Epson MovieMate 25 - General Performance
The MovieMate 25, being an all-in-one, has more non-image related items to consider than a typical projector. Also, as an all-in-one, it is not a product for performance purists, so we aren't considering things like calibrating the projector,(even if this projector allowed for the kind of calibration that stand alone projectors have the controls for.
This section is mostly complete. Some extra material will be added in the next week, and the list of performance catagories immediately below will have live links to the actual details.
Let's start with the Menus
As you may suspect from the statement above, there are few image controls. In fact, they are limited to brightness, contrast and color saturation. In addition, with NTSC signals (the lowest quality), you also get a basic tint control, like the one you would find on a standard TV.
In addition to those three, there is an Info menu which provides basic infomation, most significantly the number of hours on the lamp.
The MovieMate 25's remote has to not only control the projector image, but the DVD player and all the sound functions of a surround system, so its no wonder there are tons of buttons on the remote.
Between the Power button and the DVD player's door Open/Close is a slide for choosing between the next grouping of buttons operating in normal function mode, or you can switch to numeric mode. Numeric mode can be used for things such as selecting a particular track on a movie or CD. Some of the functions in function mode include toggling between On Screen options, sleep settings aspec ratios, and the colormode button which selects which Preset mode you want. Others control the brightness of the light on the DVD's display... Mostly you will leave the remote in the function mode.
There's a source button for choosing between the DVD player and the S-video and composite inputs. The break button is perfect for the phone ringing. Hit it, and the projector lights up the room by replacing the image you were viewing with a white screen, a very nice touch.
Also important, next to that is the Image Off/On. If you just want to play music on the MovieMate, this will turn off the lamp. Epson has set this up so that, unlike normal projectors it only takes a couple of seconds for the lamp to come on. With most projectors when first firing up the lamp, you need about a half minute before you have an image, and they don't normally give you a means to turn off the lamp, without shutting down the projector.
Next come DVD controls, and then the main menu buttons, arrow keys and enter button.
Audio is next with a treble control, mute and volume control (up/down).
Finally, there is Audio button, a subtitle button, and the DVD Angle.
At the very bottom is the Info button and Visual adjust. We have already shown images of Info above, and the Visual Adjust toggles betwen brightness, contrast and saturation. Two arrow keys to adjust those, finish off the remote's controls.
Unfortunately the remote is not backlit. True, the keys are "glow in the dark" types, but I found them (like most similar ones) to not glow bright enough to do the job. If you are watching movies in a fully darkened room, you'll just have to operate the remote by "braille" - basically learning by feel, where the controls you want, are located.
The MovieMate 25 offers 4 different Presets - predefined settings of brightness, contrast, gamma, and color saturation, so that you can quickly select the setting that looks best for what you are watching.
The four controls are (from "best quality" - which is also the dimmest - typical for projectors), to brightest:
Theater Black, as noted is the least bright, but maximizes contrast for best black levels, and what provides the overall best setting for movies. In addition, the fan runs quieter in this mode. To give you an idea of the differences, the next four images have been shot with the exact same exposure, and I have captured each image showing the preset mode in the upper right hand corner.
Note: sorry, the image above is slightly out of focus - my fault - it's not a reflection on the Theater preset.
As you can see, the differences are rather significant. You will definitely note the extra detail in the shadow areas in the Theater Black mode vs Theater. The other two are so much brighter that you can see more detail there, but, if I had lightend the Theater Black mode (by overexposing it, it would have shown more shadow detail than either the LivingRoom or Dynamic settings.
Certainly you can appreciate from the images that the Theater Black mode is the most striking, with a huge difference between the bright ares and the darkest.
Lens throw and lens shift
The 1.5:1 zoom ratio provides very good placement flexibility. If you are using the provided 80" diagonal screen, you can place the front of the projector anywhere from 6.6 feet to 9.9 feet from the screen. If you are using a different sized screen, the proportions remain the same. For example, with a 100" screen, that screen is 25% larger, so the distances would now be from 8.25 feet to 12.4 feet.
The vertical lens shift lets you maintain the desired rectangular image (no keystoning), over a wide range with the projector able to sit from just below the bottom of the screen to near the top. Horizontal lens shift of 25% even allows the projector to not have to be centered with the screen. You can place the projector well to the right or left of center. Very handy!
Screen Door Effect
Because of the pixel structure, sitting too close can make watching the image appear like you are looking through a screen door. I already discussed the pixelization in the image quality section. The Epson is more susceptable than a DLP projector of the same resolution, so you'll want to sit a little further back. Even if you can see a bit of the pixelization in bright areas at 2 times screen width, many won't mind sitting closer.
The MovieMate 25 is a "brighter than most" home theater projector, which is very good, since, as an all-in-one, it needs to be versatile. The projector can handle a little bit of ambient light in its family room mode, which still has good color. Kick in the Dynamic preset, and it can handle more ambient light, but color accuracy diminishes - very typical for most projectors in their brightest mode.
I did find the Epson MovieMate 25 to be slightly brighter than Optoma's competing MovieTime DV10. Epson rates the MovieMate 25 at 1200 lumens, although it is typical in that we have never found any projector to come particularly close to their claimed lumens. None-the-less, as I just said, it is brighter than most.
In addition to the left and right speakers, the MovieMate comes with a 40 watt small subwoofer. All considered the MovieMate throughs a good deal of sound in a small to medium sized room. You don't have the 5 speakers + subwoofer that you would have in a separate surround sound system, but the MovieMate will do a respectable job of filling your room with sound, and the subwoofer, although it won't shake the house definitely lets you know it has some bass capabilities and adds that extra kick for both movie watching and playing of CDs and music DVDs.
If you are watching movies in best mode - Theater Black, the projector lamp is rated at an impressive 3000 hours life. In all other modes, it is rated at 2000 hours. What really helps though is that I believe Epson prices the lamp at $199 retail, while most projectors' lamps are $350 to $400. Another reason the Epson is excellent at price performance. The lamp is user replaceable, and should only take a few minutes (but the old lamp must fully cool before you mess with it.
Epson claims only 26 db noise level in Theater Black mode, and suffice to say that few home theater projectors are any quieter. In other modes its 33 db is very respectable, and certainly well below what most would demand for TV watching, and no one cares about fan noise levels for game playing.
Projector Screen Recommendations
Well, right now Epson provides a nice 80" diagonal pull up screen that must take close to 30 seconds to set up. You can definitely go larger if you desire. (Or, you could even shine it on your wall if white.) I would say that the MovieMate 25 can handle up to a 110" screen without difficulty if the room is darkened. Screen size really is determined by room lighting. If you opt for a different screen you'll probably select one with a gain of 1.0 to 1.8. The 1.8 gain screen will give you more brightness sitting near straight back, but if you sit well off to the sides it will roll off and not be as bright as a lower gain screen.
On the other hand, if you plan to watch movies in a fully darkened room, you might consider a gray screen. This will make those "blacks" blacker. Even people buying multi-thousand dollar LCD home theater projectors and some DLP projectors will go with the gray surface for the same reason.