Epson PowerLite 99W 3LCD Projector Review
Color and Picture Quality
The Epson PowerLite 99W displays presentation materials with very clear text while both presentations and video are generally displayed with rich, well saturated colors. For my initial evaluation of the PowerLite 99W, I used the factory default settings for each picture mode As a general observation, applicable to all picture modes, this projector only offers a relatively low contrast ratio and fairly high black levels in the projected image. Blacks appear only as a moderately dark grey. This is typical for this class of 3LCD classroom projectors in terms of contrast ratio and black level performance . Also I found that the default settings for brightness and contrast generally resulted in both the blacks and the whites being crushed (i.e., the darkest shades of grey all appeared the same and the brightest few shades all appeared as full white). I confirmed that adjusting the projector’s brightness and contrast controls could correct these issues.
In the brightest mode (called “Dynamic”) the whites had an overall green tint and the greens also were shifted a little toward yellow while the yellows were shifted a little toward green resulting in mid-level greens and yellows appearing too close to being the same color. In this mode the reds were a little too dark as compared to the blues and greens, which is in part the result of the Dynamic mode having a default color temperature setting of 7500K. Frequently the brightest mode on a projector has such poor quality that it’s of little value except in the rare cases where every last bit of light output is needed to overcome room lighting. In the case of the PowerLite 99W, its brightest mode could prove useful for classroom presentations where room lighting cannot be easily controlled.
The PowerLite 99W offers a “Presentation” picture mode that is approximately 90% as bright as the “Dynamic” mode and offers somewhat more accurate colors. As was the case in “Dynamic” mode, the image in “Presentation” mode still has an overall green tint and the reds are darker than the greens and blues, which is in part the result of the Presentation mode also having a default color temperature setting of 7500K. White and yellows in the projected image appear more accurate than they do in the “Dynamic” mode. The greens in this mode continued to show a shift toward yellow.
The “Theater” mode provides overall good color with the out-of-the-box settings. While the green color tends to be shifted a little toward yellow, the remaining colors appeared reasonably accurate. The default color temperature setting for the Theater mode is 6500K. When viewing video in “Theater” mode the projected image appeared just a little too warm, especially in the brighter picture elements. This indicated the actual color temperature with the factory default settings was actually under 6500K.
The “Photo” mode also provides good colors with the out-of-the-box settings. In fact the color accuracy of images displayed in Photo modes appears nearly the same as when the projector is set to Theater mode. Photo mode is only available with when the HDMI input signal is in RGB signal format (i.e., Photo mode is not available when the HDMI signal is in component YCbCr format).
The “Sports” mode is intended for viewing sports programs in a bright room and this mode has the third most light output from the projector (only less than the Dynamic and Presentation modes). Sports mode has a overall blue-green tint to the image (i.e., producing a “cooler” appearance) with the reds being a little too dark). This is at least in part the result of having a 7500K default color temperature setting for Sports mode as compared to 6500K for the Theater and Photo modes. The Sports mode overall provided more accurate colors than the Dynamic or Presentation modes and still offered a very bright image sufficient for use in rooms with moderate ambient lighting. The Sports mode is only available when an HDMI input signal is in component YCbCr format and not RGB format.
The “sRGB” mode is intended for use with a computer as the input signal source. I found this color mode to be a little on the warm side tending to have a slight red shift for the mid through brighter tones (in this respect not unlike the Theater mode when using its default settings). Overall color accuracy was good.
“Blackboard” mode has really poor colors when viewed on a white screen, but that is not the intended projection surface for this color mode. When viewed on a white surface the image has a strong magenta tone indicating a low green output as compared to red and blue. Since I did not have the intended surface to project the image onto, I could not properly evaluate how the colors would appear for the intended application of this mode.
“Whiteboard” mode is intended for projection onto a classroom whiteboard, instead of a conventional projection screen. This mode has fairly well balanced colors for brighter areas of the image with just a little shift toward cyan in the darkest areas of the image. The image in Whiteboard mode was a little brighter than in Theater mode but the color temperature was also a little higher producing a somewhat ‘cooler’ image when viewed on a white projection screen.
The PowerLite 99W image resolution and text clarity is very good for a projector with a native 1280 x 800 resolution. Even 8-point text was very easy to read in both black text on a white background and with white text on a black background. When my attached laptop PC was set to the projector’s native 1280 x 800 resolution (as shown in the photos above) the text readability was very good. The was no noticeable color fringing on the text from a normal viewing distance and very little color fringing even when viewed up close. This is very good performance for a LCD projector and even better than some of the DLP projectors that I have reviewed that exhibited a significant chromatic aberration. I was able to get sharp focus over the entire image.
After evaluating the readability of text with an input signal at the projector’s native 1280 x 800 resolution, I increased the input resolution first to 1600 x 1200 then to 1920 x 1080. If found the scaling performance of the PowerLite 99W to be excellent, as can be seen in the photo below when using a 1920 x 1080 input signal.
I evaluated the video performance of the Epson PowerLite by connecting a Blu-ray Disc player to the projector via a HDMI cable.
The above observations for Theater mode were made with the PowerLite 99W using its default settings (except for contrast and brightness as noted above) and when projecting the image onto a low gain matte white projection screen. Even though the out-of-the-box color performance in Theater mode was good, this projector does offer additional user picture settings that can be used to further improve the color accuracy of the projected image. More specifically there is a color temperature setting and gain controls for each red, blue and green. For my evaluation of video quality I started with the default “Theater” mode and a 6500K color temperature setting then adjusted the brightness control to +2 to eliminate the crushing of blacks (where the darkest grey levels and reference black are all displayed at the same level). I then adjusted the contrast control to -7 in order to eliminate the crushing of whites (where the brightest near-white greys are displayed at the same level as reference white). Finally, I went to projector’s menu for “Image” >> “Color Adjustment” and adjusted the gain setting for Green to +1 and the gain setting for Blue to +3 which provided improved color accuracy for the mid through brighter shades.
With the above adjustments made, I watched portions of two movies and found that overall the image was good to very good (for this class of projector) in terms of color accuracy. The skin tones appeared natural and bright colors were well saturated. Although the PowerLite 99W is specified to have a contrast ratio of “up to” 10,000:1, the observed contrast ratio was well below that value. Although manufacturers of both projectors and flat panel HDTVs frequently specify contrast ratios that far exceed the actual value that could be measured under realistic operating conditions, I found the black level and the contrast ratio of the PowerLite 99W to be no better than average for this class of 3LCD projector and lower than the performance in these areas that is typical for DLP classroom projectors . When used in a moderately lighted classroom, a higher than ideal black level will not make any real difference as dark shades in the image will be obscured by the room lighting regardless of how near to black the projector is capable of projecting. However, if the environment does have good light control and the application includes the serious viewing of video (such as for a film arts class), then a projector with a lower black level would be a better choice.
The bottom line is this is a very bright projector and even with its limited contrast ratio it should prove good for video presentations in a moderated lighted classroom. When a small screen size is used and/or the room lighting can be well controlled, it may be preferred to run the projector in Eco mode which reduces the light output by about one third.
Beyond the “Theater” picture mode, there are higher light output modes that might prove useful for using the PowerLite 99W in rooms with moderate to bright lighting conditions. Some of these modes do offer a somewhat better contrast ratio, but generally with less color accuracy.
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