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Projectors: Epson Home Cinema 720 - A first look

The Home Cinema 720 has been in use quite a bit in the first 48+ hours. This is going to be a challenging review for me to do. Why? Because other than the Epson all-in-one, the MovieMate 72, which I posted mid-December, all I have been watching and reviewing are far more expensive 1080p projectors - from the Panasonic PT-AE2000U at over double this Epson's price, to the Sony and RS1, between 3 and 4 times the price, and the JVC RS2 at over 6 times the price. Not surprising, the first night, when I pulled down the JVC DLA-RS2, and substituted the Epson Home Cinema 720, I was rather dissapointed watching movies. Black level performance for the Epson seemed pretty average for 720p projectors and significantly inferior to the JVC RS2. I figured the best thing to do was to try to stay away from the RS2, going foward. Friday came along, and for me, that was a day of watching football, culminating with the Alamo Bowl, where Penn State beat Texax A&M (Go Nittany Lions, nice game Aggies). At various points during the day, I watched the games in Dynamic Mode and Livingroom Mode. As is typical, Epson's Dynamic mode, is not what you would call accurate, but it sure has a ton of punch to it. Despite the strong yellow and greens, and contrast, my friends preferred it over LivingRoom, based on the significantly brighter image. Myself, I preferred LivingRoom mode, so over the course of 3 games I spent a good deal of time in both modes. I should mention that Epson rates the Home Cinema 720 projector at 1600 lumens, and a contrast ratio of 10,000:1 - two very impressive specs! My first impression about how the Epson stacks up to the competition needs to be comparing it to the Panasonic PT-AX200U. I'm going to assume the Panasonic still has more lumens, and further, in Dynamic mode produces a more accurate image in terms of color balance, and image dynamics. On the other hand, in Dynamic Mode the Epson has tweaked it to really "pop". Colors are screaming off the screen; loud, vibrant, intense. The PT-AX200U, by comparison, though brighter, would come off as a bit muted by comparison. I'd have to say, that while the Epson may not be as accurate in its dynamic mode, or as bright, that using that mode, the Epson just burns right through a goodly amount of ambient light. The Epson Home Cinema 720 definitely can do battle with the Panasonic overall, in ambient light situations, especially sports. BTW, I did play around by eye, (no measuring), with the various controls of the Epson, and was able to come up with a better mix of settings for Dynamic, that gave up little overall "pop", but tamed the yellow-greens a little. That was the compromise we ended up with for watching the Penn State game. Movies! This is where I got into trouble. It was late evening, I had just published the JVC RS2 review, and was editing errors, etc. I perhaps foolishly decided to replace the RS2 with the Epson HC720. I had on Casino Royale, and was admiring the black levels and shadow detail of the JVC, on some dark scenes, when I switched to the Epson. What a dissapointment. There is no comparison between the two. Of course I was switching between what is the best under $10K projector at black levels, to a "good" thousand dollar 720p projector. That's like going from the Rolls Royce, perhaps, to a Honda Accord. The Honda may be nice, but not when you've just stepped out of the Rolls. The good news is that after that shocking start, last night, I gathered the family together to watch Transformers, on HD-DVD. I picked it up earlier in the day, so was looking forward to it, not having seen it since the theater. And boy was watching it fun. Most importantly, the Epson Home Cinema 720 did great. We watched in Theater Mode, filling about 125" diagonal of my 128" screen. Plenty of lumens for the watching, and eye popping colors, which is exactly what Transformers calls for. And skin tones looked really good too. This is all before I have measured and made adjustments to the grayscale, etc., which will happen tonight. So, now I'm back to normal. Watching that movie, got those 1080p "high performance black level" 1080p's out of my mind, and my "subjective" opinions should now be more "objective" if that makes any sense to you! So, what are my initial impressions? Hmmm. Brightness - should be close to the Panasonic, with the Epson probably having more kick, in Dynamic mode, but less accuracy, (without taming those greens and yellows a bit). Very natural Theater mode, haven't spent much time on the Theater Black modes yet. That's where I should find the "best" performance in terms of black levels and shadow detail. The Living Room mode looks very good, for sports and other HDTV I watched. As always from Epson, the projector seems very well built, has a great warranty - 2 years parts and labor, with a 2 year overnight replacement program, and so far, it seems that the Epson will need very little adjustment in its better modes, for ideal viewing. One more thing. Epson is claiming up to 4000 hours on its lamp, when in low lamp mode. That should be a plus to those on a financial diet. OK stay tune for the full review. It's Monday the 31st, and this probably won't post until Thursday evening, or even Friday - a few days behind schedule. In the meantime I'm going to also try to post two short screen reviews - the dnp SuperNova, and the Elite Home Series Accoustic screen, by this weekend! Hang in there, and Happy New Years! -art

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