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SIM2 Grand Cinema HT 300 E-LINK DLP Projector Page 2

Not Even Remotely Difficult
There are some buttons on the back of the projector that give you access to the menu if you can't find the remote, but I never had to use them. Only the power switch will be of much interest once everything is pieced together. But don't go turning things off from their panel controls; that will confuse the units. Use the remote to put the system into standby. To turn everything back on, just press one of the numbers on the remote that corresponds with the desired input. If you do truly power everything down, remember the correct power-up sequence: projector first, processor second.

The remote is great. It's weighty, but not bulky, and every key is backlit when you hit the backlight button at the upper left of the remote. Remember—it's the upper left. The button at the upper right shuts the unit down. Oh well, you'll learn. The keys light up in a beautiful baby blue that is so bright, you can use it to find other remotes in the dark. It's like the shepherd of remote controls. Not baaad.

The setup menus are a breeze too—once you figure out the menu button is the "+" key. In addition to the standard brightness, contrast, and sharpness controls, the HT 300 has a 36 preset color-temperature and nine gamma settings. The service menu provides access to color-temperature calibration functions, but you'll need test equipment to do more good than harm here. Color and tint controls are also available for all analog inputs, including the four component inputs, but not for the digital video sources.

The SIM2 has only one lamp setting, but it's adequate for practical needs. Overall, the projector has sufficient brightness that it can be used even during cloudy days or at night with some minor ambient lighting. There is no adjustable iris, either manual or automatic. The latter is included in a number of new LCD projectors to improve their black levels, an area where LCD has lagged behind the best DLP designs.

Focus and zoom are initially assigned to the F1 and F2 keys on the remote, although you can reprogram these function keys if desired. With the projector on a wheeled equipment rack just inches behind my chair, I occasionally sat down too hard and moved the chair back enough to tap the equipment rack. As a result, I quickly became an expert at refocusing and rezooming the projector. What a difference from converging my CRT projector! My kids refer to CRT convergence as the video game only I play and everyone else loses. A convergence session on the Dwin projector is a sure way to kill the party mood. With a DLP projector, I've never spent more than 30 seconds getting the image as perfect as possible.

Most of what I watch on a projector is 16:9 based, so the standard anamorphic setting works fine. Even 4:3 material that I expanded to fit my 16:9 screen for fear of damaging my CRT projector or plasma finds itself displayed unadulterated as intended. That's the beauty of DLP and LCD projectors: no burn in. More importantly, no more cutting off Buffy's pretty little head or adding ugly pounds to her lithe figure just to stretch the 4:3 picture to fill the 16:9 screen.

The HT 300 offers an easy way to set up and save three different user aspect ratios, which turned out to be useful. Lots of DVDs have "extras" in which interviews with cast members are shot in 4:3 and then interspersed with letterboxed footage from the film squeezed into a 4:3 frame. I quickly created a user aspect ratio that expanded the image by cropping, but not distorting, the basic 4:3 image. Heads rolled during the interview portions, of course, but the new setting restored the boxed-in letterbox sections of the feature so they filled the entire screen. Other aspect modes are letterbox, panoramic, and "pixel to pixel." That last one reportedly bypasses all signal processing.

The Wheel of Misfortune
There were two instances—once during initial setup and then again a few weeks later—when dark scenes were highly solarized. Watching Kill Bill Vol. 2, blood-red smears all over faces made it look like a Quentin Tarantino film, which—never mind. The point is, there wasn't supposed to be blood on those faces in every scene, and seeing as how it was my first night with the projector, I wasn't sure what was at fault.

Overnight, the projector cured itself, and the DVD looked spectacular. A few weeks later, when it happened again, I called Greg Nicoloso of SIM2, and he told me how to enter the service menu and adjust the color-wheel timing to the figure they have on record as optimal for the serial number of my unit. When I asked him how this could happen, he said that a power surge might be to blame. The fix took a minute and the projector never exhibited the problem after that.

Watching and Weighing
Watching The Heist on the Integra Research RDV 1.1 player was riveting. I'd seen the movie before; it's one of those "I'm not sure why I didn't just rent this" titles, but the image was frequently, though not always, revelatory. Unlike my faithful Dwin CRT projector, which is always a winner with its warm, film-like image, the SIM2 projector was almost surgical in its presentation. Part of it was the added brightness. The HT 300 was never designed to force a PointlessPower presentation in a garishly lit room full of trapped lemmings in business suits, but it was still significantly brighter than the 7-inch guns of the Dwin (even before the Dwin had 4000 hours on it). Part of it was the sharpness—not a false sense of sharpness, but an honest image that wowed me with details I'd never imagined were there.

Test signals looked spectacular. From the Integra's HDMI output, the Snell & Wilcox zone plate from Digital Video Essentials was as flawless and detailed as I'd ever seen. The DVD's added reference material was also clearly worthy of its name.

In practice, with big-budget movies, there was essentially nothing I could lay at the feet of the projector. Color integrity seemed excellent, although Tom Norton's initial calibration was made without knowledge of the hidden service menu. As a result, he simply picked the best of the 36 preset color-temperature settings. (TJN re-measured the unit using the full service menu after this text was written; see the Testing and Calibration section.)

With the closest preset (but without a full calibration), the HT 300's color was excellent, though not perfect. No fixed-pixel projector I've seen can quite capture the lovely shades of violet and soft blues, such as those so prevalently found in Sliding Doors, as my tweaked-to-within-inches-of-death Dwin CRT projector. On the other hand, my CRT's reds could never eek out that violently deep red in the opening credits of Spider-Man 2. With the SIM2, it seemed like they had been painted on the screen with a thick, oil-based pigment.

Switching briefly to the analog component input, again with the solid Integra Research player at the helm, the SIM2's DigiOptic Image Processor did a fine job on Cellular after a little tweaking of the brightness and contrast controls. The early scenes on the Santa Monica pier were natural looking, without the edge-enhancement that plagues other passages in this movie.

The HT 300's component-video performance produced what I might have considered a reference image a year ago—bright, clear, sharp, and relatively artifact-free. But the same scenes through the HDMI (or DVI) input were an order of magnitude better in my view, the actors popping off the screen. The level of detail revealed by the all-digital image merely exposed the degradation inherent in even the best video signal chain when conversion to analog is required. Switching back and forth between the component and HDMI signals simply proves the frailty of video that is converted back and forth between digital and analog. It also proves something else. Digital will win. So long CRTs.

I also took an S-video feed from the Pioneer Elite DV-45a player while watching the same movie, Cellular. The old adage about garbage-in, garbage-out still holds true. The level of color smearing and general softness was a nasty shock even after component video. There's analog, and then there's analog. I drew the line at trying to see what a composite input looked like on the SIM2. Hey, if you're watching a videotape of your kids, you're going to love them, warts and all, but the HT 300's take-no-prisoners presentation was accurate to a fault. And I like that.

I've become a fan of TV on DVD. Standard-def 4:3 episodes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer were guilt-free—at least from the perspective of worrying about damaging my CRT guns from continued exposure to non-widescreen TV. (Damage to my brain is another matter altogether.) Buffy spinoff Angel and Area 51 teen drama Roswell were shot in 16:9 and looked much better overall.

Of course, nothing beats watching an over-the-air high-def broadcast. With HD material, the SIM2 absolutely killed my CRT setup. Primarily, again, it was the higher light output and sufficiently deep black level that made the picture really pop. Couple that with the better resolving power of HT 300 when it came to a 720p source, like ABC's HD broadcasts of Lost and Alias (back to back on Wednesday nights). A 7-inch CRT just can't handle that kind of detail without some smearing and softening. Colors were more vivid as well. In particular, Lost features deep rain-forest greens that were spectacular on the SIM2. I noticed none of the "fluorescent" greens often attributed to DLP projection.

Black level is very good. I never got the sense that any blacks were tilting toward gray. I did occasionally wish there were more levels of gradation in the dark regions. The SIM2 stopped short of noticeable contouring or solarization effects in dark scenes, but blocks of homogenous gray-black did appear on some B-grade material like standard-definition TV. The crappier the source, the crappier the picture. No big surprise there; that's standard across the board, regardless of the display device. With almost any decent DVD, however, the SIM2's blacks were true and uncompromised.

Did it match CRT? No, not in its fluidness, not yet. Some fear that DLP never will never be as good as CRT in the black department, but I'm not one of them anymore. The technology is already borderline fantastic when properly applied, as it is by the wizards as SIM2. With CRT, I feel at times that the darkness is actually washing over me. Not so with DLP yet, but close.

FINI
SIM2 is an Italian company. What, you couldn't guess from those sleek lines? The unit is, in a word, elegant. But this is not simply a case of all style, no substance. The HT 300 E-LINK is perhaps the finest single-chip DLP projection system made to date. It should be required viewing for anyone who reviews DVDs for a pastime. I don't know about you, but I'm sick of reading DVD reviews that claim the picture is excellent when the reviewer's frame of reference is skewed. The HT 300 E-LINK will straighten that out, and it won't sugar-coat the truth (which is that the quality of DVD transfers has been steadily declining over the last few years, but that's a story for another day).

The HT 300 E-LINK's only noticeable fault is its price, which is just a bit more than many serious videophiles can afford. With some good DLP contenders around the $10K point, it's hard to justify the HT 300 E-LINK's $15K asking price—until you see it, that is. For $3000 less, you can get the HT 300 E, without the E-LINK processor, and see the same picture that's making me rave. It's impossible to say something is perfect, what with "perfect" seemingly being reinvented ever few years. But the SIM2 projector is something even better—it is immediately satisfying. Will it satisfy a long-timed CRT projector fan? You bet. It certainly satisfied me.

Hey, Italy. Bravo! Bravo!

Highs and Lows

Highs
• Fine color performance despite setup issues (see Lows)
• Sharp, crisp images
• Separate processor/switcher for convenient installation

Lows
• Unstable color temperature calibration
• Light output lower than many competitors
• Expensive

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