Sim2 C3X DLP Video Projector 
Home Theater Front Projectors DLP Projectors
Written by Kevin Miller   
Monday, 01 May 2006

Introduction
Price erosion in the home theater business is even reaching the upper echelons of ultra-high-end video. Thanks to Infocus dropping the price of their 777 three-chip DLP projector from $30,000 list, at that time the least expensive three-chip on the market, to an unbelievable $15,000 back in September of 2005, other manufacturers have been forced to drop their prices as well. Enter the Sim2 C3X, the most compact of the heavyweight three-chip DLP projectors, which carries a list price of $18,000.

There are two major advantages to three-chip vs. one-chip DLP projector designs. The first is much more light output. The second and perhaps more important from a picture quality perspective is far superior color saturation. Sim2s C3X is a light cannon that will easily drive nine-to-10-foot-wide screens with ample light output, and it has an ultra-compact design with an extremely small footprint. It measures 17.13 x 7.48 x 16.93 inches (WxHxD), and weighs just 24.2 lbs.

Design
The design of the C3X is oh-so-Italian with sleek lines and a sexy, curvaceous look that is a pleasure to behold. No need to hide this piece of video gear. My review sample had a two-tone finish of gun-metal gray on the top of the projector, and a much lighter metallic gray on the rest of the body. Its design continues a family look with Sim2’s previous smaller one-chip designs with the lens assembly located to the left of center when in a floor-mounted configuration, and to the right side of the chassis when flipped upside-down and mounted on the ceiling. It does look like an overgrown HT300, which was their original 1280 x 720 resolution one-chip from a few years back.

Ergonomically speaking, the C3X is a bit problematic. The remote is a little awkward in its design, layout and functionality. Thankfully, it is fully backlit if you press the light button on the upper left corner. Operating the unit initially proved to be a challenge. I started my set-up at the component video input, as my Time Warner Cable boxes’ DVI output is not HDCP-compliant, and I wanted to spend a lot of time watching HD material. I found that, as of this writing, the component video input comes set for use with only 480i signals. It is necessary to go to an unused input, then enter the menu and change the component input to Auto Detect in order for it to see and display 1080i or 720p HD signals.

After my first full day of viewing, upon trying to power down, I found another quirk. The unit wouldn’t shut off with the power button on the remote the way I powered it up. It turns out there are F1/F2 keys items in the menu, with a number of selections that allow you to choose which button on the remote will power it down. Mine was set to focus. Even after changing this to the standby option (read: power button), I still could only shut down the projector with the focus button on the remote. From then on, I got no picture when powering up the projector until I hit a combination of the arrow down and menu buttons on the projector itself, and I discovered that quite by accident. All I can say is, do your homework on this piece before you install it or you will likely be wasting a lot of time and get very frustrated with initial set-up and use.

Features
As with virtually all front-projection systems, the features are nearly all technical, geared toward flexibility of set-up and installation. A motorized zoom and focus means you can size and focus the picture with your nose on the screen, which is convenient and accurate. I was a little disappointed to find that the C3X has only vertical and no horizontal lens shift. This is a physical adjustment at the projector, which is supposed to aid in the physical positioning of the projector relative to the screen.

I created a mount above my Runco CRT, and flipped the C3X upside-down as you would do with any ceiling-mounted projector. This placed the lens about three or four inches above my screen material and I was dismayed to find that there wasn’t anywhere near enough vertical lens shift to get the image on my screen. This really defeats the purpose of vertical lens shift. In the case of the C3X, this feature adds far less flexibility to the installation than with any other projector with vertical lens shift that I have ever worked with. Needless to say, this forced me to create a floor mount in my theater.

A color temperature feature allows you to adjust the color temperature with a graphical implementation of CIE color space with well over 30 points to choose from. This method is not accurate, and should not be substituted for a full blown grayscale calibration in the service menu. The video processing does have the all-important 2:3 pull-down detection for the elimination of motion artifacts from film-based material.

A gamma correction feature offers over 10 choices of gamma settings. I found User 2.5 to be the most accurate, with the slowest rise out of black and the least choppy grayscale tracking. A lamp power feature gives you a range of 200 to 250 watts on the lamp, which is useful for setting light output when used in conjunction with the contrast control. Of course, vertical and horizontal keystone is on board here, but I highly recommend you spend the time to mount the C3X properly relative to the screen so you don’t have to use this feature, as it destroys picture quality by reducing resolution and introducing unwanted artifacts.

Connectivity on the C3X is reasonably comprehensive. A single HDMI input is a little disappointing. There is a slot that is actually scored right next to it where a second HDMI input could be added. A broadband component video input is the other input for use with high scan-rate video sources like a video scaler, scaled SD DVD players and HD set-top boxes. A 15-pin VGA input is included for PC hook-up. An S-video and composite video input are on tap for SD sources like VCRs, etc. A USB 1.1 port and an RS-232 port are included for updates (USB) and control (RS-232) purposes. There is also a 12-volt trigger for electric drop-down screens. Finally, oddly enough, there is an optical digital audio output.

Performance
Overall, the performance of the C3X is a disappointing one for a projector in this class. It is extremely bright, and therefore capable of driving very large screen sizes of at least nine to 10 feet in width. As far as clarity and resolution, it is quite good, but it falls short in the area of color accuracy due to the incorrect colors of red, and especially green, which in turn will affect the accuracy of the secondary colors of cyan, magenta and yellow. Color decoding is good particularly on red, but not quite perfect on green. I would also like to see better gamma implementation, which would improve grayscale tracking and shadow detail. The grayscale before calibration from 20 to 100 IRE was pretty good. However, at the component input, it was extremely green from just above black all the way to 50 IRE, or the middle of the grayscale. Post calibration measurements revealed a flatter, more linear grayscale, and the visible green cast was removed.

The lens on the C3X is excellent. I had the short-throw version, due to the limitations of my 18-foot-long room. Chromatic aberrations are normally worse on short-throw lenses, due to the light path being spread out toward the outer edges of the lens, but the CX3’s short-throw lens had only very slight aberrations. These so-called “chromatic aberrations” appear as blue and/or red fringing around white lines, similar to a CRT projector slightly out of alignment. In any case, detail and clarity were excellent on the C3X, due in large part to the excellent choice of lens.

The video processing in the C3X, while it does have auto-detect 2:3 pull-down for film sources and 2:2 for video source material, is fairly noisy. I saw a lot of low-level noise in some HD content on my Time Warner cable system, as well as on my reference interlaced DVD player, the Panasonic RP91. I also noticed some significant “false contouring” or “solarization” artifacts when looking at 480i DVDs from the same player. Significant edge enhancement is also present and undefeatable. The sharpness control and the filter control both seem to affect edge enhancement. When both these controls are set to minimum, the edge enhancement is nearly gone, but the loss of detail is significant and the image becomes unacceptably soft.

Black-level performance is quite good. Blacks are deep, rich and inky in really dark material. This is largely due to the fact that the C3X utilizes the current state-of-the-art HD2+DC3 or Dark Chip 3, as it is called, from Texas Instruments. A good black-level torture test is a variety of scenes from the excellent DVD transfer of “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.” The opening scene in particular is very telling, as it all takes place in space with a star field and complete black in the background.

The beginning of the opening scene is rendered well, but a couple of minutes in, as the camera pans on the underbelly of the spaceship, false contouring artifacts become readily apparent, and the poor gamma rears its ugly head as well. It looked like that, below five or 10 units of white, the grayscale had gone magenta or minus green. A subsequent pan of the planet shows both of these anomalies as well. Because of these issues, I recommend mating the C3X with a high-quality video processor like the DVDO VP30. This will help with the low-level noise issues, and will also help clean up some of the artifacts in dark material as well. At the very least, you should use a good scalable DVD player with this projector, like the Denon DVD3910 run at 720p. In fact, when I switched my Panasonic RP91 to 480p, most of the false contouring artifacts were eliminated.

On bright material, the C3X fared much better. One of my reference DVDs, “Lord of the Rings: The Return of The King” (New Line Home Entertainment), looked pretty good on bright scenes. However, the opening scene, when Smeagol finds the ring in the river, reveals the extremely yellow primary of green when you look at the grass at the edge of the river. The inaccuracy of the green becomes painfully obvious when you see things like grass in a field or certain kinds of green fruit that you are familiar with.

HD performance was better, but certainly not as good as it could be with this technology. Again, bright material looked mostly good with excellent color saturation and detail. I was pleased to find that both the component video and HDMI inputs cleanly delivered all the resolution in a 720p HD resolution test pattern. Color saturation was awesome, which is one of the major benefits of a three-chip DLP projector design with good color decoding. On the Discovery HD channel, “Fantastic Festivals of the World” had excellent color saturation and people’s skin tones looked quite natural.

The Downside
There are few negatives that need to be mentioned. The vertical lens shift is basically useless for traditional ceiling-mount configurations where the projector is mounted upside-down and hung from a bracket, as there is very little range when the lens is near the top of the screen material. If it is hanging way down in the room in the middle of the screen, it will offer some flexibility, but this is a highly unlikely scenario.

As previously noted, the primary colors of red, green and blue are far from accurate and can not be changed or improved the way they can on many projectors in this class. Red measured x=667 and y=331 (a bit reddish-orange), green measured x=358 and y=625 (extremely yellow-green) and blue measured x=143 and y=060 (reasonably close to the SMPTE C spec). This is evident, particularly with the green. When looking at objects that you are extremely familiar with, like fruit and grass, you realize that the color is simply wrong. Finally, gamma on the projector is definitely not correct at any of the settings. This results in a slightly choppy grayscale and a slight lack of shadow detail in dark scenes, because the projector comes out of black way too fast.

Conclusion
The Sim2 C3X has some strong points like good color decoding, awesome light output and contrast ratio capabilities. Unfortunately, it also has some glaring weaknesses that I would really like the company to address. The color green is the major offender, and there really is no reason for it. Yes, a yellow green will be brighter, but this is a virtual light cannon that can afford to give up some light output for the sake of color accuracy. At this stage of the game, with so many companies doing really good video scaling, there is no excuse for such poor video processing, particularly in a display that costs $18,000. So if you think you will be watching standard-definition cable or satellite, you definitely want to use this projector with a high-quality scaler that you can feed the C3X 720p for all your SD sources. If these few issues were improved upon, Sim2 would have a real winner on its hands.
Manufacturer Sim2
Model C3X DLP Video Projector
Reviewer Kevin Miller
Chipset 3-Chip





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