REVIEW: EPSON EH-TW9400 4K PRO-UHD PROJECTOR
No sooner had BenQ's latest W5700 been boxed up, Epson's new EH-TW9400 4K PRO-UHD projector arrived for review. We take a closer look at Epson's latest offering in the 4K space.
EH-TW9400 4K PRO-UHD Projector
If you've read any of our recent coverage about the launch of Epson's 2019 range of home theatre projectors, you may already know that Epson is moving to the beat of a 'different-drum'.
They are the first to admit that its projectors are not 'true 4K', but native 1080p with pixel shifting to double the pixel count to 4.1 million pixels, as opposed to the 8.3 million pixels produced by true 4K projectors.
They're equally as fast to point out there's a lot more to Ultra HD than just resolution. A fact I'm sure many who have battled to get decent looking HDR images on their projectors can attest too.
One of the biggest challenges facing enthusiasts, installers and calibrators alike in their quest for great looking HDR images is sufficient light output. There's no denying projectors can't complete with televisions in terms of brightness, however, with decent light output and some clever tone mapping look they can look very good!
Light output and tone mapping are two areas that Epson has tackled head-on with their new range of PRO-UHD projectors, consisting of the EH-TW8400 ($3,999), EH-TW9400 ($4,799), and EH-TW9400W ($4,999).
The only difference between the EH-TW9400 we received for review and the EH-TW9400W, is that the latter can transmit images wirelessly. While the 'W' variety can indeed transmit HDR signals wirelessly, it's not without limitations, one of which is that it will convert 4.4.4 signals to 4.2.2.
Epson's EH-TW9400 is a three-chip LCD projector quoted as being able to produce 2,600 ANSI lumens, with a contrast ratio of 1,200,000:1. In addition to high light output, the 9400 can reproduce the full DCI-P3 colour gamut. DCI-P3 is the very same colour gamut used in cinemas and is 1.26 wider than the Rec. 709 or High-Def Blu-ray colour gamut.
Epson's pixel shifting technology has also had an overhaul. Previously software based, the EH-TW9400 now has a dedicated processor which can reduce the inherent 'motion-blur' - a by-product of shifting pixels at rapid frequencies - making images appear sharper.
The EH-TW9400 has full 10-bit HDR colour processing, with real-time 12-bit analogue to digital video processing to reduce banding/ contouring artefacts. It also supports HDR10 and HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma).
WHAT'S IN THE BOX
The EH-TW9400 has a centrally mounted lens with grills either side for air intake and outlet.
The lens has been redesigned, now incorporating a 15-element aspherical all-glass design. Its lens control is powered so the 9400's focus, zoom and lens-shift can be adjusted directly from the remote.
Connections are on the back of the projector and consist of two HDMI inputs, (HDMI 1 is HDCP 2.2 complaint), a USB A input, RS232C, D-Sub 15-pin, optical input and network connection. The HDCP 2.2 input has a full 18 GB workflow (4K, 60p 10-bit signal processing).
The remote may be slightly chunky in appearance, but it's well laid out, all of its buttons large and easily accessible. The inclusion of dedicated buttons for the WH-TW9400's lens memories and tone mapping controls being very welcome.
Finished in black the EH-TW9400 features a sleek, curvy design. If you're looking for something in what to match your ceiling, you're going to need to pony up the extra few dollars for the EH-TW9400W.
The EH-TW9400 certainly isn't the smallest projector I've worked with, however at 450 x 520 x 192.7 mm it's by no means the largest. Regardless, I had no difficulties attaching the 9400 to my Peerless mount, which is situated closely to the back wall of my home theatre.
Epson's EH-TW9400 is reasonably flexible regarding installation offering 47% horizontal and 96% vertical lens shift, enabling it to fill a 100” screen from three metres. The motorised lens is not only convenient but allows accurate centring and focusing of the image.
As a three-chip LCD, you're not only going to want to focus the lens but also use the panel-alignment controls to achieve the sharpest image. Within the panel alignment controls, you'll find the option to adjust either the 'whole-grid' or individual corners and intersections.
MEASUREMENTS & CALIBRATION
When it comes to judging the picture quality of a television or projector, the impact of incorrect picture settings cannot be underestimated. Before making any critical observations concerning picture quality, every display we review is professionally calibrated.
Both an X-Rite i1Pro 2 spectroradiometer and x-rite i1 Display Pro colourimeter (profiled against the i1Pro 2) were used to take measurements. The meters were tripod mounted, with measurements taken directly from a Severtson 100” CineGray projector screen.
A mixture of 10% and 15% window patterns were used. Meter integration times were tested, and final readings were the mean of two readings for increased stability.
The EH-TW9400 has five user-selectable user picture modes, consisting of Dynamic, Bright Cinema, Natural, Cinema and Digital Cinema. Epson specifies the Natural picture mode as “Best for faithfully reproducing the colour of the source image. We recommend selecting this mode when performing colour adjustment for the image.”
Epson also has this to say about the Digital Cinema mode: “Projects images in the Digital Cinema colour space. Best for prioritising colours.”
These recommendations in mind, I chose to calibrate the Natural picture mode for SDR material and the Digital Cinema mode for HDR.
In the Natural picture mode, at default settings and power consumption set to Medium, the EH-TW9400 produced 105 nits with a 15% white window from my 0.9 gain screen. Switching the power consumption to High and pushing the contrast control yielded 125 nits; however, not without some white clipping.
Nonetheless, these figures were more than enough for SDR viewing, and with the 9400's power consumption set to ECO, I still had to turn the contrast control down significantly. An added benefit of setting power consumption to ECO was that it significantly reduced fan noise.
Out of the box, colour accuracy was excellent with a mean Delta E of 1.5. Using the inbuilt Colour Management system, this was able to be reduced to a mean Delta E of 1.4. Calibrated or not, the EH-TW9400 produced excellent colour accuracy.
Still a little lower than I prefer, gamma tracking was nonetheless good with a mean of 2.24. After calibration, this number came in at 2.34.
Greyscale tracking was reasonable, with the EH-TW9400 offering a mean Delta-E of 4.4 and colour temperature of 6,766. While the slight tendency towards blue wasn't overly objectionable (which I suspect may have been mostly due to the grey screen I used), it nonetheless could be improved upon with calibration.
In addition to two-point greyscale controls, consisting of RGB cuts and gains, Epson has also introduced separate eight-point controls. In practice, only the first four of these worked, and they did add a slight bump in the upper end of the gamma curve.
I decided to live with the small bump in gamma, as the eight-point controls enabled me to fine-tune greyscale tracking and fix a rather nasty, but all too common, error at 10%. After calibration, the EH-TW9400 produced a mean Delta-E of 1.3 and average colour temperature of 6,508.
Presented with an HDR signal, many televisions and projectors will automatically switch to a preferred picture mode. The EH-TW9400, however, stays in the last picture mode it was set to. To reproduce the full DCI-PC colour gamut of the HDR, the 9400 needs to be manually switched to Digital Cinema mode.
Set to Digital Cinema, the EH-TW9400 produced 100.05% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut. The increased colour gamut did, however, come at the expense of overall light-output, the 9400 producing 67 nits with Power Consumption set to High.
Likewise, the EH-TW9400 couldn't muster the same level of colour accuracy or greyscale tracking with an HDR test-patterns in HDR mode.
The first thing that strikes you about the performance of the EH-TW9400 is its excellent black levels. Indeed, the 9400's black levels were impressive for a projector at this price-point and arguably better than my own Sony VPL-VW270ES.
The 9400's superior black level performance gave images a great sense of dimensionality- no doubt enhanced by the inclusion of a dynamic iris and adjustable lens aperture.
While the EH-TW8200 I used to own could be quite noisy with the dynamic iris engaged, it didn't produce an objectionable amount of noise while watching 2013's Oculus on Blu-ray. Neither did I witness any sudden changes in brightness with the dynamic iris set to high-speed.
The EH-TW9400 couldn't produce images which are as sharp as BenQ's W5700, however it made up for it in the form of higher light-output.
I had to significantly turn the contrast down to get 55 nits (16-foot lamberts) for SDR viewing with my Severtson grey screen. While this number will reduce with age, it's indicative that the 9400's lamp should be able to produce a usable amount of light for much of its life-span.
With the ever-familiar Wolverine on Blu-ray, the EH-TW94000's excellent black levels were once again apparent. Colour reproduction was decent enough, often popping off the screen, but couldn't match the level of accuracy offered by VPL-VW270ES, nor for that matter Ben Q's W5700, with flesh tones appearing slightly oversaturated.
I'm sure though with some more calibration time, the rendering of flesh-tones could have been further improved.
Rapidly becoming my de-facto for HDR testing, I tested the EH-TW9400 HDR abilities with How to Train Your Dragon - The Hidden World.
While the EH-TW9400 provided excellent SDR playback, where it really shines is with HDR playback. It's black-levels coupled with those extra lumens produced stunning HDR images. The adjustable tone mapping slider also allowing me to adjust images on the fly, regardless of picture mode.
It's obvious Epson has put quite a bit of their R&D budget into the EW-TW9400's tone mapping algorithm. Combined with its excellent black levels and light output, the 9400 provided some of the best looking HDR images I've seen from a projector.
Sure the EH-TW9400 can't match the Sony VPL-VW270ES in terms of detail; however, it excels in a few other key areas.
To produce the full P3 colour gamut, the EH-TW9400 needs to be in Digital Cinema mode. The difference in both colour reproduction and light-output both readily apparent when watching Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Epson's EH-TW9400 does indeed live up to its claims in terms of high light output and P3 colour reproduction. It's not, however, without some caveats.
To reproduce the P3 gamut, the EH-TW9400 needs to be in Digital Cinema mode, however doing so results in a significant drop to its light output. Conversely, Natural mode results can't reproduce the P3 gamut but result in much brighter images.
It may seem frustrating at first glance, but these are issues plaguing many projectors, even those at much higher price-points. It's also where we are at in terms of the natural evolution of the Ultra HD standard, which we're still growing into.
What's important is how images actually look on screen. In this regard, Epson's EH-TW9400 is a stellar performer. SDR performance was excellent, the EH-TW9400 producing images with a nice sense of pop and detail over 1080p projectors.
Where the EH-TW9400 excels, however, is with HDR playback. The 9400's tone-mapping abilities producing some of the best HDR images I've seen.
Congratulations Epson, you've produced one heck of a machine for the modest investment!
For more information visit Epson.
As the owner of Adelaide based ‘Clarity Audio & Video Calibration’, Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator. Tony is an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products.
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