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Epson LS57P2 review: Epson LS57P2


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.

6.4

Epson LS57P2

The Good

Numerous extras, including external CD writer and built-in printer; accurate color decoding; decent color temperature out of the box; solid video processing with 2:3 pull-down.

The Bad

Below-average black-level performance; uneven white-field uniformity; few picture tweaks; HDTV tuner is external; can't switch aspect ratios with HD sources; can't read all JPEG CDs or Memory Stick Pro; strict file-naming requirements.

The Bottom Line

This is a good set compared to those in the LCD category but a bit pricey compared to the top-notch competition.
Intro
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 Sony KDF-55XS955. 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. 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.

Overall, the Epson LS57P2 performed surprisingly well, especially in terms of picture accuracy out of the box. For example, its grayscale came fairly close to the standard 6,500K in the Warm color temperature setting (see geek box for more). After calibration, we achieved a near-perfect grayscale with 480p DVD run into one of the component-video inputs. However, 1080i HD signals on the other component-video input were significantly bluer in color temperature, a problem that could not be fixed by calibration.

We also found the video processing to be quite good, with solid 2:3 pull-down for the elimination of motion artifacts in film-based material. Color decoding was quite accurate, which is something most manufacturers still don't get right.

While the set exhibits severe edge enhancement at the factory sharpness setting of 0, by turning it all the way down to -4 we were able to eliminate most of the related artifacts. One issue we coldn't adjust, and an uncommon one among microdisplays, was significant vertical pincushion errors on our review sample, which caused vertical lines (such as 4:3 bars) to bow and make the picture appear wider on the top and bottom of the screen and narrower in the middle.

White-field uniformity, or the evenness of color across the screen, was not very good, but that's normal for an LCD-based microdisplay. And as with all LCD-based displays, black-level performance, or the set's ability to reproduce a true black with fine detail near black, also left us unsatisfied. That said, the LS57P2 reproduced dark scenes better than many transmissive LCD-based and all LCOS-based HDTVs we've evaluated but still not as well as a DLP-based set. There is something about LCDs, perhaps related to this black-level deficiency, that makes the image appear more two-dimensional and pasty when compared to that of DLP and especially CRT displays.

Chapter 12 of the Seabiscuit DVD looked pretty good after a thorough calibration. As a result of the set's poor black-level performance, color saturation appeared a bit washed out. For our black-level torture test, we popped in the opening sequence of Alien. Deep space, while not a true black, was rendered cleanly with little or no low-level noise--a common problem among LCDs and DLPs.

HDTV signals from our DirecTV HD satellite feed looked good as well. The HDNET and Discovery channels revealed decent color saturation and good detail but were a bit underwhelming in terms of "pop." We ran our Accupel HDTV signal generator through the set's component-video and DVI inputs and found that while the set couldn't resolve every line of a 720p signal, the DVI sources looked a bit sharper.

We tested memory cards from a few digital cameras, and the photos displayed and printed well. The main exception was a Sony digicam that used Memory Stick Pro; as the manual indicates, the Epson won't read that type of media. Some of the funkier-named files copied from our computer onto cards didn't get recognized, which we expected since the manual outlines strict naming requirements. These requirements follow the official DCF standard: files must be named with four letters, then four numbers (for example, abcd1234.jpg), and be placed in a folder labeled DCIM. Subdirectories are also restricted to an eight-character maximum filename.

CDs of digital photos also needed to be formatted in this same manner, which meant, for example, that we couldn't just burn a disc of the My Pictures folder on a PC and display it on the TV. The drive also failed to eject CDs on many occasions; we had to cycle its power to remove the disc. After creating a custom disc that conformed to the conventions, the Epson recognized all of the images.

Update: The first review sample we received, equipped with a Plextor Premium-U drive, was unable to burn discs at all. Epson has since sent a second sample with another external drive, and that one performed smoothly, writing to both CD-R and CD-RW discs without a hitch.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 7,400/6,600K Good
After color temp (20/80) 6,500/6,375K Good
Before grayscale variation +/- 250K Good
After grayscale variation +/- 31K Good
Overscan 3% Good
Color decoder error: red +5% Good
Color decoder error: green +5% Good
DC restoration All patterns stable Good
2:3 pull-down, 24fps Y Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good

6.4

Epson LS57P2

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 7Performance 7