With all of the choices available, selecting or specifying the right projector for a larger venue can be a challenging task. Technology buyers, audiovisual design consultants and system integrators have a convenient tool for this purpose in Projector Central's Feature Search, which allows you to access the projector database. For an interesting exercise, try setting the Resolution box to "1920 x 1200," and the Brightness box to "5000 - 7000 lumens." These two parameters produce a list of 17 matching models at the moment. Now add one more parameter: change the "Any Technology" box to "LCD." The result is now just two model variations of one projector - the Epson Z8000WUNL. This seems to confirm Epson's claim that it is the only 3-chip LCD, WUXGA projector on the market today. Epson evidently had a niche in mind, so let's take a look at how well they have filled it.
Epson has produced a projector in the 6000 lumen class with WUXGA resolution, but at the lower price point of a 3-chip LCD light engine. Offering the possibility of owning two or three of these units for the same cost as a similarly classed 3-chip DLP projector, Epson has set its sights on facilities such as educational institutions with multiple auditoria and lecture halls, and the mid- to large-venue rental and staging market.
Brightness and Uniformity. In the brightest color mode, Dynamic, our test unit measured a 5,300 lumen screen average when using the normal lamp power setting. Even at screen center the effective brightness fell short at 5,650 lumens. However, the brightness uniformity (the ratio between the dimmest and brightest part of the screen) was a respectable 83%.
Reducing the lamp power to Eco mode brought the brightness down to 4,050 lumens, or about 24%. At this setting Epson predicts lamp life to increase from 2,500 to 3,500 hours, and the reduction in fan noise was significant. Other color presets, which we tested in normal lamp mode, are designed to optimize the appearance of various types of content with a corresponding sacrifice of light output. Presentation mode yielded 4,450 lumens, followed by Photo mode at 3,850 lumens. As is typical, Theater mode measures the lowest at 1,600 lumens; this setting is designed to maximize shadow detail and reproduce the "film look" in a darkened room. Finally, we tested the effect of the standard 1.0 - 1.6:1 zoom lens on light output. In Dynamic mode, the 5,300 lumens read at full wide angle drops to 4,100 lumens at full telephoto. This is only a 23% loss, which is somewhat less than the 33% we'd expect from a typical 1.6x zoom lens.
Professional Features. This Z8000 has been designed with both the integrator and rental/staging professional in mind. A pair of large, convenient handles atop the case makes lifting easier and safer for one or two people. The center lens design is convenient for both fixed and portable alignment with the screen. It nicely eliminates an annoyance that is familiar to most installers: having to offset a ceiling mount relative to screen center. But plentiful lens shift is available to deal with off-axis situations as well. Many mid-venue projectors offer lens shift that is asymmetrical vertically; that is, more lens shift is available up than down, or vice versa. On the Epson, available lens shift is an equal 70% of image height up or down, and 20% of width left or right. This is certainly not unique to this projector; for example, a 6500-lumen 1-chip DLP projector that is available from Sanyo or rebranded from Christie offers +/- 67% vertical and +/- 40% horizontal lens shift. Of course, one would hope to never need a 40% horizontal shift!
We were gratified to find that the focus, zoom and lens shift functions can be addressed with commands from the control system in discrete and repeatable steps. This means that the projector can be remotely returned to a preset screen alignment even when mounted on a ceiling lift or rotator that is difficult to access.
The dual-lamp light engine provides a measure of redundancy at important events. Changing from Normal to Eco lamp mode does not switch off a lamp, but rather appears to reduce the voltage to both in order to extend lamp life and lower the power consumption and fan noise. However, if one lamp fails, the other one will continue to operate until there is an opportunity to replace the bad lamp.
Resolution and Color Rendition. The Z8000's native 1920 x 1200 WUXGA resolution is a real asset; it will handle almost any source you can throw at it without downscaling. This is a 16:10 aspect ratio which matches the format of many laptops today. When projecting an HD 1080 source, the image is not scaled; it is a true pixel-for-pixel 1080p raster with some extra pixel lines unused. We found the small black area at the top and bottom of the image to be very well masked; the unused pixels were lit with a measured 40 lumens which was nearly unnoticeable unless the room is well darkened.
Air Filter and Longevity. The Z8000WUNL has been equipped with an electrostatic filter rated at 3 micron particle size that is good for 10,000 hours of operation. There is only a single air intake to the case, so this filter protects the optics, moving parts and electronics as well as the light engine. There is also a patented liquid cooling system which uses solid state Peltier thermoelectric devices to remove heat from each LCD panel via the coolant fluid and transfer the heat to the fan airstream. Epson's goal is that the projector will last significantly longer than the technology replacement cycle.
In case trouble does occur, the warranty is worth noting. The unit comes with a two-year projector limited warranty, a 90-day limited lamp warranty, and Epson's "Road Service Program" which provides next-business-day service. There is also a dedicated toll-free support line called Epson PrivateLine®.
Connectivity. Most major analog and digital input formats are supported, including RGBHV on separate 5-BNC and HD-15 inputs, DVI-D, and an HDMI input, in addition to standard-definition composite and S-video inputs. The input panel is located at the front of the projector next to the lens which may make for some awkward cable dressing. But the panel is covered by a trim door with top and bottom knock-outs for cable entry. Inside are cable tie points to help keep connectors such as HDMI from pulling out. Intended for large venues that would necessarily have a separate sound system, the Z8000 does not include speakers or any audio connections.
Lens Refocusing. One of the characteristics of a good zoom lens is how well focus tracks the zoom. We found that the image had to be refocused slightly after a large change in zoom setting. However, the zoom lens is usually not used dynamically on a projector so this is really only an inconvenience. The good news is that the 23% light attenuation between wide angle and full telephoto is modest for this zoom range. However, it is probably greater with some of the longer zoom lens options. Fortunately, the lens focus/zoom issue do not affect image quality. The projected image is sharp from edge to edge and corner to corner.
Menu Structure. The various levels and functions of the menu required multiple keystrokes to reach. Each function had to be highlighted, then selected by pressing enter, and then the same procedure had to be used to get to the adjustable parameter. We have seen more user-friendly remote controls and menus. On the other hand, in an installation, this projector is quite likely to be integrated with an external control system, and a very thorough set of control commands is available for the ambitious programmer to use in creating a highly customized and transparent user interface.
The Epson Z8000WUNL offers an impressive package of high resolution, image quality and professional features in a 3-LCD projector that compares well with DLP models costing significantly more. We expect the Z8000 to pick up a nice share of the mid-venue installation and rental markets, and its success would be deserved.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Epson PowerLite Pro Z8000WUNL projector page.