Monday, November 11, 2013

Epson PowerLite 1776W Review: Video Projectors Have Come a Long Way



Video projectors have been around for decades.  In the 1990s I sold high end LCD panels which software companies could put on an overhead projector to demonstrate their software.  Challenges which remained as I have used the latest compact projectors in recent years for presentations and workshops include limited resolution, insufficient color gamut, poor color matching, inadequate brightness and contrast, and difficult setup to have consistent sharp focus across the projected image while also eliminating a "keystone" shape in the projected image.  I'd periodically check the latest models, the Fry's Electronics stores across California tend to have many models set up at once, but the projected image quality just wasn't there.  That all has changed.

I tried the Epson PowerLite 1776W in mid-October during my night photography workshop at California's Bodie State Historic Park (thanks +Ryan Watamura for the photo).  

Here are some of my impressions of the Epson 1776W, bearing those prior projector performance issues in mind:

- This Epson projector seems brighter than projectors I've used during workshops in recent years, and the resolution renders on-screen text more crisply.  The 1280 x 720 WXGA resolution is also perfect for showing my 720P HD time-lapse videos.
- The brightness is excellent.  I was able to use the Epson 1776W with the lights on, so people could take notes.  The Epson's 3000 lumen rating and its high contrast ratio sound great on paper, but they look even better in use.
- The color gamut has excellent range, and the projector does a great job matching the colors on my laptop.  Other projectors I've used required a lot of color calibration and even at their best, certain colors were unavailable or banding was created in smoothly shaded areas like blue skies.  Not only haven't I seen any issues like that, but the unit worked perfectly out of the box and I haven't even had to look into color calibration features at all. 
- The slim size and light weight (3.8 lbs) enables me to place it in a single backpack with my PC, particularly handy when I need to walk to my presentation location.  For my presentation in Bodie I had to walk 1/4 mile over a hill with all my gear for the presentation.  It doesn't sound like a big deal, except that it's at an elevation of nearly 8400 feet, so you do feel the effects of altitude, and it's definitely a big plus to minimize weight.  
- My favorite feature so far is the Screen Fit button on top.  Rather than manually adjust for distance and "keystone" issues, the projector presents a calibration pattern on the screen, and quickly scans it to calculate the appropriate correction.  A second or two after hitting the Screen Fit button it was ready to go, sized perfectly, for the screen, keystone-corrected, with sharp focus.  Wow.  It even corrects keystoning horizontally so the projector doesn't have to be perfectly centered relative to the screen.  That was particularly handy, since the room was set up in such a way that the projector was much more easily used from the side of the tables gathered in the center of the room, and we didn't have to start moving furniture to accommodate the projector, or operate the software in an awkward position from the front center of the tables, unable to face the audience and screen without being able to turn completely around from one to the other.

The one feature I haven't tried yet is the built-in wi-fi, since I like to do my software demonstrations live from a laptop (and many of the remote locations I present in such as Bodie don't have public Internet service available).  If I record the software demo onto video and place it on YouTube, I may be able to present without a laptop at all as long as I can access the Internet.  I wouldn't even need a fixed wi-fi hotspot.  All I would need is electrical power and a decent Verizon signal with data connection, to access YouTube.

I'm always skeptical of product reviews in magazines and on the Internet, since frequent reviewers have to give only positive reviews, so the manufacturers will continue to send their new products.  Actual users are a little better, provided that state very clearly that they've actually used it, what their qualifications are, what their experience is with similar products, and they're not simply justifying how great their recent purchase is.  I worked for the world's leading color display and printer company for 5 years, so I'm well aware of the color gamut and color matching issues as you transition from the image you captured on your camera's CCD, stored in RAW format, translated to RGB JPEG, and then tried to get the same colors on a monitor, printer, or in this case the LCD projector.  There are several user reviews at the bottom of the Epson 1776W product listing on Amazon.com.  In short, it's amazing how far compact data projectors have come in recent years.  

The only other feature which you can consider, at extra cost, is the ability to use a laser pointer on the screen to operate the menus in the software you're demonstrating.  That actually was implemented back in 1991 by that company I worked for, and they had the drivers working first on Solaris-based (Sun Microsystems compatible) laptops.  The projector actually scans the screen to see where the laser pointer is, and uses that to control the cursor in the software, just like your mouse does.  Turning on the laser causes the the little arrow that your mouse usually controls to that location and depresses the mouse button, moving the laser light lets you move down menus like a drop-down menu, then releasing the laser puts a mouse click there, enabling you to select a particular option on a drop down menu.  It's easy, intuitive, and a big advantage of this approach is that your audience isn't lost, wondering where your mouse is on the screen... it's right where the bright red light is, and they can follow your menu selections very easily.  That model is the Epson BrightLink 436Wi.  

There are brighter Epson models, but they come at a premium price, and the Epson 1776 W I used is the high end of their ultra-portable series of compact projectors, so it's better suited for the wide range of places I tend to present in.