Epson R4000 review

With gamers demanding ever more immersive ways of playing, and Blu-ray making pin-sharp pictures possible even on 100-inch+ screens, home cinema projectors are in pole position. The follow-up to last year’s successful batch of beamers, the R4000 sits atop Epson’s new 2010 range with a giddying price tag - but there’s a good reason for that.

The flagship model not just for Epson, but also for its own 3LCD technology, the R4000 - which goes on sale in November - has been tweaked to near perfection.

We say tweaked; the 3LCD chip that drives this behemoth has been completely redesigned. Criticisms of 3LCD projectors in the past from us at Pocket-lint have tended to concentrate on their blur and slight lack of contrast, meaning dark movies such as Batman Begins or The Matrix have featured a washed-out grey colour where jet black should reign. The engineers at Epson have obviously been listening hard because they’ve completely re-thought the chip’s design. Instead of light being sent through the tiny Full HD 3LCD panels, it now reflects off the back, meaning less light leakage.

This Reflective 3LCD technology, as it’s known, is a belter. We’re talking seriously black blacks that, for the most part, are totally convincing. As the "auto iris" does its thing, there’s a slight lack of detail in some dark areas of the image, though little trace of "false" or forced blacks. Epson claims that contrast ratio reaches 1,000,000:1, and though such huge figures are common in the display market, there’s no doubting the inky blacks in front of us are reference-level.

One slight downside of the R4000’s design is that the brightness is lowered (to 1200 lumens) compared to last year’s models, though arguably that’s a positive for watching movies in a blackout. If you do want to use a projector before dusk, this isn’t for you. Aside from the boost in contrast, the upside is a relatively quiet operation.

A run through of Batman Begins reveals some serious realism, with the dark streets of Gotham sprinkled with detail, though there’s more going on than just tight light.

The R4000 also comes equipped with a frame interpolation feature whereby its video processor inserts frames of video to create a smoother picture. It’s changed little from last year’s models, but it’s somehow more impressive when combined with the new 3LCD system. With this feature on "mid" setting, scenes from Blu-ray discs are fluent and graceful with few side effects, though on "high" you’ll see an occasional flicker around quick-moving objects and actor’s hand movements. On "mid" it’s so engaging that even purists who hate video processing should check it out, though there’s little motion sickness even when it’s turned off - the new Reflective 3LCD tech puts pixels closer together.

Switch the R4000 on and it defaults to Cinema mode, which is where it should stay, though various colour tweaks (to ISF calibration standards, no less) are possible. Although colours are generally as vivid and well saturated as you would expect, skin tones can appear a touch ripe and do need a little attention.

Close-ups of actors otherwise impress thanks to this PJ’s "super resolution" tech. It’s designed to get the best from DVD - something it does exceptionally well, albeit with the occasional jagged edge - though we put it to work on some still Blu-ray images from Hancock. As we increased the level from one to five, more and more fine detail becomes visible in city landscapes and character close-ups alike, even down to individual pores, scars and hairs. Scary stuff.

We’ve tried hard to concentrate on the picture prowess, but we’re pretty shallow here at Pocket-lint; our favourite feature on the R4000 is its motorised lens shift and focus. Being able to control these straight from the remote appeals to our lazy side, but it also lends this Epson a high-end feel - and at this price that’s a must. Although the system is fairly exacting and various positions and aspect ratios can be saved, it should include some indication of the lens’ position, or the parameters available; shifting the lens in particular still has a suck-it-and-see feel.

That lens shift does mean that the R4000 can be set-up just about anywhere - it doesn’t have to be at the centre of a room. What’s more, a side effect of the new Reflective 3LCD tech is actually a smaller optical engine, and the design puts the essential cooling vents solely on the front of the unit. Finding a bookshelf big enough to house the R4000 against a wall might be tricky, but it’s now possible to do without the thing overheating.

Add a streamlined remote that’s stuffed with clearly labelled shortcuts to its key features - including buttons to control an attached Blu-ray player - and some nifty network functions (the projector can email you when the bulb starts to run out!), and this gloss black beamer is a screamer.

Verdict

An impressive amount of redesigning has gone on at Epson to produce a projector a notch better than last year’s belters. And while it’s contrast-heavy and smooth picture is significantly better than its forbears, this debut Reflective 3LCD projector’s motorised lens and versatile design are just as important in earning the R4000 high-end status. Awesome with Blu-ray and DVD alike, this is a serious PJ for serious home cinemas.