With the latest 3LCD imaging technologies and THX certification, Epson delivers a solid performer at a very reasonable price.
As one might expect from the principal maker of key 3LCD technologies (namely, the 1080p imaging panels themselves), Epson is well poised to take advantage of the latest in high definition LCD-based front projection. The Home Cinema 8500 UB is pretty much loaded to the gills with high technology and an extensive feature set.
At the core of the 8500 UB’s LCD imaging engine is the latest D7 Vertical Array liquid crystal panel technology, which helps to deliver blacker blacks than can be obtained with conventional LCD panels. Ordinary Twisted Nematic (TN) LCD panels are, at their normal state, translucent. As increased panel voltage is applied, that transmittance diminishes, but there’s a finite limit to how much light throughput can be decreased. With Vertical Array technology, the panel transmittance at the normal state is opaque, rather than translucent, which allows blacker blacks without having to resort to electronic or optical enhancement trickery for really deep blacks.
As with other makers, Epson quotes a very high dynamic contrast ratio in order to be competitive, but even with the contrast enhancement processing and the automatic motorized iris features defeated, there’s still plenty of contrast to be had, which makes for a wonderfully vivid picture. The THX certification ensures that when the THX picture mode is selected, the projector is configured for optimum picture quality that comes closest to that provided by professional broadcast displays and projectors.
Consider this projector if: you’d like a top performer from the leader in the home theater projector business, as this latest Epson puts forth a great-looking picture, and it’s an outright champion on the test bench.
Look elsewhere if: you’d like to go the anamorphic widescreen route, as Epson only provides the requisite Mode 1 vertical stretch scaling on the top end PC 9500 UB.
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced projectors):
While the Epson is equipped with a motorized iris that allows the amount of light from the lamp to be modulated up and down according to the average picture level, it suffers from noticeable lag. Quick cuts from a darkly lit scene to a brightly lit one have the picture level brightening up noticeably a second or two after the scene break. Fortunately, in the preferred THX picture mode, the feature is off by default (as is contrast enhancement), but the set still puts out a nicely contrast-y picture anyway without the need for luminance gain riding.
There’s a slew of additional features, including high end video processing courtesy of the pairing of a PixelWorks processor with the HQV Reon Vx chip. Together, these help provide very good upconversion and deinterlacing of both SD and HD sources. There’s also a sharpness-enhancing feature called Super-resolution, which actually does improve visible detail even with HD sources, and it doesn’t suffer from the typical haloing effect provided by ordinary sharpness enhancement processing.
The Epson’s optics (sourced from lens maker Fujinon) include both horizontal and vertical offset adjustments. These are mechanical, as opposed to motorized. The downside to the Epson’s offset controls is that there is a large degree of mechanical looseness, and even worse, adjusting one control has some effect on the other control’s characteristics. As you can imagine, this makes centering the picture on screen a downright miserable chore, taking more time than should really be necessary to get the picture geometry dialed in just right.
I had the Epson on a portable projector stand, not too far away from my screen, and I was not a happy camper as I had to fiddle and then fiddle some more with the sloppy offset adjusters to get the image squared away. Had I been on a ladder at the back of the room adjusting an Epson that was ceiling mounted, I’m sure I would have been a lot unhappier.
Inside, the projector sports Epson’s own E-TORL lamp design, in this case a 200 watt version said to put out the same amount of light as higher wattage competitive designs. That seems to be the case, as even in the relatively lower light output THX picture mode, there was still plenty of light output. In the maximum brightness Dynamic and Living Room picture modes the overall brightness almost tripled. That could come in handy for daytime viewing in a room that has poor light control (i.e., lots of windows and few window shades). The color quality suffers somewhat with those modes (whites are noticeably tinged with a green hue), but in a high ambient light environment that’s not such a big deal.