Epson Home Cinema 8700UB Projector Review

The Home Cinema 8700UB replaces the projector with the best black levels of any projector under $3500 (actually higher). Not surprisingly, the 8700UB also has superb black level performance for the price. In fact, unmatched by any other projector around its price, except for the older Epson, and the Pro Cinema 9700UB version. While a few others in the price range can come fairly close, the Epson still has a distinct advantage (some of those that are close, include the Panasonic PT-AE4000, Mitsubishi HC7000, and not even that close, the Sanyo PLV-Z4000, although it too is good enough at blacks to be considered an “ultra high contrast” projector). While I could detect no improvement over last year’s 8500UB, the Epson remains solidly ahead of everything else that’s direct competition.

What is all this fuss about black levels

It really comes down to scenes that are fairly dark. Let’s consider two projectors, overall similar, but with different black level performance; the recently reviewed Home Cinema 8350, and this Home Cinema 8700UB.

Both should have a very similar look and feel to the colors and overall image, once calibrated. The 8700UB, however, is capable of blacker blacks that the 8350 just can’t match. The 8350′s blacks, by comparison will be a shade or two lighter gray. Not a whole lot, but enough to be very noticeable in a side by side, as the images I will post shortly, will demonstrate..

On an average scene, perhaps a daytime, no sunlight shot, if there is supposed to be a true black area in the image, perhaps parts of a black car, in the shade, the lower cost 8350 will do a very good job. The 8700′s black car will be a touch blacker, but you probably wouldn’t notice unless seen side by side. In other words, the difference would be very slight.

Now switch to a very dark scene, such as the night train scene I use below for shadow detail comparison. All of a sudden the difference between the two projectors is quite dramatic. The lower black levels of the 8700UB would make its image “pop”, and the 8350′s image will seem rather dull by comparison. That’s the story – short version.

The darker the scene, the more the blacks matter. Thing is, most movies have some fairly dark scenes, and even a significant percentage have some really dark scenes. Now don’t forget that if you’ve got a 15 watt light on in the room, it would throw enough ambient light, that the difference between projectors would be insignificant, yet still there.

The black level performance matters most when watching dark scenes, in as fully darkened a room as you can manage. Let me also mention: Even if you have white walls (not a good thing) the difference in the projectors would still be there, although not quite as great a difference as with dark walls/floors/ceiling.

Still, how important is it? Well, if you are the person who wants a nice big image, but never bothered to adjust your LCDTV (probably still using the “demo/showroom” or vivid setting), I doubt you’ll notice. But, if you get hooked on image quality (become an enthusiast), you’ll crave a bit better blacks.

I’m a big proponent of projectors with better blacks. This 8700UB offers extraordinary black level performance, especially considering the price. If I think of all the existing and newly announced home theater projectors under $3500 (our normal cut-off for mid-priced projectors), only one projector looks to be able to give the Epson a run for the money, and possibly outperform it, and that’s the new JVC HD250 projector at $2999. We shall see, when one arrives for review. We’ll review that JVC soon enough (as soon as they have one for us), but, At almost $1000 more, its competition for the newly announced Epson R series – including the $3099 Home Cinema 21000, which we’ll review late November. That Epson claims even better blacks than the 8700UB – can’t wait to land one in my theater.

Below, a satellite image from Space Cowboys. These are intentially overexposed to so that the differences in blacks (and shadow detail) are more visible. As you can see, the Epson and the Mitsubishi are particularly close (you have to compensate for the slight exposure differences). The HC4000 is a bit more overexposed, and the BenQ still more.

Epson Home Cinema 8700UB – offers great black level performance, better than all but a few projectors selling for 3 times the price.

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