Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema LS10500 LCD Projector Review
AT A GLANCE
Excellent blacks and shadow detail
Compatible with 4K content
Some clipping in HDR
If you want a projector illuminated by laser light, this Epson is the only game in town for less than five figures. But there’s a lot more here to rave about than just the lasers.
If video projectors have one serious limitation as display devices, at least for the home, it’s lamp life. Manufacturers make glowing claims for this, sometimes as high as 6,000 hours; that’s to half brightness. However, the video perfectionist is unlikely to get to half that figure, or even a third of it, before he or she senses that the picture is growing dim. It’s not unheard of for critical users to replace the lamp at 1,000 hours to maintain the projector’s youthful good looks. But projection lamps aren’t cheap.
Neither, of course, is the Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema LS10500. But it replaces that ubiquitous lamp with two lasers—a first in a projector at anywhere near its price. Kris Deering reviewed its predecessor, the LS10000, in our November 2015 issue. The new LS10500, while very similar, incorporates some minor changes and adds a major one: compatibility with the UHD HDR10 format in high dynamic range sources.
It’s a Laasserrr
The bulk of Epson’s projector line uses a trio of LCD devices to reproduce the required red, green, and blue primaries, a design the company calls 3LCD. Unusually, the LS10500’s basic display tech- nology is more similar to the LCOS technology used by JVC and Sony. LCOS is a reflective LCD design. That is, instead of the light passing directly through LCD imaging chips (as it does in conventional LCDs), it first passes through the chips, hits a reflective surface, and then bounces back through the chips again. This minimizes the gaps separating the pixels (called the fill factor) because the circuits that drive the pixels can be located behind them, rather than in the spaces between them. Epson calls this technology 3LCD Reflective. And whereas LCOS stands for Liquid Crystal on Silicon, in Epson’s variation the silicon is replaced by quartz, for Liquid Crystal on Quartz.
The Epson’s lasers are rated, worst case (in the High Power Consumption mode), for up to 14,000 hours of use. At four hours per day (and few of us will rack up the hours so fast), that’s a useful life of nearly 10 years. The lasers can’t be replaced, but long before they blink their last, you’re likely to be looking for the latest and greatest new projector. Bonus: A laser, unlike a lamp, is said to remain close to its as-new illumination to near the end of its life. We can’t confirm this yet, but we should have a definitive answer for you around 2027.
Lasers can turn on and off almost instantly, so the LS10500’s startup and shutdown times are far shorter than with any lamp-based design. And while Epson cautions against unplugging the projector while it’s running, I experienced a shutdown in a power interruption of less than 2 seconds during a North Florida thunderstorm (the projector was on for calibration under a tight deadline). There was no damage, but I wouldn’t make a habit of this.
A few commercial theater projectors use direct laser illumination—that is, the laser light itself shines directly at the screen. But the LS10500 uses its lasers to illuminate color phosphors that, in turn, do the work of lighting the imaging chips and, ultimately, your screen. While Epson rightly warns against looking directly into the lens during operation (good advice with any projector), the company also confirms that no collimated laser light exits the lens. Collimated laser light is extremely dangerous to vision, but only a fool who takes his toys apart to see what’s inside should incur that risk here.
Like its LS10000 predecessor, the LS10500 can accept a 4K input. But its imaging chips are 1920 x 1080p with about 2 million pixels. That’s conventional HD—or, in industry parlance, “Full HD.” When the projector sees a 4K source, which has roughly 8 million pixels, it processes this down to 4 million. Half of those 4 million pixels are displayed first, and then the pixels are elec- tronically shifted by a microscopic amount upwards and to the right to display the other 2 million. The image retention of human vision blends the two time- and position-displaced images together and interprets them as an image with 4 million pixels. With careful processing (particularly the initial downconversion from 8 million to 4 million), the result, while not true 4K, is visibly very close. Epson also uses this pixel-shifting technique in two of its less expen- sive, lamp-based designs, and JVC has used it in its best projectors for several years.
If the input is 1080p (or less), the projector will, by default, upconvert this to 4K and proceed as above. If you wish, you can turn this off in the projector’s Super Resolution/4K Enhancement control with such material, though I saw no visible benefit in doing so. This control offers multiple levels, with the degree of enhancement (sharpening) increasing with higher numbers. I found level 2 the best to my eyes, offering crisp but not visibly over- sharpened, images. The control isn’t available with either true or upconverted 4K inputs; you can’t turn off the pixel-shifting feature with full or upconverted 4K.
Critically, and irrespective of the lack of what would clearly be more expensive native 4K imaging chips, this pixel-shifting scheme allows the Epson to accept and play the 4K content of Ultra HD Blu-rays and UHD streaming services.
At nearly 40 pounds and almost 2 feet square, the LS10500 is chunkier than any of Epson’s other con- sumer projectors. It offers the same complement of inputs as its predecessor, including two fully 4K-ready HDMI inputs (supporting HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2) as well as a rare (today) set of analog component inputs. There’s also a picture-in-picture feature that lets you simultaneously view two separate sources connected to those two HDMI inputs.
The only back panel oversight is the lack of a USB port, which might have come in handy if the projector were connected to a source via a fiber-optic cable (such cables are sometimes powered by a USB connection). The projector also has a LAN terminal but no wireless capabilities.
The heat exhaust ports are on the front, flanking the large lens. The projector’s fan is very quiet in any of its Power Consumption modes— not totally silent but never obtrusive, particularly when masked by a movie soundtrack (even a quiet one). The Epson has a chassis-mounted control panel, but you’ll likely access virtually all of the features from the superb, backlit remote control.
The lens, protected by an automated shutter when not in use, has power adjustments for shift, zoom, and focus. As with all projectors, it’s critical to confirm that the zoom and shift ranges can accommodate the screen size and screen/projector placement you desire and the available distances in your room from the front of the lens to that screen (the throw distance). For example, the Epson can fill a 100-inch-diagonal, 16:9 screen from a distance of 111.4 to 237.8 inches, or a 180-inch 16:9 screen from 202 to 429.1 inches.
Epson’s name for picture modes is Color Modes, and the LS10500 offers six of them for 2D and two for 3D. The older LS10000’s THX mode is now gone. The new projector also offers multiple setup memories, with different ones for video settings and lens positions. I used two lens memories, one for my 87-inch-wide, 1.78:1 Elite screen and the other for my 96-inch-wide, 2.35:1 Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 130 (the latter, with a gain of 1.3, was used for most of the review). The memories were reasonably accurate when switching from one saved lens position to the other and back, even if the paranoid perfectionist in me demanded rechecking them each time for precision.