REVIEW: Epson EH-TW9300W
Epson has stuck pretty closely to its core technology in its projectors: three LCD panels. The EH-TW9300W is currently the brand’s top of the line model in this range. Stephen Dawson reports.
The EH-TW9300W is a full HD front projector, running on the three LCD-chip system, with a 4K enhancement system and WirelessHD (the terminating ‘W’ in the model name). Perhaps of most interest, even though natively 1080p, the projector accepts UHD and 4K signals up to 60p, and supports HDR and WCG signals as well. With HDCP 2.2 copy protection support, it works fine with UHD players and discs. I’ll return to those things below.
The WirelessHD system has evolved to now support full Ultra High Definition signals with higher than standard colour depth and dynamic range. Every increase in resolution or those characteristics means an increase in bandwidth required to transmit the signal. Back when it first came in I was checking it out with full HD and it clearly worked, but was rather clunky when it came to things like signals switching frame rates and so on. Yet it hasn’t taken long to extend to quadruple-plus signal demands.
There are four HDMI inputs on the wireless transmitter (you wire the output of the device – say a home theatre receiver – to the transmitter; the receiver is built into the projector.) There are two more HDMI inputs on the projector. And no analogue video inputs, except for a D-SUB15.
There’s a trigger output and RS-232C and Ethernet for control. The Ethernet input will also work with Epson’s own video over IP from computers with Epson’s software installed. This was developed initially for business projectors and may prove convenient in some boardroom type installations. But the regular HDMI inputs are likely to give better results. There’s also a USB-style socket which provides power for peripherals. It seems to be designed principally for active HDMI/optical connections. There’s also a USB charging socket on the transmitter.
As usual, Epson says that the projector is capable of offering the same brightness level in both colour and black and white, and rates the output at 2500 lumens. It claims a dynamic contrast ratio of a million to one. The iris can be set to optimise the overall brightness for each scene in order to improve subjective black levels.
The projector supports 3D, but the necessary active eyewear is not included with the unit.
The 4K enhancement system uses a panel that effectively shifts the centre point of pixels diagonally slightly at a high frequency. This kind of fills in the spaces but I have significant doubts about the effectiveness of this. In one sense this would seem to increase resolution because it can put pixels in between the pixels defined by the 1,920 by 1,080 pixel grid. In practice, unless Epson has some clever way of making the pixels smaller than they normally are, higher resolution is not possible.
I’ve not been thrilled in the past by these kinds of schemes, finding that in fact they tend to soften the picture slightly, and that this then has to be addressed by the application of picture-damaging sharpening and edge enhancement. With this model, Epson seems to have avoided those issues. There’s very little if any softening of the image from having the 4K enhancement system on. What little there may be is reversed without any visible distortion by a little touch of detail enhancement. Epson seems to have been working on this facility because it does a very nice job indeed without adding the usual dollops of distortion.
The net effect, from the viewing seat, is very little difference between having 4K enhancement on with the default picture processing options, and having 4K enhancement off. Examining the screen close up I could see that having it on eliminated the very thin lines around the pixels (the ‘screen door effect’), making things slightly smoother. But these were not visible anyway from the viewing seat (2.6m from the 2.1m screen).
So what did I see from that viewing seat? An extremely sharp, highly detailed image on both Blu-ray and UHD. And a surprisingly forgiving image on SD (which had been upscaled and made progressive externally).
Okay, let’s be clear: when I ran a number of UHD clips which have been specifically designed to dazzle the viewer with ultra high definition sharpness – mostly from vendors of UHD TVs – there was rather less of a dazzling effect because the effective resolution was reduced to one quarter of the original. But with UHD after UHD disc, the loss of resolution was slight – at this point. Most content has been captured with film or with digital cameras shooting somewhere between full HD and UHD. With post production (almost all CGI is done at 2K) there isn’t a great amount of standard movie content that really takes advantage of the all the detail that could be revealed by a native UHD display.
That said, higher resolution digital cameras are increasingly being used. After all, one can now capture UHD content with a sub-$1000 camera. Cinematographers aren’t going to let higher resolution go to waste.
So the results with UHD discs were really impressive, and indeed at least one UHD movie was kind of ‘improved’, because seen on a real UHD display the original film grain was somewhat intrusive, but covered up with this projector.
While it can’t do real UHD, the projector does a respectable job of HDR – High Dynamic Range. It supports the signal and has ten bits of resolution available for each of its three panels. Which means greater resolution in both black and white and in colour. Using a test pattern, it was clear that the projector was able to provide a completely seamless scale from full white to full black with no visible steps. That’s the advantage of a thousand brightness levels rather than around 235.
The black levels were very deep even without the dynamic iris operating. The dynamic iris – which can adjust overall light output level for each scene – seemed to be a bit slow in operation, sometime visibly brightening or darkening the image over a second or so, rather than changing it on a per frame basis (that was even though it was set to ‘High Speed’). I found the best picture was with it switched off.
Thanks in part to the ability of the projector to produce deep blacks, and thanks to Epson’s focus on colour brightness, the colour performance was excellent. Powerful and bright and thoroughly convincing.
Rather unconvincing was the ability of the projector to convert interlaced video to progressive. With both 1080i50 and 576i50 there was clear combing produced – very thin horizontal lines to the left and right of objects – when the projector was set to ‘Film/Auto’ mode, and when I knew the content to be intrinsically progressive. The only explanation I could come up with is that projector was correctly detecting that the two fields in a frame should be combined in film mode (ie. just woven together), but was consistently taking the fields from different frames and then weaving them. It was all very strange because Epson has been doing fine picture processing for many years.
Anyway, the net effect is that, until Epson fixes this, you just need to make sure that your other equipment can do the progressive scan conversion for you. I figure most installations likely to be paired with a projector of this quality will be fine with that.
The projector offers three levels of Frame Interpolation (only with 4K enhancement switched off). The ‘Low’ level did a nice job of eliminating the worst of frame judder from those rare scenes where it would otherwise be distracting, without adding noticeable distortion, not applying a nasty gloss to the image. I would suggest that with a choice between pretend 4K and motion smoothing, most people would prefer the latter.
The WirelessHD worked almost flawlessly in my office. By ‘almost’ I means that you could consider the slow down in syncing a flaw. At one point I had selected the wrong output resolution on a UHD Blu-ray player and was trying to change it to the correct one, but the change required a confirmation. Between the HD transmitter syncing to the new signal and then the projector syncing to the transmitter, too much time passed and the UHD player gave up and reverted to the previous resolution. In the end, I used a wired connection to make the change and only then went back to the WirelessHD connection.
Otherwise this connection worked pretty much perfectly at all signals available, up to UHD at 24p with 12 bits and 4:2:2 colour resolution at the maximum range physically possible in my office of six metres.
The projector operated quietly, in part because I used the ‘Medium’ lamp setting. ‘High’ had the cooling fan running a bit higher, but was unnecessary in a properly darkened room.
So, once again Epson’s top of the line LCD projector, now the EH-TW9300W, does a first class job.