Projectors

Epson Powerlite Home Cinema 8100 Projector

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction

Even as an audio guy, it’s hard not to be seduced by the amazing video demonstrations sprinkled around the main shows like CES or CEDIA. I think it makes me admit I’m just as much a movie fan as I am music. An offer came my way to review an entire in-wall speaker package so I thought it a perfect opportunity to add a projector and screen to my otherwise exclusive two-channel space. My hunt was on for an affordable projector, Epson immediately came to mind. They’ve proven over the last several years that they could design and manufacture not only value packed projectors, but actually very well performing units.

I’d just attended Epson’s press conference summer of 2009 where a few new models were to be imminently released. Although the top of the line Pro Cinema series Powerlite THX 9100/9500 sounded amazing, it was out of my price range. The top of the line of their Home Cinema series was the Powerlite 8100/8500, of which the 8100 retails in the $1,500 range, perfect for my project.

For a bit more, consideration should be given to the THX Certified 8500UB of which some of the differences I’ll mention as we go along.

Specifications

  • Design: Three-LCD Digital Projector
  • Panels: Epson Poly-silicon TFT Active Matrix
  • Native Resolution: 1920 x 1080 (1080p)
  • Light Output: 1,800 Lumens
  • Contrast Ratio: 36,000:1 (Auto Iris On)
  • Color Processing: 10-bit
  • Lens Shift
  • Input Signals: NTSC / NTSC4.43 / PAL / M-PAL / N-PAL / PAL60 / SECAM
  • Input Resolutions: 480i / 576i / 480p / 576p / 720p / 1080i / 1080p
  • Fan Noise: 22 dB – 28 dB
  • Dimensions: 5.7" H x 17.7" W x 15.5" D
  • Weight: 16.1 Pounds
  • MSRP $1,499 USA
  • Epson

Design

The 8100 projector is a bit larger than a similarly priced “value” projector. It measures almost 18” wide, 15 ½” deep, 6” high and weighs 16 lbs. The enclosure is predominately white with light grey silver end-panels. I actually like the white as it blends nicely with the white ceiling of my room. More discussion on this issue later as it affected Chris Eberle’s benchmark testing.

Epson is known for their 3LCD, 3-chip optical engine and sports their inorganic D7 panel said to deliver deeper blacks and the highest resolution. The native resolution is of course full 1920 x 1080 with 10 bit processing (12 bit for the 8500) handled by a HQV® Reon-VX chip and can handle the gamut of input signals from 480i to 1080p with a 16:9 format. Light output is 1800 lumens in normal mode and down to 481 lumens in Eco mode. The contrast ratio as advertised is up to 36,000:1 (up to 200,000:1 on the 8500) with the auto Iris on. It offers an impressive 4,000 hour lamp life.

The Fujinon lens has an f-stop from 2.0-3.17 with a focal length of 22.5-47.2. The 8100 offers lens shift both horizontally (47%) and vertically (96%) in both directions. Both the 2.1x zoom and focus are manual.

The rear features 2 - 1.3a HDMI connections along with single composite, component and S-video along with 15 pin RGB. Also included is an RS-232 9-pin port, a hard on/off and a 12v trigger out. The fan noise is a quiet 22-28 db which is barely audible sitting about 6 feet away.

Notable on the side of the projector are the setup functions also found on the remote.

Remote Control

This is an excellent remote control, intuitive and the large buttons easily accessible in the dark. A quick touch and the entire remote lights in a pleasant amber color. It’s divided into three sections, one for source selection (6), the second is for the menu (setup) and scrolling, and the bottom gives you immediate choices for aspect, color modes and memory selection (10 presets) and many of the features without having to jump to the menu button. A quick blue “bulls-eye” pattern lets you align on the go or to simple check. Making the remote white also helps locate it in the dark.


Setup and Bench Tests

Out of the box, the picture was already excellent. We ran the projector for about 40 hours before we decided to calibrate. But with some minor adjustments using a basic setup disc I was able to achieve impressive calibration, at least to my eyes.

The setup menu is broken down into basically 4 sections; the image section handles the bulk of the setup with the color mode, brightness, contrast, color, tint and sharpness, which includes a line enhancement feature. Color temperature is adjustable from 5,000K to 10,000Kelvins with 500K increments. A skin tone setting allows adjustment for magenta and green while also correcting for black and white images if they appear out of tint.

And advanced menu adjusts for gamma, RGB, and RGBCMY – more on that later.

Finally in this menu are settings for power consumption, normal or economic, and Auto iris, which can be turned off, set to normal or to high speed. We ultimately chose normal.

Seven color modes are available dependent on your conditions but are plentiful and include: Dynamic, Living room, natural, theater, theater black 1 and 2, and x.v. Color. The latter removes the ability to control most functions. The 8500 substitutes a THX mode.

The Signal menu includes aspect and zoom, and also a 2-2 (4:4 for the 8500) pulldown as an on/off for 24 frame movie sources. An advanced menu will give you several key options for analog sources including NR or noise reduction and Super white for washed out images, this feature on will compensate.

A Settings menu will allow for how the projector functions, power on, sleep modes, trigger, high altitude, whether the unit is ceiling or shelf mounted, input signals, etc..

Finally, the Epson 8100 will allow you to keep 10 memory settings - very functional if you have a variety of viewing conditions, or if you prefer different settings for different sources.

The (ceiling mounted) projector’s lens is mounted about 7 feet from the floor and fed native source material from an OPPO BDP-83 Blu-ray player.

Tests and Calibration - by Chris Eberle

Equipment used: EyeOne Pro spectrophotometer, CalMAN Professional 3.7 analysis software, Accupel HDG-3000 signal generator, Spears & Munsil Benchmark Blu-ray.

All measurements were taken off the screen (SnapAV Dragonfly, gain .9) from the seating position (10 feet). The screen size is 106” diagonal and the throw distance was 14 feet.

After measuring the three Theater modes, I settled on Theater (as opposed to Theater Black 1 or 2) as offering the highest native contrast and most accurate color. While red and blue were close to the Rec 709 standard, green was further outside the CIE triangle. Luminances were excellent with a deviation of no more than 0.2 foot-Lamberts.

The measured color temperature was close to the D65 spec. The error progressed to the warmer side as light level rose. At peak output, color temp measured 5864 Kelvin. Gamma was too bright at an average level of 1.9. It also rose in brightness too quickly with a reading of 1.57 at 90 percent stimulus.

Though the 8100 has a color management system, I was only able to improve the luminance of each color. The Hue and Saturation controls would not move the color points. Hue appeared to do nothing and Saturation had the same effect as Brightness which was to change the luminance only. Ultimately though, getting the luminance correct has a bigger impact on image quality than lining up the color points. You can see on the chart below this was essentially perfect after calibration. When the secondaries were re-calculated to compensate for the measured primaries, their positions were within a whisker of correct. I cannot explain why cyan is slightly inside the line between blue and green. The error was not visible in actual content.

Grayscale tracking was improved by calibration to an average error of 1.6 Delta E which is below the threshold of visibility. Only 100 percent was over 3 Delta E. This translated to a slight reddish tint in the brightest whites. Normally I can fix this by reducing the Contrast control. In this case, I could not. Lowering it only reduced light output. Again, the impact on actual content was not perceptible.

Gamma performance was a compromise. The 8100 does allow you to create a custom gamma curve but it starts at such a low factor that the end result is an image that looks washed out. To get flat gamma tracking, the best average number I could achieve was 1.9. I decided to raise the correction value and accept the dip in gamma from 70 to 90 percent. This preserved the detail and depth in the picture.

I didn’t take the usual contrast measurements since I wasn’t benchmarking the 8100 in my theater. With a different screen, room color and throw distance, the numbers would bear no comparison to those I have measured on other projectors. In making a visual assessment, it is my opinion that the 8100 meets or exceeds the contrast performance of previous generations of projectors using the Epson D7 image chips; i.e. the home theater models from Panasonic, Sanyo and Mitsubishi.

The 8100 uses an HQV Reon VX chip for video processing duties. As such, the benchmark tests fared very well. All motion adaptive tests were passed with the exception of 2:2 video, a common failure. Jaggies on the Spears & Munsil content were handled well. Lines were smoother on near-vertical content while near-horizontal elements displayed some twitter. Lens aberration was minimal with good field uniformity. The only coloration in a full-screen white pattern was a little green on the left edge and a little red on the right. Focus was quite sharp from side to side and top to bottom. Image convergence was quite good on this sample with only the above-mentioned colorations. 1080p/24 material was processed correctly and there were no pixels cropped in the screen aspect’s Auto mode.

Final settings

Theater mode Brightness -10
Contrast 11
Color/Tint 0
Sharpness Advanced (all 0)
Color Temp 6500K
Skin Tone 3
Power Consumption Normal
Auto Iris On
Gamma 2.4
Offset R 12
Offset G -10
Offset B -12
Gain R -10
Gain G -5
Gain B 8
CMS
Brightness R -8
Brightness G 4
Brightness B -5
Brightness C 3
Brightness M -17
Brightness Y 0
no change to Hue or Saturation
Noise Reduction Off
Super White Off
Overscan Off
HDMI Video Range Expanded (to show BB and AW)


In Use

The timing of my completing the theater room and hanging the projector was within a few weeks of the release of Avatar on Blu-ray – I’ve now seen it 5 or six times from every new person wanting to watch it. This movie is rich in color and detailed and a delight for your eyes. The action sequences and fast moving pace was superb on the 8100.

The Blu-ray version of Patton is splendidly rendered, skin tones in general are warm and natural, the landscape although vivid and seemingly saturated still very beautiful. The uniform fabric’s woven details, the shadows cast and the lighting in some scenes appear three-dimensional.

I kidded my son’s girlfriend that only Blu-ray was allowed to be shown as she perused the library of DVD’s. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of SD material. While watching the extended version of the LOTR trilogy – not the comparison between the SD image from the DVD version with the image in Blu-ray, these photos were taken in pause mode and other than cropped, taken directly off the screen. Other than the obvious detail, color, black levels and contrast are pretty good in SD.

Watching music performed on a big screen is also a delight. k.d. Lang with the BBC in DTS HD Master is mesmerizing more for the audio than for the video but it sure keeps you glued to the image.

Finally, springtime and watching the Stanley Cup playoffs in my house is synonymous. From my FIOS HD source, the fast paced action barely revealed any noise.

Any shortcomings?

From a usability standpoint, the vertical and horizontal lens shift is a bit tricky, as there is too much play in the manual adjustment. I do find myself constantly adjusting it - perhaps because it’s ceiling mounted on floor joists that tend to bounce a bit since there is a stair nearby.

What about anamorphic? Totally unrealistic in this price range.


Conclusions

Simply, I’m thrilled with this projector as are all my family members, my friends and neighbors. I’m told we are now “that house” that people want to hang out for the theater alone. I believe the Epson highlighted a shortcoming in my room as it became apparent that the flat white ceiling was actually causing some concern for contrast, or at least the perception of contrast. I think making the ceiling darker will make most of that issue disappear.

I never felt the sub $1,500 I paid for this projector was anything short of a bargain. When I first thought about an affordable projector I was sure it would be short lived, that I’d tire of it quickly and want to upgrade sooner than later. I will tell you that won’t happen too soon, the Epson 8100 is a performer and delights us.