The Epson Home Cinema 3020 and 3020e are two new home video projectors -- or, more accurately, two versions of the same home video projector. If you're not familiar with home video projectors, they are typically brighter and lower in contrast than home theater projectors, but still provide accurate color balance and other features that mark them as intended for video, not presentations or graphics. In short, they are projectors for the living room.
These models follow on from last year's Home Cinema 3010 and 3010e. Among the improvements are a slightly higher light output, better default color, and a better WirelessHD transmitter for the "e" model.
The difference between the Home Cinema 3020 and the Home Cinema 3020e is that the "e" model includes a WirelessHD system, allowing you to send full 3D HD signals across your home without the use of wires. Among other things, this makes mounting the projector much easier since you no longer have to consider wiring when doing so. Other than this key difference, the 3020 and 3020e are identical.
What makes the 3020 series so attractive is its combination of high light output, accurate color, flexible mounting, and low price. The wirelessHD system will certainly appeal to some consumers for a number of reasons we'll discuss shortly. The bottom line on these models is that the 3020 series improves upon its predecessors, and at $1599 for the 3020 and $1899 for the 3020e, they represent strong values in the home video market.
Note: our review was conducted using a Home Cinema 3020e, but aside from the WirelessHD transmitter and the corresponding price difference, the two models are identical.
Note: On initial publication this review reported a 2.0:1 zoom range on the Epson 3020. This was an error -- the Epson 3020e has a 1.6:1 zoom, just like the Home Cinema 3010. This was an editorial oversight and we apologize for the error. The review has been corrected. -bl
The official, full name of the projector is the Epson Powerlite Home Cinema 3020e, but don't let the name fool you. This is a home video projector, no matter what Epson calls it. It is built for use in ambient light, has lower contrast than home cinema projectors, but still has excellent color performance and is meant for use with video, not presentations or graphics. And it's a good home video projector, too. It's bright, it's light, it has speakers with some punch to them, and it does solid 3D. There's not a lot more to ask for.
We set up the 3020e on a low shelf in a darkened room. The ideal placement for the 3020e is a ceiling mount, especially if you take advantage of the projector's wireless capabilities, but a low shelf or table will also work well. The projector has a very mild upward throw angle, only about 3% of the image's height, which is much less aggressive than many other home theater and home video projectors. As such, a mount that worked well for your previous projector might not be ideal for the 3020e.
Firing up the projector, it becomes clear that the 3020e has brightness to spare. Our test unit actually exceeded the 2300-lumen specification slightly in its brightest mode, Dynamic. But our preferred mode was Cinema, which at 1360 lumens is still plenty bright enough to display a 100" diagonal image in a room with significant ambient light.
What is striking about the 3020e's image is its pop, punch, and color. Sure, a projector rated at 40,000:1 contrast with over 2,000 lumens behind it is never going to command home-theater-levels of contrast, nor is black level ever going to be as deep as Epson's more up-market offering, the Home Cinema 5020. But having a big, bright, vibrant picture can make you forget all of those things. The image produced by the 3020e has plenty of depth, and color is almost perfect right out of the box, so it is a great projector if you just want something to set up and use without a lot of fuss.
2D image quality. The Home Cinema 3020e has a lot going for it. For one, the default white balance puts it right near 6500K without doing a single stitch of calibration. Secondly, the combination of high brightness and good shadow detail give it a very three-dimensional image. Third, while it is best used in a living room or other bright-ish environment, it also has an automatic iris that makes it a respectable choice for nighttime movies. Finally, although it does not have frame interpolation, it has a motion detect system that can clean up standard-definition content from DVDs. In fact, standard definition performance is strong in general. If you still have a large DVD library, like I do, it's worth considering.
3D image quality. Last year, we weren't so keen on the Home Cinema 3010's 3D image. Granted, it was Epson's first 3D projector, but it also produced a lot of crosstalk and flickering instability. 3D has been vastly improved on the 3020e. First of all, Epson has switched to radio-frequency 3D glasses, which we prefer over the infrared variety for reasons discussed below. Second, the projector has very little crosstalk at its default settings, and can be made to have even less crosstalk by lowering glasses brightness to "low." Finally, the flickering instability is all but absent. The 3D flicker is something that bothers me quite a bit, but I did not find it objectionable on the 3020e.
RF 3D Glasses. Most active-shutter 3D glasses use an infrared synchronization signal to keep the timing correct. The problem with IR is that it can interfere with the operation of your projector's remote control, which also uses infrared. The Epson 3D glasses included with the 3020e use radio frequency (RF) sync instead. RF sync is preferred because it doesn't interfere with the operation of the remote control, does not require line-of-sight to work, and is less prone to breaking contact with the projector at random. Epson's glasses also have a dedicated on-off switch (something missing from the Optoma HD33's glasses, which also used RF sync) and are rechargeable over USB.
WirelessHD (e Model). Epson has added an improved WirelessHD system to the 3020e. Last year, the 3010e had one wireless HDMI port. This year, the 3020e has five wireless HDMI ports and uses a transmitter that is physically more robust. The transmitter also has an HDMI passthrough, allowing it to pass audio and video to an A/V receiver or another display, and an optical audio port if your receiver doesn't support HDMI. Like before, WirelessHD can handle the full range of HDMI signals. We tested it with full HD 1080p 3D plus sound and it ran like a dream. You can also switch inputs by using a row of buttons at the bottom of the 3020e's remote.
The most impressive part of the WirelessHD system on the 3020e is how you can use it to essentially "upgrade" your old A/V receiver. I know plenty of people still have A/V receivers that either cannot handle HDMI 1.4 or don't have any HDMI capabilities whatsoever. If this is you, you can plug all of your HDMI devices into the WirelessHD receiver, run audio out to your receiver, and ta-da -- you can now have one-button source switching without buying a new A/V receiver. And since the 3020e has HDMI Link, you can control most of your HDMI devices from a single remote control without any additional programming.
Placement flexibility. While the 3020e lacks lens shift, it does have a 1.6:1 zoom lens like the one found on its predecessor. It also retains that earlier model's rapid horizontal keystone adjustment slider, which allows you to quickly square up the projector in awkward placements. While applying keystone correction is never optimal with regards to image quality, the 3020e's keystone correction is cleaner than most other projectors, so it is a viable option for difficult situations.
Separate inputs, separate calibrations. All of the 3020e's wired inputs have their own memory settings, meaning you can store separate calibrations for each input you use. This can be helpful if you enjoy fine-tuning your projector to produce the best possible image. The only exception is WirelessHD, where all five HDMI inputs run from the same calibration.
10W stereo speakers. A real speaker system is always preferable to an onboard system, but the Home Cinema 3020e packs quite a wallop on its own. The projector features dual ten-watt speakers with enough volume power to give your favorite movie or television show the oomph it deserves. Even with volume cranked to maximum, there was surprisingly little distortion and no tinny character, which is something typically found on small speakers. There's also not even a hint of case rattle. All in all, while not a substitute for a real sound system, the 3020e's speakers are much better than those found on many other home video projectors.
Light output. The Home Cinema 3020 is rated to produce 2300 lumens, and our test sample measured 2390 lumens in Dynamic mode. The projector's brightest mode, Dynamic emphasizes green, sacrificing color accuracy for increased light output. Contrast likewise suffers, but if all you need is the brightest possible picture, Dynamic is the way to go.
After Dynamic comes Living Room, which at 1670 lumens has far superior color balance and contrast performance. In fact, we tweaked Living Room mode until it was producing 6500K white balance across the board and came up with a new reading of 1590 lumens. This is a great mode for sports and video games because of its unique combination of high brightness and excellent color.
Cinema mode, at 1360 lumens, offers the best color and contrast of any image mode as well as the lowest light output. Now, 1360 lumens is still quite bright, able to power a 100" diagonal screen in ambient light without breaking much of a sweat. But dim the lights a little bit and switch the 3020e into low power lamp mode and you end up with 950 lumens in Cinema (a 30% reduction), better black levels, a more three-dimensional picture, and a large, bright image. This is a great combination to use at night when you want to watch a movie.
Contrast. The Home Cinema 3020e isn't an ultra-high-contrast home theater projector. Its 40,000:1 contrast is tailored to give you a good experience in a living room environment or other similar space, where ambient light is a fact of life. In these environments, extreme deep black levels are actually counterproductive, as ambient light washes out some of the low-end shadow detail that the projector fights so hard to display.
That said, the 3020e is perfect for its intended environment. Black level isn't ultra-deep, but it also does not look gray or washed out. The projector does not give up one iota of shadow detail due to a solid gamma calibration from the factory (if you are in a darkened room, you can switch to 2.4 gamma to give the image a touch more punch). The image has plenty of pop, whether you're watching 2D or 3D content.
Color. Last year, the Home Cinema 3010 had a decent, but not great, default calibration. Color temperature measured about 6,000 Kelvin across the board. This year, the default calibration has been improved significantly.
In Cinema mode, the "Abs. Color Temperature" control is set to 7500K by default." But our CalMAN software measured about 6600K, or slightly too much blue, as well as a slight green deficit in the shadows. From there, we made some small adjustments and ended up with a calibration that measured nearly perfect 6500K across the board. So don't worry that the control says 7500K.
Our adjustments to RGB levels were as follows:
As for color gamut, our measurements indicate that the 3020e is close enough to the ideal Rec. 709 gamut that the human eye should not be able to tell the difference. As such, we left it alone. All in all, color performance on the 3020e is the equal of any home video projector and rivals some home theater projectors.
Sharpness and clarity. The Home Cinema 3020e has no smart sharpening system, but manages to reproduce detail found in Blu-ray movies and HD content cleanly. Overall, the projector looks detailed and clear, though it does not have the razor-sharp edge found in some other projectors. Part of this is the inherent difficulty of focusing the projector; it has a very fluid focus mechanism that moves smoothly, but it is often difficult to pinpoint ideal focus while adjusting. Part of this is also due to the projector's tendency to shift focus very slightly in the first 10 minutes of operation. To combat this, allow the projector to warm up for ten minutes or so, then focus. When you next start up, the projector will warm up to the same position.
Loud iris. The Home Cinema 3020e has an auto iris, but it makes noise while it operates. If you sit too close to the projector, you can hear a soft clicking as the iris adjusts in response to the picture on screen. To get around this, you have three options: turn the volume up, mount the projector farther away from the audience, or simply turn the iris off. On this projector, the iris is not vital to an enjoyable picture.
Slow menu response. Sometimes, the 3020e's menu takes a second to respond after you push a button on the remote control. This isn't annoying until it is, at which point you've overshot your option and have to go back. Once you have the projector set up and calibrated, of course, this ceases to be an issue.
WirelessHD inputs all use the same calibration. As mentioned above, the Home Cinema 3020e's wired inputs all get their own calibration. Unfortunately, the five HDMI inputs available over WirelessHD have to use the same calibration. This isn't a big deal most of the time, but it's worth pointing out.
Input lag. The Home Cinema 3010, the 3020e's predecessor, had pretty severe input lag in the range of 100 milliseconds or 6 frames. After extensive testing of the 3020e, we can say that input lag has improved, but still won't be fast enough for many gamers.
We tested input lag on the 3020e in several modes. All of our tests used HDMI as the input, and all used native-resolution 1080p signals as the source. Typically projectors are fastest at processing signals that do not need to be scaled up or down to match the projector's native resolution.
Our first test was of Dynamic mode, which measured 84 milliseconds of delay, or five frames. This is faster by one frame than last year's model. The next test was Cinema mode, which measured the same exact delay of 84ms. What this indicates is that Cinema mode is not applying any additional processing that slows the image down, so you can safely use it for gaming without adding additional lag.
The last test used Cinema mode, but this time we went to the Signal menu and switched "Image Processing" from "Fine" to "Fast." This reduced input lag to 67 milliseconds, or four frames. If you do intend to do any gaming on the 3020e, we definitely recommend engaging Fast processing.
Now, the good news - our tests of WirelessHD indicate that the wireless system does not add any appreciable amount of input lag. All tests of input lag found numbers nearly identical to those from wired signal transmission. So if you do want to game but don't want to run wires, you can use WirelessHD without fear.
No frame interpolation. While not unusual for such a low-cost projector, the Home Cinema 3020e has no frame interpolation system. This means that fast action and camera pans will retain some of the judder you've come to expect over the years from 24 frame per second film content.
The Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3020e is a great update to last year's Home Cinema 3010, correcting that projector's flaws and adding some new features all its own. With a bright, accurate picture in 2D and much improved 3D performance, the 3020e is a strong contender in the home video space that is both powerful and budget-friendly.
Whether you choose the Home Cinema 3020 or the wireless-enabled 3020e, both projectors have a slew of features to make projecting in the living room a reality. Radio-frequency 3D glasses completely eliminate interaction with remote controls while also making it easier to sync with the projector, even when line of sight is not perfectly maintained. The projector's dual 10W stereo speakers pack enough punch to make portable use a real option. And since default color is already close to ideal, you "set it and forget it" types can just open the box, plunk the projector down on the coffee table, and get right to enjoying your new home video projector.