Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
Last year, Epson introduced the Home Cinema 8500 UB which combined excellent performance at a low price. It earned our Editor's Choice Award. Now Epson has followed up with the new PowerLite Home Cinema 8700 UB, offering incrementally better performance at an even lower price. It features proven technology - inorganic LCD panels, a killer auto-iris system to bring down black levels, and Epson's Frame Interpolation system. The 8700 UB is a powerful, capable 1080p projector serious home theater that does not cost a fortune--you can pick one up for only $2199, and that price includes a spare lamp.
The Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8700 UB is built for home theater in a light-controlled room, and for this purpose it is indeed well suited. THX mode, with its 660 lumens, provides ample light for most home theater needs. Contrast is excellent, and black bars can scarcely even be seen. However, its high lumen output modes can be useful for video games or television in a room with ambient light. The 8700 UB's Dynamic mode not only exceeds the published specification handily (1830 lumens beats its 1600-lumen rating), but it does so while keeping color balance marginally intact. The result is a much brighter picture that has no garish, obvious color bias or tint, perfect for football games or last Saturday's Pacquiao-Margarito fight, which I unfortunately watched on a television rather than a projector.
As far as placement goes, the 8700 UB includes Epson's 2.1:1 manual zoom/focus lens with manual horizontal and vertical lens shift. The 8700 UB can throw a 120" diagonal image from 11' 9" all the way back to 25' 1".
The lens shift allows for the projected image to be cast completely above or below the centerline of the lens; the range is just under three picture heights. This is a perfect setup for rear shelf mounting, as it allows for an optically neutral placement of the projector itself relative to the screen. Ceiling mounts are also possible, and the lens shift range will eliminate the need for a drop tube in a room with a standard eight-foot ceiling. The same applies to a coffee table or low shelf situation. Thanks to the extensive lens shift, the 8700 UB is one of those rare projectors that you really can place more or less wherever you'd like.
That said, not all placement situations will be ideal. The "best" set up for the 8700 UB would be using THX mode in a light-controlled room on a mid-height shelf, such that you don't need to use the lens shift at all, and preferably at a distance where you're in the middle of the zoom range. Light output is curtailed by the zoom lens when it is set at its maximum telephoto position--the projector is 36% less bright compared to its lumen output with the lens at maximum wide angle. This drop-off is more or less linear, so when setting the lens at the midpoint of its range you'll lose about 18%.
If we assume we are using a 120" diagonal screen, the middle of the throw range would put the projector at sixteen feet from the screen. Here you are at the optical sweetspot of the lens, and getting about 540 lumens in THX mode, which is plenty for a 1.0 gain screen of this size. Low lamp mode will reduce lumen output a further 22%. The end result is roughly 420 lumens which is perfectly comfortable illumination on a 1.3 gain, 120" screen.
Lumen output. The Home Cinema 8700 UB has high brightness modes that produce a bright picture while remaining largely color-balanced. This sets it apart from other projectors whose dynamic modes have a more visible color cast or other imbalance. While a home theater projector with high maximum lumen output is not unusual, a Dynamic mode with reasonably balanced color is unusual indeed.
For the brightest possible picture, Dynamic mode measured 1830 lumens. Since Dynamic mode has relatively good color balance, you can experiment with much larger screen sizes or do your viewing in ambient light when the occasion arises.
Living Room mode is slightly less bright than Dynamic. At 1600 lumens, Living Room mode is useful for the same kind of tasks as Dynamic mode, though color temperature is intentionally set cooler. The blue push of Living Room compensates for the yellow ambient light in most living rooms, creating a (reasonably) balanced picture--though this canceling-out is not an exact science. If desired, a simple calibration can bring Living Room closer in line with standards, for a very bright theater mode with better black levels than Dynamic.
On our sample of the 8700 UB, THX mode measured 660 lumens with the lens at wide angle, which is similar to our reading on the 8500 UB (637). That's more than enough light for a standard 120" diagonal 16:9 image in a light-controlled room, and a screen of 150" diagonal would not be unreasonable, either. Keep in mind that you can use low lamp mode with any image preset to extend lamp life to 5,000 hours and reduce lumens by 22%.
Contrast. Like last year's 8500 UB, the 8700 UB is rated at 200,000:1 contrast. While contrast specifications can be misleading, the 8700 UB really does have knock-your-socks-off contrast. Black is some of the blackest we've ever seen, especially in the 8700 UB's price range. Black bars disappear from view, and night-time shots look like they are inked directly onto the screen. For those who despise black bars, the 8700 UB makes them practically unnoticeable.
Since the 8700 UB depends heavily on an auto iris system for its black levels, scenes with higher average illumination have a less impressive black level. That is not to say that the 8700 UB looks bad or low in contrast in these scenes; far from it, it still appears three-dimensional, ready to pop off the screen. Dynamic range is not lessened by the action of the iris, and these brighter scenes still appear quite lovely. But the deepest blacks are only visible in mostly dark scenes, like rolling credits or a nighttime sky.
Color. On the 8500UB, THX mode had the best color accuracy, but lower color saturation than we preferred. This would not have been a problem had THX mode been adjustable, but users were locked out of making changes to this preset. Those who wanted higher saturation had to go through a long calibration process of trying to bring Theater or Theater Black mode in line with THX mode's color balance, which required calibration equipment or an amazingly good eye. Needless to say, it was kind of a hassle. The good news this year is that, while THX mode looks just as good as it did on the 8500UB, those adjustments are no longer grayed out. Even better, saturation does not look as anemic as it did on last year's model, but if you should desire to raise it further, nothing is preventing you from doing so. For an out-of-the-box preset, THX mode is about the best we could hope to see.
Frame Interpolation. Epson has been refining their Frame Interpolation system over several years, beginning in the 6500 UB with a shaky implementation that was, quite frankly, distracting in most cases. The 8500UB's implementation was much better, with fewer artifacts and better smoothness without an overabundance of the dreaded "digital video effect." This effect creates a feeling of the picture being "too real," which ironically ruins some people's immersion in the content. Apparently, we are so used to 24 frames per second that our mind can actually rebel when presented with more.
This year's implementation is as good as it's ever been, with very few artifacts in Low or Medium and less obnoxious digital video effect in High. We would not be opposed to leaving Low engaged all the time, just on general principle, especially when watching standard-definition or television content. Engaging Frame Interpolation does delay the image in relation to the sound, so if you use this feature you will want to pick up an audio delay device, or use the one in your A/V receiver.
Super Resolution. Using a novel processing algorithm, Super Resolution presents the maximum possible amount of detail from a given source without adding undue artificial edge enhancement. It is in essence a "smart" sharpening system, and it is effective at what it does--we only saw the slightest trace of ringing at the highest setting, and none whatsoever at lower settings. It is not something we would likely use for high-def material, given the abundance of detail already present in a 1080p source. But pop in any standard-definition DVD and engage Super Resolution and you'll be amazed at the difference.
Great SD Performance. Speaking of standard definition DVDs, the 8700 UB is one of the best projectors available for their display. Turn on Frame Interpolation to Low or Medium, engage Super Resolution at a similar level, and you might not even recognize the picture you get. Detail is cleaned up, which makes DVDs look better than they ever have. Judder is eliminated thanks to the FI system. The 8700 UB's perfect color balance and excellent contrast are of course great benefits, as well. If you made a significant investment in standard-definition DVDs the 8700 UB will breathe new life into your movie collection.
Manual Zoom/Focus. The 8700 UB has manual zoom/focus, which is not a big deal unless you want to use the zoom adjustments for a 2.4 Cinemascope set up. You can do that with a long zoom lens like the 2.1:1 found on the 8700 UB. Paired with a 2.4:1 screen, you can simply "zoom up" cinemascope movies while leaving 16:9 films in the center of the frame, essentially trading letterboxing for pillarboxing. However, this is much easier with a powered zoom lens--or, even better, a projector with an automatic lens repositioning capability, such as that found on Epson's new reflective LCD offerings, the Home Cinema 21000, Pro Cinema 31000, and Pro Cinema 61000. If you are going to do this with the 8700 UB, you will need to place the projector within easy reach, so the manual resetting of the lens and lens shift is not too much of a nuisance.
Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8700 UB vs. Panasonic PT-AE4000U
When it comes to the $2000 neighborhood, the Panasonic AE4000 is without a doubt the big kid on the block. It has an unmatched set of features, from powered 2.0:1 zoom and focus to some of the best Frame Interpolation available and a Lens Memory function that makes 2.4:1 display a snap. It also has unique features like a gaming mode, split-screen calibration, and an onboard wave form monitor that are not found on the 8700 UB. A complete list of the AE4000's capabilities can be found in the review of that projector. This comparison will focus on differences in image quality.
Contrast. The AE4000 and 8700 UB both have excellent contrast. Different content will, on occasion, make one projector look better than the other. The 8700 UB has black so dark it is reminiscent of deep space, but the AE4000 is no slouch, either. Content with low average illumination will cause the 8700 UB to have deeper blacks, while content with higher light levels will cause the AE4000 to gain an edge. The 8700 UB typically has an advantage in dynamic range, but in bright, sunny scenes the AE4000 edges it out. Most of the time, the two are remarkably close.
Brightness. In terms of absolute maximum brightness, the 8700 UB has an edge at 1830 lumens against the AE4000's 1362 lumens; in addition, its Dynamic mode has better color balance than the AE4000's Dynamic mode. In cinema mode, the 8700 UB's THX mode measures 660 lumens versus 548 in Cinema 1 on the AE4000. The AE4000 does have Normal mode, which is a 950-lumen setting that produces a saturated, reasonably color-balanced picture with good contrast, especially appropriate for sports or other television. The 8700 UB does not have an analogue for this mode, instead offering Living Room at 1600 lumens. You can always put Living Room into low lamp mode, cutting output by 22% and leaving you with 1248 lumens; one should also be aware that using the zoom lens on either projector will curtail maximum light output due to the optical properties of such lenses. In short, the 8700 UB is brighter in most instances.
Color Accuracy. In their cinema modes, there isn't much difference between the two projectors in terms of color. Both have near-perfect 6500K grayscale tracking out of the box. The 8700 UB holds better color in its highest brightness modes than does the AE4000.
Sharpness and clarity. In addition to their natural sharpness, both the AE4000 and the 8700 UB have some sort of detail enhancement technology. On the 8700 UB this takes the form of Super Resolution, and it does a fantastic job with standard-def sources, cleaning them up significantly. Panasonic's answer is Detail Clarity, a similar system that performs a similar function, though the exact mechanisms differ in how they are implemented. Neither should be cranked to full, and neither is strictly necessary when using good quality HD sources. Both have significant benefit when using standard-definition source material. It is hard to directly compare the two, as overdriving either will add undesirable artifacts such as noise, a grainy appearance, or slight ringing. What is most important is that the feature is present on both projectors and works as intended.
Frame Interpolation. When Frame Interpolation was a new feature, Panasonic's implementation was the best around, no question. Things have come a long way since then, and Epson's implementation is now very respectable. When comparing the two technologies head to head, the 8700 UB's is smoother, while the AE4000's has less "digital video effect." Both have three modes, essentially High, Medium, and Low, and both can be disabled if you prefer to run without them.
Value. The 8700 UB's price of $2,199 includes a spare lamp and a two-year warranty. Premature failure of the lamp is covered under the warranty for the entire two years. The AE4000 currently sells at street prices around $2,000. It comes with a one-year warranty that can be extended for a second year (or 2000 hours of usage, whichever comes first), at no charge by filling in a claim form similar to a mail-in rebate. Premature lamp failure is covered for 90 days.
Epson's Home Cinema 8700 UB is a great value at $2199. Its THX mode produces a beautiful well-balanced cinema picture that needs no further professional calibration. It can also put out an exceptionally bright picture that's useful in ambient light or for really big screens. It has the deepest black levels available for the money, near-perfect color, and excellent clarity of detail. Placement flexibility is second to none. Standard-definition DVDs shine thanks to Frame Interpolation and Super Resolution.
The projector's only real weakness is in 2.4:1 support. Manually adjusting back and forth for 2.4:1 movies via the zoom can be a hassle with the non-powered lens. So if 2.4 Cinemascope without an outboard lens is on your list of priorities, the 8700 UB might not be.
The Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8700 UB is an excellent projector that produces a beautiful image at a low price, with enough convenience features to make setup a breeze. For $2,199, you really cannot ask for more--and yet more is what you'll get, since Epson is giving away a free lamp with every 8700 UB sold through March 2012.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8700UB projector page.