Home Theater Shootout:
Epson Home Cinema 5030UB vs Panasonic PT-AE8000
November 13, 2013
This technology has the potential to substantially improve the viewing experience of very large screen images by reducing or eliminating judder during slow camera panning sequences. Judder is often a distracting artifact that can cause the picture to completely disintegrate momentarily, and getting rid of it is a wonderful thing. Frame interpolation systems evaluate the movement that occurs between two frames in sequence, then create and insert intermediate frames that approximate the movement and tend to smooth it out.
The downside is that frame interpolation ("FI") can introduce its own artifacts such as ghosting or what one might describe as oily artifacts around subjects moving across the screen. Another common complaint about frame interpolation is that it can enhance the image to where it appears to be real video rather than film (called the "digital video" or "soap opera" effect). This can interfere with the suspension of disbelief required for total immersion in the film experience. Basically, if the picture looks like it was shot with a high resolution video camera you begin to think about how eerily real the picture looks rather than the film's story. Some people like the effect, but it is clearly a departure from the authentic cinema aesthetic. Videophiles rightly regard it as disturbingly artificial.
The objective of FI is to eliminate as much judder as possible while minimizing ghosting and the digital video effect. There is a mysterious art to this, and both the 5030 UB and the AE8000 have three separate settings that are intended to balance these trade-offs, which are essentially low, moderate, and aggressive applications of the technique. On the AE8000, FI is called Frame Creation, and the options are Off, Mode 1, Mode 2, and Mode 3. On the 5030UB it is called Frame Interpolation, and the options are Off, Low, Normal, and High.
In the end, the AE8000's Frame Creation system tends to achieve more satisfying results than the 5030UB. When it is set on low ("Mode 1") with a 1080p/24 source, the AE8000 shows substantially reduced judder while imparting very little ghosting or digital video effect in most films. Once you bump the control from low to normal (Mode 2) the remaining judder is largely eliminated, but the digital video effect can become more apparent. However, this is dependent on the nature of the material. Mode 2 is too aggressive for a romantic comedy like 50 First Dates, but it works very well with Blade Runner, wherein no soap opera effect appears at all. The ideal setting depends (a) on the movie you're watching, and (b) the degree to which you like or dislike the soap opera effect.
On the 5030UB, the Low setting does not have quite the same judder reducing power as the AE8000, but it does have a beneficial effect that is better than leaving it off altogether. When resetting FI to Normal, the 5030UB does a superb job of eliminating most judder, but it can impart a more pronounced video effect than does the AE8000 in its Mode 2. Once again, this depends entirely upon the subject matter being viewed. The movie Vicki Cristina Barcelona is filmed with slightly soft-focus optics that imparts a dreamlike quality to the image. The movie contains numerous slow panning scenes of beautiful architecture and artwork. For this film the Normal setting of FI on the 5030UB works beautifully--it eliminated panning judder without introducing any distracting digital video effect due to the film's inherent soft focus. The few ghosting artifacts that appeared were rare and insignificant. I would not watch this movie on the 5030UB without setting FI to Normal.
In short, there is no "one size fits all" solution to frame interpolation. Its effects vary and are entirely dependent on the content. If you end up selecting either of these two projectors, the FI systems will definitely be worth exploring, as they both have the ability to improve the smoothness and clarity of the image.