Canon Realis SX60: Versatile High Resolution
June 19, 2006,
The Canon SX60 is designed to address two markets. One is high resolution commercial presentation of text and graphics, and the other is home theater. In fact, this is the first 4:3 format projector we've seen in a while that is being specifically targeted to the home theater market. It is easy to understand why. Despite the widespread conventional wisdom that says the 16:9 HDTV format is the "right" format for home theater, there is still a large, unfilled consumer demand for high quality video projection in 4:3.
The reason for this is simple-there is a huge amount of 4:3 video material on the market, and there always will be. Most TV series that have been released on DVD are in 4:3. All of the great classic films made prior to 1953 are in 4:3 (actually, so are all of the lousy films made prior to that year). Many superb documentaries like the Ken Burns' films on Jazz and the Civil War are in 4:3, as are great historical music performances never to be repeated-The Intimate Duke Ellington (1967), Elvis-The '68 Comeback Special, James Taylor Live at the Beacon Theater, Simon & Garfunkel Concert in Central Park, and the Eagles "Hell Freezes Over" to name a few.
Most people setting up home theaters today care more about widescreen DVD and HDTV performance, and not as much about 4:3. But for those avid fans of 4:3 format materials, 16:9 just doesn't cut it. With a 16:9 screen and projector, you must put the 4:3 image in the middle with black bars (or columns) on the sides. That is fine for regular broadcast TV since that stuff is not designed for large format presentation anyway. But classic films lose a lot of visual impact when screened in smaller format.
There are some who fervently believe that 4:3 is the only way to go for great home theater. That is because the 16:9 screen often leaves some vertical space on the wall above and below the screen unused. So another option is to install a large 4:3 screen of the same width you'd have selected in 16:9, and illuminate it with a 4:3 video projector like the Canon SX60. Meanwhile, all of the 16:9 material you display will be presented in the same size it would have been if you'd gone with a 16:9 screen to begin with. This is the right way to go for those who have a particular passion for large format 4:3 viewing. If you are one of them, then Canon built the SX60 with you in mind.
Brightness issues. The SX60 is officially rated at 2500 ANSI lumens. That sounds pretty bright for a home theater projector. But like all projectors, it doesn't deliver anywhere near that much when optimized for video. Remember that the unit is built to address both commercial display and home video, and you can select settings for each that radically alter the light output. The SX60 comes with five precalibrated operating modes-Standard, Presentation, Movie, sRGB, and Home Cinema. When using the factory defaults in Presentation Mode, for example, whites are boosted to give you bright spreadsheets and graphics in a conference room setting. Our test unit measured 1788 ANSI lumens in that mode. Standard Mode is almost as bright, but has better color performance, and that measured 1740 ANSI lumens.
However, when we put our SX60 into Home Cinema Mode, an internal mechanism (variable iris or filter--not sure which) was activated, and lumen output dropped all the way to 443. On top of that, you can choose to operate in eco-mode to extend lamp life and reduce the already quiet fan noise. With Home Cinema and eco-mode both selected, the lumen output measured 383.
In theory, the advantage to Home Cinema mode is that it boosts contrast incrementally. The official specification claims contrast of 2000:1 in Home Cinema mode, and 1000:1 in all other modes in which the iris is not closed down. Contrast is in fact increased somewhat in Home Cinema mode, but ONLY in a pitch dark room and only at the cost of a radical reduction in light output. Once you introduce ambient light into the viewing space, the improvement in contrast is neutralized, and you will be better off operating in any of the modes for which the iris is open. For our taste, the Home Cinema mode lacks sufficient contrast to make up for the loss in lumen output. In practical terms it is too dim for anything above a 100" diagonal screen. On the other hand, we'd certainly use it if we had a dark room and our desired screen size was in the range of 90". But two of the great benefits of the SX60 are super high resolution and higher light output-both of which cry out for a BIG image, or at least certainly bigger than 90" to 100".
The exciting news is that you don't need to use Home Cinema mode to get great results from the SX60. The screen shots below show the SX60's performance on a 120" diagonal screen after our recalibration of one of the higher light output modes. In this case, the screen is the Stewart Studiotek 130. This is a low gain white screen, so the projector is getting no incremental black level assistance from the screen.
Humphrey Bogart, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, 1945
Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, GONE WITH THE WIND, 1939
Sidney Greenstreet, Humphrey Bogart, CASABLANCA, 1942
You must use your imagination here-the images above look beautifully dramatic on a ten-foot diagonal screen. They lose much of their dramatic impact when viewed in tiny screen shots on your computer monitor, just as they lose some of their impact when placed in the middle of a 16:9 screen with black sidebars.