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Epson Home Cinema 1440 Projector - Picture Quality

Posted on December 28, 2015 by Art Feierman
HOME CINEMA 1440 PROJECTOR - PICTURE QUALITY:  Out of the box picture, Skin Tones, Black Levels and Shadow Detail

HC1440 Out of the box color

The Epson Home Cinema 1440 has some pretty impressive color, right out of the box, with no adjustments needed.  Overall, in Cinema mode, the best mode, color temp stayed in a range from 6469 in the medium dark range to 6861K doing white.  Overall the range is a bit over 400K of color temp, not the best we've seen "out of the box" but very good, and overall just the slightest bit "cool."

More important than the numbers is the picture itself.  Skin tones are pleasing, blue skies have the right shades of blue, green grass on a proper football field looks naturally green.

Almost all of the images in this review were taken with the mode set to Cinema.  A few of the football images though were done using Bright Cinema, which, incidentally is actually a touch less bright than Cinema, but appears a bit lower in gamma for a brighter mid-range and a bit more punch overall, perhaps due to a slightly high contrast default setting.

Dynamic mode is by far the brightest, and has a bit too much yellow green, but not bad.  Interestingly white measures warmer in Dynamic mode than Cinema, indicating that this Epson is using a "warm" native lamp.  Until recent years lamps tended to have color temps in the 10,000K plus range, but warmer lamps are gaining in popularity.

Save Dynamic mode for when you need every last lumen, but know that even in those circumstances color's not bad at all.  It is, for example a good deal better, less yellow-green added, than you would find in the dynamic mode of the Epson Home Cinema 5030UB.

At the end of the day, though, we don't expect you to calibrate this projector, and even if you did, the changes would be slight.  The single thing you can probably do to improve the picture is to lower the contrast setting slightly, as it is crushing near whites (highlight detail).

Epson's Four Picture Modes

All of these images in the entire review are using the default color settings, whether in Cinema, or Bright Cinema mode.  Note that the Game mode is the warmest, which I found surprising.  As mentioned in the Special Features page, the input lag times are respectable, not great, making this a good gaming projector for all but those hard core types demanding the absolute minimum in lag, the kind of folks who use custom gaming computers, for example.

The four images in this player show the four modes taken using the same exposure, so you are seeing the differences in both color and brightness between modes.

Bottom line on "out of the box" color:  Very satisfying, without any adjustments needed.  Color accuracy can be improved by few will care, since the overall improvements will be very modest.  Warming up the upper brightness ranges (50-100 IRE), ever so slightly, is all that's needed.

Home Cinema 1440 Projector - Handling Skin Tones

Since the color overall of this projector is extremely good right out of the box, as you would expect, so are the skin tones.  Check out the images above.  If there's an issue, it's that some appear over saturated. That, however is the result of the process, of shooting, compressing, transmitting, opening and viewing the images, rather than something visible when viewing the projector in action.

The last four images - of Daniel Craig as Bond in Casino Royale, as usual in our reviews, are there to demonstrate that skin tones are not a constant, they are affected by the lighting, which is designed to best resemble the scene, and influenced by the "director's intent.  Thus, Bond's skin looks very different under sunlight, night, fluorescent (airport), and filtered sunlight conditions.  Yet all look rather natural, which, of course is the desired goal of any projector.

Black Level and Dark Shadow Detail Performance: Epson HC1440

As you would expect from this projector, the emphasis in picture performance is based on brightness, not black levels.  If you plan to use a projector in a fully darkened cave or home theater, sure, you want great black level performance, but if you are doing the vast majority of your viewing in conditions with at least a small amount of ambient light, then black level performance is quickly washed out, dramatically reducing the difference - on screen - between projectors with acceptable black levels and those with great black levels.  Note the last image shows our test dark scene - the Bond night train, showing the impact of modest ambient light (just the rear, down facing lights on in my theater.)  Yet the impact of just a little ambient light is significant on a very dark scene, even with this projector outputting 2.5X to more than 6X the brightness of most home theater projectors.

In the images above, all are the HC1440 except the alternate bond night train scenes.  Most of those images are of projectors with "respectable, or adequate" black levels, but two are worthy of note:  The Optoma HD161X which is a DLP with much better black level performance, but far lower brightness, and a tendency to be a bit over contrasty.  The other is the Epson 5030UB/6030UB image.  This shows excellent black level performance but without an overly contrasty look to the picture.  Those two projectors are more geared for dedicated theater/cave environments.

The unlabeled bond train image (the 2nd one in the sequence) is the BenQ HT4050, which I recently reviewed.  It's a competing projector it has slightly better black levels, but isn't anywhere near as bright.

The last image above shows our Bond night train scene in color, with a fair amount of ambient light in the room (look to the sides of the screen, the speaker on the right, etc.  Although the ambient is affecting black levels and dark shadow detail of the HC1440, consider:  If we took the same shot with, say, an Epson 5030UB in THX mode, with it's  roughly 800 lumens, same ambient, the image would have been far more washed out.  The point being, that when there's more than minimal ambient light, a good light canon, will likely provide you a more watchable very dark scene, than a higher performance, lower brightness home theater projector.

There's enough ambient light in my theater, with my rear down facing lights as the only light source, to wipe out much of this scene on a "theater" projector in best mode, one that is putting out merely around 750 lumens (far more than enough for a 100" screen in a fully darkened room) instead of the over 3500 lumens this HC1440 is outputting.  That, folks, is roughly the difference between Epson's acclaimed  HC5030UB (known for great blacks) and the far brighter HC1440.  Under that much ambient light, the much brighter HC1440 would create a much easier picture to view, one with more dark shadow detail as well, than the 5030UB is capable of.  If the two projectors were of the same brightness, then the 5030UB would show the advantage of black levels, but, that's just not the reality.  The 5030UB's best "bright mode" is barely half as bright as Cinema on the HC1440, and "best mode" is less than 1/4th as bright.

Score the black level performance (even with the help of a pretty smooth dynamic iris) to be typical of a "brighter room" projector.  Just remember, if any - even minimal - lights are on, the big advantage of projectors with great black levels is quickly lost.

Dark shadow detail is good, but not exceptional.  There's plenty of detail there, but the lower contrast associated with ambient light, and with projectors with less than "home theater" black levels, tends to make the shadow detail present, a little harder to notice.

Bottom line:  Black levels and shadow detail are "respectable" for a high brightness projector for the home, but no match for serious dedicated "home theater" projectors selling above its price point.  If you always have at least a little ambient light, then the HC1440 fits your bill.  If you really can provide a fully darkened room, say at night for your movie viewing pleasure, then you might find another projector - even another Epson, a bit more suitable.  There are always trade-offs.  The strength of the HC1440 though is having the brightness to look very good in conditions where most projectors fail!

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