Epson Home Cinema 8500UB and Pro Cinema 9500UB Projector Review

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A summary of the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB and Pro Cinema 9500UB projectors’ with a list of pros and cons and capabilities.

Update 6/2011: We recently reviewed the Epson Home Cinema 8700UB, the replacement of the Home Cinema 8500UB. Click here to read the projector review of this new Epson projector.

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Epson Home Cinema 8500UB Projector - The Bottom Line

Last year we considered the Home Cinema 6500UB to be the best projector in its price class (street price $2100 – $3500), in a tie with the Panasonic.

It’s simple math. We’ve seen a number of new projectors so far this year, each improving on their previous models, but I would say that, overall, none so far, in the price class, would be better than the older 6500UB. Based on that, none yet would be a match for the Home Cinema 8500UB. In addition, in overall performance, the Epson has no serious weaknesses. For all of this, it most certainly earns our Hot Product Award.

The Epson Pro Cinema 9500UB version, by comparison, offers some extra features – most notably support for an anamorphic lens, and an extra year warranty, plus a few other minor improvements. It will sell, complete with spare lamp and ceiling mount, bundled into its price, which still hasn’t been set yet. It is likely to be about $1000 or so higher than the Home Cinema 8500UB projector, if past year’s are any indication.

Epson’s new CFI is improved, especially when working with 24fps source material on Blu-ray disc. Like the older Epson UB’s the CFI is solid on standard 60 fps content over HDTV. Like the older projectors, though, it still has some problem with handling movies at 24fps, but delivered over HDTV at 60fps. The pre-production unit also has an issue with its 4:4 frame interpolation, but since it wasn’t a problem last year, I suspect that’s just this current pre-production firmware.

Colors are vibrant, skin tones, if anything, once we calibrated the THX setting, I believe to be a little more natural than last year’s Epson. That’s a real plus, because I’m used to saying “the Epson UB has a lot of “wow and pop”, but skin tones aren’t quite as natural as some others (though still very good).” I’m thoroughly enjoying the skin tones with our finished THX mode. Nice!

If you want to go large screen, and are a big movie fanatic, the Epson’s are just average in brightness in “best” mode, with about 500 lumens at mid-zoom (that’s about 650 at full wide angle). There are now several DLP projectors a little brighter, and the BenQ W6000 is significantly brighter when comparing “best” modes (when I did the side by side shots, I had to drop the W6000 into eco-mode and it was quite a bit brighter). My point is that for movie watching with a typical white surface screen or light gray high contrast screen, the projector looks good at 110″ in a fully darkened room (with medium or dark walls), for best mode – THX – movie viewing. You probably could go a bit larger, but remember, lamps dim over time!

When it comes to “brightest” modes, I can’t think of any projector under $4K, that’s brighter. The BenQ W6000 can actually put out almost two hundred more lumens but its color is way, way off. To get respectable color (still not quite up to the Epson) the BenQ has less lumens than the 8500UB.

The Epson effortlessly handles the full 128 inches of my Firehawk G3, even with enough light in the room to get you out of your cave, and let you enjoy TV, HDTV, and especially HDTV sports with your friends. Party time!

When it comes to black levels, many have hoped for even more improvement than the 8500UB and 9500UB deliver, but they have been improved, and in side by side viewing it is immediately evident, though not dramatic. The Epsons still fall short of the much more expensive JVC’s, but, I can’t really think of any other projectors that can beat it. Of course I still have a number of new projectors to review this fall, including the Panasonic PT-AE4000 which also is reported to have better blacks than its predecessor, which was, in the price class not too far behind the Epsons last year. It should be interesting, and, of course, we’ll discuss the Epson vs. Panasonic once the Panasonic arrives for review (within two weeks of this review), I’m told.

Again, the two shared our Best In Class award last year, so it should be a very interesting shootout!

While Epson has not formally announced the price as of yet (the projectors aren’t expected to ship for about 30 days -around Thanksgiving ’09), but in a conference call with them today, they advised that I could state that the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB would have a street price at launch, below $2500. That’s about $500 less than originally anticipated at CEDIA in early September when it was announced.

When it comes to the importance of black levels, it’s time to address one area of confusion. Due to the nature of using a dynamic iris, and the way it works, the iris itself is not the ticket to getting blacker blacks, where blacks appear on bright scenes.

While a slight improvement in blacks, in a scene with a black helicopter with a background of office building and sky, really barely changes. And unless one is going from poor to very good black level performance, any noticeable improvement will likely be negligble at best. While some folks feel small improvements in blacks on such brighter scenes is important, I would tend to disagree.

Any such improvement is a good thing, of course, but that’s not really where you should be worrying about better blacks.

Where you want great black performance is on darker and very dark scenes. I’m not talking movie credits, or black scenes between frames (although those areas are likely to show off better blacks).

Where great blacks are important, are on night scenes in a dark alley in The Dark Knight, or a space and stars background in a good sci-fi flick, or perhaps Bond chasing bad guys at airports, in Casino Royale or chasing hot girls in caves in Quantum of Solace (image below), or for that matter the outdoor theater scenes in the same movie.

Folks, movies are riddled with dark scenes, and that’s where better blacks really matters. Sure, you might have two otherwise very comparable projectors, but for a modest difference in black level performance. If you watch bright and average brightness scenes, you’ll be lucky to spot a modest difference in blacks.

When that dark scene comes on, though, all of a suddent, those two projectors can seem to be in almost a whole different class of performance.

That is exactly what we found last year, between the older Epson UB, and the Panasonic PT-AE3000 and Sanyo PLV-Z3000. While all are what I call “ultra-high contrast” projectors, there were still significant differences in black levels. On a dark scene like the photo above, of those projectors last year, the Epson clearly would have looked much better than the Panasonic (because of the blacker blacks), and the Sanyo, not quite as good as the Panasonic.

So, don’t judge blacks by credits and fully black scenes. Don’t worry about black levels particularly in bright scenes, but, unless you never watch a movie with a night scene (let alone horror, or sci-fi), pay a lot of attention to the blacks in the dark scenes, because, that’s when you want to be paying “the big bucks” for the blacker blacks.

And with the importance of blacks on darker scenes in mind, even a slight improvement in such black performance on projectors in the general class of these Epson’s, is likely still going to be the most important difference to most movie fans.

With this (about blacks)in mind, plus other Epson strengths, it looks like the new Epson UB’s will remain the projectors to beat, under $4000, of the new projectors this fall and winter! I’ve got a few more to review, but… as the guy who fell off the top of the Empire State Building was heard saying all the way down… “So far, so good…so far, so good…

Well, so far, the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB, and the Pro Cinema 9500UB are simply “So good!” that as of this writing, they still look unbeatable, with, really only a couple more key projectors to review in their price range.

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