Epson EH-TW3800 review

This LCD newcomer could make DLP very hot under the collar

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Our Verdict

Gives a thoroughly cinematic performance and is versatile enough to be used during daylight hours

For

  • Pin-sharp HD pictures
  • Easy set-up

Against

  • Bulky build
  • Noisy and hot operation
  • Black levels could be more profound

This rather austere looking projector is the first fruit of Epson's current, no-nonsense assault on the home cinema market. The company's projectors have always been easy to use and simple to set up, but the TW3800's refreshed LCD technology could finally help it beat DLP for the number one position at the heart of a home cinema.

Not that it's the brand's flagship – that honour goes to the TW5000, which will be available later in the Spring and will boast a Hollywood Quality Video (HQV) chipset.

The TW3800 sounds less impressive: with a PixelWorks chipset and 20,000:1 claimed contrast ratio, it's clearly aimed at the more casual home cinema user. It's brighter than its pricier sibling, too. Could the TW3800 be one of the first home projectors able to function convincingly in daylight?

Better blacks

Maybe, but the key improvement over Epson's previous efforts is the TW3800's contrast ratio that suggests it's aiming to recreate black images with long sought after accuracy and detail. The extra brightness is sure to play havoc with that ambition to some extent, but its 10-bit video processing ought to help.

The technology is all on board, from its full HD resolution and 3LCD panel to its pair of HDMI inputs, component video, S-video, composite and VGA PC jacks. A pair of HDMIs is a decent return on any projector, although users who want to install the TW3800 permanently (it can be fixed on a ceiling, for example) will undoubtedly prefer one, at least, to be within easier reach on the side.

The unit itself sports an unfussy, rather serious design that would probably look more at home in a business presentation than at the heart of your home cinema, but in all other aspects the TW3800 is a very easy to use product.

The TW3800 is able to project an image of 100in from just three metres away, and it can also be set up off-centre to a screen. Manual dials alongside the 2.1x zoom lens make it a cinch to shift the picture both horizontally and vertically, though it's something of a balancing act and will require some serious patience if you want to achieve a dead-on image.

Image Science

More serious users can, of course, take advantage of the TW3800's Imaging Science Foundation certification, which manifests itself in a set of advanced menus offering exacting tweaks to gamma levels and colour hues. In short, the TW3800 can be professionally calibrated to the ISF's high standards. That's most likely to be done by a professional installer or dealer, though the projector has a test pattern built-in that helps to streamline the process.

Those that are looking for the simplest way to get up and running can choose from a wide range of effective preset colour modes, including Cinema Day, Cinema Night, HD and SilverScreen, the latter three of which reduce the lamp's brightness and are intended for use with Blu-ray.

Onscreen menus are functional and picture presets have shortcut buttons on the excellent remote, which even manages dedicated controls for gamma, sharpness and aspect ratio.

Setting up

Though the ISF calibration possibilities are a nice extra, even out of the box colours are not saddled with the over-vivid palette that blights some projectors. That said skin tones are overdone and will need attention when setting up.

Used during daylight with the Cinema Day mode in operation, the TW3800 turns in a hot and noisy performance as it projects a thoroughly decent image from an Xbox 360. Colours remain bold and well saturated and detail is exemplary. The TW3800's high brightness makes this an excellent choice for gamers, who probably won't notice the hum.

Movies are less impressive during the day, not just because of the distracting noise, but also because contrast inevitably suffers.

Dim the lights and power-up a Blu-ray player if you want to get the best from the TW3800. Natural, HD or Silver Screen modes supply a much less bright (and therefore quieter) operation that showcases the TW3800's improved abilities with blacks levels.

In a total blackout there's plenty of detail within dark areas of our I, Robot test disc, with Detective Spooner's leather jacket always rich in detail. Blacks aren't as profound as those you'd expect from an equivalent DLP rival, but the TW3800 does a convincing job all round, with little in the way of detail-deadening motion blur or jagged edges.

It's always a sharp, clean image, though horizontal pans do see some judder creeping into the picture, and we did detect some picture noise in backgrounds. Crucially, neither problem is acute and the overall impression is wholly cinematic and exacting enough for Blu-ray discs to shine.

A thoroughly respectable projector that successfully addresses 3LCD's traditional weaknesses of poor blacks, the TW3800 is nevertheless expensive. However, it is easy to operate and can cope with daylight well enough to be used with games consoles, so it's worth looking for the inevitable online discounts if you've got Blu-ray and gaming ambitions. Do that, and you've found an impressively versatile way to upgrade to full HD.