Hands On: Epson MegaPlex MG-850HD Projector with iDock


Big screen fun works with your iPhone, iPad, iPod.

Jul. 30, 2012 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Review Epson MegaPlex MG850HD

One the best things about summer is that it makes my house bigger. I don’t mean that the wood is swelling. I mean that my backyard becomes an active part of my living space. When the weather is warm I spend as much time as possible outside, even if it just means chilling on my patio staring at the goldfish pond (they are nice goldfish).

Just because I’m outside doesn’t mean I have to give up on some of the cool things I do inside, like watch movies on a monster screen. Lately I’ve been using Epson’s MegaPlex MG-850HD projector to turn my backyard into an outside movie theater.

The MegaPlex MG-850HD is an LCD projector that’s a portable, self-contained cinema. Taking a projector outside (or anywhere) for a movie isn’t really anything new (Epson previously offered a projector called MovieMate with a built-in DVD player), but this projector includes stereo speakers and a dock to connect your iPhone or iPad. Just connect your iDevice, point it at something white, and you’re ready to go.

At Electronic House we profile many elaborate outside theater systems. We even covered one custom-installed outside theater that rose from hidden cavities in the ground at the touch of a button. Projectors for systems like that can cost well over $10,000 and aren’t for most people. The $799 MegaPlex is for most people.

While the MegaPlex isn’t specifically designed only for outdoors, it’s perfect for that use. First, it’s super bright. At 2,800 lumens, you don’t have to wait until the black of midnight to start the show, though the darker the night gets, the punchier the picture gets too. The other benefit of a bright projector is that it can light up a larger screen from a greater distance than a dim projector.

The MegaPlex is designed more like a boardroom projector than a home theater projector—by that I mean that everything you need is easily accessible when it’s sitting on a table. Projectors designed for hanging from a basement ceiling tend to hide more of their controls. On the front of the MegaPlex you get a manual lens cover, manual focus and zoom, plus a manual keystone adjustment which can be changed from horizontal to vertical keystone in the setting menu.

The entire back of the projector is taken up with speakers and the iDevce dock (which can be tucked away when not in use). There are a couple of hidden panels that coner inputs such as HDMI, USB and component. There’s also a headphone output if you don’t want your neighbors to hear the lousy stuff you watch in the backyard (note: that also makes it easy for people to sneak up on you in the dark).

I first tried out the MegaPlex indoors in my basement theater on a 120-inch Seymour Screen Excellence 4K screen. The MegaPlex has a steep upward throw like a boardroom projector, so it sits below the screen level. The projector has an adjustable foot in the front for height and two screw feet in the back. There’s no lens sift (of course there isn’t at this price) so you’ll want to be careful lining it up and getting it at the correct level, if you’re a perfectionist. If you just want a watch a movie without fussing, then play with the keystone adjustments until it’s close enough—really, this projector is just for fun, so don’t take it too seriously.

I first watched a movie from a Samsung Blu-ray player via the HDMI connection. I put it into the cinema setting in the picture menu and made a few eyeball adjustments, but I wasn’t really out to judge this projector in the same way I judge dedicated theater projectors.

Detail was pretty good, but this isn’t a 1080p projector. At 720p (actually 1280 x 800) it’s still high definition, but if you’re accustomed to 1080p from a premium projector, you’ll notice the difference. Colors overall were good, but the black level wasn’t the projector’s strongest point.

Still, I want to be fair—this is an $800 projector, with an iPhone dock, with speakers…

So the next weekend I took it outside. This time I pulled an older Stewart Grayhawk screen out of the basement. At 85 inches this was not the ideal screen. As I wrote earlier, this projector is mighty bright, so you could fill a screen the size of your double garage doors. There are plenty of places online to buy inexpensive outdoor screens for a few hundred bucks (even this one that attaches to your garage door). If this was my projector I’d probably figure out some contraption that would allow me to easily put up a big screen for when the movie mood hit me.

Anyway, I aligned the projector (on a box to raise it up a little) at the screen, made some tweaks to the zoom and focus, then docked my iPhone. On the iPhone I launched the Netflix app and pulled up some fine outdoor entertainment (Conan the Barbarian). With a bottle of wine and some bug spray on the table next to me, I was ready for an evening out.
The picture may not have been a match for the $8,000 JVC I reviewed recently, but it was good, and looked great in my backyard. Blacks looked more gray compared to the black of night, but taking off my “reviewers cap” I sincerely enjoyed the whole thing. The 10 watt stereo speakers sound like what you’d get on a mid-priced stereo iPod dock. They got very loud, loud enough that I needed to turn it down when the fight scenes got too rowdy for fear my neighbors might wonder what was going on.  By the way, you can also use it just to play music from the iPod.

This is not a projector for someone looking to build the ultimate home theater, but it’s a great projector for someone who likes to have a toy around for special occasions such as a video game marathon, sharing iPhone photos/videos with friends or hanging out in the back yard for family movie night. After I posted the above picture on my Facebook page I had friends trying to invite themselves over for an evening. You just can’t help but have fun with it.

Epson MegaPlex MG-850HD
Specs and more info

If you’re looking for an easy way to add tunes to your backyard, check out this review.

Top 10 gadgets for your summer fun.

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