This article first appeared in HWM June 2012.
Say you’ve an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, and you want to connect it to an external display device, such as a TV or projector - what would you do? You can use adapters, such as Apple’s very own digital AV adapter (S$54), but why the hassle if you can plug it directly onto a projector that has a built-in dock? Hence the attractiveness of the Epson MG-850HD; no doubt there are other projectors that can do that, but these are usually pico projectors that struggle beyond a 60-inch screen size. The MG-850HD is no pico projector - it’s a regular-sized 720p home entertainment projector.
This 3LCD beamer boosts some very credible specs: 2,800 lumens of light outputs, a 1.2x non-powered optical zoom lens, and a lamp life of 4,000 hours under typical use. A feature that has appeared in recent Epson projectors and one that we particularly like is the ability to perform horizontal keystone correction via a simple slider at the top of the device. Of course, it does automatic vertical keystone detection and correction too. If you’re using the MG-850HD as a portable projector (there’s a carrying handle at the side), these features will help cut down setup time considerably.
Besides the dock that pops out when you push a panel at the rear of the unit, under a cover near the top left resides a VGA input, and two USB ports (Type A and Type B). You can insert a flash drive into the Type A port and project images stored on it as a slideshow. Opening yet another cover on the left side of the projector reveals more AV connections: HDMI, component video, composite video, stereo audio, as well as a jack for plugging in an external microphone. For a small room, the rear-mounted 10W stereo speakers provide ample volume such that an external audio system isn’t really needed.
Much to our surprise, controlling an 'iDevice' was pretty intuitive with the bundled remote control. Sure, there were times when we thought it might be faster to just press a button on the device itself - but overall, Epson has done a pretty good job with the user interface of the remote and the on-screen menus. While the MG-850HD has a light output spec of 2,800 lumens, you will need to use Dynamic mode with the brightness level cranked all the way up to get anywhere near that spec. The more preferred Cinema mode drops the light output to about 1,500 lumens, so we advise using it only if you’re able to darken the room. In return, you get deeper blacks (but not as deep as we’d like), and a warmer color temperature (that’s not far off from 6,500K) that lends well to skin tones. The projector has an auto iris to adjust light intensity based on the image being projected—we found it to work reasonably well. Both color accuracy and contrast are also respectable.
The MG-850HD pretty much delivers as a 720p projector. The slightly higher black levels may put off enthusiasts, but casual users who use it in the living room with the lights on will find this a non-issue.