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Canon REALiS SX80 Projector Review

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Canon REALiS SX80 Projector Canon REALiS SX80
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900:1 Contrast Ratio
3000 Lumens
Street Price: n/a
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Review: Canon REALiS SX80

Evan Powell, July 18, 2008
ProjectorCentral.com

The newly released Canon REALiS SX80 is the latest in the company's long established line of SXGA+ (1400x1050) projectors. These models have always been popular due to a unique combination of factors. Not only are they double the resolution of the standard XGA format, but they deliver high light output, exceptional color accuracy, and a complete lack of visible pixel structure due to the use of LCOS technology.

For those who want high quality display of complex imagery, from text and financial documents to detailed graphics, the Canon SXGA LCOS projectors have been the go-to models for many enthusiastic users. And for photographers, the SX series of projectors have been naturals for displaying photographs in large scale. The new SX80 is the least expensive in Canon's SXGA+ line. It comes in elegant pearl white casework that is a definite improvement in looks over previous models.


Key Specifications

ANSI lumens: 3000

Contrast (full on/off): 900:1

Light Engine: 1400x1050, native 4:3, three-panel LCOS with 230W NSH lamp.

Video Compatibility: 1080p/60, 1080i, 1035i, 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p, 480i.

Connection Panel: One HDMI 1.3 port, one DVI-I, one 15-pin VGA, one VGA monitor output, one 3-RCA component input, one s-video, one composite, one 9-pin DSub serial port.

Lens and Throw Distance: 1.5x powered zoom/focus lens with no vertical or horizontal lens shift. Throws a 120" diagonal 4:3 image from 12 to 17.5 feet.

Lamp Life: 2000 hours, 2500 in eco-mode

Replacement lamp price: $579 retail.

Warranty: Three years.


Advantages

Excellent color accuracy. The factory preset sRGB mode was almost perfectly calibrated coming out of the box. All we did to tweak it was add +1 to Blue Gain and Offset on the VGA port. At these settings the gray scale tracked almost perfectly at 6500K all the way to 100 IRE.

Brightness. Many projectors will lose a great deal of their rated light output when set to optimum color performance. Not so the SX80. In the factory preset sRGB mode, and with the lens at the wide angle setting, the SX80 measured a very substantial 2420 ANSI lumens of brightness. At the opposite end of the lens, at maximum telephoto, the projector still measured 2012 ANSI Lumens. Thus, the zoom lens loses only 17% of its full light potential in moving from maximum wide angle to maximum telephoto. This is noteworthy considering the fact that many zoom lenses in the 1.5x range can lose up to 30% or more.

The SX80 has several other factory preset operating modes. Presentation mode is brighter and colder. With the lens in wide angle position it measured 2793 lumens, or very close to the theoretical maximum. Standard mode measured 2376 lumens, and Movie mode was 1863 lumens.

The SX80 has a low lamp mode that will extend lamp life from 2000 to 2500 hours. Since replacement lamps retail at $579, any additional life you can get from the lamp will be welcome. Running with the lamp on Low will reduce lumen output in any operating mode by 23%.

No visible pixelation. One of the key advantages of LCOS technology is the virtual absence of visible pixel structure. You won't see any screendoor effect on the SX80.

Low fan noise. The industry has been doing a good job of making projectors quieter than they used to be. Nevertheless, since this model can pump out up to 3000 lumens in a relatively small 11.5 lb package, you'd expect some fan noise along with it. To our surprise, the fan noise even with the lamp on full power was remarkably low and unobtrusive, and in low lamp mode the projector was downright quiet.

Good connectivity. The SX80 offers a variety of inputs including one each of HDMI, DVI-I, VGA, and the conventional array of analog video inputs. There is also one VGA monitor loop-through and three audio inputs (which unfortunately drive a small, tinny-sounding one watt speaker).

Limitations

Contrast. The Canon SX80 is rated at a full on/off contrast of 900:1. For readers used to seeing ratings on home theater projectors of 10,000:1 and up, this may seem rather modest. However, though the SX80 does not have the highest contrast in the marketplace, it is not as bad as the specs would suggest. We measured ANSI contrast on the SX80 at a very respectable 244:1, which is about the same readings we are getting on LCD home theater projectors, and is in fact higher than the 209:1 reading we got on the JVC DLA-RS2.

Once we ignore the specs and look at the pictures, we get a different impression. Overall, graphics and photographic images appear bright and dynamic, with sufficient range from black to white to give them plenty of snap. Black levels are not as deep as they are on most home theater models, but they are deep enough to look fully black as compared to dark gray. In a room with ambient light, the overall brightness of the image is the leading factor in producing the vibrancy of the image. Meanwhile, differences between projectors in their respective black levels become moot since the room light determines how black the blacks are actually perceived. So the SX80 will compete extremely well against higher contrast, but lower light output projectors if you have a large screen and some ambient light present.

Weak onboard audio. If you plan on using audio in your presentations and you are thinking about using the SX80's onboard system, you might want to think again. The single one-watt speaker is thin and tinny, lacking anything remotely close to a bass frequency. Now, to be fair, no projector in this class has great onboard audio. But there are competing SXGA+ products that do have more substantial onboard audio than this one. If audio is an important part of your presentation mix and you really need room-filling sound, either plan to use a separate audio system or choose a different projector.

Movie mode. The presence of an operating mode called "Movie" might lead users to imagine that it should be used to view movies. We would counsel against it. Compared to the sRGB mode, the Movie mode drops lumen output by 15%, which in and of itself may be a good thing for dark room viewing. But it also lowers ANSI contrast from 244:1 to 206:1, and most importantly it renders a colder, less accurate gray scale to boot. For photography and movies, stick with sRGB. If you need to reduce the lumen output, back the projector up and use the long end of the lens, put it into low lamp mode, and if necessary, use a neutral density filter.

No lens shift. The SX80 projects a picture such that the centerline of the lens intersects the screen at the bottom edge of the image (or the top edge of the image when the projector is inverted for ceiling mount). This built-in fixed throw angle may present difficulties in some situations. If the projector is on a conference room table, the bottom of the projected image is also at the level of the table, which in many cases may be too low. For ceiling mounting, you may wish to use a drop extension tube to get the picture down the wall a bit and away from the ceiling.

You can always tilt the projector upward, or downward from the ceiling mount, and square up the resulting trapezoid with keystone correction. However, if you do this, you will not get a native 1400x1050 image. Since one of the advantages of this projector is a very sharp image due to its high native resolution, most users will want to avoid any compromise in image sharpness that would be imparted by the introduction of keystone adjustments.

We should note that keystone adjustments have more of an effect on material like text/financial documents than on graphics and photography. But we always like to avoid keystone adjustments whenever possible. In lieu of physical lens shift, which is the ideal solution for adjusting image height on the wall or screen, we would like to have seen a fixed upward throw angle with more of an offset.

Conclusion

The Canon REALiS SX80 fills a unique niche in the marketplace. It offers high resolution, excellent color balance, zero pixelation, and high lumen output, for street prices under $3,000. Its ability to deliver 2400 real color-balanced ANSI lumens in sRGB mode gives it a significant competitive advantage over home theater models that are higher in contrast, but weaker on lumen output. It is ideal for large scale presentation of graphics and photography, or for the clear display of detailed text and financial documents, especially if there is ambient light in the viewing room. If the limitations imposed by the fixed lens and minimal audio capability are not relevant factors in your intended usage, we can strongly recommend the Canon SX80 with genuine enthusiasm.




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