Epson Home Cinema 720 Projector Review - Image Quality
In this section, we look at the Epson Home Cinema 720 projector's overall picture quality in four areas: Skin Tones, Black Levels and Shadow Detail, Sharpness, and Overall Picture Quality.
Epson HC720 Home Cinema Projector: Skin Tones
The Epson Home Cinema 720 has an interesting feature, which is called Skin Tone, and it offers you different settings to fine tune the skin tone performance. The lower numbers have more reddish content. In truth the settings will also affect other parts of the image, where objects have some characteristics similar to most skin tones. It's a nice feature, and depending on what I watched, in most cases I found the best setting to be 3, but, also 4, and on occasion, 2.
When you consider that there are differences in how well, and what qualities skin tones take on for different movies, and other content with their varying production qualities, I found that I might just change this setting going from one movie to another. I should also mention that different color modes (ie. Theater Black 1, Living Room), may have different default settings for Skin Tone (3 or 4).
So, how did the HC720 do? Very well overall, but I should note that without more calibration than I know how to do, on occasion, they can look a little contrasty and oversaturated. Please, I'm talking subtle here.
Take a look at some images. First though, remember that my very good digital SLR can't begin to capture the full dynamic range that these projectors produce. As such, in a normally exposed image, the near whites tend to "blow out" and be white, and near fully bright colors lose their intensity. At the same time, dark shadow detail is virtually, completely gone - "black crush". So, remember that the images are here to support the commentary. Also most images in reviews will appear slightly oversaturated on most monitors. You can adjust if you prefer.
Let's get started with some images from standard DVDs (SD-DVD), Gandalf, and Arwen from Lord of the Rings - like most images, you can click for much larger versions:
Moving to Blu-Ray DVDs, here are a number of good images for comparing skin tones, and assessing the quality (given the limitations noted above).
The two above are from House of the Flying Daggers, a movie, to say the least, that offers beautiful color qualities. Next from The Fifth Element:
Note, that often movies even intentionally alter their overall color or just in certain scenes (including Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, and many others). Further, skin tones will appear different under different lighting. To give you a feel for different lighting, here are several images from Casino Royale, of James Bond. The first is in direct sunlight, The second, a florescent lit airport, and the third, shaded on a sunny day. Indoor will also yield different results as well as nighttime.
A good nighttime image is this shot of Aeon, from Aeon Flux:
Here she is again, partially revealed:
One more from Aeon Flux:
I always have to throw in a shot of Johny Depp from Pirates:
Something different, from Sin City (SD-DVD). In this scene the director uses a sepia type treatment.
Bottom line, not the most film-like handling of skin tones despite very natural color. The HC720 will please most, but not those seeking perfection for $1200 or so. Think this way, if you've been to Best Buy or similar looking at a wall of LCDTV's and Plasmas, you might notice a few that look noticeably worse than others, but many look really great, but all slightly different from each other. The Epson is one of those that looks really great.
Home Cinema 720 Projector: Black Levels and Shadow Detail
Despite the substantial increase in the contrast spec to 10:000:1, I don't see the Epson Home Cinema 720 as being exceptional on black levels. They are probably best described as typical of the LCDs and still not quite up to the DLPs in the price range. Blacks just aren't that "jet black" one would really like, but you won't find dramatically better in this price range. I can say that top of the line performance DLPs like BenQ's far more expensive PE8720, definitely do a significantly better job, and most likely that's true of the Optoma HD73, as well, which is more in line price-wise. Overall, it's about the same as the PT-AX200U, but the advantage goes to the Panasonic, and it comes close to projectors like the Mitsubishi HC1500 on very dark scenes, but not on those with some bright areas. That's due to the Epson, like all of the LCD projectors, relying on a dynamic iris to help out, and they are ineffective on a frame with really bright areas.
For your consideration:
This next image is from Space Cowboys, Clint in a very dark room. The image is good for looking at black levels and shadow detail. The images below are somewhat overexposed, to reveal details in the blinds in the back. The first image is from the Home Cinema 720, and the second from the projector with the best black levels of anything (tested so far), under $10,000, the JVC RS2. The third image is the Panasonic PT-AX200U, and the last is the Mitsubishi HC1500.
By the way, don't worry about the differences in skin tone colors or contrast in these shots. This scene is extremely dark, and the time exposures are long (up to 10 seconds), at those levels the camera tends to exaggerate what are relatively minor differences to the eye.
This next image is back to SD-DVD, from Sin City. A very dark scene, normally exposed. Lots of contrast:
Epson HC720 Shadow Details
Despite the lack of really great black levels, the Home Cinema 720 is really very good on shadow details. In this, it reminds me very much of the $2000 Mitsubishi HC4900, currently the lowest cost 1080p projector. It too doesn't do great blacks, yet the details are there. I won't go into the "how" of it, but that's not a contradiction.
We'll start with this cropped image of a night scene in Gondor, from Lord of the Rings. This image is significantly overexposed so you can see the details in the shadow area. The left thumbnail is the Epson, the the right one, the Panasonic PT-AX20U:
The image below is also from Lord of the Rings. The thumbnail image is normally exposed, but clicking on it will give you a large, overexposed image. Look for the details in the shed on the right, along the bottom and the wood structure on the left.
Moving to another Blu-Ray movie, here is a night scene from Aeon Flux:
For comparison, here is the same, from the Panasonic PT-AX200U:
Here's the re-entry image from Space Cowboys. Click on the thumbnail image for an overexposed version, and look for the details on the right side. This image is found on most recent reviews, Epson on the left, Sony VPL-AW15 on the right:
Now, from The Fifth Element (Blu-ray), the starship scene reveals about as many stars as any projector, even though the background space isn't as dark as the best. The image is just lightly overexposed so the camera can capture the darker stars, etc.:
OK, a relatively new image for your consideration. This from Casino Royale on Blu-ray disc.
This image of the resort at night looks great (these two images are the same "generic" image), but when you click on the images below, you'll see a significantly overexposed version. Look to the bushes, and most importantly the building's roof. I can tell you that with most projectors, the roof detail is so lost that when watching the movie, you either don't see it at all, or if you can, you can make out almost no detail.
Now that's the type of results where we consider shadow detail so important:
For comparison, here is our reigning champ, the $8000 1080p, JVC DLA-RS2.
From Aeon Flux, the table scene. Look to the table's texture, and the shadows cast by different objects:
Bottom line: While the Epson is hardly spectacular on black levels, Epson's processing apparently lifts the darkest non-black information up enough in value, to be above the black threshold. End result, lots of detail, more than a number of other projectors that are superior to the HC720 at black levels. What's that mean? Answer: Overall very respectable performance.
Epson HC720 Home Theater Projector: Sharpness
This Epson almost shouts out: "look how sharp my image is". I normally point out that even the softest 1080p projector is far beyond the sharpest 720p projector at resolving detail and appearing sharp. With this Epson, that simply is less true.
Sadly, I have a bit of a problem with the the sharpness images for the HC720. This is the first time I've delegated the cropping, resizing, and naming of the images to my daughter, who does a lot of my webwork. In the past, I've used Photoshop for all of that, which she doesn't have yet. She's using a more basic program, and I can tell you that, likely due to the resizing algorithms used, Photoshop retains more of the sharpness of the original. I'll try to replace the DTS and Monitor images below shortly, with ones done in Photoshop. Even so, the Epson does at least as well, as the Panasonic competition.
The thumbnails below when clicked on, show a drastically cropped area of just the logo and dts-hd area. The thumbnails are for the following projectors:
Top left: Epson Home Cinema 720, Top right: Panasonic PT-AX200U
2nd row (1080p projectors) left: Panasonic PT-AE2000U, middle: Sony VW60, right: Mitsubishi HC6000.
The difference between the Epson and the Panasonic PT-AX200U is immediately obvious, with the Panasonic appearing rather soft.
Our last sharpness image is a close-up of this computer monitor from Space Cowboys on Blu-ray. You can click for larger images to compare the readability,
Click on the left thumbnail for a large, cropped version of the original frame on the Epson (left), and the middle for the Panasonic PT-AX200U. On the right, the very sharp, 1080p Sharp XV-Z20000 ($11,995 list).
This next image is from Aeon Flux. Look at the sharpness in her eyes, and the details in her hair, including loose strands.
Bottom line: The Epson Home Cinema 720 is a cut above the Panasonic PT-AX200U and several of the DLP competition. Overall, it produces crisp looking images. Definitely one of the Epson's strongest assets!
Projector Overall Picture Quality
Rich dynamic colors, are the Epson's trademark. While I didn't get a picture of it, the other night the family was watching The Departed, and there was a funeral scene with a large American flag. I can't recall any better looking overall colors on the red, white, and blue flag, in both saturation and tonal accuracy. Stunning!
Once the Home Cinema 720 is properly adjusted, general scenes just look great. Here are some samples for your consideration:
The image above is from Sin City (SD-DVD), again, this scene is shot in a sepia look with some spot color added.
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Viewing - HDTV
Once Living Room Mode was adjusted properly, I found it to be excellent for viewing HDTV, and especially sports. Consider these images, which show that rich dynamic ability of the Epson. All of the football shots were taken with a fair amount of ambient light. If you want to watch in the dark - "cave" style, the color dynamics are even more spectacular.
Like the HC400 before it, I would definitely say this is a projector that will really please sports fans, even more so, than the slightly brighter Panasonic PT-AX200U. Please note you can make out some ambient light below the screen on the walls and speakers. Since the exposure is set for best viewing of the screen, the ambient light appears much darker than the room really was (shades all down, but they all leak light on their sides, bright sunny day, with all the windows on the left having a southern exposure):
Now these show you the excellent performance of the Epson under modest ambient light conditions. (You can see just a little washing out of the image in the lower left corner). The choice of my Firehawk screen helps with the ambient light.
I better help you understand how much ambient light there is in the room for the shots above. Here is a previously taken image showing a pretty accurate view of the room. (The image on the screen is from a different projector, the much less bright Sony VW60), but the shoots were done during almost identical conditions.
Here are some additional images from HDTV, including two from music videos (M-HD channel), Boston Legal, and The Tonight Show:
Picture Quality - Bottom Line:
Rich and dynamic colors, with plenty of "wow factor" on HDTV and especially sports. On movies the imagery is good, and again, rich colors, perhaps not quite as natural or film-like as some of the competition. Do keep in mind, to a certain degree we are "splitting hairs" here. The differences between the Epson and various competitors is hardly dramatic. The Epson's extra "crisp" look, I would say, is a trade-off against that softer look that some do better, that most refer to as being film-like.