I'm going to post this review from my meet at the end of September...
Pseudo Mini Review...
I wrote a pseudo-review of my incredible experience at Art's meet this year and posted it for the CRT crowd over at Curt's site. My point for writing it for those guys was to relate what an absolutely amazing image the new setup produces, and in the process, maybe quiet some of the nay-sayers that couldn't understand Art's decision to ditch the stack (the stack was awesome by the way).
I also knew there were more than a few people over here who couldn't make it. If you couldn't make it, you most certainly wish you had been able to and would undoubtedly love to hear more about Art's incredible system. This repost is for you. I edited a few things for clarity, but didn't change any content in any significant way.
Keep in mind I love CRT and posted for the CRT crowd, so consider the context for which a few of the comments were originally intended. Absolutely NO disrespect is intended - Art's system is simply breathtaking.
Taking my seat
We walked in and found a seat in the front row. I took the end seat and gave my buddy the seat left of center since I'd been there before. Right away, I noticed when people walked between the projector and screen, there was a shadow on the screen - even with dimmed room lighting. I immediately started thinking, "Wow, are the blacks going to suck THAT much?!?!?" How would Art tolerate it? Oh well, I'll reserve judgement. In hindsight, it could have been a source sending something above black.
Lights dimmed, projector muted, and screen masked to 4:3, Art started out by telling everybody why he loved HT - basically how his love for going to see movies got him through college and rough days, and how helping his dad buy and set up a Kloss Novabeam hooked him on HT forever. Background out of the way, it was demo time.
They left the lights dimmed and played a CD track with an acoustic version of Elton John's Candle in the Wind. Guitar and vocals were crystal clear and the sound stage, presence, and transparency of the sound were all exceptional. Excellent definition in the vocal and guitar strings. Great dynamics and a very "open" sound. I'm no huge Elton John fan, but I will pick up that recording. Mark Seaton must have done a hell of a job on the speakers and EQ, because it was definitely up there with some of the best audio I've ever heard. Keep in mind there was no projector or fans whatsoever in the room, so the noise floor was extremely low - as in, close to sensory deprivation chamber low. That really facilitated a quiet acoustic piece like that. That's one thing I REALLY miss in my theater. I suspect a lot of others' theaters are similar to mine.
Next up, a Casablanca clip on HD-DVD. The screen is still masked to 4:3, so approximate screen size was about 8x6 feet. Right away, I noticed the excellent bright whites and what appeared to be impeccable greyscale. Damn, Ken Whitcomb does good work. Wow, it's sharp. You can really see film grain and other source artifacts - it is a 65-year old film after all. A rack focus between characters' faces was really interesting. It's been awhile since I watched black and white. There's no convergence or alignment issues visible from the seating position... at ALL. It appears perfect from my seat. Then, I notice just how good the shadow detail was - awesome, actually. Nice black suits with excellent detail, and nice soft transitions into the shadows. Excellent low-IRE reproduction. Next, I notice that all the blacks look really black. The black shadows looked black. Well, that's ANSI... digitals are great there, right? Fine. Grade: A. Let's see some other stuff.
Next, the side masking opens up to 16:9, which would have been approximately 10'8" x 6'. It's a clip from Corpse Bride on Blu-Ray - where the underworld characters are singing to Johnny Depp explaining how the Corpse Bride came to be. If you've seen this, you know the lighting and color are phenomenal. The stop-action film was shot on Canon D-SLR's, and so is extremely sharp and free from artifacts. So it was on Art's system. Very sharp, very clean, color was punchy. Some of the skeletons dance on black backgrounds, so it's going to suck there, right? Sorry to disappoint some of you, but it was DAMN good. I had to really LOOK for it to find that it wasn't pure black. The lack of black used to ruin the color on lesser digitals. Rich color is one of the things I love about CRT. This SIM2 does rich color. It's gorgeous and the Corpse Bride clips looked beautiful. Uniformity looked excellent, too on a couple of the more solid images. Sound was awesome. The Danny Elfman jazz track was clean, crisp and really popped out at you - just like the on-screen image. Grade: A.
Next, the masking opens up to 2.35:1 so we're now seeing the 14' x 6' Stewart Vistascope in all its glory. They switch sources and the Cineslide shuttles the ISCO III lens into place in front of the projector. I only knew because Art said so. I must have looked away for second because I missed it. Now, we're treated to a long clip from 300 on HD-DVD. This film is styled and grainy. I still haven't seen the film, but I know from what I've read it's visually stunning. I'm sitting maybe 10' from a 14' wide screen and the image is HUGE. I now have some of the screen and image straight out in front of me (and even to the left a little, even though I'm on the left end of the row). Now, I start to really feel the impact a screen that large has. The graphic title "300" slashes across the screen and it's so incredibly sharp. It looks and sounds awesome. Amazing, in fact. Grade: A+
This screen size is just mind-blowing. It's so bright it's almost too bright during a couple of scenes. Yet, when the Persians are pushed into a deep hole, and the camera follows them into the abyss - the moment I was expecting to say, "Oh, there it is - no absolute black - digital still sucks...", that moment never came. Even fade to blacks, titles on black... in practice, I just never noticed it as a problem. He didn't play Star Wars or something else that was all black all over, but I suspect even in those, there's usually just enough light to close your pupils just enough to make the black look pretty black.
After watching awhile, I did start to notice something... I'm not sure if it's screen door or AT perforations, but it's there and it's distracting me. I have a feeling it was screen door, but very subtle. Perhaps it was exaggerated ever so slightly by the AT perforations. I didn't exactly have to go looking for it, but it wasn't horrible, either. It really bothered me thinking about it, until later when I realized just how incredibly close I was sitting. At 10' from a 14' screen, we're talking .7x screen widths. I would have to sit 5.5 feet from my 8'-wide screen to get the same viewing angle. 5.5 feet! That's insane! I sit 10 feet away! I was damn near TWICE as close to the screen (relatively speaking) as I sit in my theater. Wow.
Later, we watched some clips from King Kong on HD-DVD and watched the entire Casino Royale (BD). Wow. Breathtaking. Casino Royale was simply incredible. I was watching from the second row at that point - so, probably 16' or 1.1x from the screen. Some of the shots in that movie looked almost like 35mm slides projected on the screen. Background detail that went on and on. Even in the second row, it was still very immersive, but there was no visible pixel structure, no screen door, and no other artifacts. The only time I ever noticed anything from there was some small white type (credits) on a black background. I saw some pixels/lack of resolution. At that screen size, even 1920x1080 yields about 11.42 pixels/inch. There just isn't enough res to render small type well, and it becomes noticeable as the screen size goes up. This is simply a limitation of the source that Art's projector and screen reveals. Still, after sitting in both rows, I think I'd be happiest in the second row of Art's theater.
Just to be clear, I'm being hyper-critical. I'm a designer, photographer, and video guy. I have excellent (corrected) vision, so I can pick out visual deficiencies pretty readily, and I know what I'm looking for and at. I'm a CRT guy and still generally prefer that look over digital. I've seen calibrated Runco's, 909's, G90's, Art's stack, Pearl's, DILA's, DLP's... and everything in between. Still, I love CRT for a variety of reasons. In spite of that, this system simply took my breath away. The 14-foot scope screen was just astounding. I look forward to the day when I can afford a similar-performing system.
That's it. The system is simply incredible - and so was the experience. Congratulations, Art.
Thanks again to Art, Ken, Mark and everybody else who made Art's system possible and huge thanks to Art, Angela and family for inviting a bunch of HT fanatics into their home to share an unforgettable experience.
Back to reality. Sigh.