The Epson Home Cinema 1080UB is a 1080p LCD projector, designed with superior black levels in its class as the main selling point. Epson dismissed the square, blocky look of most projectors (and, for that matter, Epson’s newer models) in favour of a sexy, contoured look. The projector has no sharp edges, instead implementing rounded sides and corners, and is white. The design is aesthetically pleasing and easily distinguishes the Epson Home Cinema 1080UB from other projectors.
Looking at the unit from the front, the lens is edged off-centre to the right side, while the left side shows the vent for the fan. The infrared receiver is neatly squeezed in between these two. Sidling to the rear, the various inputs can be seen. 2 HDMI v1.3 inputs are included, typical for 1080p projectors. Next to those are a PC input, as well as an RS-232 input. One component, one S-video and one composite input are clustered together on the left side of the rear panel. A 12-volt trigger is also on the back for use with a motorized screen.
All the necessary buttons for proper functioning are placed on the top of the 1080UB. Power, Source, Menu and Aspect buttons, as well as the directional buttons needed to navigate the various menus are all arranged in a straight line. The whole unit weighs only 12 lbs, which makes it very light and easy to put on a single-shelf wall-mounted component shelf without worry; if ceiling-mounting the projector is not an option for you. The overall look and design is very sleek and appealing, with every button and input easily accessible, even if the unit is mounted on the ceiling.
The design of the unit has one major drawback. Unlike, say, the Panasonic PT-AE2000, the Epson Home Cinema 1080UB does not support anamorphic lenses. This means a constant-height home theatre is not an option for this projector. However, the intended demographic are not those who would opt for this type of setup. Based on the design and simple setup, Epson was trying for mass appeal, as opposed to hardcore theatre buff, with this projector. However, people who prefer a 2:35:1 home theatre should avoid this model.
Once the unit is turned on the lens offers focus and throw distance rings, which can offer any screen size from 40 to 150 inches, depending on the distance between the unit and the screen. The 2:1 zoom lens can easily fill a 100-inch screen from as little as about 10 feet away and as far as 22 feet away. The unit also gives the user the option to shift the image, if the projector’s position is far from optimal. At around 15 feet, I can nudge my image about five or six feet in every direction without losing picture quality. This gives the projector great flexibility in placement and a distinct advantage over most DLP projectors on the market.
Another advantage that most LCD projectors have over DLPs is the noise level. The color wheel in DLP projectors is often prone to higher noise levels than LCDs, which don’t utilize the wheel. Unfortunately, the Epson Home Cinema 1080UB has a loud fan and, depending on the Color Mode, can get distracting. On basic settings, however, the noise is tolerable and will not be noticed, especially if the movie watched has a relatively active sound field. By the same token, if the unit is about 5 feet from the audience, noise should not be intrusive.
Another slight problem with the unit is involved with the initial calibration. Out of the box, the color temperature on every mode is a tad high. For example, on Theatre Black 1, the best choice most people would find for color film viewing, the color temperature is 7500K out of the box, as opposed to the proper 6500K. With slight modifications, the colors come out looking spectacular, though. The differences in this setting are very slight, but videophiles will enjoy tweaking the picture quality.
Upon entering the Main Menu, there are Signal, Settings, Memory and Info tabs. The Signal tab gives various scaling and noise reductions options, while Settings offers convenience features such as Child Lock, Sleep mode and High Altitude Mode. The Memory tab saves and loads the Color Mode settings previously configured.
The Info tab gives information about the present signal coming to the unit. It accepts every signal known up to 1080p/24. I have used the projector to watch standard definition DVDs output in both NTSC and PAL, to watch Blu-rays and HD DVDs outputting at both 1080p/60 and 1080p/24, and have hooked up my laptop using the PC input. Using all those forms of input, I have never encountered any compatibility problems. Lamp life is included in the menu as well. Epson states each lamp should last between 2000 and 3000 hours.
Depending on the type of material being viewed, Epson offers seven Color Modes, each with their own strengths. Dynamic is about as bright as you can want in a home theatre projector. Epson boasts a 1600-lumen max output in their spec sheet, and the projector dishes out this level with Dynamic mode. It’s mostly used for television viewing with a fair amount of ambient light. I used the setting once during a bright sunset. The fan roared to life, about three to four times the volume as it normally runs and the unit overheated in about 10 minutes.
Living Room and Natural offer bright pictures with slightly different color schemes. Living Room is slightly brighter and should be used when a little light is seeping into the room, whereas Natural has slightly more accurate colors, although slightly dimmer. I find both settings too bright, and rarely use the projector with ambient light anyway.
When watching a feature length movie, Theatre, Theatre Black 1 and Theatre Black 2 are more appropriate. The difference between the three is in the color temperature and brightness settings. While Theatre is slightly darker, the colors in Theatre Black 1 are slightly more accurate. The latter is my preferred setting for both films and games. Theatre Black 2 is calibrated for black and white films, as the color temperature is a bit cooler, giving the black and white photography slightly better contrast.
The final Color Mode is X.V.Color, which is used by appropriate components via the HDMI ports. However, no Blu-ray discs support this color space. I’ve used this mode when playing an Xbox 360, but I find the picture much too dark for gaming, especially titles in the survival horror genre, where darkness prevails.
If the colors in any mode are not to your satisfaction, then every mode can be altered through the Image settings in the Main Menu. There are options to change brightness, contrast, color saturation, tint and skin tone levels. Vertical and Horizontal edges can also be sharpened through the menu’s Sharpness option. For videophiles, the Gamma, RGB and RGBCMY levels can be tweaked as well. Casual movie buffs may not spend much time altering these settings, but for those discerning about picture quality, the wealth of image modification options are certainly vast.
Epson states the static contrast ratio to be 4 000:1, and the dynamic contrast ratio to be a whopping 50 000:1. Watching ‘Wall-E’ on Blu-ray is spectacular, and the Epson Home Cinema 1080UB brings the picture to life. With its dynamic iris turned on, darks are deep, with shots of space looking inky black, while still giving the small white stars in the distance their due brightness. The lighter scenes have nice detail while keeping colors accurate. Scenes in the vast highway shopping malls show terrific detail, and on my 100-inch screen, it feels like being in the movie. Color saturation is spot-on and the color transitions are smooth and accurate. In short, this is a stunning transfer, which the projector replicates with great aplomb.
I tested a decidedly less stunning picture, the region 2 (PAL) release of ‘Life on Mars: Season One’ from the UK. The style is dingy and replicates 1973 Manchester for television viewing. The transfer, though not up to ‘Lost’ standards, is appealing in its own right. The series was shot on 16mm film and the transfer keeps the grain intact. The Epson Home Theatre 1080UB has no trouble keeping the presentation as gritty as possible. In fact, the 1080perfect Video Processing does a terrific job in scaling the picture. The difference in seeing this show shown by the projector and seeing it upscaled to 1080p by Oppo’s flagship, VRS chip-infused DV-983H is almost negligible. There is a slight difference, but it is quite minimal.
I’m something of an avid gamer and couldn’t resist testing two games with opposite design and style, Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge. Dead Space is a third-person shooter survival horror title from Electronic Arts. The ship within the game is dark, dreary and very creepy. The Epson Home Theatre 1080UB replicates the atmosphere very well, giving you discernible detail in all the dark corners of the ship. The bright green life bar and ammo indicator are still clearly visible as well. Thankfully, thanks to the UB technology, black corners are black, and not some sort of dark grey, which keeps the heightened level of suspense at a fevered pitch. Mirror’s Edge, also from Electronic Arts, in sharp contrast, is a stunningly bright game. The levels are open, often outdoors, and very white. The buildings and sky show very little detail, but there are still slight shadows and textures, which the projector shows as it was intended. The scenes are never blown out and the edges remain sharp and distinct.
The Epson 1080UB is a terrific machine and is a great value all around. The only real drawback is the lack of anamorphic lens support. The strange color temperatures are not much of a problem because they can easily be fixed. The unit may also run louder than other LCD projectors, but as long as it is not sitting directly over your head, it’s not overly distracting. The positives far outweigh the negatives with this projector. The breadth and wealth of setup options and the terrific picture quality for all media make this an easy recommendation.