Epson'snew top-of-the-line projector has arrived. The Pro Cinema 9500 UB is a 1080p 3LCD projector that offers a lot of the same features we saw on last year's Pro Cinema 7500 UB: the D7 C2Fine TFT LCD chipset with UltraBlack technology, three video processing chips (the Silicon Optix HQV Reon-VX and Pixelworks 390 and 9801), 12-bit color, 4:4 pulldown and a 120Hz mode to reduce film judder, ISF calibration modes, an auto iris, and an Anamorphic Wide aspect ratio for use with an optional anamorphic lens attachment. The two major additions to the 9500 UB are THX certification and Super-resolution technology.�
The Pro Cinema 9500 UB is very similar, in terms of performance and features, to the Home Cinema 8500 UB--the only difference being that the 8500 UB lacks the ISF calibration modes and the Anamorphic Wide aspect ratio. Pro Cinema models are sold exclusively through authorized Epson dealers, while Home Cinema models are available through direct consumer channels. The Pro models come with an extra lamp, ceiling-mount hardware, and a rear-panel cable cover. The Pro Cinema 9500 UB has an MSRP of $3,699.
The Pro Cinema 9500 UB has a fairly straightforward, boxy design, with a brushed-grey cabinet (the Home Cinema 8500 UB's cabinet is white) and a matching remote that offers backlighting, dedicated source buttons, and quick, direct access to lots of desirable controls (such as color mode, aspect, sharpness, and more). The connection panel has everything we look for on a projector: two HDMI, one component video, one VGA, one S-video, and one composite video input, as well as RS-232 and 12-volt trigger ports. This model boasts the same generous array of configuration tools that make Epson projectors among the easiest to set up: 2.1x manual zoom, 96.3 percent vertical and 47.1 percent horizontal lens shift (via manual dials on the projector's top panel), adjustable feet, and an onscreen test pattern to aid with sizing and focus. The only thing that's missing, as has been the case with previous models, is automatic zoom/focus controls via the remote. The 9500 UB can be configured for front or rear projection and tabletop or ceiling placement--in my theater room, I positioned it on top of my vertical equipment rack in the back of the room, about four feet high and 12 feet from the screen. Given that I already use a Home Cinema 1080 in my theater, it took just seconds to replace it with the 9500 UB and resize/refocus the image on my 75-inch-diagonal screen.
Epson is nothing if not generous when it comes to picture adjustments, and the 9500 UB is no exception. The setup menu includes the same extensive assortment we've seen on previous models, with a few tweaks to accommodate new features. Adjustments include: seven preset color modes (Vivid, Cinema Day, Cinema Night, THX, HD, Silver Screen, and x.v.Color); incremental color temperature (from 5,000K to 10,000K in 500K steps); skin tone adjustment; RGB offset and gain controls; an advanced color management system that lets you adjust hue, brightness, and saturation for all six color points; and preset/custom gamma options. Like the previous 7500 UB, the 9500 UB offers color isolation modes (green, red, and blue) to aid in adjusting color and tint. The 9500 UB allows you to set different image parameters for each picture mode, as well as different parameters for standard- and high-definition sources within each picture mode. The projector automatically recalls these adjustments, but the 9500 UB will also store 10 different setups in its memory.
As I mentioned, this projector is THX-certified, and one of the seven preset color modes is a THX mode that should, theoretically, offer the best looking, most accurate image out of the box. A preconfigured THX mode isn't necessarily as important with the Pro Cinema line, since these projectors are sold through dealers who will likely calibrate them in your home. Still, the THX stamp of approval is an indication that the projector meets certain benchmarks in the areas of color, contrast, grey scale, and processing. I ultimately chose not to use the THX mode, and here's why: This projector offers two lamp modes--a Normal mode and an Eco mode that's less bright and thus more energy-efficient. The Eco mode is also quieter. The THX color mode is set by default to the Normal lamp mode; you can change the setting to Eco, but this alters the color temperature, giving the image more of a greenish-blue cast. The THX mode does not allow you to adjust the basic color temperature and skintone controls, but you or your installer can adjust the advanced RGB offset and gain controls to correct the color temperature. In my case, since I did not have the measurement equipment on hand to perform a complete calibration, I chose the HD color mode instead, which has a more accurate color temperature out of the box in the quieter Eco lamp mode.
The 9500 UB's other new addition is Super-resolution technology, which is designed to make images (both standard- and high-definition) look more detailed. The setup menu includes four levels: Off, 1, 2 and 3. One of the ways that Super-resolution accomplishes its stated goal is by adding edge enhancement, or artificial sharpening, around hard lines. Video purists will likely choose to keep this setting turned off; however, if you're not bothered by edge enhancement (some people even prefer it), I will say that Super-resolution is certainly effective in making standard-definition images seem more detailed. Edge enhancement is blatantly obvious at the highest setting, but the lowest setting (1) is subtle enough that you might find it worthwhile to use with 480i sources.
The 9500 UB features a new dual-layered auto iris that allows the projector to adjust its light output to suit the content being displayed. The quoted contrast-ratio spec of 200,000:1 is a dynamic contrast ratio, with the auto iris in use. According to Epson, the new dual-layer shutters provide for greater light attenuation when fully closed to improve black level, and the system performs adjustments up to 60 times per second. The setup menu includes Off, Normal, and High-Speed options. I used the Normal mode for most of my tests, and I did not notice any obvious brightness shifting, which can be a complaint with auto-iris systems. In a completely silent room, the iris function was slightly audible, but it's nothing that would distract when your audio system is also in use.
Epson includes two options to address the issue of film judder, or the shaky, uneven motion that results from the 3:2 process that converts 24-frames-per-second film to 60Hz output. With 24p Blu-ray sources, you can engage 4:4 pulldown, in which each frame is displayed four times (96Hz output). The other choice is to engage 120Hz FineFrame, which uses motion interpolation to create new frames. FineFrame works with both 24p and 60Hz sources; with 60Hz content, it uses reverse 3:2 pulldown to get back to the original 24 frames and then creates new frames from there. FineFrame also helps to reduce motion blur, and the setup menu includes Off, Low, Normal, and High options.
The 9500 UB offers six aspect-ratio choices: Auto, Normal, Full, Zoom, Wide and Anamorphic Wide. If you own an anamorphic lens and a 2.35:1 screen, the Anamorphic Wide mode allows you to view 2.35:1 movies with no black bars at the top and bottom, thus devoting the projector's entire resolution to the actual film image. The setup menu also allows you to adjust the amount of overscan in the picture; the options are Auto, Off, 2%, 4%, 6% and 8%.
After setting up the projector, I spent some time watching HDTV content from my DirecTV HD DVR. The first thing I noticed about the 9500 UB was its black level, which is simply excellent for a sub-$4,000 projector. Add in the fact that the Eco lamp mode served up a respectably bright image on my 75-inch-diagonal screen, and the result is excellent contrast that creates a rich, inviting picture. (Even in the Eco mode, the projector was bright enough that I could actually watch a decently saturated image with my room lights at about 50 percent brightness. The Vivid color mode is bright enough to watch HDTV during the day, and this mode looks surprisingly natural in its color and color temperature.) In the HD color mode, the color temperature looked neutral across the board: Whites looked white, skintones looked natural with no red push, and dark scenes did not veer overly cool. Likewise, the color points seemed to be right on the mark. The one issue I noted was that the picture looked just a little soft: It wasn't so much that fine details were lacking, but the picture just didn't look quite as crisp as I've seen elsewhere. I went back into the setup menu and experimented with the sharpness control: Like previous Epson models, the 9500 UB offers a standard sharpness control that goes from -5 to +5 (with 0 as the default in both the THX and HD color modes) and an advanced control that lets you adjust thin/thick lines and horizontal/vertical lines. As I bumped up the standard sharpness control to +2 or +3, fine lines and hard edges grew better defined, a subtle change that did help the image look crisper. Turning up the sharpness control does introduce some edge enhancement that's evident in resolution test patterns but wasn't really noticeable with real-world sources.
Next, I settled in for movie night, with The Blind Side (Warner Home Video) on Blu-ray, and I was very impressed with most every aspect of the 9500 UB's performance. The great black level and contrast were even more obvious with Blu-ray content. In these performance areas, the 9500 UB easily competes with higher-priced models on the market. Colors were incredibly rich--perhaps a bit too rich for some purists' tastes, but you can always dial them back using the color-management system. I took special note of the natural-looking greens in the football field and the fact that reds looked truly red, as opposed to magenta or maroon. The 9500 UB's picture was also very clean with this Blu-ray source. Light-to-dark transitions and background colors had little to no digital noise, and shadow detail was excellent.
At first, I watched this 1080p/24 source with 4:4 pulldown enabled; however, several times I was distracted by obviously choppy motion in camera pans. Even though I'm not normally a fan of motion interpolation with film sources, I decided to try the Low FineFrame mode and was surprisingly pleased with the results. This mode did a nice job producing smoother motion without dramatically altering the character of the film source. Like me, my husband usually dislikes motion interpolation and always comments on it when I review displays; in this case, he didn't even notice I had enabled it, which says a lot. I still found the Normal and High settings to be overly artificial, but the Low setting is a solid option for 24p Blu-ray movies.
The next evening, I put the 9500 UB through its paces with my standard arsenal of test discs and demo scenes. In the processing realm, the projector passed the 1080i processing tests on the HD HQV Benchmark Blu-ray disc (Silicon Optix), and it also cleanly rendered my real-world 1080i demos from Mission Impossible III (Paramount Home Video) and Ghost Rider (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment). Likewise, it passed most of the 480i tests on the HQV Benchmark DVD (Silicon Optix) and did a solid job with the Coliseum flyover in chapter 12 of the Gladiator DVD (DreamWorks Home Entertainment). This projector didn't cleanly handle the Venetian blinds in chapter four of The Bourne Identity (Universal Home Video), another of my favorite torture tests. In its upconversion of standard-def sources, the Epson produces a solid level of detail; once again, you will see a noticeable improvement in fine details if you enable the Super-resolution technology, but anything beyond the lowest setting produced too much edge enhancement and extraneous noise for my taste.
The 9500 UB passed all of my black-detail and bit-depth tests, as well. It did an outstanding job with fine black and grey details in The Bourne Supremacy (Universal Home Video), Signs (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), Ladder 49 (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), and The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Buena Vista Home Entertainment). I noticed some minor noise in certain dark background shots on DVD, but I actually thought the 9500 UB did a better job in this respect than the 7500 UB. In one of my demo scenes from Lost: The Complete Second Season (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), as two characters sit in front of a fire at night, the previous 7500 UB revealed a lot of low-level noise. By comparison, the 9500 UB offered up a cleaner image: I still saw some noise in the black background, but it wasn't excessive.
When dealing with 60Hz DVD movies, the smoothing effects of the FineFrame technology were a bit more apparent, even in the Low mode. Still, Epson has made positive strides here. In the 7500 UB, I found the High mode to be so distractingly smooth, it was virtually unwatchable. Plus, the Normal and High modes introduced motion artifacts of their own. In the new 9500 UB, these modes perform much better. While they're still too smooth for my personal taste, I didn't see nearly as much smearing and stuttering with DVD movies. Also, FineFrame does help to reduce motion blur, which can be an issue with LCD projectors. With the FPD Software Group Blu-ray test disc, I saw a reduction in blur in the moving resolution patterns when I enabled FineFrame.