Test Lab

Through the Looking Glass with Beamscope

by Henry B. Cohen

EG gave big-screen television a fairly thorough going-over in a July article entitled “Videogames Go King-Size”. In concentrating only on projection sets, however, we overlooked a radically different approach to making your home arcading bigger and better.

The device is called the Beamscope, and in light of its price and performance, it’s a device that ought to be worth a look by gamers who are thinking big. It has been on the market for the last couple of years, but recent improvements in its design make it quite suitable for electronic game-lovers who want a larger playfield without the full expense of a correspondingly larger TV set.

For those who are unfamiliar with the product, Beamscopes are virtually flat, large rectangular magnifying lenses. For use with table model or portable televisions, they are located, via spring-tipped metal rods, in front of the picture tube. By moving the lens approximately 6- to 8-in. away from the screen, the picture size increases up to four magnifications. Manufactured of ultrahard, optically coated, clear acrylic plastic, these fresnel lenses are framed by a thin, unobtrusive band of polished metal. Some future models are expected to be framed in black-colored aluminum to further enhance their appearance. Currently there are three models of Beamscopes available, but by the time you read this a forth should be joining the roster. With these four sizes almost every TV screen will be able to have a Beamscope.

Before detailing performance, it must be stated that Beamscopes are not a gimmick. While many video electronics critics have frowned upon the product in the past, this writer has formed a strong positive opinion while living with two of them for over six weeks. It’s not that Beamscopes are faultless, it’s simply that over time some of the immediate annoyances have faded into memory. Moreover, a brand new lens design overcomes many of the problems associated with earlier models of the product.

To get specific, the original design caused haloing and prismatic colors to appear around the perimeter of the program being viewed. This is less true for videogames, since their playfields rarely take up the entire screen area. In addition, after watching normal television programming for the first time, some viewers reported a slight dizziness and headache.

Both of these phenomena are well known to those at Beamscope. They readily acknowledge that such problems did exist in the past but that most people got over them quickly. This proved to be an accurate statement. By the second day, we no longer felt any side effects from extended viewing through the Beamscope. The haloing, however did not go away; we simply learned to live with it. After awhile, we hardly noticed it at all. The new lens design eliminates the haloing effect and prismatic color borders so much of this discussion is academic.

(Left) Normal TV screen running ColecoVision’s Ladybug videogame. (Center) The same screen with the Beamscope laid flat up against it. (Right) Beamscope moved slightly away from TV set. The Beamscope is capable of even greater magnification, but these photos were shot from a fixed position.

An important benefit of the Beamscope is that, through its extremely clever design, it causes no loss of picture clarity or brightness even though it greatly magnifies the size. This is a result of using a fresnel design which places concentric rings emanating from the center of the lens to its outer perimeter. A more common use of this kind of lens is seen in the viewfinder of just about every standard 35mm SLR camera.

The fresnel rings used to be cut at a steeper angle, which caused refractions of the light coming from the picture tube being magnified. The new design utilizes a less severe cut and so causes the lens itself to absorb almost all of its refracted light. This coupled to an optical coating has eliminated optical ring-around-the-collar so to speak.

In a few cases, however, some reflections are noticeable near the center of the picture. Fortunately, they are short-lived and in a practical sense, virtually non-existent. The only lighting consideration is that putting lamps near the Beamscope can cause some reflections. Of course, nobody recommends lighting your TV picture with lamps anyhow.

In essence, Beamscopes are incredibly good news for people who desire a larger picture but don’t want to make a large investment to get one. We honestly feel that almost any gamer will find nothing but joy in the new lens design and that’s saying a great deal.

As we noted in our earlier piece game playing is more pleasurable if you can sit back and relax away from, and not hunched over, the screen. With extension cords available for most game controllers you are no longer a prisoner of a five foot playing radius. If you own a console TV you can obtain an eminently playable 41 -in. diagonal picture. By pulling the Beamscope even further from the TV you can continue to magnify the center portion of the picture until a pixel fills the room, figuratively speaking. Of course nobody in their right mind would want to do that—would they?

The Beamscope can turn an ordinary TV picture into a big-screen image

For those with 12-in through 15-in. TVs, the TS-25 will provide a 25-in diagonal picture representing a magnification factor of 261-400%. At a retail cost of $59.95 you’ve got to try it first, and then make the purchase.

The TS-30 handles TVs with 17-in. through 21-in. pictures and costs but ten dollars more. Swivel mounts are available for both Beamscope models and hold both the TV set and the Beamscope in proper viewing position. These accessories aren’t mandatory unless you are prepared to view the set from a single, immovable position. The units cost but $19.95 and $21.95 respectively and are well worth this moderate investment.

The TS-41 is for consoles and retails for $219.95. It provides a 41-in. diagonal picture which is mighty big if you haven’t seen one before.

This model is the first to feature the new lens design and one of two (the other is the TS-30) we have pictured in this month’s “Test Lab”.

For the well-heeled it is also available, as shown in a wood grained frame, as the TS-41 D complete with dust cover and cleaning kit for $329.00.

The bottom line. After years of hearing that Beamscopes are gimmicks, this writer has lived with two of them for some time now and wouldn’t be without them. How else can you enjoy the benefits of a giant screen Trinitron picture with virtually no sacrifice in image quality or integrity?

That is how much we like and believe in this product.

We are eagerly awaiting the 10-in. model made for TVs with 5-in. pictures. This single unit will open up a whole new world of practical portable video products.

While no magnifying lens may ever be perfect, the newly designed Beamscopes are good enough for almost anybody and represent a tremendous buy for those who cannot afford, or simply disdain, projection TV. They are, in some cases, preferable to projection TVs in that they can be used with no diminution of room lighting.

At the very least it’s worth a visit to a local retailer to see one in action.

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