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Epson MovieMate 85HD Projector Review

Buying a projector to show movies on the side of your house on warm summer evenings is akin to owning a boat. It’s an absolute blast the first few times, but it soon devolves into a chore: Drag out the projector. Drag out the speakers. Drag out the screen (or the white bedspread you’ll hang on the wall as a substitute). Drag out the table to put the gear on. And then you have to brave the dust bunnies to unplug the DVD player from your TV and drag that out, too.

Pretty soon, you find yourself telling the kids, “Um, let’s just watch inside on the flat screen, OK?” Epson’s MovieMate series has long addressed those kids’ sad faces by making it easy and fun to watch movies outside. An all-in-one model, the MovieMate 85HD combines an HD projector with an integrated DVD player and stereo speakers. When you want to screen that hot new animated feature for the kids, all you need to do is plug in an extension cord, hang the bedspread, and set the projector on a chair. It’s an instant backyard drive-in—without the fumes!

The MovieMate 85HD delivers more light, longer bulb life, and a lower price tag than its predecessor.

The MovieMate 85HD improves on its predecessor, the MovieMate 75, by boosting its output rating to 2,500 lumens and increasing bulb life to approximately 5,000 hours. Much of that advantage comes from Epson’s E-TORL (Epson Twin Optimized Reflection Lamp) technology, which uses an elliptical reflector plus a twin sub-reflector to produce up to 20 percent more light while consuming less power (compared to projectors that use a single parabolic reflector). Since E-TORL bulbs aren’t pushed as hard as conventional projector bulbs, they should last longer. But since a replacement bulb for the new MovieMate 85HD costs about $25 more than an old-style bulb for the three-year-old MovieMate 72, there’s not much of a savings.

Epson fabricates its own LCDs, and the 85HD has three (one each for red, green, and blue). Three-LCD systems can’t be shrunk as small as single-chip DLP projectors can (the 85HD measures 13.2 inches wide, 9.4 inches deep, and 5.4 inches high and weighs 9.3 pounds), but they also don’t suffer from the rainbow effect that some people perceive with single-chip DLP devices. The 85HD has HDMI, VGA, component, and composite video inputs. Audio connections include a mic input for Karaoke use—oy!— stereo RCA in, coaxial digital out, and a 1/8-inch headphone out. We find it odd that Epson doesn’t think you might need stereo RCA out (to drive external speakers, for instance). Speaking of speakers, the built-ins are fine for a living room or for a few people sitting outside close to the projector, but you’ll want sound reinforcement—ideally using the coax output for surround sound, but resorting to the headphone out if necessary—to completely immerse the crowd.

The 85HD’s video resolution is quite good for what it is. The black levels could be better, but our main kvetch has to do with resolution. The projector is equipped with a good upscaler for converting DVD video to 720p, but we really wish Epson had gone all the way and included a Blu-ray player. In fact, that feature’s absence is enough to deny the 85HD a Kick Ass award. We also think the remote should be backlit. Its glow-in-the-dark buttons, which must be pre-energized by a light source, are ineffective.

Aside from those shortcomings, the MovieMate 85HD is a hoot. It’s so portable and easy to use that… you’ll actually use it!

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