Highly Recommended Award
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The highly anticipated Canon Realis SX60 has begun ship in the last few weeks, and the wait was definitely worth it. This is the latest of the native 4:3 format SXGA+ projectors, which means it has physical pixel array of 1400x1050. That is essentially double the number of pixels of a conventional XGA projector. But the thing that makes the SX60 unique is that it features reflective LCOS technology, rather than the more common LCD or DLP found in most projectors. Compared to LCD or DLP, LCOS produces an almost invisible pixel matrix, so the image is as smooth and virtually free of any pixel structure as it can get. For this reason it is a technology preferred by many home theater enthusiasts.
Brightness: 2500 ANSI lumens
Contrast: 1000:1 (2000:1 in Home Cinema mode)
Light engine: three 1400x1050 resolution 0.7" LCOS chips.
Compatibility: HDTV 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p, and computer resolutions up to 1600x1200. Full NTSC / PAL / SECAM.
Lens and Throw Distance: 1.70:1 powered zoom/focus lens. Throws a 100" diagonal image from 9.7' to 16.3'.
Lamp Life: 3,000 hours in normal mode, 4,000 hours in eco-mode.
Connection Panel. One composite video, one S-Video, one VGA port, one monitor pass through, one DVI port, one USB port, one service port for maintenance, one 1/8" audio in, one kensington lock.
Warranty: Three years.
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
EVEREST, a 4:3 IMAX Film, 1998
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.
Use in Home Theater. Several factors combine to make the SX60 a particularly good choice for 4:3 format home theater. One is the complete lack of visible pixel structure, which is a benefit of LCOS as noted earlier. Another is the fact that the light engine contains three LCOS panels, one each for red, green, and blue. That means there is no need for a spinning color wheel like those used in single-chip DLP projectors. Hence, there is no possibility that viewers will encounter the distracting rainbow artifacts that can be seen on competing DLP projectors in this same price/resolution class.
Yet another key benefit of the SX60 is the relative lack of digital noise in video when using the DVI input. In side by side comparisons with other SXGA+ DLP projectors that we have reviewed recently, the SX60 produced a cleaner, more stable image, but only on the DVI port. With component video, overall noise levels between the SX60 and its DLP competitors were comparable.
In short, due to invisible pixelation, low digital noise, and the absence of rainbows, the Canon SX60 is capable of producing a smoother, more filmlike video image than any of the other 1400x1050 products we've tested in the past few months. However, the one obvious shortcoming of the SX60 relative to its DLP competition is its lower contrast. So the buyer is faced with a trade-off-if you want 1400x1050 resolution, you can go with one of the DLP projectors to get higher contrast and deeper blacks, and accept increased noise and the potential for rainbow artifacts as part of the bargain. Or you can go with the SX60's smoother image that does not have quite the depth of black and range of contrast. In our view, the Canon SX60 wins the trade-off, and would be our preferred choice for home theater use.
A further note on operating modes. The five precalibrated operating modes can be entirely overridden by the user. Standard, Presentation, Movie, sRGB, and Home Cinema each have their factory default settings. But if you don't plan to use the projector for Presentation use, for example, you have the ability to adjust brightness, contrast, sharpness, and gamma to your liking. You also have the ability to adjust color hue and saturation on each of the six primary and secondary colors. So in fact, you can transform the Presentation mode into an optimized video mode of your choosing. All five modes can be completely recalibrated to your taste, with the one limitation being that Home Cinema mode activates that internal mechanism to drastically reduce light output and increase contrast.
After calibrating one of the non-Home Cinema modes to optimum video, we measured its lumen output with the low lamp setting to be 795 lumens, and with normal lamp the reading was 890 lumens. This is plenty of light to fill a 120" to 150" diagonal screen in a dark viewing space. We would select a low-gain high-contrast gray screen for best results.
The primary adjustments needed to derive the best video performance were a reduction of brightness and a substantial increase in color saturation settings. The degree of increase in color saturation that was needed varied by the type of material being viewed. For instance, once Movie mode was set for a perfectly balanced display of a contemporary DVD such as Swimming Pool, the newly restored The Wizard of Oz was oversaturated. Meanwhile, a b/w film such as Casablanca manifested subtle hints of color that should not have been there. These problems are neatly eliminated by recalibrating each of the operating modes for optimum display of different types of material.
What about 16:9? Clearly the SX60 is designed to deliver the best 4:3 viewing experience possible. But it also produces a natural, smooth, extremely filmlike 16:9 image as well. The following screen shots from Swimming Pool give a sense of the projector's ability to render a natural, non-digital looking image. These images are eight feet wide. The screen is the Studiotek 130, the projector's lamp setting is low, and the operating mode is our custom calibration of one of the non-Home Cinema operating modes. In other words, the internal contrast-enhancing mechanism is not active:
Now folks, let's be clear. Let's say most of the video material you care about is 16:9 widescreen DVD and HDTV. Let's say you don't care much about classic films, music videos, and vintage TV series on DVD. If that is the case, then get a 16:9 projector with a 16:9 screen. Projectors like the Optoma HD7100 or the HD72 are less expensive and higher in contrast, and will probably suit your needs better. But it makes no sense to compare the SX60 to the 16:9 products--it is rather like comparing a Porsche to a Range Rover.
The Canon SX60 is a breed apart, a unique animal designed to produce excellent results with both 4:3 and 16:9, so it is built for people who care about both formats equally. It is a native 4:3 projector, so it makes no sense to pair it with a 16:9 screen in order to watch 16:9 material. If you do, you will not be able to see any 4:3 material in anything other than a highly compromised fashion. There is no aspect ratio mode that lets you place a 4:3 image in the middle of a 16:9 frame. Your choices would be to view 4:3 material full frame and let the top and bottom portions of the image spill onto the wall above and below your 16:9 screen, or view it in "true" mode, which is an unscaled "pixel for pixel" display that will produce a tiny image in the center of your 1400x787 16:9 pixel matrix. All things considered, neither option is attractive.
Miscellaneous observations. For the most part, Canon has done a superb job with the details on the SX60. Fan noise in low lamp mode is extremely low, and in normal lamp mode it is still an impressively quiet projector. Nobody will be complaining about fan noise on this unit. In addition, you can use the normal (that is "high") lamp mode without worrying too much about lamp costs--lamp life at the higher burn rate is 3,000 hours, and 4,000 in eco-mode.
The projector is highly responsive to the remote control, which has a range of over 40 feet. (If only all vendors could figure out how to do this! We get tired of having to point a remote at the projector to get a response.) Another nice feature is that the remote has an operating mode button, so after you have set up your custom calibrations for each operating mode, you can quickly toggle through them rather than having to go into the menu. The remote does not have an aspect ratio button-that would have been nice, but all things considered it is a nit in the larger picture.
The SX60's 1.7x powered zoom lens allows you to fill a 120" screen from a throw distance of anywhere between 11.7 and 19.6 feet, which is exceptional range, far greater than the lenses on any competing SXGA+ model.
Unfortunately, there is no vertical lens shift. One must work within the limits of the fixed geometry of the projector's lens. The centerline of the lens intersects the projected image at a point about 10% of the picture height above the bottom edge. That means if you are planning to rear shelf mount it high enough to overshoot the heads of the viewing audience, you will most likely need to tilt it downward and adjust via keystone. Most users will find that the ideal installation is a ceiling mount with an extension tube drop that minimizes the need to tilt the projector. Conversely, a coffee table placement is certainly an option also, since the zoom will give you a very large image from as little as twelve feet.
For whatever reasons, image sharpness is substantially improved on the SX60 over the previous SXGA+ model from Canon, the SX50. As noted above, there is (as one would expect) more noise in the picture with component video than there is with DVI, so make sure to use the DVI connection for best results. But other than that, the deinterlacing on interlaced component video is exceptionally clean, passing all of our jaggies tests with flying colors. We found no problems with image tearing on the SX60 as we did on SX50. Overall, the SX60 came through with a solid and impressive performance.
The Canon SX60 is the fourth SXGA+ projector we have reviewed in the last several months, the others being the Optoma EP910, the Dell 5100MP and the projectiondesign evo2sx+. These are all bright, portable 1400x1050 resolution projectors. However, the SX60 stands apart from the others in several ways. For one, it is LCOS, while the others are DLP, which means it is the only model that does not have a color wheel in the light engine. Since video is the application that produces the most bothersome side effects from the DLP color wheel, the SX60 holds a unique advantage in that buyers can go with this model without any worry that they or their family and friends will be bothered by rainbow artifacts.
Despite the fact that the SX60 is lower in contrast than its DLP competitors, the overall integrity and smoothness of the image makes it, in our view, the preferred model for home theater. We should hasten to add that Optoma, Dell, and projectiondesign did not intend for their products to be marketed for home theater use, whereas Canon clearly did. So the fact that the SX60 shows particularly well in video applications is not a surprise.
However, when it comes to other applications, the SX60 does not have the same unique advantages. In digital photography, for example, rainbow artifacts from DLP color wheels are not nearly as much of a problem due to the static images. Meanwhile, the incremental black level and contrast of DLP lends a product like the Optoma EP910 a distinct advantage over the SX60. While we'd use the SX60 for home theater over the EP910, we'd select the EP910 over the SX60 for the display of photography.
The Dell 5100MP is the least expensive of the group, and will appeal to those on a tighter budget, while the projectiondesign evo2sx+ is the most compact and road-friendly of the four. The fact is that each of these are unique products designed to meet a particular set of user needs. None of them outperforms the others across the board for all types of use.
If you are a regular reader of this site, you have heard me promote the concept of 4:3 format home theater as a real alternative to the "new" 16:9. There is just something magical about seeing the great films of the past displayed in large scale format, as they were experienced by audiences back in the 30's and 40's. It is a retro thing, and certainly a personal preference that not everyone shares. But once you've seen it, you will know what I am talking about.
As a side note, I would NOT go with a large scale 4:3 theater set up if standard 4:3 broadcast television was my main video diet. Jon Stewart is great, but he doesn't look particularly good blown up to 150" diagonal.
The advantage of the Canon SX60 is that it allows you to set up both 4:3 and a beautiful 16:9 image, so you get the true benefits of both. Ideally, you will match it with a 4:3 format screen, and add a masking system to open and close the face of the screen to fit the size of the image being projected. That way you have a solid black frame around everything you watch, which will substantially improve the viewing experience.
Given my particular passion for old classic films as well as the newer widescreen productions, for me personally, the Canon SX60 is the closet thing to a perfect home theater projector that I have yet seen under $5,000. If you share my interests in 4:3, I would encourage you to get to know the Canon SX60. Who knows, it might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Canon REALiS SX60 projector page.