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Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 720 and 1080 Home Theater Projectors - First Impressions

Manufacturer: www.epson.com

Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 720

Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 720

MSRP: $1,299.99

The new Epson PowerLite Cinema 720 is a sleek introductory HD home theatre projector. It’s a well designed and well-executed take on what a home theatre projector can be.

Initial fit and finish are really good. The 720, like its big brother the 1080, have aggressive, sleek, styling. The backlit remote is clean, simple, and surprisingly well laid out, with a powerful set of adjustments. It’s like this projector wants you to tweak it.

The numbers for the new 720 are as follows – 1600 ANSI lumens brightness, 12,000:1 contrast ratio (advertised), native 720p resolution and a 16:9 aspect ratio. We’re using a Dalite 106 inch HCCV tensioned projection screen, with a 1.1 gain. The picture, as you’ll read, was incredible. We’re looking forward to testing with the 0.9 gain Draper High Def Grey material to really push the black levels and take advantage of what this projector is capable of putting out.

Setting the 720 up was a breeze. It features a similar level of installation adaptability as the Sanyo PLV-Z5. Epson describes the range of lens shift adjustment Vertical as +/- 100% and Horizontal as +/- 50%. This means you can adjust the projected image a whole light patch down, and halfway across if required. This makes it ideal to help you clear many typical obstacles, like bulkheads, seating arrangements, etc.

Our initial examination was done using BBC's Planet Earth, Fifth Element, Spiderman 3, and Disney’s Cars, all 1080P HD Blu-ray discs on a Sony PS3. There appeared to be a little folding of the 1080P image on the 720, a tracking problem which went away when we set the resolution on the PS3 to 720P.

The last thing we would normally recommend is using the presets. Now, don’t worry – the full on tested and retested numbers are coming in another article. For now it’s all about what the typical person will see, and that’s right out of the box. After playing with the Colour Mode presets we decided Theatre Black one the best overall setting. The blacks were really black and the whites were clean with a lot of detail. Setting Colour Mode to Dynamic looked bloody awful in a completely dark room, but working in full lamp mode at 1600 ANSI, actually allowed us to watch in a fully lit room (indoor, no outdoor light). It’s still not recommended to watch in a bright room, but with the 1600 lumens the 720 can put out, you can.

And Kudos to Epson for including a keystone picture area test pattern, right on the remote. It’s keeping in line with the 720’s ease of adjustment. Where the lens iris adjustments on the Z5 have no discernable effect on image quality, the 720 has no such problem. Everything works. Adjust the iris to tweak your black level. Even gamma adjustments are done with flair. Adjust your gamma level and up pops a slider control with graph showing the actual gamma curve.

Detail, especially on the Sandman compilation scene in "Spiderman 3", was clean and clear. Dark area detail was startling, and colour was crisp and well saturated, with a lot of detail. The picture had a smooth, film like quality. The 720 ran very quiet, almost indiscernible in low lamp mode. You’ll see 3LCD a lot when you’re looking at video projectors. It’s a special process that uses 3 LCD panels to colour light and a prism block to combine them. Epson pioneered the technology and also licenses it to other manufacturers.

Initial connectivity isn't quite as good as the Sanyo PLV-Z5 and PLV-Z2000. The same connectors are there, but the Sanyo just has more of them. This shouldn’t present a problem, as typical users will route their audio and video through a surround sound receiver.

Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080

Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080

MSRP: $2,499.99

Everything we liked about the 720 we can say for the 1080. They are after all, almost identical right out of the box. We kept having to flip them on their backs to tell them apart until we noticed the 1080 has a silver accented lens bezel. After you turn it on though, it’s a different story.

Here are the numbers on the 1080 – 1200 ANSI , 12,000:1 contrast ratio (advertised), 1920x1080P. It’s identical to the 720 except for a silver insert on the front of the unit. Like the 720, it’s got great “furniture value” – it compliments the room even when not being used. We can’t say that we saw more detail in the higher resolution picture thrown by the 1080. What we can say is that the image was smoother, with an almost film like texture. Like the 720, color right out of the box is exceptional. The Theater Black One setting appeared to yield best results with the 1080 as well. Get close though and you really see the improved resolution. The picture holds up even very close to the screen. Overall performance was very close to the 720, at least on initial impressions, but there is no doubt – the 1080 is a better machine. It’s all about the smaller details and the startling, lifelike impact of the 1080 goes beyond traditional small unit performance. It's also twice the expense, so don’t necessarily buy it because it's a 1080 projector. The 720 makes a very compelling argument – almost as good for half as much, but, if you want the absolute best picture that you can, get the 1080.

Mounting was easy, even given the widely spaced mounting points. We used a standard universal mount attached to three of the four mounting points. This allows easy access to both the lamp and filter access doors. Look for more mounting info in the full review to follow.

Both the 720 and the 1080 are great units, bottom line. We could not believe how good these are right out of the box. Bar none, out of box, the 1080 is the best projector we’ve reviewed. 1080P looked so real it was almost spooky. It's very clear that Epson has taken home theatre very seriously when designing the 720 and 1080. It shows.

The hard reviews are in the next article. This is just a hands-on, first glimpse. We’re going to examine performance of both the 720 and 1080 in detail, and break it down by the numbers. Also, look forward to a head to head shoot out between the Sanyo PLV-Z5 and the Epson 720, both fully ISF calibrated.

Review by Mike English

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