Component Reviews

Epson Powerlite Cinema 500 HI-Def Projector


Published on May 1, 2005

May 2005, Part 3     [Pt. 1]    [Pt. 2]


Epson PowerLite™ Cinema 500 Hi-Def LCD Projector MSRP: $4,999

Cinema 500 hi-def projector

Epson America, Inc.
3840 Kilroy Airport Way
Long Beach, CA 90806
Phone: 562-981-3840
Support: 800-922-8911
Model Number: EMP-TW500
http://www.epson.com

Intro
The playing field is getting crowded with high quality display technologies in the high definition projector market. DLP, LCD, D-ILA and S-XRD all have high performance models available, yet the cost and performance variables make no single technology completely dominant. Epson’s new PowerLite™ Cinema 500 High Definition LCD projector is the best of three new projectors being offered by the company, each specifically designed for home theater applications. The Cinema 500 offers a true high definition image with its 720p (1280 x 720) native resolution using a trio of 0.7″ Poly-silicon TFT Active Matrix panels. The 200W UHE (Ultra High Efficiency) lamp is designed to last up to 3000 hours in the low power modes and up to 1700 hours in the high power modes. Cool air is drawn from the bottom of the unit through the user replaceable filter and exits through the front side of the projector. The contrast ratio is said to be as high as 1200:1 with a light output of 1000 lumens. The powered zoom (1.5x) and powered focus sets this projector apart from its competitors. The horizontal and vertical lens shift options further improve flexibility during installation. Four standard mounting positions (Front/Rear Desktop or Front/Rear Ceiling) are available using the menu controls. Fan noise is very low (27dB) when running in the low power modes and increases significantly (36dB) when switched to the higher power modes. The Cinema 500 hosts an array of video processing features including Faroudja’s highly regarded DCDi® algorithms.

The Cinema 500′s DigiScan™ Processing includes a 3D motion-adaptive Y/C separator that performs processing on composite signals to greatly reduce cross color artifacts. The 3D Digital Noise Reduction circuitry and 3D Y/C separator both compare previously stored frames for processing. The 3D Gamma Correction improves dark scenes by adding more gradation levels to the video signal. The design features the highly acclaimed Faroudja (now Genesis Microchip, Inc.) DCDi® deinterlacing along with PixelWorks DNX™ technology that uses video processing algorithms with 3:2 pull down. The result is excellent video processing capabilities in this high definition projector. Epson’s AccuCinema™ Color Management is said to provide color accuracy and performance that meet Hollywood cinematic mastering standards for extraordinary picture quality. The processing includes a Black/White Enhancer, Color Enhancer, Color LUT/3DLUT, and Edge Enhancer. Priced competitively at $4999, the PowerLite™ Cinema 500 is designed to please serious home theater enthusiasts.

InstallationCinema500 Installation on ceiling
The chassis of the Cinema 500 is fairly large measuring 13.6″D x 17.7″W x 5.8″H, yet the unit weighs less than 14 pounds. The smooth contours make it more attractive than the rectangular boxes from other manufacturers. We mounted the projector onto a Peerless PRS Series Projector Ceiling Mount with the Spider® Universal Adapter Plate. Using the horizontal and vertical lens shift controls, we were able to move the image without creating any geometric errors. The vertical lens shift can move the image as much as 100% upward or 50% downward. The horizontal lens shift can move the image up to 50% left or right. This is a huge advantage over projectors that do not offer any lens shifting capabilities. The image was projected onto our 100-inch Stewart FireHawk 16:9 filmscreen from a distance of about 13 feet. Although the Cinema 500 has both horizontal and vertical keystone adjustments, we avoided using them to minimize artifacts.

The power zoom and power focus worked well and made it easy to accurately adjust the picture while standing close to the screen. This is a feature that is not commonly found on most projectors, even those costing over $10K. The 1.5x zoom lens offers greater setup flexibility by allowing a large image even in smaller rooms. The Cinema 500 even has a built-in pattern generator that produces discrete gray level steps to help properly set the white and black levels.

The factory lens has threads which appear to be designed to work with optional filters. Although we did not have any for our review, neutral-density filters can sometimes help improve picture quality by cutting the light output and deepening the black levels. This of course is at the cost of reduced light output. Running the projector in the Theatre or Theatre Black mode effectively accomplished this by reducing the light output through the iris and increasing the contrast ratio.

Connectivity
The rear panel of the Cinema 500 has a wide selection of inter-connects including a composite and s-video input that is compatible with NTSC, NTSC4.43, PAL, M-PAL, N-PAL, PAL60, and SECAM. An HDMI input and two sets of component/RGB inputs (via five RCA jacks) handle both standard and high definition signals. There is also a D4 input that is used in Japan, but not in the USA. The HDMI input accepts 480i, 480p, 575i, 575p, 720p and 1080i video. In addition to controlling the projector with the IR remote and top panel buttons, the Cinema 500 can be controlled via a serial or USB connection (defined in the COM menu) or an ethernet connection. Epson also provides a smooth looking cable cover that attached with two finger screws to hide the unsightly wires on the back of the unit.

Cinema Color Editor Software
The Cinema Color Editor software is included with the projector on a CD. We received version 1.10 with the projector and loaded it onto our laptop (Sony Vaio K23) that was also used to calibrate the display. Since we had a network already installed in our viewing room, we connected the projector to our local ethernet hub rather than use the serial or USB interfaces. We quickly realized that we needed to enable DCHP and turn on Network Monitoring in the Setting/Operation menu to get the projector to communicate properly. Once we did this, the Cinema Color Editor software immediately found the projector’s IP address and we soon gained control over the projector functions. What really made this great for us is that we could control the projector settings from the same laptop used to take the measurements for calibration. Using the ColorVision (formerly Milori) ColorFacts Professional software, we adjusted the RGB Gain and Offset. We were actually controlling the projector through a wireless 802.11g link making it very convenient to adjust the projector settings. We noticed a couple of interesting things when using the software interface to the projector. First, the fan on the projector would always run even when the projector had been powered off and cooled down. We thought this might have to do with the network electronics needing cooling, but there was absolutely no heat coming from the fan exhaust. In addition, the fan noise wasn’t completely consistent when going between high power and low power Picture Modes.

Selecting the Remote Control button in the Cinema Color Editor interface enabled basic functions for choosing the source input and changing the aspect ratio. My only complaint is rather than opaque the Aspect Ratios that are not available with a given input source, the software pops up a message window Projector setting failed when the Aspect Ratio change is made on an invalid mode.

Selecting the Picture Quality button changes the user interface to more advanced menu controls. Four menu items (General Setting, Adjustment of Image, Advanced and Memory Management) are selectable by the user. The General Setting menu has controls for Input Adjustment, Brightness, Color Intensity, Tint, Sharpness, Color Temp and Fleshtone, Tracking and Sync. The Adjustment of Image has allows the user to change the Color Mode (Dynamic, Living Room, Natural, Theatre, Theatre Black and sRGB) and access the Color Adjustments (RGB or RGBCMY). The Advanced menu has controls for Epson’s Super White, Progressive, Motion Detection, Output Scaling, Setup Level, Noise Reduction, DVI-Video Level and Auto Setup. The Memory Management menu allows the user to save and access configuration data used to adjust the projector’s settings.

Remote Control
The remote included with the Cinema 500 projector has a nicecinema 500 remote ergonomic design with logically placed buttons. Separate On and Off power buttons are included with the latter being recessed to prevent users from accidentally Turning off the projector. Four large buttons select the Menu, Color Mode, Memory and Aspect functions and are conveniently located near the top of the remote. Most of the controls are the same ones found in the Cinema Color Editor software.

The Menu button displays four menus on the screen for Image, Setting, Info, and Reset. The Image menu has controls for Picture Quality (Brightness, Color, Tint and Sharpness), Color Adjustment (Absolute Color and RGB/RGBCMY), Color Mode (Dynamic, Living Room, Natural, Theatre, Theatre Black and sRGB), Memory (Last Memory and Reset). display. The navigation buttons include separate Up / Down / Left / Right with a Select and Escape button. A group of six buttons select the video input and include HDMI, D4, Input A, Input B, S-video and Video. The lower four buttons control Pattern, Blank, Zoom and Focus. Pattern displays the test pattern. The backlight button is located on the very bottom of the remote making it easy to find in the dark. The backlight illuminates all the buttons red, except the power buttons. Power On illuminates green, while power Off button illuminates orange. There are separate locks that can be enabled for Focus, Zoom and Operation in the event the user wants to keep these settings from being changed. The remote must be used to operate the projector when these features are active.

Top Panel
Cinema500 top panelThe top panel of the Cinema 500 has the same basic buttons as the remote for controlling the projector’s functionality. The backlight is great and very easy to see in the dark . If the lights bother the user, the backlight feature can be completely turned off in the menu settings. The power indicator illuminates orange when the unit is in standby mode. When powered on, the indicator light flashes green while the unit warms up at which time the indicator constantly illuminates green. When powered off the indicator flashes orange until the unit cools down and then it goes back to a constant orange.

Display Primaries
The Cinema 500 has some of the best color adjustment features we have seen in a projector. Full 6-axis color adjustments for red, green, blue, yellow, magenta and cyan are available for optimal color accuracy. Hue and saturation levels for each of the colors allow the primaries to be positioned virtually ideal on the CIE diagram. We measured the Cinema 500 primaries using the GretagMacbeth Eye-One Pro Spectrophotometer and ColorFacts Professional software from ColorVision (formerly Milori Software). Data was taken directly from our Stewart FireHawk filmscreen. The CIE chart shows where the ideal primaries (RGBYMC) are located with the smaller three points making the dark triangle. The measured primary colors have the red, green and blue corner markers connected together with the white triangle. Yellow, magenta and cyan are located between the points along the lines that make the triangle. The accurate color primaries resulted in natural looking flesh tones with excellent color saturation. Outdoor scenes produced vivid colors with lush greens.

Color Tracking
We set the projector’s Color Mode to Theatre Black for all our measurements. Our Sencore CP5000 color analyzer and VP403 video generator connected to the projectors HDMI input. Using the native 720p video, we set the black level using the PLUGE pattern and checked the stair step levels to ensure that we had properly adjusted the display. The Cinema 500 also has a built-in pattern generator for those who lack test equipment for calibration. Color Temperature can also be selected by the user ranging from 5,000 °K to 10,000 in increments of 500 °K. We measured the color temperature in 10 IRE increments starting with 20 IRE. The 6500 °K setting was fairly accurate considering the unit was brand new with less than 100 hours of lamp time. The high IRE levels were only a few hundred degrees off from our target temperature. Epson also includes a Flesh Tone control.

Performance
The LCD-based Cinema 500 has the same native resolution as most of the DLP projectors we have reviewed in the past. The technology does have a more pronounced Screen Door Effect than its DLP counterpart primarily due to the fill factor of LCD technology. We found that we needed to sit a bit farther away from the viewing screen to prevent this from bothering us. Sitting at a reasonable distance from the screen resulted in an excellent image with a natural looking picture. The LCD panels produce some very low level fixed pattern noise that could be seen on the screen up close when viewing uniform backgrounds. It was similar to vertical banding, but not as obvious as what we have encountered with some other earlier LCD projectors. Vertical motion also showed some line structure, but nothing to be alarmed about.

We connected our JVC HM-DH30000U D-Theater D-VHS VCR using the component video inputs. We looked at several HD-Net and D-Theater tapes and the picture quality was simply amazing for a projector in this price range. Colors were accurate and well balanced with outstanding resolution and uniform brightness across the screen. Virtually no false-contouring could be seen with the material we watched even from digital sources such as D-VHS. Using our GretagMacbeth spectroradiometer, we measured the light output at 10.2 foot-Lamberts when running in the Theater Black mode. This mode also produced the best measured contrast ratio of 1009:1 after calibration. The light output jumped to 13.12 foot-Lamberts in the Dynamic mode, but decreased the measured contrast to 897:1. Fan noise is remarkably low, yet increases significantly when the Color Mode is changed to Living Room or Dynamic. These two modes also cut down lamp life from 3000 hours to 1700 hours.

The Dynamic and Living Room color modes have the highest light output and work well in situations where ambient room light must be kept at a higher level. However, this mode does adversely affect the black level and is not recommended for critical viewing.

Conclusion
The Epson PowerLite™ Cinema 500 sets a new level of performance for high definition LCD projectors and is a solution for a cost effective home theater. The features offered on the Cinema 500 provide customers with some of the most advanced capabilities including Faroudja DCDi® processing, power focus and zoom, ethernet control and flexible color management. Contrast is somewhat limited compared to DLP technology, but still produces an excellent picture in light controlled environments. The ability to accept 480i, 480p, 575i, 575p, 720p and 1080i from its digital and analog inputs makes this projector an excellent choice for today’s high performance home theaters. The low noise level from the fan when running in the Theater modes is especially attractive for those who have their seating area close to the projector. The price is a bit on the high side compared to some of the competing projectors and should be taken into consideration when planning your theater system. Epson has done an great job with LCD technology and the Cinema 500 is a culmination of what can be accomplished in today’s LCD home theater projectors.

The Cinema 500 includes Epson’s service and support and a comprehensive two-year warranty. Epson offers its customers a PrivateLine Technical Support card with their projector purchase. The card includes a 1-800 number along with a Personal Identification Number to help better serve customers who need assistance. This is said to be a prioritized phone number that operates Monday through Friday from 6:00am to 6:00pm Pacific Time. We did not have an opportunity to take advantage of this service.

- Kevin Nakano

Review System

Screen: Stewart Filmscreen 100″ FireHawk Screen on a Luxus Deluxe ScreenWall
Video Processor/Scaler: Anchor Bay Technologies DVDO iScan HD A/V Processor
Preamplifier/Processor: Parasound AVC-2500U THX-Ultra DTS/DD Preamp/Processor
Amplification: Parasound HCA-2205AT THX-Ultra Five Channel Amplifier
Bass Management: Miller & Kreisel BMC Mini 5.1 Bass Management Controller
Front Speakers: Miller & Kreisel S-150THX (L+R) and S-150AC (Center) Speakers
Rear Speakers: Miller & Kreisel SS-250 Tripole® Surround Speakers
Subwoofer: Two Miller & Kreisel MX-350THX MkII THX-Ultra Push-pull Subwoofers
Room Treatments: Echo Buster panels and Bass Buster towers
Set-top Box: Samsung SIR-T165 Terrestrial HDTV Receiver with DVI
DVD/CD/SACD Player: Sony DVP-NS900V DVD/CD/SACD Player
DVD Audio/Video Player: Kenwood Sovereign DV-5900M 400-Disc DVD Changer
D-VHS VCR #1: JVC HM-DH30000U D-VHS High-Definition D-Theater VCR
D-VHS VCR #2: Marantz MV8300 D-VHS High-Definition D-Theater VCR
A/V Cables: Ultralink Platinum and Advanced Performance Series Cables
DVI Cable: AudioQuest DV-1 20m DVI-D Cable
DVI Extender: Gefen HDTV Extender
HDMI Cables: Accel Corporation HDMI Adapter and Cables
Power Conditioning: Panamax MAX® 5510 ACRegenerator
Video Generator: Sencore VP403 SDTV/HDTV Video Pattern Generator
Color Analyzer #1: Sencore CP5000 ISF Certified All-Display Color Analyzer
Color Analyzer #2: Milori ColorFacts Professional with GretagMacbeth Eye-One Pro

Review – At a Glance

Specifications

Projection System
Epson LCD technology

Projection Method
Front / rear / table / ceiling mount

Panel Size
0.7″ 16:9 format

Type of Display
Poly-silicon TFT Active Matrix with Micro Lens Array

Pixel Density
1280 x 720 pixels

Native Resolution
720p

Aspect Ratio
16:9

Lamp Type
200W UHE User Replaceable Lamp

Lamp Life
Typical 3000H (Color mode: Natural / Theatre / sRGB)
1700H (Color mode: Dynamic / Living Room)

Aspect Ratio
16:9

Contrast Ratio (typical)
1200:1 (Color mode: Theatre Black)

Brightness (typical)
1000 ANSI lumens (Color mode: Dynamic)

Brightness Uniformity: (typical)
90%

Lens Optics
F=2.1 to 4.3, f=21.4 to 31.7 mm

Lens Throw Range
30″ to 300″ (2.9′ to 37′)

Zoom Ratio
1:1.5

Keystone Correction
Vertical ±15°

Composite Video Input

1 x RCA (Yellow)

S-Video Input
1 x (4-pin mini DIN)

Component/RGB Inputs
2 x RCA x 5 (Red / Green / Blue / Black / White)

D4
1 x D4

RS232C
1 (D-Sub 9)

USB
1 (Type B female)

Ethernet
1 (RJ-45)

Operating Temperature
41°F to 95°F (5°C to 35°C)
Cool-down period: Approx. 30 sec
Start-up period: Approx. 15 sec

Power Supply Voltage
100-240 VAC ±10%, 50/60Hz

Power Consumption
Operating: 290W (Lamp high)
Standby 0.7W (Lamp off)

Dimensions Inch
13.6″D x 17.7″W x 5.8″H (includes lens and feet)
13.6″D x 17.7″W x 4.7″H (excludes lens and feet)

Weight
Approx. 13.8 pounds (6.2kg)

Fan Noise
Dynamic / Living Room Mode: 36dB
Theater Black / Theater / Natural / s-RGB Mode: 27dB

Standard two year parts and labor limited warranty
90-day lamp warranty.

Toll-free priority technical support, available from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST Monday through Friday. Epson Home Service provides a replacement projector, usually in one business day.

Reprinted with permission from the L.A. Audio File
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- Kevin Nakano




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