SIM2's C3X Projector Review - General Performance
In this section we will look at the following general performance and capabilities of the C3X projector.
User Memory Settings
Lens Throw and Lens Shift
SDE and No Rainbow Effect
Audible Noise Levels
Lamp Life and Replacement
Projector Screen Recommendations
Menus are accessed from the F1 and F2 keys on the remote. From the menus themselves you can program which menus are tied to which of those two keys, allowing you to more quickly get to what you want. This is not quite as fast as having direct buttons on your remote for many adjustments, but then, this should be of benefit when programming a 3rd party remote or room controller.
The most powerful main menu for controlling color and image performance is the Image menu (not all menus have names) shown immediately below. In addition to Aspect ratios, you see their color grid summary (28), access to gamma settings, and an overscan control (probably very handy for conventional TV or VCR, but I didn't use either.
The next two images show the color grid, which let's you navigate around preset color balances. As you can see, in the lower center I have the projector set on a Dot that comes up as 28. That was my favorite non calibrated color when I first started playing. I used the 28 setting as the basis for the calibration, so if I were to change the setting to 32 or 9, it would change the overall color balance, although I suspect my adjustments to individual R, G and B, would now affect the default settings of 32, or 9, etc. To use the color grid, you navigate with the remote's arrow keys.
Gamma control gives you eight different presets. The manual advises that some are better for fully darkened rooms, others for more ambient light, some for graphics, sports, etc. In addition there is a User area that allows you to define a gamma using the usual 2.2, 2.3... 3.1... settings.
There are two more active menus of note, one I'll call the OSD (on screen display menu, which allows you to postion the menus on the screen.
It also let's you determine opacity, program the F1 and F2 keys as mentioned elseshere, and whether to dispaly source info when you change sources.
There is also the Setup menu, which controls the lamp brightness (a slider bar), orientation (floor, ceiling...), keystone correction (avoid using keystone correction), some control of power/standby, controlling the backlit logo on the top of the projector, and access to the 8 provided test patterns.
Lastly on the Setup menu is a projector reset, called Initial Settings. The manual, as I recall, decribes what gets reset.
The last menu is the Information menu. It's pretty self explanitory:
There are three User Memory settings. I did not work with them but the manual explains that they are device dependent. So, you effectively have one for at least each different input, and beyond that, for each device being fed though that input, that the projector can tell apart. That is important because many of us only have one cable, coming from an AV receiver, or perhaps an HTPC. You could for example, for each device have one memory setting for your fully darkened room, another for some ambient light, and a thired for whatever you come up with.
Not bad, not bad at all, for a remote that few will use. I find it hard to believe that anyone plunking down $20,000 (or even $16,000) retail for a C3X or C3X lite, will end up using the projector's remote. Almost certainly you would end up with a nice room control system, like a Crestron, or perhaps a smaller, high quality remote to control all your devices, like an MX3000, etc.
Sim2 offers a choice of two lenses with the C3X or C3X Lite. My review unit came with the longer throw lens (which is why I couldn't completely fill my 128" screen in my room). The longer throw (they describe as the standard T2 lens) is a 1.5:1 with a throw of 2:1 (times screen width) to 3:1.
The shorter throw lens has a little less zoom range according to their website, a 1.33:1. with a throw of 1.5 times screens screen width to 2:1.
For a 100" screen (roughly 87" wide), that translates to the longer throw lens being able to fill the screen from 174" away to 261" away. With the shorter throw zoom, for the same sized screen: From 131" to 174". In all cases that is measured from the front of the lens.
The C3X has lens shift rated at +/- 50% of screen height. As a result, the projector can be positioned anywhere from the lens even with the bottom of the screen to even with the top of the screen.
First, of course, this is a three chip DLP, so no rainbow effect that exists for single chip DLPs. Next comes seating distance relative to a screen door effect. I am primarily used to reviewing single chip DLP, and 3 panel LCD home theater projectors. The C3X pixel structure behaves pretty much the same as a single chip, in terms of how close you can sit before pixels become slightly visible in stationary very bright areas, or things like credits white on black at the end of a movie (always the most noticeable, but who cares).
In my normal theater viewing room, where I watched probably close to 20 hours of content over the week and a half, I had the projector, I sat in my usual chair, eyes 11 feet from the screen. However I was only projecting a 110" diagonal image, so I was about 1.3 times screen width away. Pixels were completely not an issue. I would say that most viewers will be perfectly happy at 1.1 times screen width (about 9 feet from a 110" screen).
We are talking at these distances the point where pixels might be noticeable. You would have to be closer than that still to actually note distortion known as the screen door effect.
In other words, you can comfortably sit as close (relative to screen size) as any other DLP 720p projector on the market, and much closer than most LCD projectors. Only LCOS technology (D-ILA, SXRD, etc.) have significantly less visible pixel structures.
BTW up close I did note some misalignment of the chips. you could see some separation of the red and green. The amount of misalignment was a very minor (a small fraction of a pixel), and not at all visible at any normal seating distance.
The projector is rated at 28db. I believe them. I was certainly quiet enough. Any minor noise from the fan should completely dissapear into the background if the projector is ceiling mounted. I watched content with the C3X on a table approximately 5 feet behind me. Once I had content on, I never noticed the projector, even on the quietest of scenes.
Extremely Bright - the Brightest Home Theater Projector I have tested (there are some commercial/HT projectors out there that are brighter). The C3X provides a slide control for lamp brightness in watts, from 250 watts (full power - equates to their 2500 lumen rating), to 200 (2000 lumens). This of course, is not at 6500K nor calibrated. When I did my measurements, I had the lamp set for 200 watts, and with the Optic One meter (with diffuser), I measured a whopping 903 lumens on the C3X, (not even in highest power mode) by far the brightest I have seen to date, in an HT projector in its best mode. (I should note that lamp hours were approximately 80 when I started the whole measurement process, so the lamp was probably not quite as bright as brand new. Some professional calibrators recommend waitng until a projector reaches about 200 hours on the lamp before calibrating (which would also show a little additional loss of lumens).
This brightness was measured after the projector was calibrated, with color temperature of 6473K (at 100IRE). Also the zoom lens was in its widest position (thowing the largest possible image, which should be slight bit brighter than in narrowest position.
We can calculate from the low power setting, that, at full power the Sim2 C3X should come up with 1106 lumens. I did not do a separate measurement nor check for any shift in color at full power.
Now, compare this brightness with lower cost projectors, particularly those using AI with variable irises and sometimes lamps that dim and brighten frame by frame. Most of these projectors in their best modes produce between the low 200 lumen range and 400 lumens (calibrated), and even in brightest and significantly poorer performing modes, rarely do they even approach 1000 lumens. This C3X is an exceptionally bright projector by any measure.
Since the C3X is a 3 chip DLP, without iris's and dynamic lamps, etc., image quality, contrast, etc., should remaing consistant regardless of lamp brightness. As a result you have here a projector several times as bright as most less expensive home theater projectors. How bright it is compared to projectors more similarly priced we shall see shortly, as the next high end projector for review, InFocus's Screenplay 777, is already in transit as I write this.
And it means that in a fully darkened room, the C3X projector can deal with some seriously large screens, perhaps as large as 160" diagonal or more depending on screen surface. I found the Sim2 easily bright enough with the lamp set for 200 on my Firehawk. The image was very bright.
Important note, I tend to mention that my Firehawk screen is 128" diagonal. Due to the long throw zoom on the C3X, I could not fill the screen, rather only projecting at about 110" diagaonal. At full power, it should have filled all of my 128" with approximately the same brightness.
All this brightness also means that you can have very, very low lighting and still enjoy movies with only slightest bit of loss on the darkest areas - or better still, be able to have significant room lighting and enjoy bright images on more traditional HDTV/TV content, including sporting events. I was able to watch some basketball and other sports with the my full room lighting (recessed ceiling lights none throwing any significant light directly onto the screen) , and enjoy a truly impressive, dynamic image. And with lower lighting - what I call modest - just light enough to read a newspaper, but you would want some more light to do so, HDTV sports looked about as perfect as would need be. I should note that the settings for HDTV are significantly brighter overall, although I did not measure them. If I had to guess, though, with the lamp on full, I wouldn't be surprised if the projector hit 1500 lumens (cooler color temp for HD helps as well).
I found having all that horsepower, downright wonderful. Some say a projector can be too bright, In my room as I do not yet have dark walls, I never felt that was a problem!
The Sim2 lamp is certainly not a bargain, at $899 retail price. According to Sim2, it has a rated life of 2000 hours at the 200 watt setting (low power), and 1500 hours at the high power (250 watt) setting. This projector, however is so bright, that few users will have rooms and screens large enough to require full power.
The lamp housing is on the bottom of the projector. Sim2 advises that if the projector is mounted, it has to be removed from the mount to properly replace the lamp.
Well I certainly can recommend a 128" Firehawk, since I used it extensively, and enjoyed every minute of viewing the C3X on it. However, if you have a fully darkened room with black walls, etc., the StudioTek 130 offers the avantage of no hot spotting. It also offers just slightly higher gain. I would say that you would certainly want at least 100" diagonal, or this projector could be overwhelmingly bright in a fully darkened room. and if your screen is that small, I'd probably recommend a Grayhawk, or equivilent. However, if you are going smaller than 110", you may just want to save yourself about $4000 and go with the C3X Lite. It is rated at 1500 lumens so at its brightest, it should still produce between 600 and 700 lumens, brighter than the vast majority of home theater projectors.
Screens are trickier to recommend than the projectors themselves as they are so sensitive to the issues in your room (excepting fully darkened rooms with black walls. Location of small amounts of ambient light, the seating position across, and relative distance to the screen, are all factors that can make one screen perfect for your room and another better for an almost identical layout but with a difference in one of these and other issues.
When I normally calibrate a projector, I rely on the standard accessable color controls. In the case of the C3X, they offer a very interesting grid for tuning the color (you can see an image of it in the Menu section). Unfortunately I was not able to get an accurate calibration using it. In trying to achieve the desired 6500K, the closest I could get was mid 6600's, or drop way below to the high 6100 - low 6200 range. Neither provided acceptable results and flesh tones were definitely less than pleasing.
I contacted SIM2 and they provided me the access codes to the service menu, allowing me access to the tradttional RGB Gain and Offset. Once here I was able to get a very good calibration with almost all values from 10 IRE to 100 IRE between 6450 and 6495.
The final results produced excellent color. I will note that my goal when calibrating, is to get as close to ideal as possible, but quickly. By comparison a good professional calibrator will spend far more time, and further refine the calibration settings. The results I do get, however, invariably produce excellent results, if not as perfect as possible.
By the numbers:
Contrast 50 (that's with a high contrast screen (the Firehawk) - I would guestimate that with a non HC screen more like 55-56?
Color grid 28
Gain: Red=5, Green=5, Blue=0
Offset: Red=0, Green=0, Blue=-2
Below I have provided images of the readings for 100, 80, 50, 30 and 20 IRE in sequence. (re brightness: Ignore the Y fl, other than the 100 IRE, as the distance to the projector varied while doing the color calibrations. I only measured precisely for the 100 IRE.)
If I found a flaw with the C3X it was noise in the images. DLP's are generally known to display some noise in very dark areas, and the C3X was no exception. Under normal viewing circumstances, I did not find this to be a problem.
I should note again, that the C3X is very, very bright. If you get a C3X and really like pumping out the maximum lumens, on very dark scenes you may notice the noise. There are several cures. First, dim down the projector, if you are running full power drop the lamp to 200W. If you are still so bright because of your choice of screen size and room environment, you could always add a neutral density filter in front of the lens.
Or, you could turn down the projector's brightness setting, below the correctly calibrated point, (which will cost you some shadow detail). With the 110" sized image projecting on my Firehawk screen (which has positive gain of around 1.25 - claimed), the projector was extremely bright. But at 200 watts I still found the overall noise issue not to be distracting. I'm speaking here of scenes that are overall every dark. If you have a scene with large bright areas, and some pretty dark ones, your eyes will adjust to the brightest parts, and you are far less likely to notice noise in the dark areas.
Garbage In, Garbage Out: The problem with a projector of this high caliber, is that, it is exceptional at reproducing the source material!. Say What?
Great stuff looks great, and at the same time, if you have lousy source material, the projector will easily reveal the flaws.
I enjoy viewing sci-fi, which often means lots of nifty space scenes, and usually production qualities on sci-fi flicks are very good. When viewing the C3X, the first evening, I put on a new DVD I had just got - the movie Zathura. They have some really cool space scenes, for sure. Unfortunately, on some of them I noticed major blockiness in the almost all black areas. A very visible and very annoying distortion. (Note, this was before calibration). After much reflection and a little consulting with SIM2, it was pretty much concluded that what I was seeing was most likely MPEG compression issues from the DVD.
I should note, that after calibration which lowered the brightness setting, the problem was far less visible, but still there. (default brightness is 50 on the C3X, I calibrated and ended up with 47 - each 1 point step is visible)
Ultimately, because I still found it to be slightly visible, I lowered the brightness a little more - to 45, which made the problem drop to a level where I only noticed it if looking for it. . This did cost me some faint stars in the background sky, but a very livable solution. Again, had I been filling my entire Firehawk screen, overall the image would not have been quite so bright to begin with.
Of course, hopefully, when we get thos Blu-Ray, or HD-DVD movies, they will not only be higher resolution, but also provide cleaner source material as well.
This section is called the performance section for good reaon, and as you have read, the Sim2 C3X overall, does perform very well.