Epson 850HD (MG-850HD) HD Ready Projector Review

Steve Withers checks out Epson's new iDevice docking projector

Home AV Review

Epson 850HD (MG-850HD) HD Ready Projector Review
SRP: £649.00
It's easy to forget that the market for home cinema projectors is insignificant compared to the market for data projectors and Epson are the king of that particular world. In terms of sales Epson are quite simply the biggest projector manufacturer on the planet, offering an incredible array of models covering everything from home cinema to boardroom presentations.

We've seen quite a few of Epson's projectors recently, from the impressive TW4400 to their newest 3D projector the TW6000 and we've been impressed. Epson's new MG-850HD is something of a hybrid, combining elements of the home cinema projector with those of the more traditional data projector. Unusually, the MG-850HD also includes an iPod dock which might make it interesting for those who can't live without their iDevice. Of course what we're primarily interested in here at AVForums is image performance and we've been impressed by Epson in this area before, so maybe we will again. Let's take a look and see...

Design and Features

Epson MG-850HD

Unlike the majority of data projectors, the MG-850HD comes in a black chassis that gives it more of a home cinema appeal than the usual white styling. The lens is offset to the right, with a lens cover that can be slid into place manually and there is a infra-red sensor to the right of the lens. Above the lens there are manual controls for the zoom and focus, as well as a control for the keystone correction. As is often the case at this price point, there are no lens shift controls and the MG-850HD can only be setup on a stand and there is no option for ceiling mounting.

Epson MG-850HD

There is an adjustable foot at the bottom centre for angling the lens upwards and there are also two adjustable feet at the rear of the chassis. There are some basic controls on the top right of the chassis, as well as a carry handle which somewhat gives away the MG-850HD's data projector background.

Epson MG-850HD

The rear of the MG-850HD is sloped in order to accommodate your iPod, iPhone or even iPad (with an included bracket) and there is a dedicated dock that pops out when you need it. Slotting the iDevice into the dock could be fiddly - especially in the dark - and we found the best solution was to follow the slope of the chassis. On either side of the iPod dock are the built-in speakers, which actually sounded quite good considering they were in the back of a projector. The dock worked well with our iPod and iPhone, allowing us to play music through the built-in speakers and watch videos and photos on the projector itself. Although when it comes to video, as far as we know Apple restricts the output to 480i. When connected to the MG-850HD via the dock, the projector will also charge your iDevice which is handy.

Epson MG-850HD

There are a rather limited set of connections are on the right hand side of the chassis, behind a removable cover. For video sources, the MG-850HD has one HDMI input, one set of component inputs and one composite input. There is also a set of analogue audio inputs, a microphone socket and a headphone jack. At the rear there is another removable panel, where you will find a VGA connector, as well as two USB sockets - one type A and one type B.

Epson MG-850HD

The provided remote control is slim and black and includes the basic controls for menu, navigation, escape, aspect, source, user, colour mode and volume control, as well as basic controls for operating your iPod remotely. There is a back light but it only illuminates the iPod controls rather than the whole remote, which is a bit annoying in the dark. There is also a mysterious button with a coffee cup icon on it, apparently this is for temporarily turning the video and audio off, presumably so you can go for a coffee.

Menus and Setup

The MG-850HD uses a basic version of the Epson menu system, although this variation is slightly more colourful than the menu system found on their dedicated home cinema projectors. The first menu page is called Signal and this includes controls for Noise Reduction, HDMI Video Range, Aspect and Overscan.

Epson MG-850HD
Epson MG-850HD

The next page is Settings which includes Keystone (as always you should avoid using this), Child Lock, Control Panel Lock, Sound Mode, Volume, Mic Input Level and User Button. Then we have Extended which includes controls for Display, User's Logo, Projection, Operation, Standby Microphone, Plug-in Power and Language.

Epson MG-850HD
Epson MG-850HD

The Info page obviously gives you information on the current state of the projector and includes useful information like Lamp Hours, Source, Input Signal, Resolution, Refresh Rate and Sync Info. There is also a Reset page which, as the name suggests, allows you to reset all the settings.

Epson MG-850HD
Epson MG-850HD

Of course the most important page, from AVForum's perspective, is Image where you will find the Colour Mode which allows the user to select from a series of colour gamuts. If you select Home mode the choice is 'Auto', 'Dynamic', 'Living Room', 'Cinema' and 'Game'. If you select Work Mode the choices are 'Auto', 'Dynamic', 'Presentation', 'Cinema' and 'Blackboard'. You will also find all the calibration controls including the standard Brightness, Contrast, Colour Saturation and Tint. There is also a Sharpness control, as well as a Colour Temperature setting and a control for the Auto Iris function.

Rather surprisingly there are no White Balance controls, which means there is no way to calibrate the greyscale but there is a sub-menu called Colour Adjustment, where you will find Epson's Colour Management System (CMS). This allows for a more accurate calibration of the primary (red, green and blue) and secondary (cyan, magenta and yellow) colours. The CMS that Epson use is quite comprehensive and offers control of the three components of any colour - Hue, Saturation (Colour) and Brightness (luminance) - as well as control over all six colours (RGBCMY).

Out-of-the-Box Measurements

As is usual with these tests we chose the best settings that can be selected by the average user without the need to resort to calibration equipment. Unsurprisingly the Cinema Colour Mode was the most accurate preset and then we set the Brightness for our testing environment and left the other controls set to zero. We chose the Medium setting for the Colour Temperature and turned the Auto Iris off.

Epson MG-850HD

As the graph shows the greyscale performance was reasonable but could have been better. Both red and blue were tracking about 5% below our target, whilst green was over saturated by about 10% which resulted in some noticeable discolouration on a stair step greyscale pattern. The gamma was measuring closer to 2.0 than our target of 2.2 but given the overall brightness of the image and the most likely environment that the MG-850HD would be used in, this was hardly surprising.

Epson MG-850HD

The CIE Chart shows that the colour gamut of the MG-850HD is surprisingly restrained with the colours actually being rather undersaturated. There are also some fairly large errors in the hue of red and especially green which is resulting in a slightly yellow tint to the images. The brightness (luminance) measurements are also over in the three primary colours but perhaps due to undersaturated colours this wasn't overly obvious with viewing material. To be honest, considering the price of the MG-850HD and the market it is aimed at, this is actually a reasonably good performance.

Calibrated Measurements

Since there is no White Balance control there is nothing we can do to improve the greyscale performance but we can certainly try and improve the colour gamut using the included CMS.

Epson MG-850HD

Thanks to the CMS we were actually able to improve some areas of the colour performance and in the case of blue, magenta and yellow we were able to get near reference measurements. As we mention in our reviews often, brightness is the most important element of colour and here we were able to accurately calibrate all six colours. We were also able to improve the colour with the exception of red and cyan which were still under saturated. We were also able to improve the accuracy of the hue measurements, with the exception of the large error in green which we were unable to correct. Still the overall performance is not a million miles from Rec.709 and the accurate magenta meant that flesh tones looked good. It's a shame there was no White Balance control as the error in white clearly shows it missing the target of D65 and if we had been able to calibrate the greyscale the colour performance would have been even better.

Video Processing

We have found that overall, the video processing on the MG-850HD was quite good, especially with standard definition material. The native resolution of the panels was 720p and using the SMPTE colour bar test on both the PAL and NTSC HQV benchmark discs we could see that the MG-850HD performed very well, correctly scaling the full 576i and 480i images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. The MG-850HD also scored quite well in the jaggies tests on both discs as well as performing very well on the diagonal interpolation test, with two of the three moving bars appearing smooth and only the bottom most extreme bar showing some jaggies.

The MG-850HD also had no problems in correctly detecting both 2:2 (PAL - European) cadence and 2:3 (NTSC - USA/Japan) cadence, as well as a number of less common formats. Finally, the MG-850HD also performed well when displaying film material with scrolling video text, correctly displaying the words without blurring or shredding.

The MG-850HD can accept a 1080i signal which it then scales down, so using the HQV Blu-ray tests we could confirm that the projector correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests and correctly showed video text overlaid on film based material. The MG-850HD also had no problems displaying 24p material without any judder. The Spears and Munsil Blu-ray was used to check the high and low dynamic range performance of the MG-850HD which was very good, showing picture information down to reference black (video level 16) and above reference white (video level 235) up to peak white (video level 255).

Picture Performance - 2D

The MG-850HD was actually able to produce a reasonably good picture that had generally natural looking colours. The 720p image handled standard definition very well, with the minimum of scaling artefacts and with high definition content the results were actually quite impressive. The MG-850HD certainly had no problems accepting different resolutions and was able to display them without any judder or other unwanted artefacts.

Of course, given the MG-850HD's data projector background and dual purpose use in both the home and the boardroom, it is very bright. The downside to this brightness is that it runs very hot which means a lot of cooling and therefore quite a bit of fan noise. There was also a noticeable smell of burning from dust caught in the light path which was somewhat distracting. Since this projector clearly isn't intended for a dedicated home cinema and in fact it would be too bright for such a purpose, it should come as no surprise to discover that the blacks are very poor; in fact they weren't black, more a dark grey. This means the dynamic range of the MG-850HD is seriously compromised and the shadow detail is also rather limited. There is an auto iris but it appeared to make very little difference to the black levels and like other recent Epson projectors it is quite loud.

However, this is not such an issue if the MG-850HD is being used in less than ideal environments such as rooms with white wall and ceilings or a lot of ambient light. In these conditions the added brightness is important and the poor blacks less of an issue, so the MG-850HD might be useful if you need a projector that can be quickly set up and used in a room with a lot of ambient light. This is of course exactly what the MG-850HD is designed for and the addition of the iDevice dock would make it ideal for presentations. It certainly isn't suitable for cinephiles but if you want somewhere to dock your iDevice and watch TV during the day, then the MG-850HD might be of interest to you.

Verdict

5
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • iDevice dock
  • Reasonable picture quality
  • Includes CMS
  • Good video processing
  • Very bright image
  • Cheap

The Bad

  • Poor black levels
  • Limited shadow detail
  • No White Balance control
  • Limited installation options
  • Noisy

Epson 850HD (MG-850HD) HD Ready Projector Review

p>The MG-850HD is a rather strange beast and it's difficult to decide who this hybrid projector is really aimed at. It seems to include a lot of features that one would associate with a data projector such as built-in speakers, a very bright bulb and a carry handle; however it also includes some elements that would be associated with home cinema projectors like a CMS and a black chassis. Clearly the unique selling point of the MG-850HD is the inclusion of an iDevice dock which allows users to attach an iPod, iPhone or iPad. Once again it is difficult to decide who this feature is really aimed at, other than those can't be separated from their iDevices. The good news is that the dock certainly works and the sound quality of the built-in speakers is actually quite good but you have to wonder who would want to listen to their music through a projector. It seems more likely that users will want to watch video from their iDevices but once again there are easier and better ways of doing that, especially as Apple restricts the video to 480i. It seems the most likely use for this feature is in conjunction with the iPad to deliver presentations and for this purpose the MG-850HD would work quite well.

For those wanting to use the MG-850HD as a projector, the picture is actually reasonably good. Despite the 720p resolution the images appeared quite detailed, especially with high definition content and, thanks to some pretty good video processing, standard definition content was quite watchable as well. Image accuracy was also reasonable and whilst Epson have included a CMS, for some reason they forgot a White Balance control. The images were very bright which means the projector is well suited to rooms with a lot of ambient light but as a result the MG-850HSD was also quite noisy. The blacks on the MG-850HD are quite poor which robs the projector of a lot of its dynamic range and the shadow detail is limited. There is an auto iris but it doesn't appear to actually improve the blacks and it's quite noisy. Once again, and perhaps not surprisingly, the MG-850HD is best suited to rooms with a lot of light, where the bright image is an advantage and the poor blacks are less of an issue.

In the end, with its bright image and iDevice dock, the MG-850HD seems best suited to attaching an iPad and using the projector to give presentations. For the cinephiles among us, the poor blacks, noisy fan, lack of a White Balance control and lower resolution will effectively rule the MG-850HD out for use in a home cinema.

Scores

Features

.
.
.
.
6

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
.
.
5

Build Quality

.
.
.
.
6

Value For Money

.
.
.
.
6

Verdict

.
.
.
.
.
5

2D Picture Quality

.
.
.
.
.
5

Video Processing

.
.
.
.
6

Image Uniformity

.
.
.
.
6

Greyscale Accuracy

.
.
.
.
.
5

Colour Accuracy

.
.
.
.
.
5

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels

.
.
.
.
.
5
5
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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