Epson MovieMate 30s, 33s Projector Review - Image Quality
Epson MovieMate 30s, 33s Projector - Handling of Fleshtones
I like to start off with "flesh tones" because, if there's anything that will tend to call attention to color balance problems, it is flesh tones that just don't look right. I'll start you off with the usual suspects - images from Lord of the Rings, and The Fifth Element, both, from standard DVD. All images shown on this page, are shot with the MovieMate 30s in Theater Black preset mode, unless otherwise noted.
Considering the MovieMate 30s/33s, doesn't offer much in the way of color controls (just simple tint and saturation), it's a good thing they did a great job on color "out of the box". Overall, the handling of flesh tones is very pleasing, and compares favorably with not just other "all-in-one" projectors, but with more expensive stand alone projectors, too.
Epson MovieMate 30s, 33s - Overall Color Handling.
With four preset modes, Theater Black does the best job on movies, while Theater, interestingly produces a cooler overall color temperature balance, more suitable for HDTV, and sports, etc.
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The Dynamic mode, who's equivilent on most projectors, typically is very cool, turns out to be the warmest (lowest color temperature) of the four presets, in fact very close to the ideal 6500K for movies. That said, Dynamic does push the green quite a bit as is typical of projector presets designed for dealing with maximum ambient light. Epson cranks out the most lumens in Dynamic, but with the strong greens, it is best saved for your lights on viewing.
Lastly the Living Room mode, as you would expect, has a cool color temperature right around 8000K, ideal for HDTV, TV, sports, etc., combining good brightness with well balanced color.
Immediately below are a number of images from standard DVD, and also a couple of HD-DVD's to give you an overall idea of the richness of the picture that this Epson MovieMate produces.
Dropping back to standard DVD (using the Epson's internal DVD player, from Starship Troopers:
Let's look at the Epson with some ambient light. The first image here shows the lighting in my family room. The picture captures the level of brightness in the room, pretty well (OK, maybe the room isn't quite that bright). The image on the screen, being significantly brighter than the room, is overexposed, so the image below, has the exposure adjusted to do the best job of properly exposing the image on the screen, but it makes the rest of the room look dark:
I then turned off the light in the back of the room, that you can see, allowing just light coming in from the adjacent kitchen, which opens into the familiy room. The image below gives you an idea of the kitchen lighting, and how much light is spilling into the family room. The image directly below it, again, has the exposure adjusted to show you best, how the image on the screen looks when watching under this lighting.
Yes, it's the same frame, same lighting.
One last image here, for your consideration. Taken the next day, you'll note that the windows and door all have shutters. You can see a fair amount of sunlight is entering the room, from not having the shutters fully closed. The image on the screen, from The Da Vinci Code, captures a jet landing. Take my word for it, please, that while the Epson did pretty well with that nice bright scene, with this much ambient light dark scenes were pretty weak! So with this much ambient lighting, watching American Idol, or Boston Legal, sports, or the news, should work fine, but not dark scenes in movies!
OK, a last image or three, showing general color handling:
MovieMate 30s, 33s, Black Levels and Shadow Details
Black levels are definitely not the strength of the MovieMate. First clue is the, by today's standards, the low contrast ratio of 1000:1. We live in a world where, at least for home theater projectors, 2000:1 is about the lowest you would normally read about, or even 2500:1. The Epson, being LCD based, starts off with lower contrast (and higher black levels) than you would get from a competing DLP all-in-one projectors. Unlike Epson's higher end stand alone home theater projectors, though, Epson doesn't add the usual electronic magic, in the form of dynamic irises, dimming lamps, etc. to enhance black levels and contrast. As a result, blacks just aren't that black.
But then the MovieMate, isn't the ideal projector for a movie fanatic, looking for best image quality, it's an all-in-one, good for movies, TV, sports, gaming, etc. If you are looking for the best Movie imagery, look elsewhere.
Still, black levels are decent. Star fields in my favorite sci-fi movies have plenty of stars even if not as many as better suited projectors. Here are a couple of images you can use for comparison:
From The Fifth Element:
Here's one that is really just about the stars, also from The 5th Element - I often use this image to demonstrate the effects of scene lighting and dynamic irises, so there are some images on other reviews you can compare it with:
You will find far more stars on other projectors.
Black levels, however are not about star fields, so lets now look to a rich dynamic image from Starship Troopers. The MovieMate does a pretty impressive job here!
All considered, the MovieMate 30s/33s does a respectable job on shadow detail - within the limits of the lighter black levels the Epson produces. Here are a few images good for comparing shadow details, starting with Sin City:
And this scene of the convertible, also from Sin City:
In fact, not bad at all!
Below are the usual two images from Lord of the Rings, for looking at shadow detail. The first is "normally exposed", the second, overexposed, so that you can see the level of shadow detail in the dark areas in the shed on the right, and along the bottom. Although not as rich in color as some other projectors the shadows do reveal a very respectable amount of detail. You may, of course, enlarge these images by clicking:
OK, one more space scene, this time from HD-DVD again, Space Cowboys. (While I doubt that few would consider buying the MovieMate, and then springing big bucks for an HD-DVD player, think that the HD-DVD's output should be almost identical to a good HDTV signal, something many will have, if not now, shortly.
This last scene is from AeonFlux. The dark table and bright fruit etc, make a "more typical" dark scene than, the my usual space scenes. As you can see, the MovieMate does create a very reasonable image, blacks certainly appear black enough, and bright colors jump out nicely, as one would expect from a projector like the MovieMate, which has very good color saturation:
MovieMate 30s, 33s: Screen Door Effect, and Pixel Visibility
I normally cover this topic in the General Performance section, but, with the MovieMate, being 480p resolution, pixel visibility is a bigger issue, and becomes part of overall image quality.
Last year, when I reviewed the MovieMate 25, I felt the pixel visibility and resulting potential screen door effect (SDE), was a deal breaker for many. Quite honestly I agonized over whether to give the older MovieMate our Hot Product Award. Had pixel visibility not been such a major issue, giving the award would have been a slam dunk. But, because of it, I came very close to denying the Epson the award.
And I've been on the fence again. I issue our award for products that should prove to be, at least a small but significant sized percent of the buying public, the best projector for their requirements and budget. The fast growing all-in-one projector market is starting to explode, with lots of buyers, and I'm sure there are many who won't care about the pixel visibility, but personally, at this level of visibility, it drives me crazy, and seems to cloud my judgement.
With higher resolution (720p and 1080p) projectors, pixel visibility, at worst, can be described as "barely visible" or "if you are looking for it" or "on the right scenes you can spot the pixels" (or movie credits). Most people sit at a distance far enough back that pixel issues are minor.
Time for some images to illustrate the issue. First, is this Warner Brothers emblem (from the start of Space Cowboys - which is why it's monochrome - like the beginning of the movie.
Click to look at an enlargement. BTW, on some displays (LCD) you may pick up your own screen door effect. Try zooming in or out if you run across the problem. (And that's true of any number of other images you have seen so far.)
Perhaps more to the point - the next image is a closeup of the necklace from a scene in Phantom. I normally use this for sharpness, but here it doubles to show the level of visibility of the pixels. You can see the full frame (way above), to give you an idea of how close we've zoomed in on the necklace. Click to enlarge:
But when you drop down to 480p projectors - pixels are going to be very visible, and more so with LCD projectors than DLP projectors (DLP chips always have had a less visible pixel structure at any given resolution.) The image below, is a full frame, from AeonFlux on HD-DVD, but the enlargement is cropped much closer, showing perhaps 25% of the total frame. Again, it allows you to easily make out the pixel structure.
With the Epson MovieMate projectors, pixel visibility is always there. Even if you are sitting, say 12 feet from their modest 80" diagonal screen, they are immediately visible. Now, to some, this is probably no more of an issue than the phosphor patterns on their old conventional TV sets - just part of the the picture. I don't think the average kid in their bonus room will care either (never can tell about those fanatical game players though).
I should also note, that pixel structure is also very visible on the lower resolution plasma TV's (that make up the bulk of the 42" plasma market) at normal seating distance, and that hasn't stopped the world from buying 10s of millions of them, so maybe I'm the one a bit "over the top", on this issue.
So, while the MovieMate has plenty going for it, the pixel visibility issue is one you'll have to decide on for yourself. This is a fun system, and not for movie fanatics looking for ultimate image quality. And, that considered, it should work well for many, the question is - will it work for your family?
MovieMate 30s, 33s Projector Sharpness
No problems here at all, within the limitations of the 480p resolution. Everything appears "razor sharp". I would have to say that the optics are easily capable of everything the MovieMate can throw at them. If you walk up to the screen, the pixel masks are so clear it does look like you could could precisely cut them out.
Here's one more image, from Aeon Flux. You'll find a similar frame on most recent reviews, it is a good test for overall sharpness. Look at the detail in her hair especially above her forehead, and straggling hairs as well. The other item is her eyes. Of course you can't compare Yugo's with Bentleys, but if you want to see a real difference, compare the "gleam" in her eye, on the MovieMate, with one of the 1080p (All $4000 or more) projectors like the BenQ W10000, or Optoma HD81...
OK, enough of the heavy contemplation, we'll move on to easier issues, in the General Performance section.