Epson's Newly Improved TW100
We first reviewed the Epson TW100 last August when it was first released. It is Epson's first product built exclusively for the home theater market. We were enthused about it at the time and were happy to recommend it. The only thing that kept it off our exclusive "Highly Recommended" list was its very good but not stunning contrast ratio of 600:1.
However, Epson has recently made improvements to the TW100. The models now shipping have been boosted to 800:1 contrast. Color saturation and shadow detail have been improved accordingly. And to top it off, Epson has dropped the retail price by $500. These changes have transformed the TW100 from a very good price/performer into an outstanding price/performer. We are pleased to be adding the newly improved TW100 to our Highly Recommended list. It is now a strong competitive rival to the other widescreen format LCD projectors on the market, including primarily the Sony HS10 and Sony VPL-VW12HT. Comparative comments will be made at the end of this updated review.
The TW100 is a native 16:9 format, WXGA (1280x720) resolution LCD projector, with a newly reduced retail price of $4,499.
The high resolution of the WXGA class machines is worth some comment. Many folks mistakenly think of WXGA as only slightly higher in resolution, just a bit wider, than standard XGA. Not true. The TW100's 1280 x 720 pixel matrix uses a total of 921,600 pixels to produce a 16:9 image. Meanwhile a standard XGA projector (1024x768) can only use 75% of its pixels (1024x575) to produce a 16:9 image. The rest of the pixels are allocated to top and bottom black bars. That means a standard XGA machine only uses a total of about 589,000 pixels, or 36% less than the TW100.
To put that into perspective, that is about the same percentage difference in pixel density as there is between XGA and SVGA. So the step up to WXGA is significant. And with LCD technology, WXGA resolution is particularly noteworthy for the fact that it is sufficient to fully eliminate the notorious screendoor effect. At this resolution, LCD effectively matches DLP in terms of pixel invisibility from normal viewing distances.
A rundown of the TW100's performance capability and features is as follows:
ANSI lumen rating. The TW100 is rated at 700 ANSI lumens. There are two things to bear in mind here. For those who think 700 lumens does not sound bright enough, remember that there is much more light per square foot coming off a 100" screen with this projector than there is coming from a commercial movie theater screen. So--is 700 lumens enough to create a satisfying image? Absolutely.
ANSI lumen ratings are the source of incredible confusion in the marketplace. The Sony HS10 is rated at 1200 ANSI lumens, and the Sony VW12HT is rated at 1000. So you would think both of these units are much brighter than the TW100, right? Wrong. After calibration and optimization for best video performance, both of the Sony units end up delivering real lumen outputs closer to 400 ANSI lumens. Meanwhile Epson, a company that is notoriously conservative with its specifications, delivers almost all of the 700 ANSI lumens the TW100 spec claims, even after calibration. We measured it at 623. So the bottom line is, though the TW100 carries a substantially lower lumen rating on the spec sheet, in operation it is in fact brighter than either of the Sony units by about 50%.
The bottom line is that if you cross the TW100 off your list because you think it is underpowered, you will be doing yourself a disservice. It has plenty of punch to light up all but the very largest of home theater screens.
Contrast rating. Epson puts the new contrast spec on the TW100 at 800:1. And once again Epson's conservatism is apparent on the screen—the TW100 in action looks higher in contrast than you would expect based on its specs. In our last look, we thought shadow detail was surprisingly good for a unit rated at 600:1. This has clearly been improved and the TW100 now ranks as an elite performer among its LCD competitors.
Connectivity. The connection panel features one component input of 3 RCA jacks, one 15-pin port for component and analog RGB, one DVI-I port, one composite video, and one S-video. The unit will take 480i, 480p, 575i, 575p, 720p, and 1080i video formats.
Lens and throw distance. There is a manual zoom/focus lens with a 1.35x zoom factor. This provides good flexibility in where you place the projector. For a 100" diagonal 16:9 screen, the projector must be placed so that the lens is between 10.3 and 14 feet from the screen. If you have the latitude, try to place it at about 12 feet so you use the midrange of the zoom lens, which is the sweet spot of the optics.
Heat is exhausted out the front of the unit. So you don't need too much clearance between the rear of the projector and the back wall of a room. The manual does not specify it, but we would suggest leaving at least a 12" clearance if you can manage it. The projector cannot be mounted in an enclosed unventilated space.
Fan noise. The TW100 has relatively low fan noise, and it is comparable to most other units in its class. Fan noise should not be an issue for most users.
Remote control. The remote has a reliable range of 30 feet, and the projector responds promptly to commands from the remote. It has the handy one-touch aspect ratio control that is finally beginning to appear on a number of products destined for the home theater market. It also features individual buttons for input selection. However, other than the way it is programmed, the physical remote is the same one supplied with the Sanyo PLV-70. So the same problem should be pointed out here—the wobbling disc that controls menu pointing and selection is a nuisance to deal with, although it can be mastered with some practice. We'd prefer discrete point and select buttons. All things considered however, this is not a relevant issue in the selection of the projector.
Lamp and lamp life. The 150-watt UHE lamp is expected to last 3000 hours, which is a significant advantage over most competitive units that are commonly rated at 2000 hours or less. Since most lamps for digital projectors (including this one) retail for around $400, the TW100's 3000 hour lamp life may contribute to a reduced cost of ownership in a meaningful way, depending on how many hours per month you expect to use the projector. The calculation is worth doing to see how much of an issue it may be for you.
The TW100 excels in a number of performance areas. In terms of color accuracy it ranks with the very best we've ever seen in a digital projector. And with the improved contrast, color saturation is outstanding. It is not hyperbolic to say that brightness uniformity is phenomenal; the TW100 outperforms all other digital projectors we've ever had in the lab in when it comes to evenness of illumination from edge to edge and top to bottom. Finally, it delivers superb image definition derived from excellent scaling into its high resolution LCD panels. The factory presetting on the sharpness control adds some edge definition that we did not like, but taking it down a couple notches yielded the smooth image we were looking for.
As noted above, shadow separation and detail is notably improved. In our estimation, this has made a huge difference in the overall value of the TW100. Higher contrast DLPs still do a better job in this area. But keep in mind that few of them can rival the rich color dynamics of the TW100. And all DLP projectors that can match the TW100's 1280x720 native resolution are selling for more than twice the price.
As far as ease of installation goes, the TW100 is as user friendly as it gets. Its compact 9.3 lb size makes it easy to ceiling mount with a minimum of hassle. The short throw lens and lack of a need for extended clearance from the rear means that you can install it in a rather small room. As an added bonus, the off-white case color is the preferred choice for many consumers. So all in all, this is a "no muss, no fuss" home theater solution that puts out a truly remarkable high definition picture for the money.
By the way, when you open the box of the TW100, you find a BIG notice that says if you have any problems or technical questions, call this 800 number and you will get an Epson rep WITHIN 45 SECONDS. Frankly, this is not something we see everyday. Most vendors normally bury their customer sevice numbers in the fine print if they tell you about them at all. The claim was so unbelievable that we had to try it. Therefore we ran a test. Using a precisely calibrated SWATCH chronometer, we called the 800 number and measured the elapsed time between the moment the final digit was dialed and the eventual "hello" from a live Epson rep. The total elapsed time was 37 seconds. Thus once again, we found Epson to be conservative in their specs.
Screen recommendation. The best screen match to optimize performance of the TW100 is the Stewart Firehawk, with a 1.35 gain. The Firehawk will further enhance contrast and open up shadows. The gain factor will produce a slightly brighter and more dynamic image overall. When you are displaying material that is wider than 16:9, and thus have black bars at the top and bottom of the image, the Firehawk renders them closer to black than any other screen material.
These are both excellent WXGA-class LCD projectors, but the PLV-70, also sold as the Boxlight Cinema 20HD, is the more expensive of the two. The PLV-70 has slightly higher physical resolution of 1366 x 768. It uses 1,049,000 pixels to the TW100's 921,600. So its pixel density on the screen is about 14% higher than the TW100.
There is no screendoor effect on either of them unless viewed from a distance of less than 1.5x the screen width. In this regard both of them can stand up to any DLP on the market. In color dynamics they are equally outstanding, and few competitors can approach either of them in color. Both projectors have DVI, both benefit incrementally from DVI to the same degree, and both have all the other signal compatibility you will need.
The PLV-70 has an obvious advantage in lumen output, statistically more than double that of the Epson after calibrations. So the Sanyo is the more versatile machine for larger screen theaters, as well as rooms where ambient light is either desired or inevitable. On the other hand, due to the longer throw lens and the 3-foot recommended rear clearance, the PLV-70 cannot be installed in many rooms that will easily accommodate the TW100. Often practical considerations such as this are the deciding factors.
Both projectors have excellent blacks. Both have the same weak point relative to DLP competitors, which is in the area of shadow separation, but we would give the edge to the Epson on this. We would not however say that there was a difference so significant as to make this issue a deciding factor.
Overall image quality is a subjective thing. "Which picture is better?' is a question that reasonable people may answer differently. We believe however, that as impressive as the TW100 is, the PLV-70 delivers an image that is slightly more refined and dramatic. However, the differences are quite subtle. The decision between the two should depend entirely upon your intended usage. If you have a smaller room and a screen size not exceeding 100" diagonal, the Epson is clearly the better choice as the PLV-70 is too much projector for that environment. If you are going larger than 120" diagonal in a larger room and you have ambient light issues, the PLV-70 is clearly the better choice. If you are somewhere in the middle, you can flip a coin and end up with a great solution.
Keep in mind that not only is the TW100 much less expensive, but its 3000-hour lamp may give it an edge over the Sanyo in cost-of-ownership. The PLV-70's lamp life is 2000 hours.
TW100 vs. Sony VPL-HS10 Cineza
Currently the Sony HS10 street prices are in the overall ballpark range of about $1000 less than the TW100. It is less of a machine, and the price difference is warranted. The HS10 is currently on our Highly Recommended list due to its low price. It will remain there for the time being because of its great price/performance proposition. However the TW100 is clearly worth the incremental investment for those who have the money and want to step up to a higher performance machine. The TW100 outperforms the HS10 in color accuracy, color saturation, contrast, shadow detail, brightness uniformity, lumen output and fan noise. There is simply no contest between the two. The decision should be based entirely upon what you can afford and what you want to spend.
TW100 vs. Sony VPL-VW12HT
The Sony VPL-VW12HT is a fine projector. We reviewed it recently and concluded that users will get great performance out of it. However, we felt it was a bit overpriced and accordingly did not add it to our Highly Recommended list. After seeing the new TW100, which is currently $2000 less at retail, we can state categorically that the Sony VW12HT is clearly overpriced. The TW100 pumps out more lumens with greater color accuracy than does the VW12HT. Even if these two units were priced identically, we cannot think of a circumstance in which we would recommend the VW12HT over the new TW100.
By goosing up the contrast performance and bringing down the price, Epson has moved the TW100 into the elite class of price/performers that represent truly outstanding value for the money. We are pleased to give it our strongest possible recommendation. At this writing the retail price is $4,499. Epson informs us that the new higher contrast edition is on dealer shelves now. How do you know if you are getting the new one? They have two different part numbers. The original edition (600:1 contrast) has part number V11H053020. The new version with improved 800:1 contrast is V11H104020. Write this number down and call your Epson TW100 dealer today!