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SIM2 MICO 50 LED DLP Front Projector Review

SIM2 has been making some of the finest projectors for the home cinema markets the world over for years now. To add more credence to their already storied reputation, filmmaking legend Francis Ford Coppola has recently given SIM2 and their products his personal stamp of approval, using SIM2’s Grand Cinema C3X Lumis Series projectors in his home and studio. While it’s no secret SIM2 can design and manufacture a traditional front projector, the question that remains to be answered is – can they carry on the tradition for excellence when it comes to building an LED based projector? That’s what I wanted to find out.

The SIM2 MICO 50 LED based DLP projector arrived right on the heels, literally, of another first generation LED DLP projector. I was actually quite pleased with the other LED projector’s performance, so right away the MICO 50 had some stiff competition. The MICO 50 retails for around $22,000 depending on how you have it configured; SIM2 offers the MICO 50 with a variety of lens options such as long throw and short throw zooms as well as fixed and anamorphic lenses. The MICO 50 comes standard with either a long throw or short throw zoom lens. My review sample was configured with the standard long throw zoom. Fans of SIM2 may recognize the MICO 50 for it uses the same chassis as SIM2’s previous HT500E projector, though that’s where the similarities end. The MICO 50 is large, larger than other LED-based DLP projectors on the market, measuring in at 21 inches wide by nine inches tall and 25 inches deep. The MICO 50 tips the scales at a hefty 55 pounds making it a true, two-person endeavor when it comes time to install it in your home. The reason for the MICO 50’s heft has a lot to do with its all aluminum exterior as well as its largely aluminum and steel structure inside as opposed to the competition, which uses plastic throughout. There’s no denying the MICO 50’s build quality both visually and physically for I’ve never seen a more beautifully finished projector, nor one that feels as solidly built.

In terms of connections the MICO 50 offers all of the connections you’d expect to find in a projector of this caliber, which include two HDMI 1.3, component video, composite video, S-Video and a single graphic RGB (monitor) inputs. There is a USB input, however it is for control and firmware updates only. Speaking of control the MICO 50 offers full RS-232 support as well as a single wired remote input and two 12-Volt trigger outputs. The rear of the MICO 50 is also where you’ll find the projector’s manual controls for items such as power on/off, menu, lens adjustments etc.

Inside the MICO 50 uses a single chip DLP light engine with Deep Color from Texas Instruments illuminated by Luminus PhlatLight PT-120 R/G/B LEDs. The LED system gives the MICO 50 a life expectancy of 30,000 hours or 10 times the lifespan of a traditional 3,000 bulb based projector. The MICO 50 is rated at 800 ANSI Lumens, which is at least 200 ANSI Lumens more than the competition. The MICO 50’s native resolution is 1920×1080 pixels and has a reported contrast ratio of 100,000:1 in its DynamicBlack mode. The MICO 50 uses an internal 10-bit video processor, though no specific name was given as to which video processor is used. Lastly, the MICO 50 utilizes a liquid cooling system to keep all of its internal components cool and running smoothly with the projector’s warm air being vented out of the back.

As I stated earlier, the MICO 50 comes standard with your choice of either a motorized short throw or long throw lens capable of screen sizes ranging from 65 to 200 inches diagonal. The MICO 50 can accommodate 4:3, 16:9 Anamorphic, LetterBox, panoramic and pixel-to-pixel aspect ratios as well as provides three customizable aspect ratio settings. For true 2:35 or 2:40 aspect ratio projection you’ll need to switch to one of SIM2’s fixed lenses or employ the help of an anamorphic lens adaptor or sled. The standard zoom lenses are motorized for zoom and focus as well as shift, for which the MICO 50 offers a generous amount – up to 60 percent up and 25 percent down of screen height as well as seven and a half percent horizontally.

Lastly, because of its LED design, the MICO 50 draws less than a single Watt in standby and a maximum of 370-Watts at full power. Also, the MICO 50 is mercury- and lead-free so no recycling fees will be assessed upon purchase. Furthermore the entire MICO 50 is PVC free and is made from recycled materials throughout. Say hello to the greenest front projector on the market.

The Hookup
The MICO 50 review sample was personally delivered by SIM2’s Alberto Fabiano, who happens to live nearby. Alberto helped me install the MICO 50 in my reference theater, which entailed helping me lift it onto a large platform at the rear of my room and centering the projector accordingly. After about an hour of chatting about all things SIM2, LED and even 3D, Alberto left me to tackle the MICO 50 on my own.

I connected the MICO 50 via HDMI courtesy of Transparent Cable to my Integra DTC 9.8 processor, which was connected to my Sony Blu-ray player, AppleTV and AT&T U-Verse HD DVR. I had two screens on hand for the review: an 80-inch diagonal SI Black Diamond II screen as well as a 92-inch motorized drop down screen from Screen Research. Since the MICO 50 I was given for review was fitted with the long throw lens, I ended up using the larger Screen Research screen for most of the review.

In order to properly align the MICO 50’s image on my screen I had to turn to the remote, which is convenient though not always as accurate as manual adjustments in my experience. The MICO 50 seemed to react a bit quicker to remote commands than say my old Sony “Pearl” projector or even my current Anthem LTX-500, which is good when it comes to adjusting things like focus, zoom and shift via remote. With the image coming out of the MICO 50 properly aligned and focused using the MICO 50’s internal test patterns, it was time to calibrate the image.

The MICO 50’s on-screen menus are vividly rendered; however after shuffling through the various pages I noticed quite a few calibration controls to be missing or at second glance, labeled differently. For instance, SIM2 has simply labeled saturation as “color” and provides control for R/G/B independently only through the service menu. Also, the MICO 50 has a lot of presets for many of its controls like sharpness, white balance, color temperature etc, with many of them unable to be defeated completely; example, sharpness can be set to softest but cannot be disabled. Out of the box the MICO 50 is largely flat lined in terms of image calibration, with everything from brightness to saturation resting at the halfway point or 50. Out of the box, the image is decidedly teal with a clear emphasis on the green side of the spectrum. This is not uncommon among HD displays including projectors, though I must say the MICO 50 seemed to be a bit heavier handed in the blue/green department than most.

Using my Digital Video Essentials disc on Blu-ray I was able to calibrate the MICO 50 to near perfect ISF and broadcast standards, though there was one display option that seemed to play a large role in just how close the MICO 50 was able to come to broadcast standards. Somewhat hidden in the MICO 50’s vast menus is a feature labeled “Display Mode.” Inside the Display Mode menu you’re given two choices: “normal” and “overlay.” While the MICO 50 is a DLP projector, the fact that it uses LEDs for its light source, specifically red, green and blue LEDs, means the MICO 50 does not employ a color wheel. In an LED-based DLP the LEDs are capable of turning off and on fast enough to mimic a traditional, color wheel-based, DLP projector, ensuring bright, vibrant colors free of any color wheel anomalies like the dreaded rainbow effect. SIM2 ships the MICO 50 with the “overlap” display mode enabled, which I found to be the biggest culprit for its out of the box greenish-teal tint. In “normal” the MICO 50’s colors more closely resemble those of traditional DLP projectors – bright, punchy and a bit overly saturated especially in the warmer regions of the color spectrum. In “overlay” mode, color saturation is a bit more natural, though the colors and whites seem to skew cool towards blue producing an overall tint that appears teal-green. Black levels appear to be unchanged between the two settings. Both settings were able to be reigned in to achieve a suitable and enjoyable picture, however I found that working with the display mode set to “normal” made calibration far easier and just a touch more accurate overall.

SIM2 has taken its fair share of knocks over the years about it’s calibration needs and quirks and I have to say they’re not wholly unfounded. It’s important to note that while the MICO 50 may be trickier to calibrate than most, the fact of the matter remains that it can be calibrated and once calibrated looks utterly amazing. Furthermore, while reviewers may get up in arms over the time and/or effort calibration may require, the truth is any SIM2 customer is never going to have to deal with calibration, for their installer and/or professional calibrator will be tackling those issues.

I ran through all of the Digital Essential’s test patterns and video clips to ensure that the MICO 50 was performing at optimal levels before continuing on with my real world evaluation. Using the test video clips, the MICO 50 displayed brilliant and accurate colors with excellent black level detail and depth. Motion was smooth and produced no motion artifacts that I could see from my primary viewing position.

Performance
I kicked off my evaluation of the MICO 50 with some broadcast HD material in the form of Fox’s 24. 24 has long since been one of my all-time favorite shows and recently ended its eight season run which I was fortunate to view via the MICO 50. AT&T U-Verse’s HD service leaves a lot to be desired, however on the night of the 24 finale it seemed to be firing on all cylinders. What struck me right away was how bright and vibrant the MICO 50 was. In comparison to the previous LED projector I had for review, the MICO 50 trounced it in terms of brightness, which made everything from black levels to color saturation appear more rich and involving. Skin tones and textures were lifelike in their appearance with exceptional detail, especially on the battle-scarred face of the show’s star, Kiefer Sutherland. Colors, though decidedly cool per the director’s vision, were nicely saturated with considerable pop that in brightly lit scenes made for one hell of a dimensional image. Rapid movement, be it camera or on camera action, was smooth with zero signs of digital artifacts, especially in the show’s many outdoor city scenes featuring stark, contrasting, horizontal and vertical lines.

Switching gears, or in this case channels, I turned to the NBA playoffs, specifically the match up between the Orlando Magic and the Boston Celtics. The HD feed was not as good as the one I was enjoying on Fox and was rife with compression artifacts as well as motion issues almost everywhere I looked. Suffice to say the MICO 50, while a solid projector, cannot perform miracles and presented the image flaws and all. While the colors were punchy, well saturated and lifelike there was little else about the image that kept my attention, so I moved on. The same held true when I switched over to the game broadcast in standard definition, which only magnified the issues that plague many HD broadcasts, but also become more apparent when viewing SD material through high-end HD displays.

While the MICO 50’s SD performance was admirable, evident in my viewing of the film 21 (Columbia Pictures) on DVD via my Sony Blu-ray player, it ultimately wasn’t the most forgiving projector I’ve seen when viewing anything less than HD, though I have to comment that some of the scenes inside the Hard Rock Casino in Vegas were stunning in their color saturation, sharpness and depth despite being SD. However when the action moved to the more drab, cool tones of the MIT campus, the SD devils came out to play and the MICO 50 did little to exorcise them.

Next, I cued up Daybreakers (Lionsgate) on AppleTV in HD. Daybreakers, starring Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, which centers on an outbreak of vampirism that has all but eradicated the human race, is a great film for testing any projector’s black level prowess as half of the film takes place at night or in the subterranean metropolis the former humans have had to build in order to stay alive. The MICO 50’s black levels both in depth and detail didn’t disappoint, showcasing some of the richest blacks I’ve seen from any projector in my system to date. The level of detail the MICO 50 was able to reproduce was also rather astonishing, especially considering the highly compressed nature of the AppleTV HD signal. Minute details, such as small sheets of paper littering the subway station’s floor in the far reaches of several of the film’s scenes were still very visible and at times even mildly legible. When it was time for the sun to show its face the MICO 50 bathed my screen in warm, rich, hues of yellow, orange and red that made me wish all sunrises and sunsets were as beautiful as they were in movies. I would like to point out that out of the box, the MICO 50 had issues with the warmer end of the color spectrum, however once calibrated and while watching Daybreakers, you never would’ve guessed.

I ended my evaluation with one of my favorite Blu-ray tests, David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount) starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Benjamin Button is a videophile’s dream, possessing lush backdrops and truly ornate locales for the period clad actors to interact in. Colors, be they primary like those in many of Cate Blanchett’s scenes or monochromatic like those in the film’s hospital scenes with Julia Ormond, were rendered with such a delicate touch and detail that I found it hard to believe I was viewing them through a DLP. While DLP has always had a reputation for vibrant and well-saturated colors, I felt that they’d come at the expense of true believability, often erring on the side of more versus being wholly natural and lifelike. This was not the case with the MICO 50. Because of this phenomenon I’ve always preferred D-ILA designs in terms of achieving lifelike color reproduction, though I must say the latest crop of LED-based DLPs are going to make me change my tune. Black levels during Benjamin Button were better than other LED projectors I’ve seen and again were close to, if not equal to the best I’ve been able to get out of my theater. Edge fidelity was superb throughout this test and because of the MICO 50’s added brightness it helped bring a little extra pop and dimension to the already immersive image. Motion was smooth and artifact-free but the most impressive thing about the MICO 50’s performance during Benjamin Button was its ability to resolve every little detail down to the stitching on the actor’s clothes, even in dimly lit scenes. However, the MICO 50’s ability to resolve fine detail did little to mask some of the film’s CG elements, which stood out in sharp contrast to the natural or real elements present in the frame. To be fair, this is an issue a lot of high-end projectors and HD displays face and something that many post production and special effects supervisors have to deal with as we move towards higher resolution formats.

Overall, I found the MICO 50 to be a very capable performer and equal in image quality to other LED-based projectors in many respects but also surpassing them in brightness, black level detail and uniformity as well as overall color saturation. While some other LED projectors may be a touch more accurate in their color reproduction out of the box, the MICO 50, once properly calibrated, is every bit as good. While its SD performance is average, which can be said for a lot of HD displays nowadays, the MICO 50’s HD performance, especially with Blu-ray material, is exceptional and equal to that of projectors costing far more.

The Downside
My issues with the SIM2 MICO 50 all stem from its setup and calibration, beginning with the remote. While the remote is fully backlit and fits nicely in hand, its layout is a bit weird and its lack of clearly labeled buttons is a bit quirky. For instance there isn’t just a button that says “menu” instead there are two buttons, one marked “-” and the other “+” that rest above the word menu (not backlit) that will pull up the menu when pressed. Furthermore, to exit out of the menus you can’t simply hit the minus menu button, you have to hit escape which is nowhere near the menu button to begin with. It’s just a bit counterintuitive, though once you get used to it I suppose it’s fine.

Next, making changes in the projector’s setting, especially during calibration requires a bit of trial and error for none of the controls needed are a) labeled the way you’re used to seeing them and b) reside on the same page. Furthermore, certain key controls like sharpness cannot be defeated whereas other controls (such as white balance) all have names appointed to them. It’s not completely unworkable and like I said earlier these are issues no SIM2 customer is really ever going to have to deal with for an installer or calibrator is going to be the one ultimately responsible for navigating the MICO 50’s somewhat unique menus, but nevertheless it is present. I have to stress that out of the box the MICO 50 is nowhere near where it needs to be for optimal enjoyment; calibration is not recommended – it’s required.

The MICO 50 has a dynamic black setting which acts more like an auto iris for boosted contrast, however it is a bit aggressive and more noticeable than other auto iris features I’ve seen in projectors in the MICO 50’s price class. Purists will most likely leave this feature turned off as I did, but if you like a dynamic iris-ahem-dynamic black setting be prepared to notice the MICO 50’s.

Conclusion
At $22,000 retail the MICO 50 from SIM2 wades into the LED DLP battle being the most expensive of the four current LED projectors on the market today. However, the MICO 50’s build quality and internal structure is far superior to the plastic-fantastic offerings of the competition. That being said, while build quality is important it’s the image quality that matters most. While there are similarities in performance across the board between the MICO 50 and other LED DLP projectors, the MICO 50 shines in two key areas; light output and black levels, both of which help make its terrific color rendering (once calibrated) and saturation pop all the more.

While I’m sure other reviewers and calibrators alike will tear into the MICO 50 for its out of the box performance and less-than-intuitive menu structure it’s important to remember that once the MICO 50 is calibrated it’s calibrated. End of story.

The MICO 50’s image quality is superb, possessing best in class black levels, combined with terrific detail and rich, vibrant colors. The LED projector market is just getting off the ground and the competition is already proving to be fierce. But I have to say, the MICO 50 from SIM2 is a hell of an opening salvo. If you’re contemplating buying a new, high-end projector and are looking into LED based designs I’d recommend auditioning the MICO 50 before making your final decision. Its very worth your time, attention and very possibly – your money.

Source: hometheaterreview.com

 

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