- Black levels (they're good, but, definitely not great)
- Very good selection of inputs
- Control panel
- Lamp life
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.
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.
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.