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Epson EH-TW 5500
The Epson EH-TW 5500 is a Full HD LCD projector released in autumn 2009. With sharper and more contrast-rich pictures than any LCD projector so far, it’s no surprise that it doesn’t come cheap: The TW 5500 will set you back about 4,000 GBP via online retailers.
Reviewed by Florian Friedrich on February 4, 2010
Uniform, bright illumination.
Sharp picture with excellent colours.
Outstanding 24p reproduction.
Crisp motion depiction.
2.1x zoom with lens-shift.
Slight green tint.
LCD pixel raster slightly visible.
Man, that’s quite a projector! Numerous small improvements on its predecessor result in an impressive overall performance. Even our experienced reviewers were left speechless by the grandiose contrast, crisp motion depiction, and versatile lens-shift optics. In the face of this Epson LCD, even most DLP competitors look extremely outdated.
Technology, Features, and New World Records
Exemplary: The backlit remote control offers practical direct-access buttons for aspect ratio and input selection.
We reviewed the predecessor model, the Epson EH-TW 5000, in late 2009 and found it to be one of the best LCD devices on the market. So we were naturally excited to get our hands on the follow-up, the TW 5500: Can it top its excellent forerunner? The simple answer: Yes, it can!
Epson’s new class of especially contrast-rich LCD projectors uses so-called “DeepBlack” technology, which involves introducing additional polarisation filters. These filter out scattered light a second time in order to increase the so-called native contrast ratio (with all dynamic picture-enhancement settings deactivated). The Epson TW 2900, a conventional LCD projector, produces a ratio of 1,070:1. Epson’s new flagship, the TW 5500, on the other hand, achieves a value of 5,755:1 — a new record for LCD projectors. But that’s not all: The TW 5500 significantly beats even most DLP models. If you switch on the adaptive iris and set the Epson to its best colour mode, it achieves its next record: 32,190:1!
Since Epson has also improved the “Frame Interpolation”, the typical LCD motion blur is a thing of the past (see box, below). Here too, the DLP competitors look out of date, since they use no image-enhancement technologies. It’s only expensive D-ILA projectors — from Pioneer or Sony, for example — that can boast similar technologies. These, however, also achieve even higher contrast ratios and an even finer pixel raster.
The Epson EH-TW 5500 resolves even the finest test patterns — an astonishing feat for a three-chip LCD projector.
The TW 5500 surpasses its predecessor in terms of sharpness, although it retains the TW 5000’s 2.1x zoom and practical lens-shift system. We were able to reduce colour deviations in fine patterns with the help of the refined video-signal processing for the three primary colours. There’s also a new sharpness enhancer (“Super Resolution”) that’s designed to focus on the finest structures. The Epson scores further plus points for its complete colour-management system and separate RGB controls — a setup like this will even appeal to demanding image experts.
Increased sharpness thanks to “Frame Interpolation” and “Super Resolution”
If you’re the proud owner of an HD camcorder, you’ll also be able to feed your recordings into the TW 5500. The projector accurately converts AVCHD video from 720/50p or 1080/30p format into judder-free 720/50p or 1080/60p — amateur movie-makers will adore the higher motion clarity.
Blu-ray movies look even more spectacular, thanks to the three-dimensional sharpness effect that this intermediate-frame generation delivers. Here, again, the processing produces barely any artefacts. You can set the “Frame Interpolation” to three different levels, which provide an attractive alternative to the juddery look of classic 24p playback. But don’t worry: If authentic 24p is what you want, the Epson delivers it flawlessly.
The “Frame Interpolation” and “Super Resolution” technologies make the crane scene in “Casino Royale” look even sharper.
Light, Colours, and Contrast
We measured the Epson’s ANSI contrast at 480:1 — good, but not excellent. In theory, it could be higher, since there’s a diffuse reflective surface at the edge of the lens system that scatters a relatively large amount of light. As before, Epson’s Cinema filter, which sits directly between the lamp and the iris, optimises the colour temperature, increasing the picture’s contrast while keeping the colours natural.
The colours look excellent in the “Natural” preset. Greyscales maintain a colour temperature of 6,400 Kelvin.
The “Cinema” mode is a bit too cool, at 7,050 Kelvin; “Natural” is a touch better, and delivers a pleasingly pure white (6,400 Kelvin) in the bright lamp mode. If you select the extremely quiet eco mode, the lamp spectrum shifts significantly towards green, making the picture look off-colour. But you can correct this tint in the RGB menu, and — thanks to the sensational native contrast — it’ll barely cost you any picture quality.
Even with the lamp in its bright mode, the Epson immediately shows excellent colour reproduction, which — apart from showing a minimal green tint — approaches the perfection of the predecessor. Colour deviations occur only rarely on the Epson, which also scores highly for its uniform illumination. Grey areas only tend very slightly towards cyan or pink in the corners of the image, and fine patterns also display with no discolouration. Our only point of criticism: Our test model had one defective pixel, which always shone green — but this tiny eyesore wasn’t visible from normal viewing distances.
Picture Quality of Standard-Definition Signals
The two HDMI inputs should suffice for most home cinemas, and the Epson provides connections for the usual range of analogue signals.
The analogue YUV input delivers enough sharpness and colour resolution even for large projections, and the user can fine-tune the amount of picture cropping (overscan). With composite and S-Video signals, however, the pictures look flat due to softening of fine details — we also discovered that the Epson limits the colour resolution to 1 MHz out of the possible 3.375 MHz.
Video arriving via HDMI looks significantly better — the HQV video processor converts interlaced signals perfectly into progressive material. We found it remarkable that films displayed no flicker even when “Frame Interpolation” is active. We couldn’t see any artefacts such as halo effects either. When we set the three-level setting to “Normal”, the fly-by view of the roofs of Rome in “Gladiator” looked extremely vivid and suffered from no flicker — the older intermediate-frame generation didn’t manage this quite as well. Even purists that would normally shun this type of technology will love the results. The superb contrast and crisp imagery intensify the 3D feel of the imagery yet further — respect to the Epson developers.
The “Frame Interpolation” only reached its limits with a blurry football broadcast. But there was just nothing it could do — the quality of the material itself was simply too poor, and the broadcaster’s compression made moving scenes look even blurrier. So this criticism goes more to the broadcaster than to the Epson.
Picture Quality of High-Definition Signals
The TW 5500 excels with interlaced video from an HDTV satellite receiver: The projector de-interlaces documentaries and films into flawless progressive HDTV material. Tricky scenes fail to trip the Epson up — even the extremely tough 1080/30p test sequence in which the camera pans across a girl’s face. But for this to work correctly, you first have to change the progressive mode from “Auto” to “Film”.
24p video from Blu-ray discs will optionally display with authentic cinema judder, but you can choose to activate the motion-smoothing technology, which also looks excellent — both varieties thoroughly impressed us. This also applies, of course, to the superbly balanced colours, the high brightness, and the aforementioned stunning contrast. Even the gloomy green and blue grotto in “The Fox and the Child” displays in clear colours — on inferior projectors, this scene tends to end up bathed in a sad greyish haze. Dark scenes also look vivid, and show rich, saturated blacks. If you then switch on the iris, which operates very quietly, the already minimal residual illumination disappears almost completely in largely black scenes. The sharpness gain from the “Super Resolution” technology provides the icing on the cake.
Colour Mode: HD
Colour Saturation: 2
Super Resolution: 1
Power Consumption: Normal
Auto Iris: Off
These settings apply to realistic playback of HDTV/Blu-ray material through the HDMI interface in a darkened environment. Manufacturing and HDMI playback device deviations might necessitate slight adjustment.