Best known in the projector world for an extensive range of data models, Epson has been expanding into LCD home cinema projection territory with machines that lay claim to meeting or beating the previously all-conquering challenge from DLP.

Contrast has been improved to or even beyond DLP levels - a claimed 5000:1 in this case - but the fact that the company doesn't specify how it was measured indicates that the figure should not be taken at face value.

This is a true widescreen model that can deal with 720p source material (eg from the Sky HD service about to start) without lossy scaling.

In addition,the LCD panels used here display much reduced evidence of the dark grid between adjacent pixel rows and columns that make viewing of LCD projectors so inherently unnatural.But there is some evidence that this has been paid for in a reduction in overall sharpness and,in addition,it was not possible to achieve a completely uniform focus across the whole screen area.The picture always looked a little soft on test.

With a claimed 1,600 ANSI Lumens output,this is a bright,powerful projector that can be used in daylight, though for casual viewing only.

Reduced output

A credible theatre-realistic output requires a considerably reduced output,though,and you will not be able to make this compromise. Mechanical lens shift is available in both planes and,combined with a wider than usual 1.5:1 zoom range, means that the Epson is more flexible about placement than many.

Nevertheless,the lens is designed mostly for short projection distances. This is great for small rooms,or where the projector will be placed on a table in front of the viewing plane,but is not so good in bigger rooms or where the projector is to be used on a rear wall shelf,which for various reasons is the optimum way to use any projector.

We were impressed by the brightness of the picture in its Dynamic setting, but not by its quality,which was clearly soft,though video noise levels were low,and motion artefacts through the proprietary internal scaler surprisingly well restrained.

Using a Theatre setting, projecting off a white screen with moderate (1.2) gain in a properly darkened room,the blacks finally started to look much truer,and shadow detail became more subtle and varied - not DLP standard in our view,but in the general ballpark.

Colour reproduction was very good (an acknowledged LCD strength) and the low level of grid overlay on screen, combined with effective IP processing, makes moving scenes flow smoothly on screen,and the whole effect becomes one that does justice to the concept of home theatre.

Best results are via the digital HDMI input, which easily betters the best analogue output. On the whole, component looks noisier and less fluid on screen.

Test it with the downloaded 720p source material, and the Epson is impressively solid and finely detailed - almost like a moving photograph in some cases. Fan noise is about average in its class, but the cooling system remains a significant intrusion (even in Theatre mode),which is one reason against placing the Epson in front of the viewing area. Alvin Gold