Home theater and home entertainment are very different beasts. Epson makes projectors for both. Their new MegaPlex MG-850HD is the latter, a home entertainment projector that's designed for family fun in the living room. Perfect for video games or movies, the MG-850 features an iPod/iPad dock as well as a USB port for easy connectivity with all of your mobile devices in addition to the standard video connections. Selling for less than $800, the MG-850HD is a great addition to any family room, game room, or other communal space.
The Viewing Experience
Normally, we set up projectors in our darkened theater room in order to test them under optimal conditions. While we did the same thing with the MG-850HD, our comments here reflect the projector's performance in a living room setting with some ambient light. This is the setting in which the MG-850HD was designed to be used. So we set the projector on a coffee table, hooked up a couple of different sources, and let it rip.
The MG-850HD is built with portability in mind and even has a carry handle built in to the side of the case. The lens cap is also built in, with a small slider carrying it back and forth in front of the lens when required. All of the ports on the connection panel are recessed, and a small cover snaps into place to protect them when not in use. Even the iPod dock on the rear of the projector retracts when it's not needed. In other words, the MG-850HD isn't just portable because it weighs very little; it's portable because it was designed to be.
The MG-850HD has a 1.2:1 zoom lens and a fixed throw angle. When you place the projector on your coffee table, the bottom edge of the image will be even with the centerline of the lens. On a low coffee table, this might place the bottom of the image lower than you'd prefer, at which point you can either raise the projector by placing it on top of something or tilt it using the extendable front foot.
The Epson MegaPlex MG-850HD
The MG-850HD has automatic vertical keystone, so it will square the image for you, but you will lose some resolution. As for horizontal offset, the projector also has horizontal keystone, activated via a slider on the top of the case. This system makes it easier to set up the projector on the fly, which is especially handy if you take advantage of the MG-850HD's portability and bring it with you. If you have it set up on a table at home, then the quick-adjust keystone correction is less vital.
The first thing you'll notice when you fire up the MG-850HD is that it's very bright. Living rooms and other similar environments often have some ambient light, even with the curtains closed or the blinds drawn. To combat this, the MG-850HD cranks out almost 2400 lumens in its brightest mode, allowing you to put up a 100" diagonal picture even when there's some light in the room. Of course, this isn't universally true; the more ambient light you have, the smaller you'll have to make your image. The MG-850HD has a 1.2:1 zoom lens, so you can adjust the picture size somewhat without being forced to move the projector.
Image quality is top notch for a projector in this price range. The MG-850HD's bright picture has strong, saturated color, and the Cinema preset isn't too far off from the 6500K standard for color temperature. The projector's 1280x800 native resolution means that there are some slight black bars at top and bottom when viewing 16:9 content, but these bars all but disappear when there is significant ambient light in the room. Contrast is respectable, though black level is only about average. Video and game content from PC sources is sharp and clear, doubly so since computer output can be tailored to match the projector's native 1280x800 pixel matrix. Most importantly, 1080p from our Blu-ray player maintained most, if not all, of the clarity and detail of the original HD source despite the MG-850HD's 720p resolution.