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Video Review: Canon Realis SX80

Higher brightness and contrast highlight new improvements to projector line 8/01/2008 8:00 AM Eastern

Video Review: Canon Realis SX80

Aug 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer

Higher brightness and contrast highlight new improvements to projector line




VidRev SX80

The new Realis SX80, introduced at InfoComm 08 this past June, is the successor to Canon's older SX60 and the SX50 before that. On the surface, there's not much that's different. There's a new chassis design, but the 3000 lumens only move brightness up by an expected amount, and the native 1400×1050 resolution remains the same as previous models — as do most of the connection ports. Yet there's no question that Canon has improved on the previous models where it counts in image quality.

At less than $4,000, the price of the Realis SX80 has come down from previous models, but only in response to industry prices across the board. The SX80 is still a premium product, leveraging a higher than average native resolution and clear imagery from the LCoS imaging engine. What's less obvious from the specs, however, is that Canon has addressed the concerns of previous models — such as scaling and analog-to-digital processing — and delivered on the promise of “premium.” There are even a couple of hints that Canon's projector business is finally starting to join, albeit barely, the rest of Canon's repertoire.

Canon's new chassis design features a curved, off-white cover and elegant controls. A new 10:0 lens offset means that the bottom of the image on the screen (or the top, if ceiling-mounted) is at the same height as the lens itself. Automatic keystone correction can adjust the image with the push of a single button if you need to aim the image higher or lower. In fact, the auto-adjust function automatically focuses the image as well, leveraging the same auto-focus technology in today's digital cameras — an industry in which Canon is a leader.

The connection panel is on the side of the unit, and the SX80 retains the minimalist approach to connectivity of previous models — although there are a couple of interesting additions. Standard fare includes DVI-I, analog RGB/component video, a monitor out, S-Video, composite, plus a single audio mini input. Canon's continued inclusion of a very poor 1W monaural loudspeaker supports the expectation that very few users will actually rely on the projector's audio — and that's probably a reasonable assumption for a fixed-installation product. RS-232 remains, but Canon has added a new RJ-45 Ethernet connector for external control and remote administration.

Canon does boast two other new connection options, both of which finally acknowledge Canon's other corporate strengths. First, there's a USB port — which, in the business sector, affords PC-free presentations from a USB flash (or thumb) drive, and there's a slide viewer installed to accommodate that. However, digital cameras can also connect via USB, and Canon — a digital-camera powerhouse — has included support for PictBridge-compatible digital cameras that allows you to scroll through digital photos with the handheld remote just as you would with presentation slides. Yet there's also a file-browser function that displays thumbnails of all the images on a USB drive or camera for quick locating.


Video Review: Canon Realis SX80

Aug 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer

Higher brightness and contrast highlight new improvements to projector line




There is also now an HDMI connector on the SX80 and that's a nod toward Canon's successful video division, allowing for a direct connection to video devices such as Bluray Disc players and camcorders. Of course, the native 4:3 aspect isn't ideal for HD video, but at least Canon is moving in the right direction.

Canon has also introduced a long-overdue projection-industry feature that allows you to completely cut power to the unit immediately upon shutdown. In fact, you can cut power to the projector as a way to shut down. That's because the SX80 is able to store enough power locally to run the cooling fan for a short time after shutdown without external power. Admittedly, that feature might be more welcome in a travel projector when a presenter needs to pack up and go quickly, but a flick of a wall switch is often easier than tracking down a remote for power down in a conference room.

IMAGE IS EVERYTHING

Yet the real story of the SX80 is performance. When Canon introduced the SX50 some three years ago, 1400×1050 was considered a high native resolution, particularly for a business projector. Against today's plethora of full-HD projectors, however, 1400×1050 doesn't look as impressive — although Canon is correct to note that its 1,470,000 pixels are just shy of twice those of an XGA projector. And the inherent reflective nature of LCoS leaves no visible screen-door effect or pixel grid on the screen.

Does that translate to twice the sharpness? It certainly can with good image processing and scaling, and that's an area where Canon has continued to improve. With the SX80, the results are now very good, regardless of the input resolution. The scaling math is easier from lower VGA and SVGA sources, and the results are very clean. The same is true of 1400×1050, and you'd expect that, but it hasn't always been the case (although few input sources will have that native resolution). The conversion from XGA sources is trickier math, and that's evident in the apparent uneven thickness of adjacent one-pixel-wide lines. But there are almost none of the moiré patterns that one often sees, nor any noise one can see with poorer scaling and image processing. Canon has always done well with digital inputs. Now the same is true of analog inputs — and overall, scaling is excellent.

The same is true of color, particularly in the projector's sRGB (standard red green blue) mode and its movie mode, where I measure primary and secondary colors as nearly perfect. Presentation mode accentuates the green, at the expense of red and yellow, for extra brightness — but that's no surprise given the projector's goal of maximum brightness and contrast to enable punchy presentation slides. I saw parallel performance with grayscales. In both sRGB mode and movie mode, grayscale tracking could not have been better and comparable to a projector at three times the price. Switching to presentation mode or even standard mode crunches the top and bottom 20 IRE toward full white and full black. Again, that's not a surprising result.

Brightness? Canon's specification says 3000 lumens, and that's not too far off if you measure just the center bright spot in presentation mode with the brightness turned all the way up. My more realistic measurement in presentation mode across the entire image and with more appropriate brightness was 2765 ANSI lumens. That drops to 2341 in standard mode, 2074 in sRGB mode, and down to 1705 in movie mode — but what you gain with less drive for pure brightness is near-100-percent brightness uniformity, as well as the aforementioned accurate color. Yet even in presentation mode, I measure brightness uniformity at greater than 91 percent, and that's superb.

My full on/off contrast measurements ranged from about 470:1 (presentation mode) up to 539:1 in sRGB mode. Those aren't the eye-popping numbers that DLP projectors claim, but they don't have to be. Admittedly, the increased brightness of presentation mode washes out darks badly and that's a shortcoming, but the strength of the SX80 is in overall picture quality and that suggests that presentation mode should be used sparingly anyway.

It was Canon's camera division many years ago that produced television commercials with a young, long-haired Andre Agassi claiming that “Image is Everything.” Canon's projector division has always had the higher resolution of LCoS to point to as a reason for its own image quality, but with the SX80, it now has the image and color processing to back it up as well.


PRODUCT SUMMARY

  • Company: Canon
    www.usa.canon.com
  • Product: Realis SX80
  • Pros: High resolution, good sharpness, good image processing, excellent color for a business projector.
  • Cons: Limited connectivity, poor audio, modest contrast.
  • Applications: Corporate or educational presentations.
  • Price: $3,999

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Brightness: 3000 ANSI lumens
  • Contrast: 900:1 full on/off
  • Native resolution: SXGA+ (1400×1050)
  • Configuration: 3X AISYS LCoS
  • Light source: 230W NSH lamp (rated 2500/2000 hours)
  • Zoom: 1.5X powered (plus 12X digital zoom)
  • Projection distance: 3.9ft.-29.9ft.
  • Screen size: 40in.-300in. diagonal
  • Throw ratio: 1:48-2.18:1
  • Lens shift: 10:0
  • Keystone: +/- 20° vertical
  • Loudspeaker: 1W mono
  • Dimensions: 13.0"×4.8"×13.4"
  • Weight: 11.5lbs.
  • Warranty: Three years parts and labor, 120 days lamp


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