination of auto-detection and Barco’s Single Step Processing allows the best of both worlds. In the demonstration clips shown at the event, there was a momentary image roll (almost like vertical hold sliding in old CRT TVs) as the Bragi auto-detected aspect ratio and switched its scaling for best results, and then a half second later a slight colour change as it adjusted for HDR and colour gamut. This clever combination of metadata use and auto-detection can be manually over-ridden (to overcome the detection of a watermark above the letterboxed movie, say, or to allow the display of subtitles), but its automation will be a boon for non-geek projector users, since with many other brands the aspect ratio requires manual selection, while correct display of HDR levels can require a knowledge of the movie’s mastering, and whether a 1000-nit or 2000-nit or 4000-nit scale has been adopted. Few users will bother to find this information even if it can be found, but Barco’s automatic system will deliver better results automatically within a second of loading the movie.

Meanwhile the SSP, or Single Step Processing, simplifies the application of scaling, warping (keystone correction in other systems) and pre-DMD processing, which in rivals can take place in separate chips on separate circuit boards, introducing significant delays and latency. Barco sequences these operations on a single chip, and bravely claims zero latency in doing so.  

Doing it with mirrors...

Neat positioning solutions
Meanwhile its warping is not simple keystone correction and avoids the issues often involved in this screen-straightening procedure. A four-corner warp system can correct for pin-cushion or barrel distortion, or can accurately map the image to existing curved screens, and Barco is so confident in its accuracy that the warp drive has enabled some potentially useful variants in positioning, some using mirrors to deliver the image to the screen, which Barco says involves only 1.5% light loss per reflection.

So if you are short on room depth, for example, the projector could be mounted vertically on the rear wall, hidden by an architectural surround, and firing up to a mirror and then onto the screen.

A short-throw solution can be achieved by mounting the projector vertically in a cabinet below the screen.

Or a ceiling box can be used which doesn’t drop the whole projector down into the room but instead only a mirror — which looks neater, keeps projector noise out of the room (though the Bragi CS is quiet in operation at 30dB), and takes the strain off the dropping motors for longer-term reliability.

The mirror idea can also solve room design issues where a door or ducting at centre rear prevents a central mounting point — use a mirror instead.

All these possibilities also ameliorate one obvious Barco characteristic — the size of its projectors (although the Bragi is smaller than most). With its frame and core built in aluminium, with a solid magnesium front and baseplate for mounting, the combination of flexible mountain and warp correction make the Bragi surprisingly room friendly, while the auto-detection and scaling make it equally user-friendly. 

Installers further benefit from setting up using the Pulse software platform and the IP-based Prospector web interface, able to adjust the projector while standing next to the screen with a laptop, or indeed from off-site via remote access. Even calibration can even be achieved remotely using the latest auto-calibration tools, so long as someone only semi-expert is in the theatre to confirm the calibration screens as they are used. The Bragi can integrate with Crestron, Control4 and Savant smart-home platforms, with RTI coming soon.

The Barco Bragi CS is available now, price $46,500, from its Australian distributor National AV Solutions: