- Review Date: 06/9/11
- Bottom line:
The Canon REALiS SX80 Mark II offers unusually fine control over color settings, making it of particular interest for applications where it's important to get colors right.
Fine control over color. LCOS technology. Can show images from PictBridge cameras and USB memory keys.
Relatively big and heavy. Volume is too low to be usable.
No matter how you look at it, the Canon REALiS SX80 Mark II ($3,999 direct) business projector is anything but typical. Like the Editors' Choice Canon REALiS X700 ($2,500 street, 4 stars), it's built around Canon's version of LCOS technology, which eliminates common issues with LCD and DLP projectors. Its SXGA+ (1,400 by 1,050) resolution gives it an advantage over most data projectors for images with fine detail. And it offers unusually advanced control over color, making it of particular interest to anyone who needs to get onscreen color just so. The total package is unusual in the extreme, and I mean that in a good way.
According to Canon the SX80 Mark II does particularly well in the higher education market, which is probably due to a combination of features, including the excellent image quality and the bright image rated at 3000 lumens, as well as the color control.
Being able to get the color right would be a compelling feature for say, an art history class, and the high resolution would be of obvious interest for any number of other subjects, particularly in science and engineering, that need to show images with fine detail. The same features make the projector of special interest to photographers, galleries, and anyone else who needs to get the most out of photos.
The SX80 Mark II is a little big and heavy to count as truly portable, at 11.5 pounds and 4.8 by 13 by 13.4 inches. However, it's in the luggable range, and Canon provides a soft carrying case. Basic setup is mostly standard fare, but with a few important conveniences added. Hit the Auto Set button on the remote, for example, and the projector will automatically focus as well as sync to the incoming signal. In addition, both the focus and 1.5 to 1 zoom are motorized, so you can adjust them easily from the remote.
Canon put the connectors for the SX80 Mark II on a side panel rather than the back, but the more important issue is that there's a reasonably full set, including an HDMI 1.3 port for a digital computer or video source, a DVI-I port for a digital computer, a VGA input for a computer or component video, a pass-through monitor port, and both an S-Video and a composite video port. There are also three miniplugs for stereo audio inputs, and one for stereo output. In addition, a USB type A port lets you show jpg images from a USB memory key or PictBridge camera.
Brightness and Image Quality
As already mentioned, Canon rates the SX80 Mark II at 3000 lumens, which is an increasingly common level of brightness for projectors in its weight class and lighter. The Casio Green Slim XJ-A250 ($1399.99 direct, 4 stars) that I recently reviewed, for example, is also rated at 3,000 lumens. In my tests, that translated into an image that was more than bright enough, at 52 inches across (64-inches diagonal), to stand up to bright sunlight streaming through a nearby window.
As expected, based on my experience with earlier models of Canon LCOS projectors, the SX80 Mark II sailed through our suite of DisplayMate tests without a problem. Colors were bright, vibrant, and fully saturated, color balance was excellent with truly neutral gray at all shades from black to white, and both white on black and black on white text was sharp and highly readable down to the smallest sizes we test with.
Video images weren't at quite the same level, but that's expected for a data projector. I saw a slight loss of detail in dark areas on screen, and the slightest hint of posterization (color changing suddenly where it should change gradually), but only in scenes we use because they tend to bring out these problems.
With less demanding scenes, which are more typical of most commercial video and movies, the projector did a good enough job to make it suitable for watching a full-length movie, although it's not in the same league as even a mid-range home entertainment projector like the Editors' Choice Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8350 ($1,299 direct, 4 stars).
Because of the projector's photo mode, I put more emphasis than usual on testing it with photos. Quite simply, the results were superb, thanks largely to the advanced color adjustments.
The photo mode and advanced color controls offer far more precise control over color than the vast majority of projectors. Among other features, they let you, for example, adjust both the saturation and hue for each primary and secondary color—red, green, blue, cyan, yellow, and magenta. They're also supplemented by features like a color temperature setting and four options for dynamic gamma adjustment, which can analyze each image and adjust the gamma setting to affect contrast differently at different levels of brightness.
Improving the color for photos turned out to be much easier with these controls than with most color management systems. Even unsophisticated users should be able to master them without too much of a learning curve. Professionals who are used to color adjustments shouldn't have any learning curve at all.
More often than not, projectors in the SX80 Mark II's weight class offer meager audio systems, but Canon's taken that tradition to new heights of pointlessness, with a 1-watt mono speaker. The audio quality is reasonably good if you're close enough to hear it, but for most purposes, you will definitely want to plug an external sound system into the audio output.
Aside from the severely underpowered sound system, the SX80 Mark II is an impressive beast, with excellent data image quality, better video image quality than most data projectors, and particularly good photo quality. Given the cost, most people will probably consider it overkill for business use, but for those who need the best color quality they can find, it's easily worth the price. Add in the advanced color management and it's a runaway pick for Editors' Choice.