Overall Assessment of Picture Quality
One would assume that picture quality on a $3,500 home theater projector would in obvious and important ways fall short of the performance of a $15,000 projector. We started this comparison with that assumption, wanting to see just how much picture quality you must give up by going with the modestly priced product. To our surprise, we found that in almost every key aspect of picture quality including image sharpness, detail resolution, black level, contrast, and image stability, the Epson 6030UB can either match or outperform the Runco X-200i. The two projectors are for all practical purposes equal in color accuracy and saturation. We found no aspect of picture quality in which the 6030UB fell noticeably short, while the X-200i was compromised when dealing with any elevated amount of source noise. The one situation in which the X-200i had an edge over the 6030UB was with bright scenes that contained very little source noise and little to no black elements. Here the X-200i was able to show slightly better contrast and three dimensionality.
In addition to the Blu-ray and DVD material that we played on the Oppo BDP-103, we watched the NFL Championship games on these projectors via DirecTV. Here again, the biggest difference in the pictures was the noise levels--noticeably present on the X-200i and not as obvious on the 6030UB.
How did the 6030UB end up competing so well against the X-200i? The short answer seems to be that it uses non-traditional processing technologies like image clarity enhancement, the auto-iris, and frame interpolation to improve the picture. None of these features is present on the X-200i. The other competitive edge of the 6030UB is its inherently lower levels of noise.
Traditionally, the dedicated videophile has tended to reject the use of features like clarity enhancement, auto-irises, and frame interpolation on the grounds that they can compromise the integrity of the original source. And in the past there has been good reason to avoid these things. Auto-irises were slow and produced obvious ill-timed lighting imbalances. Frame interpolation produced (and can still produce) a bevy of undesirable side effects. Aggressive sharpening introduces edge enhancement artifacts that are not part of the original source, and make the picture look unnatural.
All of this is true. However, these various picture enhancement technologies have improved with time. They are now able to deliver more refined images while reducing or eliminating the unwanted side effects. Part of the reason that the 6030UB can succeed when put up against the Runco X-200i is that its Super Resolution processor, auto-iris, and frame interpolation system, when deployed in a judicious manner, combine to give it a remarkably sharp, clean and refined image that is largely free of the downsides that used to accompany these features.
This is not to say that the Epson 6030UB will meet or exceed the performance of all premium priced home theater projectors. Certainly the new 4K resolution Sony VPL-VW600ES at $15,000 is in a performance class by itself. And since JVC's usually outstanding products priced at $8,000 and $12,000 have more video processing features than the X-200i, it would be fascinating to see how the 6030UB would show against them.
In the meantime, if you ever have the chance to see the Epson 6030UB displayed side by side with the Runco X-200i, you will probably come to the same conclusion we have: Given the current state of the art in video processing technology, paying a substantially higher price for a home theater projector does not guarantee you'll get a better picture.