Epson's EH-TW7200 Projector
To be fair the TW7200 itself is something of an imposing presence. This curvy, white machine with styling reminiscent of Flash Gordon, weighs in at 8.4Kg and is a chunky 466 x 140 x 395 mm (width x depth x height). If your living room has a vacant chimney-breast (as does mine) this would be just the place to house it.
But with your TW7200 fitted comfortably into a convenient niche, the first thing you're guaranteed to discover when you switch the thing on is that the screen is the wrong size and in the wrong place. Happily, Epson is ahead of you here, providing easily the most impressive screen adjustments I've come across on any of the projectors I've looked at so far.
Lens shift - the ability to move the projected image up, down and sideways - is controlled by a pair of knurled wheels buried at right angles to one another in the top surface of the projector. This arrangement allows you to move the picture from one side to another by almost 50 per cent (so that an imaginary vertical line through the normal centre the screen can become left or right edge of the shifted screen). Vertical shift is even more extensive: the projected image can be moved up or down by nearly one whole screen height. And remember, this is a screen up to 300 inches diagonal (in a very large room). Try doing that with your 55 inch TV.
Screen size is extraordinarily flexible too, thanks to the extensive zooming capability of the lens. I like a picture that pretty well fills the wall; my wife wants one not much larger than the TV set she's used to. The TW7200's 2.1 optical zoom caters for us both, and all sizes in between.
Size matters, but more important of course is the quality of the picture. Epson bets the farm on the 3LCD system, which uses a white light path split using a pair of dichroic mirrors into red, green and blue beams, each of which is run through its own LCD panel - think of this as a miniature monochrome TV screen for each of the fundamental colours. The three colour beams are then directed into a dichroic prism which combines them again to form the final picture.
Epson claims that this process has two key advantages over the rival Texas Instruments DLP system that is behind most of the low-end consumer projectors. Firstly there’s no risk at all of the “rainbow effect” that can sometimes fringe high contrast edges with flashes of distracting primary colours. And the overall picture makes optimal use of the illumination - there’s no rotating wheel of colour filters cutting down the light. This means that the TW7200 delivers the full value of its 2000 lumen lamp throughout the show - not just when you’re looking at a white screen.
There’s some substantial scientific basis to these claims once you’ve scraped off the layers of marketing hype, but the ultimate test will have to be your own eyes. Wire the machine up to your favourite video source (via a wide choice of ports: two HDMI, component video, D-Sub PC, S-Video or - as a last resort - composite). Hit the On button on the remote control, wait 8 seconds for the shutter protecting the lens to slide majestically open - and voila!
For me - yes - the TW7200 is capable of outstandingly clear full HD pictures that are quite bright enough to allow you to watch, say, daytime TV in the afternoon with the curtains open. In properly darkened surroundings the projector can also capture the low-light nuances of shadow from a well-mastered cinema-quality Blu-ray movie. TI’s DLP system has done a great job making home cinema affordable. But around the price point of the TW7200 you start to appreciate the finesse of 3LDC.
Contrast has traditionally been a weakness of 3LCD projectors, which have often relied on an “auto-iris” feature to bring contrast nominally up to spec. This automatically narrows down the lens for dark passages and opens it up again for bright ones, sometimes with audible mechanical noise. The TW7200, with a claimed contrast ratio of 120,000:1, allows auto-iris to be optionally be switched on in two modes, Normal and High Speed. I found that in most situations the projector performed well without it, and when it was activated it was optically and aurally unobtrusive.
The RRP includes one set of 3D glasses, but if you shop around you can find dealers who for that price will also throw in an extra pair, which can otherwise set you back upwards from 45 quid. The 3D glasses technology is inherently more expensive than that used with low end DLP projectors, because instead of relying on flashes from the screen itself to stay in sync, the Epson projector uses a radio frequency connection. This has the advantage that the glasses stay in the sync even if you look away from the screen for some length of time.
The TW7200's 3D rendition is very clean, as you'd expect at this price. Its sophisticated image processing does lack of one element however, which could be especially useful for 3D movies. Although there is full control over colour, noise reduction, contrast, sharpening, and other static elements of the image, this particular model lacks any form of "ME/MC" (motion estimation/motion compensation). There is no way the machine can interpolate frames to smooth out the judder that sometimes occurs during fast action sequences - especially in 3D.
I can't say I missed this, and indeed real aficionados of home cinema have been known to argue that motion processing of this kind is the work of the devil. Its absence puzzled me though, because the TW7200's video processing capability can upscale a 2D movie into a 3D movie in real time in much the same way as many of today's 3D TVs. TVs like this also do frame interpolation - a much easier computational task than conjuring up a third dimension from a flat picture. I suspect that Epson is probably saving itself (and customers) a few bob here by avoiding some expensive patent or other.
Do I have any gripes about this splendid projector? Yes, there's one thing that really bugs me. The remote control is chunky, 22 cms long, which is unusual, although with the advantage that you're not likely to lose this important accessory down the back of your sofa. What I find myself resenting is that this is evidently the same remote control used for a more expensive Epson model, and it includes a set of buttons relating to features not available on the TW7200. A trivial point perhaps, but it is not the place of a remote control with ideas above its station to be constantly reminding me of the shortcomings of the model I've chosen.
But I don't want to end on a sour note. The TW7200 is a projector I’d be proud to own, with a 2 year warranty (3 years or 3000 hours on the lamp) and the wholehearted backing of Epson’s dedicated, keen and knowledgeable UK support staff. The picture quality is superb and the flexibility of its lens shift and zoom are outstanding.
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