Epson Home Cinema 1080 Projector Review, and Pro Cinema 1080: Image Quality
The first thing I did, when the Epson Home Cinema 1080 arrived, was set it up in my theater. That evening I dropped in a Blu-Ray edition of X-men: The Last Stand, and watched about a 20 minute segment. My immediate impression was rich colors, very good but not truly spectacular black levels (for the 1080p class of projectors - and all of them so far have had very respectable to superb black level performance), and generally very good color out of the box. I followed X-Men with a few minutes of Space Cowboys, then on to a quick 5 minute glance of the Superbowl off of my DVR, from the HD broadcast and finally, some Jay Leno live. Overall pretty impressive, picture quality. In fact it reminds me somewhat of Optoma's DLP projectors, with particularly rich dark colors.
While black levels really were good, I think, no, I know, that I'm spoiled now. In the last 30 days I also reviewed the two best I have yet to see, in terms of black levels and shadow detail. First was the Sony Pearl, an LCOS (SXRD) 1080p projector, and immediately after that, the JVC RS1, another, but more expensive 1080p, which simply produces blacker blacks than anything else, by a rather impressive margin. Of course the Sony is about $1000 more than the Epson, while the JVC is twice its price. I should note, that just as I started writing this page, the doorbell rang with my new personal projector - the JVC RS1 so tonight I plan to do a few "side by side" images, as the RS1 is my new "reference" projector. You'll find some below.
So, I wasn't blown away by the black levels, but there is no doubt that the projector does well enough in this regard to respectably handle dark scenes.
After the first evening, I moved the projector into the testing room, and did the usual measurements and adjusted the RGB values to get as close to the 6500K color temperature as possible. I should note here, that while I did accomplish that, I wasn't quite satisfied, with the results. I attribute this to my own adjustments. I probably should have started over, but the long and short of it, I ended up with a bit too much red, especially in the darker ranges. You will see that in some of the images. I have no doubt that this could be improved on, so I wouldn't recommend you put to much emphasis on the overly redish quality you'll see in some images.
Remember, the images you will see, are hardly perfect. My digital camera cannot capture the full dynamic range of the projected image, thus photos lose shadow detail, and tend to "crush" the near whites (they lose highlight detail). The images are to support the commentary, and not to be taken as a perfect rendition of what you will see on the screen if you buy a Cinema 1080. So take them, with a "pound of salt", not a grain! Perhaps even more importantly, what you see on your computer display is probably different in terms of color balance, contrast, etc., than what I see on mine. In fact, the cropping and resizing software I use, yields a different overall image than what I see when I look at a finished review off of my site. Lastly the photos (at least on my computer, come out a bit more color saturated than what I see on the screen. So, again, not perfect by any means, if the images look oversaturated to you, you might try turning down your color control a touch, to compensate. I do not, ever, modify the screen images in terms of color balance, contrast or brightness, with computer software, I only crop and resize.
Please note:. I used the Theater Black 1 color preset for most of my work. It defaults to a color temp setting of 7500K (for some reason) instead of the 6500K setting. The first thing you will want to do, for using Theater Dark 1, is adjust the Color Temp slide from 7500K down to 6500K.
Let's start with flesh tones, and remember the images have a bit more reddish caste to them than what I was seeing on the screen. This is particularly true in very dark scenes, it seems my camera itself tends to have a slight shift towards red when I'm doing long exposures (some take up to 5 seconds).
OK, overall, skin tones were very natural in appearance on the screen. The first set of five images are from standard DVD - the first two - Gandalf, and Arwen from Lord of the Rings, followed by Leeloo and a shot of Bruce Willis, from The Fifth Element, and last, Will Smith from I, Robot. Please note, the vast majority of these images can be clicked on to view a larger image:
Sorry, the Gandalf image above is a little dark. I bracket, but in this case, this was the "lightest" of the group, yet still about two thirds of an f-stop dark.
Moving to Hi-Def formats let's start with the movie Aeon Flux:
A nice dark scene from Batman Begins - on Blu-Ray DVD.
And Space Cowboys (also Blu-Ray, I have recently switched from using HD-DVD to Blu-Ray on this movie):
Note again, all of these images above are showing a bit more red content than what I view. The good news, is that I will be replacing my camera in the next couple of months. Hopefully the new digital SLR will increase the dynamic range and improve in terms of accurately capturing what is on the screen.
And finally (of course - these images are on all of the last 20+ home theater projector reviews, from Phantom of the Opera - from HD-DVD:
Wait here's a new one of Storm, from X-Men: The Last Stand:
Overall, the flesh tones were really very good, in fact excellent. I regret that this time around, the photos are showing more red than what I saw on the screen.
Before I get into black levels and shadow detail handling, and sharpness, this time, I want to provide you with some general images that should give a good idea what the Cinema 1080 can do on typical movie (and HDTV) scenes. I usually start with movies off of the various DVD formats, so for a change of pace, let's do HDTV first.
I love my football. Here are a couple of frames from my HD recording of the Superbowl:
The game looked great on the Epson (mostly I used the Living Room mode for HDTV). I don't know about you, but it sure makes me miss football season!
I watch a lot of concerts in HDTV, so here are two images, from hi-def channels (the first from INHD, of Pete Townsend, from The Who: Isle of Wight, and the second of Bon Jovi and Sugarland on M HD (MTV's HD video channel). Of course stage lighting changes everything, but they looked good!
And for those of you into "regular" HDTV, that is regular programming. Here's "Denny Crane" from Boston Legal:
OK, here are a number of images from movies, all sorts. I'll identify them as we go.
Space Cowboys (Blu-Ray):
From The Fifth Element (standard DVD):
From Aeon Flux (HD-DVD):
And just in case you still aren't impressed - from the Blu-Ray DTS demo DVD:
OK, time to take a look at the Home Cinema (and Pro Cinema) 1080 in terms of sharpness.
Epson Cinema 1080 Projector Sharpness:
Overall, sharpness compared to other 1080p projectors, would best be described as about average, and that means sharp. There is certainly no comparison at all, between the Home Cinema 1080 and even the best of the 720p projectors. Of the seven 1080p projectors reviewed so far, it looks like the Epson is in the same grouping (in terms of sharpness) as the JVC RS1, and Sony VW50, which puts it slightly less sharp than the Optoma HD81 and BenQ W10000, and the Mitsubishi HC5000. The HC5000 has the most visible pixels of the 1080p projectors reviewed so far, so the big question is, while the Mitsubishi gives the feel of being sharper, is that the result of a barely visible pixel structure, or is it actually revealing more details in the image. I lean toward the idea of the pixel structure giving the feel of more sharpness, rather than actually showing more information. Even, though, if that is true, many will like the Mitsubishi because it "seems" sharper.
Click on the first image for a large, close up from this scene from Space Cowboys.
For comparison purposes, the next image shows the same scene, on the Optoma HD81, a very sharp 1080p DLP projector.
The third in this group, is from the Sony VW-50 - the Pearl, which like the JVC is a 3 panel LCOS projector, with 1080p resolution.
With a one evening overlap, my new JVC RS1 arrived, so I set it up side by side with the Epson. I reshot the monitor image on both. Here goes.
Click on the first side-by-side image for a larger JVC closeup, and the 2nd side-by-side, for a closeup of the Epson Home Cinema 1080.
You can see that the JVC has a very slight edge in sharpness. It certainly isn't enough that you will be able to make out details at normal viewing distances on the JVC, that you can't see on the Epson. Rather, a difference this slight may, just give you the slightest impression of extra sharpness - if you are comparing side by side, like I did. When I viewed the two side by side, to tell which was sharper I had to move closer to the screen, than I would normally sit.
I recently started using the DTS Blu-Ray sampler disk on the reviews, and in addition to some beautiful frames for comparison, the DTS Menu page, and DTS logos make excellent tests for sharpness.
Again, I had the opportunity to shoot two sets of images side by side with the JVC.
In these two sets, click on the thumbnails. This time, the Epson Home Cinema 1080 is first.
Basically, the JVC is a touch sharper, but it's very close.
Lastly, click on the thumbnail for the tight closeup from my cable guide directory.
This lets you get a really close look, in fact for thinking "sharpness" it's probably best to view at least two feet back from the monitor, closer if you want to look at the pixel structure.
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Epson Cinema 1080 Projector Black Levels and Shadow Detail:
As mentioned at the beginning of this review, the Epson definitely has good black levels, but nothing particularly special when compared with the other 1080p projectors out there.
Our first image (Epson) is from Space Cowboys (Blu-Ray DVD). This is an extremely dark scene, with all the light coming from a desk lamp pointing down in front of Clint Eastwood. (That's why his hand is so bright.)
In this next image I have overexposed the same frame, so you can see what detail there is on the walls and upper part of the image:
You'll note that I have left in the letter box on the top and bottom and you can see that because the image is overexposed, they are dark gray, not close to black.
Now, you can make out some details in the wall, the top back of Clint's head, even the beer bottle. Next, consider this image from the JVC RS1 our reigning champ at black levels and shadow detail.
Ignore the color shif difference between the two. The image immediately above, by comparison, is only slightly overexposed, rather between the two Epson images, and closer to the first. Yet look at that back wall, the top of Clint's head, and the beer bottle. You are picking up about the same amount of shadow detail, yet the blacks are much blacker - you tell me - which looks better? The first image compared to the JVC, the JVC still seems to have slightly blacker looking blacks (remember the exposures are different), yet the Epson has lost most of the detail. If you compare the 2nd image to the JVC. You can pick up most of the detail, but there is nothing resembling black, anywhere, just medium dark grays. In other words, which would you want?
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Please remember, that the Epson is actually very good at this stuff, it's just that the JVC is in a class by itself, one of the reasons it commands just about twice the price.
Here are a couple of other images for looking at black levels: The Epson (Space Cowboys again):
This second image (immediately below) is from the BenQ W10000 DLP projector (DLP's have always had superior black levels and contrast, compared to LCD projectors). Remember exposures (and even the frame, are not identical, however the satellite has some really bright areas, limiting with the dynamic iris can accomplish, yet not so bright that the irises are completely ineffective. The end result - there are definitely more stars visible on the BenQ (it sells for at least $2000 more than the Epson at the time of this writing.)
One more, this time from the Panasonic PT-AE1000U, the other really low cost 1080p projector, and also an LCD projector with a dynamic iris. Comparing the three images, the BenQ has the advantage, and from my own observations of these and other images the Epson in most cases has a very slight advantage over the Panasonic - but, remember, they both use electronics and dynamics, so although the Epson might have a slight advantage on most scenes, the Panasonic might be better on others.
Next, is a very dark scene from X-Men: The Last stand. The first image is exposed normally, and the one below significantly overexposed. A close look reviews shadow details in all but the very darkest places.
If the overexposed image picks up details in the darkest areas, then it's obviously also up there on the screen.
The next image is most revealing. I recently started using this, with the JVC, who's review was posted just a few weeks ago. This image from Space Cowboys in hi def, is a great revealer of shadow details, or lack thereof. I'll provide for both the Epson and the JVC, for comparison.
First, the normal exposure of the Epson Home Cinema 1080. The camera's limitations leave much of the right side of the planet without any detail. Click on the small thumbnail right below it for a large version of the same frame, significantly overexposed.
I had the opportunity to reshoot this image in a side by side with the JVC RS1. The thumbnails let you look at overexposed versions from each projector, so you can compared the details in the shadow areas on the right of the planet.
If you click on the first thumbnail you will see the JVC, the second one is the Epson.
As you can see on the large images, there is a fair amount of detail at the very bottom near the right, on the JVC, you can see the textures in the clouds (very dark), and land. Look at the Epson, and a significant portion of that detail is just not there. Note the two clouds side by side down there right at the bottom edge just in from the right. They are distinct on the JVC, and barely detectable on the Epson. The important difference when viewing this scene - with normal viewing (not overexposed) the Epson has what seems to be a fairly large "flat" area - no detail at all, whereas the JVC, has enough fine detail still visible that the flat area is much smaller. Still, the Epson is very good, so if the Epson is in your budget, don't get discouraged, in these images - it's up against the very best, and is still a very good performer by any measure.
From standard DVD - The Fifth Element the starship image, shows good black levels and more stars visible than are found on all but a handlful of projectors we have reviewed over the last two years.
And a recent favorite of mine, for this purpose, from Aeon Flux (HD-DVD). Look for details in the table top and the shadows cast on the table, etc. The Epson Home Cinema 1080 does a very good job of providing plenty of shadow detail:
Our last two sequences on shadow detail are the usual images from Lord of the Rings (standard DVD), and the Cavern scene from Phantom of the Opera (HD-DVD). In each case the first image is normally exposed, and the second one overexposed so you can see what shadow details reside in the shed on the right, along the bottom and the structure on the left.
Pretty good, the frescos on the was are very visible, although the small blackish "windows" are mostly lost in the darker areas, just not standing out enough to easily visible.
A couple more good dark images for your consideration - from Sin City (standard DVD).
The image above shows a lot of detail in the walls and the bottles on the right cabinet.
From Aeon Flux:
And, Batman Begins (Blu-Ray):
And the same image, overexposed:
OK, a few more general images for you to peruse:
OK, you should be sufficiently bored, or overwhelmed with images by now. Time to consider the many other aspects of the Epson Home Cinema 1080 and Pro Cinema 1080 projectors, including: Menus, Remote Control, Brightness, Projector screen recommendations, and more.