I began my subjective evaluations of the Nero with James Cameron's Titanic on Blu-ray (Paramount). This stunning transfer looked positively brilliant via the Nero. In my light-controlled room, the image didn't appear down on light at all, but rather popped off my screen. No doubt this was a direct result of my room being swathed floor to ceiling in black fabric. Still, the colors were rich, vibrant and most of all true to the source material, with zero signs of editorializing on behalf of the Nero. Skin tones, despite some rather heavy color correction on the part of the filmmakers, looked natural set against the film's stylistic color palette. Black-level detail was good, though black levels on a whole were a few shades above absolute black - not uncommon for DLP-based projectors.
Actually, for a DLP, the Nero's black-level performance was near class-leading, but still not quite to the standard of, say, certain JVCs. Contrast was good, as details in both bright and dimly-lit scenes were easily discernable. More importantly, areas of high contrast, such as hair set against a largely white or light blue sky, didn't suffer any color fringe or panel alignment errors due to the Nero's single-chip design. I set the Nero to PureMovie, meaning I bypassed any internal video processing or frame interpolation. The resulting image was one that was cinematically smooth and free of artifacts. The Nero's detail and natural edge fidelity were astonishing, giving certain scenes and images a sense of organic dimension.
Moving on, I cued up Road to Perdition (DreamWorks) on Blu-ray. While not as punchy, as Titanic the image still felt alive. Road to Perdition is a decidedly darker film in its palette, which gave the Nero a workout, as both its black-level performance and contrast were tested. Again, the darkest regions of the image were not absolute, but rather a shade of 90 or 95 percent gray. Not perfect, but definitely worthy of enjoyment. Contrast was solid, evident in the detail still discernable in the film's darker regions, despite the Nero's inability to produce true black. Lighter moments were equally impressive, as sharp highlights remained composed and neatly defined. Any and all blooming present was there at the behest of the cinematographer and not a result of the Nero's inability to toe the line. Color, while far more steely than that of Titanic, still was portrayed naturally. Skin tones were especially organic in both their color and texture. Motion was again buttery smooth, and artifacts, aside from the usual digital compression (not the Nero's fault), were a non-issue.
I ended my evaluation of the Nero with Iron Man on Blu-ray disc (Paramount). I chaptered ahead to Iron Man's attack on the compound where he had been imprisoned earlier in the film. Focusing first on detail, I was amazed at how cleanly and clearly the Nero rendered each tiny speck of falling or exploding debris. When Iron Man is shot out of the sky and lands in a crater of his own creation, the following shot of him crawling out of the hole was so vividly real that the individual grains of dirt looked and felt like authentic dirt. Too often with multi-chip or panel designs, fine detail and/or contrast gets lost in alignment errors - not the case here. The contrast between the organic and non-organic in this same scene was staggering, as was the Nero's ability to keep its highlight composure, like when the sudden flash and shockwave of an explosion played out in front of a near-uniform sky. Colors, again muted, seemed true to the film and never looked to play favorites towards any one hue. Grayscale tracking appeared dead accurate, as whites appeared white and grays and blacks were properly gray and black. Again, blacks could've been a touch deeper, but it was never bothersome.
My biggest takeaway from viewing some of my favorite movies via the Nero was this: it always felt cinematic. Because of its single-chip nature, the way in which the Nero portrays an image is more film-like than what is provided by most multi-chip and/or panel-based front projectors. Via the Nero, things like film grain actually appear to look like film grain rather than subtle pixilation, not that you're seeing the pixels, per se. The simplicity and focus inherent with single-chip designs is something that, once experienced firsthand, is hard to live without. I wish the Nero could have been brighter, as I feel a few extra lumens would've done nothing but enhance its already wonderful picture. However, in spite of its lower light output, the Nero's image was still first-rate.
Lastly, and this is an issue that all fans and/or would-be DLP customers must face, is the rainbow effect. DLP has come a long way since its humble beginnings, and while the Nero may rely on a color wheel, any resulting rainbow-related anomalies are not really an issue. I'm susceptible to seeing rainbow-like artifacts, and I have to admit, while I saw a few on occasion, their occurrences were few and very far between. Again, this isn't a knock on the Nero, as all single-chip DLPs can suffer from this, though how bad a single-chip projector appears to be as a result is largely dictated by the viewer's own eyes. For example, my wife doesn't see rainbow artifacts at all, even when I purposely try to recreate them. Go figure.
There is a lot to like about the Nero, though it's not perfect by any stretch. First, I feel SIM2's light output claims about the Nero are optimistic, as I've measured other projectors with similar reported ANSI lumen ratings and have gotten far superior results. As it stands, I cannot in good conscience recommend that those considering building a theater around a screen in excess of 120 inches diagonal consider the Nero as a projector, as I just don't think it has the light output. Screens below 120 inches diagonal, in light-controlled rooms, should fare okay, with screens dipping down to 110 and even 100 inches diagonal faring even better. If your room has any ambient light, forget it, as the Nero needs what its name suggests: blackness.
The Nero runs warm and, as a result, is fairly loud under a load. This isn't wholly unique to the Nero per se, as all projectors, even LED-based ones, have fans. It's just that the Nero's fans aren't as quiet as some. They're not as loud as some others, though. Also, because most of the Nero's rear panel is dominated by fans and vents, those who choose to mount their projectors overhead should expect a subtle rise in the room's temperature. Plan accordingly. I mounted the Nero almost eight feet behind my primary viewing position, so temperature changes and/or fan noise were less of an issue, but in overhead tests, I could see it becoming a problem.
There's no automated lens cover or cap with the Nero or any SIM2 projector I've come across. Maybe it's the filmmaker side of me, but I like to protect my optics when not in use, rather than have 'em just hanging out there. I'm don't know whether future or newer SIM2 models have automated lens caps, but I sure wish one was present on the Nero.
Competition and Comparisons
There is no shortage of high-end front projectors, both LCD and DLP, especially ones retailing for around or less than the Nero's asking price. While I consider the Nero to be exemplary in virtually every regard - save maybe light output - it's not the undisputed champion that its sibling the M.150 is. That being said, the Nero competes favorably and in some instances bests projectors such as Sony's VPL-VW1000ES ($24,999), which despite its 4K capabilities still does not possess the liquidity and focus the single-chip Nero does. Nor does the Sony calibrate as completely as the Nero, though the former trounces the latter in terms of light output.
The JVC DLA-X90RBU is another solid contender, which admittedly has more in common with the Nero that perhaps the Sony, in that they are both native HD displays, capable of similar (though not the same) light output and can be calibrated within an inch of their lives, so to speak. The JVC is almost $8,000 cheaper than the Nero, though whether that makes it "better" is up to the end user, as their visual styles, D-ILA and DLP, couldn't be more different.
There are far less expensive single-chip DLP projectors available today, too. Digital Projection's M-Vision Cine 230 springs to mind at just under $7,000, though at that price, it's likely a better match or comparison to SIM2's Crystal projectors rather than the Nero.
For more on these great projectors, as well as others like them, please visit Home Theater Review's Front Projection page.
My journey with the Nero began because of how enamored I was with the M.150 which, sadly, I couldn't afford. While the Nero couldn't be more different from the M.150 in terms of internal architecture and build, the end results are eerily similar, as the Nero puts forth an accurate cinematic image not unlike that of the M.150. High praise, considering the M.150 is near-perfect both on paper and to my eyes. While the Nero may be down on light and thus requires potential users to consider screen sizes below 120 inches diagonal, in the right environment, it's flat-out amazing. Yes, it needs to be calibrated and, yes, the remote still sucks, but at the end of the day, when everything is said and done, I can think of few single-chip DLP projectors that do it better than the Nero.
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