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A Bum Sample

We have been working on getting the Epson Cinema 550 review completed. It was scheduled to be posted no later than today, but we have a technical problem with the review sample that we are trying to sort out. So, since a whole lot of readers are anxiously awaiting this review, let me tell you where we stand with it at the moment.

Overall, the 550 looks to me like an exceptionally outstanding effort by Epson--certainly the strongest home theater projector we've yet seen from them. Black levels, shadow separation, and color saturation are first rate, and meet or exceed the performance of the other new LCD products we've recently reviewed. Though it is rated at 3000:1 contrast, in our experience Epson tends to be conservative in their specs. So believe it or not, in terms of visible contrast on the screen, the 550 actually has a slight edge on competing units with much higher contrast ratings.

The issue that is holding us up is that we see a misalignment in the LCD panels. This manifests itself in two ways. First, there is a subtle color shift toward a pinkish hue in the right side of the image. Second, while pixel structure is sharply defined on the left side of the image, it gradually softens toward the right. This causes the image sharpness on the right to soften as well.

We believe that this problem is limited to our test sample only, and not representative of the product that you'd expect to pull out of the box. However, we do not know this for a fact, and we want to get a read on a second unit prior to making any final statements in review form. But even with this flaw, the overall performance of the Epson 550 is much stronger than I would have anticipated.

The bottom line is that I fully expect to confirm that we have a bum sample that may be out of alignment for whatever reason. I do not believe that Epson would allow this type of flaw to pass Quality Control testing. Once we are able to confirm that the problem is in our test unit, we will be able to tell a very enthusiastic story about the Epson Cinema 550. It is shaping up to be one of the great happy surprises of the fall season. I look forward to posting the review early next week.

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