Epson Home Cinema 8100 vs. Epson Home Cinema 8500UB
Budget allowing you might find yourself in a position of deciding whether the Home Cinema 8100 will do the job for you, or whether the additional features and performance of the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB, is worth the roughly $700 to $800 selling price difference. This is a relatively short comparison, since there are few "difficult decisions". Why? The Epson Home Cinema 8500UB has every feature and benefit of the 8100, and they are almost identical in brightness, so it's really a question of whether the extras are worth it. That's right, none of those pesky trade-offs, such as this one is brighter, and this one has better blacks... Let's get started
6/4/2010 - Art Feierman
Home Cinema 8100 vs. Home Cinema 8500UB - An Overview
To start with the two Epson home theater projectors look almost identical. There are a few differences however. For openers the end caps (left and right sides) of the projector case are different shades of silver/gray. Well, that's a biggie. All you need to decide. Thanks for reading! (Ok, only kidding!).
They have the same zoom lens, same inputs, in fact the most visible difference besides those end caps, is that the Home Cinema 8500UB has more stickers listing features on the unit, when you take it out of the box. Well, the stickers don't matter, but some of those features do, quite a bit.
The defining benefits of spending the extra on the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB, are as follows:
- Significantly improved black level performance for superior handling of dark scenes
- Creative frame interpolation smooths out fast action - ideal for sports, most HDTV, but not necessarily what you want for movie watching
- Faster non-creative interpolation - drops in additional "same" frames, which helps with one type of motion blurring
That's not a whole lot of differences, but then, these projectors in most ways, are identical. The thing is, the first two items above make huge differences in overall performance. At the same price, there's no reason why anyone would choose the less expensive HC8100.
The "average" consumer looking for a projector is likely to be well satisfied by the HC8100 projector, but those of us who are enthusiasts, hobbyists, or just more into performance, would, if they got to compare the two on the same content, would likely to be shouting from the rooftops about how much difference the black levels of the 8500UB would make on those darker scenes found in most movies. They would also likely be shouting (though more quietly) about the benefits of CFI on sporting events, and even, on some movies. Too most of you who are first time projector owners, the Home Cinema 8100 should please you. Over time, as you become more critical (if you do) and seek more overall picture quality, you would quickly appreciate the significant jump in overall picture performance by going to the 8500UB.
Personally, I'm a huge fan, of the 8500UB, not just for the black levels though that is the key reason, but because of the blend of good best mode brightness, combined with much brighter than most, brightest mode performance. That combination is what you need for a projector that will work well for both movie viewing and HDTV and sports. I say to all who can here me. If it comes down to these two, and the budget allows - spend the extra, it puts you in a whole higher class of picture quality. I'd like the CFI, but that's not critical. I'm still getting by fine with neither of my own projectors offering CFI (JVC RS20, and the Epson 1080UB - that would be the 8500UB, but two generations earlier - the one before they added CFI.
Epson Home Cinema Projectors - Physical Attributes
As I pointed out at the beginning, these two are almost identical in most ways. I've already mentioned the slight differences in the colors of their case end caps. Inside the box, there is one really significant difference, and that's the 3LCD panels. The UB uses Epson's latest inorganic panels, while the 8100 uses older inorganic panels. I won't get into the differences, but let's just buy into the idea that the newer inorganic panels have several advantages, including life expectancy (while holding consistant color), although the differences are long term.
More significantly though is the far greater black level performance of the Home Cinema 8500UB thanks to the inherently better contrast of the inorganic panels.
Neither projector supports an anamorphic lens. Although the more expensive Pro version of the 8500UB, the Pro Cinema 9500UB does offer the support. (It's extremely unlikely that someone would want to combine the 9100 with an anamorphic lens that costs about as much as the projector, when for $700-$800 more you can have a much better projector, as well. Seems a bit of a waste to add anamorphics to a medium performance projector like the 8100 or 9100. It's like putting $350 a piece tires and $800 a piece alloy wheels on a Ford Fusion. Would make more sense on some high performance Shelby Mustang.
Picture Quality - Epson Projector vs. Better Epson Projector
Epson Projectors - Black Levels
I've touched on the big difference already - it's the black levels. While the Home Cinema 8100 has very good black levels for an entry level projector, and is really only beaten in this regard by one, maybe two under $2000 home theater projectors (definitely the $1999 Panasonic), the other possible ultra-high contrast projectors under $2000: Sanyo's just announced PLV-Z4000 (a minor upgrade it would seem, to the aging PLV-Z3000). The Sanyo looks like it may street price for about $1995, which is still a good $500 more than the Epson Home Cinema 8100. It may also be possible to find the Sharp XV-Z15000 around $2000, and it too has better blacks than the 8100. BTW, the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB does have better black level performance than the Panasonic and the Sharp, and I think I can safely assume, the new Sanyo as well, making the Epson 8500UB a first class alternative to these others which are only about $300 less. The Epson Home Cinema 8500UB street prices for about $2299 or a little less.
Immediately below: From Casino Royale (Blu-ray disc), the night train scene. As you can see, the exposures are such that the blacks (letterbox) look about the same, yet the lower image, the 8500UB is brighter overall. That's what happens when the blacks are matched. If we set the images so that the trains were of the same brightness, then the blacks would be far darker on the 8500UB. Also notice the additonal pop and wow - the dynamic look of the 8500, in the trees, especially on the right top. This is what happens on an essentially all dark scene.
One more pair for your consideration:
Again the lower image - the 8500UB - is a bit brighter, yet despite the rather noticeable brightness differences easily seen on the solar panels and the main body of the satellite, with the 8500UB, you can see that the star field is brighter on the Epson, but the blacks are definitely darker. The end result is a much more dynamic looking image at normal exposures.
Epson seems to consistently not offer the best shadow detail, but they are respectable none the less. I've found a tendency of projectors with extremely good black level performance to often not be quite as good at revealing the darkest shadow detail. This is consistant with these Epsons. The 8100 with it's less black blacks, does seem to show off a touch more dark detail. The 8500UB, by comparison, loses just a little, as it often does to other competing "ultra-high contrast projectors. Dark shadow detail would not be considered a strength of the 8500UB, although the 8100 is perfectly acceptable.
Pop and Wow! and Skin Tones
Along with the higher contrast and better blacks, the better panels in the 8500UB help you get a generally more dynamic looking image out of the Home Cinema 8500UB, compared to the Home Cinema 8100. You can just see some of that even when viewing nice bright, or medium brightness scenes (if you are comparing side by side), but it's hardly dramatic. It's when you get to those darkest scenes, though that the difference almost approaches "night and day" - actually let's make that "night and dusk", which is still huge. The Home Cinema 8500UB really is a pop and wow champ among projectors in its price range. In fact it's so good at impressing, that I have said, that it's also why the Epson's skin tones seem a touch less natural than some others. Overall, ya gotta like it though even though the skin tones can be a touch more contrasty than many other projectors. Of course, today, with so many projectors offering adaptive contrast, and in the case of DLP projectors - various Brilliant Color implementations, it would seem that most buyers today are turning on features that add to the pop and wow, at the expense of a more natural image.
While I find both Epson's to offer less than the best skin tones out there, they really do a respectable job. Here's one taken with the Home Cinema 8500UB (from Aeon Flux), followed by a different image taken of the 8100 (from Quantum of Solace):
You know what? It's your call. You've got to live with your home theater projector. Don't be a fanatic of obtaining "perfect" if you really prefer something to watch that is technically less perfect. What's the opposite of pop and wow? I'm not sure but seeming relatively "dull" by comparison, comes to mind.
Epson Projectors - the Bottom Line: Home Cinema 8500UB vs. Home Cinema 8100
I've made my position clear. While I do think the Home Cinema 8100 is one of the best home projectors priced between $1000 and $2000, the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB is worth the extra. First of all, there really isn't anything that the Home Cinema 8100 can do better than the 8500UB, except save you some bucks, and perhaps a touch better dark shadow detail.
With dramatically blacker blacks, that alone is enough to rationalize the cost difference. Throw in respectable creative frame interpolation, and it solidifies the advantage. Two projectors - basically what they put on the screen looks about the same - skin tones, general color handling, etc., so it comes down to how much more you will be to go from "very good" to "best" (under $4K) in overall performance.
One last thought - both these projectors are notable for their extremely low cost of ownership thanks to affordable, extremely long life lamps. As I've pointed out, thanks to the lamp aspect, if you plan to keep your projector for several years, and use it fairly often, either Epson can save you $400 - $1200 in long term costs, depending on how long, and how much you use it. Owning either Epson, to get to 8000 hours use at full lamp power, requires only one additional lamp. With most of the competition, you would need 3 extra lamps, and worse, the Epson lamp costs less than most of the competitions'.
So, if you are using your projector for more than just a couple or 3 movies a week, I mean if you watch TV on it, sports, and movies, to the tune of 20 - 40+ hours a week, these two projectors become two of the least expensive out there.
It's your money! Choose wisely.