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Epson Home Cinema 8500UB, Pro Cinema 9500UB - A First Look Projector Review

UPDATE: The Epson Home Cinema 8500UB and Pro Cinema 9500UB review has been posted. Greetings home theater projector fans. OK, here's what I've got for you.  I received a sample (no, not production) of the Epson Pro Cinema 9500UB projector.  For those of you not familiar with Epson's projector marketing, they have the Home Cinema 8500UB sold through authorized online dealers and local dealers to0.  The Pro Cinema 9500UB, which is virtually identical, on the other hand is sold only through local installing dealers.  The Home Cinema 8500UB is finished in an off white, the Pro Cinema 9500UB has a dark charcoal case. Other differences:  The Pro Cinema 9500UB supports 3rd party anamorphic lenses, is ISF certified, comes with an extra year warranty, and the various color modes have different names. Essentially, therefore, this blog, and the full review next week, will cover both projectors.  There should be no actual performance differences - in terms of picture quality or brightness.  Oh yes, one more difference - the Pro Cinema 9500UB will be more expensive.  Typically the "Pro" version, each year, comes bundled with ceiling mount and spare lamp, but, nothing's official yet. There's a lot of conjecture right now about what the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB will sell for.  This is due to the industry surprise last week, when Panasonic announced it's PT-AE4000 at $1999 MAP, down about $500 from last year's PT-AE3000, and lower than most expected.   As it is, the Epson was originally supposed to have a MAP price "under $3000", but now there's a lot of guesswork, as to what the official price will be in a couple of weeks when it ships.  (BTW, my best guess would be $2500 - the Epsons historically have commanded a higher price than the Panasonics.  Of course a lot of you have been waiting for this blog to figure if that will be true this year as well. I've only had the 9500UB here for 2+ days.  Mike was able to pick it up to measure and  calibrate the 9500UB  less than two hours after it arrived, and he eturned it later Wednesday night.  (Yeah, too bad I was at a Bob Dylan concert, and didn't get to fire it up until 2am, or I might have gotten this posted this afternoon - forgive me!) OK, some basics re the 9500UB - and 8500UB - relating to Mike's measurements, etc. Brightness, once again, is similar to last year's.  Mike actually measured the 9500UB as a touch brighter than last year's 6500UB, but only by a few lumens.  Given, this is a sample, it measured 498 lumens in best mode, with the zoom lens at mid-point, as we always measure. .  It's possible (and likely) that production units will be a bit brighter, but no guaranties. When it comes to brightest mode, the new Epsons are very bright, Mike measured a nice 1316 lumens (mid-point zoom) in Vivid mode (that's the brightest, on the 9500UB.  Vivid is called Dynamic on the 8500UB).  That makes 1718 lumens with the lens at wide angle (projector at closest).  And that many lumens makes it the brightest of any of the under $4000 projectors I can think of - with one caveat.  The Epson actually has some pretty good color in Vivid/Dynamic mode (minor calibration improves it still).  This is unlike last year's projectors, which were a touch brighter, but had way too much green in brighest mode.  (We ended up with about 1450 lumens with decent color, but the 9500UB definitely has better color still, in its brightest mode. BTW the Epson's this year, are apparently the first lower cost projectors to ship, that are THX certified.  (The first THX certified projectors appeared about 18 months ago, and were all extremely expensive Runco and Vidikron 3 chip DLP projectors.) The Pro Cinema 9500UB's THX mode, when comparing the 3 "best" modes, turns out to be the best of them, and as Mike put it, needed only the minimum in calibration. For those of you rushing out to compare the 9500UB / 8500UB brightness with the Panasonic PT-AE4000, if you have read Evan's review, it looks like they are pretty close, but with the Epson (as usual) having the advantage.  Still this year, it doesn't look like the Epson has as big an advantage as last year.   I do believe Evan is measuring the brightest point (at least it reads that way), which is full wide angle.  He mentions that the Panny drops 41% from 548 lumens when in full telephoto - thus only 323 lumens, with lamp on full.   With the Epson, in terms of full telephoto, the 498 (since that's at midpoint) lumens drops about 25% to 375 lumens.  The Epson drops about 42% from full wide angle to telephoto, so that would put it at maximum best mode brightness (wide angle) of 649 lumens - about 100 more than the Panny.  That would still have the Epson be about 18% brighter at brightest (wide angle), and about 16% brighter in full telephoto, but remember the Epson can be placed further from the screen due to more zoom range.  Figure that at the distance that would have the PT-AE4000 at maximum telephoto, the Epson wouldn't quite be there, so the brightness difference is probably 18-20% when placed the same distance from the screen. Ok, enough about the Epson vs. Panasonic, until I get the Panny in for review.   Bottom line, the Epson is the brighter projector, by what would look to be about 20% overall.  Not as great as in the past, but still enough to make a real difference for those with larger screens. Mike did a real rush job (heading out on vacation), so I didn't get to "tweak" a brighter still, brightest mode, before he worked on the 9500UB.  (I've since pushed up the contrast to get more lumens, at the cost of crushing some of the near white areas).  My best guess is that we can get as many as 1600 or 1700 lumens at mid-zoom point, and over 2000 at wide angle, without sacrificing too much.  That's great news for folks like me who sometimes need to deal with more than a little, intentional ambient light.  In other words - lots of lumens for my football games! Epson has improved the CFI - creative frame interpolation.  I actually watched an entire movie, and didn't find it offensive.  I set it CFI to Low.  The movie I watched was The Water Horse.  I had never seen it before, so it may be that once I watch it again, with CFI off, I won't like it On again, but it did add some real depth to many scenes, and didn't scream "live digital video" like most CFI.  Oh, the tendency is there, but pretty tame - let's say on the edge.  Some will like it, some not.  I watched some HD college football tonight (Pitt - Rutgers), also with it on low, and that worked out very well. New for this year is Epson's latest enhancement is called Super-resolution.  I haven't read anything about it yet, but let's call it another smart sharpening algorithm, until I learn otherwise.  Turns out, it works nicely, and does seem to sharpen things up, a little, without significant additional noise or other artifacts.  No doubt there are trade-offs that might show up on certain types of scenes, but so far, so good. In fact I've been watching with Contrast Enhancement on 1, and Super-Resolution on 2, and the image really pops! OK, the good stuff - black level performance - so, what do you think 200,000:1 contrast gets you, compared to last year's 75,000:1?  Well, if you guessed "a little improvement" you nailed it.  The difference is slight, between the 9500UB and the 6500UB, which I ran side by side on segments from 3 or 4 movies last night.  Still when you have achieved the black level performance of the 6500UB, even a small increase is a real improvement.  On most mixed scenes you really won't likely notice anything, but on some darker ones the difference is there. There are still features I haven't gotten to.  Including the ability to split the screen, to observe the CFI in operation on half.   I did note that Contrast Enhancement at 1, is very usable, but 2 is over the top, by my take, and adds a lot of image noise.  Forget setting 3. For perspective, I did do some viewing (back and forth, not side by side) with the Epson Pro Cinema 9500UB projector, compared to my JVC RS20.  JVC owners, no worries, the RS20 still is one magnitude better.  The 9500UB and 8500UB may, at their very best, now rival the RS10 (on just the right type of scenes) but the RS10 too, still should have the black level advantage. I've got just a few links to images for you, although I took a lot of side by sides. First are 9500UB vs. 6500UB images.  Our first contestant is a space/stars scene from Space Cowboys.  this link will open a 1000 pixel wide side by side image, with the new Pro Cinema 9500UB on the left, 6500UB on the right.  You can definitely make out the difference in the blacks.  It's not great, but there.  Also the older Epson had a tendency of the "blacks" to have a slight redish caste, almost invisible, but always tends to show up on my dark photos.  The new epson seems more neutral, in that regard. The next image of Bond in Casino Royale - also comparing old Epson vs. new, is a photo that I really think captures the essence of the difference between the two projectors.  The new 9500UB, and of course, therefore the Home Cinema 8500UB as well, seems to have just a bit better,  more dynamic look. OK, everyone can contemplate those images. Next are a few side by sides with the BenQ W6000.  First, the BenQ, while having rather respectable black levels, still isn't a match for the Epson projector.  Because the W6000 is significantly brighter in best mode, I not only had the W6000 in low lamp (eco) mode, but also had to reduce the size of the Epson's projected image to try to get the brightness to equal the W6000. I've got the overexposed satellite image from Space Cowboys, for your consideration, and following that, the DC comics logo from the beginning of The Dark Knight.  In the Dark Knight image which is very dark and overexposed, you can clearly see a significant difference in black levels (unlike the new Epson  vs. the old). One more image - to look at the relative picture quality  - the plane scene from Casino Royale.  (Remember, colors will have changed from the projected image - to digital camera, to file, to web compressed file, to your computer monitor).  Still, both look good, and, not that dissimilar in terms of skin tones. and finally, from Quantum of Solace: Ok, time to just about wrap this up, tonight!   After all, need to save something for the full review. One more thing before wrapping up: Cost of Operation: I've been blogging about this to people's questions, about whether I think Epson will match the Panasonic PT-AE4000's $1999 price.  I seriously doubt it.  True, it would be a good move having a lower price, in terms of more people who might afford it up front, but the Epson can command the higher price because of its lower cost of operation.  It's lamp at full power is rated 4000 hours, and the Panasonic's is 2000 hours. Better still, the Epson lamp is $299, vs $399.  For anyone who really watches their setup a lot, in three to five years, lamp costs can save the Epson owners $500 or more compared to the Panasonic.  A 40 hour a week user, can literally save  at least $800 in 5 years in lamp costs. Final thoughts:  Everyone knows I'm a big fan of the Epson UB series, ever since the 1080 UB.  While last year, the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB and the Panasonic PT-AE3000 shared our Best In Class award (for mid-priced projectors), I personally favored the Epson for its extra brightness, more dynamic look, and superior blacks. From my perhaps 8 hours of viewing so far, I am suitably impressed with this newest generation of UB ("Ultra Black") projectors.  How it will stack up against the new Panasonic, I'll report in a couple of weeks, but having run it with the BenQ W6000, and the Epson 6500UB, I do believe I've seen enough to still prefer it over the BenQ, and the Sony (I've viewed the Sony and BenQ side by side). In other words, it looks like a worthy successor, and should prove most successful.  The big questions remaining are how the 8500UB stacks up against the PT-AE4000 of course,  and, on the higher end, the new JVC RS15 and RS25, and Sony VPL-VW85.    I mention these, because, I do get a lot of email, from people trying to decide between spending on best projectors in the $2000 - $3000 range, or whether to dig deeper into their wallets, and drop twice the bucks for an even better overall picture. OK, the Epson Pro Cinema 9500UB and Home Cinema 8500UB in summary.
  • Likely, still the best black level performance of all the new under $4000 projectors
  • At least as bright as last year's models, but not significantly brighter
  • New super-resolution may prove to be a nice feature for more perceived sharpness
  • Great 2, or 3 year warranty (Home or Pro), with replacement program
  • Still not bright enough in "best" mode to fill larger screens, but very comfortable at a 110" diagonal size with a typical screen surface, in a dark room
  • Lots of lumens when you need them, in brightest mode, one of the brightest projectors around
  • Price uncertain
  • Appears a little sharper than the 6500UB
  • Lowest cost of operation!
The end - for now - - - art

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