Review (April 2005) - Epson
By Kevin Nakano
The playing field is getting crowded with high quality display technologies in the high definition projector market. DLP, LCD, D-ILA and S-XRD all have high performance models available, yet the cost and performance variables make no single technology completely dominant. Epson's new PowerLite Cinema 500 High Definition LCD projector is the best of three new projectors being offered by the company, each specifically designed for home theater applications. The Cinema 500 offers a true high definition image with its 720p (1280 x 720) native resolution using a trio of 0.7" Poly-silicon TFT Active Matrix panels. The 200W UHE (Ultra High Efficiency) lamp is designed to last up to 3000 hours in the low power modes and up to 1700 hours in the high power modes. Cool air is drawn from the bottom of the unit through the user replaceable filter and exits through the front side of the projector. The contrast ratio is said to be as high as 1200:1 with a light output of 1000 lumens. The powered zoom (1.5x) and powered focus sets this projector apart from its competitors. The horizontal and vertical lens shift options further improve flexibility during installation. Four standard mounting positions (Front/Rear Desktop or Front/Rear Ceiling) are available using the menu controls. Fan noise is very low (27dB) when running in the low power modes and increases significantly (36dB) when switched to the higher power modes. The Cinema 500 hosts an array of video processing features including Faroudja's highly regarded DCDi® algorithms.
The Cinema 500's DigiScan Processing includes a 3D motion-adaptive Y/C separator that performs processing on composite signals to greatly reduce cross color artifacts. The 3D Digital Noise Reduction circuitry and 3D Y/C separator both compare previously stored frames for processing. The 3D Gamma Correction improves dark scenes by adding more gradation levels to the video signal. The design features the highly acclaimed Faroudja (now Genesis Microchip, Inc.) DCDi® deinterlacing along with PixelWorks DNX technology that uses video processing algorithms with 3:2 pull down. The result is excellent video processing capabilities in this high definition projector. Epson's AccuCinema Color Management is said to provide color accuracy and performance that meet Hollywood cinematic mastering standards for extraordinary picture quality. The processing includes a Black/White Enhancer, Color Enhancer, Color LUT/3DLUT, and Edge Enhancer. Priced competitively at $4999, the PowerLite Cinema 500 is designed to please serious home theater enthusiasts.
The power zoom and power focus worked well and made it easy to accurately adjust the picture while standing close to the screen. This is a feature that is not commonly found on most projectors, even those costing over $10K. The 1.5x zoom lens offers greater setup flexibility by allowing a large image even in smaller rooms. The Cinema 500 even has a built-in pattern generator that produces discrete gray level steps to help properly set the white and black levels.
The factory lens has threads which appear to be designed to work with optional filters. Although we did not have any for our review, neutral-density filters can sometimes help improve picture quality by cutting the light output and deepening the black levels. This of course is at the cost of reduced light output. Running the projector in the Theatre or Theatre Black mode effectively accomplished this by reducing the light output through the iris and increasing the contrast ratio.
Color Editor Software
Selecting the Remote Control button in the Cinema Color Editor interface enabled basic functions for choosing the source input and changing the aspect ratio. My only complaint is rather than opaque the Aspect Ratios that are not available with a given input source, the software pops up a message window Projector setting failed when the Aspect Ratio change is made on an invalid mode.
Selecting the Picture Quality button changes the user interface to more advanced menu controls. Four menu items (General Setting, Adjustment of Image, Advanced and Memory Management) are selectable by the user. The General Setting menu has controls for Input Adjustment, Brightness, Color Intensity, Tint, Sharpness, Color Temp and Fleshtone, Tracking and Sync. The Adjustment of Image has allows the user to change the Color Mode (Dynamic, Living Room, Natural, Theatre, Theatre Black and sRGB) and access the Color Adjustments (RGB or RGBCMY). The Advanced menu has controls for Epson's Super White, Progressive, Motion Detection, Output Scaling, Setup Level, Noise Reduction, DVI-Video Level and Auto Setup. The Memory Management menu allows the user to save and access configuration data used to adjust the projector's settings.
The Menu button displays four menus on the screen for Image, Setting, Info, and Reset. The Image menu has controls for Picture Quality (Brightness, Color, Tint and Sharpness), Color Adjustment (Absolute Color and RGB/RGBCMY), Color Mode (Dynamic, Living Room, Natural, Theatre, Theatre Black and sRGB), Memory (Last Memory and Reset). display. The navigation buttons include separate Up / Down / Left / Right with a Select and Escape button. A group of six buttons select the video input and include HDMI, D4, Input A, Input B, S-video and Video. The lower four buttons control Pattern, Blank, Zoom and Focus. Pattern displays the test pattern. The backlight button is located on the very bottom of the remote making it easy to find in the dark. The backlight illuminates all the buttons red, except the power buttons. Power On illuminates green, while power Off button illuminates orange. There are separate locks that can be enabled for Focus, Zoom and Operation in the event the user wants to keep these settings from being changed. The remote must be used to operate the projector when these features are active.
We connected our JVC HM-DH30000U D-Theater D-VHS VCR using the component video inputs. We looked at several HD-Net and D-Theater tapes and the picture quality was simply amazing for a projector in this price range. Colors were accurate and well balanced with outstanding resolution and uniform brightness across the screen. Virtually no false-contouring could be seen with the material we watched even from digital sources such as D-VHS. Using our GretagMacbeth spectroradiometer, we measured the light output at 10.2 foot-Lamberts when running in the Theater Black mode. This mode also produced the best measured contrast ratio of 1009:1 after calibration. The light output jumped to 13.12 foot-Lamberts in the Dynamic mode, but decreased the measured contrast to 897:1. Fan noise is remarkably low, yet increases significantly when the Color Mode is changed to Living Room or Dynamic. These two modes also cut down lamp life from 3000 hours to 1700 hours.
The Dynamic and Living Room color modes have the highest light output and work well in situations where ambient room light must be kept at a higher level. However, this mode does adversely affect the black level and is not recommended for critical viewing.
The Cinema 500 includes Epson's service and support and a comprehensive two-year warranty. Epson offers its customers a PrivateLine Technical Support card with their projector purchase. The card includes a 1-800 number along with a Personal Identification Number to help better serve customers who need assistance. This is said to be a prioritized phone number that operates Monday through Friday from 6:00am to 6:00pm Pacific Time. We did not have an opportunity to take advantage of this service.
- Kevin Nakano
Stewart Filmscreen 100" FireHawk Screen on a Luxus Deluxe ScreenWall
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