Just a year ago, finding “affordable” 1080p front projection meant writing a check for at least 5 zeroes – and even then, you were more likely than not to sacrifice features for dollars. Happily, prices on equip-ment are beginning to come down, although, for the most part, they continue to put such systems out of reach for the average, everyday consumer. So while jumping on the bandwagon nonetheless requires a significant cash outlay, even today, Epson’s early outing into the $3000 USD dollar price range still seems a good place to start.
Features and Design
The 3LCD technology featured in Epson’s PowerLite Home Cinema 1080 comes housed in a fairly mid-sized chassis. However, the white, slightly Euro-curved shape doesn’t dominate a room and comes off as unobtrusive should it be left in sight. It’s also lightweight enough for moving between viewings if necessary.
As for actual picture quality, front projectors using LCD panels (as is the case here) seem to offer a “tighter” image with less brittleness than those relying on a color wheel. That said, with a true widescreen format, full 1080p resolution and HDMI 1.3 providing the latest update for full color rendering, using the HDMI input is going to be the Home Cinema 1080 owners’ best choice for video.
Granted, there’s also the expected component, S-Video and composite ports along with a PC input and RS232C for automation. (Plus a trigger for activating a motorized curtain, etc.). Either way though, aspect ratios will be automatically set (you can also choose to “zoom” into 16:9 formatted images and “stretch” full screen into wide angle).
IR windows both front/back further let you roam when using the remote, although button controls can also be found on the projector’s top. These can be deactivated, but you will still have to touch the projector now and then since none of the lens functions are motorized.
Image Courtesy of Epson
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
Squaring the projector to the screen is the first and most important step – personally, I’m aiming dead to center while resting it on a small table facing my wall-mounted 84” screen.
After turning on the projector (which comes up to full brightness in a little over a minute), a quick twist of the zoom lens fills the screen entirely, with the manual focus aided by a cross-hatch pattern that can be directly accessed from the remote. Now all that’s left to do is line up the image vertically as well as hori-zontally, with the Epson providing wide latitude for performing these optical adjustments via two wheels on top. (You just move the image sideways till it lines up and then do the same for top and bottom.)
A motorized lens could provide a bit more ease, since you could run functions while getting up close to the screen, but truthfully, it’s no big deal. Also, while I don’t have a larger screen to try this out with, cranking up the lens to where it simulates projecting onto a 100’ screen shouldn’t be an issue. Frankly, the overall brightness continues to be consistent, so I can see using a larger viewing area not being a problem.
Returning to a screen size of 84”, I go to the menus and set the color temperature high, as that’s how I like it, while placing such enhancements as Sharpness, Brightness and Gamma at their mid-level posi-tions – as I also do with Color saturation and Tint. There are additionally such functions as a skin tone setting, motion detection and noise reduction, among others, along with added options for the adjustment of computer images being projected. (Although I found letting the system handle this automatically worked fine).
In general, support for personalizing all your settings also makes the installation process enjoyable and easy to accomplish. You’ll likely appreciate having 10 memory settings as it affords the opportunity for experimenting as well.
Six color mode settings are there for those who want to get up and running quickly. Each mode does something different – the Dynamic mode, for example, increases the brightness of the overall image. This helped when I played the newly remastered Director’s Cut of Commando upscaled to 1080p through my Oppo 981HD DVD player.
But while the grain was fairly tight for a film of its age (and came across quite sharp, as the Epson’s lens resolves nicely), the brightness only served to highlight artifacting problems in some of the smoke and explosions (not unexpected in older movies such as this one). Mind you, the image was smoother when I switched to the less bright Living Room mode. But using this option, the increase in contrast seemed to muddy the flesh tones.
Frankly, Natural mode looked best to me, especially in terms of overall color, with no discernible viewing benefit I could see when using the Theater setting (designed for a totally dark environment). Note: Both of the aforementioned settings are aided by a Cinema filter which kicks in to increase contrast and improve flesh tones.
Switching back to Natural and playing the Fantastic Four sequel, Rise of the Silver Surfer, both the Hu-man Torch’s flame along with Angelina Jolie’s lips are lusciously crimson, and the overall color palette is clean and realistic to the eye. Had the Blu-ray version been available, I’m sure (based on some HD trai-lers viewed) I could have been able to see the sheen on the Surfer’s body and count the cracks on the Thing’s skin. But even running just the standard DVD, the overall quality is spot-on.
Happily though, I do have a copy of the HD DVD of Next, wherein two heavily digital scenes take place. The first has a train just missing Nicholas Cage’s car shooting across the tracks, while the other has him scurrying down a hill during a landslide. At 1080p resolution, the wheels of the locomotive can be seen as individual components working together rather than just a blur, and every rock, pebble and dust cloud is distinct as it kicks up around Cage. The Epson also handles black areas quite well in HD and it’s not like you’re looking into an inkwell, as it is with a DVD. And while I could live without seeing the bags under Cage’s eyes, on the flip-side, you also get close-ups of Jessica Biel that look mighty fine.
I also tried watching some standard definition (SD)television as well as HD programs off of my Dish Network HD receiver, with the projector delivering a consistently bright image with smooth tones that moderates bad SD pictures to where they are better than just acceptable (being able to tweak and save a setting really helps here), even as it handles 1080i broadcasts like a champ by providing realistic imaging from the compressed video signal.
As to the projector’s exhaust, which vents out the front, it’s only mildly discernible to someone seated directly behind it, and disappears when audio is being played at even “don’t wake up the baby” levels. Just remember to clean the filter occasionally, as well as replace it every few months, particularly if you live amidst debris like cigarette smoke, pet hair and the like.
To paraphrase, I bet that sci-fi author Isaac Asimov would have created the “Three Laws for Front Projec-tors” if he had ever reviewed one.
I think the first would be that the projector needs to be sensible in how it works – i.e. you shouldn’t have to fight it to get an image playing. The second would be that it must display video of sufficient quality that it doesn’t keep reminding you that you were unable to afford something better. And the last law would be that it should make the time spent watching as much of a pleasure as a night out at the movies – sans the steep cost of popcorn and a beverage, natch.
That the PowerLite does all of this without cutting corners or cannibalizing features is good, but that it has such a low price for gaining admittance to the 1080p club makes it even better. Consider this a highly-recommended purchase.
• Provides a bright and high contrast ratio
• High-resolution image
• Wide array of control and convenience settings
• Plenty of extra functionality such as lens shift, security slot, control deactivation, etc.
• Replacing the air filter can be overlooked and result in degraded performance
• A bit lightweight
• Remote not quite ergonomic for extended holding