When it comes to home cinema projectors, most people these days tend to think of DLP or LCoS, be it Sony's SXRD variety of JVC's D-ILA version of the technology. They are probably less inclined to think of an LCD projector, perhaps because they tend to associate the technology with boardroom presentations rather than widescreen action. Certainly in the past LCD projectors were restricted by problems like visible pixel structure or poor blacks but the manufacturers of LCD projectors have made great strides in addressing these issues. However with both Panasonic and Sanyo being conspicuous by their absence over the last two years it has been left to Epson to be the flag waver when it comes to LCD projectors.
Epson launched their home cinema range of projectors last year and we were impressed by their top of the range TW5500 when we reviewed it. Since then most of the projector manufacturers have started to roll out their 3D projectors, including Panasonic who will finally be returning to the market with their new 3D LCD projector in a couple of months. But what about those people that aren't interested in 3D (which if the sales numbers are anything to go by appears to be most people) or those ocularly challenged unfortunates who can't see 3D images? Well there are still some excellent 2D projectors available and with recent price reductions there are also some potential bargains. One such contender is Epson's TW4400 which can be bought for less than £2,000 and except for a slightly lower contrast ratio and a lack of ISF certification would appear to share all the attributes of the excellent TW5500. So let's take a look and see how the TW4400 measures up to its big brother...
Design and Features
The TW4400 has three adjustable feet which is a very sensible approach that we wish more manufacturers would follow because it makes levelling the image much easier when standing the projector on a shelf. The lens is positioned to the right side of the chassis whilst there is a large heat exhaust to the left side and in the bottom right hand corner is the infra red receiver. A lot of manufacturers position their lens off-centre and whilst there may be solid technical reasons for doing this, from an installation perspective a lens in the centre of the chassis would be preferable. However the lens itself appears to be of a reasonable quality and the images it produced were very sharp and detailed. We noticed that when viewed up close there was a less than one pixel misalignment of one of the chips but this is quite common with any three chip projector, especially at this price point. The TW4400 uses three of Epson's 0.74" D7, C2Fine, 12Bit Wide Panels, includes 10bit HQV video processing and boasts a claimed contrast ratio of 130,000:1 and a light output of 1,600 lumens.
The TW4400 uses adjustment wheels for manual control of the lens shift, zoom and focus and whilst we were disappointed to find this was the case with the higher end TW5500, considering the price of the TW4400 it is more in line with the competition. We don't really mind manual controls for shifting and zooming the lens and in fact it often allows for a more precise setting and if you intend to 'zoom and shift' for use with a 2.35:1 screen then there are no motors to wear out. The throw ratio is certainly big enough at 1.3 - 2.8 to allow for use with a 2.35:1 screen and when we tested this in our demo room it worked well, although depending on where you were sat the pixel structure could be visible. The range of adjustment is quite flexible and allows +/- 96% vertical and +/- 47% horizontal which should be enough for most setups. We would though prefer a motorised focus control because with a manual control setting the focus precisely becomes a two person job with someone standing at the screen to check that the pixels are in focus. However as we said manual controls are common on projectors at this price point and besides we've seen manual controls on projectors costing far more than the TW4400.
All the connections are at the rear of the TW4400 which is good as we we prefer that to the side connections that some projector manufacturers use. The connections are on a par with those found on most of the competition and include two HDMI v1.3 inputs, a component video input with RCA connectors, an S-Video input, a composite video input and a VGA connector for a PC. Despite the lower price point of the TW4400 it also includes an RS-232C connector for system control and a 12v Trigger Out for use with a motorised screen or anamorphic lens. Finally at the rear there is also the air filter, the power socket which uses a standard three pin connector and an on/off switch.
We really like the design of Epson's remote control, it is sensibly laid out and has some genuinely useful buttons. First of all the remote control has a back light which is obviously handy in the dark and the buttons themselves are large and intuitive to use. The remote control itself is comfortable to hold and simple to operate with one hand which is also appreciated. There are buttons for all the different sources as well as a menu button, navigation buttons, an escape button, an enter button and a recessed default button for resetting certain controls. Perhaps most useful of all are buttons dedicated to different controls such as Colour Mode, Aspect Ratio, the CMS and White Balance, the Gamma and the Sharpness Controls. This is very useful for a calibrator as it means they can directly access these key functions without having to go through the main menu system which obviously saves time. There are also buttons for directly accessing the Memory and Test Patterns and our only real complaint was that positioning the Menu button directly below the Down button meant that in the dark we occasionally left the menu by accident when we meant to go down. However overall we really liked the remote control and found it to be better than ones that are included with projectors that are ten times the price.
Menus and Setup
The menu system of the TW4400 might be slightly monochrome but it is sensibly laid out and quite intuitive to use. The first sub-menu is Image which as the name suggests includes all the controls needed for correctly setting and calibrating the image. The Colour Mode allows the user to select from a series of presets including 'Dynamic', 'Living Room', 'Natural', 'Theatre', 'Theatre Black 1', 'Theatre Black 2' and 'x.v.Colour'. It would seem that the 'Theatre' preset equates to the 'Cinema' preset on lower Epson models whilst the 'Theatre Black' modes equate to the ISF presets on the TW5500. The 'Theatre Black' presets produce better blacks by lowering the output of the bulb and there are presumably two so that a calibrator can create ISF Day and Night modes when the projector is being used in a living room.
The other controls in the Image sub-menu include Brightness, Contrast, Colour Saturation and Tint. There is also a Sharpness control, more on that later, as well as a Colour Temperature setting and a Skin Tone control that is essentially an additional Tint control. There is also a Power Consumption control which adjusts the brightness of the bulb and provides the choice of Normal or ECO and a control for the Auto Iris function. Finally there is a sub-menu for all the Advanced calibration controls which we will come back to later.
The next sub-menu is called Signal and relates to all the controls for the controls for the deinterlacing, scaling, frame interpolation and noise reduction. There is a control for selecting the Aspect ratio as well as a sub-menu with further Advanced options.
Within the Advanced options of the Signal sub-menu there are controls for the Noise Reduction features as well as a control for the HDMI Video Range. There is also an option for Overscan which should be left off unless you want to introduce unwanted scaling and a control called EPSON Super White which should be turned on so that the TW4400 projects up to peak white.
The next sub-menu is Settings which includes all the controls for positioning of the projector, the menu language, controlling the 12v trigger, the sleep mode, the child lock, the high altitude mode etc. The fourth sub-menu is Memory and is obviously where you save all the calibrated settings to create a bespoke memory preset.
The fifth sub-menu is Info and is where you will find all the info relating to the signal the TW4400 is receiving (resolution, scan mode, refresh rate etc.) as well as which source input is being used and the number of hours on the lamp. The final sub-menu is Reset where you can reset all the controls on the TW4400 back to the factory settings.
As previously mentioned there are a number of advanced calibration controls that can be accessed either through the menu system or directly via a dedicated button on the remote. The first of these is the Sharpness control which sits within the Image sub-menu but can also be accessed by pressing the Sharpness button on the remote control. There are two versions of the Sharpness control, a Standard one which offers vertical and horizontal sharpness adjustments and an Advanced version which offers further enhancements. As a rule it is best to leave any sharpness control at a setting where it is neither softening the picture nor adding unwanted ringing.
The next advanced calibration sub-menu relates to the Gamma, RGB (White Balance) and RGBCMY (Colour Management System) controls on the TW4400. All these controls sit in the Advanced sub-menu in the Images menu but they can also be accessed by pressing the RGBCMY or Gamma buttons on the remote control.
The Gamma control features a set of different gamma curve options from 2.0 to 2.4 - here at AVForums we use a setting of 2.2 for displays in an environment with some ambient light and 2.4 for fully light controlled dedicated rooms. There is also an option for a customised gamma where a graphical interface similar to that employed by JVC can be used to adjust the gamma curve at set points.
The RGB control is Epson's name for their two point White Balance control and it is this feature that is used to calibrate the greyscale.
The purpose of the RGB control is to adjust the amounts of red, green and blue at two specific points, usually 80IRE (Gain) and 30IRE (Offset), in order to create an accurate greyscale going smoothly from black to white without an discolouration.
Finally the RGBCMY is Epson's name for their Colour Management System (CMS) which allows for an accurate calibration of the primary (red, green and blue) and secondary (cyan, magenta and yellow) colours. The CMS that Epson use is excellent 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).
The calibration controls are essentially identical to those found on the ISF certified TW5500 and Epson are to be congratulated on including such a comprehensive set of controls on a product at this price point. It is certainly something that JVC could learn from since they don't include any form of CMS on their entry level projectors.
As you can see from the chart above the out-of-the-box greyscale performance was something of a mixed bag. The three primary colours are tracking in a straight line which is good because it means we should be able to calibrate the greyscale easily with the two point White Balance control. However whilst red is tracking at the target of 100, blue is about 5% above and green is about 5% below that target resulting in some noticeable discolouration. This certainly isn't the worst out-of-the-box greyscale performance we have seen but there is room for improvement. What is of greater concern is the Gamma curve which despite our selecting a setting of 2.2 is clearly measuring nowhere near it and is thus washing out the image. The luminance (brightness) of the Gamma curve is far too high, peaking at about 1.7 at 80IRE but we will try and address this during calibration.
As you can see from the CIE Chart above the colour gamut of the TW4400 is far too wide with massively over saturated greens and reds which in turn is adversely affecting the secondary colours. The luminance measurements are actually quite accurate for most of the colours which is good because this is the element of colour that the eye is most sensitive. The one colour whose luminance isn't as accurate is blue which is the colour that our eyes are least sensitive to because it makes up the smallest part of the visible spectrum.
Conversely green is the largest part of the visible spectrum and is thus the colour where we can't tolerate inaccuracies. The result of thee inaccuracies was that there was a green caste to the image and flesh tones looked a little too red. This is a disappointing out-of-the-box performance but hopefully the CMS will allow to correct these problems during calibration.
As you can see from the chart above the greyscale is now showing a reference performance with DeltaEs (errors) of less than 1 which is essentially perfect. The accuracy of the gamma curve is also much improved although we were still unable to completely correct the excessive brightness around 80IRE and whilst this wasn't noticeable during actual viewing it prevents the TW4400 from getting a reference score overall.
As you can see from the CIE Chart the situation is much improved after calibration with the colour of white measuring precisely at the industry standard of D65 thanks to the accurate greyscale. The colour accuracy is also far better with most of the primary and secondary colours now measuring at their correct coordinates for the industry standard of Rec.709. Overall the DeltaEs are all below 3 which is essentially indistinguishable to the human eye and most crucially the luminance measurements are accurate. There is still a small amount of over saturation in the colour of red and unfortunately no matter what we tried we couldn't completely reduce the over saturation in the colour of green. Whilst neither of these errors were noticeable in actual viewing they did prevent the TW4400 from achieving a reference performance for colour accuracy.
With the video deinterlacing tests the results were also excellent, the TW4400 reproduced the rotating line without producing any jaggies except very slightly at the most extreme angles. In the motion adaptive deinterlacing test the performance remained superb with all three moving lines being reproduced correctly and only very slight jaggies on the bottom line. The projector also had no problems in resolving all the fine brickwork in the detail tests on both the PAL and NTSC discs.
On the film detail test the TW4400's performance was equally impressive, correctly locking on to the image resulting in no aliasing in the speedway seats behind the race car. In the cadence tests the projector continued to perform flawlessly, correctly detecting the 3:2 (NTSC - USA/Japan) format as well as the 2:2 (PAL - European) format. The projector also had no problems displaying mixed film material with scrolling video text and was able to reproduce the text without any shredding or blurring.
The TW4400 also performed superbly in the tests on the HQV Blu-ray using high definition content. With the player set to 1080i the projector correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests and showed excellent scaling and filtering performance as well as good resolution enhancement. With 1080i material the projector had no difficulties in showing video text overlaid on film based material and also handled 24p content without any problems.
To avoid any bias caused by using the HQV discs for testing we also used our Spears & Munsil Blu-ray disc to check the overall performance of the TW4400. We used the Dynamic Range High test to ensure the display was reproducing all the video levels above reference white (235) up to peak white (255). This test is an easy way of spotting if a display is clipping above reference white and thus losing detail in bright parts of the image. The TW4400 was showing detail all the way up to peak white as long as the EPSON Super White control was turned on. The other useful test is Dynamic Range Low which allows you to check that a display is only showing detail down to video level 18 which represents reference black. Once again the TW4400 was showing detail down to 18 but not below it which means it is correctly reproducing black whilst maintaining appropriate shadow detail.
As we mention frequently in our reviews the greyscale and colour gamut form the backbone of the image and if they aren't accurate then nothing will be. Thanks to the comprehensive calibration controls on the TW4400 the greyscale and colour gamut are very accurate and this was evident whilst watching actual viewing material. The colours appeared natural and the transitions from black to white were smooth and free of discolouration. The shadow detail was excellent and the gradations in colour, which are always a strength of LCD projectors, were equally as impressive.
Thanks to the excellent video processing the TW4400 was capable of producing very decent images even from standard definition material. Whilst standard definition content is never going to look as good as high definition material on a large projection screen, the TW4400 was at least able to reproduce images that were free of aliasing, ringing and other scaling and deinterlacing artefacts. When combined with the accurate greyscale and colour gamut the results from DVDs were genuinely impressive and even Freeview broadcasts could be bearable on a big screen thanks to the noise reduction features.
It was, however, with high definition material that the TW4400 was really able to shine, producing images with a wonderful level of clarity, accuracy and detail and a genuine sense of depth. Once again the excellent video processing helped to get he very best out of Freeview HD broadcasts and with Blu-rays the quality of the images could be quite exceptional. The TW4400 had no problems handling 24p material and the resulting images were wonderfully smooth and free from judder. In fact the TW4400 handled motion very well just as long as you didn't engage the frame interpolation feature, unless of course you want to ruin the wonderful film-like quality of the images.
The biggest weakness with LCD projectors has traditionally been the blacks but recently the LCD projector manufacturers have made genuine advances in this area. We were very impressed with the blacks on the TW5500 and the TW4400 followed suit producing blacks levels that whilst not capable of the inky depths of the JVCs were certainly very good. To achieve these improved blacks the manufacturers have essentially reduced the output of the bulb and in fact when you select 'Theatre Black' you can hear the fan noise fall off as the light output is reduced. However the results speak for themselves and the native blacks are good enough that you won't need to resort to the trickery of an auto iris.
Whilst the light output of the lamp might have been reduced to improve the black levels there was still plenty of brightness which meant that the TW4400 had an impressively wide dynamic range that really gave real impact to images. The TW4400 was also capable of lighting up a large screen but as we mentioned earlier the sharpness of the image means that the pixel structure might me visible on a larger screen from a normal viewing distance. One of the other advantages of reducing the output of the bulb is that less cooling is required so there is reduced fan noise. In fact in Theatre Black mode with the lamp power set to ECO we could barely hear the projector and we certainly could when actually watching normal material.
However the biggest problem with the amount of heat the bulb generates isn't the need for cooling but the fact that the light path cannot be sealed. This means that LCD projectors can suffer from 'dust blobs' where contaminant in the light path is visible in the projected image. You can mitigate this problem to a degree by being careful and trying to keep the amount of dust to which the projector is exposed to a minimum but if you get a dust blob it can be very annoying and difficult to remove.
- Surprisingly good black levels even without the iris
- Impressive contrast performance in a light controlled environment
- Excellent greyscale after calibration
- Excellent colour accuracy after calibration
- Very good deinterlacing and scaling
- Impressive calibration controls at this price point
- Out-of-the-box greyscale could have been better
- Out-of-the-box colour gamut could have been better
- Over saturation of green couldn't be completely corrected
- Gamma was very poor and couldn't be completely corrected
Epson TW4400 (EH-TW4400) 3 Chip LCD 1080p Projector Review
The TW4400 definitely proves that LCD projectors have come of age as far as home cinema goes and are now capable of delivering a performance on a par with projectors from Sony or JVC.
In fact in some areas the TW4400 is ahead of the competition and the inclusion of such a comprehensive set of calibration controls at this price point is very impressive and puts JVC to shame. As a result of this the TW4400 is capable of excellent greyscale and colour accuracy that results in some truly gorgeous images. We would have liked to see a more accurate out-of-the-box performance and if Epson could take a look at the gamma and tame the green that would be even better but overall the TW4400 impresses in the picture department.
On top of the wonderfully accurate picture, Epson have also included HQV video processing which works exceptionally well, resulting in smooth and artefact free images with standard definition content. When it comes to high definition material the TW4400 really comes into its own, producing wonderfully accurate, natural and detailed images. The TW4400 also handles motion very well and produced smooth, judder free and film-like images from 24p Blu-rays.
Perhaps most surprisingly the blacks on the TW4400 were also very good and really demonstrate how far LCD technology has come in recent years. Even in a darkened demo room the TW4400's native blacks could hold their own and there was no need to resort to auto iris trickery. Whilst the improved blacks were in part the result of a lower lamp output there was still plenty of brightness and the TW4400 could deliver an impressively wide dynamic range. Another benefit of the lower lamp output was the need for less cooling which resulted in the TW4400 being very quiet, even when sat quite close to the projector.
In fact there really was little to complain about, although the sharpness and clarity were such that pixel structure might be visible if you are using the TW4400 with a very large screen. Our only other concern with LCD projectors is the lack of a sealed light path which can lead to dust getting in and 'dust blobs' being visible on the image, so we would recommend potential buyers limit the TW4400's exposure to excessive dust.
Given the price differential and very similar specifications we would certainly recommend looking at the TW4400 as an alternative to its big brother the TW5500 and there is no doubt that the TW4400 offers both performance and value. The only reason we haven't awarded a highly recommended badge is that there are new projectors coming from Sony and Panasonic that won't cost much more and will also offer 3D capability. However if 3D isn't your cup of tea then the TW4400 is certainly worth a demo.
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