In Epson's current line of home theater projectors, the Home Cinema 3100 at $1299 is a step up in price from the entry level Home Cinema 2040 ($799), or its sister model the HC 2045 which adds Miracast and WIDI. But the HC 3100 is also a big step up in performance and features. While the 2040 and 2045 offer only a 1.2x zoom and no lens shift, the 3100 gives you an array of features including a 1.6x zoom lens, vert+horiz lens shift, gamma settings, picture-in-picture, Epson's Super Resolution for enhancing detail, and panel alignment control to manually adjust three-chip convergence, all of which are features found on Epson's pricier Home Cinema 3900 at $1999.
Ultimately, the key to the Epson 3100's superb value is its image quality. If you view the 2040 or 2045 by themselves you'll find little to complain about--they are impressive projectors for the money. But in side-by-side viewing, the 3100 delivers far more vibrant color and visibly better contrast. On the other hand, the 3100 is just a small step below the Epson 3900 in image quality, but it is a whopping $700 less. So the 3100, right in the middle at $1299, represents excellent bang for the buck.
Another key to the value of the HC3100 is its lumen muscle. Even in its Cinema modes with the lamp set to the lowest power Eco our test unit pumped out close to 1400 lumens, and it puts out over 2000 lumens with the lamp on High. This makes for exceptional versatility. You can use the 3100 to light up a screen as large as 200" diagonal in a dark theater setting, or 130" diagonal in a room with low ambient light. (And if you need still higher brightness, check out our review of the Epson Home Cinema 3700, a near twin to the 3100.)
Though marketed under the "Home Cinema" moniker, it is easy to imagine the HC3100 showing up in a lot of sports bars as it produces sufficient light, a high quality HD 1080p image, and excellent installation flexibility, all for a modest sum compared to most projectors competing for that same market.
The 3100's four color presets--Dynamic, Bright Cinema, Natural, and Cinema--all deliver solid video quality without any tweaking. The three-chip 3LCD design guarantees there won't be any rainbow artifacts and ensures there's no difference between color and white brightness, which might affect color quality or the brightness of color images. Also helping is that the 3100 delivers deeper blacks in all modes than less expensive 3LCD models, and with improved contrast, shadow details are opened up and better defined. The higher contrast ratio also gives colors more pop and increases picture depth, or a sense of three-dimensionality.
Epson 3100 Home Theater Projector
Color balance is spot on in three of the four predefined color modes, with neutral grays at all levels from black to white. Dynamic mode has a slight yellow-green tint in the brightest shades, but not enough to be a problem. Colors are vibrant and well saturated in all four modes and well within a realistic range. There are some subtle variations from one mode to the next, but most people won't notice them without switching back and forth between modes to look for the difference.
You can also adjust settings to taste, customizing each of the predefined modes and saving up to 10 additional custom settings in memory. Each customized mode and memory setting even saves the current lamp brightness, so you don't have to change it separately. It also saves the current setting for features like frame interpolation, which you might want to set on Low for filmed material if you don't like the digital video effect the more aggressive settings can produce. Or set it to Medium or High for live or recorded video where the digital video effect can improve the sense of being in the presence of the performers. The Low setting, which is the default for Bright Cinema, is worth looking at even if you don't usually like frame interpolation. It doesn't completely smooth judder in pans or in objects moving across the screen. However it makes motion a touch smoother, and it manages to make the 2D image more three dimensional in many scenes while slipping over into a digital video effect in only some.
Picture controls range from basics--like brightness, contrast, gamma, color temperature, and color (by hue, saturation, and brightness)--to video processing choices like Frame interpolation, Super Resolution, and two options for noise reduction. There's also a Picture-in-Picture option.
Our thanks to OPPO Digital for supplying the
UDP-203 4K UltraHD Blu-ray Player
we use as a primary source in testing projectors
3D Video. The 3100 supports 3D with Epson's $99 glasses and third-party Vesa RF glasses. Image quality for 3D and 2D are similar for those aspects of quality that both share, and the projector does a good job with 3D-specific issues. In clips that tend to show 3D-related motion artifacts, I saw no artifacts in most and barely a hint of them in the others. I didn't see any crosstalk.
The menus offer two 3D color modes. Both are lower brightness than any of the 2D modes, but 3D Dynamic is noticeably brighter than 3D Cinema. Unfortunately, it also adds a green bias. The good news is that it's still within the realm of acceptable color. Unless you're in a totally dark room and using a small screen, you'll probably prefer the extra brightness to better color quality.
Data Presentations. Like most home theater projectors, the Epson HC 3100 can also handle data and graphic presentations nicely. Matching color and white brightness yields vibrant, bright colors even in the brightest mode, and the 3100 also does well with detail, which is even more critical for data than video. White text on black was easily readable at 5 points in my tests. Black text on white was crisp even at 4.5 points.