Now that 1080p has become reasonably affordable in front projectors, there’s a strong market for entry-level models that cost little to run, yet produce a big picture. At not a great deal over a thousand dollars, Epson’s EH-TW5300 is likely to attract a big chunk of that market.
The EH-TW5300 is a compact unit, but still curvy enough that it doesn’t look like a business projector. Yet it is nice and small, and so convenient in handling it could easily be kept away somewhere and pulled out for movie night or big sporting events. But it also has the fittings necessary for it to be permanently ceiling-mounted.
As is Epson’s practice, the projector uses three LCD chips — 15.5mm units in full-HD resolution, with 10 bits of colour depth (that is, rather than being limited to the 256 brightness levels available on DVD and Blu-ray, they support 1024 levels).
It is powered by a 200W lamp with a generous lamp life of 4000 hours of operation in normal mode and 7500 hours in eco mode. Epson rates the brightness of the unit at 2200 lumens and notes that it is also capable of delivering the full colour range at up to 2200 lumens as well, whereas some competing technologies can’t go as bright with colours as they can with full white. A dynamic iris (which opens and closes rapidly to adjust the overall light levels to improve the effective black levels during dark scenes) boosts the contrast ratio to an impressive 35,000:1.
The projector is a fairly shortish-throw unit. For a 100-inch (2.54-metre) picture it needs to be located at a range of between 2.72 and 3.27 metres from the screen. As you can see from those figures, its zoom range is 1.2:to:1, so there’s some flexibility, but not a huge amount. (You have to pay quite a bit more for the fancy glass in Epson’s higher-end projectors that are able to provide 2:1 zoom ranges.)
Whether that throw range suits will depend entirely on the user’s environment, including how big a screen (or picture on the wall) they want, and how far away they sit from the projector.
We’re not sure that the Epson has chosen an optimum throw angle for this projector, given that it may often end up between the users and their screen. While it throws the picture largely upwards, the bottom of the picture is actually slightly below the axis of the lens — some 11 centimetres when using a 100-inch screen. In these circumstance we’d rather a projector throw substantially upwards.
But we should pause to note that we are, of course, picture purists. We don’t like tilting a projector to get the picture where it needs to be because that introduces keystone distortion, and while this can be digitally corrected, it involves surrendering pixels and consequently 1:1 pixel mapping with 1080p sources.
We suspect many users aren’t quite so finicky about this, and it’s clear that Epson thinks that as well, for the projector has easily accessible controls on the top for correcting both horizontal and vertical keystone distortion. The horizontal one is actually a slider near the lens assembly, while the vertical one is two arrows in the control cluster.
There are two HDMI inputs, plus D-SUB15 for old-style computers and composite video. Oh, and stereo audio inputs. These are down-mixed to mono and fed to a small speaker built into the back panel, in case you need audio. However there is also an audio out socket (stereo 3.5mm) so you can pass the audio on to external speakers if, as is likely, you need a bit more oomph in the sound than the projector can provide. There are no triggers or other system integration features.
The projector supports 3D, but no eyewear is supplied with it. They are available separately and are priced at $99 per pair.
On the budget theme, keeping the projector picture tip-top is relatively inexpensive, with new air filters costing $22 and new lamps just $99. Do pay attention to the recommended retail price of both the projector and the lamp. We stumbled across a website boasting the ‘Best Price’, while charging $180 above RRP for the projector and $40 above RRP for a replacement lamp. This suggests to us that at least one retailer thinks people will pay more for this unit.
Sticking with our preference for pure video, we eschewed the keystone thing, aside from running the controls to their extremes to make sure they worked. Which indeed they did.
Instead we positioned the projector optimally for our screen and worked our way around it. The zoom and focus are adjusted by rings on the lens, accessible through an inset in the cabinet. They moved smoothly and easily allowed fine adjustment. With the projector in the right place, getting these set took just seconds for perfect results. We should add, while on the lens, that a built-in lens shield protects it when not in use. It’s up to the user to slide it out of the way when starting to project.
The Epson starts up in a ‘Home’ screen, which will be comforting for those unused to projectors. From here the input can be selected, a few basic pictures options made, and the main menu started up. You can also access that menu from the dedicated on the key on the remote.
The menu is Epson’s standard one, in use for many years. That means it’s well organised and easy to use. If you get messed up, no worries. Each section of the menu has a ‘Reset’ option at the bottom to get things back to safe defaults. The remote operated well at all angles, including bouncing its IR beam from the screen back to the projector. A ‘User’ key can be set to switch between ‘Fine’ and ‘Fast’ processing (see below), switching 3D conversion on and off, changing the lamp brightness, and showing projector and picture information.
Out of the box the projector started up in ‘Normal’ lamp mode, which means full strength. The sound was quite noticeable, particularly since we had the projector in a prominent position to get the picture on screen. In this mode it was wonderfully bright, with a decent picture even in a well-lit room. However we like our room dimmed for front projector use, and after switching off the lights we found that the ‘Eco’ mode delivered a picture that was absolutely fine for brightness, with the fan running at no more than a whisper.
The black levels were respectable, and nicely stretched by the dynamic iris. We would note, though, that the iris’ operation can be audible sometimes — it’s a kind of chuffing sound — so you may want to choose between deeper blacks and quieter operation.
With good black levels the colours were nicely rich and accurate. In general, the results were very pleasing indeed.
But a word of caution: the projector did not like 576i/50 or 1080i/50 signals very much. It played them, but if they were inherently progressive it seemed to mismatch the fields, so that horizontal combing appeared around moving objects. We’d recommend, therefore, that this projector should be fed progressive-scan.
Rather startlingly for a projector in this price category, it has a frame interpolation motion smoothing system. We checked it out with our usual test scenes on Blu-ray. With the ‘Low’ setting we couldn’t discern any difference on or off. However the ‘Normal’ setting eliminated judder completely, without producing too glossy a result. But there were some hazing artefacts and some moments of picture confusion when the processor made incorrect judgements.
Gamers are going to get good scores using this projector as a display for their game-playing. In normal operation the lag between signal and display is between 98 and 122 milliseconds, depending on the picture processing options chosen. But you can switch from ‘Fine’ image processing to ‘Fast’ image processing. This knocks the lag down to a very speedy 28.5 milliseconds. Not quite computer monitor fast, but better than most home entertainment displays.
You will not want to use this mode with interlaced video sources, though, since it fully ‘bobs’ the display, resulting in interline flickering with SD material.
The projector supports auto lip-sync over HDMI, telling the Yamaha Aventage RX-A3050 receiver we were using to delay the sound by 124 milliseconds. This works well with regular movie viewing, but we’d suggest switching off lip sync in your receiver when in games mode.
You should use good quality progressive sources to drive it, but given that, the Epson EH-TW5300 brings the joys of bigscreen projection at good quality and with a remarkable price — and low ongoing operating costs.
Epson EH-TW5300 AV projector
+ Full high definition, Excellent value for money, Very low running costs
– Deinterlacing issues with 576i/50 and 1080i/50, Plan ahead for placement
Projection technology: 3 x 15.5mm
Polysilicon TFT active matrix LCD panels
Resolution: 1920 by 1080 pixels
Aspect ratio: 16:9
Lamp: 200W UHE
Lamp life: 4000 hours (Normal); 7500 hours (Eco)
Contrast ratio: 35,000:1 (Dynamic)
Brightness: 2200 lumens
Inputs: 2 x HDMI (1 with MHL support), 1 x composite video, 1 x D-SUB15, 1 x stereo analogue audio (RCA), 1 x USB
Outputs: 1 x stereo analogue audio
Dimensions (whd): 297 x 119 x 249mm
Warranty: Two years (lamp: first of 12 months/750 hours)
Product page: www.epson.com.au