Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema 9500 UB Projector Reviewed

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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.

Finally, the 9500 UB is quieter than previous Epson models, particularly in the Eco lamp mode (Epson claims 22 decibels in this mode). I live at 5,000 feet; when I used the 7500 UB, I was forced to run it in the High-Altitude mode to prevent overheating, which added a significant amount of fan noise. I did not encounter the same issue with the 9500 UB: It ran without overheating in its normal configuration, so I could better appreciate the quieter operation.

Low Points
If you plan to watch TV content using this projector, the FineFrame technology isn't well suited to the task. With television signals from my DirecTV HD DVR, FineFrame introduced a lot of stuttering and smearing artifacts in film-based TV shows, especially 1080i signals. (This is a common problem that I often see with motion-interpolation modes and TV content.) Of course, you can simply turn off FineFrame with TV signals, but then you lose its blur-reduction benefits, which may come in handy with sports programming. Given all the direct-access buttons on the remote, it would be nice if Epson provided a direct FineFrame button that allows you to easily turn the function on and off as desired with TV content.

The final point falls squarely in nitpicking territory: As I mentioned above, the 9500 UB's picture isn't quite as crisp out of the box as I've seen with other projectors, which forces you to do some experimenting with the sharpness control to find the best balance between detail and edge enhancement. Or, you can go a step further and enable Super-resolution: At the very least, you might want to experiment with the lowest Super-resolution setting to see if you like what it has to offer.

Conclusion
There's really very little to find fault with in the Pro Cinema 9500 UB. The projector serves up a rich, clean, attractive image with little adjustment, yet all of the necessary controls are available to help the installer tailor the image to a person's exact tastes. The 9500 UB offers better performance and more features for less money than its predecessor. It will be a tough projector to beat in the sub-$4,000 category, and the Epson Pro Cinema 9500 UB also proves a worthy competitor to some of the more expensive projectors on the market.

Additional Resources
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HTR Product Rating for Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema 9500 UB Projector

Criteria Rating

Performance

4

Value

5

Overall

4.5

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