- Review Price: £25995.00
However cynical you might be about the whole celebrity obsession dominating popular culture right now, there’s no denying that a celebrity endorsement really can help a product get more attention. Especially when that celebrity actually has talent rather than just going out with a footballer, or singing somebody else’s songs while wearing hardly any clothes.
With this in mind, SIM2 must be very chuffed indeed to be following up their past endorsement from genuine genius David Lynch with a new endorsement from no less a movie titan than Francis Ford Coppola.
Hit the home page of SIM2’s website right now, and you’ll find a photo of the C3X Lumis projector I’m testing today emblazoned with the words “I have owned many projectors in my life: SIM2 is now in both my studios and my home’, words attributed to the Godfather of modern cinema himself.
There almost seems to be a challenge to us reviewers here; it’s kind of like SIM2 saying ‘Diss our projectors, and you diss Francis Ford Coppola. And who the hell are you to diss Francis Ford Coppola’!
Thankfully, I’ve never met Mr Coppola, and don’t suppose I ever will. So I don’t really have anything to fear should I find myself not liking the C3X Lumis. Plus, of course, before we get too overwhelmed by Coppola’s God-like directorial talents, it’s probably worth remembering that ”The Godfather Part III” was rubbish…
All of which is a very long-winded way of saying that my love of the C3X Lumis has absolutely nothing at all to do with anyone else’s opinion, and everything to do with the truly jaw-dropping talents of what’s quite simply the finest projector I’ve ever seen.
Before I put some meat on this grand but basic statement, though, I have to admit that there’s one thing I don’t like about the C3X Lumis at all. In fact, I hate it. And that’s the price. For at £25,995, there’s about as much chance me ever being able to afford one as there is Dennis Skinner defecting to the Conservative Party.
But then, much though it hurts me to say, the C3X Lumis isn’t made for me. Or for the vast majority of other folk, come to that. It is squarely aimed at rich people with rich people’s homes containing rich people’s no-expense-spared custom installation home entertainment systems. Either that, or middle-class home cinema obsessives who put achieving home cinema perfection ahead of such trivial matters as owning a decent car, taking their other halves on nice holidays and, most likely, raising children.
The fact that my lot in life makes me curse the C3X Lumis’ price, though, doesn’t mean that the projector isn’t worth the money. In fact, when you consider how much your typical commercial digital cinema costs to install, you might even argue that it’s a bargain!
One immediately surprising thing about the C3X Lumis’ presence is how little of it there is. Home cinema history would suggest that when you’re in a price range as stratospheric as 26 grand, you usually end up with something of a truly epic scale, back-breaking weight and all the aesthetic appeal of a 1960s block of flats. Yet the C3X Lumis is in the same size ballpark as vastly cheaper projectors such as Sony’s VPL-VW85 – in fact, it’s barely half the size of SIM2’s own LED debut, the MICO 50.
Despite the challenges of fitting the C3X Lumis’ three-chip DLP engine inside such a diminutive form, though, the projector is anything but ugly. In fact, its Giorgio Revoldini-designed chassis is really rather beautiful with its stunning high-gloss finish, tasteful curves and the wonderfully sports car-like way the lens sits proud above the rest of the bodywork.
It’s worth adding, too, that you can get the projector in different colours – my own personal favourite is the standard Gun-Metal one, but the white, black and red alternatives (in matt as well as gloss options) all make stunning design statements too.
Once I’d stopped stroking the C3X Lumis’ lovely form long enough to focus on its connections, I found a pretty standard set of jacks including two v1.3 HDMIs, a component video input, a D-Sub PC port, USB and RS-232 control ports, and an S-Video port. The most striking ‘high end’ connection touch is arguably the provision of three screw-attach 12V trigger outputs, so you can use the projector to fire up secondary equipment such as a motorised screen or aspect ratio adjustments.
The key to what makes the C3X Lumis truly remarkable, though, lies inside the sumptuous bodywork. And here things kick off with the discovery of three of Texas Instruments’ 0.95in DarkChip 4 DLP chipsets – enough in itself to explain a healthy portion of the £26k price tag. But also potentially key is the latest incarnation of SIM2’s ALPHAPATH light engine – especially since this new version of SIM2’s proprietary optical system features some eye-catching enhancements.
For instance, the engine now employs a new die-cast aluminium design intended to dramatically improve the light engine’s thermal management, with the result that SIM2 has been able to use a more powerful lamp. In fact, the C3X Lumis kicks out an astonishing 3,000 ANSI Lumens when it’s running at full tilt, making it the very definition of a home cinema ‘light cannon’. The new ALPHAPATH design also houses elements of SIM2’s latest dynamic black system, including a user-adjustable iris.
Next on the ALPHAPATH innovation front is a new tapered rod integrator (stop sniggering at the back), which converts the raw light energy from the lamp into a purer, more refined beam of light. This has come, so SIM2 claims, after its engineers analysed many, many ray-tracing simulations and found that the best pictures didn’t come from typical rectangular-rod designs, but from longer, tapered ones, since the tapered design boosts brightness uniformity and light transmission efficiency.
With so much effort focussed on brightness, you’re perhaps getting concerned that SIM2 has forgotten about that equally (if not more) important picture element, contrast. But fear not; the claimed contrast ratio for the C3X Lumis is an enormously healthy (for DLP) 35,000:1. And the lengths the projector goes to in terms of making contrast a priority are considerable.
For instance, as noted earlier there’s a 10-step manual iris adjustment that really does prove invaluable in fine-tuning the best image balance for your particular viewing room set up. Plus, impressively, there’s the option to adjust the lamp output in 10W steps between 230W and 280W, with the latter providing more than enough light to deliver a picture that’s still hugely watchable even with lots of ambient light around, while the lowest setting puts added emphasis on black levels for properly blacked out rooms.
The total array of light output adjustments at the C3X Lumis’ disposal actually allow you to adjust its brightness from the maximum 3,000 ANSI Lumens all the way down to just 1,200 – a level of flexibility which is, so far as I’m aware, unprecedented in the domestic projection marketplace.
At first glance, though, you might feel as if the C3X Lumis doesn’t look especially flexible for its money beyond the unusual, much-appreciated ‘mechanical’ adjustments already noted. The only other things of real note among the disappointingly drab onscreen menus are a series of rather obscurely labelled gamma presets plus a User setting with a ‘sliding bar’ adjustment; switchable Video and Graphic sharpness modes; a hugely flexible noise reduction system; and a colour management engine.
However, when you select the Colour Management option, the full potential of the C3X Lumis’ set-up flexibility suddenly becomes apparent. For you’re presented with a terrifyingly sophisticated array of adjustments, all tweakable with a precision unrivalled by any other projector I’ve seen to date bar, of course, SIM2’s earlier C3X 1080.
The key point is that the projector has the flexibility to hook up to a PC so that it can be fine-tuned to perfection – or as near to perfection as it’s currently possible to get in a home environment – via specialist Live Colors calibration software and a colour meter.
So sophisticated is the C3X 1080’s colour management, in fact, that it’s clearly beyond the capabilities of your average home cinema end user. But of course, it’s hard to imagine anyone spending £26k on a projector without that projector being professionally installed by a particularly eager-to-please expert. In fact, aside from the entirely laudable drive to get you perfect colours in your viewing room, the C3X Lumis’ near-obsession with colour management is clearly not going to do it any harm whatsoever when it comes to making the C3X Lumis one of the first projectors in the mind of any custom installer with a big budget to play with.
Another feature that won’t do this ambition any harm is the fact that the C3X 1080 can be bought with any of three different lens options: the short-throw T1 (1.37-1.66:1), the medium-throw T2 (1.75-2.45:1), and the long-throw T3 (2.6-3.9:1, adding £1,000 to the projector’s cost). Also handy are a large selection of built-in test patterns, vertical image shifting via allen key, and even keystone correction – though it’s unlikely that any professional installer will use this except as a matter of last resort.
Unquestionably the biggest single appeal of the C3X Lumis to both custom installers and end users, though, is its truly stunning picture quality. Images look so good in so many ways, in fact, that I was initially bewildered as to where to start trying to dissect them.
A little reflection, however, made it pretty clear that the main thing that sets the C3X Lumis apart from the usual much cheaper projector fare we come across is the remarkable way it combines extreme brightness with superb black level response.
The extreme brightness finds pictures exploding off the screen with almost terrifying vibrancy, especially if you use the maximum 280W lamp output option. This brightness means the C3X Lumis is capable of driving a really large screen; being watchable in ambient light; and giving you an excuse for wearing sunglasses indoors! But far more important for me than the way the extreme lamp power makes bright scenes ‘pop’ is the way it joins forces with the projector’s remarkably inky black level response to produce an unprecedented (in my experience) level of insight, subtle detailing and image depth during dark scenes.
It might sound odd to be praising a projector’s brightness while talking about dark scenes. Especially against a backdrop where I’m often suspicious of really bright projectors, which at less elevated parts of the projector marketplace tend to deliver their brightness at the expense of black level response.
But here it’s the C3X Lumis’ ability to combine extreme brightness and gorgeously rich black levels within the same frame – with all the insight and extra detail this leads to – that most defines its position as a true premium projector. As well as making it significantly superior to SIM2’s also-outstanding MICO 50 LED projector.
The only word of caution I’d raise here is that the C3X Lumis’ brightness is so extreme that you need to accommodate it in other aspects of your viewing room. In other words, your installer needs to take care to match it with a screen that keeps the brightness focussed rather than bouncing it all over your room, otherwise you’ll end up watching films through ambient light created by the image itself. Following on from this, I’d recommend installing your C3X Lumis in a room that doesn’t feature bright white and thus reflective walls. Though if this isn’t possible, then the option of reducing the lamp output will prove helpful.
Running a close second to contrast in the C3X Lumis’ ‘reasons it’s worth £26k’ column is its colour response. Here again the key word is insight, as the projector unveils colour tone subtleties in favourite Blu-ray discs and even Sky HD movie recordings that I’ve seldom if ever noted before on any projectors other than, perhaps, SIM2’s old C3X 1080.
This colour insight seems partly down to the video processing engine and ALPHAPATH technology at the C3X Lumis’ heart, but also partly down to the efforts of the extreme colour management engine noted earlier. For after calibration, not only are colour blends and tonal shifts shown with immaculate finesse, the projector’s colour palette looks both expansive and totally, effortlessly natural too. To put this in more dramatic terms, the C3X Lumis gives me the strongest sense of image authenticity that I’ve ever experienced outside a commercial digital cinema installation.
All this, and I haven’t even mentioned the C3X Lumis’ outstanding sharpness and fine detail reproduction. All three of its DLP chipsets are, of course, Full HD, but somehow – possibly because of the accuracy of the projector’s optics, its processing power, its extreme contrast, its colour accuracy, or a combination of all these factors – it produces pictures that look almost like some kind of higher definition level.
To be clear about this, I’m not saying the C3X Lumis is somehow delivering a 4k2k effect from its 1,920 x 1,080 pixel count! It’s just that the accuracy of its picture reproduction, colour palette, lack of video noise, and outstanding dynamism frequently creates the impression that you’re seeing new details in familiar pictures.
With all the C3X Lumis’ considerable advantages being delivered with what appears to be perfect light uniformity and total stability, as well as some beautifully natural motion reproduction from all source types, I really am struggling to come up with anything negative to say. Occasionally I noticed extremely bright parts of the picture looking a little ‘flared’ momentarily before settling down. But even this marginal flaw disappears if you deactivate the projector’s Dynamic Black feature.
Otherwise, the only truly significant problem I have with the C3X Lumis – aside from the fact that I can’t afford one, of course – is that it runs rather noisily. I haven’t been able to track down any official figures on the noise levels from SIM2, but even using its lowest 230W output setting, the projector – perhaps inevitably given how bright is – kicks out enough of a racket to distract you from what you’re watching unless your installer has done the decent thing and taken measures to counter this.
The sort of measures I’m talking about could involve building the projector into some sort of sound proof but adequately ventilated enclosure or, more likely, simply making sure that the projector is positioned as far away as possible from your best seating positions.
Another practical issue associated with the C3X Lumis’ high brightness is that it doesn’t boast the greatest lamp life in the world; SIM2 quotes 2,000 hours in standard power mode, or 3,000 hours when driving the lamp at its lowest level. Not great news when a new lamp could cost you not far shy of £1,000 (though SIM2 reckons you should be able to get this down to £600 if you go to a ‘friendly’ SIM2 dealer!). Compare this with the 30,000 hours or so of lamp life being quoted for SIM2’s admittedly much less bright MICO 50 LED product.
But then I guess if you can afford £26k on a projector in the first place, spending a few hundred pounds more after you’ve watched 1,500-2,000 films probably doesn’t seem like much of a problem!
The SIM2 C3X Lumis is terrifyingly expensive to buy and run. But it’s also terrifyingly good, delivering levels of insight, immediacy and dynamism with whatever you watch on it that at least rival the experience of going out to a high-spec commercial cinema. And if that isn’t the very definition of a perfect home cinema experience, I don’t know what is. Perhaps the best thing of all about all this, though, is the fact that it justifies Francis Ford Coppola’s endorsement, leaving his reputation as a true cinema master intact. ”The Godfather Part III”? Never heard of it.
Score in detail
Image Quality 10