A projector so good that you'll have to upgrade the rest of your system to accommodate it
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The HT300 Link is the latest state-of-the-art DLP projector from SIM2 which consists of two main components. One is the projector itself, which is packaged in the same attractive and not at all box-like sculptural moulding used with other SIM2 models, but has only a glass fibre optics video input for use with a matching provision from the second main component.
This is the DigiOptic image processor which provides all the inputs and the image processing. These are accompanied by a 20m long bundle of three thin, pliable fibre optical cables with locking connectors which allows the two units to be housed separately.
The two units are operated by the usual cleanly styled backlit SIM2 remote control, or a close variation thereof, which can be pointed at the projector (front or rear) or the interface unit, as the two main components talk to each other across the optical link. The glass fibre link transmits the video signal in digital form from the interface unit, along with control signals in both directions. According to SIM2, the performance of the interface is such that it can operate over a 500m run with neither attenuation nor loss.
The projector itself is essentially the same as the superb HT30 XTRA DG. The DLP chip is the current top of the line Texas Instruments HD2 processor with a native widescreen resolution of 1,280 x 720 pixels and 12 degree deflection mirrors, which is contributory in an extraordinary 2,800:1 contrast ratio.
As well as being desirable in its own right, a high contrast ratio is an excellent litmus test for a well optimised optical design, which in this model includes additional internal baffling, and a redesigned rod integrator (a key component of the optical subsystem) as well as a redesigned six segment colour wheel compared to previous SIM2 models. So well designed is the optical system that it can deliver around 850 Lumens on the screen from a comparatively puny 120 Watt UHP lamp with an impressive claimed lifetime (under ideal circumstances) of 8,000 hours.
At the other end of the fibre optics cable, the interface unit is an ultra slimline unit with an oddly faceted front panel, the solitary inhabitants of which are a mains on/off switch and a couple of status LEDs. It can be left switched on permanently, and hidden away if required, but it takes up little room even if it is left on show.
Even more than most video components, the back panel defines what this unit it is all about, and what it's about is a grand total of 12 inputs, which includes 2 S-Video inputs (Sky users rejoice), DVI-D and, for the first time on a domestic projector, a fully encrypted HDMI input (HDCP) - see Practical Tip. The interface unit also houses the all-important DCDi interlace-to-progressive converter based on the new high performance Faroudja FLI-2310 engine.
There are some practical issues. The once noisy SIM2 colour wheel has had its act cleaned up. It's not exactly quiet, but it is quieter than it was, and more importantly, that old heterodyne whistle has gone, leaving a relatively benign noise like a fan that the brain can easily filter out. Light spillage, an issue with earlier projectors, has been largely resolved too and the ventilation system is now sealed, so doesn't need periodic filter transplants.
In these things SIM2 has caught up with the opposition. But for every two steps forward, there is one step back. The interface unit itself is force cooled by a small diameter fan which though not very loud, is certainly noticeable and which does have a pronounced (if low level) whistle of its own.
When it comes to the standard of performance it puts up there on screen, the HT300 Link takes no lessons from the competition, though there were some minor issues with the test player that have been reported back to SIM2, and which should have been resolved by the time this review is published. The problems are some very visible artefacts, for example with scrolling titles, and in particular a very obvious horizontal line structure lasting for second or so after scene transitions.
The short term solution is to switch the cinema mode off in the menu system, but the full solution will involve debugging of the early firmware for the new DCDi processor, which is scheduled to be available by the time this is published, or soon thereafter. Existing owners will be able to upload new firmware to solve the issue.
In every other respect, and with all the DVD based material used for test, the HT300 Link is a hugely impressive projector. It is best thought of as a high resolution model. The sheer wealth of detail it is able to throw on screen, and the depth and vibrancy of the colour information are nothing less than outstanding.
Deeply saturated colours are rich and variegated and flesh tones are remarkably realistic. Checks with test discs showed that colour registration is essentially perfect across all colours, and that yellows, which frequently look dirty and dull through some DLP projectors, look bright and clean.
Contrast is clearly very high, with unusually deep blacks, but with some minor loss of shadow detail in the deepest blacks and brightest highlights. Motion artefacts with film based material are handled extremely well, and once the video processing capabilities of the DCDi software has been brought up to scratch, the SIM2 should behave equally well with video material.
The high resolution nature of this projector brings its own problems in that it is intolerant of poor software and of equipment limitations elsewhere in the chain.
It is an unparalleled tool for exploring the capabilities of quality projectors, and it looks awful using composite connections, with a clear ramping up of quality through S-Video, component video, and finally HDMI, which looked, clean, vivid and three dimensional.
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