Epson Cinema 550 Home Theater Projector- Overview -Reviewer: Art Feierman 12/05
This is the final version of our review of the Epson Cinema 550 home theater projector. The General Performance section has been completed.
The Epson Cinema 550 is an especially good overall projector, but it earns a Hot Product Award for what it does exceptionally well, handle Hi-Def sources, especially with its settings designed to work in rooms with significant ambient light. The Epson projector combines excellent preset modes with its brightest in class 1400 lumens. Now lets be clear, the Epson 550 is excellent on DVD's too, but it truly shines with Hi-Def.
At a Glance: Epson Cinema 550
Brightness: 1400 lumens, Contrast: 3000:1 Zoom Lens: 1.5:1, Resolution: WXGA (1280x720), Aspect Ratio, 16:9. Projector type: 3 LCD panels
A quick note: The first Epson Cinema 550 I received turned out to be a pre-production projector, complete with photocopied manual. I don't know how early on this projector was, but I immediately found a few problems. A quick call to Epson, and voila', 48 hours later a full prodution Epson Cinema 550 projector arrived. Many of the images below were shot on the pre-production model and it seems the production one is better is several areas, including improved color in the Theater Dark 1 and 2 modes.
Let's get started!
Background: Epson was one of the very first players in the LCD projector home theater marketplace, going back close to 5 years. Their early on Epson built TW100 was considered to be excellent for its day (it was also sold under the Yamaha brand). Since then Epson has had several more generations of home theater projectors, each exceeding the performance of the earlier models.
The Epson Cinema 550 looks to be the third major new LCD based home theater projector (with 720p native resolution) to enter the market in the last 6 weeks. It joins the already popular Panasonic PT-AE900u and the Sanyo PLV-Z4, which just started shipping, six weeks, and 2 weeks ago, respectively. For the first time, the Epson Cinema series will be sold online (by apparently just a handful of dealers) in addition to the traditional CEDIA local dealers.
The Epson Cinema 550 replaces their now discontinued Cinema 500 projector which recently took top honors in a major consumer review magazine. (Can I mention Consumer Reports?). The Cinema 550, is the brightest of the new home theater projectors in the $2000-$2500 price range, with a claimed 1400 lumens. (Most competing projectors are 800 - 1100 lumens. That makes the Cinema 550 projector the one that can best deal with ambient light. Note, however, that the 30-40% extra lumens compared to the competition, is not a night and day difference, but you can think of it this way. It can handle a 110" screen with a given level of room lighting as well as a 1000 lumen projector can do with a 90" diagonal screen under the same ambient lighting.
Here's the scoop on the Cinema 550 home theater projector:
- Resolution: 1280x720 (720p)
- Technology: 3 LCD panels
- Contrast: 3000:1
- Brightness: 1400 lumens
- Estimated Selling price: $2499
- Hi-Res inputs: HDMI (1) Component Video (1)
- Warranty: 2 years
- Zoom lens: 1.5:1
- Great looking, sculpted design
Physical Overview of the Epson Cinema 550 projector.
From the front, the lens is mounted off center, with a manual focus ring, and a tab on the inner ring to control the zoom in and out. The zoom is 1.5:1, which means that the furthest it can be positioned from a give sized screen is 50% greater than the closest. You can see the front exhausts (on the first image above) which fire the hot air out at an angle away from the lens. Underneath there are two adjustable (screw thread) feet, to control projector angle.
Facing the Epson Cinema 550 home theater projector, to the left of the lens, is the front Infra-red sensor for the remote control.
Moving to the top of the Cinema 550 projector, and just behind the lens, are two dials to control the vertical, and horizontal lens shift. The lens shift range on the Epson is noticeably greater than on competing models, which, if needed, provides you the ability to mount the projector several feet above the top of your screen. (People with high ceilings will really appreciate that.). Alternately, if you are putting it on a table, the projector can be well below the bottom of the screen. The lens shift supports all positions in between, so you can mount the projector on a shelf in the back of the room, anywhere from below the screen to well above the screen top.
A look at the control panel of the Epson Cinema 550 home theater projector, finds all the standard buttons. From the left, Power, Source, then the Menu button and the 4 arrow keys. In the center of the four keys in the Enter button, and to the top right of them, the Escape button which moves you back toward the top level of menus. Lastly is the Aspect ratio button which switches between the usual multiple modes. One somewhat unusual finding regarding the aspect ratio. When watching Hi-Def 16:9, the Auto mode (or Normal) deliver a screen filling image. However, when you switch to DVD sources, the Auto and Normal give you an undersized image. No problem, for DVD, it looks like you simply select the Zoom aspect ratio, and you are all set, but this is not typical of most projectors. By the way, the up and down arrows double as keystone correction controls when the menus are not engaged. Of course, you should avoid using keystone correction, due to the distortion, and since the Epson projector has an incredible amount of lens shift range, I can't imagine anyone needing keystone correction anyway!
The back panel image of the Epson Cinema 550 shows the normal range of inputs. There is a single HDMI, one component video input (3 RCA jacks, color coded Red, Green and Blue), a computer input, a SCART input (for some parts of the world), one S-video, one composite input, and a 12volt screen trigger. Lastly there is an RS-232 for "command and control" of the projector from computer, etc.
Also the power cord plugs into the rear, and there is a hard power switch that must be on to be able to power up the projector from the top panel button or the remote, and there is a rear Infra-red sensor.
There is also a single rear foot - not adjustable, to give the projector a 3 point stance for stability (better than four points, if the rear ones arent adjustable).
The finish is a white with some silver trim (mostly in the front), and unlike its primarly competitors, the look of the Epson has some real style, not the usual basic box. The first person (besides me) to see it when I pulled it out of the box, said, "now, that's cool looking."
But, ultimately it comes down to how the projector performs. So click to the next page, and we'll look at the Epson Cinema 550 home theater projector's image quality aspects.