With its background firmly entrenched in all things to do with printing, Epson is a company that knows a thing or several about reproducing images. It has subsequently applied this pixel reproducing know-how to front projection for quite some time now and lays claim to the world's first LCD video imaging projector launched back in 1989. Fast forward some 21 years and Epson has a multitude of models on offer, with this, the EH-TW3500, being its most affordable 1080p home theatre projector thus far.
Design and features
The EH-TW3500 is a big beastie and needs either a solid ceiling mount or a large coffee table to accommodate it. Once that's been taken care of, the '3500 offers a massive amount of 1080p home theatre projection for its sub-AU$3000 price tag. Shop around and you'll easily bag one for around two and a half grand.
Its projection system is based around Crystal Clear Fine's 3LCD technology, which uses three individual LCD panels as opposed to a single chip design. Said benefits are supposedly no more "Rainbow Effect" (colour break up) and higher Colour Light Output (CLO), a relatively new method of measuring colour in a similar vein as light output (ANSI lumens) is measured. As always, take such specs purely as a guideline, not gospel, as there are many ways companies come by these figures. The proof's always in the pudding, not on paper.
The specs impress — a contrast ratio of 36,000:1 with both CLO and normal brightness rated at 1800 lumens. These figures stack up compared to the competition at the price, but do they translate to fancy looking, bright and colourful pixels? Another figure to be aware of is the lamp life which is rated at 4000 hours (normal) and expect to pay around AU$500 for a genuine Epson replacement.
One of the beauties of this projector is its flexibility with positioning, thanks mainly to its x2.1 optical zoom and horizontal/vertical lens shift. Keystone correction is a thing of the past with these features and sure enough, it's a breeze to accurately fill the screen as we quickly found out. There's no need to adjust feet, or mess around with software settings, it's more a case of simply pointing and shooting with this Epson.
Finally, a decent remote accompanies the projector and its big backlit buttons are perfectly tactile in the darkest of rooms.
Set atop a coffee table, the Epson did not take long to get up and running. Taking a look in its set-up configuration we found it necessary to make a few amendments from the default norm before we were truly happy with the image quality. It's best to stick with Epson's "Natural" colour mode when calibrating the picture and we also found the "x.v.Color" mode the more natural-looking. Once you scratch the surface of the myriad of adjustments, it can get a bit daunting, so use a calibration DVD or Blu-ray to help, or best of all, allow a professional to calibrate the projector for you — it's well worth it.
We also played around with the Epson's auto iris setting (which incidentally doesn't apply in x.v.Color mode) and generally preferred the image quality with it in its "Normal" mode. To our eyes this served up the best blacks (deep and reasonably solid), and the darker CGI scenes of Terminator: Salvation looked impressively textured, rich and well-defined. Here too plenty of shadow detail retrieval was clearly evident and during the initial Skynet battle scenes, the Epson had no problem with contrast and dark tone levels. We did notice a little bit of edge blurring with rapid horizontal movement, but it was never distracting and you probably wouldn't even notice if you weren't looking for it.
The EH-TW3500 is sufficiently bright to handle some ambient room light and if you do want to use it in a less than dark room, switching the auto-iris to "High" or using "Dynamic" mode will help with these situations. Fan noise gets a bit louder when it's operated brighter, but even so it's hardly noticeable. In quieter operation the Epson's super-silent.
Flesh tones and the Epson's colour palette were also both well rendered. We loved the colour balance it achieved with HD content; it's got that ability to reproduce 1080p colours with real vibrancy — the BD of Casino Royale, for example, never once looked over-cooked or over-saturated as we've seen from less capable projectors. Colour tones here were natural and well balanced; close-ups of 007's rugged features looked realistic and suitably cool; never too warm or flat. Such scenes had plenty of visual punch — just what you'd expect from a decent LCD such as this.
It dishes up plenty of detail also, both from HD and SD content — we fed it some upconverted DVD and it still managed to look alive and dynamic, not to the same extent as with 1080p HD material, but impressively watchable nonetheless. It's perhaps too nice a projector for gaming, especially if you go the trouble of having it properly calibrated, but if little Johnny insists in plugging in a console, he'll be blown away playing on a screen this good.
Finally, the remote proved simple but effective and we never experienced any abnormalities while the Epson was projecting. Once set up and running, it should give you hour after hour of effortless projection.
For under AU$3000 the Epson is a lot of impressive HD projection for the money. It pays to calibrate things properly, which will reward the viewer with sumptuous, bright and highly involving images. At this price level, it's decidedly competitive.