Epson Home Cinema 2040
1080p Home Theater Projector Review
September 2, 2015
The Epson Home Cinema 2040
is the latest in their line of home video and entertainment projectors. This affordable 1080p projector is a successor to the well-regarded Home Cinema 2030. Like the earlier model, it delivers full HD 1080p resolution, full HD 3D compatibility, excellent connectivity including Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL), and a balanced, natural picture. Unlike the earlier model, it also include Frame Interpolation, Detail Enhancement, 2D to 3D conversion, low input lag, and advanced noise reduction. The Home Cinema 2040 releases soon with an MSRP of $799, making it one of the most affordable LCD 1080p projectors on the market and a great choice for living rooms, game rooms, and portable use.
The Home Cinema 2040 performs similarly to how the Home Cinema 2030 did, though there have been some notable improvements. When we reviewed the Home Cinema 2030 (almost exactly two years ago, as it happens), we noted that the projector produced a sharp, bright image with good color saturation. Some specification improvements aside, the Home Cinema 2040 retains the same general picture quality as its predecessor, including high saturation and a natural appearance with excellent balance. It adds higher on/off contrast (thanks to a more responsive iris) as well as a whole slew of features previously found on the higher-end Home Cinema 5030UB such as Frame Interpolation and Detail Enhancement. This is great news for anyone in search of a low-cost LCD 1080p projector, and it makes the Home Cinema 2040 one of the most feature-rich projectors available in its price range.
The Home Cinema 2040 has four image modes. Dynamic mode, selected automatically at first startup, is a touch greenish but otherwise acceptable whenever maximum light output is needed. Overall image balance in Dynamic is not compromised despite the mode's high brightness, though color accuracy is, as is typical of most projectors' Dynamic calibrations. Bright Cinema's 1725 lumens also came with improved color accuracy despite a slightly blue tinge. Natural and Cinema both measured just shy of 1,000 lumens with the lamp set to Eco, which is the factory setting. Switching to full lamp power netted 1519 lumens and the best color accuracy available from the projector without calibration.
Purely subjectively, the defining characteristic of the Home Cinema 2040's image is balance. Each of the projector's image modes, despite differing in brightness and color characteristics, share the same well-balanced natural character that makes the projector a good choice for television and casual film viewing.
$99 replacement lamps. Projector buyers used to pay $300 or more for replacement lamps that would deliver only 2000 hours of life. That is no longer the case, at least in the world of low-priced projectors. The Home Cinema 2040 not only offers an estimated lamp life of 4,000 hours in full power mode and 7,500 hours in Eco mode, but also takes replacement lamps that only cost $99 each.
The low cost of replacement lamps means there's no longer a reason not to run your projector for as many hours as you'd like. If you want to use the Home Cinema 2040 as a TV replacement, you can certainly do so. If the 7,500 hour figure holds up, that would work out to eight hours of use per day for the next two and a half years.
Frame interpolation. The Home Cinema 2040 may be a successor to the 2030, but it has picked up a few features from the higher-end Home Cinema 5030 as well. First among these is frame interpolation (FI). This technology analyzes incoming video and adds interstitial frames between the existing frames, smoothing out blur from fast motion and camera pans. The Home Cinema 2040 is one of the only projectors in this price range to include frame interpolation, and it works quite well. We did not see any obvious artifacts, and on Low we didn't see any trace of the soap opera effect that is so dreaded by some folks. It also adds quite a bit of input lag, so it's not something you'd want to use for gaming.
Detail Enhancement. Another carryover from the higher-end Epson models is Detail Enhancement, a technology designed to bring out fine surface detail. The effect is subtle, but visible, and can add a little bit of extra "oomph" to the picture when desired.
Low input lag. With only 25 milliseconds of input lag (1.5 frames at 60 FPS), the Home Cinema 2040 is one of the fastest projectors available for gaming, regardless of price. In fact, it is quite a bit faster than most more expensive home theater projectors. The only caveat is that you can't run frame interpolation if you want fast response times; using FI increases lag to just over 100 milliseconds.
Full HD 1080p. With 1080p projectors reaching record low prices, there's no longer any reason to compromise when it comes to home entertainment. The Home Cinema 2040 will display high-def content at full native resolution, giving you a beautifully detailed picture.
Full HD 3D. With full HD 3D capabilities, the Home Cinema 2040 can be connected up to a 3D Blu-ray player or set-top box for 3D playback. The projector does not include glasses, but is compatible with Epson's RF 3D glasses should you decide to pick some up. The projector also includes 2D to 3D conversion, which isn't found in many of the Home Cinema 2040's direct competitors. This is a bonus for the die-hard 3D buffs in the audience.
Noise reduction. The Home Cinema 2040 includes both Noise Reduction and MPEG Noise Reduction, both of which originated on the Home Cinema 5030 and made their way down to this model. Most projectors in this price range do not include noise reduction at all. Also note that Epson's noise reduction technology is adept at reducing noise without killing sharpness, so you can actually use the NR slider without fuzzing up the picture.
MHL. Mobile High-Definition Link allows the use of compact media devices like the Roku Streaming Stick or Chromecast with the Home Cinema 2040. These create the opportunity for truly compact installations, since the only wire would be the power cable to the projector itself.
5W speaker. The onboard speaker, while adequate for casual viewing, is no replacement for a dedicated sound system (or the more powerful 10W speakers found on some other Epson home entertainment projectors). However, it is better than nothing, and better than the 2W speaker found on the Home Cinema 2030. When you're bringing the projector over to a friend's house, an onboard speaker is preferable to the alternative of no sound at all.
Warranty. A two-year warranty covers the Home Cinema 2040 more thoroughly than most other projectors in this class. The warranty also includes 90 days of coverage on the lamp, which should help to weed out lamps that are inherently flawed in some way (which is rare, but can happen). It's another layer of protection on your investment.
Light output. Dynamic mode on the Home Cinema 2040 measured 2089 lumens, and while that's a hair shy of the rated 2,200 lumen output, it's functionally identical. Dynamic mode has a greenish tint but was still decently balanced overall and suitable for use whenever maximum light output is needed.
Bright Cinema mode, at 1725 lumens, is a compromise between the brightness of Dynamic and the more color neutral appearance of Natural and Cinema modes. Bright Cinema has a subtle bias toward blue, but is appropriate for ambient light use.
Natural and Cinema mode both measured 998 lumens, but both modes default to Eco lamp mode when selected. Switching to full power nets you 1519 lumens in both modes. This means that Eco mode reduces light output by roughly 34%, which is a bit more than usual. However, it also gives you almost double the lamp life, which is also a bit more than usual.
Contrast. Black level isn't the Home Cinema 2040's strong suit, but that's because it is built for use in rooms with ambient light. In those cases, a deep black level is pointless. The Home Cinema 2040 includes an automatic iris for those times when you watch a movie at night. However, the iris is audible at times and visible at other times, so it is an imperfect solution. Dynamic range is on par with other LCD-based projectors in this general category, but not up to par against the more common DLP-based competition in the home video market.
Color. Cinema mode is quite well balanced out of the box, albeit with a slight bias towards both blue and green and a color temperature around 7100K. In a room with ambient light, the slight inaccuracies aren't noticeable, and most users won't feel the need to do a calibration. Saturation is excellent in all image modes, contributing to that overall sense of natural balance that the Home Cinema 2040 brings to every image.
Input lag. Input lag describes the time it takes a signal to reach the screen. More advanced home theater projectors tend to have more image processing, and the time taken to perform this processing adds to input lag. The Home Cinema 2040, being a relatively simple projector by home theater standards, measured just under 25 milliseconds of input lag using a 1080p/60 input signal. That is roughly 1.5 frames, making the Home Cinema 2040 one of the faster projectors available regardless of price.
Fan noise. At full power, the Home Cinema 2040 produces a low-pitched rush of air. It is still easy to hear the fan from a few feet away, but any kind of sound system will drown it out easily. The tiny onboard speaker can overpower the exhaust fan, even at medium volume levels. Eco lamp mode quiets the fan even further, and will be the mode of choice for anyone in a small room. High Altitude mode, which should be used at elevations above 4921 feet per the user manual, is quite a bit louder than the normal fan and has more of a whining character to it.
Lens geometry places the Home Cinema 2040 at a distance of 1.22 to 1.47 times the image width, depending on zoom. Most folks find it comfortable to sit between 1.1 and 1.5 times the image width. As a result, the projector and audience are often in fairly close proximity. That's where planning comes in. The Home Cinema 2040's exhaust grille is located on the front of the case, with angled vents directing the hot exhaust away from the light path. As a result, fan noise is perceptibly louder when you are in front of the projector than when you are behind it, even when the difference is only a few inches of lateral distance. If fan noise is something that bothers you, it pays to plan your installation such that the projector is as far forward as it can go and your seating is behind it.
Negative throw offset. Projectors without lens shift have a fixed throw offset - the relationship between the position of the projected image and the projector itself do not change. Most projectors have a positive offset, wherein a table-mounted projector will throw the image upwards (and vice versa for a ceiling mounted unit). This adds some vertical space between the center of the lens and the edge of the image.
The Home Cinema 2040, on the other hand, has a very slight negative throw offset. When placed flat and level on a table, the bottom edge of the projected image is about 5% of the image height below the center of the lens. This can be both good and bad. On the good side, it allows you to put a bigger image on the wall since you can utilize more of the vertical space available. On the bad side, it means a ceiling mount will almost certainly require an extension tube.
Iris pulsing. When the picture on screen goes from a mostly light picture to a mostly dark one or vice versa, we saw the Home Cinema 2040's automatic iris open and close several times in an attempt to find the correct opening for the image. This effect was especially pronounced with the iris set to High Speed, though it was still visible at the lower speed setting. If this effect bothers you, you can always turn the iris off completely - which is what you should be doing in ambient light anyway, as an iris cannot improve black levels in a room without proper light control.
On the surface, the Home Cinema 2040 looks and acts very much like the earlier Home Cinema 2030. On the spec sheet, not much has changed. However, once you get into the meat and potatoes of the machine, you start to realize that the Home Cinema 2040 is an entirely different beast.
The Home Cinema 2040 has the same smooth, natural, balanced picture found on the Home Cinema 2030, as well as the same inexpensive lamp replacements. However, it also includes a number of features (Frame Interpolation, Detail Enhancement, 2D to 3D conversion) normally found only on more expensive projectors. And gamers will be thrilled to hear that it has less input lag than most other projectors, marking a significant improvement for Epson and making the Home Cinema 2040 an excellent gaming machine. At $799, the Home Cinema 2040 is a great little projector and a solid value for movies, games, television, and anything else you can think of.