Projector Reviews - Image Quality
I'll start by saying that the MovieMate 25 has great strenghs in terms of image quality, but also one significant weakness.
Out of the box, the Epson MovieMate 25, offers excellent color. Flesh tones appear very natural, without any adjustments. This is a good thing as the MovieMate has very limited color control - offering no adjustment of color balance, other than a tint control that is only available on standard NTSC composite signals - not S-video. The MovieMate does have a color saturation control. I should note that it also has 4 presets, for different room lighting conditions that will be discussed later.
Unlike most other entry level projectors - including other "all-in-one" units, Epson definitely focused on providing great color balance so you don' t have to adjust the projector. By comparison, Optoma's competing MovieTime DV10, does require a basic calibration to get good color. Not that theirs is really bad, but you definitely would recognize that the out of the box, unadjusted flesh tones on the Epson are more accurate.
Just from looking at the images above, captured from the MovieMate 25, with unadjusted color, you have to be impressed considering this is a device with video, screen, DVD player and sound that sells for only about $1000, less than the most basic big screen TV, yet it can project images up to 100" diagonal or a little more (yes the provided screen is a mere 80" diagonal).
Image Quality and Pixelization
Remember that the MovieMate is a entry level resolution projector, it is not HDTV resolution (HD defined as 720 or 1080 vertical lines of resolution), whereas the MovieMate is 480p resolution, the same as other entry level projectors, and for that matter the same resolution as today's DVDs.
Due to its relatively low resolution, its pixels are more visible than higher resolution projectors. If you sit fairly close, this means you can see the pixels in the display, though most of the image. Sitting further back, pixels become less visible, mostly detectable, in larger white, or light colored areas of the image, such as sky or clouds. The pixel structures, as with any projector, tend to be most visible inside of the type of text that you most often see in credits at the end of movies.
Since the Epson MovieMate is an LCD projector, its pixel structure is noticeably more visible than you would find on a DLP projector of the same resolution, and ultimately this is the big weakness of the MovieMate 25. To really sit far enough back so that the pixel structure is virtually invisible, (except on credits and large stationary bright areas of the image, where the pixels would still be slightly visible), you would have to sit at least 2 times the image's width.
Of course with these small images, and, for that matter, the limits of using digital cameras to record them (yep, digital cameras are also fixed pixel devices), you cannot see the pixels in these full screen shots. So immediately below is a full screen photo of the Philadelphia boat houses, from a Hi-Def tape. You can see the caption Schuykill River at the bottom. The image below it is a closeup of the text. In the closeup, you can easily see the pixel structure (also a slight color shift due to partial misalignment of the three LCD panels. The color shift, however is not visible at any normal viewing distance.
Unfortunately, I did not take the same images when reviewing the competing Optoma MovieTime DV10, but, had I, the pixels would still be visible in the same sized image, but just not as much. The pixel sizes would be identical, its just that the black border - the mask - around each pixel on an LCD is wider than on a DLP, making the defining lines much more distinct.
So, if you are using the bundled 80" diagonal screen, that screen is approximately 70 inches wide. That would put you 140 inches back, or just under 12 feet away. To fill a 100" diagonal image, that means 15 feet back. If you really want the pixels not to be visible, figure 2.5 times screen width, which would change those seating distances to 15 and and 19 feet respectively. Figure that a DLP projector for the same amount of pixel visibility would allow you to sit about 2/3 the distance away.
This means that for movie watching, the high visibility of the pixels is a real weakness of the Epson.
On the other hand, I suspect that not many will really care that much about the pixels. Consider how much better the image of a Moviemate is compared to a conventional big screen TV (or regular TV) viewing standard (non HD) TV, and you have a dramatic improvement in overall image quality. So, I may be overly critical, as a reviewer who sees the MovieMate and its competitors as entry level products and who is used to viewing higher resolution projectors with far less visible pixels.
Pop one of the MovieMate 25's in most people's family rooms for the occasional movie, or maybe their kids bonus room, and everyone is likely thrilled with the image.
There are other aspects of image quality besides accurate colors and pixel structures. Another key issue is contrast and related black levels. LCD and DLP projectors cannot produce a pure black, instead only dark shades of gray. Often, "black levels" (or how close a projector can get to producing black) is considered the "holy grail" of projectors. Once again DLP projectors, with their natural higher contrast ratios (difference between darkest and brightest) have the advantagte here. DLP projectors typically have at least 2000:1 or 2500:1 contrast ratios, the LCD's start lower. Higher end LCD projectors often use other technologies like "AI" (artificial intelligence) to modify the image frame by frame to enhance contrast, but not entry level units like the MovieMate 25.
The MovieMate has a 1000:1 contrast ratio, and that means that its blacks don't get that black. Since blacks come out very dark gray, details of parts of an image, such as the details in dark suit where the subtle shades are no brighter than the darkest gray the projector can produce, are lost. They come out the same flat dark gray that is the best the projector can do. If you are watching a space scene your dimmer stars might be lost, and the sky appears very dark gray, while a projector with better contrast, produces a darker space scene, with blacker sky and a more impressive image.
The two images below, from Lord of the Rings, are the same frame from the movie. The first is a normal exposure, and the second, is significantly overexposed. I show you this to give you an idea of how well the Epson MovieMate 25 handles shadow details. Since my digital camera can't capture the full dynamic range of projectors, if the photo is normally exposed, the camera can't capture the shadow detail. By overexposing the second image, the bright area is badly overexposed, but you can now see the shadow details on the right side that the eye normally sees, but the camera loses. As you can see, there is plenty of shadow detail. Not as good as more expensive projectors with higher contrast and lower black levels, but the detail is there to provide an enjoyable image to watch.
That said, the 1000:1 contrast ratio produces blacks that are pretty acceptable for almost all movie watching, not that you can't do better. Let's assume that you are sitting in a family room that is 10 by 15 feet, though, and you are projecting to the 80" screen provided. If you have a 40 watt light on in the back of the room, it won't matter if you have the MovieMate 25, with its 1000:1 contrast ratio, or a $7500 projector with a 6000:1 contrast ratio, that small amount of room ambient light will produce more reflected light off of the screen than either projector, and you would lose all the advantages of the much better black levels on the better rpojector. In the two images below, you are looking at a scene from the beginning of the movie, The 5th Element. In the first image the room has 3 lights on, you can see two of them - each are 60 watt recessed lights that shine straight down, little of the light hits the screen directly but more reflects off of walls and carpeting to hit the screen. Compare the image to the second one, shot the same way, but with the room lights off, and the room otherwise completely dark. You can easily see that the contrast is much better on the second image, and that the first image is noticeably washed out. If we were looking at a really dark scene, with the room lighting on, most of the scene might have been lost with the lights on.
This is most people buy big screens and plasmas, and pay more than for entry level projectors. Projectors need fully darkened, or very dark rooms to do their best. Convential TVs , LCDTVs and Plasmas work in all but the brightest lighting, while Big screen TVs need rooms that are only moderately lit. That's why some many projector buyers convert rooms for home theater, or use their projectors only at night in rooms that can't fully block out outside lighting.
So, like with pixel visibility issue, the lower contrast ratio, makes the MovieMate a projector that isn't designed for home theater purists looking for the best image. It is designed for regular folks looking for having fun watching movies on the something a magnitude larger than big screen TVs, something that lets the family enjoy the kind of immersion that you get going to the theater. (Thus, the term Home Theater!)
Here are two more images - again, with lights on and off:
Below are a number of additional images from the MovieMate, shot in a fully darkened room, which is what you need for best viewing.
As well as these images can try to give you a good idea of the MovieMate's performance, what you see varies based on the computer and monitor you are using. Still, you should be able to get the idea - that the MovieMate must be doing something right, because they do look good.
Time to look at other aspects of the features and performance of the Epson MovieMate 25.