For better or worse, computer and professional display manufacturers are aggressively entering the consumer home-theater market. The problem is telling one from another when all the specs look similar, all the prices are about the same, and the image quality of each TV and technology varies according to whom you ask. Epson's LS57P2, a 57-inch rear-projection HDTV, differentiates itself from the pack by including a built-in photo printer and even a CD writer, for viewing, printing, accessing, and archiving digital photos. Aside from these obvious differences, the competitively priced LS57P2 ($3,199 after $200 rebate) is a typical, albeit somewhat bare-bones LCD-based microdisplay that's up against units such as the . Many shoppers will prefer the superior TV-specific features and connectivity of competing mainstream HDTVs such as Sony's Grand WEGAs and Samsung's DLP sets. But if you think of the printer as a free add-on, the LS57P2 becomes an attractive option, especially for digicam junkies who'd like to avoid using a computer.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.The Epson's silver chassis is surrounded by a dark grayish/purple border that encompasses the entire screen, which aside from giving it a two-tone look, also helps improve the perceived contrast ratio of the picture. We thought it looked attractive enough, but most major-brand microdisplays are definitely more stylish.
At 16.3 inches deep, the Epson's cabinet is much less obtrusive than your traditional CRT-based rear-projection TVs, although it's about the same as other LCD- and DLP-based microdisplay sets. Like those televisions, the LS57P2 requires some sort of stand to get it up to eye level (Epson's custom stand, model ELSRA2, lists for $339). The set weighs 124 pounds.
While it's on the large side, the remote is well designed and logically laid out. Unfortunately, it's not backlit at all for use in darkened home-theater environments. We found the internal menu system, including the extensive photo-viewing menus, quite intuitive and easy to use and navigate.
As a lamp-driven microdisplay, the Epson LS57P2's bulb will eventually burn out. That said, its life is allegedly quite a bit longer than that of competing televisions: up to 10,000 hours, according to Epson. Replacement bulbs cost $249.At least in terms of non-TV-related extras, the Epson LS57P2 is definitely a feature-rich TV. The printer built into the front panel is designed for digital photos, printing to glossy 4x6 photo paper only. It's a dye-sub design that produces reasonably decent prints, although if you want to do any kind of custom cropping or editing, you're out of luck--only zooming and rotation are available. The unit can print from any video source, including high-def, although the resolution is disappointingly low (don't expect legible fine print, for example). It can also print from numerous types of photo cards--the set has four slots on the front that can accept SmartMedia, CompactFlash, Memory Stick, and SD/MMC cards--or compact disc. Owners of newer Sony digicams will be disappointed at the lack of Memory Stick Pro compatibility; neither can the Epson handle XD cards. The CD recorder connects to the TV via an included USB cable. It can burn photos from the card to disc as well as access photos from CDs for viewing or printing (see Performance page for more).
To comply with the FCC tuner mandate, Epson included an outboard ATSC digital tuner for off-air HDTV broadcast reception. The option to use the tuner is better than no option at all, but we'd prefer an internal tuner because it wouldn't hog an input, it would use the TV's interface and channel controls (as it stands, you have to flip a switch on the TV's remote, or use the tuner's separate remote, to switch channels), and it would ease clutter. Unlike many 2004 and 2005 HDTVs, the set lacks a Digital Cable Ready CableCard slot.
Otherwise, the LS57P2 resembles any other microdisplay HDTV. Its three LCD panels give it a native resolution of 1,280x720, which makes it ideal for 720p HDTV signals and of course qualifies it as a bona fide HDTV. All other signals, including 1080i HDTV, progressive-scan DVD, and standard-def VHS and cable, for example, are scaled to fit the available pixels. Unlike some microdisplays, the Epson is equipped to immediately display computer signals.
Conveniences include two-tuner POP (picture-out-of-picture), but it's somewhat limited because it won't display component-video, DVI, or PC sources at the same time. There are five picture presets, each of which can be adjusted and remain associated with the last-used input, so the LS57P2 delivers a convincing approximation of independent input memories. Unfortunately, the set couldn't switch aspect ratios with HDTV sources.
Picture-enhancing features include selectable color temperatures Warm, Medium, and Cool, with Warm being the closest to the broadcast standard of 6,500 Kelvins. The set also has the all important 2:3 pull-down in video processing for the elimination of motion artifacts in film-based materials. Other more dubious picture tweaks, such as flesh-tone color correction, noise reduction, and the rest, are noticeably absent.
The connectivity on the LS57P2 is fairly comprehensive, although most current microdisplays have more-impressive jack packs. On the back panel are two broadband component-video inputs with stereo audio, one DVI input with stereo audio (the Epson lacks HDMI), three A/V inputs with both composite and S-Video, one set of A/V outputs with composite video only, two RF antenna inputs and one RF output, and a USB port, exclusively for the CD writer. The set's lack of RS-232 control will probably be a deal breaker for custom installation companies that typically need to program a set's functionality into a Crestron or AMX touch-panel remote system.
A front-panel A/V input with S-Video, a 15-pin VGA style RGB input for computers, and a headphone jack are all located underneath a flip-down door below the center of the screen. The four above-mentioned card slots each have their own protective rubber flap.