Review: Epson EH-DM2: Pick a wall, any wall

David Braue
17 December, 2008
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It was only when I began watching a movie on the ceiling that I came to appreciate how a home theatre projector – one of a class of products that has always been far too expensive and esoteric for most people to contemplate – can in fact improve the viewing experience.

This is, of course, because a projector gives you great control over where, how large and how well the image is projected. As long as your house has walls – and, let’s face it, these days whose doesn’t? – you have a place to watch your movies (pull-down reflective screens also work a treat if you’re so inclined). And Epson’s EH-DM2 is a great choice if you like the idea of a projector but don’t want to extend your mortgage to pay for one of the $5000-plus high-end units.

Watch anything, anywhere. Designed squarely at the home user, the EH-DM2 builds a slot-loaded DVD player into the projector unit, which also offers a USB jack along with the usual array of RGB (computer), composite (high-definition and game console), and analogue video inputs.

Two adjustable albeit too-short and cheaply-designed feet allow you to level off the projected image, while features such as keystone correction (adjusting the image’s vertical boundaries to compensate for perspective distortion) and zooming provide good control over the image.

The included remote is loaded with buttons for selecting projector settings like sound and video settings (which include a dynamic, living room, games and a lower-contrast home theatre mode) and also includes all the necessary buttons for interacting with your DVDs. For some reason, the DVD player is limited to region 4, which is an annoying and relatively rare thing in DVD players these days.

What makes the unit stand out, however, is that like most standalone DVD players these days, it supports DivX, music CDs, and a broad range of multimedia formats. Paired with the immediacy and ease of use of the USB port, this makes for some very easy, instant projection: load your USB memory stick with photos, MP3 songs, or video in DivX or numerous other formats, and you’re ready to rock and roll.

It would have been nice to put the USB slot on the front or top of the unit as it can break the USB stick if you’re angling the unit to project onto the ceiling; to be fair, however, I don’t think you’re actually supposed to watch videos on the ceiling in this way, but instead are supposed to get Epson’s ceiling projection kit, which I believe can be handily replicated using an angled mirror.

If you’re already thinking ‘kids parties’ or ‘instant second TV’ or ‘Halo with life-sized opponents’ or ‘I can watch the footy in on the garage door without worrying about dropping potato chip crumbs into the couch!’ you’re on the right track. The 3.8kg unit is small enough to carry around the house, or easily pack into the 4WD for when the kids get bored with your camping weekend 15 minutes after you arrive. Project ‘Friday the 13th’ onto a 2m bedsheet and I guarantee you will have their full attention.

The press release for the EH-DM2 loudly proclaims the unit’s value for projecting iPod videos, but this is a bit of a sneaky marketing ploy as the unit doesn’t include an iPod dock; that statement is more of a suggestion – and yes, it would work if you used a normal video-out adapter – than a feature description. Just as fair to say that my toaster could play through the EH-DM2 if it had the right outputs. But at this price, an iPod dock is understandably a bit much to expect.

But how does it look? If you’ve ever looked into projectors, one of the biggest issues they raise is the brightness of the image they cast, and here the EH-DM2 is no slouch.

Conventional TVs, of course, offer brilliant contrast ratios because they can carefully control the movement and intensity of light in the close confines of that flat panel housing. Projectors, by contrast, are at the mercy of ambient lighting, the reflectiveness of the surface you’re projecting on, and many other factors that often make it a best-effort picture rather than a best-in-class picture. Move the projector closer to the wall and the image is brighter, but smaller; further away, and it’s hey-Bill-check-this-out huge but requires a dark room to see properly.

That said, the EH-DM2 does a very good job with what it has. Epson claims a rating of 1200 lumens, which means nothing to me but resulted in a bright, watchable image. My test movie – a DVD of the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – was perhaps not the fairest of subjects since it is laced with dark tones and subtle shades, yet the movie was still quite watchable (at night, with the shades drawn). More brightly-hued content, such as an episode of The Simpsons, was far more forgiving and a pleasure to watch – especially when projected as a 2m high image on the wall.

Its resolution of 854×480 pixels is below SVGA standard you’d get in more-expensive units so you’ll notice some squashing if hooking it up to a notebook (resolutions of up to 1280×1024 are supported), but this low resolution is one of the compromises that helps put the unit within reach of normal peoples’ wallets. It’s certainly adequate for DVDs and SD-resolution video and casts a convincing 16:9 widescreen image that made for impressive battle scenes.

Epson claims a projection distance of up to 9m, but we didn’t get anywhere near that far as the picture was stretching from floor to ceiling at a distance of around 5m from the wall. At this distance, the picture was still nice and bright, although large image sizes tended to show a slight gridding pattern which reveals the resolution of the unit’s three-colour, 0.55-inch wide TFT Active Matrix LCD screen.

A pair of speakers, one on either side of the unit, does a decent job of generating loud sounds and didn’t distort at the highest volume. However, the lack of tweeters and midrange speakers produced an annoying audio mud in movies with subtle soundtracks; kids’ movies and shows with dynamic audio fare much better, although you may still struggle to hear the speakers above ambient noise; here, the headphone jack will be a lifesaver. There is simulated surround sound built in and an RCA digital audio output if you happen to have a surround sound system, but that does reduce the unit’s mobility somewhat.

Australian Macworld buying advice. The Epson EH-DM2 is designed less for videophiles as for those who just want to watch something, anywhere, right now – and at just $1099, it succeeds handsomely, with a rrp about 20 percent the price of your average home-theatre projector. It can’t offer the unflinching quality of a plasma or the in-your-face brightness of an LCD TV; however, given the compromises Epson could have made to bring the price down this much, the EH-DM2 offers just the right balance of features to make it an impressive and enjoyable projection option that won’t break the bank.

Cons Speakers serviceable but not amazing; low-resolution sensor squashes higher-resolution notebook displays.
Type Home theatre projector
Rating 4
Pros Large, bright image; DivX support; USB jack; built-in DVD; built-in speakers; portable
Product Epson EH-DM2
Company Epson, www.epson.com.au
Price $1099

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