Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
Just a year or two ago, if you needed a very high resolution SXGA+ (1400x1050) projector, you would have paid $10,000 or more for it. For that price you did indeed get high resolution, but you did not get high light output or high contrast. And you had to deal with weight, bulkiness, and fan noise in the bargain. The early SXGA+ products were specialty items designed for niche applications in which image detail was vital-engineering and architectural drawings, medical school training, and so on.
With the latest crop of SXGA+ projectors the truth has changed. These new models deliver brilliant, high contrast images at prices well below $5,000, in smaller, sleeker designs with minimal fan noise. Accordingly, SXGA+ projectors are undergoing a transformation from bit players in niche markets to mainstream, multipurpose projection systems. Not only will they continue to be used for high resolution data and computer graphics display, but they can also be used for spectacular presentations of digital photography and large scale 4:3 format home theater. One of the hottest of the new SXGA+ models out this spring is the Optoma EP910, which is a 10-pound projector capable of delivering a sharp, bright, beautifully saturated image for street prices under $4,000.
Light Engine: 1400x1050 native resolution 1.0" DLP DarkChip3 with a 2x speed, 4-segment color wheel.
ANSI Lumens: 3500
Compatibility: HDTV 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p, and computer resolutions up to 1600x1200. Full NTSC / PAL / SECAM.
Lens and Throw Distance: 1.20:1 manual zoom/focus lens. Throws a 120" diagonal image from 16' to 19'.
Lamp Life: 2,000 hours in normal mode, 3,000 hours in eco-mode.
Connection Panel: One composite video, one S-Video, one VGA-in port, one VGA-out port, one set of RCA component inputs, one DVI-I input, one RJ-45 network port, one RS-232 port for an external control, one USB port, four audio inputs (one each corresponding to composite/S-video, component, VGA, and DVI) and one audio out.
Warranty: Three years.
Just from reading the spec sheet you can expect the EP910 to put out quite a bit of light. It is officially rated at 3500 ANSI lumens. Once we set it up for bright presentation of computer data and graphics, our review unit measured 2430 ANSI lumens in high lamp mode. Alternatively, with color calibrated to 6500K and in low lamp mode, lumen output measured 1085 ANSI lumens. Any lumen output between these two settings is attainable, but there is the normal trade-off of gaining higher lumen output at the expense of contrast and color saturation. The ideal calibration for you will vary based upon the application and viewing room environment you plan to use it in.
Contrast performance from the DarkChip3 DLP is excellent in comparison to most other SXGA+ products on the market at this time. Blacks are solid black, shadow details in video and digital photography are clearly defined, and highlights are bright and crisp without blowing out detail. The unit is rated at 3000:1, and it actually performs a bit better than other products we've seen that carry a similar 3000:1 rating.
One of the most impressive attributes of the EP910 is image sharpness. Of course, all 1400x1050 projectors are capable of delivering reasonably sharp images since that is the primary objective of high native resolution machines. But the EP910 stands out as delivering one of the sharper pictures even within the SXGA+ class of products. This distinction was apparent no matter what type of material was being displayed-computer data/graphics, digital photography, or video.
As a general rule, one should always deliver computer signals to a projector in the projector's native resolution in order to obtain the highest quality image. This is true for the SXGA+ projectors as well. So for best results in computer data, graphics and digital photography, use a computer capable of outputting a 1400x1050 signal when using the EP910.
The image acuity of the EP910 will make it an attractive choice for those who have any type of subject matter requiring very high resolution display. The dual 3W onboard stereo speakers deliver much better than average audio support in a normal conference room setting, and the ability to alter lumen output based on screen and audience size lends it some valuable versatility for portable use. Fan noise is very low for a projector of this size and lumen output.
The remote is uncluttered and easy to use. The same buttons used to navigate the menu can control wireless mouse functionality with the flick of a switch. There are direct access buttons for digital zoom, keystone correction, AV mute, page up/down, the projector's various sources, and a laser pointer. The remote is not backlit, nor does it glow in the dark.
Digital photography. In preparation for the current SXGA+ reviews, we assembled a collection of fifty digital photographs of native SXGA+ resolution that included a variety of nature scenes, architectural images, portraits, high and low contrast images, outdoor and indoor lighting, high and low color saturation, and several black/white images. We are using this collection as test material in the review process on all of the SXGA+ models.
The EP910 was able to deliver a particularly stunning rendition of these photographic images due to its inherent sharpness, contrast, and color saturation. Moreover, there was a naturally realistic quality that looked virtually identical to the projection of medium format positive film. As an avocation, I have done quite a bit of medium and large format photography in my life, so I appreciate the serious photographer's passion for uncompromising image quality. I was blown away by the breathtaking realism of the images produced by the EP910. I can say that if I were to give a projection presentation of my own photographic work, the EP910 is one of the first projectors I'd select for the job.
As a side note, the EP910 has a 2x speed color wheel that will produce rainbow artifacts in video presentation for viewers who are sensitive to them. However, there is no motion in the display of digital photographs, so this material does not stimulate the same rapid eye movement that video does. Therefore, if your primary application is the presentation of still images such as digital photographs, artwork, and the like, you can use a unit like the EP910 without any worry that rainbow artifacts will be a distraction for your viewers.
A Solution for 4:3 Home Theater
If you are seeking a projector for large scale 4:3 format home theater, the EP910 may be a good option for you. Its advantages are ample lumen output for large screen coverage, excellent image sharpness and contrast, and beautifully natural color saturation. Its limitations are its short 1.2x zoom range, lack of lens shift, and the 2x speed DLP color wheel that can produce the aforementioned rainbow artifacts for some people.
For the video testing of the EP910 and other SXGA+ projectors, we are using a 150" diagonal, 4:3 aspect ratio Studiotek 130 white screen donated for the project by Stewart Filmscreen (our thanks to Stewart Filmscreen for the assistance). This screen is ten feet wide and 7.5 feet tall, so it is a bit larger than most typical home theater screens. However, the high lumen output and high resolution of products like the EP910 make them uniquely suited to larger scale home theater implementations. Our objective is always to test projectors in the manner they are most likely to be used by consumers, and if you have a room large enough to accommodate a 150" screen you can realize the full dramatic potential of the EP910. (You can go down to 120" diagonal if you need to, but image sizes much smaller than this begin to get too bright in a dark viewing room.)
The benefit of this type of set up is that you can view widescreen movies and HDTV in large scale, ten-foot wide presentation, and you can also view classic films that were made prior to 1953 in their native 4:3 format, just as they were presented in the commercial theaters of the day. The 4:3 format of the SXGA+ projector lets you use more vertical height of the wall, which you often cannot do with the newer 16:9 format home theater projectors. Meanwhile, widescreen 16:9 material is displayed using a pixel matrix of 1400x788, which is a 20% increase in pixel density over the standard 1280x720 widescreen projector. For those who enjoy viewing classic films and other 4:3 materials as well as widescreen programming, this may be viewed as the best of both worlds.
The installation challenge presented by the EP910 is that you can only accommodate a desired screen size from a rather limited choice of placements. If you want a 120" diagonal 4:3 image, you must place the projector at least 16 and not more than 19 feet from the screen. Three feet of leeway is not a lot to work with. Also, there is no lens shift. Instead, there is a built in throw angle that positions the image above the centerline of the lens, with the gap between the centerline of the lens and the base of the projected image being about 25% of the picture height. In practical terms, this means that ceiling mounting or floor level placement will be the best options. Placing the unit on a rear shelf will usually mandate a severe tilt of the projector and aggressive keystone adjustment to square it up.
Furthermore, let's think about ceiling mounting for a moment. Assuming we want a 120" diagonal image, that is a screen size of eight feet in width and six feet in height. In rough numbers, a ceiling mount will place the lens about six inches below the ceiling, and the throw angle will place the top of the projected image about 1.5 feet below that. The image itself is 6 feet high, and if we wish to have a minimum two feet of clearance between the bottom of the image and the floor, we need a room with a ten foot ceiling to accommodate the 120" diagonal image. In essence, the built-in throw angle is perfect for throwing a 120" diagonal image from a ceiling mounted position if the ceiling is ten feet high. That may be just right for your home, or it may present you with some difficulties.
Now, to be fair, the EP910 is a high-performance commercial projector. Optoma engineers and product planners never intended for it to address the needs of the home theater market. So the fact that it does not have the long zoom range and lens shift features of many home theater projectors cannot reasonably be viewed as a feature deficiency. Those who elect to use the EP910 for home entertainment are choosing to do so for its obvious unique benefits, and must accept its inherent limitations. The point of the discussion is that each potential buyer must consider screen size, throw distance, and ceiling height before selecting any projector, but it is particularly important with a unit that has the lens limitations of the EP910.
The rainbow artifact problems associated with the 2x DLP color wheel have been discussed at length in many prior postings. Suffice it to say that anyone thinking of acquiring a DLP projector with a 2x wheel for home theater must audition such a unit prior to committing to the order. For test purposes, you can rent or borrow any business class DLP projector with a 2x wheel speed, sit your family down and watch a movie on it-ideally a black/white film like Casablanca or Treasures of the Sierra Madre. Make sure to watch it at a similar screen size you intend to use permanently in your theater, and view it from the distance you intend to have in your theater. If anyone in your family is distracted by frequent, momentary flashes of color in a black and white film, it is probably wise to forego installing any DLP projector with a 2x wheel in your home theater.
This test exercise is well worth the effort. For if you and other regular viewers in your home can clear the hurdle of the 2x wheel speed, you are in luck. It means that the EP910 becomes a great option for you, assuming you want large scale 4:3 format. The EP910 does a beautiful job with video. Once again, the inherent advantages of impressive image sharpness and particularly good contrast combine to produce thoroughly engaging video images. The only notable flaw we found was some digital noise which was more prevalent when using analog component video than when using DVI. So (as you might expect) DVI is the recommended input choice whenever possible.
The Optoma EP910 is one of those rare projectors that clearly represents another advance in the state of the art, and sets a new price/performance benchmark. It is not the least expensive of the SXGA+ models on the market, but current street prices around $4,000 combined with outstanding image quality make it one of the best value propositions in today's market. It is highly recommended for commercial high resolution work, digital photography, and (subject to the caveats noted) large scale 4:3 format home theater.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Optoma EP910 projector page.