Projectors

Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8700 UB LCD Projector

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Introduction to the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8700 UB LCD Projector

Commenting on value in a review is always risky. The worth of a product is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. In the case of the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8700 UB, I have every confidence that you will agree when I say, this projector is one of the best values on the market today. For less than the price of many big-screen TVs, you can have the front projection experience with plenty of light, accurate color, high-end video processing, and all at full 1920x1080p. Epson has truly discovered a secret sauce with their products that delivers performance even the pickiest videophiles will appreciate.

When Epson broke through a few years ago with their C2Fine D7 LCD chipset, they opened the door for everyone, not just the well-heeled, to be able to afford quality front projection in the home. Though other manufacturers use the same chips in their projectors, Epson has always had a slight edge in quality and value. I’m continually impressed that even their less-expensive units offer full calibration controls and HQV video processing. And the poor black levels of LCD projectors from not too many years ago have been replaced with rich, deep, and dark tones that only the best LCoS projectors can surpass.

EPSON POWERLITE HOME CINEMA 8700 UB LCD PROJECTOR SPECIFICATIONS

  • Design: Front Projector; LCD (Three 0.74")
  • Native Resolution: 1920 x 1080
  • Anamorphic Lens Support: Yes
  • Zoom Ratio: 2.1:1
  • Lens Shift: Vertical +/-96.3%, Horizontal +/-47.1%
  • Light Output: 1600 Lumens
  • Contrast Ratio: 200,000:1 (Dynamic)
  • Iris Control: Off, Auto (Normal or High Speed)
  • Image size: 30” – 300”
  • Inputs: HDMI 1.3 (2), Component (1), S-Video (1), Composite (1), 15-pin VGA (1)
  • Control: RS-232 (1), 12v Trigger (1)
  • Lamp Power: 200 Watts
  • Rated lamp life: 4000 Hr
  • Dimensions: 5.4" H x 17.7" W x 14.2" D
  • Weight: 16.5 Pounds
  • Warranty: 2 years, 90 Days on Lamp
  • MSRP: $2,199
  • Epson
  • SECRETS Tags: Projectors, LCD

Design of the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8700 UB LCD Projector

The 8700 UB is a fairly simple box with an understated industrial style. The case is white with silver accents and a black vent up front next to the offset lens. Inputs are around back and include two HDMI, one each of component, S-video and composite and a 15-pin VGA port for computer signals. For control, there is an RS-232 connector and a 12-volt trigger which can drop a screen or slide an anamorphic lens into place. On top is the lamp cover which allows bulb changes without taking down the projector, very convenient. Also on top is a control panel with buttons for power and input selection. Menu navigation controls are on the side. The lens controls are all manual with dials for lens shift and rings to adjust zoom and focus. I always prefer these to be motorized but at this price, I’m not complaining. The adjustors are very precise with a positive mechanical feel. Finishing things off underneath are two adjustable feet and threaded inserts for a ceiling mount.

The feature set is quite extensive and offers pretty much everything found in more expensive projectors. The iris is a dual-layer design with one aperture near the light source and one in the lens itself. The built-in HQV video processing chip not only provides quality scaling and de-interlacing, it supports anamorphic lenses with the appropriate aspect ratios. Just like the competition, there is a frame interpolation feature called FineFrame which reduces judder by inserting extra frames up to a maximum rate of 96 fps. Also included are full calibration controls with grayscale, custom gamma curves and a color management system. The 8700 UB is also THX-certified and as far as I know, the only such-certified display to allow total adjustment in its THX picture mode.

The remote is excellent with one-button access to many settings and discrete input selectors. The backlight is soft and can be activated with a key that glows in the dark. At the bottom are buttons that access the CMS, picture memories, color presets, gamma selection, aspect ratio and test patterns. The IR transmitter is extremely powerful which allowed me to point pretty much anywhere and get instant response to commands. While I usually don’t pay much attention to projector remotes since they are more often integrated with a universal controller, Epson has earned kudos from me for one of the best clickers I’ve ever used.


Setup of the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8700 UB LCD Projector

The Epson 8700 UB is very flexible and easy to dial in with its generous zoom and lens shift adjustments. All controls are mechanical, which is no big deal except when tweaking focus. I have resorted to using a small spyglass to do this so I don’t have to walk back and forth trying to achieve maximum sharpness. I did discover a quirk during this process. When I first powered up the projector after installation, I was unable to find a really sharp focus point. This surprised me a little since even the cheapest projectors these days have pretty good lenses. I worked on the geometry for a bit and watched the montage from Spears & Munsil while tweaking various calibration settings. After 30 minutes or so of power-up time, the focus improved visibly. This is not the only projector out there that changes focus slightly on warm-up, but this Epson shows the anomaly more than previous units I’ve worked with. Bottom line – let the projector warm up for at least half an hour before adjusting focus. And don’t be tempted to adjust it right after a cold start.

The menu system will be familiar to anyone who has used an Epson projector before. There are seven picture modes which are tailored to how much ambient light you have in your particular room. The most accurate by default is THX and since it allows a full calibration, I used that for all my testing and viewing. The Dynamic and Living Room modes crank up the light output and color saturation to help preserve the image when there are some lights on. As with any projector, total darkness produces the best image quality.

All the calibration controls are in the Image menu. The main screen has the usual brightness, contrast, color, tint and sharpness; plus an advanced selection that takes you to the color management system, grayscale adjustment and gamma controls. Sharpness also has separate sliders for thick and thin line adjustment and horizontal/vertical lines as well. These were left off by default and I saw no benefit to changing them.

The Signal menu is the place for setting HDMI range; which I discovered was set to clip below-black and above-white signals by default. To see this information, I had to select Expand instead of Auto. Video outside the 16-235 range is rare but once in a while, it does appear. I believe every component in a video chain should support the full signal from 0 to 255. Also in this menu are the controls for frame interpolation. I chose 4:4 Pulldown which takes a 24Hz input signal and refreshes it at 96Hz by repeating frames. You can choose the Frame Interpolation option if you want smooth, video-like motion in your content. While this is fine for sports, I don’t like the look it imparts on film-based content.

Unlike most THX-certified displays, the 8700 UB allows full adjustment of all picture options in its THX mode. This made things super-easy since I was working from a fairly accurate starting point. You’ll see in the benchmarks section that you can get a decent image without calibration but there is definitely room for improvement. Calibrating grayscale was quick and painless with RGB high and low controls that did not interact. Gamma was also a breeze to adjust because I didn’t have to create a custom curve. In fact all I had to do was choose the 2.2 correction factor to get an excellent measurement. The CMS also worked properly and allowed me to get all color points and luminance to near-perfect levels. Once the calibration was complete, I had the choice of 10 memory slots to save my settings. I love this feature because it allows me to create Rec 601 and Rec 709 color gamut presets as well as a 5600K color temp for black & white movies. Plus, your carefully created settings are protected from accidental change.

After this, I checked out some full-field patterns to assess the unit’s convergence and field uniformity. In my experience with LCD projectors, this can vary from sample to sample. This particular unit showed a bit of green tint down the extreme right side of the screen. It was far from being a deal breaker and it never bothered me with actual content. The rest of the field was excellent. Convergence on cross-hatch patterns looked quite good with the all-important center of the image looking the best of all.


Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8700 UB LCD Projector In Use

Terminator 2 on Blu-ray is not the very best transfer out there and unfortunately I don’t have the recently re-mastered version. Film grain is ever-present and color is somewhat flat. The Epson managed to do a decent job with this not-so-great material. Shadow detail held up well in the all-important dark scenes without an increase in image noise. I used the auto iris on its high-speed setting and saw no brightness pumping at all. I also did not hear the iris doing its thing, which was nice. Many projectors have an audible motor driving the iris and it can be annoying when the unit is mounted right overhead. Epson has provided a very quiet mechanism here.

Terminator 3 is the best of the transfers from James Cameron’s famous trilogy. While not reference quality, it holds up extremely well. Detail looked nice and sharp with great color. I especially enjoyed the makeup and CGI effects when Arnold Schwarzenegger had most of his face ripped off exposing the metal frame beneath. You really will believe he’s a robot from the future!  There isn’t too much dark material in the film but what there was looked great with nice deep blacks and well-rendered shadows. Explosions, which can sometimes look grainy or blocky, came off nicely without any moiré or other motion artifacts. This excellent video processing is thanks to the 8700 UB’s HQV chip.

Terminator Salvation is an extremely dark film with an almost monochromatic color palette. It’s easy for the image to look flat thanks to its subdued presentation. The Epson did pretty well here with excellent contrast performance. While it didn’t quite have the pop I’ve seen on more expensive projectors, it still looked quite excellent. Detail was decent with only a hint of softness which I attribute to the lens. Color and contrast were on par with projectors costing much more. Night scenes held up very well and the auto-iris worked seamlessly to increase dynamic range without any visible artifacts.

The Song Remains the Same is a vintage film from mega-band Led Zeppelin, shot in the mid-seventies. Quality is on the level of a good documentary which means soft and grainy. I still enjoyed the presentation on the 8700. Color was nicely saturated and flesh tones held up well even under the colored lights of Madison Square Garden. With the frequent flashing of stage lighting, I thought I might see the iris in action but it was seamless in operation. This is an auto-iris I can live with. It enhances contrast without hurting highlight or shadow detail and there are no visible artifacts.

To give the Epson a chance with the very sharpest and most colorful material, I chose Toy Story 3 from Pixar. Color was beautifully saturated and bold; just as the creators intended. I have yet to see a Pixar film that isn’t reference quality and the Epson had no problem looking fantastic. The image looked 3D even without those pesky glasses. Despite the high levels of saturation, color still looked natural with no loss of detail whatsoever. Seeing the best material on this projector really demonstrates what an excellent value it is.

During my viewing, I tried out the FineFrame feature to check out Epson’s take on frame interpolation. Even though I’m not a fan of the look the technology imparts, some displays do a better job than others. I can say the 8700 UB did not introduce any additional artifacts like frame tears or dropouts. Motion with this turned on became smoother as I increased the level (there are three choices). The lightest setting only reduced judder slightly while the most aggressive made things super-smooth. If you use your projector to watch sports, this would be very useful. For movie-watching though, I preferred the 4:4 pulldown option which repeats each frame four times for a refresh rate of 96Hz.


Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8700 UB LCD Projector On The Bench

Equipment used: EyeOne Pro spectrophotometer, CalMAN Professional 3.7 analysis software, Accupel HDG-3000 signal generator, Spears & Munsil Benchmark Blu-ray disc.

All measurements were taken off the screen (Carada Brilliant White, gain 1.4) from the seating position (10 feet back). Video processing tests were performed using an Oppo BDP-83 connected directly to the projector and set to Source Direct mode.

Unlike most THX-certified displays, the Epson allows full adjustment in its THX mode. This made calibration fairly easy as the starting point was not too far off the mark. Pre-calibration gamut was close to perfect with just a little variance in the secondary colors. Luminance was also within a whisker of perfect.

Pre-calibration grayscale was quite green from bottom to top. As you can see by the high DeltaE numbers, this was plainly visible. It’s a good thing there are white balance adjustments available in THX mode!  Gamma out of the box was not too bad at an average of 2.10 with flat tracking. This was measured with the auto-iris turned off.

Only a few minor tweaks were necessary to achieve accurate color with the Epson’s CMS. There are hue, saturation and lightness controls for all six colors and as you can see, they work correctly. Luminance was within 0.15 foot-Lamberts for all colors and the CIE points are spot-on.

After adjustment, the grayscale tracked with an error of less than 1 DeltaE at all brightness levels except 100 percent. That error of 1.8 is still well below the threshold of visibility. Gamma tracking is also nice and flat with an average factor of 2.21. I only needed to raise the overall correction factor to achieve this. No adjustment of individual points was necessary. Again, this is measured with the auto iris turned off.

Video processing was excellent, which is no great surprise given the included HQV chip. The 2:2 test was a little slow to lock on but once it did, it maintained itself properly. The 8700 passed all the film mode tests. There were no problems with the horizontal mixed film/video test but the vertical one showed quite a bit of line twitter. Jaggies clips were all handled well with minimal artifacting. To see maximum resolution, I had to set my player to output an RGB Video signal. 4:4:4 and 4:2:2 would not show the 1-pixel pattern in either a multi-burst or zone plate. The error is hard to see in actual content but this is the reason you want a Blu-ray player that gives you signal output options.

Epson prides itself on the contrast levels of their projectors and the 8700 is a fine example of the breed. Minimum black measured .006 fL with the auto iris turned off. When it was on, the black level was immeasurable. I recorded a maximum brightness level of 26.4 fL with the lamp in eco mode which is quite high. This makes the on/off contrast ratio 4400:1 which is very good. Perceived contrast improves when the auto iris is turned on. With its high output, this projector would benefit from a manual iris. Closing down a bit would improve black levels further and make it easier to get the max level to a more comfortable 15 fL.

Optics and panel alignment were about average for an LCD projector in this price range. Field uniformity was decent with only a little green tint on the right side of the screen. Focus patterns showed very good panel convergence. When first powering on the projector, the image is a tad soft but after 30 minutes or so, sharpness improves to a good level. The lens showed no significant chromatic aberrations and focus was consistent from edge to edge.


Conclusion about the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8700 UB LCD Projector

The Good

  • Accurate image fully adjustable in THX mode
  • Decent out-of-the-box performance
  • Excellent light output
  • Easy to install with generous lens shift and zoom
  • Superb remote
  • Phenomenal value

The Not So Good

  • Slight green tint in lower right of screen
  • Focus takes about 30 minutes of warmup to reach peak sharpness

Over the last few years, Epson has really come to the forefront of the under-$5,000 class in front projection. It wasn’t long ago a 50-inch TV would cost you $5k. Now you can have a 100-inch picture for around $3k; and that’s if you buy a pretty nice screen. I love a big flat panel but nothing beats a projector for the true cinema experience. Since I built my theater three years ago, I haven’t set foot inside a movie house – there’s just no reason to. With a reasonably-priced projector and surround sound system, you can beat all but the very best theaters right in your own home. If you’re thinking about taking the plunge, and you have a spare room you can make light-tight, the Epson 8700 UB will make you a very happy camper. With its accurate, bright image and easy installation, I can’t imagine a better choice for under $3,000. It receives my highest recommendation.