It's like buses. You wait and wait for one to turn up, and suddenly three arrive together. Projection-design was supposed to have been first with a 1080p projector, but there were problems with the development of the enabling technology, and in the event, projection-design, with the dual-lamp Action! Model Three 1080 and SIM2 launched almost simultaneously. Marantz is about to.
And here it is, perhaps not the first of its type, but among the front runners, and until Marantz launches the VP11-S1, the only one-box 1080p DLP solution. SIM2s HT3000 is based on the Texas Instruments 0.95in 1920 x 1080 DC3 chipset for pure, uncompressed 1080p high-definition video.
The SIM2 has a seven-segment colour wheel which spins at nearly 11,000 rpm (the only SIM2 three-chip PJ is 720p, but expect this to change in due course).
The Pixelworks video processing engine is all new. It has 10-bit resolution, and 1080i-to-1080p deinterlacing with full inverse telecine, which reverses 3:2 pulldown, producing true progressive NTSC at 60Hz. This is useful if you're a collector of imported Region 1 DVDs. Processing includes scaling, motion- adaptive deinterlacing and full film detection and 3:2/2:2 pulldown at up to 60Hz. Many current displays - plasmas in the main - downscale 1080i to 540p to perform this type of processing and then scale back up, with an inevitable loss of resolution.
An auto calibration process is performed at the factory on each model, connected to a colour analyser that measures the primaries and white levels (ie with the DMD fully reflecting). The data is entered into an internal memory that sets the relevant points on the CIE colour chart - a proprietary technology known as Live Colour Management. In effect, the projector knows what colours it can produce mathematically, and how to construct any given colour space and overall colour temperature. There is a bright setting in the menus which is completely uncalibrated, but the user setting, which corresponds to the 6500K (D65) standard, is usually optimum.
The control system is based on SIM2s standard menu system and remote control, with essentially the same options. Test patterns are even available to help with setup. Various aspect ratios can be selected including letterbox, anamorphic and panoramic, which achieves a non-linear stretch favouring the centre of the screen. There's also a subtitle mode which lifts subtitles.
The Fujinon lens includes an optical lens shift feature. Three users settings can be used to store global settings, and there are two 12V triggers intended to control feature of interest is the inclusion of six memories per input for viewing in black- and-white and other non-standard requirements. Dual HDMI inputs are available - one for a Blu-ray and one for HD DVD player or Sky HD.
In use, HD via the SIM2 HT3000 is free of any overt compression artifacts. Mosquito noise around scrolling titles or macro blocking (the price paid for using 'lossy' compression formats like MPEG) and the like have effectively gone. All you are likely to notice is detail and film grain, at least until we learn to adjust ourselves to the new level of visual acuity available from 1080p.
In almost every respect the HT3000 is a revelation. Mechanical noise is low, if not vanishingly so, and on-screen uniformity is plainly of a high order. There is virtually no sign of the pixel grid onscreen unless you stand up close, and even then it is muted, with almost no gap between adjacent pixels. A viewing distance equivalent to screen width provides a completely smooth, finely detailed picture.
In practice, viewing from any closer would be insupportable for other reasons. Black levels are deep and pure, with excellent graduation of very dark (near black) images, and whites by default are bright without being burnt out. The result is a genuinely punchy picture, with plenty of detail, colour and contrast.
Motion artefacts are an order of magnitude less visible via the HT3000 than with even the best standard-def projectors fed from DVD. It's simply very difficult to pick out MPEG artefacts - mosquito noise and so on - and large areas of full (or no) colour are well saturated, low in noise and free of banding. These comments apply to HD video sourced from a Toshiba HD DVD player - review software included Apollo 13, Serenity and The Last Samurai.
Still, the performance of the HT3000 with HD material was nothing less than expected from such an information-rich source material. What was almost as impressive, however, was how well the SIM2 performed with plain vanilla material from my Sky receiver in the final week before it was due to be replaced by Sky HD.
I viewed news material and some Wimbledon through the HT3000 (a compliment in itself - I have zero interest in tennis usually) and was delighted by the way that the SIM2 was able to make it sing on screen.
The integrity of its scaling was amazing, with no staircasing worth bothering with from video sources - this class of artefact was slightly more noticeable from film-based material - and outstanding black levels. Picture definition was a little soft thanks to the nature of the Sky signal, but overall it delivered the best-looking standard-definition video I have ever seen.
A first product for a technology as revolutionary and as notoriously difficult as this usually comes with the implicit health warning (don't touch this - wait for the next model). What is impressive is how well sorted the SIM2 is. If you're looking for a fully-rounded high-definition experience of real maturity, then the HT3000 is a must-audition unit.