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BRIGHT IDEAS

A new generation of projectors from Epson uses a powerful combo of brightness and colour to deliver images that can rival true UHD.

Our full review is below, but you can read the original magazine pages as PDFs by clicking right. >>>

When I sit down to write a review of a new product, such as the Epson EH-TW9400W, I usually check to see if I’ve reviewed its predecessor. I was not at all surprised to find that I have indeed reviewed the Epson EH-TW9300W... but I was startled to see that it was way back in September 2016. That’s a relatively slow model turnover.

Since then, Epson has kind of re-branded its UHD technology to Epson 4K PRO-UHD. It still uses 1080p panels with pixel shifting to increase resolution above 1080p. But the emphasis is much more on a wide colour gamut and improved support for the High Dynamic Range that comes with most Ultra-HD content. (We have more detail on 4K PRO-UHD here.)

Equipment
I’ve got a lot of sympathy for this approach. Epson notes that terms like HDR weren’t developed with projectors in mind. Nonetheless, Epson’s aim has been to push towards the bright end of the range envisaged by HDR standards. That’s up to 10,000 nits. The projector can’t get there, but Epson has tried to make the projector as bright as possible. It rates the output of the Epson EH-TW9400W at 2600 lumens, both in white and in colour.

As for colour, while nothing can fully cover the BT.2020 specification, this one is rated to cover 100% of the DCI-P3 colour space, the standard for digital cinema. Of note, an ‘Ultra-HD Premium’ certification requires covering only 90% of DCI-P3.

Epson does, in fact, make full 4K projectors for professional use. You know, those massive displays where organisations need to manage enormous amounts of data at once. Those Epson projectors cost around $90,000 and have massive light sources. Epson’s view is that with regular light sources, they would not be able to achieve their high brightness aims. The reason: four times as many pixels means at least four times the amount of space between the pixels, and that means a less productive panel surface. So, pixel shifting it is.

Apart from that, the projector is standard Epson premium product, with a large enclosure and inputs for HDMI and D-SUB15. The ‘W’ at the end of the model number means that it is fitted with WirelessHD connectivity. A separate box with four HDMI inputs is provided. This accepts connections from your source devices (it has an optical and HDMI output for passing audio on to a receiver as well) and it passes the video wirelessly to the projector. It’s easy to see what an enormous boon this can be in many likely layouts, especially given the issues in running long HDMI cables. This ‘W’ wirelessness adds only $200 over the price of the otherwise-identical non-wireless TW9400. You could save that just from the price of those cables, let alone the benefits of neatness.

The projector uses three Epson LCD panels. The glass allows a very generous zoom range of 2.1-to-1 and it has a large range of lens shift, both horizontally and vertically. Those features make it easy to install. As does the fact that all these adjustments are powered, so you can stand right next to the screen as you’re making them, rather than teetering on a chair, stretching to reach the control rings on a projector lens. The powered adjustments also allow it to have
lens position memories, just in case your circumstances mean using two different screens or an anamorphic set-up.

For a 100-inch (2.54-metre) 16:9 screen, the projector needs to be at a distance of between 3 and 6.3 metres from the screen.

The remote features backlit keys, and plenty of them, so that it’s easy to change settings on the projector. It had plenty of power in my review environment to bounce its IR signal off the screen and back to the sensor on the front of the projector.

The projector supports 3D, but you’ll need to buy additional bits and pieces for that.

Close-up detail of the UHD test pattern, captured photographically.

Performance
I started with my Ultra-HD test pattern to see how much detail was realised. No, it doesn’t define things as well as a device with true Ultra-HD resolution, but it did seem to yield a little more detail than full HD. Have a look for yourself at the close-up detail of the test pattern above.

Using the test patterns on a Sony Ultra-HD Blu-ray disc (hit the number keys 7 6 6 9 on your remote while on the main menu), chapters 19 to 22 show grey-scale patterns from 0 to 10,000 nits. There is no way any existing projector can deliver this range. Certainly, none can go all the way down to 0 nits. and I don’t think any can produce even 1000 nits. So the projector make has to make judgements. What lower boundary of input will it make its minimum black? What upper for its maximum white? Too close to the extremes and near-blacks and near-whites will lack intensity. Too far and they’ll crush. These test patterns showed a discernible difference between 0.005 and 0.010 nits for black, and 1200 and 1300 nits for white.

I think that’s a good choice. I doubt very much that those responsible for mastering Ultra-HD Blu-ray discs really push anywhere near the 10,000 nits point yet.

Let’s put aside test patterns. The colour was gorgeous and the projector was wonderfully bright. Particularly impressive was the bold, almost hyper-real colours of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, even when it was 8 bits over the wireless connection (it’s a 60fps movie, see below). Later I changed to a wired connection and was able to get the full 12 bits and 4:2:2 colour, and it looked even bolder and brighter. Home theatre projection has never looked this good. The wonderful reds of the Deadpool movies were conveyed beautifully. The grain of some older movies transferred to Ultra-HD, such as the 1984 Ghostbusters, was softened to the point of near-removal. That was about the only clear evidence from real material that the Ultra-HD resolution isn’t fully realised.

Black levels were up to Epson’s high standards. Even without the dynamic iris in operation, the darker scenes were subjectively impressive. And in a sense, black level weaknesses in a projector are less objectionable anyway than they are in a TV. That’s because they are even across the screen with the projector. With many LCD TVs, in darker scenes the images tends to look mottled, and that’s far more distracting.

So, you may be wondering how well the WirelessHD carries the Ultra-HD signal. I have to say, pretty well indeed. With a regular Ultra-HD Blu-ray disc, the projector’s information screen showed it was getting 3840 by 2160 pixels with 12-bit, 4:2:2 colour in BT.2020 format, along with HDR. That’s almost the same as with a cable connection, but in that case the Ultra-HD Blu-ray player chose 4:4:4 colour.

However with 60 frames per second Ultra-HD, the wireless transmitter is limited to 8-bit, 4:2:0 colour. The projector said that the format was still BT.2020 and HDR10, but I don’t see how HDR10 can work with 8-bit colour. With wired, it went to 12 bits and 4:2:2. That said, 60fps Ultra-HD Blu-ray remains extremely rare.

Does the 4:4:4, 4:2:2 and 4:2:0 stuff matter? Probably not. The picture is stored at 4:2:0 on the Ultra-HD Blu-ray (or regular Blu-ray or DVD or digital TV). Ultimately it must be converted to 4:4:4 for display, but whether than happens in the player or the display device doesn’t really matter, so long as the conversion is competently performed.

I had concerns with the previous model, the EH-TW9300W, regarding weird handling of 1080i/50 and 576i/50 content. It seemed to pull fields from the wrong frames and stick them together. I’m happy to report that there’s none of that here. Frames are respected, as they should be.

But there could still be a little extra work on the 1080i/50 and 576i/50 deinterlacing of this projector. It has a selectable deinterlacing mode: Off, Video and Film/Auto. The last is the default, and it has a bash at detecting film-sourced content, despite it being delivered in interlaced format... but it wasn’t quite up with the best of them in performance. With the 576i/50 clip from Gigi, for example, the horizontally-striped vest of Manuel kept the projector flickering from film to video mode, resulting in moire patterns across the vest. Given that the camera was usually moving, that also necessarily reduces resolution in the rest of the image.

With Miss Potter, delivered from 1080i/50 Blu-ray, most of it seemed about average, with a slight break-up in one of the tricky scenes. Seemingly about the norm. But once the credits began to roll at the end of the movie, it was clear that these were being treated as video-sourced rather than film-sourced, resulting in wiggling and break-up of the small horizontal strokes in the text.

This is a disappointing, since some older Epson projectors had the to-be-preferred force-film mode, which ensured perfect delivery of film-sourced content.

The projector includes frame interpolation, as Epson premium models have for many years. I note that this doesn’t work with Ultra-HD content, nor with lower-resolution material that’s upscaled to Ultra-HD output. With regular 1080p/24 content, not upscaled, it did a decent job of smoothing motion, but at the cost of producing artifacts. With my go-to test clip, from the Blu-ray of the 1993 movie The Fugitive, the flyover of Chicago at 50 minutes in is smoothed very nicely. But a moment later, when Harrison Ford is on the phone to his lawyer, a train goes past behind him on a bridge. The rivets on the bridge waver and squirm in an unseemly manner when motion smoothing is running.

So it’s probably no loss not to have it disabled for Ultra-HD content.

Conclusion
We still yearn for the day when Epson releases a true Ultra-HD resolution home projector. But with this TW9400W Epson is aiming to deliver the best possible result under $5000, and has achieved wonders.

What’s more, I’d be fibbing if I said that the difference of true 4K would be significantly different to what you get the Epson EH-TW9400W... with one exception. The higher resolution would more transparently reproduce the Ghostbusters grain. Sure, that movie looks better without it. But the purist in me wants everything in the signal, not just the good stuff. 

Epson EH-TW9400W
Price: $4999

+ Beautiful colour and brightness
+ Excellent installation flexibility
+ WirelessHD connection

– Hints at full UltraHD resolution, rather than delivers it
– Could do with improved 50Hz deinterlacing, or a force-film mode option

Projection technology: 3 x 18.8mm Polysilicon TFT active matrix LCD panels
Resolution: 1920 by 1080 pixels
Aspect ratio: 16:9
Lamp: 250 watts UHE-E
Lamp life: 3500 hours,
5000 hours in econonmy mode
Contrast ratio: 1,200,000:1 (Dynamic)
Brightness: 2600 lumens (both white and colour)
Inputs: WirelessHD (4 x HDMI on transmitter, 1 with MHL support), 2 x HDMI, 0 x component video, 0 x S-Video, 0 x composite video, 1 x D-SUB15, 1 x Ethernet
Outputs (on transmitter): 1 x HDMI, 1 x Optical Digital Audio, USB charging port
Control/Other: 1 x RS-232C, 1 x trigger,
1 x Mini-USB (Service), 1 x USB (for WiFi option),
1 x USB power (for active optical HDMI cable)
Dimensions (whd): 520 x 193 x 450mm
Weight: 11.2kg