At this point, we should state that we’ve been watching the 850HD in the dark. So arguably we’ve not been using it in the way it was intended. But so far as we’re concerned, if you’re going to spend £600 on a projector, there’s a good chance you might want to use it in a darkened environment for at least some of the time. Yet here using it in the dark really won’t do you any favours at all.
Which wouldn’t be so bad if its daylight performance was the bees knees. But it’s not.
To be fair, some things look better with the lights on. Colours look a little more natural, and the way the light in your room ‘dilutes’ the light coming out of the projector en route to the screen makes it easier to forgive the projector’s innate lack of black level response. Plus, of course, the projector’s extreme brightness comes into its own by leaving the image looking much more dynamic than it would in ambient light if you were using the sort of more contrast-rich projectors usually favoured for home cinema use.
However, the dynamism only really exists with ‘peak’ parts of the picture, so unless you’re going to be watching a full-time diet of bright, colourful animation, you’re never going to be able to enjoy a convincing all-round contrast performance from this projector, regardless of whether you watch in a bright or dark room.
Having focussed on Blu-ray and Sky content so far, we dutifully popped our iPad onto the dock to see how the 850HD fared with that. And initially we were rather impressed, as the projector immediately and effectively took over control of the tablet, allowing you to access its photos, videos and music files via the projector’s menus and the rather cute little remote Epson provides. Choosing a song to play, meanwhile, not only plays the music, but also calls up both the song and album title, and even the artwork for the song/album if you’ve got it on your iDevice.
Alternatively, if you want to feel ‘greener’, you can turn the lamp off and still enjoy sound through the integrated speakers.
We were rather surprised to find that the sound from the built-in speakers was rather good. Or at least, it is much, much better than the tinny, mono nonsense you tend to get with most built-in projector speaker systems. In fact, we’ve heard a few cheap and cheerful dedicated speaker docks that sound worse than the reasonably clean, passably-rounded sound that emerges from the 850HD’s speakers.
Watching videos and photos stored on our iPad, however, proves to be another source of disappointment - albeit a more forgivable one. The thing is, thanks to Apple only allowing a 480i signal out of its digital docking slot, this is all the projector gets to work with. So all those lovely high res photos and potentially HD videos you’ve got stored on your iDevice end up looking really quite rough through the 850HD, with jagged edges, very limited resolution and obvious softness. Not to mention the slightly off colour tones caused by the contrast issues mentioned earlier.
What’s more, while these sort of issues would apply to any video docking system, the fact that they’re being shown at sizes as large as those deliverable by the 850HD just exaggerates the flaws.
Maybe, you’re thinking, we’ve taken everything a bit too seriously here with our consistently negative tone. The 850HD is just meant, as we said right at the start, to be a bit of fun, right? Well, maybe. But here’s the thing. For all its ‘fun’ status, let’s not forget that the 850HD costs £600. And we honestly believe that anyone - not just movie fans, or AV obsessives, but anyone - who buys it will ultimately feel disappointed by its performance, no matter what they’re watching, or what type of environment they watching it in.