|Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080 LCD Video Projector|
|Home Theater Front Projectors LCD Projectors|
|Written by Adrienne Maxwell|
|Wednesday, 01 August 2007|
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The 1080p projection market just got a lot more interesting, thanks to the arrival of Epson’s PowerLite Home Cinema 1080. While other big-name projection companies like Sony, Mitsubishi, and Panasonic have priced their entry-level 1080p projectors between $4,500 and $6,000, Epson is making a bold statement with the Home Cinema 1080, which costs just $2,999. Inherent skeptic that I am, my first thought when I see a product priced so aggressively is, what gives? Surely some big sacrifices must take place to reach that price point. Even on paper, I could tell that the Home Cinema 1080 doesn’t skimp in the features department, but how would its image quality measure up?
Over the past few years, I’ve closely followed the progression of Epson’s high-definition projector line. The first-generation PowerLite TW100, which cost $4,995 back in 2002, still serves as my primary living room display. While it renders generally clean, colorful HD and DVD images, it looks rather boxy, its fan is excessively loud, and it doesn’t have a very good black level. Last year, I spent some time with the $2,499 Cinema 550 720p projector, which improved upon all of the above issues, but was a bit soft and had some color uniformity issues. Compared with the Cinema 550, the new Home Cinema 1080 boasts a similar aesthetic and many of the same ergonomic features and picture adjustments. Its size is comparable to other entry-level 1080p projectors, but its rounded cabinet and white pearlescent finish give it a bit more style. The backlit remote control has all of the necessary buttons, including dedicated source buttons, to take you directly to a desired input. Several important controls (power, source, menu, aspect and the directional keypad) are also located on the projector’s top panel. As for connections, the Home Cinema 1080 features one HDMI, component video, RGB (D-sub 15-pin), S-video and composite video input, plus D/SCART, RS-232 and 12-volt trigger connectors. That HDMI input utilizes the newest HDMI spec, version 1.3, which (among other things) doubles HDMI’s potential bandwidth to 340 Megahertz and supports the new Deep Color and xvYCC enhanced color specs.
The physical set-up process was quite simple. The Home Cinema 1080 allows for tabletop or ceiling placement and front or rear projection. I chose a front-projected image from my 18-inch-high coffee table and was able to center the image on my screen in about a minute, thanks to the full complement of ergonomic tools at my disposal. Most valuable are the 47-degree horizontal and 96-degree vertical lens shift, which help accommodate off-center placement. The projector also has adjustable feet, a 2.1x zoom and a manual focus ring; the remote’s Pattern button throws up an image that assists both with positioning and focus. The projector’s throw distance is almost identical to my TW100; filling my 67-inch-diagonal screen required a distance of 80 inches. The owner’s manual includes a thorough chart of estimated projection distances and screen sizes for both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios.
Speaking of aspect ratios, the Home Cinema 1080 offers five of them: Auto, Normal, Full, Zoom and Wide. As it names suggests, the Auto setting automatically adjusts the aspect ratio to suit the source; according to the manual, this option is available for HDMI, S-video, composite and 480i/480p component video signals, but it was blacked out with every signal type I fed it. However, the Normal setting correctly sizes 4:3 and 16:9 signals, rendering the Auto mode unnecessary. The onscreen menu includes options to move the entire image up, down, left or right, and to adjust the output scaling to show 92, 94, 96, 98 or 100 percent of the image. The 100 percent option will show 1920 x 1080 content pixel for pixel, while the cropped options are helpful if you need to eliminate visible noise around the edges of your cable or satellite signal.
Epson has also been generous in terms of picture adjustments. You can choose from six preset color modes (Dynamic, Living Room, Natural, Theatre, Theatre Black 1 and Theatre Black 2) and then fine-tune color, light output and sharpness. I went with the Theatre Black 2 mode for nighttime viewing and the Living Room mode for daytime viewing. The Dynamic mode looks the brightest, but colors and color temperature are the least accurate in this mode, and it denies you access to some picture adjustments. After choosing a preset mode, you can fine-tune the color using the basic color and tint controls, incremental color-temperature adjustment from 5,000 to 10,000 Kelvin, and a skin-tone control that counter-balances the color temperature by adding more red or green. Advanced users and professional calibrators will appreciate that you can directly access the RGB offset and gain controls to calibrate the display’s color temperature. You also have six gamma options and can precisely tweak the hue and saturation of red, green, blue, cyan, magenta and yellow.
The projector features an auto iris that automatically adjusts light output to suit the source. This has become a common feature for LCD and LCOS projectors, as it can substantially improve contrast ratio. It certainly makes a difference here, so I recommend you use it. If you’re paying very close attention, you will sometimes see the picture’s brightness shift, and the projector makes a soft clicking sound when the iris adjusts, something you’re not likely to hear when your source’s audio is playing. The Home Cinema 1080 also has high and low lamp settings, basic brightness and contrast controls, the ability to set a black level of 0 or 7.5 IRE, a feature called Super White to improve white detail, and an HDMI Video Range option to match the projector to your video source’s HDMI output. Processing options include a Film/Auto mode, a Video mode and an off setting (if you’re using an external scaler), plus a rather unusual feature, the ability to adjust motion detection to accommodate faster or slower signals (this doesn’t apply to the HDMI input). One final feature that proves especially important is the inclusion of both standard and advanced sharpness controls. The standard control gives you a basic 10-step adjustment, while the advanced menu contains settings for thin/thick line enhancement and vertical/horizontal line enhancement.
After you’ve utilized all of the above controls to tailor the Home Cinema 1080’s picture quality to your liking, the projector is kind enough to remember the settings for you. It automatically recalls the last set of picture parameters for each signal type, even within the same input. There are also 10 memory settings at your disposal to store different parameters for different signal types and viewing environments. Having so many picture controls at your disposal can be a great thing, but it can also be somewhat overwhelming, with the potential to do more harm than good. With the money you save when buying this particular projector, you might want to consider hiring an ISF certified calibrator to set up the Home Cinema 1080 for you.