has been making some of the finest projectors for the home cinema markets the world over for years now. To add more credence to their already storied reputation, filmmaking legend Francis Ford Coppola
has recently given SIM2 and their products his personal stamp of approval, using SIM2's Grand Cinema C3X Lumis Series projectors in his home and studio. While it's no secret SIM2 can design and manufacture a traditional front projector, the question that remains to be answered is - can they carry on the tradition for excellence when it comes to building an LED based projector? That's what I wanted to find out.
The SIM2 MICO 50 LED based DLP projector arrived right on the heels, literally, of another first generation LED DLP projector. I was actually quite pleased with the other LED projector's performance, so right away the MICO 50 had some stiff competition. The MICO 50 retails for around $22,000 depending on how you have it configured; SIM2 offers the MICO 50 with a variety of lens options such as long throw and short throw zooms as well as fixed and anamorphic lenses. The MICO 50 comes standard with either a long throw or short throw zoom lens. My review sample was configured with the standard long throw zoom. Fans of SIM2 may recognize the MICO 50 for it uses the same chassis as SIM2's previous HT500E projector, though that's where the similarities end. The MICO 50 is large, larger than other LED-based DLP projectors on the market, measuring in at 21 inches wide by nine inches tall and 25 inches deep. The MICO 50 tips the scales at a hefty 55 pounds making it a true, two-person endeavor when it comes time to install it in your home. The reason for the MICO 50's heft has a lot to do with its all aluminum exterior as well as its largely aluminum and steel structure inside as opposed to the competition, which uses plastic throughout. There's no denying the MICO 50's build quality both visually and physically for I've never seen a more beautifully finished projector, nor one that feels as solidly built.
In terms of connections the MICO 50 offers all of the connections you'd expect to find in a projector of this caliber, which include two HDMI 1.3, component video, composite video, S-Video and a single graphic RGB (monitor) inputs. There is a USB input, however it is for control and firmware updates only. Speaking of control the MICO 50 offers full RS-232 support as well as a single wired remote input and two 12-Volt trigger outputs. The rear of the MICO 50 is also where you'll find the projector's manual controls for items such as power on/off, menu, lens adjustments etc.
Inside the MICO 50 uses a single chip DLP light engine with Deep Color from Texas Instruments illuminated by Luminus PhlatLight PT-120 R/G/B LEDs. The LED system gives the MICO 50 a life expectancy of 30,000 hours or 10 times the lifespan of a traditional 3,000 bulb based projector. The MICO 50 is rated at 800 ANSI Lumens, which is at least 200 ANSI Lumens more than the competition. The MICO 50's native resolution is 1920x1080 pixels and has a reported contrast ratio of 100,000:1 in its DynamicBlack mode. The MICO 50 uses an internal 10-bit video processor, though no specific name was given as to which video processor is used. Lastly, the MICO 50 utilizes a liquid cooling system to keep all of its internal components cool and running smoothly with the projector's warm air being vented out of the back.
As I stated earlier, the MICO 50 comes standard with your choice of either a motorized short throw or long throw lens capable of screen sizes ranging from 65 to 200 inches diagonal. The MICO 50 can accommodate 4:3, 16:9 Anamorphic, LetterBox, panoramic and pixel-to-pixel aspect ratios as well as provides three customizable aspect ratio settings. For true 2:35 or 2:40 aspect ratio projection you'll need to switch to one of SIM2's fixed lenses or employ the help of an anamorphic lens adaptor or sled. The standard zoom lenses are motorized for zoom and focus as well as shift, for which the MICO 50 offers a generous amount - up to 60 percent up and 25 percent down of screen height as well as seven and a half percent horizontally.
Lastly, because of its LED design, the MICO 50 draws less than a single Watt in standby and a maximum of 370-Watts at full power. Also, the MICO 50 is mercury- and lead-free so no recycling fees will be assessed upon purchase. Furthermore the entire MICO 50 is PVC free and is made from recycled materials throughout. Say hello to the greenest front projector on the market.
The MICO 50 review sample was personally delivered by SIM2's Alberto Fabiano, who happens to live nearby. Alberto helped me install the MICO 50 in my reference theater, which entailed helping me lift it onto a large platform at the rear of my room and centering the projector accordingly. After about an hour of chatting about all things SIM2, LED and even 3D, Alberto left me to tackle the MICO 50 on my own.
I connected the MICO 50 via HDMI courtesy of Transparent Cable to my Integra DTC 9.8 processor, which was connected to my Sony Blu-ray player, AppleTV and AT&T U-Verse HD DVR. I had two screens on hand for the review: an 80-inch diagonal SI Black Diamond II screen as well as a 92-inch motorized drop down screen from Screen Research. Since the MICO 50 I was given for review was fitted with the long throw lens, I ended up using the larger Screen Research screen for most of the review.
In order to properly align the MICO 50's image on my screen I had to turn to the remote, which is convenient though not always as accurate as manual adjustments in my experience. The MICO 50 seemed to react a bit quicker to remote commands than say my old Sony "Pearl" projector or even my current Anthem LTX-500, which is good when it comes to adjusting things like focus, zoom and shift via remote. With the image coming out of the MICO 50 properly aligned and focused using the MICO 50's internal test patterns, it was time to calibrate the image.
The MICO 50's on-screen menus are vividly rendered; however after shuffling through the various pages I noticed quite a few calibration controls to be missing or at second glance, labeled differently. For instance, SIM2 has simply labeled saturation as "color" and provides control for R/G/B independently only through the service menu. Also, the MICO 50 has a lot of presets for many of its controls like sharpness, white balance, color temperature etc, with many of them unable to be defeated completely; example, sharpness can be set to softest but cannot be disabled. Out of the box the MICO 50 is largely flat lined in terms of image calibration, with everything from brightness to saturation resting at the halfway point or 50. Out of the box, the image is decidedly teal with a clear emphasis on the green side of the spectrum. This is not uncommon among HD displays including projectors, though I must say the MICO 50 seemed to be a bit heavier handed in the blue/green department than most.
Using my Digital Video Essentials disc on Blu-ray I was able to calibrate the MICO 50 to near perfect ISF and broadcast standards, though there was one display option that seemed to play a large role in just how close the MICO 50 was able to come to broadcast standards. Somewhat hidden in the MICO 50's vast menus is a feature labeled "Display Mode." Inside the Display Mode menu you're given two choices: "normal" and "overlay." While the MICO 50 is a DLP projector, the fact that it uses LEDs for its light source, specifically red, green and blue LEDs, means the MICO 50 does not employ a color wheel. In an LED-based DLP the LEDs are capable of turning off and on fast enough to mimic a traditional, color wheel-based, DLP projector, ensuring bright, vibrant colors free of any color wheel anomalies like the dreaded rainbow effect. SIM2 ships the MICO 50 with the "overlap" display mode enabled, which I found to be the biggest culprit for its out of the box greenish-teal tint. In "normal" the MICO 50's colors more closely resemble those of traditional DLP projectors - bright, punchy and a bit overly saturated especially in the warmer regions of the color spectrum. In "overlay" mode, color saturation is a bit more natural, though the colors and whites seem to skew cool towards blue producing an overall tint that appears teal-green. Black levels appear to be unchanged between the two settings. Both settings were able to be reigned in to achieve a suitable and enjoyable picture, however I found that working with the display mode set to "normal" made calibration far easier and just a touch more accurate overall.
SIM2 has taken its fair share of knocks over the years about it's calibration needs and quirks and I have to say they're not wholly unfounded. It's important to note that while the MICO 50 may be trickier to calibrate than most, the fact of the matter remains that it can be calibrated and once calibrated looks utterly amazing. Furthermore, while reviewers may get up in arms over the time and/or effort calibration may require, the truth is any SIM2 customer is never going to have to deal with calibration, for their installer and/or professional calibrator will be tackling those issues.
I ran through all of the Digital Essential's test patterns and video clips to ensure that the MICO 50 was performing at optimal levels before continuing on with my real world evaluation. Using the test video clips, the MICO 50 displayed brilliant and accurate colors with excellent black level detail and depth. Motion was smooth and produced no motion artifacts that I could see from my primary viewing position.
I kicked off my evaluation of the MICO 50 with some broadcast HD material in the form of Fox's 24. 24 has long since been one of my all-time favorite shows and recently ended its eight season run which I was fortunate to view via the MICO 50. AT&T U-Verse's HD service leaves a lot to be desired, however on the night of the 24 finale it seemed to be firing on all cylinders. What struck me right away was how bright and vibrant the MICO 50 was. In comparison to the previous LED projector I had for review, the MICO 50 trounced it in terms of brightness, which made everything from black levels to color saturation appear more rich and involving. Skin tones and textures were lifelike in their appearance with exceptional detail, especially on the battle-scarred face of the show's star, Kiefer Sutherland. Colors, though decidedly cool per the director's vision, were nicely saturated with considerable pop that in brightly lit scenes made for one hell of a dimensional image. Rapid movement, be it camera or on camera action, was smooth with zero signs of digital artifacts, especially in the show's many outdoor city scenes featuring stark, contrasting, horizontal and vertical lines.