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Epson Pro Cinema 810 Black Levels and Shadow Detail

Posted on February 8, 2007 by Art Feierman

Epson Pro Cinema 810 Black Levels and Shadow Detail:

The combination of the latest LCD panel technology, plus a dynamic iris system allows Epson to claim an extremely impressive best contrast ratio of 10:000:1 (better than any DLP or LCD projector can do without a dynamic iris - or so I have been led to believe).

At its best, the Epson 810 produces very black blacks, and is very good on shadow detail (although not spectacular). I'll start with images that try to show you the blacks, then focus on shadow detail further down

Lots of stars above (more if I slightly overexpose the image - I do have other versions). More to the point the blacks have that almost "inky" quality, that despite only being very dark gray - yells out "blacks!"

Moving to HD-DVD, and Space Cowboys

OK, time to take a look at the effects of the dynamic iris. Let me start by repeating what I have said in other reviews. A dynamic iris opens and closes (with steps in the middle) on a frame by frame basis. Thus, on a dark scene without really bright areas, it can close way down, letting through less light, lowering the black levels, for the non-blacks in the image, their brightness values are "equalized" so that they remain as they should be, despite the drop in black levels.

The downside: If there is an extremely bright area in a frame, the iris can't close down at all, because you wouldn't be able keep the bright area as it is supposed to be. Net result - dynamic irises work best on scenes that are very dark throughout, with no bright, or near bright areas at all, still do well with scenes with more mid-range areas of brightness, and are essentially ineffective on scenes with full value whites or full intensity colors like a maximum brightness red, yellow, or any color. That's it in a nutshell, there is some fine tuning that can do a little in that scene with a pure bright area, but not much.

So, for your consideration:

This first image - of a star scene with no really bright objects (from The Fifth Element), taken with the iris turned off.

The second image, below, same scene - Iris turned on, and the same exact exposure. The blacks just got visibly blacker, the "brighter areas - stars, etc. remain essentially unchanged, resulting in a visibly more striking image.

Lastly, what happens if the same scene has some areas that are very bright? To trick the projector, all I had to do, was press the menu button. By putting the menu on the screen, the projector's dynamic iris reacts to this new scene, can't close down (for fear of making the menu - which it can't tell from the DVD content - too dark.

The end result, the blacks are not as black as the 2nd image.

And that's the short version of the story about dynamic irises.

Of course, if you have lousy black levels (and by any measure, the Epson's are pretty good), your blacks and very dark colors come out much lighter than they should, and therefore slightly brighter areas with information - shadow details - get lost since both the blacks and the details end up the same value (brightness).

Let's look at some of my favorite images, starting with the cavern scene in HD-DVD from Phantom of the Opera. You'll find these images on most reviews done in the last 6 months.

Both images can be clicked on for larger versions. The first is a normal exposure, you can see plenty of details in the walls, but due to camera limitations, not the projector's fault, details are lost in the darkest areas, including the far right wall. To see what the projector really is capable of, I reshoot the same image but overexpose it. Thus, the bright areas are way too bright, but now you can see all the details that the projector was projecting, in the walls, horse, and other very dark areas:

Here are another pair (normal and overexposed), this time from standard DVD, Lord of the rings: Especiallly note the details in the shed area on the right and along the bottom of the image:

And a few more images that are good at revealing shadow details:

Three from Sin City (a very dark movie, with lots of black and white or sepia, with spot color added for effect.) it is an excellent test of black levels and shadow detail. Standard DVD:

Phantom, again: This time from the beginning which appears in black and white.

This last image is from Aeon Flux (again - HD-DVD). The Epson does a very good job of revealing shadows and slightly lighter areas on the dark table top. In summary, black levels are extremely good for an LCD projector, and on the right scenes can rival Darkchip3 powered DLP projectors. Shadow details are perfectly acceptable, and I would say, very good, for a projector in this class.

Epson Pro Cinema 810 Projector - Sharpness:

Ahh, much improved over the old Pro Cinema 800, in fact, the sharpness is very impressive. The lens is obviously very good. I compared images shot with the Sanyo Z5 and Panasonic AX100U. The Epson has it all over the PT-AX100U. Compared to the Sanyo, the Sanyo sharpening algorithms create what looks sharper, but gives a jagged look to fine shapes and curves. The Epson is a bit softer and definitely more pleasing, it's that "film-like" feel. Of course, the pixel structure is more visible than a DLP projector, but pixels are definitely less obvious than, say the Sanyo. (The Panasonic PT-AX100U has virtually invisible pixels but pay the price in softness.

Let's take a look.

The first image is a closeup of the necklace in Phantom. Click to enlarge enlarge any of these images.

Next is a closeup of the Cable guide on my HD-cable box.

and immediately below a shot of the gulde on the Sanyo PLV-Z5. When you click on the full screen image below you'll get a closeup similar to the image above.

Here are a couple of HD images from Aeon Flux, the first can be found on a number of reviews, the second one I'm just starting to play with, and the enlargement is cropped for a closer look. All are good for getting a good feel for the Epson's image sharpness. On the first one, look at her hair, eyes, and brows.

Lastly for sharpness, a look at the Warner Brothers emblem, also found on a number of reviews: Click for the enlarged closeup.

Oops, here are two morer: Click on this HD-DVD image from Italian Job for a cropped enlargement - look to the sign by the lamppost, and texture in the pillars and buildings for readability and detail:

And finally, one more for considering sharpness:

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