Until now, projectors featuring very high resolution, say in the class of 1400x 1050 or more, have been large, bulky, and expensive. So it is understandable that one of the most anticipated releases of the last few months has been the Canon Realis SX50.
The SX50, which just started shipping last month, brings very high 1400x1050 resolution down under the $5,000 price point for the first time in the industry's history. That by itself is significant news. But in addition this little 8.6 lb unit is rated at 2500 ANSI lumens of light output. That much light coming from such a small box is another noteworthy advance for LCOS technology. It is no wonder that the SX50 has attracted so much attention.
Native Resolution: 1400x1050
Brightness: 2500 ANSI lumens
Light engine: Three 0.7" LCOS panels, 200W NSH lamp
Lens: Manual zoom/focus, with 1.67x zoom range
Compatibility: Video: NTSC, NTSC 4.43, PAL,, PAL-M, PAL-N, SECAM, HDTV 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p, 480i Computer: VGA, SVGA, XGA, SXGA, UXGA (Compressed)
Connection ports: One each-DVI-I (without HDCP), VGA (RGB and component or VGA out for monitor loop-through), S-video, composite
Weight: 8.6 lbs
Canon engineers designed the Realis SX50 with a very specific objective in mind-to drive down the price of high resolution data and graphics projection to levels heretofore unheard of. They have achieved this objective in dramatic fashion. For those who have a need to display detailed text documents, complicated CAD drawings, medical imagery, and high resolution computer-generated graphics or photographs, it is fair to say that at the moment the Realis SX50 has no rival below $5,000 in terms of pure image precision.
The SX50 needs a 1400x1050 high resolution computer source to mate with its native 1400x1050 LCOS display in order to get the best results. But with such a set-up the image quality of high resolution data and graphics material leaves virtually nothing to be desired.
Upon its announcement last fall, several of the SX50's specifications understandably stimulated the imagination of home theater buffs and created some eager anticipation among them. For starters, its high resolution sounds promising for optimum HDTV display, and high resolution LCOS panels always mean NO visible pixelation. Excellent color performance is often a hallmark of LCOS technology, and the lack of a spinning color wheel is usually perceived as a benefit. Beyond that, the high lumen output and low cost for such high resolution have also fueled consumer anticipation.
However, the designers of the SX50 did not have home theater in mind as a target market for this unit. Accordingly, many features that are commonly found on today's home theater products do not appear on the SX50. Consider for example that this native 4:3 product has just two display options: full frame 4:3, and 16:9 centered in the middle of the 4:3 frame. There is no option to reposition 4:3 subject matter in the middle of the 16:9 frame as there is on most native 4:3 format projectors designed for full-time or part-time home theater use.
Home theater projectors often have either vertical lens shift or a built-in throw angle offset that help to accommodate ceiling mounting without having to tilt the projector and use the keystone adjustments. The SX50 has neither feature. The centerline of the lens intersects the bottom edge of the projected image (in table top mode), or the top edge of the image when ceiling mounted.
Furthermore, the SX50 has a DVI input, but lacks the HDCP chip which has become standard on new DVI-enabled home theater units these days. That means you may not be able to feed copy-protected HD material into the DVI port. Other home theater features are absent as well. For example, there is no separate component video input. Nor is there a 12-volt trigger to coordinate the projector's power up with the deployment of an electric screen as there is on most home theater projectors in this price range. Fan noise, while moderate as compared to other very high resolution projectors, is rather loud by today's home theater projector standards, even in eco-mode.
Finally, as far as video processing is concerned, the SX50's color decoding is first rate. However, onboard deinterlacing is unsophisticated, lacking the motion adaptive capabilities that almost all projectors designed for home theater currently offer. The onboard scaler produces a softer video image that you might expect from a high resolution projector, and this was the case even with HD 1080i and 720p sources. So contrary to expectations the high native resolution of the projector did not translate into particularly outstanding HDTV performance.
Furthermore, with standard definition video material being fed through the DVI port we noticed what appeared to be an occasional loss of frame synchronization in the buffer, which manifested itself as a transient separation of the image along the horizontal plane (so for example, the upper half of a telephone pole would be momentarily shifted to the left of the bottom half). This artifact was limited to standard definition material on the DVI port; we did not see it occur on the VGA component input, nor did we see it with HD material on either port.
The use of an external scaler such as the iScan HD did not resolve the inherent softness in the video. Even with the iScan outputting at 1400x1050 through DVI, the overall video image quality was softer than we would have expected from a projector of this resolution. We did however obtain excellent results with an HD 720p demo clip when played through Windows Media Player and outputted to the SX50 from a computer at 1400x1050. So with this particular video source the SX50 performed substantially better than it did with conventional HD and SD sources.
The bottom line is that the SX50 was designed for high resolution data and graphics presentation, not home theater. Accordingly, it needs to be evaluated in light of its intended use. And for data and graphics presentation, the SX50 performs better than any other projector we've seen anywhere near its selling price. As noted above, the projector needs to be matched with a computer source that is outputting its native resolution of 1400x1050, as the internal scaling of data and graphics is a bit soft as it is with video. But with a native format signal, high resolution text documents and CAD images are razor sharp. High res photographic images are rendered in virtually perfect color and balance, with ample contrast to achieve that "window on reality" effect.
Furthermore, the SX50 has a variety of presentation features that make it all the more serviceable as a portable presentation projector. Vertical and horizontal keystone adjustments allow for some flexibility of projector placement relative to the screen. It is important to note that the activation of keystone adjustments has almost no impact on image acuity as it does on most other projectors. The precision of the keystone scaling makes the keystone adjustment (which is +/- 20% either horizontally or vertically) a truly valuable asset.
The long 1.67x zoom range also provides much better flexibility of placement in terms of throw distance to any desired screen image size than is available on most other high resolution projectors. A 100" diagonal can be achieved anywhere from about 10 to 16.4 feet throw distance. As noted above, when the projector is not tilted, the bottom edge of the table-mounted projected image will be at the level of the lens. However the push of a button releases an elevator foot that will tilt the projector and let you raise the image location on the wall. And keystone adjustments can be used to square it up with virtually no degradation of image sharpness.
Digital zoom capability enables you enlarge specific areas of the projected image up to 12x, and a spotlight feature on the remote lets you direct viewer attention to specific areas of the image by rendering the desired area bright and dimming the rest of the image. The placement of the spotlight can be controlled by directional buttons on the remote, so it can be moved around on the image as desired.
Should you wish to simultaneously drive a second projection unit or a separate monitor, the VGA input port can be converted to output via simple menu selection.
Perhaps the best feature of all is the selling price, which is under $5,000. This is several thousand dollars less than any other projector in the SX50's resolution class. Thus it represents extraordinary projection value for those whose applications demand the best and most acute rendering of high resolution data and graphic images.
Our new 5-star rating system compares projectors to other models within their same resolution and type class. Thus in comparing the SX50 to other models in the 1400x1050 resolution class, we would say that it matches the performance of much more expensive machines in data and graphics presentation, and falls short in video capability. It has unique competitive advantages in light output and portability that many of the more expensive units cannot match. Moreover, it has a set of user-friendly features that make it particularly easy to use in portable presentation applications.
Overall, the SX50 is a projector unlike any other on the market at the moment. For the niche that it was designed for, nothing else can beat it. Those who need very high resolution display can now get it for under $5,000. On top of that, if portability is required as well, the SX50 is the first truly portable unit of this kind to hit the market. Within this context, the SX50 earns a high 5-star rating for value.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Canon REALiS SX50 projector page.