Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution and 1080p native support are the latest 'big things' in the upmarket projector world, and this hasn't gone unnoticed by the Italian display specialist SIM2. Responsible for the new D80's Full HD support is TI's latest 0.95in 1920 x 1080 DMD (digital micromirror device), which works with a new seven-segment colour wheel - you won't be getting three DMDs for this price, matey!
It has a neutral-density filter to reduce dithering effects, which appear as tiny green spots on dark scenes with DLP projectors. The ND filter masks low-level mirror switching on the green channel by rotating into position when needed.
Also proprietary is SIM2's Alpha Path' optical engine, first developed for the C3X Series, and a 160W lamp that claims a useful life of up to 4,000 hours. The lens has a throw ratio of 1.5-2.0:1, and gives a 50in (diagonal) 16:9 image at a projection distance of 1.7m. From 10m away, image sizes of up to 300in are possible. But there's more to image quality than optics.
The internal digital video signal path, for example, is 10bit throughout. Its deinterlacing relies on modified Pixelworks algorithms, while electronics and optics work to give a contrast ratio of 4000:1 full-on/full-off. The elegant D80 is matt rather than glossy and it almost seems a crime to mount this unit on a ceiling where it can't be noticed.
Black and white casing colours are available, hence presumably, the term 'Domino'. The rear panel is socket-deep with composite, S-video and VGA (RGB-HV) inputs joined by a high-def ready component analogue input. Thanks to a fourth (composite sync) terminal here, Scart RGB sources can also drive this input with a suitable cable.
Almost inevitably, an HDMI input has been specified for digital sources. What a pity it's not v1.3 compliant - that way the 10bit processing would come into its own with the forthcoming TruColor sources (Toshiba's HD-XE1 HD DVD deck makes provision for this). But incoming 8bit sources will be upconverted to 10bit during processing, and that's no bad thing.
All sources can be re-named in the onscreen menus to identify the connected kit. Sources with refresh rates as low as 24Hz are compatible with the D80 - useful for using scalers or the new generation of high-def disc players (an upcoming Pioneer Blu-ray player will give a 24/48Hz output from disc). The D80 can then frame-double to 48Hz giving a more cinematic movie reproduction.
There are also two 12V switched outputs for triggering peripherals like motorised curtains and screens. Indeed, one output changes with aspect ratio, an optical digital output that carries whatever digital audio is present on the HDMI connector, plus an RS232 port for remote control.
The supplied handset has a button for each input making source selection easier than wading through an onscreen list. It's a shame they are not backlit. The remote also configures the projector as can the projector itself via the rear panel. Setup functions include orientation (rear/front projection and ceiling mounting), keystone correction (alas digital rather than optical), focus, and zoom.
Five onboard test patterns are provided to calibrate the projector initially. Like the more expensive C3X Series, the D80 makes careful provision for aligning colour temperature (four presets, plus another for choosing a white point manually from one of 36) and gamma- curve (four sets optimised for computer/ video/film, plus a user-definable mode).
Other adjustments include Y/C delay (composite/S-video inputs only) for dealing with source misregistration. These, together with the regulars (e.g. brightness, contrast) can be memorised for each input. Each of the five video inputs can draw upon six option memory banks, and the projector will recall the last one that was used. It also offers eight aspect ratios, three of which are user-definable.
After calibration, the Domino turned in some impressive results. HD, predictably, gives the D80 a chance to shine. The HD DVD version of King Kong yielded superlative definition. Maybe it doesn't muster quite the same depth and lucidity as the company's three-chippers, but it gets as close as, dammit.
In terms of black level and contrast, we feel the D80 lags slightly behind JVC's astonishing DLA-HD1 but that's not to put the projector down. Take a DVD like Doom and you'll find that its murkier scenes deliver the goods with shadow detail that lesser projectors fail to reveal.
Vivid colour is another D80 strong suit, and it nudges ahead of Sony and JVC here. As far as colour fidelity is concerned the D80 isn't far removed from SIM2's own C3X, the best non-tube projector that we've seen to date. The DLP 'rainbow effect' may have largely been banished, but the fine greenish 'mush' that can spoil large-screen DLP viewing of darker scenes has now gone.
Deinterlacing and scaling are both up to scratch too with motion judder and 'stepping' failing to show. It also appears less ruthless than the C3X for imperfect digital sources such as terrestrial Freeview and self-made DVDs.
It may be more expensive than Full HD competitors like the JVC HD1 and Sony's SXRD Pearl, but its potential for vibrant and natural images should shortlist it if you've got a budget ceiling of up to £6,000.
Those Japanese models may have respective next-generation image technologies at their heart, but SIM2's latest projector proves that the established DLP can still be a real force.