Epson Cinema 400 Home Theater Projector: Summary, Pros, Cons
Last year, we awarded the Cinema 400's predecessor, the Cinema 550, our Hot Product Award. At the time, the 550 was slightly expensive compared to the competition, but had several strengths that made it the top choice for many buyers, most notably its best of class brightness.
The Epson Cinema 400 also earns our Hot Product Award. I should note, that to earn the award, a projector needs to have strengths that set it apart, and make it the likely best choice for a significant (although not necessarily huge) segment of projector shoppers.
Quicktip: Epson is selling the Cinema 400 though a large network of local, CEDIA dealers, specialists in home theater. In addition, they will make the Cinema 400 available through a very limited number of online resellers. Due to this limited online distribution, you can expect that the knowledge level of the the Cinema 400 online resellers will be a cut above.
So, what makes the Cinema 400 a great idea, for a lot of people? There are several reasons, starting with brightness. No dedicated home theater projector that we have reviewed and played with, to date, (at least under $5,000) can match its brightness in its brightest mode. That makes the Cinema 400 ideal for many who like viewing some content (such as sports, and general TV/HDTV), with modest to moderate ambient light in the room.
Next, is overall image quality. Although the Epson cannot match the black levels and shadow detail of some other affordable projectors, its performance in those areas is still very acceptable, so movie watchers will be able to thoroughly enjoy the Cinema 400. This Epson projector also produces a nice sharp image, whereas its predecessor was a little soft. I hate to keep repeating myself, but a real strength of the Epson 400 is that it offers up rich, vibrant (dynamic), colors.
Image above from Phantom of the Opera (HD-DVD), click to enlarge.
Ease of use is another plus that will appeal to many - especially those who aren't techie. A great remote, (with single button access to most of the controls that a user might use frequently, like changing presets from Theater Dark 1, to Livingroom), plus an extremely well laid out menu structure, and easy navigation, are most appreciated. Also include in that ease of use, great placement flexibility thanks to the 1.5:1 zoom lens and exceptional lens shift adjustment capability.
All together, that means Epson has a projector with a great deal of appeal, and more than enough performance and benefits to earn our award.
If you are a movie purist - and that's all you care about, and you have a fully darkened room, there are other projectors that may suit you better (and probably DLP), in the general price range. For those buying a projector to view a wide variety of content, though, the Epson definitely should be a top contender..
And for those who do like to play with settings, within those Epson menus are about as much image control as you will find on any projector.
I mentioned image quality above, and I'm pleased to report that the Cinema 400 has improved (and appreciated) performance over the older Cinema 550. Most notably the changes to LCD panels and optics provide a sharper image. We found the older Cinema 550 to be a bit soft, not so, the Cinema 400.
Add to all of this a great warranty, impressive styling, and Epson's well known support, and you have one of the top contenders in the $1000 - $2000 market.
- Very bright, with rich, dynamic colors
- Excellent placement flexibility
- Excellent preset modes for everything from movies in the dark, to sports on a bright day
- Very good achievable color accuracy in Theater Dark modes, but needs "tweaking" (or basic calibration) to maximize performance
- Great warranty (with replacement) and reputation for support
- Great remote
- Very good manual (a rarity). It not only shows you how to use all the controls, but actually does a fair job of explaining what many of them do. - I'm impressed!
- Very quiet in Theater Dark modes
- 3000 hour lamp life in Theater Dark modes
- 9 user savable settings, which most will appreciate
- Excellent flesh tones
- Cool styling (if you care about such things)
- Looks absolutely fabulous, when watching sports (football) in Hi-Def!! (Go Penn State!)
- Noisy in brighter modes - too noisy for the really noise adverse, for movie watching, though shouldn't be an issue for most, especially for non-movie content
- Shadow details - not bad at all, but surpassed by a few others
- To change lamp, you must unmount projector if ceiling mounted (true of probably 80% of all home theater projectors)
- Pixels are more visible than DLP projectors, so you'll want to sit a little further back (true of LCD projectors in general)
- Black levels (they're good, but, definitely not great)
- Very good selection of inputs
- Control panel
- Lamp life
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Epson Cinema 400 Projector - vs. The Competition
What about the competition? There is serious competition out there, and here's how some of them may stack up to the Epson. I say may, because almost allof them are also brand new, and just starting to ship, or shipping before the holiday season.
Panasonic's new PT-AX100U (our next review) will cost a few hundred more (at least initially) and claims 2000 lumens. I suspect though, that if anything, the Epson will prove to be at least as bright when we compare them, despite Epson's 1500 lumen rating (Epson is really about the only manufacturer that routinely under rates lumen measurements, while most companies typically overstate by about 20%! Since the Panasonic is also 3LCD, the two will be similar in many ways, ergonomically and in image quality.
Optoma's HD72 (a favorite of mine) will shortly be replaced by the HD73. The HD72 actually measured a little brighter than the Epson when comparing best/dimmest movie modes, however the Epson has a noticeable edge in brightness in the brighter modes, giving it the advantage for those who are "dark room challenged". The Optoma is a DLP projector, so pixel structure will be less visible if you are sitting fairly close. Overall, the Optoma may have the advantage for the movie purist, although, when it comes to black levels and shadow detail, the HD72 is good, but not exceptional compared to other DLP projectors, and has only a slight advantage is some cases, compared to the Cinema 400. As a typical DLP projector, the Optoma is very limited in placement, with a mere 1.2:1 zoom lens and no lens shift, and it needs to sit well below the bottom of the screen or well above the top, when ceiling mounted.
Image above from The Fifth Element (standard DVD)
Sanyo will also release a new under $2000 3LCD projector, the PLV-Z5. No information has been released yet, but it, like the Panasonic will likely cost a little more.
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On the low end of the price spectrum, Optoma now has an entry level HD70. We haven't seen it in action yet, and it has a number of compromises compared to their HD72/HD73, still, if you can't budget the $1500 and change for the Epson, you'll want to consider the HD70, if on price alone.
The brand new Mitsubishi HD1000 which should sell for a few bucks less than the Cinema 400, will be another challenger. The HD1000 will be reviewed following the Panasonic PT-AX100U, and the review will be published the first week of October (2006). The Mitsubishi is a DLP projector whose performance (on paper) exceeds the Optoma HD70, and is more similar to the HD72/HD73, but less expensive. The Mitsubishi, like the Epson, claims 1500 lumens, so it promises to be a bright, DLP alternative to the Cinema 400. Mitsubishi is normally exceptional at black levels and shadow detail, which may make it the best, most affordable projector for movie purists, but it will suffer the usual DLP lack of easy placement that often prevents it working in many people's rooms. It could easily be the "other great $1500ish projector."
Before I summarize, I want to make one more point. The older Cinema 550, had many strengths, but was a bit expensive (compared to the competition), and did have some notable weaknesses as well, especially a certain amount of softness to the image. The Cinema 400 by comparison, is aggressively priced, and it still has many strengths, but the key weaknesses of the Cinema 550 are now absent. In other words, Epson has done a great job of updating their entry level Cinema projector!
Bottom line: Epson, has brought out a projector that is, for the price, provides excellent performance across a wide range of content ( even video games). If the Cinema 400's movie performance is just very good, then this Epson projector is even better on Sports and general HDTV, making it a great, bright, all around projector.
Considering the low $1599 price, the great warranty, and its many strengths, Epson's Cinema 400 deserves its Hot Product Award, and your serious consideration, assuming its strengths and capabilities match up will with yourspecific requirements!
Ed. note: Arwen (above) from Lord of the Rings (standard DVD) , looked simply magnificent on the Cinema 400. I can't wait to see how good she will look in HD.