Epson Home Cinema 8500UB Projector - Image Quality
The Epson Home Cinema 8500UB (click for full specs) photos below are from either Blu-ray or HDTV, with the one exception being Lord of the Rings (on standard DVD). Please note, by the time these Epson Home Cinema 8500UB projector images get to your eyeball, through digital SLR, software, browsers, and even your monitor, there are definite color shifts, saturation differences, etc. The images are to support the commentary, but keep in mind the limitations when trying to compare images from the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB with other home theater projectors. Take them all, "with a grain of salt".
10/22/2009 - Art Feierman
Of course, all these home theater projectors, including the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB, definitely look much better live, than in even the best images shown in our review. Even to get these images, we have to make some minor adjustments to the overall color, including contrast and saturation. This is the one of the few times I've attempted to visibly match the photos to the screen. You'll see below, one picture of the screen, with the same image on my laptop. Basically I was trying to match the Home Cinema 8500UB's color on the screen. The goal was to make a minor change to the image processing in Photoshop to get the on computer image to more closely match what's on the screen. It helped, but still far from perfect.
BTW, for whatever reasons, I find it much harder to get color accurate photos from 3LCD projectors than from DLP projectors. I have my theories, but, honestly, I cringe everytime I have a 3LCD home theater projector to shoot. That's no reflection on the projectors themselves, but the photos from DLP projectors are consistently closer to the original on the screen, than with LCD projectors! And such is life.
Epson Home Cinema 8500UB Out of the Box Picture Quality
These new Epson projectors are pretty impressive right out of the box. I found the THX mode to be the best, although a little warm, but "smooth". Theater Black 1 - HD on the Pro Cinema 9500UB, was also very good.
Most impressive however, is the drastic improvement in the brightest mode. Dynamic on the 8500UB, Vivid on the 9500UB projector. In "brightest" modes, previous Epsons were very strong in greens - way over the top, and to get decent color, one had to make dramatic changes to the older UB's or, easier, work with the Livingroom mode, which wasn't as bright. Either way, both of those modes, needed some real help.
Not so with the new Epson home theater projectors. Vivid / Dynamic is far superior, in fact, untouched it's almost as good as our "quick calibration" of the 6500UB. (By "quick calibration" we mean optimizing that mode for best viewing). Since it's a "brightest" mode, our goal is not color perfection, but coming up with the best blend of preserving maximum brightness, while improving the color handling. (With the 6500UB, we gave up several hundred lumens in Dynamic mode, to get a much more watchable image). That wasn't necessary this time with the new Epson. I must note, though, that "brightest" modes, this time around, aren't measuring as bright, uncalibrated, as last year's. In other words, it would seem Epson decided to take our advice, Instead of maximum lumens - but pretty much ugly color, compromise the lumens slightly to get acceptable color. That's what Epson has accomplished with the new Home Cinema 8500UB and Pro Cinema 9500UB.
Check out our recommended settings for items like Brightness, Color, etc. on the Calibration page of this review.
Epson Home Cinema 8500UB Projector - Flesh Tones
I'm finding the skin tones of the Home Cinema 8500UB projector to be a touch better than the older 6500UB especially when viewing side by side. With the 6500UB, overall skin tones were very good, but not the best. Sometimes they leaned a tad to "over the top", and this probably relates to the general dynamic look that Epsons seem to have. For whatever reason, the 8500UB skin tones look more correct, in that regard, than the projector it replaces. Let's say it's a touch more "film-like" in terms of skin tones. I felt that that was true pretty much across the board.
Above and below are images from the standard DVD release of Lord of the Rings, and skin tones of both Gandalf and Arwen appear very natural.
Moving to movies on Blu-ray, below are three images of Daniel Craig, as Bond, in Casino Royale. These were taken under different lighting conditions (on the set, not my theater). As I always point out, skin tones should look different under different lighting conditions. You can expect significantly different looking skin tones, when switching from bright sunlight, to nighttime, fluorescent lighting, incandescent lighting, or even lighting in the shade, or a cloudy day. Consider these three images, the first, in direct sunlight, the second is a scene with fluorescent lighting, and the third, a sunny day, but Bond is sitting in the shade - indirect lighting.
Below are a number of additional images we typically use in reviews, that should give you a good feel for overall skin tone handling. There is still a slight color shift in the photos compared with the original on screen image, mostly a touch too much green.
I particularly like the second image (usually a tough one because the background is so bright), and the night shot of Aeon, right below it.
Three from Aeon Flux:
From The Dark Knight:
Men In Black:
And, finally one from Quantum of Solace (Bond):
Epson Home Cinema 8500UB Black Levels & Shadow Detail
Wow! Last year's Epson UB projectors had the best black levels of any under $5000, or for that matter, under $8000 home theater projectors, with the exception of the relatively pricey JVC models.
This year's Epson's, the Home Cinema 8500UB and Pro Cinema 9500UB, are even better. For those looking for another drastic improvement, as we got two years ago with the first Epson UB - the 1080UB, that's not going to happen. This, like with the 6500UB, is an incremental improvement. Since the projector relies, in part, on a dynamic iris, one expects the biggest improvement in the darkest scenes, and that's exactly where you get it.
If you are expecting blacks to be blacker in generally bright scenes, you are pretty much out of luck. If you want blacker blacks and more "pop" in dark scenes, that's something the new Epson projectors deliver on.
Quicktip: Someone very recently asked me about what made more sense, buying a 6500UB at closeout, or getting an 8500UB, in terms of the black level improvements that I've been discussing here. I think my comment to him might be helpful to others:
Unlike trying to compare two projectors (say the Epson vs. the BenQ) where there are always trade-offs, in picture quality, color accuracy, placement flexibility, etc, that's definitely not the case comparing the Home Cinema 8500UB with the older 6500UB. When I view the two, side by side, post calibration, they are almost identical. Skin tones on the 8500UB look more like the 6500UB, than, say any other 3LCD projector or any DLP projector. And they are similar in brightness. In other words, there's nothing really about the 6500UB that the 8500UB doesn't do the same or better.
So, it will really come down to whether to save a few hundred dollars, by giving up a little here or there. Basically, you will get a bit better blacks. Shadow detail is also at least as good as the 6500UB, and actually looks a little better in several of the images. In addition you get improved CFI, and the new Super-Resolution, which has some merits. So, if you are a "performance" oriented buyer, it comes down to a really good projector, or one that is essentially the same, but better still. Spend more, get more. You'll have to decide how much more the Home Cinema 8500UB is worth to you, at least for the few weeks they will overlap each other.
But, back to black level performance:
I need to point this out - a doubling of contrast should provide a small, but recognizable improvement in black levels. Thus, you should see about the same improvement going from 2500:1 to 5000:1, as from 30,000:1 to 60,000:1.
In this case the Epson jumps from last year's 75,000:1 to 200,000:1, which is also, a small improvement.
Some more dynamic iris discussion
More to the point, the bulk of the improvement comes from a new dual layer dynamic iris. That means (per Epson), that it can generate blacker blacks, and that we're seeing. That doesn't mean, however that blacks improve significantly in scenes where the iris is completely ineffective (bright scenes with dark areas), or partially effective (scenes where almost no areas are above 50% brightness). This is true of any iris operation. With a dynamic iris to darken blacks it also needs to darken whites and everything in between. According to Epson's provided technical description of the new iris, there should be some improvement in blacks in most scenes, but in those mid-brightness scenes, any improvement is extremely slight, compared to darker scenes.
To illustrate my point about an iris having more range, here are two pairs of images. Both are overexposed somewhat, so you can see the "blacks". Both are taken with different exposures to better illustrate my point. The first is just a black frame, from between scenes, and the second, seconds later, of bright white text on the black background.
The older Epson 6500UB projector is on the left, BenQ on the right. Allowing the irises to close down to maximum, note that the blacks on the Epson are much brighter. Add some brightness, and now the Epson has the blacker blacks. Relatively the Epson hasn't varied the light through the iris very much, compared to the BenQ where it's almost a night and day difference:
It certainly demonstrates how different two iris design can be.
Let's say, that with the new iris, in the first image, the Epson will be darker than with the 6500UB, and much closer to the BenQ. But, in the second image, the Home Cinema 8500UB would still look almost identical to how the 6500UB does in this image with some bright areas (text).
Immediately below, from Space Cowboys, and directly below it, the same image overexposed so you can see the blacks as dark grays, and see how overexposed the satellite is. If another projector, with the same black level, has a much more overexposed satellite, then that other projector has the better black levels. The same pair of images will appear again, relating to shadow detail:
Immediately below, is a side-by-side image of the same satellite. The Epson Home Cinema 8500UB on the left, and the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB on the right (you can, of course, click to enlarge). The Epson was not in its "best" movie mode (because the BenQ is much brighter in "best" movie modes), which has some impact. As it turns out, in this photo, the Epson projector is a bit brighter. When you look at black levels though, and compensate for that brightness difference, you realize that the BenQ is close to the Epson. As noted elsewhere, it just depends on the scene, as the two manufacturer irises work a bit differently.
Here's also a comparison between the new and old Epsons using the older satellite image:
For general black level performance examples we'll start with my favorite, the Starship image found The Fifth Element. The first two are the Epson 8500UB, normal, and overexposed. Below it the older 6500UB, then the BenQ W6000, the others below them, are labeled. Unfortunately, brightness varies even more (than with the side by side images) on these photos, making accurate comparisons of black levels a little challenging, but doable, in most cases.
And below is the Panasonic PT-AE3000:
When you look at the image above, you can see the difference. The background is a little lighter on the older Epson, and picks up a redish hue (something you really don't notice during normal viewing, but we're overxposing these images intentionally). It may not look like much, but when I stacked the two Epson's so they were both filling most of my 106 inch Carada screen in my testing room, and switched quickly back and forth, it is immediately evident that the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB is simply better at "blacker blacks".
Consider two additional (digital) images which are good ones for observing black levels. (look to the buildings and in the lower one, the sky). Note, both of these images have a fair amount of fairly bright information, and as such, would not allow the iris to be able to dramatically darken the blacks.
The image immediately below is from The Dark Knight. I've intentionally overexposed it to make a point. This is the type of scene where the difference in black level performance makes a huge difference. Because the outside areas of the scene, and for that matter the men's jackets, are pretty black, with little detail at all, projectors with just "good" black levels look very flat. Immediately below the Epson image, is the same scene using the BenQ W6000, then the Sony VPL-VW15, both direct competitors.
Note, Epson image missing, to be added:
Another example of the dynamic iris, at work: With almost all projectors (JVC excepted, as they manage great black levels without a dynamic iris), the iris a key to excellent black levels. I figure this is as good a time to comment on the iris's impact on viewing. Below are two images from the beginning of one of the Star Trek movies (The Wrath of Kahn) shot at the exact same exposure! Notice how much brighter the background is on the first image, as the iris is forced to open for the bright credit. (Both images are intentionally overexposed.) A few frames before, without the credit, the scene is just stars, and the iris closes down a good amount. You must concede, the difference is significant. Of course, when you have bright areas on an image, you are a little less likely to notice the blacks, but in a case like this, you can easily notice the difference as the iris opens and closes each time a credit appears over the star field.
Shadow Detail Performance
Shadow detail of the Home Cinema 8500UB also seems to be slightly improved over the older 6500UB, but it's a subtle improvement. I still don't think that the Epsons deliver quite as much very dark shadow detail as a lot of other projectors. Of course, the fact that it has blacker blacks, also means that the near blacks are inherently darker, so harder for the eye to make out. Even so, many other projectors reveal a touch more. Personally, I'd rather have a bit better blacks and a bit less dark shadow detail, than the other way around! Every time!
From LOTR - Lord of the Rings: Left Home Cinema 8500UB: , Middle: Sharp XV-Z15000, Right: VPL-HW15:
The next set of comparison images, continues with a shot of Clint Eastwood from Space Cowboys. This is a very dark scene with Clint Eastwood, on Blu-ray disc. The photos are intentionally way overexposed. Look for the blacks in the shades, and the details in those shades in the form of the white trim. (At this level of overexposure, don't even worry about the skin tones, as in these type of photos they always look terrible, and way oversaturated/too high contrast).
First image is the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB followed by the BenQ W6000 and the VPL-HW15, next are: Sharp XV-Z15000, Optoma HD8200, Sanyo PLV-Z3000, the older Sony VPL-HW10, and the Panasonic PT-AE3000U.
The Epson did particularly well in shadow detail on our Clint Eastwood dark scene from Space Cowboys, and slightly better than the older 6500UB:
The following images are both the same frame, from Space Cowboys. The first one is slightly overexposed, and the second one, dramatically so. Look in the brown area of the satellite on the left (and elsewhere) for shadow detail. The Epson does a good but not exceptional job on shadow detail.
Click on left thumbnail image for the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB, Sony VPL-HW15 in the center, and the right for the Panasonic PT-AE3000U.
Our last comparison uses the night train scene from Casino Royale. Look to the trees and shrubs on the right, especially just above the tracks. You will find a little more shrubbery visible on some of the other projectors. The first image is the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB, then BenQ W6000, the Sony VPL-HW15, followed by the Sharp XV-Z15000, fifth is the Sanyo PLV-Z3000, and the last one is from the Panasonic PT-AE3000. Keep in mind, that for our comparisons we tend to pick images from the best of the competition. In other words these projectors are all fairly close, and all doing at least a good job.
(Please note, the Panasonic image above is a little blurry, must have bumped the tripod. Sorry! That shouldn't affect your ability to see the shadow details. -art)
Epson Home Cinema 8500UB - Overall Color & Picture Quality
Here's the "crew" image from Space Cowboys - Epson, then BenQ and Sony:
A mix of additional images to show off the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB:
From the DVE-HD test disc:
And here are a few assorted, additional images, some of which can be found on other recent reviews:
Epson Home Cinema 8500UB Projector: Performance, HDTV and Sports
Epson Home Cinema 8500UB Bottom Line on HDTV Sports
The Home Cinema 8500UB is the closest thing to a "light cannon" I can think of in the under $5000 range, when it comes to sports viewing. Color is good, the image bright, I like the CFI (creative frame interpolation), which I've been using on low, and I've got Contrast Enhancement set to 1, and Super-Resolution set to two. The image on the screen looks smooth and sharp as well. Let me put it this way, "It works for me!"