Epson BrightLink 485Wi Interactive Projector Shootout
January 18, 2013,
The Epson BrightLink 485Wi was the hands-down winner in our Interactive Projector Shootout, earning first place or close to it in every category. Other projectors beat or match it in some areas, but none do anywhere near as well in so many different areas.
Data image quality. The 485Wi's data image quality is just short of excellent, although it comes in second in this category to the Sony VPL-SW535C. Both of these 1280x800 LCD projectors offered saturated, vibrant color in all modes, giving them an advantage over all of the DLP projectors, which had dulled down color in comparison. Also, both are guaranteed never to show the rainbow artifacts that are always a concern for DLP projectors.
On some key issues for data images, however, the 485Wi loses points. In particular, fine detail isn't as crisp as it could be. Black on white text, for example, is easily readable at 9 points, but noticeably less readable at 7 points. White on black text is easily readable only down to 10 points. For most applications, this won't be a problem, but if you need to show fine detail, it may be.
Interactive features. Unlike DLP projectors with TI's interactive technology, the 485Wi needs calibration between the pen and projector. However the process is automatic and takes only about 10 seconds, making it almost as easy as not having to calibrate at all. Note that the pen has to touch the screen to work, so you can't use it from a distance or on fragile surfaces like you can with the DLP models. On the plus side, though, there's no lag between moving the pen and seeing the result on screen.
The 485Wi also delivers extensions to basic interactivity. It's the only projector in this shootout that offers a PC-free mode, so you can mark up images using any source at all, or none. It also comes with two pens that can work simultaneously. The Sony SW535c and the BenQ MW860USTi offer similar features, but the MW860USTi came with only one pen, so we couldn't test it. Compared with the Sony, the 485Wi's dual pens worked much more smoothly and without any problems.
Interactive software support. The 485Wi also scores well for interactive software. It comes with two annotation programs standard, with an optional third program available for both Windows and the Mac; it fully supports Windows 8; it doesn't need a Windows driver; and it comes with a Mac driver.
Video image quality. As with data images, both LCD projectors offered obviously better color in video than any of the DLP projectors. With video, however, the 485Wi was clearly the winner, with more fully saturated color than the Sony, more natural skin tones, more accurate color, and better contrast in midtones and highlights. These differences between the two were greater in the brighter modes we tested but were true for the best color modes as well. One minor issue for the 485Wi in its brighter mode was a slight green bias in black. In the best color modes, however, both projectors offered a suitably neutral black.
Installation and maintenance. Thanks to features like its separate adjustments for roll, pitch, and yaw, the 485Wi offers the easiest and fastest setup for any projector in this shootout. For easy maintenance, it offers a long lamp life, at 3000 hours in standard mode and 4000 hours in Eco mode, and the ability to replace lamps and filters easily, with no screws to deal with.
Audio. The combination of good to excellent audio quality with enough volume to fill a small auditorium gives the 485Wi the best audio for any projector in this shootout. If you need sound, this is the only model in the group that isn't likely to force you to use an external sound system.
Brightness. We measured the 485Wi at 2847 lumens in its brightest mode, or about 92% of its 3100 lumen rating, and at a range of 1432 to 2248 lumens with other presets. More important is that because there's no interactive mode, there's no loss of brightness when using it interactively. The same is true of the Sony VPL-SW535C, but all of the DLP projectors lose at least some brightness in interactive mode.
Also, because it's an LCD projector, the 485Wi's color brightness is the same as its white brightness in all modes. That means, among other issues, that when viewing screens that are filled with color rather than white areas, it will give you a brighter image than a DLP projector that matches its white lumen measurement but has a lower color lumen measurement.
Connections. The side panel offers a full set of connectors:
The Epson 485Wi's high scores for data and image video quality and for interactivity are enough to make it stand out. The additional high scores for features like audio, installation, and maintenance are hardly needed to earn it first place in this shootout.
This doesn't mean that the 485Wi is the best choice for every situation. If you want the ability to interact without touching the screen, or want 3D support you'll need one of the DLP projectors we looked at. In addition, all four of the DLP choices are a bit less expensive. That said, the Epson 485Wi, at $2,199 direct complete with mount and with education discounts available, is a good place to start, and it's the interactive projector to compare to when you're considering other choices.
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