Review: Epson EH-TW5500

 
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Published: March 28, 2010 11:00 PM
By Florent Alzieu
Epson is certainly pleased about the launch of its latest high-end Home Cinema projector, the EH-TW5550, promising that it will "get the best from your existing equipment" and that it's a "sleek, stylish, HD Ready 1080p projector."

That's a big promise that we couldn't wait to try out.

Handling: all the bases are covered, only the extras are missing

From the outside, the look and feel of this model are identical to the manufacturer's EH-TW3800, except this time it's black, rather than white.  It includes the features we'd expect from a high-end product like this, including a powerful zoom and lens-shift, quiet operation (25 dB) and reasonable energy consumption, both while on standby (0.1 W) and while projecting (229 W).  There are more than enough inputs and outputs, including two HDMI ports and one component video, to name just two, and the backlit remote control includes shortcuts to plenty of features.

Lens-shift in pictures: the dotted line represents the default projection zone, and the coloured lines zones represent the 'extremes'.
All that's missing are non-essential extras like motorised zoom and lens-shift.  They're still handy for making adjustments from the comfort of your sofa or while you're on your feet next to the screen.

Image Quality: perfect after calibration

Let's start this section with an incredibly important reminder: projectors--even the most advanced ones--very rarely leave the factory correctly calibrated.  It's absolutely imperative to set them up properly so you can get the most out of your investment and ensure that the movies you watch look just as the director intended.


Compare the Epson EH-TW5500 with other projectors in our Product Face-Off

We measured black levels of 0.62 cd/m² against brightness of 344 cd/m².  Compared to the Panasonic PTAE-4000E, the blacks on this projector are darker and the whites are brighter, and so the logical result is a higher contrast ratio of 554:1.  Up against the Sony VPL-HW15 and its 802:1, the contrast is less impressive, and that's because of the lighter blacks it produces.  Sony decided to include a powerful bulb to help get its projector out of darkened rooms, and as a result, the blacks are less deep.  In the opposite direction, the Sanyo PLV-Z3000 produces incredibly deep blacks by reducing brightness, which means it's confined to rooms with carefully-controlled lighting; it reaches 0.28 cd/m².

The amount of electronic noise is well-handled, even when noise reduction is set to level 1, its default setting.  Don't go any further, though, as the benefits are invisible.

Bright areas
are impeccable, without the slightest hint of over-exposure anywhere on screen.

Upscaling and 1080p:
SD sources are correctly upscaled.  However, we still noticed a few little details here and there that were less impressively adjusted than on the PS3.   If you can, leave a good DVD player to do the work.  In 1080p, video was just a little sharper than on projectors from Panasonic and Mitsubishi.  Sony still stands out in this area, though, mostly because it's harder to spot the matrices on its projectors.

The LCD matrices are only slightly out of line on this projector.  This phenomenon is visible around black lines on light backgrounds, where purple and green lines appear.  The 1080p test card in the Face-Off illustrates this problem perfectly.  Don't worry though, as it goes unnoticed in the heat of the action while watching a movie.

100 Hz and 3D modes: there's no 3D, so you can put your glasses away.  For 100 Hz video, interlacing is available, which improves the fluidity of fast-moving objects.  It's less powerful and impressive than Panasonic's version of this system, it still makes movements a lot more impressive.

Settings for natural mode


The gamut, or the range of available colours, is too big on this projector in HD mode.  It moves outside of the sRGB profile, and includes colours that aren't encoded on today's DVDs and Blu-ray discs.  To change the set of colours in use, the only solution is to switch to 'natural' mode, which offers two alternative colour spaces for HD TV: the European Broadcasting Union space for Europe, and SMPTE-C for the US.  We tried the EBU space, and adjusting the settings as follows to produce a calibrated result: Gamma: 2.2 - Cut: R: -4; G: 0; B: -4 and Gain: R: 9; G: 0; B: 29.  These are the settings that we used to produce the test images in the Face-Off.
5/5 Epson EH-TW5500 DigitalVersus 2010-03-29 00:00:00

Pros

  • Not much calibration needed in HD mode
  • Impeccable usability
  • Lots of fine-tuned settings
  • Excellent quality in natural mode after calibration
  • Relatively deep blacks

Cons

  • Very large
  • Frame interlacing less impressive than Panasonic's
  • Expensive bulbs
  • Gamut too wide in HD mode
  • Zoom and lens-shift not motorised

Conclusion

The Epson EH-TW5500 is an excellent alternative to the Sony HW15. It's a little less bight, but as a result produces much deeper blacks. Overall, it projects excellent quality video and has no real problems or missing features.

OUR SCORE 5/5
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