Lumagen Radiance Pro Video Processor Review
Radiance Pro Video Processor
From (AUD) $11,999 RRP
After dropping some serious coin on a projector, you may be wondering why you need an expensive Lumagen video processor? The simple truth of the matter is that you don't – but if the prospect of your home theatre projector producing studio-grade images is simply too tantalising, read on all the same…
Spend time in the company of Lumagen founder and chief Jim Peterson, and it's abundantly clear he's passionate about what he does. His goal in designing the Lumagen range was nothing short of achieving studio-grade, reference-quality images from disc players and streaming devices. To do this, the Radiance had to handle every part of video processing, including scaling, image sharpening, colour space conversion, HDR Dynamic Tone Mapping and LUT calibration.
In other words, the Radiance processor takes over as the “engine room” of your projector. It boasts some of the highest performance video switching, processing and calibration currently available. It is equally at home in commercial cinema and grading environments as it is in home theatre applications.
Lumagen's range comprises both the Radiance and Radiance Pro, the latter of which offers Lumagen's dynamic tone mapping algorithm. The Pro is further broken down into the 4242 ($11,999), 4442 ($13,999), 4444 ($14,999) and 4446 ($15,999) – each defined by its number of inputs and outputs. Inputs and outputs support HDMI 1.x and HDMI 2.0, with HDCP 1.x or HDCP 2.2, at up to 4k60. Outputs are available in either 9GHz and 18GHz and can – thanks to the Radiance's modular construction – be ordered in a configuration to suit. These can be changed as required, with the Radiance capable of expanding to a maximum of four outputs and eight inputs.
Aptly described as the “Swiss army knife” of video processors, the Pro offers a formidable range of features. It lets users select a variety of different aspect ratios ranging from 1.10 to 2.50, and supports 2D and 3D anamorphic scaling with or without a lens. Its NLS (Non-Linear Stretch) control enables the Lumagen to rescale images to a variety of sizes. Purists may frown on such a notion, but it opens the door to a variety of options including watching the footy on a 2.35 screen sans the black bars. The Radiance also offers auto aspect switching of sources.
Other enhancements include Lumagen's proprietary No-Ring scaling. Not all scalers are the same, Jim explains, and the Radiance has what they believe to be the best real-time scaler available. Also, amongst a long list of video enhancements is Darbee Visual Presence (DVP) technology (up to 1080p 60) and Lumagen's HDR Dynamic Tone Mapping (DTM).
The greatest challenge for 4K HDR projectors is making High Dynamic Range images – designed for high luminance televisions – look good on low luminance displays. In this regard, Jim claims they're at the forefront with Lumagen's Dynamic Tone Mapping algorithm. HDR metadata can be incorrect or simply not present. In either case, DTM makes its assessment on a scene-by-scene and frame-by-frame basis, resulting in outstanding HDR images, even from low-luminance projectors. DTM, along with many other aspects of the Radiance is continuously being improved, with regular updates posted on their website.
At 432x550x254mm, the Radiance Pro is no bigger than a typical Blu-ray player. Utilitarian in appearance, the front panel is devoid of controls, its only notable features being an IR sensor and LED power indicator. The HDMI connections are around the back, with the fan at the bottom – needless to say, it is best placed somewhere that doesn't impede airflow. Unassuming in appearance, overall build quality is rugged, and the circuitry is housed inside a sturdy aluminium case.
The backlit remote is functional – all the buttons needed to navigate its extensive menus are present and accounted for. They're a little small but not too fidgety to use, although they may be hard for some people to work it in the dark. The package comes with a quick start guide and HDMI and Ethernet cables, and optional rack ears are available upon request.
Australia's Lumagen distributor, Cogworks, made sure we had everything we needed to put the Radiance Pro through its paces at Adelaide's VAF Research, who kindly allowed us access to its reference room for testing. The 23.4 channel reference system (11 bed channels, 6 height channels, 6 overhead Atmos channels and 4 subwoofers) features a mixture of VAF Reference Series speakers including i93, i66 and i90. Four 15” custom VAF subs with a combined 5,000 watts of amplification take care of the low-end, with a Trinnov Altitude 32 handling the processing. Amplification for the main channels is courtesy of Meridian, Emotiva and Rotel.
In addition to the 140” 16.9 screen, three different projectors were available for testing, including Sony's VPL-VW270ES and VPL-VW760ES and BenQ's W12000. Source devices – which consisted of a Panasonic DP-UB820 4K Blu-ray player and Apple TV – were connected directly to the Lumagen. The 9GHz output was connected to the BENQ W12000, while the 18 GHz output was connected in turn to the Sony VPL-VW760ES and VPL-VW270ES, with the audio output to the Trinnov.
The Radiance offers a vast range of controls, broken down into inputs and outputs. Add to this four memory buttons and eight CMS banks – each capable of storing independent calibration profiles – and you have a daunting amount of possibilities, enabling sources to be calibrated both individually and for a range of different scenarios. Although daunting at first, it's incredibly versatile and highly customisable. The onscreen display leaves a little to be desired – the white text on a blue background is somewhat primitive as compared to other GUIs – but is perfectly functional in operation.
MEASUREMENTS & CALIBRATION
When it comes to judging the picture quality of a television or projector, the impact of incorrect picture settings cannot be underestimated. So before making any critical observations, every display we review is professionally calibrated. Measurement tools consisted of an X-Rite i1Pro2 spectroradiometer and C6 colourimeter (profiled against the i1Pro2). Each was tripod-mounted, and measurements were taken directly from the screen with Calman Professional calibration software. Test patterns were generated directly from the Radiance Pro, with the Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark 4K UHD used for verification.
The Lumagen has the most comprehensive range of calibration controls I've encountered. They include 2, 10 and 22 point greyscale in addition to brightness, contrast and gamma. Likewise, all controls can be adjusted in much finer steps than I've encountered on any projector or television. Naturally, a six-point CMS (Colour Management System) is included, although the Radiance also offers 17x17x17 LUT calibration. This is the preferred method for any device as it allows calibration of 4,913 points of colour, as opposed to the six used in a standard CMS calibration.
A basic calibration was performed on each projector, after which a 22 point greyscale and gamma calibration were conducted via the Radiance with Calman. Both SDR Rec. 709 and SDR P3 calibrations were completed, with each stored in a separate CMS bank. SDR was used to bypass the tone mapping controls of both projectors and to allow the Lumagen's Dynamic Tone Mapping (DTM) to work its magic – a process that Jim refers to as putting an HDR signal within an SDR container.
Image quality was nothing short of breathtaking, being clearly defined and razor-sharp, demonstrating a sense of depth that gave a three-dimensional quality. Colour reproduction in both Rec. 709 and P3 proved exemplary. The DTM and LUT calibration resulted in bright and bold colours when called for, yet was equally comfortable reproducing the subtlest of shades found in skin tones and nature.
HDR was yet another eye-opener, the Lumagen's DTM creating some of the best pictures I've yet to see from a projector. The HDR transfer of Star Trek Into Darkness is no slouch by any means, but with the calibrated Lumagen in the video chain, the already excellent transfer was taken to a whole new level. Images were razor-sharp, with a sense of depth that needed to be seen to be believed.
While the improvements were clear on all of the projectors, both Sony's VPL-VW270ES and particularly BenQ's W12000 were putting out image quality that punched well above their respective price tags; so much so that I felt I was watching a much more expensive projector. Colour reproduction was equally impressive, the lava in the volcano as Spock tries to curb the explosion looking suitably angry. Naturally, the wider HDR (P3) colour gamut produced a broader range of colour reproduction, but it was surprising how much bigger the Rec. 709 gamut looked.
When it came to reproducing the more earthbound environments of Deepwater Horizon and The Meg, the Lumagen was equally at home. Fleshtones were perfectly rendered, while the skies and ocean appeared natural and life-like, yet the bright blue tones of wet suits and the neon yellow of high vis vests popped as they should.
More surprising was the Lumagen's ability to handle HDR content, regardless of light output. While the higher brightness Sony VPL-VW760ES and BenQ W12000 fared better in this regard, it was surprising just how well the Lumagen performed with low light-output devices. With the Sony VPL-VW270ES in low lamp mode and putting about 70 nits, HDR images appeared both brighter and punchier than they had any right to. It didn't matter whether we matched the BENQ or Sony's more expensive VPL-VW760ES to the Radiance, the results were the same – projected images were clearly amongst the best I've seen.
On the face of it, this is an expensive piece of equipment, particularly when you consider it costs more than the BENQ W1200 and Sony VPL-VW270ES projectors it was partnered with. Consider though, that it's capable of making mid-price projectors perform akin to those costing much more – so it becomes a value proposition.
Lumagen's claim of producing studio-grade reference images is no stretch of the imagination. Indeed, it produced some of the finest images I've seen in my time as a calibrator, not to mention the best looking HDR images I've witnessed from any projector regardless of price point. So whether you have an ambitious home theatre build or are planning one, the Lumagen Radiance Pro simply has to be on your short-list.
For more information, visit Lumagen.
As the owner of Adelaide based ‘Clarity Audio & Video Calibration’, Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator. Tony is an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products.