Epson has produced some fine home cinema projectors in the past and their latest range aims to carry on that tradition. The TW5500 we have here today for review is at the top of that new range with a larger contrast ratio plus claimed improved dynamic range and black levels. So, does LCD still cut the mustard for reference home cinema viewing? We are about to find out…
Design and connections
Epson home cinema projectors all seem to have a knack of looking the same across their range and I suppose that is not surprising given the same chassis is used throughout. The approach may make identification slightly tricky if you had the full range sitting in front of you, but to be fair this approach has no negative effects. The majority of the performance elements are internals along with slight changes to the light path and lens as well as better video electronics as we move up the range. I guess the one downside is that as you go lower in the range, the projectors remain the same size, and let’s just say the Epsons are not small.
The chassis on the TW5500 features a moulded plastic body with a matt black finish. The lens is positioned to the right side of the front plate (looking head on) with the heat exhaust positioned on the left. The offset lens should not cause any issues in placement or set up of the unit. Around the back we find the connections and air filter.
Taking a look at the lens system in the TW5500 reveals the first slight negative for such an expensive unit. As mentioned the chassis used is the same throughout the range and because of that the lens shift, zoom and focus all remain manual controls. Given that most of the competition in this price range have fully remote shift, zoom and focus controls, it makes the Epson feel a little cheap. The lens shift is controlled with two adjustment wheels above the lens on the top panel. These offer adjustment of Vertical ± 96% / Horizontal ± 47% which is pretty flexible for most set ups, but you need a steady hand to get the image to appear as you want. The problem is that these wheels do tend to move easily and that can mean that slight adjustments need to be made on a regular basis to make sure everything still lines up as it should. I would have thought that at this price point a more accurate set of controls would be employed. I would also leave your last few tiny movements of the lens shift until you have sorted the zoom and focus rings on the lens, as any movement or touching of the lens moves the shift points. I have to say that this design disappointed me given the type of money consumers will be parting with.
With the slight issues of lens shift out of the way we move to the zoom and focus rings, which work as they should with no obvious issues. However, one thing I did find was that I had to refocus a number of times when leaving the projector to warm up as this caused the focus to shift slightly. Not a problem if the projector is table mounted but might be a pain if you decide to ceiling mount the unit. I suppose again this is down to the same chassis design for the entire range and why we don’t have a remote controlled option. So, I guess we have our first bit of feedback for Epson – please redesign your lens functions, especially in the top end models. Rounding up the lens unit we find that it offers a 1 - 2.1 (optical) zoom throw ratio which will work in the majority of rooms it will be used in. For use with a 2.35:1 screen for scope movies the Epson adds in an anamorphic stretch option for use with a third party lens system. I tested this with the CAVX MkIII budget lens which worked extremely well in our system. One feature missing was a scaling option for leaving the lens in situ, an option now becoming more popular on home cinema projectors. If a lens is out of the question you can also use the Epson’s generous zoom ratio to manually zoom and focus between 16:9 and 2.35:1 material. It’s a manual arrangement, and one which I tested fully for those interested. The results (given that you have designed your throw and screen set up correctly to make use of the zoom) are pleasing but the increased pixel size does start to become visible even at the correct seating position. I would recommend that if this is your preferred route, you test the TW5500 fully for yourself before purchase. Plus that awkward lens shift control we discussed above may become a pain to use after a while. So the advice, as always, is demo, people!
Moving to the rear of the chassis we have the source input connections. Here we have two HDMI v1.3 slots, a component RCA input plus legacy s-video and composite. Also included for custom control are a 12v trigger and RS232C control port. The power connection is situated to the bottom edge of the unit with a manual on/off switch. Also included in the box is a back cover for the projector for ceiling mounting to hide the cables in an install.
The Epson is also packed with useful and not so useful new features. It is fully Certified by the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) that means it has full picture calibration controls. There is a new auto Iris system that is claimed to further improve the contrast and black level response along with a 10Bit HQV video processing chip with 12bit panel driving. And this is all married to the Epson D7 3LCD 2fine panels with boasts of a claimed contrast ratio of 200,000:1 and 1600 lumens brightness.
Menus and set up
Note that none of the settings shown in the pictures are final calibration settings and are for illustration only
The menu system on the TW5500 is well designed and intuitive to use for image and projector set up. The main menu is for the picture controls where we find the usual front panel controls (Brightness, Contrast etc) along with more advanced settings on the main menu and sub menus. The colour mode setting is for selecting a profile to correctly display your content on screen.
We have a number of choices here including Vivid (urgh!), Cinema Day, Natural, Cinema Night, HD and Silver screen. Depending on your choice of colour mode, some controls in the advanced menus become greyed out. An example is that in x,v colour mode the RGB greyscale controls are greyed out or unless you are in Natural mode the colour gamut controls are not available. This can take sometime to find the best mode to set up for your content playback.
Because the TW5500 is ISFccc certified we are given all the controls we need to fully calibrate the image to the industry standards for film and TV playback. Included are controls for gamma selection, RGB white balance controls for greyscale and a full 3D Colour Management System (CMS) for adjusting the colour gamut to the standards. So as you can tell we were extremely impressed with the menu options available.
Of course there are more picture controls to set up correctly with options such as auto Iris settings, skin tone selection, the core colour temp and power consumption. The power setting is important for the noise floor of the projector in use with the ECO setting offering the quietest fan noise without taking away to much brightness from the image. It may be that in a bright room or a less than perfect cinema room with light walls you will need to use the normal setting to get more light from the projector and put up with the slight jump in the fan noise. As our review reference room is light controlled this was not an issue and the cut in brightness was not a major issue using ECO mode.
We start the measured results by looking at the wavelength spectrum of the 200w UHP lamp that powers the TW5500 images.
Surprisingly the wavelengths on offer from the Epson are not a typical filtered results that we see from most UHP lamps. It appears that the design is to get as much energy from the lamp as possible without adding in a filter to try and make the primary wavelengths purer. One thing that is noticeable is that there is no push in the green/yellow energy that is normally pushed on other designs (see other reviews for an example). As there is no large difference we shouldn’t need to lose too much in terms of lumens (brightness) as we calibrate the image.
Next we move on to the out of the box settings and how they stack up to the international industry standards for film and TV reproduction. All options were measured with the results below being the best solutions for accuracy.
Starting with the Greyscale first and things could be described as slightly disappointing in terms of accuracy. Although 6500k was selected and the projector set for what should be the most accurate settings, the results didn’t quite pan out that way. As you can see the Colour temp (CCT) is low and that matches with blue tracking around 85% in the colour balance and tracking charts. Red and Green also track straight but at the wrong levels for accuracy. What this translates to on screen is a very warm image were skin tones look just a tad too reddish. DeltaE errors are at the most around 7 which means that these errors (as suggested by the skin tones) are visible in the image. Gamma attempts to track at 2.2 with some variance in the results as the stimulus gets higher. I would have liked to have seen a more accurate out of the box result here, but don’t let that put you off as we can calibrate it to be as perfect as possible. Plus, I would not expect the errors to be seen as a major issue for all but the most hardened AV Enthusiasts, so not a great result but it is also not a major issue in the grand scheme of things.
Next we take a look at the CIE chart and the colour gamut provided by the TW5500. In many respects the gamut performance is fairly good when compared to some lesser projectors in the market, but it is also not quite as good as the best. Although the colour points appear to line up there are issues with over saturation as some hue errors. Most obvious is the saturation issue with green, yellow and red colour points. This is obvious on screen with primary colours like grass looking odd. Blue is also slightly off and on further inspection appears to be a limitation of that colour point (as you will see below) and might cause issues with calibration. However, on screen blue error was not as annoyingly obvious to a trained eye than the green and red issues. It is interesting that this gamut seems to follow that of the JVC HD550 in many of its similarities for over saturated primary colours. Is this a deliberate design? I honest don’t think so, just a co-incidence that the out of the box result pushes the gamut over where it should lie and this is rather common with today’s displays trying to look overly vivid in its colours. Thankfully, unlike the JVC HD550 we have a full 3D CMS system to help correct the colour errors to the industry standards. (JVC take note!).
So what do these charts mean to readers who are confused about how to interpret the details? Here is a brief non technical explanation of the results and what it means.
The first chart shows that the Greyscale is not perfect. The Greyscale is the black to white section of the picture made up from the 3 primary colours, red, green and blue. When the 3 colours are mixed correctly they create the correct colour of white through the brightness steps of the scale. As you take brightness out of white you have grey, hence Greyscale.
The result here means that on screen the image will have a very warm look which may appear green or yellow in its image cast. That means that grey and white has too much red and green and not enough blue. This will be visible when looked at carefully with test patterns and movie material. This will also affect skin tones as they look a little too red. Will you notice these issues? Yes, the issues here will be visible to those looking closely at the image and it will really be up to the individual how much prominence they put in this look. To me, someone who calibrates and works with accurate images daily, I found the result watchable without any obvious irritation to draw me from the material I was watching.
The colour points which describe what intensity the colours are seen on screen have rather larger errors which makes colours such as green appear too strong and over saturated. This means that a thing like a grass field looks unnatural and overly strong. Some other issues can be seen like colour banding when colour are oversaturated. On screen the Epson didn’t introduce any banding, but colours seen by someone used to correct images appears wrong. If you like your colours bold and strong you may like this appearance, but in technical terms it is not correct to how film and TV is supposed to be seen.
Again, please demo this for yourself before any purchase.
As the TW5500 is ISF certified we have all the controls we need to calibrate the image towards the industry standards for playback. This means that Blu-ray and TV images are made to standards that say what white and the primary and secondary colours should look like on screen. We calibrate the projector to match these standards so we can see the image as it was mastered.
Looking at the Greyscale first and we have managed to achieve what we would describe as reference results. This means that the greyscale now has the correct mix of RGB to make white (and remove the brightness – grey). The errors are under 2dE (deltaE) which means that any error however slight should be invisible to the human eye. Gamma is not quite flat and following the 2.2 curve as we would like, making images slightly brighter above 50IRE, but to be honest this didn’t introduce any irritation to the image and is not considered a large error in terms of our testing.
Moving to the colour points in our CIE chart things have also improved over the out of the box settings, with one slight error. Looking at the positives first we have managed to get all but one point where they should be with minimal detaE errors for the majority. The issue is with the blue colour point and no matter what tricks of the trade I used to get this correct there appears to be an underlying issue with the blue point and in the end I had to compromise between saturation, hue and brightness (luminance). One would expect this to be quite an obvious error, but in reality watching normal material the blue error (which is 24dE for saturation) was not an over obvious sticking point. It was wrong and in some rare occurrences I could see this error it wasn’t as bad as it could have been with, say red, or green having a similar issue. So whilst not quite reference quality, the result here is more than acceptable once the error is taken into account. However, I would like to try and get to the bottom of why blue just doesn’t respond fully using the CMS provided. Some feedback for Epson, I feel.
By calibrating the projector's image we have managed to get rid of all the small errors in the Greyscale and the oversaturation for the most part in the colours. This means that there is now no green/yellow cast to images and they are not as warm as out of the box. Skin tones are now completely natural and colours match the standards. This means that apart from a small blue error in colours, the image matches how your films and TV should be seen and as they were mastered.
As I have found with other projectors equipped with the HQV processing chip, the upscaling, de-interlacing and processing of video images was extremely good with both SD and HD material. As expected the TW5500 passed all the HQV tests in SD and HD with no jaggies or ringing being obvious on scaled images. Cadences were detected correctly for all the most common forms. 24p playback was also excellent with no induced judder.
With a price tag of £4,000 you would expect a high standard of image reproduction from the Epson and it doesn’t fail to impress in that regard. Black levels are superb for an LCD projector and it clearly looks deeper and more dynamic that the Panasonic and Sony in the £2k price level, yet just below its competition in the JVC HD550 at its price point. And by saying that it is not quite up to the standards of the higher Sony VW85 or JVC HD950. However, looking at the Epson against its main rival the HD550 it performs to a very similar level and in some areas betters the JVC.
The black levels (without the iris) are strong, deep and very fluid in a light controlled environment. There is a good contrast level to images with good gradation of blacks and shadow detailing which gets quite close to the HD550. It however just misses out in absolute dynamic range and lacks the full capabilities to extract the absolute finest details at the lowest levels.
It's in the area of colour reproduction (once calibrated) where the Epson really sings by adding accurate looking images with a very good black level and dynamic range. Images look sharp and detailed with excellent skin tones and a sense of depth where required. If I had one slight criticism it’s with the panel and the pixel layout which can become obvious due to the sharpness of the image. It can sometimes take away the more cinematic nuances of the very best projectors we have seen, but I am also sure that some will hold this type of sharpness as a plus point, where I find it a slight negative.
- Very good black levels even without the iris
- Impressive contrast performance in light controlled environment
- Excellent greyscale when calibrated
- Excellent colour performance when calibrated
- Good selection of picture tools, including a 3D CMS
- 5 years on-site warranty provided by Epson including the lamp
- Cheap design of the lens shift and focus/zoom controls for such an expensive projector
- Out of the box greyscale could be better calibrated by the factory
- Out of the box colour gamut is wide and could be better, how about a THX mode?
Epson EH-TW5500 Full HD 3LCD Projector Review
There is no doubting that the Epson EH-TW5500 is a mighty fine performer that, when calibrated, offers some of the best projected images available under £5k. It has its slight niggles here and there and not quite the black levels to better the likes of the JVC HD550 it directly competes with. However, saying that, the TW5500 offers more realistic and accurate images because of its calibrated results over the JVC. So, it's going to be an interesting choice to make for those looking for a projector at this price point.
I really enjoyed my two weeks with the Epson, and it is a real performer. Because of this performance and its value, it gets a highly recommended badge and rightly so. If you have £4k to spend make sure the Epson is on your demo list and try to see it fully calibrated.
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