Setting the 850HD up reveals that it doesn’t have any vertical or horizontal image shift, meaning you have to adjust the angle of the lens up or down using either a drop-down leg on the projector’s front or a pair of screw down legs to its rear. If you can manage to get an image in the right place on your screen (or wall, given this projector’s casual nature) without using any of the angling tools, though, we suggest you do. Because otherwise you’ll have to call into play the projector’s keystone adjustment features, which inevitably lead to a distortion of the image.
That said, Epson has provided a physical ‘slider’ mechanism on the projector’s top to make adjusting keystone simple, and there’s also an automatic vertical keystone adjustment feature built into the projector’s menus as well.
These menus are pleasantly presented and well organised, and there’s a surprising amount of image adjustment flexibility for such an affordable projector. You can, for instance, adjust the hue, saturation and brightness of all six of the primary colour elements, as well as being able to turn on or off an automatic iris, and introduce various degrees of noise reduction.
While we guess it’s possible to admire the purity of the 850HD’s ‘vision’ as a product, though, it’s rather less easy to admire its picture quality. For as we’d expected would be the case from its extremely brightness-biassed spec sheet, its images aren’t exactly in line with what we usually like to see from a home entertainment projector.
The biggest single problem is that the 850HD’s black level response is pants. In fact, it’s misleading to even use the word ‘black’ in relation to the 850HD’s pictures, for in truth the darkest colour it can manage is a milky grey.
This remains the case even if you take down the brightness setting as far as you can before all shadow detailing disappears, and even if you use the Cinema preset (which automatically switches the projector’s lamp into its relatively low-brightness Eco mode).
The inability to produce an even half-credible black leads to other problems too. It means there’s a real shortage of shadow detail during dark scenes, and it also means that colours during dark scenes struggle to look natural. Instead they tend to look ‘shifted’ into the sort of colour range usually occupied by PC data signals. Flesh tones, in particular, look over-wrought and generally rather sickly.
One specification we neglected to mention earlier is the 850HD’s resolution. For it’s only an HD-Ready 720p affair rather than a full HD one. And either because of this or because of the presumably very cheap optics inside, the 850HD’s presentation of HD sources is disappointingly soft. There’s nowhere near as much detail and clarity in HD images as we would expect to see even with a very cheap projector. In fact, even with usually easy-to-handle fare like Call of Duty on the Xbox 360, the HD image loses so much resolution versus how it looks on other projectors that it actually looks more like a standard definition picture.
Connected to this issue is the fact that you can fairly clearly make out the physical pixel structure of the image if you sit at all close to the screen.