Epson EH-TW9100 3D LCD Projector Review

Contrast Performance

The Epson EH-TW9100 is capable of rich images, although it isn’t up there with the absolute best performers on the market when it comes to black depth. Pre-calibration, blacks were slightly blue-tinged, too, which further impacted the perceived black depth. Greyscale calibration removed this quirk, and calibrating gamma to 2.4 also improved the perceived depth of the projected image, but fully dark scenes did display with just a little inescapable “mistyness”.

The black levels are still good, however, and even in a light-treated room (with any reflective surfaces near the screen eliminated, for the highest contrast performance), a mix of brighter elements on-screen will cause black levels to rise on even the best projectors, and will also alter the way the eye perceives black. Consequently, during the majority of scenes, we didn’t find ourselves troubled by the contrast performance, but there are dark moments in films like Prometheus, and, naturally, The Dark Knight where we’d have liked to take the overall light output of the projector down a few notches, just like on the Panasonic PT-AT6000. Like that projector, the Epson EH-TW9100 does not feature any kind of manual iris control, although there is a [Auto Iris] feature which can attenuate the light output of the projector during said dark scenes.

High Definition

We whittled down our ever-growing “to watch” pile of Blu-ray Discs on the Epson EH-TW9100 while it was with us, and on the whole, we were happy with the performance on offer.

Before calibrating the unit, we checked out Disney/Pixar’s Brave using the “Cinema” mode. The gamut in this mode is so wide, that when used in combination with content mastered for Rec.709 (in other words, anything we have access to outside of a Digital Cinema studio mastering environment), the colours are visibly “cooked”, even with animated content where absolute realism isn’t the top priority. We knew going in that the protoganist in this particular CG animated film is a redhead, but in the “Cinema” mode, her hair became the most distracting element on screen and altered our perception in a way which surely wasn’t intended. What’s more, with the oversaturated gamut, the muted, pseudo-realistic medieval environments felt unusually vibrant and jolly.

Brave screenshot

Switching to Epson’s excellent “Natural” mode (which, on the EH-TW9100, actually does result in natural colour when fed with HDTV sources) brought about a dramatic improvement, both before, and especially after calibration. With the film’s colour undistorted, the visual elements worked together harmoniously in the way intended by the artists, and, artistic license taken into account, the environments appeared natural and deep.

Brave screenshot 2

Not surprisingly, it was a very similar story with live action content. The less saturated scenes in Babel appeared naturally so, and none of the film grain texture was compromised by unwanted video processing (obviously provided that the Noise Reduction features were safely shut off). Grain did feel slightly less “alive” and filmic due to the lower motion resolution of the projector, though; the image didn’t have the same cinematic “sparkle” as the best devices. We also had a look at Criterion’s new BD of Rosemary’s Baby on the EH-TW9100 and had very few complaints, although we didn’t use this for assessing resolution performance due to the optical resolution limitations of the film element used to create the disc.

The Epson TW9100′s user menus contain access to a [Super Resolution] feature, which, predictably, is a targeted boost which applies gain to the higher frequencies in the image, making tiny details in video more prominent. This feature can provide perceptual compensation for resolution loss caused by the optical components in the projector, but if you do decide that this is necessary, don’t go past the first setting, since the image can quickly be made to look edgy and unnatural.

During brighter scenes, we could see a little bit of the “screen door effect”, although do keep in mind that we’re watching on a 123″ diagonal screen, which will magnify such effects. The effect was noticeable enough for us to register it, but not noticeable enough for it to be a continual annoyance. However, all else being equal, we’d skew purchasing decisions in favour of projectors that manage to curtail this effect. Likewise, we did also experience a small amount of softening in the corners, which other projectors used in the same setup have avoided.

Panel Convergence

Our first review sample, which was the wireless-capable Epson EH-TW9100W, did not have very good panel convergence. The most obvious manifestation of the errors this caused (prior to adjustment) was with white objects, which appeared with visible purple and green fringing around them. These coloured edges were perceptible from our seating position, and compromised the perceived image clarity. We didn’t think this was representative of the average TW9100W; thankfully Epson were able to send us a replacement EH-TW9100. The replacement had better convergence, although it was still slightly behind competing projectors we’ve seen from Sony and Panasonic. However, the replacement’s errors were not really visible from our seating position.

Epson do have a feature called [Correct LCD Align.] in the “Extended” menu, and this did, overall, produce a worthwhile improvement. However, this works by scaling the image being fed to the Red and Blue LCD panels at the video processing level, so that, when combined with the physical misalignment, the effects cancel each other out and correct most of the coloured fringing on screen. Because it involves scaling, this does result in a slight loss of resolution for that particular colour component. Naturally, due to the human eye’s lessened spatial perception of colour, the visible effects of scaling one or more of the R/G/B layers is nowhere near as detrimental as scaling all three (like a “Keystone Correction” feature would).

Epson EH-TW9100 misconvergence
Misconvergence correction off
Epson EH-TW9100 misconvergence correction
Misconvergence correction applied

If the menu design allowed for the R/G/B components to be moved horizontally or vertically in single pixel increments, it would be possible to approximately reduce misconvergence errors without any resolution compromise. However, this would only work ideally if the physical misconvergence errors were perfect multiples of the height or width of one pixel on the LCD panel. Epson’s LCD alignment solution is more complex because it allows for more than simple left and right shifts: it affects images down to the sub-pixel level and also allows for four-sided transforms. This level of precision necessitates scaling.

LCD alignment

The wizard displays a grid on screen, and asks the user to visually correct alignment errors for all four corners of the image. It then uses this data to perform a four-sided “corner pin” on the image being fed to that particular LCD panel (the process can be repeated for both the Red and Blue panels, to make them match Green). Several intermediate points can be independently adjusted afterwards, although we didn’t find any need to do this. The imposed resolution loss can be seen by enabling the Red-only or Blue-only mode on the projector and toggling the alignment corrections on and off. Of course, the end result was definitely better than tolerating the visible convergence artefacts on our review sample, but is not as good as a projector with properly aligned LCD panels in the optical path. We were also still left with a green stripe at the top of the image, so would have appreciated a blanking control to paint a black row over the top row of pixels.

Motion Resolution

Natively, the Epson EH-TW9100 manages only around 250-300 lines (judged subjectively) with the scrolling resolution test from the FPD Benchmark Software disc. Although not enough to produce much in the way of visible blur with 24fps movie material from Blu-ray (or 25fps if you’re having to pull it from European HDTV broadcasts or DVDs), grand establishing location shots with sweeping camera pans, which display with a pleasing cinematic effect on devices with high motion clarity, lose a little bit of their impact on the TW9100.

However, the EH-TW9100 does feature a [Frame Interpolation] option which can assist with enhancing the motion performance of the projector. On its higher settings, this produces the infamous “soap opera effect” when used with film content, which we’re not fans of, due to the way in which such processing produces video-like (rather than cinema-like) motion with motion estimation artefacts. However, the “Low” setting provides a sweet spot of almost no interpolation at all, but with the higher motion resolution. For example, we ran our own Motion Interpolation test sequence (which readers might have caught a glimpse of during the Value Electronics shootout event) through the Epson EH-TW9100 on the “Low” setting, and saw only barely visible flickering during the gruelling footage. Likewise, with film content, there were no troubling “speed-up” effects.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a completely compromise-free solution. As we noted above, our original Epson EH-TW9100 review sample did not naturally have good panel convergence, and although we used the controls on the projector to compensate for the resulting coloured fringing (with the compromises this entailed), the convergence was never as good with the [Frame Interpolation] feature turned on: to give an easily verifiable example, the on-screen menus (and naturally, the video image) displayed with more subtle purple and green outlines around the text. We neutralised this as best we could with further panel convergence adjustment, but could never get convergence to the same standard as we could with the interpolation turned off. Our best guess is that with the interpolation mode turned on, the software convergence correction can’t work at the same high precision for whatever reason. We’d hope that individual units with naturally good convergence (in the form of properly aligned panels) would not display this performance discrepancy.

3D

The Epson EH-TW9100 can produce Full HD 3D images that actually are Full HD – many manufacturers promoting “Full HD 3D” performance appear to be mistaken about their products’ performance, but Epson’s claim holds up to testing. There are no horizontal or resolution limitations with frame-packed input from Blu-ray 3D, and no more limitations than are necessary with side-by-side content (which is inherently compromised horizontally).

Additionally, there are no problems with motion smoothness in any of the display modes, which is quite unusual for an LCD-based device. Crucially, 24p content from Blu-ray 3D is reproduced without any motion judder (Panasonic’s 3LCD PT-AT6000 did show a subtle judder in this scenario). 50hz sources, which sadly are still with us in the HD (and HD 3D) eras, are also reproduced without stutter. That’s especially unusual on LCD, since most designs are 60hz-centric. We even ran a 50hz version of our motion interpolation detection pattern to make sure the Epson EH-TW9100 wasn’t “cheating” by performing motion interpolation to produce a 60hz output (some plasma displays have done this in the past), but sure enough, this is real 50hz 3D. Needless to say, 60hz 3D also works perfectly.

Of course, the motion resolution limitations we discussed for 2D HD content are still present here (and can’t be avoided because the Frame Interpolation feature isn’t available with extra-dimensional playback), but thumbs up to Epson for avoiding adding additional motion issues in the 3D display mode – this is something which few manufacturers manage.

In the out-of-the-box [3D Cinema] mode, colour was excessively saturated. The lack of an accurate 3D display preset on the European model is a problem, but since we have a lensed colorimeter (Klein K-10), we were able to calibrate the EH-TW9100 for reasonably accurate colour with HD 3D sources, and we’ll be sharing the settings that did the job on our review unit. We had a look at a handful of 3D Blu-ray titles, which have evidently been mastered in accordance with the Rec709 HD gamut, since they featured unpleasantly high levels of garish saturation before we corrected this. In particular, the strong red-orange sunset scenes in Sony’s Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs looked fairly awful, with any nuances or style on the artists’ part being blown out. There’s a often-repeated idea that distorted colour gamuts can produce a stylish and appealing effect with animated content, but in our experience, they actually suffer more than live action films due to their tendency to feature colours that were more saturated to begin with, magnifying the effects of widened colour gamuts.

After calibration, the Epson EH-TW9100′s 3D image quality was improved by an almost unfathomable amount. With the oversaturated colour gamut out of the way, we had only good things to say about the 3D picture quality. It’s surprisingly bright, and the darkening effect of the 3D glasses brings about a welcome improvement to perceived black depth. The facts that the 3D display mode is full resolution, and also completely free of motion judder, also help tremendously.

Owners of the European THX-less version of the EH-TW9100 can visit this thread on our forum to obtain the settings we came to using our colorimeter and 3D calibration process, to improve colour reproduction quality. The settings copied from our review unit are not a replacement for full 3D calibration, but will produce a significantly better image with 3D video content than the unadjusted “3D Cinema” mode.

Conclusion

Epson’s EH-TW9100 is a capable LCD projector, which can fill a large screen with bright, naturally coloured video. What’s more, this accurate video can be accomplished with comparative ease – at least in 2D. Pre-calibrated 2D performance in the “Natural” mode is free of the excessively wide gamut found on some other projectors (and indeed, the EH-TW9100′s own “Cinema” mode).

In terms of the competition, we’ve seen better (and worse) contrast performance and motion resolution. The Epson TW9100 doesn’t do any of these attributes badly, but none of them are market-leading either, and there are some better examples at this price point. Its pixel structure is also more prominent than on the 3LCD-based Panasonic’s PT-AT6000 (which is equipped with a clever optical trick which makes the “screen door effect” much less visible), as well as LCOS competitors from Sony and JVC. Coupled with the lower native motion resolution, this effect meant that watching films on this projector didn’t give us the same filmic feeling as top-tier competitors, but it did still present a bright, involving image. Where the EH-TW9100W version does excel is with its unique Wireless HD feature, which acts as a convenient way to connect multiple HDMI devices to a ceiling-mounted projector without the need for cable runs.

Additionally, the Epson EH-TW9100 has several strengths when it comes to the display of 3D content. The 3D display mode is full resolution (a good amount of display devices which can’t resolve full resolution are currently being missold as “Full HD 3D”), and it can natively display 24p 3D content without any added motion stutter. Additionally, it’s sufficiently bright. However, the European model we reviewed lacks the THX certification, and Epson’s lack of a “Natural” mode for 3D playback results in completely garish colour reproduction. Fortunately, this can be corrected with 3D calibration. Furthermore, Epson should look into adding a separate memory bank for the Greyscale tracking adjustments (the “RGB” menu) in 3D, so that 3D performance can be perfected.

Ultimately, the EH-TW9100 just misses a higher recommendation primarily due to motion resolution (which, for 24/25fps movie usage, is acceptable, but not excellent), and some panel convergence issues (although these are specific to each unit). Although the Epson TW9100 has controls which can compensate for misconvergence, these are performed via software scaling rather than 1-pixel shifts, so there’s an associated resolution loss, even if small. Also, spatial resolution and convergence took a slight hit when we used any of the Frame Interpolation modes (even the non-destructive and useful “Low” setting, which avoids the “soap opera effect”). However, these issues certainly take a back-seat to the extremely accurate colour performance, which is responsible for much of the image quality seen from the EH-TW9100. If you’re looking for a projector, the Epson EH-TW9100 deserves a look.

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