SIM2 is an Italian display manufacturer specializing in front projection systems based on Texas Instruments’ famed DLP platform. While a global display company, one who’s reach is arguably greater abroad than here in the states, SIM2′s product range is vast and encompasses everything from entry level (relative) to cost no object high-end front projectors and displays. Their US marketed products are broken into three lines; the Grand Cinema (SIM2′s flagship), the M (their LED based projectors) and the Domino. Within each category you’ll find a handful of products that all range in price and capability, but that still hold true to their respective line’s goals -i.e. reference grade performance etc. The focus of this review is SIM2′s Nero 3D-2, which sits second from the top within the brand’s Domino line of products; a line that also includes the Sirio, Nero 3D-1, Crystal 45 and Crystal 35 front projectors.
Like all the other projectors found within the Domino Line, the Nero 3D-2 is a single chip (1,920 x 1,080 or Full HD) DLP based projector. While the Nero 3D-2 may reside in what could be construed as SIM2′s entry level lineup of products, its target market and focus on high-end performance is anything but. The Nero 3D-2 features SIM2′s patented ALPHAPATH light engine which, along with its custom Fujinon optics, are taken directly from their Lumis line of products. ALPHAPATH is a SIM2 innovation in that it is an optical system that manages to re-size (compress) the light path while maintaining the proper distance for image clarity and focus by essentially “folding it”. Folding the light path not only allows for the Nero 3D-2 (as well as other SIM2 projectors) to be incredibly compact in its physical size, but it also maintains its 280-Watt UHP lamp’s maximum performance while also making the whole assembly easier to cool. These are all very good thing when discussing consumer and even pro-oriented front projectors as it makes their physical requirements far less demanding upon a personal theater, screening room and/or post production space versus the alternative.
The Nero 3D-2 also features SIM2′s own DynamicBlack technology (think a more sophisticated auto iris) which is said to “deliver enhanced contrast as well as black level performance” two items with which DLP projectors have been criticized in the past. DynamicBlack uses an ultrafast motor assembly that automatically “clamps” down on the iris’ position relative to the imagery on screen with what SIM2 claims is “microsecond precision.” For example; in going from a daytime scene to a night time one, to ensure the best black level performance and/or low light contrast, you would essentially want less light from your projector, as the absence of light would result in truer blacks. With DynamicBlack engaged, the Nero 3D-2 would effectively cut the light output resulting in a richer nighttime depiction.
Another feature found on the Nero 3D-2 is SIM2′s PureMovie and PureMotion image modes. PureMovie (2D) allows for any and all of the Nero 3D-2′s internal processing -minus the most basic circuitry and calibration settings – to be bypassed thus allowing for the truest communication of the incoming signal. This is especially useful when trying to achieve and/or get at the “heart” of either the filmmaker’s intent in a home theater setting or for signal purity in a mastering situation. PureMotion (2D) is a form of frame interpolation, meaning it’s designed to smoothen out and/or remove the judder typically associated with fast moving objects or scenes by duplicating frames and/or creating new ones based on the surrounding frames within the source material itself . PureMotion (3D) is the same as 2D though it is optimized for 3D content thus also (potentially) eliminating such 3D anomalies such as ghosting and flicker.
Lastly, the Nero 3D-2 utilizes SIM2′s new Live Colors Calibration 2.0 software. Live Colors Calibration software is an outboard program that is used to calibrate all SIM2 projectors and in many ways it is not wholly unlike the calibration software used to “dial in” commercial or cinema grade DLP projectors. The software features four total user memories (two for 2D and two for 3D), enhanced target gamut and white point information, X-rite Hubble feedback, auto color adjustments via X-rite’s Hubble probe, projector status alignment, native color measurements, projector pre-adjustment commands, 2 user gamma modes (2D/3D) and a more powerful color management system. While some of what I just said may be Greek to enthusiasts, to a professionally trained calibration specialist these are arguably the most important features of the Nero 3D-2 (or any projector for that matter).
The Nero 3D-2 retails for $19,990 though the Nero 3D-1, which is nearly the same projector only with slightly less light output and lower contrast (reportedly), is available for $15,000. While neither could be construed as “cheap”, they’re both within reason when taking into account what other high-end, reference grade and/or commercial cinema DLP projectors can cost. And yes I am suggesting that the Nero 3D-2 could be used in a professional post production capacity over that of say a Christie or Barco -the Nero 3D-2 being but a fraction of the cost.
The Nero 3D-2′s single chip measures .95-inches and has a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. The 280-Watt lamp in conjunction with its ALPHAPATH setup is good for a reported 2,000 ANSI lumens with a contrast of up to 30,000:1(dynamic). The lamp itself is rated to between 2,000 and 3,000 hours depending on how its configured – i.e. normal or eco mode. Inputs include; HDMI (version 1.4a x 2), graphic RGB (D-Sub, 15-pin), analog component and composite video. Control inputs include; 3D sync out, RS-232 and USB. There are also three 12-Volt triggers present for items such as motorized screens, anamorphic lens sleds etc. Compatible formats for SDTV are PAL, SECAM, and NTSC. Compatible HDTV formats include; 480p, 720p 50/60, 1080i 50/60 and 1080p 24/50/60. PC compatible standards include VGA, SVGA, XGA, SXGA, UXGA, WUXGA with 10-bit full channel signal board processing.
The Nero 3D-2 measures 18 inches wide by 8.3 inches tall and 17.9 inches deep. It weighs 24.3 pounds which puts it in the heavy but not too cumbersome category, though proper third party mounts and/or mounting hardware will be required if choosing to mount the Nero 3D-2 upon your ceiling. Mains voltage is rated at 100-240 with a total power consumption of 300-Watts.
The Nero 3D-2 can be ordered with one of three lens options; T1, T2 and T3. T2 is the standard lens for the Nero 3D-2 and it features a throw ratio of 1.82-2.48:1, which is capable of filling a 100-inch diagonal screen from a minimum distance of 12.9 feet. Maximum distance for that same size screen via the T2 is said to be 17.1 feet. The T1 lens, which is a shorter throw lens, can accommodate a 100-inch diagonal screen from a minimum distance of 9.9 feet, with a maximum distance resting at 12.2 feet. The long throw or T3 lens needs 18.9 to 28.3 feet to accommodate that same 100-inch diagonal screen. While all three lenses are sourced from Fujinon, the T2 and T3 feature better overall optics according to SIM2 representatives, which is why the T2 is the “default” lens. For more on the various lens’ throw distances please visit SIM2′s website and use their throw distance calculator to see which lens is right for your installation. Regardless of which lens you choose all three feature manual vertical adjustment (up to half of picture) with zoom and focus then being a motorized affair. None of the lens options restrict you in terms of aspect ratios as they all support 4:3, 16:9, Anamorphic (separate lens attachment required), Letterbox, Panoramic and Pixel to Pixel.
Application & Calibration
My wanting to evaluate the SIM2 Nero 3D-2 was the direct result of my having spent time with another SIM2 projector, the M.150. I walked away from my brief two weeks with the M.150 simply a gasp, for no projector that I had encountered up to that moment had provided me with such a lush and accurate cinematic image. While that last comment is wholly subjective, there’s no arguing with its (the M.150′s) measured results, all of which were near perfect post third party, professional calibration. Being that the M.150 retails for nearly $28,000, it was decidedly outside of my financial grasp, therefore I spoke to SIM2 to see if any of their other product offerings would compare, but at a lower price. They offered up the Nero 3D-2 reviewed here as a kick off.
Now, knowing that the Nero 3D-2 retails for just shy of $20,000 it may seem like the term “lower price” is a relative one, however, I feel the Nero’s range of around $15,000 to $20,000 is more in line with what professionals and/or semi-professionals routinely pay given this level of performance -or at least maybe they should. For example, it’s difficult for me to grasp showcasing and/or mastering properly captured HD or downresed 4K footage via a $3,000 off the shelf LCD based projector, when most commercial cinemas rely on DLP technology.
Moreover with so much painstaking detail being put into choosing the right camera system and optics, why would you then trust the imagery to an off the shelf, mass market product? It’s not that I believe that spending more money grants you better performance -it often doesn’t. However, there are costs that are simply associated with high quality parts such as optics; optics like the lenses used to capture the imagery as well as those needed to play it back with the same fidelity -i.e. the Fujinon lens assembly inside the Nero 3D-2. These items simply cost money. Also, I’m a firm believer in paying for what can be quantified, and video, more specifically video measurements, are quantifiable and thus not subject to hyperbole.
All that being said, the calibration and measurements of the Nero 3D-2 were carried out by a third party adjudicator, THX Certified calibrator, Ray Coronado Jr., of SoCalHT. While I was present and in the room during the entire calibration process of the Nero 3D-2 to ensure no shenanigans occurred, the official findings obtained as a result were not influenced by me in any way. The official break down of the Nero 3D-2′s pre and post calibration figures can be seen below.
Out of the box the Nero 3D-2 measured poorly, as most projectors do. The grey scale tracking was terrible, managing an average Delta E (margin of error) of 9.6 or more than three times the acceptable limit (3). Color was equally abysmal with an average Delta E of 6.5, again, more than twice the acceptable limit (3). Projecting upon my 120-inch AcousticPro4K screen from Elite Screens, Ray measured the Nero 3D-2′s light output to be a measly 3.4 foot lamberts. Now, taking into account that most acoustically transparent screens account for up to a 20-percent loss in measurable light, it stands to reason the out of the box measurements on a similar sized, but unity gain screen would fall within the realm of 4 or 5 foot lamberts. 4 to 5 foot lamberts is hardly within SMPTE standard but, again, this is out of the box, as in pre-calibration.
Post calibration, which was carried out using a combination of SpectraCal Software, along with their C6 meter and SIM2′s own Live Colors Calibration 2.0 software, things improved dramatically. Grey scale tracking had an average Delta E of only 1.26, well below the acceptable error tolerance of 3. Better still was color, with an average Delta E of just .8, which is pretty remarkable. Light output increased to around 5 foot lamberts. Accounting for the 20 percent loss in light due to my acoustically transparent screen and you’d be looking at around 6 or 7 foot lamberts post calibration on a unity gain screen. Post calibration both Gamma and Color Temperature improved to 2.15 and 6,610 respectively.
Following calibration my impression of the Nero 3D-2 was that of awe and wonder. While I understood that the image that I was taking in was not as bright as what the SMPTE standard calls for in this situation, the resulting image didn’t appear dull or lifeless, but the opposite. The inherent sharpness that single chip DLP based projectors possess is one that is not easily lived without once experienced. With three chip designs you introduce the possibility for panel alignment errors, which can destroy things like natural sharpness, edge fidelity and dimensionality -three items that I found the Nero 3D-2 to excel at. I took special note of the Nero 3D-2′s rendering of fine detail, details such as skin textures, textile variations and foliage, all of which were brought to life in a wholly convincing manner. Colors were brilliant but organic in their presentation regardless of the source material, be it test patterns or content. Contrast, was superb throughout, especially in low light situations, though admittedly Ray disengaged the Nero 3D-2′s DynamicBlack feature set in order to maintain light output. Black levels were also impressive for a DLP, though admittedly not as good as some D-ILA based projectors such as the JVC. However, what the Nero 3D-2 may have lacked in true black rendering in comparison to say a JVC, it made up for in overall clarity. Still, among DLP based projectors that I’ve seen, the Nero 3D-2 is second only to the M.150, which is on par with JVC in terms of its black level performance. When I say second I mean less maybe 5 to 10 percent of reference in this regard. With regards to the issue of “rainbow effects” stemming from the Nero 3D-2′s single chip design, their presence is largely dictated by the individual -that is to say no two viewers are alike in this regard. I am susceptible to seeing rainbow anomalies though I found them to be few and very far between, making them a non-issue (for me). However, you may feel differently, or you may fall into a camp of viewers who have no Earthly idea what the rest of us are even talking about. Overall, the image was every bit as cinematic as those put forth by today’s best commercially available DLP projectors used the world over; leading me to believe that it (the Nero 3D-2) would be suitable in post production environments as well as smaller scale screening rooms.
What I’d Change
Ideally, despite not feeling that the Nero 3D-2′s image lacked any sort of “life”, I’d like to see greater light output as I feel its 2,000 ANSI lumen claims are a bit on the optimistic side. I’ve been in contact with SIM2 re: this concern and they have since informed me that they attribute my findings to a run of bulbs that they have now discovered were responsible for a 25-percent loss in total light output. A 25 percent loss in light at the bulb is dramatic, however, at the time of this writing I have not yet received my new bulb and therefore cannot quantify SIM2′s claims. Suffice to say they’ve corrected the error though gave me no figures as to how many units were affected. For argument sake, if the bulb was responsible for a 25-percent decrease in light then post calibration I could expect to see my measured light output increase to around 6.4 foot lamberts on my acoustically transparent screen and around 8 foot lamberts on a similarly sized, non acoustically transparent or unity gain screen. 8 is better than 5 however neither fall within SMPTE standard (12 to 18 foot lamberts) for light output via a front projection setup. To combat the Nero 3D-2′s lower light output I recommend using it only in light controlled rooms and on screens no larger than 120-inches, with 100 to 110 inch screens being more ideal.
I’d also like to see SIM2 utilize a better remote and/or control system, preferably one that was Network based a la say Panasonic’s new platform. Also, I wish there was some form of automated lens cover to protect the Nero 3D-2′s delicate optics when not in use.
I began my evaluation of the Nero 3D-2 by wanting to see if it compared to their M.150, which in a prior test I found to be, near as makes no difference, perfect -both objectively and subjectively. While the Nero 3D-2 may have lacked the total light output of the M.150, every other aspect of its visual performance was on par, if not identical to, its costlier sibling.
While I still maintain that a single chip DLP based projector utilizing an RGB LED light source is the front projection epitome of Heaven on Earth; the single chip, UHP lamp, based Nero 3D-2 isn’t far behind. While it may be more ideally suited for smaller post suites and/or screening rooms, the Nero 3D-2 is still worth considering even if your installation and/or budget can accommodate greater, or something more commercial. In that regard the potential savings afforded you by a projector such as the Nero 3D-2 could be put to use elsewhere in your system or room. So while expensive at just under $20,000, the Nero 3D-2 could end up being somewhat of a value to certain users.
For the time being I will continue to enjoy its performance and look forward to using the Nero 3D-2 as an integral part of my new reference setup, one that will be used to master real cinematic content in the not too distant future.