Sim2 MICO 50 Review
Steve Withers takes a look at the new MICO 50 and asks if Sim2 has made us an offer we can’t refuse?
IntroductionAnyone with an interest in home cinema will be familiar with the name Sim2, the Italian company has been responsible for some of the finest DLP projectors available over the last few years. Recently they have even enlisted the help of a famous Italian-American in the not-inconsiderable form of Francis Ford Coppola to help promote their latest range of projectors. It seems the Godfather himself uses Sim2's flagship HT5000 in his own home cinema and at his American Zoetrope facilities. The latest addition to Sim2's prestigious line of projectors is the MICO 50, a single-chip DLP projector that uses a LED light source. MICO is Latin for 'sparkle' and clearly Sim2 hope to dazzle us with their first LED based projector. So let's take a look at the MICO 50 and see if it delivers the necessary 'bada-bing' or just ends up sleeping with the fishes.
Design and FeaturesConsidering the design of some of Sim2's other projectors, the MICO 50 is relatively conservative with a basic rectangular shape as opposed to the racier curves of some of its stable mates. The gunmetal grey finish is also rather subdued compared to the Ferrari red colour schemes that have been used in the past. That's not to say that the MICO 50 doesn't ooze Sim2's trademark style with sleek lines and a superb build quality. In fact the MICO 50 is a substantial unit, measuring 540mm wide by 235mm high by 641mm deep and it weighs a hefty 25kgs. The optical array also displays a high level of quality and precision which ensures a sharp and detailed image. The importance of the lens can't be overlooked and is often the weakest link in cheaper projectors. The overall design is elegantly simple and uncluttered with all the buttons and connections at the back of the projector. Underneath, at the front, are two adjustable feet for placement on an uneven surface. There is an air vent at the front left with exhausts to the rear and the MICO 50 uses liquid-cooling to maintain the temperature stability of the LEDs.
The MICO 50 is the first Sim2 product to utilise their new PureLED technology. This involves using three Luminus Phlatlight PT120 R/G/B LEDs to replace the traditional bulb and colour wheel used in their previous single-chip DLP projectors. As a result of this the MICO 50 should be able to remove any rainbow effects and reduce the possibility of any system failure. The estimated life of the LEDs is at least 30,000 hours (a very conservative estimate) which basically means any owner of a MICO 50 could use the projector for 4 hours a day for the next 20 years without ever having to replace the light source. In addition the use of LEDs means that the colour gamut of the MICO 50 is wider than that delivered by UHP lamp technology and you don't suffer from a gradual loss of brightness as you would with traditional bulbs. In fact the average lumen decay over 2,000 hours is less than 5%. Another advantage of using LEDs is that they light up very quickly, achieving full brightness in seconds and offering nearly-immediate startup/shutdown, which means the MICO 50 doesn't require minutes to warm-up or a cool-down period.
In addition to the LED light source the MICO 50 utilises a 0.95" 1080p DarkChip4 single-chip DMD by Texas Instruments which results in a full 1920 x 1080 high definition image. Being an all digital system, an LED based DLP projector like the MICO 50 boasts greater control over light and colour output, offering a more dynamic response to incoming source material. An active brightness and colour sensor coupled with a 8-bit per channel hyper-fast LED driver ensure optimum brightness and colour performance from the MICO 50 on a frame-by-frame basis as well as achieving an impressive active colour cycle of 20 times a frame of content without detrimental effects on overall life and image quality. A sophisticated colour sensor (positioned in the light engine) allows the driver to balance the light intensity coming from the the three different LED modules, as well as to switch off the 30A driving current to each LED in less than 1 microsecond. This eliminates most of the sequential colour artefacts that plague traditional single-chip DLP projectors, while improving the contrast ratio, colour saturation and greyscale accuracy of the MICO 50.
Sim2's use of Dynamic Black technology means the MICO 50 has a claimed measured full-on/full-off contrast ratio of up to 100,000:1. In addition the MICO 50's use of liquid cooling of the LEDs ensures colour-stability and increased light output; in fact one of the drawbacks of the LED light source is the temperature-sensitivity, and liquid-cooling is the only method capable of maintaining its stability. The MICO 50's light engine is a high-efficiency, fully motorised (zoom, focus, lens shift H&V) device that delivers about 30% more light output over rival products and has a claimed brightness of 800 ANSI lumens.
The Mico 50 comes with a variety of lens options including a choice between a short or a long throw lens which comes as standard or fixed and anamorphic lenses at an additional cost. The review copy of the MICO 50 that was delivered came configured with the standard long throw lens.
The MICO 50 also has some very impressive eco credentials with a power consumption of less than 1W in stand-by and low energy usage compared to rival projectors due to its use of LEDs. It also has a PVC free cabinet, doesn't use any mercury or lead in its construction and all the packaging can be recycled.
The MICO 50 comes with a reasonable selection of connections at the back, there are two HDMI inputs as well as one each of composite, S-Video, VGA and component video inputs. In addition there is a RS-232 serial interface, a USB port, two 12 volt trigger outputs and an input for a wired remote, all of which are very useful for custom installation. Obviously two HDMI inputs won't be enough for most people but I would expect the various sources to be connected to a receiver first, which in turn is connected to the projector.
The MICO 50 comes with the standard Sim2 remote which luckily I am familar with from owning a Sim2 DLP projector in the past. Unfortunately if you aren't familiar with the remote it can be a bit idiosyncratic and frankly rather frustrating. The main annoyance is that to enter the user menu you hit the plus or minus button, you also use these buttons to navigate from one menu page to another. Once in a menu page you use the up/down/left/right buttons to navigate around that particular menu and the Esc button to leave the menu screens. There is an Off button but to turn the projector on you need to press one of the number buttons, whichever number you choose will also select the appropriate input assigned to that number. On the plus side the remote is comfortable to hold and use and it comes with a backlight.
Menus and SetupThe MICO 50 is relatively simple to install compared to some other projectors and includes a fully motorised lens shift, zoom and focus which is convenient but not always as accurate as manual controls. There is a choice of two lenses as standard, either a long throw or short throw lens and for this review the MICO 50 came configured with the long throw lens. There are also a number of internal test patterns that can be very useful for correctly aligning, zooming and focussing the image. Depending on your setup you can choose between 4:3, 16:9 Anamorphic, Letter Box, Panoramic and Pixel to Pixel aspect ratios, as well as three customisable aspect ratios for use with anamorphic lenses.
The MICO 50 has a standard Sim2 menu system that uses four different screens that cover different functions of the projector and are titled Picture, Image, Setup and Menu. The user menus are accessed by pressing the plus or minus button the remote control and once into the menu screens you use the plus and minus buttons to move between screens. Within each screen you use the up/down/left/right buttons to navigate around the individual options and the escape button to leave a particular screen or the menu system entirely. Picture menu allows you to adjust the MICO 50's picture settings to your personal preferences. The controls here are mostly the standard controls that adjust the settings for Brightness, Contrast, Colour, Sharpness (which should be set to Normal to avoid any unwanted softness or ringing) and Tint. There is also an option called Filter which has a number of noise reduction filters, as well as Detail Enhancement which appeared to be another sharpness control so I left it at zero as well as settings for Cinema Mode (Auto), Noise Reduction (for analogue signals), Black Level (0IRE) and different picture settings which can also be saved.
The Image menu allows you to adjust the MICO 50's image settings. These controls include the option for Aspect Ratio (always choose Pixel To Pixel when watching high definition material to avoid any unnecessary scaling), the Aspect Setting (16:9 usually), the Primaries (this is the colour preset which includes an option for HDTV which is meant to approximate [tip=Rec709]Rec709[/tip]), White Point (which includes an option for [tip=D65]D65[/tip]), [tip=gamma]Gamma[/tip] (which includes various options but I chose 2.2 for testing but in a pitch black room you could choose 2.35 or 2.5) and the Dynamic Black control that personally I felt was best left off.
The Setup menu allows you to select the MICO 50's setup settings. These controls allow the user to setup the MICO 50 and include options for Orientation, Keystone Adjustment (never use keystone if at all possible), Test Patterns, Source Select, High Altitude Mode and Lens Shift. There is also an option called Display Mode which gives you the choice of Normal or Overlay. If you choose Normal then the MICO 50 uses the three LEDs to produce each of the primary colours whereas if you choose Overlay the MICO 50 also combines two LEDs to produce each of the secondary colours. The reason for this is to boost the brightness but does result in more fan noise. For use at home the Normal setting is the best choice with the Overlay setting being more appropriate of displays and presentations.
The final menu allows you to choose settings relating to the menu itself including the language, position and timeout. In addition you can see the source list, as well as source information and a handy help menu.
Out-of-the-Box MeasurementsPrior to measuring the out-of-the-box performance of a display, we, at AVForums, always perform a basic calibration first. In the case of the MICO 50 this meant choosing the appropriate settings as described in the Setup section of this review and setting the Brightness and Contrast correctly. I certainly had no problems setting the Brightness to the correct level using a Black Pluge test pattern but as soon as I looked at the White Pluge HiLo Track test pattern I could see that the whites were clipping quite severely. This particular test pattern has an outer box at 99% of peak white and an inner box at 98% of peak white and both boxes should be visible. In this case neither box was visible which suggests clipping on the part of the projector.
The D65 setting did provide the closest measurement to industry standards, but as the graph above shows the greyscale out-of-the-box performance of the MICO 50 was not as accurate as I would have expected to see from a projector at this price point. As you can clearly see blue is tracking 5% over the target line of 100, red is tracking at 15% over the target and green is tracking nearly 20% below the target. However on the plus side all three colours are measuring as straight lines so once calibrated the resulting performance should be very accurate. The suspected clipping I mentioned in the previous paragraph is obvious to see on the gamma curve with the line dipping down severely at 90 IRE.
Once again the HDTV colour setting did provide a colour gamut with the closest measurements to our industry standard but as with the greyscale performance the preset colour gamut was something of a disappointment, showing quite a large DeltaE for all the colours and especially for red. This over-saturated red was particularly obvious with flesh tones, resulting in everyone looking like they had sunburn. Hopefully I should be able to fix these issues using any Colour Management System built into the MICO 50.
Calibrated MeasurementsI was rather disappointed to discover that Sim2's excellent Live Colour Calibration (LCC) software is not currently available for the MICO 50 and in fact there were actually very few calibration controls in the user menus. In order to perform a full calibration on the MICO 50 I actually had to go into the service menu which is less than ideal. I understand Sim2's desire to keep the advanced calibration controls away from enthusiastic amateurs but they could instead offer lockable presets as recommended by the ISF.
Within the service menu is a two point [tiop=WhiteBalance]White Balance[/tip] control which is surprising when many manufacturers offer a ten point calibration control in displays that are a fraction of the price of the MICO 50. However since red, green and blue were tracking as straight lines it was quite easy to calibrate the greyscale and the result was incredibly accurate. As the graph clearly shows the DeltaEs are less than 0.5 from 20 to 100 IRE which is a reference performance. I mentioned to Sim2 that I was surprised the White Balance control wasn't in the user menu and they sent a request to Italy asking for it to be included in future projectors. Sadly there was nothing I could do to improve the clipping at 90 IRE, at least not until Sim2 release the software update.
The incredibly accurate greyscale resulted in immediate improvements in the colour gamut before I even began to calibrate the individual colours and obviously D65 was now spot on. Using the colour controls in the service menu I was able to accurately adjust red, green and blue. Initially I was concerned that there weren't controls for the secondary colours but I needn't have worried, once I had calibrated the primary colours the secondaries fell into place and the resulting colour performance was superb. As you can see from the [tip=cie]CIE[/tip] chart all the colours have DeltaEs of less than 1 which is a reference standard performance. I confess I would have been happier if the CMS controls had been easier to access and I was hampered by my unfamiliarity with the design of Sim2's colour controls but there are no knocking the results, this performance is nothing short of excellent.
Video ProcessingThe video processing capabilities of the MICO 50 are very impressive as one would expect from a projector in this price range. Using the HQV benchmark test DVDs the MICO 50 was able to fully reproduce the SMPTE colour bar tests for both PAL and NTSC, correctly scaling the full 576i and 480i images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. With the video deinterlacing tests the results were also excellent, the MICO 50 reproduced the rotating line without producing any jaggies except very slightly at the most extreme angles. In the motion adaptive deinterlacing test the performance remained superb with all three moving lines being reproduced correctly and only very slight jaggies on the bottom line. The MICO 50 also had no problems in resolving all the fine brickwork in the detail tests on both the PAL and NTSC discs.
The MICO 50's performance was equally impressive with the film detail test, correctly locking on to the image resulting in no aliasing in the speedway seats behind the race car, although the Cinema Mode needs to be set to Film for the best results. In the cadence tests the MICO 50 also performed flawlessly, correctly detecting the 2:3 (NTSC - USA/Japan) format as well as the 2:2 (PAL - European) format. In fact the only area where the MICO 50 didn't perform brilliantly was with the test displaying film material with scrolling video text, unfortunately here there was some shredding and blurring on the text.
The MICO 50 also performed superbly in the tests on the HQV Blu-ray using high definition content. With the player set to 1080i the MICO 50 correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests (provided the aspect ratio is set to Pixel to Pixel of course) and showed excellent scaling and filtering performance as well as good resolution enhancement. With 1080i material the MICO 50 had no difficulties in showing video text overlaid on film based material and also handled 24p content without any problems.
Given my experiences with the Contrast set up and the results of the gamma curve measurements I used my Spears and Munsil test disc to check the headroom performance of the MICO 50 from reference white (video level 235) up to peak white (video level 255) and there was clearly clipping which just confirmed what I had suspected during calibration. A display should be able to clearly show detail up to the peak white video level of 255 but the MICO 50 was clipping severely above 235. In fact instead of seeing individual white blocks that represent each video level from 235 to 255 all I saw was a white screen and I'm amazed that no other reviewer appears to have picked up on this issue.
I contacted Sim2 and they admitted that the error is due to incorrect values set for the 16-235 and 0-255 video levels. They also said that a software fix will be available within about two weeks and that the end user can perform the update themselves or through their dealer if they prefer. Whilst it is unfortunate that a projector in this price range has been shipped with such an obvious error it is commendable that Sim2 has sought to rectify the problem as soon as possible.
Finally I also used my Spears & Munsil disc to check the MICO 50's footroom performance and here I found no such problems with the projector clearly displaying down to reference black at video level 16.
Picture PerformanceThere is no mistaking that this is a premium projector when it comes to the actual picture performance. The MICO 50 delivers the kind of authority that only comes from a high end projector. The reference level accuracy of the greyscale and the colour gamut was evident in everything that I watched, especially high definition material.
However where the MICO 50 really shines is with black levels, producing the kind of inky blacks and shadow detail that only really comes from projectors that use DLP technology. The impressive native contrast ratio also helped here, giving images real punch and depth. Sadly the clipping whites that I had identified earlier where evident at times but once this has been fixed by the software update the resulting image will be stellar. I found it slightly depressing to see that even Sim2 feel the need to play the marketing game by offering a 'Dynamic Black' function to boost the contrast ratio numbers (100,000:1 according the literature). This function adjusts the Contrast control from scene to scene in order to increase the perceived contrast ratio but I find that whilst this makes the blacks appear darker overall it is detrimental to the image so I left it off. Besides the native contrast ratio and black performance of the MICO 50 is already excellent so this function really is redundant.
One area that surprised me with the MICO 50 was its brightness. The rated luminance is 800 ANSI Lumens but the actual light output appeared far brighter, especially in my bat cave of a home cinema. Maybe it's because my own projector bulb is getting a bit dim but watching material on the MICO 50 reminded me just how much impact a truly bright image can have. However the brightness of the Mico 50 still pales against the likes of its big brother the C3X.
In fact the use of LEDs resulted in a wonderfully stable image that was always bright and accurate with no warming up or cooling down. I for one never bored of the novelty of being able to just turn a projector off and then back on again immediately without the usual cooling down period or worries about bulb damage.
I thought that the use of LEDs would result in a projector that produced very little heat compared to regular bulbs and as such would be much quieter. Sadly this isn't the case and temperature sensitivity of the LEDs requires liquid-cooling which produces some noise, it isn't loud but it really isn't any quieter than its competitors which is a shame. I actually measured the projector noise at NC 30 which is quite good but ideally you would want the noise criteria reading to be below 20 to ensure it doesn't interfere with the quiet parts of soundtracks.
The combination of DLP technology, a lack of any alignment issues due to the use of a single chip and the superior optics resulted in an image of astonishing sharpness. High definition material showed a level of detail that was revelatory but the obvious downside was that any imperfections in the source material were mercilessly revealed. With standard definition the MICO 50 was able to produce a surprisingly good image with well encoded and transferred material but any low bandwidth material was practically unwatchable. The MICO 50 has a reasonable set of controls to try and improve poor source material but even Sim2 can't work miracles.
One other area where DLP technology has an advantage is with motion, here the MICO 50 was able to reproduce the images without any noticeable loss of resolution or blurring. Compared to LCoS or SXRD projectors the MICO 50's performance with camera pans or moving objects was excellent and yet another reminder of how good DLP can be when properly implemented. The excellent video processing really came in to play here as well, with the MICO 50 being able to deinterlace and scale standard definition material without and noticeable judder or artefacts.
Personally I don't suffer from rainbows but for those that do, this can be a major drawback of single chip DLP projectors that use a colour wheel. Sim2's use of individual LEDs for the three primary colours removes the need for a colour wheel and as a result should eliminate rainbows. To test this I invited a friend who is very susceptible to rainbows to watch some material on the MICO 50 and unfortunately he could still occasionally see them, especially with darker material. I'm not sure if these artefacts were a result of the flashing LEDs or some limitation in the DLP technology itself but my friend could definitely see them.
- Excellent build quality and lens array
- Reference greyscale after calibration
- Reference colour gamut after calibration
- Superb black levels
- Excellent native contrast ratio
- Excellent video processing
- Sensibly laid out menu system
- Average lifespan of at least 30,000 hours for LEDs
- Near instantaneous on/off without the need for warming up or cooling down
- Clipping at reference white but this will be addressed soon
- Despite use of LEDs there is still the occasional rainbow artefact
- Most of the advanced calibration controls are hidden away in the service menu
- The remote control can be a bit idiosyncratic and annoying to use
- Despite the use of liquid-cooling there is still a degree of fan noise
- At 16,000 pounds it might be a bit expensive for most consumers
Sim2 MICO 50 Review
Overall the MICO 50 is a superb projector which combines a sharp, bright and detailed image with a wonderfully accurate colour palate, an excellent contrast ratio and reference standard greyscale. In addition it uses state of the art video processing that can handle any resolution or frame rate you might care to input. The use of a LED light source provides much improved colours, greater ecological benefits, a vastly longer lamp lifespan and eliminates the problems of dimming that affect regular bulbs.
There is no question that the DLP technology provides a sharper image compared to its rivals and the use of a single chip means you don't suffer from any of the alignment issues that sometimes plague 3-chip projectors. The technology also handles movement really well, with no perceivable loss of resolution as images move across the screen. In addition the MICO 50 produces superb blacks which when coupled with the excellent contrast ratio and surprising brightness result in very punchy and engaging image.
There are a couple of minor issues that a projector at this price point shouldn't suffer from, specifically the very bad clipping at reference white and the lack of easily accessible calibration controls. However Sim2 will have fixed the clipping issue with a software update in a matter of weeks and once Sim2's incredibly flexible Live Colour Calibration (LCC) software is available for the MICO 50 then calibration will be much simpler.
Sim2 has emphasised in their marketing literature that the MICO 50's use of a LED light source negates the need for a colour wheel and thus eliminates rainbows. Whilst the MICO 50 doesn't use a colour wheel it would seem that this has not eliminated rainbows completely and as such I would recommend anyone who is especially susceptible to demo the MICO 50 first before considering a purchase. Then again anyone who is contemplating spending nearly £16,000 on a projector would be insane not to thoroughly demo the MICO 50 before actually buying it.
This gets me on to my final point, which is the price. Yes the MICO 50 is expensive but when a company embraces new technology like this and employs a build quality of this standard then they will always struggle to compete with the price of mass produced brands. The reality is the combination of the technology and high standard of the optics results in a level of performance far in excess of their cheaper competitors and the life span of 30,000+ hours will save money in terms of replacement bulbs over the long run. Having said that there is no doubt that the combination of a cheaper projector coupled with an outboard video processor can result in images that are almost as good for half the price.
Under normal circumstances I would give the MICO 50 a Highly Recommended badge but in light of the issues with clipping, the occasional rainbows, the lack of more user friendly calibration controls and the price I am instead awarding a Recommended badge. However if you have the available funds and want to experience the next stage in the evolution of projectors then I strongly recommend you demo the MICO 50 as you won't be disappointed.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £15,995.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels8
2D Picture Quality8
Ease Of Use7
Value For Money5
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.