Epson Ensemble HD home theater system Page 2

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PERFORMANCE

The obvious potential problem with the Ensemble HD is the unusual speaker placement. The screen/speaker unit hangs several feet above the ears of a seated listener. And the two surround speakers hover over the listener instead of hanging from the side walls as they usually would (although you can detach the surrounds from the projector mount and place them as you please). This means that all of the audio except for the bass comes at you from high above instead of coming from somewhere close to ear level.

Remarkably, when I was watching movies and TV, the high front speaker position didn't bother me a bit. Seconds into whatever I was watching, I'd completely forget I was hearing speakers mounted only a couple of inches from my ceiling. I must commend my brain for doing an awesome job of tying the high-flying dialogue to the images I saw down below it on the screen. Great work, brain!

Hanging from the projector mount, the surround speakers sounded pretty good but couldn't replicate the enveloping surround effect that side-wall-mounted speakers produce. The scene from the Enchanted Blu-ray Disc where the animated princess is transformed into a real character didn't quite suck me in the way it does with a conventionally placed set of surround speakers.

The Epson system's timbral accuracy impressed me, especially considering that placing speakers up at the junction of a wall and ceiling can cause nasty sonic problems. Voices sounded a tad dull at first, but turning the treble up 2 dB through the onscreen tone-control menu fixed that. The 10-inch subwoofer amazed me with its high output; it sounded punchy and precise no matter what I played, yet shook my floor as few subs of its size can do.

The one type of material the Ensemble HD didn't enliven was music DVDs. When I played Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill, Live DVD, the sound was less involving and enveloping than it usually is. I think this is mostly due to the high speaker placement. Also, as with the Pro version of the projector, the fan on the PowerLite Home Cinema 1080 UB is louder than I'd like.

I already discussed the projector's video performance in my review of the Pro version. But there's an additional performance area that needs to be addressed here: the video scaler built into the A/V controller, which upconverts standard-definition video and 720p and 1080i high-def video to 1080p. Fortunately, the controller's Pixelworks scaling chipset passed every test on the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark DVD and HD HQV Benchmark Blu-ray Disc without a single error - and those results carried over to the movies and TV shows I watched on the system.

BOTTOM LINE

The Ensemble HD both performs and looks better than any low-priced custom-installed system I've encountered. And the fact that you can get it installed in a few hours at a total cost of about $7,500 puts it in a whole new product category. I can't really call it custom, and I can't call it do-it-yourself. I'll just call it great.

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