Epson PowerLite 8300i
Oct 1, 2003 12:00 PM, Jeff Sauer
When it comes to integrating a projector into a digital infrastructure, few models have much on Epson's PowerLite 8300i. With what Epson refers to as “three levels of networking,” the 8300i does everything from supporting remote monitoring to (when fully configured) uploading a presentation to a built-in hard drive and presenting sans PC. The projector sets up pretty well itself, with high brightness, excellent contrast, and a nice picture.
The native XGA resolution PowerLite 8300i has three 1.4-inch LCD panels for increased light output and strong colors. It comes in a 25-pound chassis that has thorough unit-top controls and even more options from the accompanying remote controls. Both have dedicated buttons for power lens shift, power focus, and power zoom. There are also dedicated keystone correction buttons on the unit top, but going into the menus adds “quick corner” correction for spaces that force off-angle configurations. The presenter's remote adds dedicated buttons for each input channel, as well as an array of smooth presentation buttons like Page Up/Page Down, Magnification, Freeze, Volume, AV Mute, Color mode, and picture-in-picture control. There's even a power button for the remote itself so you don't waste the remote's battery life.
For connectivity the 8300i has six input channels, including four that can be used for data sources: DVI-D, two 15-pin D-sub ports (as well as a 15-pin monitor output), and a 5-channel BNC that supports RGBHV, YPrPb, or YCrCb. The other two inputs are for S-video and composite. Each input has dedicated stereo audio inputs — three by stereo mini and three by an RCA stereo pair — though there is just a single built-in monaural speaker and a stereo mini pass-through. An attachable rear-panel cover can hide all ports — including ones for 9-pin RS-232, USB, wired remote, and Ethernet — and keep installations clean.
While the basics are good, it's that Ethernet port that can set the 8300i apart (although advanced networking functionality requires an optional EasyMP.net module for $1,999). Admittedly, by now several projector makers have experimented with Ethernet connectivity in their display products. Yet in most cases, the functionality has been limited to remote monitoring and administrative functions, allowing for a central location or control center to, among other things, power-down a dozen projectors across a campus. That type of administrative oversight has obvious appeal for targeted, high-volume users.
The 8300i also supports that type of administration using Epson's EMP Monitor software. Indeed, beyond the generic functionality of monitoring networked projectors individually, EMP Monitor lets you add multiple projectors to a single monitoring window and view status, connection, and settings simultaneously. A secondary utility, EMP NetworkManager, can send an immediate e-mail notification to a preconfigured address in the case of trouble.
That basic level of network capability comes standard with the 8300i and may be enough for many users and applications. Therefore, it's probably wise that Epson breaks out advanced functionality as an option and doesn't burden the price of the base model. Yet when it comes to pushing the functionality of network-attached projectors, there's no company, save Sony, that has done so much as Epson.
AH, THE POSSIBILITIES
Some three years ago, the 8300i's predecessor, the 8150i, boasted the first built-in computer operating system (Windows CE) and Intel CPU. The 8300i's version of EasyMP.net moves that forward with a custom version of Windows XP Professional, giving the projector a vast array of possibilities. For example, one of Microsoft's much-touted XP Professional features is the remote desktop, which allows a computer to effectively gain control of another Windows computer desktop with full keyboard and cursor control. Imagine walking into an 8300i-equipped meeting room with no laptop and no presentation-carrying diskette and simply logging on to your own office computer, taking control of your own familiar desktop from the projector, and running the show from there.
The 8300i's onboard Windows XP, as well as a 20 GB internal hard drive, can also upload, store, and play back presentations directly. Bundled Microsoft Office XP applications — Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and so on — ensure compatibility with standard files. One surprising caveat, however, is that installing other Windows XP applications to the projector's hard drive is not at all straightforward or necessarily even possible. Because it is a custom version of XP, Epson would effectively need to write a custom installer utility for any other application — like Adobe Photoshop, ProEngineer, or some piece of custom code — in order to install it. On the one hand, that defeats some of the XP robustness of the 8300i, but it can also help prevent tampering, random installs, as well as administrative hassles. Arguably, the remote desktop feature would serve the same purpose for custom presentations without overly burdening the projector, and it's literally less expensive to simply buy a meeting room computer than purchasing the EasyMP.net option if that's your goal.
The EasyMP.net module is also necessary for 802.11b wireless connectivity, a feature that is gaining popularity in both travel projectors, including Epson's PowerLite 735c, and install units. The functionality is much the same between the sub-5-pound 735c and the 25-pound 8300i, effectively replacing the VGA cable and adding sending onscreen image data, including cursor movements, over the wireless network. If you haven't seen wireless connectivity — now supported by several makers — in action, frames run at about 12 to 15 fps depending on content complexity, and updating delays of 1 to 3 seconds are common when, for example, you change slide backgrounds or open a new application window. Also, wireless connections are not suitable for video sources.
LET THERE BE LIGHT
What about the projector itself? Epson claims 5,200 lumens of brightness from a single 320W UHE lamp, and that's just not realistic, at least not from my measurements with what the lamp life indicator said was a brand-new lamp. Even in the center bright spot, I measured only about 4,800 lumens, with an average of 4,490 ANSI lumens across the entire image. On the other hand, I also measured an ANSI checkerboard contrast ratio of a very impressive 410:1, and that's an arguably more important metric, showing excellent control of light. A somewhat less revealing full-on/full-off contrast ratio of 1,176:1 almost matches the gaudy numbers boasted by DLP-based units. Epson's excellent control of light is also evident in a strong 92.9 percent brightness uniformity and consistent color temperature across a range of gray-scale values (about 1,000 degrees Kelvin from white to black).
Picture quality is also very good, especially for a projector that costs less than $10,000. That's not too surprising given the premium 1.4-inch LCD panels and the extra light that can pass through them. Colors are strong and deep, and good gray-scale range means subtle shades aren't drowned by brighter colors. The larger panels also help the 8300i maintain a crispness that is often missing from LCD-based units that use smaller panels.
Overall it's easy to get excited about the 8300i as just a straightforward high-brightness projector, especially given the excellent contrast and good color. However, there's a lot more to the 8300i that also appeals to forward-thinking IT and A/V professionals moving toward smartly integrating projectors with the rest of a corporate or campus infrastructure. Whether it's the simple remote administration, the wireless connectivity, or the full package with a computer built into the projector, Epson has a pretty picture from many angles.
Jeff Saueris a contributing editor for Video Systems magazine, a video producer, an industry consultant, and the director of the Desktop Video Group, a video and computer products testing lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brightness 5,200 ANSI lumens
Contrast 1,500:1 full on/off
Native Resolution XGA (1,024×768)
Configuration 3" × 1.4" TFT active matrix p-silicon LCD panels
Light Source 320W UHE (rated 2,000 hours, 3,000 low-brightness mode)
Lens F=1.7-2.2, f=53-72mm; power lens shift, power focus, power zoom (1.35:1)
Keystone ±45 degrees vertical, ±40 degrees horizontal
Speakers 7W mono
Dimensions (H×W×D) 7.6" × 13.8" × 19.3"
Weight 24.7 lb.
Warranty 2 years parts and labor (90 days lamp), includes Epson Road Service Program repair/replacement and Private Line toll-free support
Company: Epson; www.epson.com
Product: PowerLite 8300i
Pros: Good picture and color quality. Wireless connectivity. Remote administration.
Cons: EasyMP.net option not necessarily cost-effective. Can't add applications to onboard Windows XP OS.
Applications: Academic or professional presentations.
Price: $9,999 ($1,999 for EasyMP.net)