How One Of The Industry’s Most Respected Video Experts Developed His Signature Lines
It’s not easy being Joe Kane. When your goal is video display perfection, finding manufacturing partners unwilling to settle for technical compromises can be a challenge.
Fortunately for Kane, who founded Joe Kane Productions in 1982 to assist the video industry in improving the quality of its products, he was able to partner with two cooperative manufacturers; one helped him design a new projector line and the other formulated a new projection screen surface for achieving improved performance out of 1080p single-chip DLP projection
Joe Kane helped Da-Lite formulate the ingredients for a new projection screen surface to better accommodate new 1080p projectors.technology. The resulting SP-A900B and SP-A800B projectors from Samsung and JKP Affinity screen line from Da- Lite, have sparked a renewed enthusiasm about the capabilities of high-definition video not only in Kane, but also many calibration professionals, a growing list of sales reps, and numerous dealers around the country.
FIRST, THE PROJECTOR
The relationship between Kane and Samsung developed over a period of six years after he learned that the Korean manufacturer was a willing partner for his high-performance single- chip DLP projector project. Despite Samsung’s reputation as a marketing-driven, value- oriented consumer electronics company, it agreed to work with Kane, who only designs products according to the highest performance standards. “When I went to Samsung to build those displays, I held their image quality to systems standards that were created for digital cinema projectors,” Kane said. “It wasn’t, ‘I want to look better than somebody else;’ it was ‘I want to be right according to system standards.’”
Jeffrey and David Goodman were later asked to distribute Samsung’s new projectors to the custom installation channel through their firm, DVE. Jeffrey Goodman pointed out that Samsung probably didn’t know what it was getting into when the manufacturer hired Kane. “He was not there to build them a product that stood out in terms of marketing numbers against the competition,” Goodman said. “I don’t think they knew that Joe was going to give them the best projector on the market either.”
The result of Kane’s vision is a projector line that could never compete in the “specs wars” between video giants in search of higher light output and contrast ratio, but often at the expense a real performance. For example, on a pre-production version of the SP-A900B, Kane noted a contrast ratio of only 135:1. “When you’re used to hearing claims of 10,000, 50,000, and 100,000 to one, then I’m telling you that my projector is 135:1, you’d do a double take and say that you did not even want to consider buying it. That’s why we have to be really careful about people seeing the picture first, before we tell them what the numbers are,” Kane explained.
Samsung’s unexpected dilemma of owning “the best projector out there,” which was too expensive to be low-end and too inexpensive to be high-end,” led to the hiring of DVE (whose previous work distributing Kane’s Digital Video Essentials calibration disc series had endeared them to the video expert) to help build a rep network and promote education about the value of the product. “That’s a new concept for Samsung, I think, because it’s not simply a beautiful product that creates a beautiful picture and is very obvious in a showroom,” Goodman said.
Not to say that the projector’s industrial design is lacking or that its performance is hard to notice, but marketing a two-piece projection system with specs that don’t add up to the inflated claims already in the market, can be a challenge.
THE CALIBRATION PROS
Samsung’s educational efforts would arrive in layers. First, there was Kane and DVE, then there was a network of video calibration professionals, like Ken Whitcomb in Indianapolis, followed by a growing network of reps and dealers who would learn about the projectors’ benefits and quality quotient.
“To some extent, working with people like Ken [Whitcomb] is a big part of what we’re doing setting up this distribution company,” Goodman said.
What seems to impress Whitcomb and his peers most about Samsung’s two new projectors, is the intuitive design of their internal calibration software. The software was adapted by Kane from TI’s Digital Cinema Initiative, a tool originally developed to standardize gray-scale performance when on-the-fly primary colors adjustments were being made on $120,000 DLP digital cinema projectors. Samsung licensed the technology, and Kane improved the user interface to help calibrators and, more so, dealers make final adjustments… without having to take the whole day to do it.
“It takes all of the guesswork out of it,” Whitcomb said during a recent demo. “It used to take me an hour of trial and error— measuring, re-measuring, going back and forth. In this case you measure four colors, plug in 12 numbers, and you’re done.”
In Kane’s opinion, there are three color targets to hit in the video calibration world,
With the cooperation of manufacturing partner, Samsung, Joe Kane is able to achieve what he believes is the best picture quality possible out of a 1080p single-chip DLP projector. The SP-A800B (pictured) arrived first, with the SP-A900B (and 35-percent more “practical contrast ratio”) soon to follow. and those have been standardized by SMPTE and the ITU. He uses the DCI software to calculate the difference between a projector’s actual performance on the screen, against the standards. It has greatly simplified the calibration procedure and helps bring the projectors much closer to correct gray scale numbers, even when adjustments are made to primary colors.
It gives dealers and “tweaks” a way to fine-tune a projector that Whitcomb argues is the best calibrated product out of the box that has ever been on the market. “What we’re doing is providing corrective numbers that take into account the screen and screen gain, so that you can maintain this level of accuracy. We’re matching the two pieces,” Whitcomb explained while demonstrating the final calibration procedure.
SPEAKING OF SCREENS
So Kane, along with Samsung, had come fairly close to his dream projector, but then he needed a projection screen company to elevate its game to properly present the image that he was projecting. That’s when a deal was struck with Indiana-based Da-Lite Screen Company, a company with whom he had partnered back in the 1990s. “Our renewed partnership came out of the fact that we built this beautiful projector, and then I couldn’t show it to anybody. There weren’t any screens out there good enough to show it,” Kane said.
In his tests, Kane found that too many screens were “hotspotting” and that surface textures formulated to increase gain were adding noise to the picture that wasn’t actually there. There were even color shifts from the left side to the right side that were being caused by the screen surface itself. “I clearly understood that the screen was getting in the way of my ability to show good pictures,” Kane concluded.
Kane was particularly pleased with the response of Da-Lite’s Dan Drook, Rich Lundin, Judy Loughran, Blake Brubaker, and especially chief chemical engineer Eric Doll, who immediately saw a way to achieve the goals of a new design.
“I went to the Da-Lite factory with Eric and played around with some combinations,” Kane recalled. “Within two days we’d come up with a screen. When the Da-Lite team looked at the final result, they said, ‘Well, every projector is going to look better on this screen.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s OK with me.’”
Da-Lite’s VP of home theater sales, Dan Drook, noted that this was not the first time Kane had worked with Da-Lite, having partnered on both the Cinema Video 1.3 and Video Vision lines in the mid-1990s. So both sides understood each other coming into the project. “Joe has a no-compromise attitude when it comes to video projection,” he said. “Each time Joe and Da-lite have worked together, our collective goals were achieved. During the HD Progressive project, Joe worked closely with our chemists and engineers, which resulted in everyone learning more about screen technology. This is very important at Da-Lite since some of what was learned can be adapted to other screens we produce.”
Da-Lite’s JKP Affinity will continue to evolve with new sizes and gain options (there’s already a Cinemascope format available), and the company’s efforts to find qualified dealers for the product continues. “We are very selective when choosing a dealer to represent the JKP Affinity series,” Drook said. “We also demand that none of our dealers sell on the Internet, and we will not open the series to distributors.”
TWO TECHNOLOGIES, ONE NAME
Joe Kane seems proud to have his name on a highquality projector line from Samsung and a series of new projection screens from Da-Lite. He, however, does not want dealers to think that the brand combination is an all-or-nothing proposition. For him, each project was a way for him to reach higher and come closer to what he considers video nirvana. The hope by Kane, DVE, and Da-Lite is that dealers and integrators will begin looking for qualities demonstrated in this projector and screen combination in any video products that they sell and install.
“It’s all about this concept of supporting the product and helping everybody really understand that it’s not marketing hype and that the quality stands on its own,” DVE’s Goodman said. “The manufacturers reps and dealers that speak with Joe and decide to bring the new projector line into their showrooms are understanding the value of taking a new approach.”
Da-Lite’s Drook agreed, “Not only has the response from our dealers been great, but their clients are also praising the screen’s performance. It’s an overall win, win situation.”
Jeremy J. Glowacki is editorial director of Residential Systems.