Epson Home 20 Home Theater Projector - General Performance
This section has been broken down into 12 areas for your consideration. Some of the topics are also covered elsewhere in this review, for example, in this case, we have discussed the pixel structure issue in the Image Quality section.
User Memory Settings
Lens Throw and Lens Shift
Pixel Structure SDE and Rainbow Effect
Audible Noise Levels
Lamp Life and Replacement
Projector Screen Recommendations
The Epson Home 20 menu system is very good. Epson's menus are logically laid out, and easy to navigate. This Epson, being an entry level home theater projector, lacks the advanced adjustments for RGB (separate control for Red, Green, and Blue) found on more expensive projectors, but overall good color balance, plus the thought that those buying entry level projectors tend to be less likely to really want to tweak their projector, rather preferring one that just looks great out of the box.
The most important menu is the Image menu, shown here. From here you have control of all the basics - including Brightness, Contrast, Color Saturation, as well as Tint, Skin Tone and Sharpness settings.
The Color Mode control let's you choose between the Epson Home 20's 6 Preset modes.
The two best for movie watching in a darkened room, are Theater Black 2, and Theater Black 1. Both, I should note, run the projector with the lamp in low power mode. Theater sacrifices a bit of contrast, in exchange for more brightness. Living Room is your best mode if you have to fight ambient light. It is about twice as bright as Theater Black 2 mode, yet still does a very good job of handling colors.
The Settings Mode allows you to control other aspects besides image quality. You can set the projector for front or rear screen, normal (front viewing) from a table or shelf, or Ceiling mounting (projector upside down), which flips the image.
You can even program in your own logo, such as the "Bob Crazies Family Home Theater" to appear when the projector powers up, or has no source. You can manually select an input source, change menu language, etc.
You can also reset these related settings projector from this menu. Note there is also a master Reset capability listed as Reset on the main menu.
The Info menu provides such information as your source resolution, or lamp life.
User Memory Settings
The Epson offers you the ability to save 3 separate memory settings, which will allow you to "tweak" various settings like brightness, tint, color saturation, and skin tones, for instant recall.
Epson provides a compact remote control, that lacks a backlight. We strongly prefer remotes for home theater projectors that have backlit buttons, as the projectors are normally used in fully, or mostly darkened rooms, making it impossible to read the buttons without them being backlit.
The Epson remote has separate Off and On buttons at the top. Immediately below them is a row of four source buttons that allow you to directly select any of the sources. Input A is the component video source, while Input B can be used for an analog computer input (through the standard HD15 connector), or a 2nd component video input (which also uses the HD15 connector). There is also an input for S-video, and one for composite video.
The next row of four buttons gives you an A/V mute which mutes both the video and audio sources. Next is a button for selecting the correct aspect ratio. There's a Still button to freeze the image, and an Auto setup button (primarily for analog computer signals?)
Below that, on the left are 3 pairs of buttons relating to the Image. The area is labeled Picture, and offers direct access buttons for adjusting Brightness, Contrast, Color Temperature, and Skin Tone controls. Lastly are the Mode button which allows selection of the various color modes, including Theater Black 1 and 2, Theater Black, Natural, Living Room, and Dynamic. The last of the 6 buttons is the Memory button which allows selection of the 3 user savable memory settings.
To the right of those is the keystone up and down buttons. (Avoid keystone correction if at all possible, instead relying on the Epson's Optical Lens Shift.
At the bottom are a Menu and Escape button, the traditional 4 arrow keys for navigating the menus, and an Enter button in the center of the four!
Overall, the menu layout is logical, but the buttons are pretty small, and mostly closely spaced together. Combining all of that, with the remote not being backlit, and you have an acceptable, but hardly great remote control.
Lens Throw and Lens Shift
As mentioned in the Overview, the Epson offers both vertical and horizontal lens shift control, a big improvement over the DLP based competition which do not have lens shift. As a result the Epson Home 20 has more placement flexibility, and if your room isn't too deep (or your screen too small), even allows the projector to be shelf mounted, at a height anywhere between the bottom and the top of the screen's surface.
In setting up the projector in our testing room, we used the vertical lens shift at maximum, which puts the projector about even with the bottom of the screen surface. We detected a small amount of dimming in the upper left corner. When we added a little horizontal lens shift, this became more of a problem. As a result, figure that if you need the full vertical lens shift capability, avoid using the horizontal lens shift.
As stated, the zoom lens'es throw, is relatively short throw. The projector can be placed (to a 100" diagonal 16:9 screen), anywhere from as close as 8ft 2 inches and as far back as 12 foot 4 inches. If, for example you have only an 80" diagonal screen, then to figure out the distances, just figure 80% of the 100" diagonal distances.
Pixel Structure, Screen Door Effect, and Rainbow Effect
To start, the Epson is an LCD projector, so there is no spinning color wheel, and therefore, no rainbow effect. For those bothered by the rainbow effect (a very small percentage of the population), this, being the primary LCD entry level home theater projector, this is about your only choice, if you can't watch a DLP projector.
As to the visible pixel structure, and it's impact, we discussed this pretty in-depth in the Image Quality section. To summarize, the Epson Home 20's pixels are more visible than those on DLP projectors. To not have them be blatant while viewing, you'll want to sit pretty far back. At entry level resolution - WVGA - 854x480, even DLP projectors require a good amount of distance relative to screen size (about 2x screen width), but the Epson requires more. If you sit too close, you will see the pixels, most obviously on text credits and large bright areas that are not moving (clouds would be a good example). Sitting too close can also cause the screen door effect, which is what it sounds like. It makes the picture look like you are looking through a screen door. This can additionally bring about another form of distortion, when the pixel pattern meshes with fine details on something like a football field's grass, creating a slightly muddy look.
The Epson Home 20 does leak small amounts of light from vents, etc. The amounts are negligible and do not hit the screen where it could affect viewing. No problem here!
Audible Noise Levels
Performance here is pretty typical. In Theater Black I and II (lamp would be on low power) the Epson is fairly quiet, but not close to the quietest, but acceptable.
In full power mode (all other modes, including Theater Black, the Epson is fairly noisy. This is common among projectors. The noise level in these full power modes is rated at 32 db, not a great spec. The best can do about 28 db in full power. The Epson does, about 27 db in low power, while the very best are around 23db. Still none, of the direct price competitors are overall significantly quieter.
Although rated 1200 lumens, the Epson is fairly bright, but not overly so. We measured and came up with (in best, Theater Black 2 mode) 386 lumens. In it's brightest mode; Livingroom mode, that just over doubled to 788 lumens. Unlike some competing projectors there is no separate lamp brightness control. The lamp runs in low power only in Theater Black 1 and 2, and at full power in all other modes.
Lamp Life and Replacement
The lamp is rated 3000 hours, in Theater Black 1 or 2, and 2000 hours in other modes. If you switch modes back and forth, your lamp life should fall somewhere between those two numbers. Remember, keeping filters clean, is an important part of getting good life out of your projector lamp. With dirty filters, projectors run hotter, and burn out lamps much faster. The cover of the lamp assembly is on the top, easy to get to, and it also means, that if you ceiling mount the Epson Home 20 projector, you won't have to unmount it to change the lamp.
One other piece of really good news, the replacement lamp has a suggested list price of $199, well below the typical $299 - $399 for most projectors in it's class.
Epson Home 20 Projector Screen Recommendations
With the Epson's relatively limited contrast ratio and black levels, my first thought would be to recommend a gray surface screen, such as those offered by Da-Lite, Elite, Stewart, and others. These screens appear to be a medium to light gray in color and are high contrast, designed to lower the black levels, while still being close to full brightness on whites and other bright areas. As an added benefit, these high contrast gray surfaces also are better than most other screens at rejecting ambient light from the sides.
If, however you have more than a little ambient light to deal with, and need brightness as well, I would suggest a light gray high contrast screen (like the Stewart Firehawk or equivilent). The gray surface is lighter, but you still get to reject a good amount of ambient light.
For those, however, less interested in movies, and more interested in things like sports, and regular (and HD) TV programming, you could take another approach, especially if ambient light is a problem. That would be to go with a higher gain screen, such as Carada's Brilliant White (gain of 1.4), Stewart's StudioTek 130 (gain 1.3, but it's really too expensive a screen to match with an under $1000 projector), and Da-lite's HC Da-Mat surface.
These will give you plenty of brightness. You can even (if you don't have people sitting far to the sides, go with even more gain, such as Optoma's Greywof screen with 1.8 gain (1.8 times brighter than a normal white surface.
Bottom line, you can enhance the blacks and contrast if needed, and also reject some ambient light, or go the opposite direction, and not worry about the black levels, instead going after the brightest possible image.
Due to the lack of advanced controls of R,G,B color, there was no good way to perfect the image, from its already very acceptable defaults. Theater Dark 2, in particular provides an overall very good color balance that should satisfy the vast majority of buyers of an entry level home theater projector. In this regard, it is similar to BenQ's new W100, which just started shipping as of this review. Two other competitors offer far greater controls: InFocus IN72, and Optoma's H27. The Optoma needs the control, because the out of the box color definitely is off, and needs adjusting and at least a basic end user calibration that can be accomplished with a $39 disk like AVIA's.
The Skin Tone adjustment is a nice touch. Although for most movie viewing I found the default 3 setting (in Theater Black mode) to be best, depending on content, I occasionally found settings 2 and 4 to be useful in a few cases.
The Epson does however - in Theater Black 2, come with Brightness set a little high, causing some loss of highlight details. I found decreasing the Contrast by 2 (or better, 3), made for a much better solution.
This was slightly surprising, as generally, I have found LCD projectors to have less noise than DLP's. In this case I compared (using the Silicon Optix HQV disk) the background noise of the Epson and the Optoma H27, and found them to be very close, with the Optoma being a tiny bit better (not enough to care about, or, for that matter, to notice, except when comparing two projectors in the same environment
I also ran the HQV test on the Epson looking at jaggies and motion noise artifacts. The Epson did not do well on either test, but then, neither did the other 2 entry level projectors I have tried that disk with. I suspect that all 480p (low resolution) projectors will do relatively poorly in this regard, as the larger pixels would inherently make them perform poorly on the jaggies test. (Note: I have output 480p from my Oppo DVD player to both entry level and 720p projectors. Since the 720p projectors do much better, and they have to upscale, which the 480p projectors do not, that is my basis for believing that the poor marks I am getting on all 480p projectors are simply due to them being lower resolution and therefore having bigger jaggies. I will note that the Optoma H27 did do better than the Epson on the motion noise test - panning across a grandstand, the Epson showed more noise patterns than the Optoma (sort of like moire patterns, for those familiar).
That takes care of the performance section. Take a quick look at Epson's great warranty, and then you can check out our summary, with Pros and Cons.