For £699, you'd normally only get a cheap and cheerful LCD projector aimed at the PC/- presentations market. Yet this is all you pay for the EMP-TW20,a projector from Epson's Dreamio range that's designed to be home cinema's friend. But will it be the sort of friend who leaves you in the lurch when the going gets tough?
There's no overt sign of cheapness in the TW20's build quality, at any rate. The glossy white finish offset by silver trim and wrapped around an unusually curvaceous body could easily belong to a projector costing £2k or more.
Connectivity is fair enough too, including as it does a PC jack, S-video and composite video jacks, a Scart adaptor, and a component video input capable of receiving high definition (though a native resolution of just 854 x 480 and a lack of either a DVI or an HDMI input prevent the TW20 from claiming full HD Ready status).
The HD capability isn't the only decent-looking spec. The claimed contrast ratio of 1,000:1 is good by LCD (though not DLP) standards, and promises solid black levels. Also the claimed brightness of 1,200 ANSI Lumens means you might even be able to watch the TW20 when there's a little ambient light.
The TW20 is impressively easy to set up in even the most awkwardly shaped room thanks to simple manual vertical and horizontal image shifters, good digital keystone adjustment, and a very flexible short-throw lens. The only bumnote is the remote control, which uses ridiculously tiny buttons considering that you'll often be using it in a darkened room.
Features are reasonably numerous given the TW20's lowly price tag, with key discoveries being six picture presets (including two Theatre Black options),a dedicated skin tone adjustment, and colour temperature presets.
In action the TW20 is a mixed bag. The main problem is that old LCD bugbear of the chicken wire effect, where you can see the physical gridlike structure of the projector's LCD panels in the picture.
The picture also suffers with a little more grain and dot crawl than we'd like, fine detail levels aren't exactly world-beating, and occasionally during dark movie scenes the colour tone starts to look a touch unnatural.
However, one particularly unexpected success is the TW20's black levels. Using either of the Theatre Black modes, which drastically reduce the light output (and the cooling fan noise) in a bid to boost contrast, dark areas of the picture really look convincing, with good shadow detailing and little of the grey mist found on every other LCD model at this sort of price.
The TW20's LCD technology also makes it immune to those DLP problems of the rainbow effect and fizzing noise over motion, too.
Reaching a conclusion on the TW20 is tricky. On the one hand, it's miles better for movies than any other sub-£900 LCD projector we've seen. On the other hand, the best cut-price DLP models can deliver better black levels and a generally more 'filmic' finish. Perhaps it simply boils down to whether you're more distracted by the LCD's chicken wire effect or DLP's rainbow effect. John Archer