Posted on December 11, 2020 By Art Feierman
In this part of the review let’s consider a number of features, some special, some very special. You’ll find sections on: The smarts – Android system, Bright –laser engine, 4000 lumens, Built-In Audio, Home Screens, Making Memories, ARC and CEC (important), the unusual Mute feature, and Child Lock/eye protection, and also one on CFI – smooth motion – or lack thereof. And, finally, 3D!
Like many competitors, Epson’s LS500 relies on the Android operating system. It’s been around, is reliable, and many of us are already familiar with the overall android universe. Epson provides the Android smarts on a stick that installs in the front of the projector. Just remove the magnetically attached cloth front, attach as directed, replace the front, and you are ready to configure to your WiFi, and start streaming.
Google Assistant is available for voice control, from a button on the remote control. You can search for content by genre, name, actors, directors, etc. That’s within the Android system. Google Assistant cannot control the projector or search for content from your satellite/cable, etc. Works great, though for finding content.
Interesting: If you hit the Google Assistant button on the Epson remote, while you are watching content from HDMI 1 or 2, the projector will automatically switch to HDMI 3 used by the Android stick. You can use Google Assistant to control some of the projectors’ capabilities, but also to search streaming for content, and all the other G/A stuff. Just press the Google Assistant button on the remote.
Epson’s 4000 lumens claimed brightness comes from a 3 LCD panel design, combined with Epson’s laser engine and optics put an impressively bright image on the screen. I’ve now reviewed “laser TV” and commercial UST laser projectors from just about every major brand out there, and some newer names, except for the just announced two Samsung USTs. (I haven’t seen those yet, and understand, it’s been more than a decade since Samsung offered projectors).
This Epson LS500 is one of the brightest of all of them in real world use.. The Epson projector definitely appears significantly brighter than the VAVA, and the Optoma P1. I reviewed the LG LU85 in a different location. That was one of the brighter ones too. Since I viewed them in very different environments (different rooms, lighting, Only the VAVA and this Epson were reviewed using a 120” diagonal UST/ALR screen, for all the rest I used a different 100” UST/ALR screen).
Bottom line on the Laser Engine and Light Path. Plenty of horsepower compared to most of the competition. That the Epson produces some reasonably good color in its brightest mode, something most others don’t do near as well, provides that extra wall-melting brightness when it is really needed. For that reason, I can enjoy, for example reasonably good color watching sports where the competition is likely to have worse color trying to match the Epson.
The audio of the Epson was one of it’s least impressive aspects. While there’s more than enough volume for my open floorplan living room, there’s not much to spare. There is little serious bass, but if you have owned large LCD TVs without sound bars, this Epson is still probably better. It could be better still, though, if Epson had allowed the internal speakers to play, while the audio out is live. In that case, you would have been able to add a small subwoofer for better low end. Alas, this is a useful feature I’ve encouraged many manufacturers to include, but few have implemented. Too bad. (HiSense has a model that ships with a sub-woofer that was reviewed previously).
That said, I was more impressed with the audio of several of the others, including the VAVA, the Optoma P1, and LG HU85LA in terms of overall better sound. Still none of them is a serious challenge to a decent AV Receiver and speakers. I would love to see manufacturers more readily offer great audio to go with their great picture.
Most importantly, if you don’t already have a stereo or AV system, getting one will up your experience greatly. Even a very good home theater in a box, HTIB ($500 and up), will massively up the sonic experience, and I highly recommend! And, of course, you can spend far more, if you are into music and concerts.
Bottom Line on Audio: Respectable, but no match for even a modestly priced audio system. If you really want your audio experience to rival your big screen visual experience, I recommend buying a sound system.
The Epson LS500 has an Android OS Home Screen (that was a bit of a surprise, because many Epson projectors have Epson’s own multi-purpose Home Screen, but not the LS500). That means you need the provided Android OS stick installed in the projector to get the Home Screen. That’s fine as everyone is likely to install it.
One thing to note, since the Android OS is plugged into HDMI 3 (in the front), should you be watching content on HDMI 1 or 2. Hitting the Home Screen button will automatically switch the projector to HDMI 3 and display the customized Android Home Screen, so you can go to your favorite streaming…
When you hit the home button when on HDMI 3, expect it will take you to the Android OS home screen, and it will. Those familiar with Android – be it phones, tablets or computers, will be right at home, in Epson’s Android world.
BTW, should you not install the Android stick, the Home Screen button on the remote will do nothing.
Like most Epson projectors there are 10 savable memories for picture quality. That’s great and very useful for those that really want to optimize their LS500s. I am running two custom settings now, and modified (calibrated) Bright Cinema for SDR, and a calibrated Cinema Mode for HDR. I am creating a modified Dynamic, trying to reduce the too heavy yellow green – a bit without losing too many lumens, as a third saved setting. I can think of some variations, so that if I owned the LS500 I’d probably use about five.
CEC allows devices to control other devices. For example, on the projector in my home theater (not the LS500), I use the Epson remote to control my cable box, my 4K UHD Blu-ray player, and Apple TV. There are other benefits as well. The Epson supports CEC and ARC both.
ARC is a critical feature if you want to use your projector, or TV, with a stereo or AV receiver and speakers, for better sound quality, specifically when you are streaming from the display, in this case, the LS500. With ARC, as an example, if I put a movie on from Netflix, or Disney+ on the LS500, the ARC sends the audio to the AV receiver instead of the projector’s internal speakers. Thanks to ARC, on my receiver and the Epson LS500, I am able to enjoy the sound part of streamed content played through the Epson’s Android OS, to my stereo system. There’s a night and day difference in sound quality.
For clarity, ARC is needed to send the audio back on the HDMI cable normally used to send the picture to the projector from the source (cable, disc, etc.) via the receiver. That cable is plugged into the AV receiver into the HDMI output, since its primary job is to deliver the picture and sound to the display.
You do not need ARC to play the audio from those other sources on your sound system, ARC is a Return Channel – the Audio can go in either direction as is necessary.
ARC btw can be a pain getting it working. I have an Anthem receiver, which is higher-end, and not near as “standard” as typical receivers like Denon and Marantz. It’s also not a smart AV receiver. Getting it working right ended up with me talking to Anthem support. My issue proved to be with the receiver settings, as I was having the same exact problem with my LG OLED TV. Ultimately, I have ARC working, so that I’m listening to most content through my larger audio system.
Most projectors, TVs, and other devices have a feature or two missing, or that I don’t like, and that includes this Epson.
This Epson has one particularly annoying feature as far as I’m concerned. It may not bother you, but it will annoy a lot of folks. It occasionally drives me crazy:
The Mute button mutes both sound and picture. Here’s my issue: I’m watching a football game. My phone rings.
What I want to do is mute the sound, and leave the game running.
No can do!
The LS500 mute button mutes sound and picture with no options or work arounds if you are streaming on the Epson. If you are watching say, cable or satellite on the projector, then the remote for those devices will likely have a mute, which may or may not work in this situation depending on the device’s design. Other devices like Blu-ray players may or may not have a mute.
To make matters worse, the volume up and down on the Epson isn’t fast. If the volume is set fairly high (as will normally be the case), it can take 10 seconds to lower the volume all the way down. Or, it takes 4-6 seconds to get it low, so you can talk on the call.
I even reached out to Epson, confirming that there is no work arounds, that would allow audio mute only. I suggested that the next projector offer the option.
Bottom Line on the AV Mute: I don’t like it, and many others won’t. Not the end of the world, however. Epson should “fix this” I would be very surprised if they couldn’t add a menu option to only mute the audio. Epson – please!!!
Most laser TVs, including the LG, and VAVA, the last two I reviewed, have an eye protection feature that turns off the laser light engine if you lean into the image, for safety. Let’s call that eye protection. Most have an open slot that the light comes out of. The Epson is less susceptible to leaning over and looking into the light because of its design, but it is certainly still possible for a child to do so.
Epson lacks the detect feature to turn off the light engine, so, instead relies on a Child Lock feature. This prevents a small child from pressing the power button on the unit, and powering it up. The remote still works as normal, and for the adults there’s an easy trick to turning it on from the unit (hold power down for 3-4 seconds), but that doesn’t really solve the laser/eye/bright problem. I fear that a family can be watching the laser TV, and the parent leaves the room for a few minutes. A child could still lean over the projector and look into the light. Normally that’s damaging enough – looking into the lens of a projector, but using a laser light source almost certainly further increases the risk of eye damage. So, keep an eye on the kids! And don’t ever look into the lens.
Sometimes it’s about missing special features, and that’s the case here. I’m not a big fan of CFI – aka smooth motion. Personally, I sometimes use it for sports (and then, usually the lowest setting available). I always recommend not using CFI (creative frame interpolation) for movies.
To me, the lack of CFI is a minor thing. It should be noted though, that many competing Laser TVs do offer it. Why Epson skipped CFI, in a projector that they see as attractive to sports fans, I can’t figure.
There are a number of other features worth discussing, but these above, are some worth considering. I considered doing a section on the laser engine specifics, but, decided to focus on the end result, rather than the tech.
The Epson LS500 supports 3D, which is true of just about all Epson home projectors. I’ve been watching 3D for far more than a decade, and a lot of it on older Epson’s I have owned. Epson does a great job on 3D. But the LS500 does not come with 3D glasses. That said, they are very available and affordable these days so buy a few pair, have a 3D party.
I only watched one more – Alice in Wonderland with Johnny Depp. Very trippy, and much fun. The 3D showed almost no ghosting at all, so that I really only noticed when looking for it.
I also put on 5 minutes of Avatar, just to be totally wowed. I was!
Bottom line on 3D: It’s a blast, enjoy. Too bad 3D is going out of style again, and there’s no 4K standard. Hopefully 3D will be big again, in revitalizing the movie theater industry, since those tiny 77″ and 65″ and 32″ TVs don’t offer 3D at all, anymore.
There are many more features, of course, some of which will be discussed in the hardware, and picture quality sections.
Next Up: Hardware
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