Review: Epson MegaPlex MG-850HD LCD Projector

There’s a coffee cup on the remote, an icon unmistakably a cup and saucer. Maybe it’s tea. It’s the largest button. It’s backlit. It might be taunting me.

So begins my time with the Epson MegaPlex MG-850HD Projector, a plucky little PJ that makes me question the logic of every flat panel in existence.

Spoiler! The coffee cup button does not dispense coffee.

The idea behind this class of projectors is that it’s intended for temporary big-screen enjoyment. Many of the marketing photos show people using the 850HD outside, for example. If that’s what you’re looking for, fine. It’s bright and creates a big image. I had a different thought: What if you’re a big screen enthusiast, but on a budget. Is a sub-$1000 projector a reasonable option? Is the size gained worth any picture-quality tradeoffs compared to the multitude of plasma HDTVs in the same price range? I’ll answer your next question — whether it’s better than LCDs in this price range — with an unequivocal “yes.”

So that’s my goal here. To treat the 850HD just like any other projector that passes through my lab. We need to know how it performs, regardless of price, before we can make any value judgment that includes said price. After all, if it looks like crap, I don’t care how cheap it is.

Setup

As to be expected from an inexpensive projector, the upward throw of the 850HD is suited for below (or above) screen placement, like a low table (or the ceiling). Though sporting a reasonable zoom range, to fill my 102-inch screen I had to place the nose of the projector right above the back of my sofa. Normally I have projectors a few feet behind the sofa, on a stand.

The Epson’s placement isn’t ideal, but amusingly it’s better than the $5,000 Sharp DLP I reviewed last year. In addition to the zoom and focus controls there’s a mechanical keystone adjustment that actually adjusts electronic keystone. Weird, but that’s OK. I wouldn’t use any keystone adjustment if you paid me, so I’ll file this in the “quirky” column.

The built-in speakers play surprisingly loud, and sound pretty decent. Don’t expect hi-fi, but in the non-theater scenarios played out in Epson’s marketing, they would certainly work. For the home user, I’d hope you have real speakers. Some kind of analog audio output would have been a great addition, though (for when you’re watching iPod videos and want real speakers).

There are multiple picture modes, and even color temperature presets and a color management system. Color me impressed.

The remote, partially backlit but with all the necessary buttons, is better than what you get with most displays.

But on to what really matters...

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