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Leica‘s Cine 1 Projector: A New Benchmark for Ultra-Short Throw Projection

In a move that‘s sure to shake up the home theater world, iconic German optics brand Leica has announced its first-ever ultra-short throw projector: the Cine 1. Developed in partnership with Chinese electronics giant Hisense, the Cine 1 is a cutting-edge tri-laser projector that can cast a massive 4K image from just inches away from the wall or screen.

The Cine 1 marks an exciting expansion for Leica into the high-performance digital projection market, leveraging over 150 years of expertise in precision optics. It‘s a space that has seen rapid growth and innovation in recent years as an increasing number of luxury consumers demand truly cinematic AV experiences at home. And with its premium specs, striking design, and Leica‘s legendary reputation for uncompromising quality, the Cine 1 looks poised to set a new reference standard for ultra-short throw projection.

So what makes the Leica Cine 1 special, and how does it stack up against the competition? Let‘s take a deep dive into the technology and features that define this stunning new entry into the world of high-end home theater.

Ultra-Short Throw, Zero Compromise

The headlining feature of the Leica Cine 1 is its advanced ultra-short throw (UST) laser projection system. Using a complex array of mirrors, lenses and lasers, the Cine 1 can produce a massive, theater-grade image while sitting just inches away from the projection surface. Placed on a credenza or mounted to the ceiling, it‘s capable of creating screen sizes up to 120 inches diagonal from a distance of only 7.2 inches.

This "zero-space" projection design is transformative for home cinema setups where accommodating a conventional long-throw projector isn‘t practical or desirable. In a traditional projection layout, you typically need at least 8-10 feet of distance to cast a 100"+ image – a requirement that‘s often at odds with the layout and dimensions of a living room or media room.

UST projection solves this spatial challenge by using a combination of extreme lens angles and clever optical folding to produce big-screen results at close range. The projector‘s light is essentially bent and magnified through an intricate system of mirrors and prisms, allowing it to create a geometrically corrected image from a severely acute throw angle.

While ultra-short throw technology has been available in home cinema projectors for several years, the Cine 1 looks to push its performance and refinement to unprecedented heights. The core projection system is built around a three-laser light engine, a notable upgrade from more common single-laser and lamp-based designs.

In a tri-laser (or tricolor laser) projector, the red, green and blue primary colors are each produced by a dedicated laser module and combined to generate the full palette of displayable hues. This yields significant advantages in color accuracy, saturation, and stability compared to projectors that rely on a single blue laser and a spinning phosphor wheel to create white light. Tri-laser designs can achieve a much wider color gamut covering a greater portion of what the human eye can see, resulting in richer, more lifelike images.

Leica rates the Cine 1‘s pure laser light source at a searing 2,500 ANSI lumens, indicating that it should have no trouble delivering a bright, punchy picture even in rooms with some ambient light. And with a stated dynamic contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1, it promises inky blacks and excellent shadow detail preservation. Few if any consumer projectors can match these vital image quality metrics.

Leica Optics: The Difference Maker

Of course, producing an abundance of pristine laser light is only half the battle in a high-performance UST projector. Even more critical is the precision optical system that focuses, folds and projects the lasers onto the screen. And this is where Leica‘s unrivaled pedigree in lens design shines through.

The Cine 1 boasts a bespoke ultra-short throw lens that Leica has dubbed the Summicron, a name borrowed from the company‘s lineup of legendary camera optics. While the exact specifications are a closely guarded secret, Leica has revealed that the lens array features aspherical elements – a rarity in projectors and a hallmark of Leica‘s most advanced photography lenses.

Aspherical lens surfaces are enormously challenging and expensive to manufacture, requiring extremely tight tolerances and special grinding and polishing techniques. But they offer significant advantages over traditional spherical designs, particularly in ultra-wide angle and short throw applications. Aspherical elements can correct for common optical aberrations like distortion and field curvature more effectively than spherical lenses, resulting in sharper, cleaner images from edge to edge.

In the case of the Cine 1, Leica‘s aspherical Summicron lens is the key to its incredible zero-space projection capabilities. Combined with a finely tuned mirror assembly, it allows the Cine 1 to cast a massive image with virtually no geometric distortion from an exceptionally oblique angle. Leica claims that the projector can achieve a razor-sharp focus and even illumination from corner to corner, with none of the blurriness, color fringing or vignetting that often plague lesser short-throw designs.

While we‘ll have to wait for real-world testing to verify these claims, Leica‘s optical heritage and attention to detail certainly inspire confidence. For over a century, Leica lenses have set the standard for resolution, contrast, and color rendition in the most demanding professional image-making applications. With the Cine 1, the company looks to bring that same level of uncompromising performance to the world of digital projection.

Luxury Construction Meets Cutting-Edge Capability

In addition to its state-of-the-art laser engine and optics, the Leica Cine 1 boasts a premium industrial design and build quality befitting its lofty price tag. The projector chassis is milled from a solid block of aluminum and finished in a choice of matte silver or black leatherette, evoking the timeless look and feel of a classic Leica M rangefinder camera.

Around back, the Cine 1 offers a comprehensive set of input and output ports for integration with the rest of your home theater setup. There are three HDMI ports in total, two of which support the latest HDMI 2.1 spec for 4K/120Hz and 8K/60Hz video pass-through. This abundance of HDMI connectivity is a notable advantage over competing UST models like the Samsung LSP9T, many of which are limited to a single HDMI 2.0 port.

Other connectors include two USB ports for media playback, an optical S/PDIF output for digital audio, two RF antenna jacks, and a CI+ slot for pay TV services. The Cine 1 also features an integrated 4.0-channel Dolby Atmos sound system with 60 watts of total power, though videophiles will likely prefer to mate it with a dedicated surround sound setup or soundbar.

On the software side, the Cine 1 runs the Android TV-based Hisense VIDAA smart TV platform. A mainstay on Hisense‘s own-branded projectors and TVs, VIDAA offers direct access to a full suite of popular streaming apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ without the need for an external media streamer. It also includes voice control via Google Assistant and support for popular smart home platforms like Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit.

Hisense‘s laser TV knowhow is a major reason why Leica chose to partner with the Chinese company on the Cine 1 project. Over the past decade, Hisense has emerged as a leader in ultra-short throw projection technology, pouring massive sums into R&D and bringing some of the first consumer-focused laser TVs to market. Today, Hisense offers an extensive lineup of well-reviewed UST models at varying price points, including the flagship 100L9G which shares the same basic laser engine and image processing as the Leica Cine 1.

By combining Hisense‘s proven laser TV platform with its own best-in-class lens design and premium fit and finish, Leica aims to set a new benchmark for ultra-short throw performance and refinement. It‘s a tantalizing proposition for discerning cinephiles and luxury consumers, though one that certainly doesn‘t come cheap.

Priced for Perfection

As you might expect for a product bearing the red dot of Leica, the Cine 1 arrives with an appropriately premium price tag. The 100-inch model (dubbed the Leica Cine 1) clocks in at a cool $7,900, while the larger 120-inch version (Leica Cine 1 Max) will set you back a staggering $8,900. That positions the Cine 1 near the very top of the ultra-short throw projector category in terms of cost.

To put those figures in perspective, here‘s how the pricing stacks up against some of the Cine 1‘s closest competitors in the UST space:

Projector Model Brightness (Lumens) Laser Type Max Screen Size Price
Leica Cine 1 2,500 Tri-laser 100 inches $7,900
Leica Cine 1 Max 2,500 Tri-laser 120 inches $8,900
Samsung LSP9T 2,800 Tri-laser 130 inches $6,499
LG HU85LA 2,700 Dual-laser 120 inches $5,999
Hisense 100L9G 3,000 Tri-laser 100 inches $5,499
Optoma CinemaX P2 3,000 Single-laser 120 inches $3,299

As you can see, the Cine 1 commands a significant premium over even the most expensive competing UST models from top-tier brands like Samsung and LG. For the price of a single 100-inch Cine 1, you could almost buy both a 130-inch Samsung LSP9T and a 120-inch LG HU85LA and still have cash left over.

So what does that extra $2,000-3,000 get you with the Leica? In short, the promise of peerless optics, next-level industrial design, and the cachet of one of the most respected names in the history of photography and imaging. Early hands-on previews suggest that the Cine 1 delivers astonishing sharpness, color fidelity and contrast for a projector of any type, let alone an ultra-short throw model. And there‘s no denying the luxe allure of an aluminum-bodied Leica product in your living room.

Whether that‘s enough to sway buyers in a highly competitive and rapidly evolving projection market remains to be seen. Much will depend on the Cine 1 proving itself as a demonstrably superior performer in real-world use – no easy feat given the strength of recent UST entries from the likes of Samsung and Hisense.

The Shape of Projection to Come

Regardless of its ultimate fate in the market, the Leica Cine 1 represents an exciting new frontier for ultra-short throw projection technology. It‘s a product that challenges preconceptions about what‘s possible from a consumer projector, combining truly bleeding-edge laser and optics with old-world craftsmanship and attention to detail.

If Leica and Hisense‘s gambit pays off, the Cine 1 could redefine the high end of home theater, delivering a level of picture quality, installation flexibility and user-friendliness that simply hasn‘t been achievable from any projector to date. It‘s a product aimed squarely at the most demanding and deep-pocketed AV enthusiasts – those for whom only the best will do, and price is no object.

More broadly, the Cine 1 speaks to the ongoing evolution and maturation of UST projection as a category. Once little more than a niche curiosity, ultra-short throw technology has come into its own in recent years, buoyed by steady advancements in laser light sources, imaging chips, lenses and video processing. Today‘s top UST models are capable of rivaling and in some cases surpassing the best long-throw projectors and even high-end flatscreen TVs in overall picture quality and immersion.

As UST continues to improve and costs come down, it‘s likely that more and more consumers will embrace the technology as an alternative to traditional projection setups and wall-dominating flat panels. The ability to get a massive, bright, colorful image from a small box that sits right below the screen is enormously appealing, particularly as dedicated home theaters give way to multi-purpose media rooms and living spaces.

For now, the Leica Cine 1 serves as an aspirational glimpse of what the future of home projection could hold. It‘s a product that pushes ultra-short throw technology to its limits, promising a viewing experience that‘s second to none. And while its cost will undoubtedly limit its audience to a select few, it‘s sure to inspire a new wave of innovation and competition in the UST space.

In that sense, the Cine 1 is a win for projection enthusiasts of all stripes, regardless of whether they can afford one or not. Because if Leica and Hisense can achieve this level of performance from an ultra-short throw design, it‘s only a matter of time before other manufacturers follow suit at more accessible price points. The Cine 1 may be a product of rarefied air, but the passion for next-level projection that drives it is universal.