Epson Pro Cinema 800 Home Theater Projector - Image Quality
The Epson Pro Cinema 800 excells at image quality. First, and most significantly, right out of the box, the color is excellent, with great flesh tones, rich saturated colors, and for those with large screens, needing to combat some ambient light, plenty of brightness.
Claiming 5000:1 contrast ratio, this Epson projector, relys on the typical "AI" or smart frame by frame type processing that other LCD projectors are now using. Like those other projectors, the claim can be misleading. In the past, the higher the contrast ratio, the "blacker the blacks", which translates to being able to resolve shadow detail in dark areas. In this regard, the LCD projectors still can't get as close to black as higher quality DLP projectors using the Darkchip3 DLP chip. Instead, if a scene is pretty dark with no very bright areas, these LCD projectors typically close down an iris, or dim the lamp or both. That's a great trick, but it doesn't work in scenes with both dark and very bright areas.
But getting back to the Epson Pro Cinema 800, it's black level performance appears to be slgithly better than the hot selling, lower cost LCD projectors, including the Sanyo Z4, Epson Cinema 550 and Panasonic AE900u. It also slightly outperformed them on my star scene test, with just a touch more stars visible on the black sky background.
What really sets this Epson home theater projector apart from the competition, is color accuracy. This should not be a surprise, since Epson labels the Pro Cinema 800 as being ISF Calibrated, that is, the color saturation, contrast, brightness, and accuracy have been set following the formal ISF standards. Now, normally when we talk about calibrating a projector, we refer to calibrating a specific projector, not thousands of identical projectors. There will be slight differences from one projector to the next, and this is normally the result of variance from lamp to lamp. But wait, even calibrating your own projector, the lamp's output will dim, and there are likely to be minor color shifts to the lamps output as it ages.
Considering all of that, the bottom line is how good is this Epson's color. The most striking thing I can say, is that when I first hooked it up, and viewed some Hi-Def football, and a couple of movies (The Fifth Element, Lord of the Rings), I was immediately impressed in that I found the color to be "right on", or at least, as close as I could expect. There is more variation in color from DVD to DVD, and channel to channel than any error I experienced with the Epson projector.
Here are a couple of images, shot in the Epson's Cinema Night mode and Silverscreen mode presets, using the default color settings, without any adjustments, starting with this image of Bruce Willis (above) from The Fifth Element:
In the image directly above, of the Chancellor in Star Wars II, not only can you appreciate the flesh tone colors, but also note detail in the bright background. My digital camera, cannot capture the full dynamic range of the projector's image (or any projector's image for tha tmatter), but, both highlight and shadow detail is excellent, although, the Epson, great on shadow details does lose some highlight details, as seen in the next two images. The first, my new test scene for highlight detail, from Star Wars, is from the Epson. Immediately below it, is an image from Marantz's VP12S4, a $14,500 single chip DLP, and one of the very best out there. In that case you can see the loss of detail on the Panasonic in the bright areas outside the window.
On the other hand, the Epson actually outperformed the much more expensive Marantz projector on shadow detail as seen in this side by side image, with the Epson on the left. You can see all kinds of details in the rock walls on the lower right, (and other details), on the Epson that are just gone, on the Marantz (right):
While we're looking at dark scenes, crank up your monitor to look at the star scenes from Star Wars. First, is the Epson (left) vs the Panasonic PT-AE900u (right). While the intensity varies between the two projectors on different stars, the two projectors produce a virtually identical amount of stars.
Here is a larger image, of the same shot on the left, which gives you a better idea of how rich the Epson's image is, with stars:
I might also note that when viewing the stars compared to the Panasonic, they are sharper and more defined on the Epson.
More on image sharpness further down the page!
Colors are equally good on Hi-Def sources (either HDTV channels, from my cable, or my D-VHS tape deck (1080i).
Here's a shot from the Hawaiian Tropic Pagent:
Below is the Philadephia Boathouses image from Hi-Def 1080i, from the Over America D-VHS tape:
The Epson Pro Cinema 800 home theater projector's sharpness, is excellent. The less expensive Cinema 550, is not quite as sharp (slight differences) compared to the Sanyo Z4, and Panasonic, but the Pro Cinema 800 produces images sharper than the less expensive models. That said, there are still sharper projectors out there, including the much more expensive Marantz VP12S4 and BenQ's expensive PE-8720.
Perhaps the best way to show the differences - here is a side by side, comparing the Epson (left) to the Panasonic PT-AE900u (right). Immediately below that image are two closeups of the woman and her hat. You can clearly see the extra sharpness of the Epson 800.
Epson 800. Note the silver band on the hat, and especially the three silver bars below the band, toward the left.
Now, by comparison, here is a side-by-side image from Star Wars, where you can see that the Epson, on the left, is not as sharp on the grasses, as the Marantz on the right (of course the $15,000 Marantz probably has about as much invested in its lens, as the entire cost of the Epson:
BTW (by the way), the slight loss of highlight detail in the clouds in the upper right, on the Epson (left) is due to the Epson being brighter than the Marantz. For the Marantz not to be significantly underexposed, this shot slightly overexposes the Epson, causing that loss. Also I upped the contrast and brightness of the above image after taken, to make the sharpness differences a bit easier to see.
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The Epson Pro Cinema 800 projector, is nothing, if not a bright, home theater projector. It is visibly brighter in its bright modes than the Panasonic PT-AE900u, the Marantz VP-12S4, and its closest competition, the Optoma H78DC3 (Darkchip 3 DLP technology). Perhaps the best proof are the following two side by side images, the first compared to the Marantz, the second to the Panasonic PT-AE900u projector.
The football game image on the right was shot with significant ambient light in the room - 4 recessed ceiling lights (50 watts each) are on (although none directly hit the screen). The image is bright enough that the rest of the room still appears very dark in this shot, but the room is bright enough to read a newspaper.
But first, who cares? Most people! Anyone going for the really large screen, such as my own 128" diagonal Firehawk, will appreciate the extra gain, But for most of you considering a home theater projector, the major advantage of the Epson's brightness, is its ability to deal with a little ambient light when watching movies, and even more significant, dealing with more than a little ambient light, as many of you prefer when watching "TV" (hopefully HDTV), notably sports, but almost any subject. And gamers, the extra brightness will thrill Playstation and XBox enthusiasts.
The comparison to the Marantz image above has both projectors in their brightest modes. Note, in real life the difference isn't as great as this photo indicates, but it is still rather significant.
The image below, compared to the Panasonic PT-AE900u projector (again Epson 800 on the left), shows a less significant difference. The Epson is in it's Cinema Night mode, the Panasonic in Cinema 2.
There is real demand out there for bright home theater projectors, not everyone wants a smaller screen, or can fully darken their room, or even have dark walls. The Epson excels at handling situations demanding more "horsepower" (lumens).
That said, it's not the brightest home theater projector around. Sanyo is just starting to ship their new PLV80, which claims almost double the Epson, with 3000 lumens. There's a price to pay, though, the Sanyo looks to command an extra $2000 more.
Bottom line. This Epson in almost every way relating to image quality, not only surpasses lower cost LCD projectors, but is also strong competition with the only Darkchip3 DLP HT projector in its price range, Optoma's H78DC3, which definitely has better black levels, and less visible pixels, but isn't as bright, and definitely lacks the color accuracy of the Epson (the H78DC3 needs to be calibrated, be it with a basic consumer disk, or a full professional one.
What else is important - how about ergonomics. Click on the General Performance link and read about the remote control, menu system, noise levels, and much more.