Home Theater Projector Review - General Performance
This section on the Epson projector's general performance, is broken down into a number of topics. You can scroll down, or click on any of these anchor links:
Epson Home Cinema 720 Menus
Epson Home Cinema 720 User Memory Settings
Home Cinema 720 Remote Control
Lens Throw and Lens Shift, Pixel Structure...
SDE and Rainbow Effect
Epson Home Cinema 720 Projector Brightness
Epson Home Cinema 720 Light Leakage
Epson Home Cinema 720 Audible Noise Levels
Home Cinema 720 Projector Screen Recommendations
Home Cinema 720 Calibration
Epson continues to use the same overall menu look and feel, that they've been using for a number of years. The menus change slightly, but Epson has a nice, logical system that is pretty easy to navigate.
The first menu is the Picture menu, shown here. The first item is the Color mode which when selected brings up a menu showing the seven color modes, seen in the second image.
They are organized from top to bottom, pretty much by brightness. The brightest is Dynamic, then Living Room, and so on. Theater and Theater Black 1 are very close to each other in brightness. I'm not sure about sRGB, I ignored that setting.
The Input Adjust lets you control brightness and contrast, as well as white and black levels.
Further down on the Picture menu is Color Adjustment. Here's where you find the controls for gamma, RGB, and RGBCMY, all shown below.
The next main menu, is the Image menu.
The Settings menu, shown here controls keystone correction, various user controls like adding a personalized logo, as well as projection mode (front, rear, ceiling, etc.)
Inside the Settings menu, is the Operation sub-menu, shown below. the Operations menu includes a sleep mode (to shut down the projector when there's no active source), the 12 volt screen trigger control, child lock, and the high altitude fan mode.
HC720 User Memory Settings
Wow, once again, Epson leads the pack. There are nine savable memory settings! That should keep everyone in the world satisfied. When you modify the settings for, say, Living Room mode, it will put that in one of the memories, and name it Living Room.
HC720 Projector - Remote Control
Epson provides a very nice remote control. Overall, one of the better ones out there. The backlight is nice and bright, and there are plenty of direct access buttons to keep you from needing to go to the main menus.
Starting at the top, as usual, there is a larger green, backlit On button, and a smaller, slightly recessed off button (press only once for off). Next comes the Memory button, which brings up the choice of the nine savable memory settings. To its right is the Color Mode button, which brings up the choice of the color presets (ie. Theater Black 1, Living Room, Dynamic, etc.). With both of these buttons, you get a list.
The next row has the Menu button, and to its right, an Aspect ratio button that works like the two above.
Below all that is the classic menu navigation setup, with the four arrow keys in a round configuration, with a center Enter button, and the Escape button which takes you back a level, is to the right of the down arrow.
Next come the six choices for Source, each with a discreet button.
The bottom area offers six buttons for direct access, respectively to Gamma control, Contrast, Color Temp. and Skin Tone. The lowest two bring up Test Pattern and Screen Blanking.
Way down at the very bottom of the Epson HC720 remote control is the backlight button. The backlight button will turn off automatically 10 seconds after the last button is pressed.
Bottom line: The Epson Home Cinema 720 remote is nicely sculpted to fit in your hand, easy to use with only one hand, has a bright backlight, and the buttons are very nicely spaced, with lots of room between them. Even those with super-sized hands should like this one!
HC720 Lens Throw and Lens Shift
It doesn't get any better than this. The manual zoom lens has a 2.1:1 range, a touch more than the 2:1 found on most other 3LCD home theater projectors and many times the range of most DLP projectors it competes with. For a 100" diagonal screen, the projector can be as close as (measured from screen to front of the lens) as 10.4 feet and as far back as 22.2 feet. That means if you desire, you can shelf mount in the back of most rooms (depending on room length and screen size, of course).
HC720 SDE and Rainbow Effect, Pixel Visibility
As a 3LCD projector (3 separate LCD panels), the Epson HC720 does not have a color wheel, and therefore cannot cause the rainbow effect.
SDE, or screen door effect, on the other hand, is getting a finely distorted image, caused with the pixel structure of the projector interacts with fine details of the image, giving a pattern similar to looking through a screen door. The less visible and smaller (smaller as in higher resolution - as with higher resolution projectors), the less likely that it is detectable. The solution normally is to sit far enough back so that the pixel structure of the projector becomes completely invisible. Most, though sit just far enough back that the pixel structure is really only visible on signage - things like white text credits, and the kind of overlays you see with scores, and info on sporting events). While 720p LCD projectors, LCD panels have improved over the years, allowing you to sit closer. Let's say that if you have a 100" screen, that limited visibility is going to be there if you sit closer than about 1.5 times screen width (that would be about 130 inches on a 100" diagonal screen, which is 87" wide).
I have been viewing the Epson much closer than that - 12.5 feet back filling my entire 128" screen, which is approximately 110" wide. Theoretically, that would be just over 15 feet. I found the viewing to be fine. I never noticed any screen door effect watching football and other content - and football grass is definitely one place where you usually can spot it. At my distance, I could, however make out the pixel structure in those credits and other signage, and even in large stationary white areas, such as a large cloud, but you really have to be looking for it, to see it in all but the signage. Bottom line, a typical good 3LCD projector in this regard. If you never want to see pixel structure and not sit 1.5 times width or further back, look to DLP projectors, or the Panasonic PT-AX200U, which uses their Smooth Screen technology, but produces a softer looking image (which some will say is also more film like).
Click on the thumbnail image here, for a large version of this highly cropped dts logo. The width of the cropped image is roughly 15% of the fully uncropped image. In the large image, you can see the pixel structure that I describe. Finding the same image on a 720p DLP (or that Panasonic PT-AX200U), will show less visible pixel structure, and if you compare with any 1080p projector, it will be even less visible on those.
HC720 Projector Brightness
I can start by saying the Epson is generally well endowed when it comes to lumens. Because it is one of the brightest projectors, I'll start with Dynamic mode, its brightest. While this mode is anything but color accurate, it really does cut right through the ambient light, and with a little tuning, you can much improve picture quality with only a small loss of lumens.
Dynamic mode measured a healthy 1613 lumens with the lens set in the center position. I don't measure closest and furthest zoom positions separately, but you can figure roughly 30% less for maximum zoom (smallest image from a given distance), and 30% more for full wide angle. So, even on long telephoto, the projector should kick out over 1100 lumens, and produce more than 2000 in closest position (wide-angle).
Epson, like most, pushes up green, as well as other things for their dynamic mode. I usually don't bother creating a "better" brightest mode, but in this case, I decided to see if I could get a much better looking image without sacrificing lots of lumens. You'll find those settings below in the Calibration section.
The retuned Dynamic mode was still very bright for a home theater projector, outputting 1337 lumens!
OK, now that we have brightest, out of the way, I'll list most of the others, starting with best mode:
Theater Black 1: 371 lumens - This is technically the best movie watching mode (and quietest), although many people who aren't perfectionists may prefer slightly brighter modes that don't sacrifice significant picture quality.
BTW, after I fine tuned Theater Black 1 mode, it actually was about 12 lumens brighter.
Theater Mode: Unlike Theater Black 1, the fan runs louder. Surprisingly it wasn't significantly brighter, measuring 392 lumens.
Natural mode, did much better in terms of brightness, with 476 lumens.
That takes us to Living Room mode, which for some reason was a real mess from a color temperature standpoint. As such, I won't bother you with the lumen rating at default Living Room mode. However, I spent some time and significantly improved the picture quality. And, to my amazement, after adjustment, the Living Room mode ended up siginficantly brighter as well.
The final number for Living Room Mode: 929 lumens!
I don't measure the sRGB mode as few will ever use it, and on most HT projectors that have it, they have very limited controls. There is also a Theater Black 2 mode, which per the manual is best primarily for black and white movies. I didn't measure, but it is probably similar or a touch lower to Theater Black 2.
Here is a sequence of the same image, (from Casino Royale, Blu-ray), taken at the same exposure, to show the relative brightness difference between the various Color mode presets. As a result the darker modes are dark, the brighter ones appear much brighter:
Note: remember this is for comparing brightness, because the lower ones are brighter, they are overexposed and washed out looking. You can also see each mode correctly exposed, in the Image Quality section.
Theatre Black 1:
HC720 Projector - Light Leakage
It does leak light, both out the lens (especially if using a lot of lens shift - not surprisingly), and from the front vents. Neither is a real problem. With a pitch black scene on your screen (and white walls), you'll be able to see it, but in all likelyhood you won't notice it. After all, you are watching a movie... not a projector.
The light from the vent, even less of an issue, unless you have the projector on a table and are sitting just slightly in front, and a couple feet to the side. Then you might just notice the low light out of the corner of your eye. On the other hand, if you are sitting right there, you'll almost certainly notice the hot air coming out the exhaust more than the light.
The bottom line is that light leakage from the Epson certainly shouldn't be a deal breaker for anyone. (Yes, I know there are a few of you out there, that will care, but you probably already know who you are.)
HC720 Audible Noise Levels
Always the achilles heel of Epson Home Cinema projectors. Ok, that's extreme. Achilles died because of his unprotected heel.
Normally you expect 3LCD projectors to be the quietest, then LCoS typically just a touch noisier, and finally DLP's being the noisiest.
The Epson in its two quiet modes - Theater Black 1 and 2, is fairly quiet. Epson quotes 26db, which is very believable. The quietest LCD projectors are down around 20db, and essentially silent unless you a foot or so away.
When the Epson is in any of the other modes, however, it is rated 33db, which is the range typical of DLP projectors when they are in their brighter modes.
Bottom line, fine in the Theater Black modes, and a bit noisy in the others. No worse than the DLP competition, but for those particularly adverse to fan noise, the Epson is probably a bit noisier than will make them happy. Think of it this way; if the projector is 4+ feet away from your ears, even in high power mode, it's almost certainly going to be a little quieter than the fan noise when your hot air heat, or air conditioning is running.
Bottom line: The vast majority just won't notice the fan noise; it will blend into the background. Think sitting in the kitchen. You probably don't notice the sound your refrigerator is making except with its motor first starts up, or shuts down. Then you notice the change. Same idea.
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HC720 Projector Screen Recommendations
For those looking for the holy grail of great black levels, I'll recommend a high contrast light gray surface, to lower black levels. Of course if you have a particularly large screen - say over 120", the overall image isn't as bright as smaller sizes, and you may opt for a white surface.
For most people who are less critical of black levels, your choice is probably best based on other things - screen size overall, wall color (light or dark), and ambient light issues (HC gray screens are great for eliminating from your viewing a certain amount of ambient light coming from the side). Thus, if you have windows on your side walls that leak light, or sconces on the side walls, the HC gray surfaces are a good solution.
If you do a lot of viewing of HDTV/TV/Sports as well as movies, and do have good control of your lighting, you may well want to stick with white surface with gain, such as the Carada Brilliant White, one of Da-lites white surfaces, Elite Screens white surfaces, etc.
A good compromise, that I did like, was using my Elite HC gray surface (reviewed). I found the Elite to have good gain for a light gray surface, and the HC (high contrast) wasn't all that high contrast. That gives you a little protection against side ambient lighting, and lowers black levels slightly. Da-lite's Cinemavision HC would be another alternative, for a bit more money. My Firehawk (HC gray) works great, but since almost any of their screens costs at least 50% more than the Epson, I doubt that many will spring for it!
HC720 Projector Measurements and Calibration
The Epson HC720 is a bit of an odd projector. Overall, in most modes, color temperature (grayscale balance) is very tight from white (100 IRE) down to dark gray (30 IRE). That's a very good thing, and it does this better than almost all of its direct competition.
Countering that, however, is that the color temperatures are typically not exactly where they should be. You should expect modes for movie watching to be at D65 (6500K), while modes for TV and sports more in the 7500K to 8000K range.
This Epson's color temps were not where they should be.
The first thing to note, however, is that there is a color temperature mode in the menus and directly accessible from the remote. In most cases (Living Room being the noteworthy exception), adjusting the color temperature setting took care of most of the inaccuracy. Of course, I still tuned the individual red green and blue to get even better results. Here's what I found:
Theater Black 1 mode: default settings except color temp dropped from default 7000K to 6500K.
White (100 IRE): 6797K
Light gray (80 IRE): 6938K
Medium gray (50 IRE): 6869K
Low gray (30 IRE): 6963K
All numbers are very close to each other (about as close as any projector gets), but still on avearage over 400K too high.
I then tried dropping color temp to 6000 and that lowered the average temperature to a little more than 6300K. Very good, but a tad warm. My personal belief is that most prefer (for movie watching), that if their projector's color temp is a little off, that it be cooler (blue) rather than too red.
Theater Black 1 final adjustments: Color Temperature 6500K,
Offset: Red 5, Green 0, Blue -1
Gain: Red 5, Green 0, Bule -1 (yes both sets are the same)
And here are my final measurements for Theater Black 1 based on those settings:
White (100 IRE): 6675K
Light gray (80 IRE): 6524K
Medium gray (50 IRE): 6458K
Low gray (30 IRE): 6522K
I should also note, that green was almost perfect across the whole range.
Theater (I did not adjust)
White (100 IRE): 6982K
Light gray (80 IRE): 6581K
Medium gray (50 IRE): 6380K
Low gray (30 IRE): 6508K
Note, green was a a bit weak on white, shifting to a bit strong in dark gray, not a serious shift, and easily correctable.
White (100 IRE): 6457K
Light gray (80 IRE): 6429K
Medium gray (50 IRE): 6388K
Low gray (30 IRE): 6345K
And again, green balance was excellent.
Why this one was so weird I have no idea: I was looking for results in the 7500 to 8000 range (no more than 8500K at any level), and this is what I found:
White (100 IRE): 8891K
Light gray (80 IRE): 10,940K
Medium gray (50 IRE): n/a
Low gray (30 IRE): over 14,000K
Living Room mode took major work. I implemented the following adjustments:
Color Temp = Offset: Red -3, Green 0, Blue -14, Gain: Red -6, Green 9, B -7
And that yielded:
White (100 IRE): 7142K
Light gray (80 IRE): 7669K
Medium gray (50 IRE): 8268K
Low gray (30 IRE): 8003K
And that looked pretty good, much better than the default.
White (100 IRE): 6576K
Light gray (80 IRE): 6636K
Medium gray (50 IRE): 6468K
Low gray (30 IRE): 6522K
Which looks like a great movie setting, except for two things: First, Dynamic modes are usually for ambient light situations - normally TV, etc., rather than movies, and second, Green is way out of wack, as is common for Dynamic modes, as most manufacturers boost green heavily to cut through ambient light and deliver more lumens.
So, I decided to tame Dynamic mode down a bit in brightness, and up a bit in color temperature, for an almost as bright, but better picture, and here's how:
Color Temp: 8000K, Offset: Red -2, Green 0, Blue 0, Gain: Red 2, Green 0, Blue, -2.
White (100 IRE): 7377K
Light gray (80 IRE): 7621K
Medium gray (50 IRE): 7754K
Low gray (30 IRE): 7804K
With these settings, green remains very strong (for that extra ummph) at 100 IRE, but tapers back to just being a slight bit high by 30 IRE.
HC720 Image Noise
No real issues here. Jaggies were very good, motion artifacts were minor, and background noise was very good, better than most of the competition, especially the DLPs.
This based on feeding the Epson HC720 480p from the standard HQV disc, and 1080i on the 1080 HQV disc. I did not try feeding it a 480i signal.