Most people are likely to associate the Epson brand with printers and scanners, rather than home cinema gear.
Yet, and this may come as a surprise, the company is actually the bone fide world number one in projectors: supply and manufacture. And it's a leading shareholder in the 3LCD consortium - a tech utilised to the full with its first, impressively specced, 1080p home cinema PJ.
The EMP-TW1000 is a Full HD unit, with a native 16:9 resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. A good match, then, for Full HD sources such as Sky HD and high-def disc formats. The three LCD panels employ Epson's exclusive Crystal Clear Fine (C2Fine) technology - the TW1000 is the first PJ to make use of it.
Here, the liquid crystals are aligned vertically when no voltage is applied. The result of this, once the effects of the polarising filters on either side of the liquid-crystal layer are factored in, is the (theoretical) elimination of light leakage - Epson reckons this creates a 'pure jet black'. Quite a claim, then.
In addition to C2Fine is an auto-iris system. This changes the light intensity according to the source, thereby improving black performance. Hopefully, Epson's incarnation will improve on those of the competition - with Mitsubishi's similarly Full HD HC5000, for example, the jumps in light level can be rather off-putting. The 170W lamp is claimed to offer 1,700 hours of life - or 3,000 if you select the low-power economy mode.
Then there's Epson's 'Cinema Filter', which effectively optimises the picture for differing lighting conditions. In an ideal world, there would be only one lighting condition - completely dark - but in the real world, things are not that simple. The six settings include 'dynamic' for lighter rooms, 'natural' and 'theatre black' for darker environments.
Black is back
Talking of all things dark, the glossy black casework of the EMP-TW1000 is something to behold. The organic curves bestow a high-end appearance that deny its printer-manufacturer origins. In other words, you could swap the badge for that of a more established home-cinema marque and most would be none the wiser.
Also worthy of note is the 2.1x zoom lens, which is equipped with a lever-operated wide-angle lens-shift function that operates horizontally and vertically. Not everyone can place the projector in its optimal position, and a lens shift can compensate for such eventualities with minimal image distortion (unlike keystone correction, which this projector doesn't have).
This lens is a short-throw type; designed with small rooms in mind (well, it does hail from Japan!), it will yield 100in pictures at a distance of only 3m. To help you register the projected picture on the screen correctly, there's an on-board pattern generator. This is also useful for initial setting of focus.
Connectivity meets all expectations. Both component and HDMI are present, and will go all the way to 1080p. 480i and 576i (standard-def interlaced) can be fed into the HDMI port, as can 48Hz progressive video. A strong contender, then, for the new EICTA HD Ready 1080p logo that few are currently aware of.
The HDMI input supports the latest 1.3 standard; the EMP-TW1000 uses 10-bit video processing (although not the 12-bit or 16-bit specifically allowed by HDMI 1.3) for improved colour depth. This will really come into its own with PC users and latest-generation games consoles like the PlayStation 3.
On the subject of PCs, a standard VGA port is included. But if your computer permits it use the HDMI input (bringing in DVI adaptors and switchboxes where necessary!). Also somewhat 'old-tech' is the RS-232 serial port, which Epson has provided for system integration.
Input selection is easy, the supplied handset dedicating buttons to each. This handset is backlit, but even with fresh batteries the lighting in question is rather dim. Full control of the PJ is possible without the remote - but the in-built controls will be somewhat useless if the projector is ceilng-mounted.
Most projectors of any note include some kind of 'bought-in' video processing, and the EMP-TW1000 is no exception here. Rather than the usual Silicon Optix or Faroudja chipsets, though, Epson has plumped for PixelWorks' DNX solution to carry out deinterlacing and scaling duties.
The setup menus allow plenty of 'tweaks', including output scaling (which can be effectively bypassed in the '100%' setting - ideal for native high-def sources), noise reduction, motion-detection and film/video mode.
Other menus provide the usual configuration parameters, including ceiling and rear-projection, and plenty of video adjustments. Among them are skin-tone, colour temperature, and comprehensive gamma adjustment, plus Epson's 'Super White' mode, which tames overexposure in bright areas.
Your video tweaks are stored on a per-input basis - and there are ten overall 'memory banks' to choose from. As a result, you can optimise picture quality for each of your sources.
After installing and calibrating the EMP-TW1000 to ISF standards, the viewing experience could begin. I started off with Blu-ray, in the form of Casino Royale - undoubtedly one of the best releases to date on this hi-def format. Two things stood out.
First of all, the portrayal of detail is exquisite. The grain of the tense black-and-white flashback sequence that kicks off the movie is so filmic, you can almost hear the gate-chatter.
Similarly impressive is the fight on the sinking Venetian building; all of the complex textures are conveyed with uncanny believability and depth. The movie's exotic location-shooting, meanwhile, shows off the EMP-TW1000's ability to reproduce colours with utter beauty. Motion blur never proves to be a problem, regardless of whether the source material is hi-def, DVD or digital TV.
The auto-iris feature also works well, with no significant 'jumps' in brightness. Pictures were also free of noise, pixellation or other self-generated forms of artefacting. Perfection, alas, is not attained. For a start, shadow detail and overall black levels are a bit lacking - just what is Epson's idea of 'jet black'? A very dark grey, quite obviously.
Another problem is that no control over aspect ratio is possible with HD sources; the presumption is that all hi-def material is in widescreen, but what about upscaled DVD material? Not all is 'flagged' correctly. Then there's the SD performance; pictures here are a tad on the 'soft' side - the use of HDMI does, however, minimise this effect.
There are better Full HD projectors, but they tend to be significantly more expensive than EMP-TW1000.
The black-level limitations can perhaps be overlooked with this in mind, especially when the feature-set, input flexibility, excellent colour fidelity and potential for true-to-life detail are also factored in. This unit should definitely be on the shortlist of those seeking Full HD on a budget.