Epson Home Cinema 8700 UB Review
November 18, 2010,
Lumen output. The Home Cinema 8700 UB has high brightness modes that produce a bright picture while remaining largely color-balanced. This sets it apart from other projectors whose dynamic modes have a more visible color cast or other imbalance. While a home theater projector with high maximum lumen output is not unusual, a Dynamic mode with reasonably balanced color is unusual indeed.
For the brightest possible picture, Dynamic mode measured 1830 lumens. Since Dynamic mode has relatively good color balance, you can experiment with much larger screen sizes or do your viewing in ambient light when the occasion arises.
Living Room mode is slightly less bright than Dynamic. At 1600 lumens, Living Room mode is useful for the same kind of tasks as Dynamic mode, though color temperature is intentionally set cooler. The blue push of Living Room compensates for the yellow ambient light in most living rooms, creating a (reasonably) balanced picture--though this canceling-out is not an exact science. If desired, a simple calibration can bring Living Room closer in line with standards, for a very bright theater mode with better black levels than Dynamic.
On our sample of the 8700 UB, THX mode measured 660 lumens with the lens at wide angle, which is similar to our reading on the 8500 UB (637). That's more than enough light for a standard 120" diagonal 16:9 image in a light-controlled room, and a screen of 150" diagonal would not be unreasonable, either. Keep in mind that you can use low lamp mode with any image preset to extend lamp life to 5,000 hours and reduce lumens by 22%.
Contrast. Like last year's 8500 UB, the 8700 UB is rated at 200,000:1 contrast. While contrast specifications can be misleading, the 8700 UB really does have knock-your-socks-off contrast. Black is some of the blackest we've ever seen, especially in the 8700 UB's price range. Black bars disappear from view, and night-time shots look like they are inked directly onto the screen. For those who despise black bars, the 8700 UB makes them practically unnoticeable.
Since the 8700 UB depends heavily on an auto iris system for its black levels, scenes with higher average illumination have a less impressive black level. That is not to say that the 8700 UB looks bad or low in contrast in these scenes; far from it, it still appears three-dimensional, ready to pop off the screen. Dynamic range is not lessened by the action of the iris, and these brighter scenes still appear quite lovely. But the deepest blacks are only visible in mostly dark scenes, like rolling credits or a nighttime sky.
Color. On the 8500UB, THX mode had the best color accuracy, but lower color saturation than we preferred. This would not have been a problem had THX mode been adjustable, but users were locked out of making changes to this preset. Those who wanted higher saturation had to go through a long calibration process of trying to bring Theater or Theater Black mode in line with THX mode's color balance, which required calibration equipment or an amazingly good eye. Needless to say, it was kind of a hassle. The good news this year is that, while THX mode looks just as good as it did on the 8500UB, those adjustments are no longer grayed out. Even better, saturation does not look as anemic as it did on last year's model, but if you should desire to raise it further, nothing is preventing you from doing so. For an out-of-the-box preset, THX mode is about the best we could hope to see.
Frame Interpolation. Epson has been refining their Frame Interpolation system over several years, beginning in the 6500 UB with a shaky implementation that was, quite frankly, distracting in most cases. The 8500UB's implementation was much better, with fewer artifacts and better smoothness without an overabundance of the dreaded "digital video effect." This effect creates a feeling of the picture being "too real," which ironically ruins some people's immersion in the content. Apparently, we are so used to 24 frames per second that our mind can actually rebel when presented with more.
This year's implementation is as good as it's ever been, with very few artifacts in Low or Medium and less obnoxious digital video effect in High. We would not be opposed to leaving Low engaged all the time, just on general principle, especially when watching standard-definition or television content. Engaging Frame Interpolation does delay the image in relation to the sound, so if you use this feature you will want to pick up an audio delay device, or use the one in your A/V receiver.
Super Resolution. Using a novel processing algorithm, Super Resolution presents the maximum possible amount of detail from a given source without adding undue artificial edge enhancement. It is in essence a "smart" sharpening system, and it is effective at what it does--we only saw the slightest trace of ringing at the highest setting, and none whatsoever at lower settings. It is not something we would likely use for high-def material, given the abundance of detail already present in a 1080p source. But pop in any standard-definition DVD and engage Super Resolution and you'll be amazed at the difference.
Great SD Performance. Speaking of standard definition DVDs, the 8700 UB is one of the best projectors available for their display. Turn on Frame Interpolation to Low or Medium, engage Super Resolution at a similar level, and you might not even recognize the picture you get. Detail is cleaned up, which makes DVDs look better than they ever have. Judder is eliminated thanks to the FI system. The 8700 UB's perfect color balance and excellent contrast are of course great benefits, as well. If you made a significant investment in standard-definition DVDs the 8700 UB will breathe new life into your movie collection.
Manual Zoom/Focus. The 8700 UB has manual zoom/focus, which is not a big deal unless you want to use the zoom adjustments for a 2.4 Cinemascope set up. You can do that with a long zoom lens like the 2.1:1 found on the 8700 UB. Paired with a 2.4:1 screen, you can simply "zoom up" cinemascope movies while leaving 16:9 films in the center of the frame, essentially trading letterboxing for pillarboxing. However, this is much easier with a powered zoom lens--or, even better, a projector with an automatic lens repositioning capability, such as that found on Epson's new reflective LCD offerings, the Home Cinema 21000, Pro Cinema 31000, and Pro Cinema 61000. If you are going to do this with the 8700 UB, you will need to place the projector within easy reach, so the manual resetting of the lens and lens shift is not too much of a nuisance.
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