I must admit that projectors have not received the attention they deserve in our labs, but now that's about to change. As the new year's first review, I'm doing an in-depth projector review for those interested in serious Home Theater visuals. The brand we are looking at is Canon, a well-known name in the market, and the model is one of their higher end pieces from the Xeed line. It's called the Xeed SX80, and is an LCD projector, comprising a special LCOS panel. I can't wait to see the new LCOS technology in action.
Design and Features
A brilliant pearl white finish for the chassis puts this model in the top category of good lookers. With regard to shape, there are no hard edges as the top panel curves into the back panel consistently with centrally located buttons at the curved end. The Canon logo is embossed in silver on the bare top panel. The side and front are dense gray in color; and this model has inputs on the side panel. The lens on the front panel has a plastic cover which detaches completely. I prefer a cover attached by some cord etc., as these do get misplaced sometimes. The tilt-up lever is regularly placed at the center of the front panel, and needs to be pushed in to raise or lower the unit.
The connections offered are an HDMI 1.3 port, a DVI-I, 15-pin VGA, a VGA monitor output, a 3-RCA component input, an s-video, composite and a 9-pin DSub serial port. The display uses LCOS technology, which is a hybrid between DLP and LCD (sort of). It's a newer method, and the full form of LCOS is Liquid Crystal on Silicon. It uses liquid crystals, though they are juxtaposed on a reflective substrate material, thus acting like mirrors just as in DLP. The liquid crystals open and close and the light is either reflected from the mirror below, or blocked. This defines the brightness of each pixel and creates the image. The main advantage of this tech is that the space between pixels is very minimal, and the image looks smooth as silk. Thus, our projector has quite a large chassis, but I'm expecting some really good image quality out of this pricey baby.
The complete specs are in the pic, though the important ones are as follows: Brightness is 3000 ANSI lumens, Contrast is 900:1, Resolution is 1400x1050, native 4:3, and the light engine is a three-panel LCOS with 230W NSH lamp. The lamp life is 2000 hours; 2500 in eco-mode. There is an onboard speaker rated at 1 meager watt of output. I believe these models should come without a speaker, one watt is too less.
First things first, a few points on setup. We kept the unit about 12-13 feet away, and achieved a large screen size of 100 inches in full focus. I will have to second the common opinion that LCOS projectors have the smoothest image. The projector has an auto-adjustment button, that does the focus, keystone and size adjustment. This we used, and were thoroughly impressed. Within 4 seconds we had an optimum screen in front of us.
We started off with our regular grayscale tests and calibration, and then measurements of the SX80's pure luminance were taken. The graphs are all displayed: as you can see the projector is pretty neutral, grayscale curve was smooth at 6500K all the way to 100 IRE. this is a very good thing, and implies accurate representation of different levels of brightness. While testing for contrast and brightness, the best option is to use sRGB mode, in fact this mode is pretty spot on throughout the color tests.
Lamp mode should be kept to 'quiet', which will yield a lesser level of max light, though it makes the image better and more neutral. Contrast can be set to +5 max, and black levels are best at a slight negative rating of brightness at about -4. The black levels were good, subjectively speaking, but not spectacular. In my black to white bar pattern, the low intensity (blacker) bars were merging up - no distinction there. It is also recommended to reduce the gamma on the projector to a negative rating when using Windows PCs.
The realm of color is an interesting one to check, especially if there are options and flexibility; and in the case of the SX80 we have a wide array of controls, including the 6 axis color control. Thus we put our color plugs, and soon were tracking some nice and accurate colors, of course not without tweaks. The sRGB preset is the best, though it's not spot on. About 10- 15% excess RGB levels were encountered on measuring, but these measurements do not really mean that an image will look bad.
Moving on to watching real movies and playing games, we used I Am Legend and Pan's Labyrinth Blu-ray, while i played Prince of Persia on the PC. The images were very vibrant and colors were quite realistic. I liked the neutral, straight forward approach of the images and overall detail was also impressive. In fact there was a level of sharpness in the images, which surpassed most of the recent projectors. One point needs to be made - there was an ever so slight linear distortion in the images. This was not apparent in the movies, but rather in text, and our test images. Some vertical lines - 1/3rd from the right edge - appeared slightly thicker than others.
At Rs. 2,20,000, this projector is in no way cheap, though LCOS technology is expensive. Is it better than an LCD projector? Sure, there's no doubt about that. The colors are fine enough, and the light output is very good. Watching a film or viewing highly detailed illustrations is a treat on this projector, and the best part about it is the detail. Absolute black levels are short of amazing, so it's not like it's perfect, but the SX80 does really make a great choice for someone who can afford the hefty tag.
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