Like Epson's bigger and heavier pixel-shifting, 4K-capable models, the Epson Home Cinema 3800 delivers a gorgeous image for 1080p SDR and 4K UHD content along with conveniences like a much larger horizontal and vertical lens shift than typical for the price.
The $1,699 Epson Home Cinema 3800 is the more expensive of two new and similar Epson projectors. The other is the $1,499 Epson Home Cinema 3200. Taken together, they are the latest example of the continuing trend towards lower prices for entry-level 4K home theater projectors—or, more precisely, the price of pixel-shifting, native 1080p projectors that produce images essentially indistinguishable to the human eye from true 4K. These models officially replace the Home Cinema 3700 and Home Cinema 3100, 1080p models which do" not offer pixel shifting to enhance resolution and do not accept UHD signals.
The 3800's slightly higher price compared with the 3200 buys you on-board stereo speakers, a 12V trigger port, an RS-232 port for external control, and—most significantly—higher brightness and contrast ratio. Based strictly on the ratings—3,000 lumens for the 3800 rather than 2,900 for the 3200—the brightness difference isn't enough to notice. The difference in contrast should be, at 100,000:1 compared with 40,000:1. Beyond these differences, the features and specs for the two are virtually identical.
The other obvious comparison for the 3800 is the Epson Home Cinema 4010, which Epson's website is selling at this writing in late October for $1,799. Note that the 3800 has the advantage of being smaller and lighter. In addition, unlike the 4010, it adds HLG HDR support to the HDR10 they both offer, and uses the more advanced, 16-step HDR brightness control first introduced in Epson's Home Cinema 5050UB. Like the 5050UB, it also has HDMI 2.0b ports, giving it the 18 Gbps bandwidth needed for display of 4K content with HDR at 60 Hz. However, it doesn't share the 4010's powered zoom, focus, and lens shift, a major convenience compared with the 3800's manual control for all three. Nor does it have the higher end, 15-element glass lens used on the 4010 and 5050UB, the same ability as those projectors to deliver 100% of the DCI-P3 color space for UHD content, or the same level of contrast. Epson rates the 3800's contrast ratio at just half of the 4010's specification.
The 4010's powered lens controls also works in tandem with onboard memory to let you easily change lens settings as needed for a constant image height setup. If the price difference between the two models remains this small, you'll want to take a close look at the 4010 before you decide on the 3800.
Epson's approach to pixel shifting puts twice as many pixels on screen as are in the native 1080p chips. That's fewer pixels than native 4K projectors or pixel-shifting DLP 4K projectors deliver. But combined with Epson's 4K PRO-UHD technology—a collection of features designed to enhance detail—and Epson's 12-element, high-quality glass lens, it delivers an actual ability to resolve detail that rivals, and in some cases surpasses, the detail in images with more pixels.
As with the vast majority of projectors, the brightest mode has a green bias, but it's little enough that most people will still consider it usable on an occasional basis when needed. More important, all the other modes offer good color accuracy with default settings, and some offer ample brightness for a family room with lights on. I measured Bright Cinema at roughly 2,270 lumens, which is enough to light up a 120-inch diagonal 1.0-gain screen in moderate ambient light.
The 3800 also offers excellent placement flexibility, especially for the price, starting with the 1.62x zoom lens. For a 120-inch screen, the throw distance ranges from 11.5 to 18.75 feet. (You can find the throw distance range for your screen size using the Epson Home Cinema 3800 projection calculator.)
Even better, the 3800's manual vertical lens shift, at +/-60%, will let you set up the projector at any reasonable height relative to the screen, including a table below the screen, a bookshelf in back of the room, or inverted in a ceiling mount. The +/-24% horizontal shift also gives you plenty of flexibility for positioning it left or right of the screen's vertical centerline.
Another notable plus is that the 3800 weighs only 15.2 pounds, making it relatively easy to set up and light enough so you can carry it to the backyard for a movie night. Its onboard pair of 10-watt stereo speakers delivers robust enough audio so you may not need to bother with an external sound system.
Here's a more complete list of the Epson Home Cinema 3800's key features:
Color Modes.The 3800 offers four preset modes: Dynamic, Bright Cinema, Natural, and Cinema. There is no User mode, but you can store up to 10 customized versions in memory, basing each customization on any of the preset modes. You can also customize names for each, so you can easily find the one you want.
With default settings, Dynamic mode is green-shifted, as is typical for the brightest mode in most projectors. However the shift is far less obvious than typical, and colors are at least arguably accurate enough to make the mode suitable for a family room setup for occasional daytime use.
Bright Cinema, Natural, and Cinema all have good enough color accuracy out of the box that most people will consider any of them more than acceptable. My measurements using CalMAN Ultimate software, a Murideo Six-G signal generator, and an X-Rite i1Pro2 photospectrometer confirm that all three have a slight blue bias, which most people find far less objectionable than a green shift. Color differences from one to the next are little enough that without a measurement or reference image to compare with, you wouldn't know which is most accurate.
Here again, measurements confirmed my subjective impression. Straight out of the box, most primary and secondary colors in Natural mode show a Delta E—the error measurement that tells you how far color is from what it should be—of less than 3, which is considered essentially indistinguishable from the defined color and is our preferred target when calibrating. All are less than 4, which is still good accuracy, if not ideal. Cinema and Bright Cinema modes had slightly lower color accuracy, with most Delta Es in the range of 4 to 6.
Somewhat surprisingly, Dynamic mode came closest to the D65 color temperature with default settings, at just under 6900K. Cinema and Bright Cinema were between 7600K and 7700K, and Natural was 7100K.
The combination of color temperature, color accuracy with default settings, and most appropriate brightness for my screen size made Natural mode my choice for calibration for 1080p SDR. Adjusting color temperature, brightness, contrast, and gamma initially left me with increased color-point errors, but I was able to bring them back down to the desired range with the color management system. After calibration, color temperature was a near perfect 6486K, the largest Delta E color error was just over 3, and CalMan also measured excellent grayscale and RGB balance, especially for a projector at this price.
With the power mode set to Eco, I measured brightness on my 90-inch diagonal 1.0-gain white screen at 24 ft-L, which is a bit higher than the 22 ft-L maximum that the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) recommends, but not as bright as some people prefer.
Note that color volume after calibration was 85.7% of Rec.709, compared with a measured 90.2% in Natural mode before calibration. The largest color volume I measured with SDR input was in Cinema mode, at 113.7% of Rec.709 with default settings.
There are no dedicated HDR presets, but you can customize any mode or modes for HDR and save the customized version to memory for easy retrieval. Note that the HDR-specific settings—most notably HDR brightness level—are unavailable with SDR input, but immediately became available in my tests with HDR input in whatever mode I happened to be in. I didn't have any HLG sources to test with, but Epson says the 3800 will do the same for HLG.
Based on CalMAN measurements for each color mode at its default settings and using 3840x2160 HDR input, I chose Cinema as my starting point for 4K HDR content, primarily because it offered the best match to the desired EOTF curve. I then adjusted RGB gain and offset to improve grayscale, and color management settings to improve color-point accuracy. In addition to the improved results on the CalMAN Post Calibration View, the color volume increased to 75.5% DCI-P3 (112% Rec.709) from the pre-calibration 71.1% DCI-P3 (105.8% Rec.709), which was already the largest volume of any mode using default settings.
After HDR calibration, the 3800 delivered 195.3 nits, or 57 ft-L, in ECO power mode with my 90-inch 1.0 gain screen. Using the Medium power mode boosted the brightness to 268 nits, or 78.1 ft-L. High power mode raised the brightness only a little more, to 296 nits, or 86.4 ft-L.
1080p/SDR Viewing. The 3800 did impressively well with 1080p SDR Blu-ray discs. In Terminator 2, for example, in the scene where Arnold the Terminator arrives from the future, the 3800 delivered a satisfyingly dark black level along with excellent shadow detail and sense of three-dimensionality. Even while Arnold was still kneeling in dark shadow, his muscles were visibly well-defined.
The sense of depth brought out by the black level and shadow detail stood out even more clearly in an earlier scene of the apocalyptic future war against machines. As the camera pans over a battlefield at night with remnants of playground toys among the rubble, the 3800 delivered an almost too-real sense of three-dimensionality, verging on reproducing the digital video effect that Frame Interpolation (FI) is known for. In fact, the pan was so smooth that I had to double check to confirm that FI wasn't on.
In brighter scenes, color, including skin tones, was excellent in all of the movies I tested with, and close-ups of rounded objects like faces retained the subtle gradations that give them a sense of depth. The 3800 also delivered nicely for movies that are filled with eye-catching color, like the plethora of bright, saturated colors in La La Land, and all of nature's variations on green in vegetation and on blue in sky and water in the 2D version of The Ultimate Wave—Tahiti.
Note that the 3800's Frame Interpolation (FI) feature is almost pointless. It's not available with 4K input or even with 1080p input if 4K Enhancement is on. With 4K Enhancement turned off you can activate FI with 1080p/24 Hz or 1080p/60 Hz sources. However, for Blu-ray players that limit your choices to a forced resolution or auto-negotiating the resolution, manually switching your Blu-ray player resolution setting back and forth to match the resolution for each disc is more bother than most people will want to put up with. For players that offer a setting to pass through the content's original resolution with no scaling, I find that keeping 4K Enhancement activated does more than FI to improve the visual impact in any case.
One last feature that demands mention is the Image Preset Mode, which you'll want to play with to find the setting you like. I'll discuss it in context of the UHD/HDR testing, but it's available for 1080p SDR as well.
UHD/HDR viewing. The 3800's image quality for 4K UHD content is enough to make you want to throw out any 1080p SDR discs you still have and replace them immediately with 4K UHD versions. In every movie I looked at in both versions—including Terminator 2, La La Land, Obilivion, and more—4K UHD not only delivered the far better shadow detail it promises, but the sense of three-dimensionality for dark scenes—already impressive with 1080p content—was as good or better with 4K UHD, and it extended to scenes dominated by midtones as well.
Colors were also more vibrant and more saturated when called for, and—no surprise here—the image with 4K content showed far more detail. In the scene in Terminator 2 where Arnold tells the biker that he needs his clothes, boots, and bike, I could see all the fine detail in the biker's close up—every pore, wrinkle, and strand of hair. Importantly, I didn't see banding in any of the content I tested with or in the downloadable ProjectorCentral 10-bit HDR Grayscale test animation, which verifies 10-bit processing from input to image.
Unlike most 4K UHD projectors, which offer four or fewer HDR brightness settings, the 3800 offers 16 steps. Because there's no standard for HDR discs to follow, you often need to adjust the setting for each movie, and more steps allows you to better fine tune the setting. Epson conveniently provides a button on the remote to bring this slider directly on-sceen without fishing through other menus. It also helps that the 16-steps cover a large range. I didn't see any content that needed a setting lower than 3 or higher than 7, and for most movies I chose 4 or 5.
Another feature you'll need to set to taste is Image Preset Mode, which lets you adjust image sharpness and detail. As with other Epson projectors with 4K enhancement, in addition to Off, the 3800 offers settings of Preset 1 (the minimum) through 5. In theory, at least, the higher levels can add edge artifacts. I didn't see any obvious issues even with Preset 5, but some thin details, like a single gray hair in a close up, might have stood out more than they should have. In any case, you'll want to try the different settings to see which one you like best with various content.
3D Viewing. Unlike most projectors with 3D, the 3800 doesn't offer dedicated 3D modes. Instead, it uses the same four modes as for 2D. If you want to use the same color mode for both, however, you can calibrate it separately for 2D and 3D if you like, and save both to memory with their own label.
Out of box color accuracy is much the same as for 2D. Straight out of the box, Dynamic delivers close enough to accurate color that most people will consider it usable, and the other three modes are all within the range that most people will consider more than acceptable. For my 90-inch 1.0-gain screen, I picked Cinema set to the High power mode as my preferred choice in a dark room. I didn't see any crosstalk in my tests, and saw only a little more than a hint of 3D-related motion artifacts, putting the 3800 at the high end of typical on that score for current generation projectors. The 3800 supports Epson's own 3D glasses and standard VESA glasses.
The Epson Home Cinema 3800 is a tremendous value at $1,699. Even straight out of the box it delivers high enough image quality on all scores—most notably color accuracy and contrast—for both 1080p SDR and 4K HDR to be more than acceptable for most people, and a little tweaking can improve the image quality even more. It's also bright enough to light up a big screen even in a room with ambient light, and its combination of zoom and lens shift delivers far more placement flexibility than typical for the price.
The test unit came in a tad lower than its 3,000 lumen rating in its brightest mode. More relevant to real world use, both Natural mode (for SDR) and Cinema mode (for HDR) were easily bright enough after calibration for my 90-inch, 1.0-gain white screen in a dark room using ECO power mode for each. Higher power modes or using higher gain screens will let you light up bigger screens and stand up to ambient light in family rooms. The 3800 also delivers far brighter 3D images compared to its 2D brightness than most projectors offer.
Color accuracy, contrast, shadow detail, black level, and sense of three-dimensionality were all excellent for this price projector. And the 3800 fulfilled the HDR promise of delivering dramatically more than with SDR content on most scores, including more vibrant color. Beyond that, the 1.62x zoom, +/-60% vertical shift, and +/-24% horizontal shift make it easy to fit the 3800 almost anywhere you need it—on a table, in a ceiling mount, or on a bookshelf in the back of the room.
In short, the 3800 delivers terrific picture quality for both 1080p SDR and 4K HDR. It's bright enough to stand up to ambient light or give you as big an image in a dark room as anyone is likely to want in a home theater, it offers unusually good setup flexibility for the price, and it supports HLG as well as HDR10. The combination makes the Epson Home Cinema 3800 not just a solid choice, but a bargain at $1,699.
Brightness. The brightest mode for the 3800 came close to the 3,000 lumen rating, at 2,912 ANSI lumens. Setting the 1.62x zoom lens to its widest angle setting yielded measured ANSI lumens for High, Medium, and ECO modes in each color mode as follows:
Zoom Lens Light Loss: 6%
Brightness Uniformity (Wide Zoom): 87%
Brightness Uniformity (Full Telephoto Zoom): 84%
Lowest Measured Input Lag (4K): 20.6 ms
Lowest Measured Input Lag (1080p): 28 - 28.5 ms.
Epson specs 16.7 ms as the input lag with the Fast setting and about twice that with the Fine setting. In our tests, however, none of Epson's suggestions for changing settings had any significant effect on the tested input lag. Epson is conducting further tests and we will update our comments as new information becomes available. As things stand, the measured results shown above are in line with other projectors we've tested in Epson's current product line and are relatively low among home theater projectors, though they fall short of the 16 ms threshold that the most competitive online gamers seek out.
Fan Noise. In ECO mode, rated at 24 dB, the 3800 is hard to hear even in quiet moments in a quiet room. The noise level in Medium, rated at 32 dB, is loud enough that some may find it annoying while others find it acceptable, particularly in a family room with ambient noise. In High mode, rated at 35 dB, the noise level is enough to easily notice from anywhere in a small to mid-size room. Most people will likely find it distracting even in a family room and may want to consider some form of acoustic isolation.
High Altitude mode, which Epson recommends using at 4,921 feet and above, is loud enough even in ECO mode to be noticeable, but not terribly distracting, even in quiet moments. For Medium and High modes combined with High Altitude, most people will likely want to consider some form of acoustic isolation.
• (2) HDMI 2.0b (both with HDCP 2.2)
• (1) USB Type A (power only)
• (1) USB Type A (for wireless accessory and firmware updates)
• (1) Mini USB (service only)
• (1) Audio out mini jack (3.5mm)
• (1) RS-232 (D-sub 9 pin; for control)
• (1) DC 12v trigger 200 mAh max (3.5mm)
• Bluetooth speaker support, including aptX
• Supports Optional USB Wi-Fi dongle (for static images only, not video)