Review: Optoma HD33 and Epson TW5900 PDF Print E-mail

A tale of two projectors: Optoma HD33 and Epson TW5900.

My powers of persuasion must be getting better with time.

We’ve been fixing some damp issues in our home and doing a few small renovations at the same time, so I’ve been trying to convince my wife that it would be a good idea to install a small home cinema downstairs. After a few months of tirelessly begging, pleading and cajoling, she has agreed!

Getting the go-ahead is only the beginning and now it's up to me to choose which projector is going to go in the proposed – but not yet finalised – theatre.

Being quite fussy (my wife would probably say “obsessive”) about my audio and video gear, my requirements for a home theatre projector are quite stiff.  Prospective models must offer high definition video, should have good connection options, be reasonably bright, quiet, and – most importantly of all – should deliver superb image quality. Of course, not costing the earth would be an added bonus!

Fortunately I’ve recently had an opportunity to have a look at the Epson TW5900 – which uses three LCD technology – and the Optoma HD33 – which uses DLP projection technology. These projectors are both dedicated home theatre projectors – as opposed to data models that can also be used for home theatre – so they have both been optimised to deliver moving, rather than static, images.

Being home theatre models also means that they are quite a bit larger than most portable data models. In this case, however, bigger is better because it means that there is space for more cooling air to pass quietly through their respective chassis. The theatre focus – if you'll pardon the pun – of the projectors should also mean that the manufacturers have paid more attention to image purity rather than absolute light output.

At a rated 2000 and 1800 lumen respectively for the Epson and Optoma, both have the capability to deliver bright images. However, I found that it was not necessary to run either at full tilt to get a theatre like image.

Epson TW5900

At 20 000 to 1, Epson claims a better contrast ratio than the Optoma’s 10 000 to 1 and, after a full calibration, there was hardly any – forgive me – contrast between the two. If forced to choose, though? I would have to say that despite DLP pundits’ claims that this technology offers better contrast than LCD, I found the Epson’s contrast to be just a touch better.

While the Epson had the edge on the Optoma in contrast ratio, the scores were reversed when I looked at image sharpness (which doesn’t refer to the sharpness setting on either model). In this instance, I felt that the Epson’s on screen image was a little softer than the Optoma’s. 

LCD pushers talk about things like colour light output, and how DLP can’t theoretically deliver all colours with the same intensity. This may have been the case a few years ago, but now, thanks to more segments that have been added to their colour wheels, and improved processing, this is an argument best left at the bar counter. After carefully setting up both projectors, I can confirm that both delivered true colours, good white balance, and superb grey scale tracking. I was more than happy with this aspect of their performance.

When it comes to displaying fast moving images, Epson had, in my opinion, the upper hand here too.

Due to the way in which they create images, DLP projectors sometimes create an artefact referred to as the “rainbow effect”. This is a breakup of colour – resembling a rainbow – on the edges of some moving images. When using the Optoma to watch movies and sports, I saw just a little bit of this. This phenomenon is not noticeable to everyone, though, and the HD 33 is streets ahead of older DLP projectors when it comes to keeping the rainbow effect in check. But it was enough of a hindrance to me to award the fast motion nod to the Epson.

On the connectivity front, both projectors offer similar inputs: HDMI, Component video, PC in and more, and the Epson even had a USB input. For me, a USB is a nice-to-have, not a necessity. Besides, when I finally decide on a projector, it will be ceiling mounted, and I don’t really see myself climbing up to the projector to plug in a USB stick.

Another feature that both models offer, but which isn’t on my projector requirements list, is 3D.

3D has been around long enough for manufacturers to have realised that, as soon as you start watching a 3D movie through active shutter glasses – used by both models - two things happen:  you lose brightness, due to the action of the glasses; and you lose colour accuracy – once again due to the glasses.

Optoma HD33

Fortunately, both Epson and Optoma have clever bits of electronic monitoring. As soon as it detects that 3D is being projected, both models boost brightness and make some colour adjustments to compensate for the glasses. These work well and you lose little overall when watching in 3D.

While on the topic of 3D, there is one area in which the Optoma beats the Epson hands down.

The HD 33 uses a Radio Frequency link to communicate with and synch the 3D glasses to the alternating on screen 3D images. If you’re in the room, the glasses ensure a good 3D experience. On the other hand, the Epson uses infra-red, and if you look away from the screen, you lose synchronisation and it takes a few seconds before it is regained. If 3D is important to you, then the RF glasses and transmission of the Optoma wins!

I'm now finally going to get to value for money and in this instance, the projectors are more closely matched than their listed prices suggest.

The reason for this is that Data Video Communications (Optoma’s distributors) have decided to bundle two pairs of glasses with the HD 33. Epson’s model does not include any glasses. Subtract the price of glasses from the cost of the Optoma, or add it to the price of the Epson, and you get to similar selling prices.

Normally, I find it easy to pick a winner when comparing two or more products, but this time I must admit that I don’t see a clear winner.

Do I pick the Epson TW5900 for its better motion, no rainbow, and ever slight contrast advantage over the Optoma HD33's sharper images? I'm not sure.

After a second viewing using both projectors, the no rainbow effect may sway me to the Epson, but I preferred the Optoma’s 3D performance. 

Decisions, decisions! I'll let you know my choice as soon as it has been made. Wife and funds willing, that is!

IN SUMMARY

Good: Both these models show just how far high definition projection has come is a short space of time. Both models were also easy to set up and calibrate and offered good 3D capabilities. The Optoma’s RF communication with their 3D active shutter glasses worked better than the Epson’s infra-red link.
Bad: I'm among the unfortunate viewers that sometimes notice colour break-up on DLP projectors and I saw a little of this on Optoma HD33. The Epson TW5900's image was just a little softer than I would have liked.
Rating: 8.5/10 for both
Price: Epson TW5900 - R16 776.00; Optoma HD 33 - R 19 999.00
Contact: www.epson.co.za; www.dvc.co.za

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