SIM2 Grand Cinema HT300 Plus 16:9 DLP projector Page 3

Through the Glass, Darkly
If I didn't know what was possible with CRTs, I might call the HT300 Plus's blacks and black detail "exceptional," particularly with that second sample and its updated software. But I know better—we're still not talking CRT richness and contrast levels here. But at its best, the HT300 Plus's image was, subjectively, very punchy on bright scenes and even darker scenes, as long as there were bright highlights in the image. On the Stewart FireHawk screen, which I used for most of my viewing, the image from both samples almost never exhibited the dreaded fade into gray haze that has been a problem with most non-CRT projectors when they transition from brightly lit scenes to darker ones.

Only with images that were very dark and low-contrast did the SIM2 occasionally show its limitations. But such scenes can be difficult for any projector, even a CRT (and, with film projection, in all but the best movie theaters as well). Nevertheless, the HT300 Plus didn't do all that badly with them. The Panic Room is shot almost entirely in dark, murky lighting—director David Fincher's favorite "look"—but I never had any trouble following the action, nor was I distracted by washed-out or crushed, grungy blacks.

The surprisingly good blacks of the HT300 Plus were partly the result of SIM2's apparently deliberate decision to limit the projector's maximum light output. As I've already noted, the Plus's brightness was satisfactory for me, but there wasn't much to spare. The projector isn't bright enough, in my judgment, to perform its best on the largest screen that some home users might want, but if you keep the size reasonable (a Stewart FireHawk or similar 16:9 screen that measures no more than seven feet wide, or 96 diagonal inches), the best DVDs should look superb on it. The best HD material looked better than any but the best-photographed films in the best movie theaters.

Since I had both the SIM2 and the new Marantz VP-12S2 (see review elsewhere in this issue) in-house at the same time, I was able to compare them directly, both long-term and in strict A/B style: one projector mounted above the other, same material, alternately blocking one lens, then the other. The Marantz's fluctuating brightness (on the first sample—the one used throughout this face-to-face look) was small enough to ignore for the purposes of this comparison.

The two projectors were intriguingly similar in that they both produced pleasing, sometimes striking images, and their peak light outputs were in the same ballpark. But the projectors were also very different in some ways—differences that were not necessarily right or wrong, but simply the result of the choices—and compromises—each manufacturer decided to make while building the best projector they could around TI's HS2 chip. The SIM2 had richer colors, though our measurements suggest that its appealing reds are not spot-on accurate. The Marantz's post-calibration gray scale didn't have the pinkish cast of the SIM2's. On the other hand, the Marantz's greens were a little more yellowish. Both looked fine on flesh tones, though not precisely identical.

Both projectors had very good contrast and black levels. (Contrast alone is not enough—a projector with a high-enough light output can have a very high measured contrast but still have poor blacks.) The Marantz's got closer than any other fixed-pixel projector I have yet seen—DLP, LCD, or LCoS/D-ILA—to the contrast and black-level performance of a good CRT. The HT300 Plus was more than competent in this respect, particularly the second sample, but still fell short of the Marantz. I'm tempted to declare the Marantz a breakthrough in this department, but won't only because we haven't tested all the new HD2 projectors. (Give us time—we have plans for covering at least three more in upcoming issues!)

Through its component inputs, the SIM2 was clearly the sharper of the two projectors, not only on HD material (see the Marantz review for more on this), but on DVDs as well. I'm big on sharp, crisp images, but they aren't always blessings; I actually had to carefully juggle the Sharpness settings on the SIM2 and the Marantz DV-8300 DVD player to keep the HT300 Plus from looking a bit edgy on some DVDs, particularly those with too much edge enhancement. On the other hand, the Marantz was unfailingly filmlike on good DVDs—and by that I do not mean soft.

If I already owned a SIM2 Grand Cinema HT300, I wouldn't be in a rush to trade it in—the improvements offered by the Grand Cinema HT300 Plus are real but not dramatic. But the perfectionist HT300 owner might still want to give the new model a close look. And if you're looking for your first projector or a replacement for an older model, I'd put the HT300 Plus on my must-see list. Its colors are deep and compelling, its blacks are competitive with any non-CRT projector I've seen, and its picture is as sharp as the proverbial tack. Yes, I see occasional rainbows, but I'm unusually sensitive to them—I've spotted them, to one degree or another, on every color-wheel–equipped DLP projector I've seen.

Audio critics will tell you that one indication that you have a good system is finding it hard to turn it off and go to bed. Good video is very much the same. With the SIM2 Grand Cinema HT300 Plus, 1:00 AM came much too soon, much too often.