When it comes to the company's projector business, Epson has long shown a willingness to think outside the box. In addition to its core lineup of dedicated home theater projectors, Epson also veers off the traditional path with products like the Ensemble HD Theater (a complete theater system with Atlantic Tech speakers, a screen, a DVD/receiver, and all the necessary cabling) and its popular MovieMate lineup that combines a projector, DVD player, and speakers in a single chassis. The MovieMate line is targeted at the more casual viewer who wants to enjoy a big-screen picture in a non-home-theater (i.e., brighter) environment. Now Epson takes the MovieMate concept in a slightly different direction with the launch of the MegaPlex Series, replacing the built-in DVD player with an integrated docking cradle for the iPod/iPhone/iPad. The series includes two models: The MG-50 ($699) is a 540p projector, while the MG-850HD ($799) is a 720p projector. We have not performed a hands-on review of the MegaPlex MG-850HD, but here is an overview of its features.
The MG-850HD is a 3LCD projector with a 1280 x 800 resolution and an auto iris designed to improve contrast ratio. Epson lists a dynamic contrast ratio of 3,000:1 and a rated brightness of 2,800 lumens in Normal mode (2,240 lumens in Eco mode). The projector features a side-oriented lens with a built-in lens cap, as well as 2.1x manual zoom and manual focus. The retractable docking cradle and dual 10-watt speakers are located on the back of the unit; the docking cradle will charge your iDevice while docked, and a special bracket is included to secure your iPad in place. Epson divides the inputs between the side and back panel: On the side, you'll find HDMI, component video, and composite video, as well as a stereo analog audio input and a microphone input. Located on back are a VGA input and dual USB ports (one Type A, one Type B) that support media playback from a connected computer or USB storage device. The MG-850HD has a gloss-black finish, and it measures 13.4 x 11.5 x 4.5 inches, with a weight of 8.4 pounds (there's also a carrying handle on one side). It uses a 200-watt E-TORL lamp with a rated life of 4,000 hours in the Normal lamp mode and up to 5,000 hours in the Eco mode.
The MG-850HD supports a tabletop or ceiling-mount setup, as well as a front- or rear-projected image. Should you opt to mount the projector upside down on the ceiling, you can't use the iPod docking cradle. In addition to the manual zoom and focus dials, the projector has three adjustable feet, and vertical/horizontal keystone correction is available to help correctly shape the image on your screen. However, this model lacks lens-shifting capability.
The MG-850HD boasts a solid amount of picture adjustments for a budget projector. You get seven preset color modes, including an Auto mode that automatically adjusts image brightness to suit your environment and Presentation/Blackboard modes for business/school applications. In addition to basic controls for brightness, contrast, color, tint, and sharpness, you get: three color-temperature presets (but no advanced white balance controls); the ability to adjust the hue and saturation of red/green/blue; the option to enable or disable the auto iris; noise reduction; and the ability to switch between Normal and Eco lamp modes. The MG-850HD offers three aspect-ratio choices: Normal, Zoom, and 16:9. Not surprisingly for a budget projector, it lacks an anamorphic mode that allows you to view 2.35:1 movies with no black bars at the top and bottom (when mated with an add-on lens). You do have the ability to adjust the amount of overscan, with options for Auto, Off, 4%, and 8%.
It feels a bit strange to discuss sound modes in regards to a projector; but, since this one has built-in speakers, it also offers four preset sound modes (Standard, Vocal, Music, and Movie). An A/V Mute function allows you to "mute" the screen when listening to an audio-only source; the projector will display a screen that is white, black, blue, or displays the Epson logo.
Regarding iPod/iPhone/iPad content, once the product is docked, the projector will automatically bring up a media menu with options for Video, Music, Photo + More, and Setting, and you can navigate the options with the supplied Epson remote. Within the Video menu, you can cue up your purchased movies and TV shows, as well as rented iTunes content stored on your player. Via manual control, you can also access videos/photos taken directly on your device, as well as YouTube videos.
Read about the high points and low points of the MegaPlex MG-850HD on Page 2.High Points
• The MG-850HD is an HD-capable projector with integrated speakers and a cradle for the iPod/iPhone/iPad.
The docking cradle will charge your iDevice, and you can navigate your
media via the projector remote. You can view purchased/rented video
content from the iTunes store, as well as YouTube video.
• Dual USB ports allow for media playback via a computer or USB storage device.
• Two lamp modes allow you to tailor the projector's light output to suit your viewing environment.
• The projector has HDMI, component video, and VGA inputs.
• 2.1x manual zoom is available.
• The MG-850HD does not have a 1080p resolution. It's a 720p projector.
• The projector doesn't have as many advanced picture adjustments as you get in a higher-end model.
• It lacks RS-232, IR ports, and a 12-volt trigger.
• There are no lens-shift controls, and zoom/focus are manual.
Competition and Comparison
The MG-850HD doesn't have a lot of direct
competition, as there aren't many integrated projector/speaker/source
solutions out there. Optoma offers a pico projector, the Neo-I, with integrated
speakers and a docking cradle. You might also want to take a look at
Epson's MovieMate line,
if you prefer a DVD player to the iDevice dock.
A 100-inch HD display for $799? That's essentially
what the MegaPlex MG-850HD brings to your table, along with the ability
to easily watch and listen to entertainment content from your iDevice
and other mobile devices. Granted, you don't get a 1080p resolution, but
I don't think that's a critical concern when you consider the more
casual environment in which this product will likely be used--be it a
family room, a college dorm, a board room, or even for the occasional
outdoor movie night in the backyard. The MG-850HD's portability and
flexibility allow it to deliver big-screen entertainment without
tethering you and your media to a dedicated theater space.