Epson has gotten much more serious about the home theater market with the release of their latest home theater projectors. The Epson Cinema 500 is their current top of the line unit for home theater. This projector is a relatively compact 14 lbs, and is loaded with an assortment of desirable features including horizontal and vertical lens shift, power zoom and focus with a long 1.5x zoom range, and an HDMI interface. This unit retails for $4,999. Epson also offers a less expensive edition of the same basic projector with a reduced feature set which is the Cinema 200, retailing for $2,999.
The Cinema 500 and Cinema 200 are both 1280x720 resolution LCD projectors using 0.7" widescreen format LCD panels. The primary differences between the two are as follows: the Cinema 500 is rated at 1000 ANSI lumens and 1200:1 contrast, while the Cinema 200 boosts lumen output a bit to 1300 lumens, and reduces contrast to 800:1. On the 500 there are two ports, an HDMI interface and a network port, that do not exist on the 200; in addition the 500 offers two 5-RCA component inputs whereas there is just one 3-RCA component input on the 200; a "Theatre Black" picture mode is available on the 500, but not on the 200; there is Faroudja DCDi video processing on board the 500, but not on the 200; the casework of the 200 is slightly smaller; and the 500 comes with an optional rear cap to hide wire connections in ceiling mount mode.
Connectivity. The video inputs on the rear of both units include one D4 port, one composite video, one S-video, one RS-232c, one USB port, and one trigger output. In addition the 500 offers two 5-RCA ports for component/RGB, an HDMI port, and a network port, while the 200 has one 3-RCA component port.
Compatibility. Signal compatibility includes HDMI (HDCP) on the 500, and both have component and RGB HDTV 1080i, 720p, component 576p, 480p, standard component video 480i, 576i, S-video and composite. Color systems include NTSC, PAL, and SECAM. Computer compatibility includes digital and analog PC and Macintosh from VGA to XGA.
Lens. Both units have a power zoom and focus lens with an extended zoom range of 1.5x. They throw a 100" diagonal 16:9 format image from a throw distance range of about 10 to 15 feet, lending the user or installer some flexibility in the placement of the unit.
Lens shift. Both models feature manual horizontal and vertical lens shift. The horizontal shift lets you position the entire image either to the right or to the left of the centerline of the lens, or anywhere in between. Vertical lens shift allows the image to be placed either 100% above the centerline (in tabletop orientation, with centerline striking the bottom edge of the image), or 100% below the centerline.
Color modes. The Cinema 500 has six "color modes" and the 200 has five. Both offer Dynamic, Living Room, Natural, Theatre, and sRGB. In addition the 500 has a Theater Black mode. These modes consist of preprogrammed combinations of color temperature, flesh tone (tint), lamp power, and (on the 500) an internally driven variable aperture control (iris) which closes down when Theatre Black is chosen. There are no independent user controls for lamp power or aperture adjustment-the settings are fixed based on the color mode you choose to run in. The Dynamic and Living Room color modes put the lamp into high output, thus raising fan noise and reducing estimated lamp life from 3000 to 1700 hours.
Color adjustment onboard. On the 500 there is a color temperature adjustment that runs from 5000K to 10000K in 500K increments, with the image taking on a decidedly bluish tint when pushed above 8000K. 6500K is the NTSC standard. However, as noted in other reviews, the ability to drop the color temperature to 5500K for the viewing of black and white classic films is a great feature that many projectors don't offer. In addition to color temperature, there is a separate flesh tone control, which is basically a fine tuning of magenta/green balance.
This is another small difference between the 500 and 200. The 200 does not have the incremental adjustment capability. Instead it has three color temperature settings, Low, Medium, and High, with Medium being the most neutral for color imagery.
Cinema Color Editor. Epson provides a separate software system for color balancing that the company calls the Cinema Color Editor. It runs on most Windows or MacIntosh systems with an XGA or better display adapter and monitor. The computer connects to the projector via either USB or RS-232c serial cables. Optionally on the Cinema 500 it can be connected via the network port as well.
Once you are hooked up the system provides a wider assortment of image control adjustments than are available onboard. In RGB mode you can adjust offset, gamma, and gain for each of the three signal colors. In RGBCMY mode you have hue and saturation adjustments for red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, and yellow. Once each setting is calibrated it can be saved to one of nine memories onboard the projector. Additional calibrations can be programmed and saved to your computer's hard drive if needed.
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