Interview with SIM2

July 22, 2010

Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for the Ultra High-End Audio and Home Theater Forum. Let me begin by asking you to give our readers a little background on your company – when and why it was formed, what its design philosophy and goals are, and where it sees itself positioned relative to other high-end projector manufacturers?

SIM2 was founded in 1995, as an Italian based manufacturer of high performance projector and home theater products, the technical and industrial design of our products share many of the values of Italy’s high-end automotive industry. Our design philosophy is one of innovation and creativity, along with a passion to produce cinema-quality images in customers’ homes. We implement Texas Instruments’ chipsets in ground-breaking applications that result in greater resolution and more life-like image reproduction from exclusive and uniquely SIM2 products.

Three-chip systems have had very high appeal to high-end enthusiasts such as our forum members. Would you outline the performance advantages of three-chip designs? Are there any areas where a single chip system can still be better?

When all build of materials are equal, three-chip projectors deliver the highest performance in the following areas: brightness, broader range of colors, greater detail, better contrast and black level and no “rainbow” effect. Other brands may have to “squeeze” single-chip projectors into compact applications because their three-chip platforms are physically too large. SIM2 delivers three-chip projectors in an elegant, compact form factor that allows installation in almost any system application.

Would you tell us why you believe in DLP technology relative to others such as DILA?

DLP has zero motion blur and is up to 1000 times as fast as other display technologies. The refresh rate is up to 300Hz. It the only digital technology fast enough for 144 fps 3-D cinema. Only DLP Cinema 3-chip displays feature an ultra-rich color palette of 35 trillion native colors. The inherent sharpness and clarity of DLP is fully exploited by SIM2 in our 3-chip models.

SIM2 DLP projectors are true digital displays. LCD-based systems are a mixture of analog and digital, 3-panel technology is therefore not 3-chip, even though it is positioned in the market as such (this is because 3-chip DLP is considered to be the pinnacle of projection picture technology). These extra A/D and D/A stages are limitations of LCD technology and create softness and smearing in the final image, when compared to a SIM2 3-chip DLP projector.

You recently introduced the MICO 50 LED projector. Would you tell us both about the benefits of LED designs and about the MICO 50 in particular? Do you see projectors with LED light sources replacing current technologies?

SIM2’s commitment to innovation led us to concentrate our efforts into the research of the most advanced light source technology available on the Home Theater market: LED. SIM2 is proud to announce the launch of a new product, which is the perfect addition to our existing single-chip product range. The MICO 50 features a Texas Instruments’ Darkchip4. The LED light source is made up of a trio of high power Phlatlight LEDs by Luminus (one for each primary color Red, Green and Blue) allowing direct light pumping into the projector optics without going through an ordinary projector’s color wheel.

This LED-powered “Lamp-Free” projector allows very important advantages:

• The LED lamp lasts the projector’s entire life cycle. No maintenance needed on the light source with consequent low cost of ownership. The LED modules are estimated to have a life expectancy of 30,000 hours. That is approximately 15 times the life expectancy of a 2000 hour lamp!
• The LED light source provides a wider and more consistent color gamut, with
richer and better color rendition
• Very stable color characteristics along the product’s lifespan
• There is no color wheel. The three LEDs increase the active color cycles available per frame eliminating the ‘rainbow’ effect
• Nearly immediate power on/off.
• Mico50 has very low noise thanks to a new advanced, liquid cooling system
• Truly “Green projector”: no mercury lamp used and no need of lamp replacement hence avoiding the pollution caused by its disposal activity

LED looks to be one of the long term replacement technologies for the current lamp.

You offer two versions of your new Lumis projector – one with a separate HOST controller connected to the projection with fiber optic cables and one with the functions of the HOST controller built into the projector itself. Are there technical advantages to one approach over the other?

The picture performance of each LUMIS is identical. Each unit features our latest three-chip design in a new ALPHAPATH Light Engine. As you would expect from SIM2, the compact and elegant design is by famed Italian designer Giorgio Revoldini. A unique, new SIM2 mplementation of DynamicBlack results in a staggering 35,000:1 contrast ratio.

The C3X LUMIS HOST does offer some extra features over the standard C3X LUMIS, in the shape of: an additional four HDMI inputs, a 10/100Mbit Ethernet connection for control and system monitoring, an HD-SDI connection and additional analog inputs.

HOST stands for High-definition Optical Signal Transfer. A high integrity fiber-optic cable connects all the inputs and control electronics in an outboard box to the projector, without the detrimental effects (signal loss, interference, etc.) of long cable runs. This allows the HOST module, containing the control electronics, to be placed in a rack or more conveniently located near source components. It also allows the projector to be mounted up to 750 feet from the HOST box. This installation flexibility is invaluable when the homeowner wants to hide all the electronics, or add extra sources to the system! The HOST also allows connection of up to eighteen individual products; including six HDMI inputs as well as a wide choice of legacy inputs.

Where do we go from here? Are 4K projectors the future for the consumer market, and if so, when do you think they will begin to predominate?

No, for consumer market we don’t see the 4K resolution as a mainstream, at least for next 2-3 years. The 4K makes sense for Cinema applications where there are yet the right contents as well as Professional sources able to manage such high bandwidth signals. For sure, if 4K became a must, as always SIM2 will be ready with the right products. Instead, for consumer market we think the Cinemascope projector is the future.

What is your opinion of 3-D? Do you think it will become a mainstream solution? Does 3-D impose any special requirements on projector manufacturers?

Again, for consumer market 3-D is something like a “toy” while for Professional market will become surely a mainstream solution. It could be used not only for classic Cinema applications but, for example, for scientific visualization or simulation industry.

3-D imposes a lot or special requirements on the processing, on the inputs and on the optics. For an active 3D stereoscopy solution for example, the processing must be able to manage the 120Hz frame rate. Concerning the inputs required, a projector has to be equipped with HDMI 1.4, DVI Dual Link or Dysplay port, not so common in the consumer market. Moreover, in active 3D solutions, a Mini Din connector or an IR emitter mounted on the back panel are needed to synchronize special shutter glasses.

There are frequent forum discussions around measured performance of projectors and expectations of achieving someone else’s numbers (contrast, lumens, etc). Would you outline potential differences between units that are shipped? Can a user for example expect to get the same out of box color temperature and lumens as another person who has bought the same unit? Why does each projector have to be calibrated after installation rather than coming pre-calibrated from the factory?

Every SIM2 projector is thoroughly pre-calibrated in the factory in STANDARD conditions. Nevertheless, every light engine is different from another one so slight differences in color temperature and lumens can be seen. We apply strict tolerances to pre-calibration process, in order ensure that any production unit adheres closely to the reference design criteria.

Every projector needs to be fine tuned during the installation. This because the factory STANDARD conditions are not the same of the customer’s home theatre. In fact, several parameters change based on ambient light level, screen gain, room decoration color and so on.

Some of your products provide an SD(HD)-SDI input. Is there a benefit using SD(HD)-SDI instead of HDMI?

HD-SDI is a serial digital interface used mainly on broadcast and professional applications. In terms of speed and resolution supported, HDMI and HD-SDI are comparable.

Consumer signal resolutions (including 1080p) from HD-SDI or HDMI 1.3 source are displayed without any differences. The main benefits of using HD-SDI are the supported length and the price of the cable: signals can be run up to hundreds of meters without losses by using a quite common and cheap cable. On the other hand, good (and expensive) HDMI cables support full HD resolution up to 15-20 meters. To utilze higher resolution other serial interfaces are today available: HD-SDI Dual Link and 3G-SDI. Both are able to support higher resolution like the 4K. Currently, those are available in our new professional HDR LCD display only.

Do you see benefits in using third party outboard processors with the current generation of projectors?

No, we don’t. Current generation of projectors have built-in processors totally equal to those used on third party outboard processing.

What is the role of signal processing in the future of projectors? Can one for example envision using interpolation to help with alignment of panels in 3-chip projectors or chromatic aberration in lenses? How about per pixel correction for color temperature and uniformity issues?

It has a very important role. There will be the possibility to have space image control, correct the uniformity or the color temperature by zones, do warping or edge blending, create user-defined 3D Look Up Tables for better colorimetry. SIM2 is already working in this direction.

Speaking of lens chromatic aberration, do you see a world where there could be standardized interchangeable lens systems as with SLR cameras?

It’s quite difficult for consumer market because each manufacturer has its own light engine design and preferred lens supplier. On professional market, there is a need for a more standard approach, which allows more companies to use a standard lens type.

Several manufacturers have introduced projectors which provide DSP processing for generation of constant height images for a range of wide and ultra-wide formats without the necessity for an anamorphic lens. Is this where the industry is headed? What hurdles still must be overcome for this to become mainstream?

We don’t think this is a good solution. We think that a 2.35:1 format DMD panel is the future and SIM2 is working on this direction

Thank you again for joining us today.