Editor's Choice Award
Our Editor's Choice award goes to products that dramatically exceed expectations for performance, value, or cutting-edge design.
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.
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.
Brightness. Epson models are often brighter than promised. We measured the 3100 in its brightest mode at an unusually high 111% of the 2600 lumen rating. With the zoom lens at its widest angle setting, the measured ANSI Lumens for High, Medium, and Eco power settings was as follows for each of the predefined color modes.
Epson HC 3100 ANSI Lumens
The operating modes listed above each specify a pre-defined lamp power setting. The factory defaults use High brightness for Dynamic, Medium for Bright Cinema, and Eco for Natural and Cinema, and the various lamp settings are reflected in the lumen data.
Video Optimized Lumens. Even with default settings, every preset color mode delivers good enough quality for video and film to let you simply pick the one with the right brightness for the screen size and ambient light level. That said, Bright Cinema edges out Dynamic mode for Video Optimized setting thanks to subtle tonal variations that makes close ups of faces, for example, look ever-so-slightly more three dimensional. Even tweaked for more accurate color, it loses hardly any brightness, dropping from the full 2093 lumens to an indistinguishably lower 2026 lumens. Either way it's bright enough for a 200" diagonal 16:9 image in theater-dark lighting or a 130" image with moderate ambient light.
Presentation Optimized Lumens. Dynamic mode with default settings delivers vibrant color for data and graphics presentations at the 3100's top brightness. The 2882 lumens is enough for a 150" 16:9 image in moderate ambient light.
Zoom Lens Effect. The 1.6x zoom lens curtails only about 9% of the brightness at its full telephoto setting compared with its wide angle setting, which is better than most 1.6x zoom lenses offer. The difference is so negligible that you can all but ignore it when deciding where to position the projector. As a side note, this means that the 3100 meets its official lumen spec even with the lens at the full telephoto position -- that is something we rarely see especially on projectors with long zoom ranges.
Brightness uniformity. The measured 85% brightness uniformity is solid and high enough to make any differences hard to see. I could barely make out a slight cool spot in a solid white image. It was impossible to see with any image that broke up the field of view.
Color Brightness. The 3100's three-chip LCD design guarantees that color brightness matches white brightness, so full color images are as fully as bright as you would expect based on the white brightness. The design also rules out any possibility of rainbow artifacts.
Fan Noise. The good news for the 3100's fan noise is that its Eco mode--rated at 24 dB--is barely audible from as little as two feet away. Since light output in Eco mode is ample for most dark room home theater, this will be the preferred setting for many users. In other modes it's louder, but the steady air flow combined with a low-frequency hum can quickly fade from awareness as long as you're not sitting too close. In Medium lamp mode, the sound is audible in quiet moments from 15 feet away, but even at 8 or 10 feet, I wouldn't notice it unless I were listening for it. In High mode--which Epson rates at 35 dB--it's audible from 30 feet. If fan noise is one of your pet peeves, you'll probably want to stay with Medium or Eco for home theater. For casual TV viewing, however, I didn't find High mode a problem with the projector 10 feet away.
Epson recommends using High Altitude mode at 1500 meters (4921 feet) and above. With it on, Eco is a touch quieter than Medium without High Altitude mode, and Medium is a touch quieter than High without High Altitude mode. High mode also gets a little louder, but not by enough to make it any more bothersome than with High Altitude mode off.
Input lag. The 3100 has a Fine and Fast mode. Oddly they both measure 28 ms when other heavy-load video processing like Frame Interpolation is off. Activating FI will increase input lag up to a maximum of 105 ms when it is set to High.
Lamp life. Epson rates the lamp at 3500 hours in High mode, 4000 in Medium, and 5000 hours in Eco. Replacements are $299.
Warranty. The price includes a two-year warranty for parts and labor and a 90-day warranty for the lamp.
At 14.6 pounds and 6.2" by 16.1" by 12" (HWD), not including feet, the 3100 is not very portable and is designed primarily for fixed installation. The combination of a 1.6x zoom and an extensive vertical and horizontal lens shift range make it easy to install either in a ceiling mount, on a coffee table or a low table between the seats, or on a rear shelf or bookcase behind the seating area. The lack of vents on the back in particular as well as its relatively shallow depth of only 12" make it a good candidate for a bookshelf. The intake vent is on the left side as viewed from the back, and the exhaust vent is on the front.
The 3100's throw distance range for a 130" diagonal 16:9 image is from roughly 12.5 to 20.5 feet. To find the range for the screen size you want, check the Projection Calculator, which we have loaded with the lumen and zoom loss data measured in this review.
Lens Shift Range.With the projector sitting on a table and the lens in the middle of its vertical shift range, the centerline of the lens is at the geometric center of the image. The vertical and horizontal shift ranges are interrelated, so that the vertical range is greatest when the horizontal shift is at its center position, and the horizontal range is greatest when the vertical shift is in its center position.
The maximum measured vertical shift matches the rated 60% of image height up or down. At the top of the range, that puts the bottom of the image at 10% of the image height above the lens centerline. The reverse is true at the bottom of the range, where top of the image is 10% of the image height below the lens centerline. We measured the maximum horizontal shift at 32% of the image width left or right of the centerline, which is a bit more than the rating. If you need to tilt or swivel the unit beyond the range that the lens shift allows, you can adjust both horizontal and vertical keystone by up to +/- 30 degrees.
When setting up the 3100, keep the rule of thumb in mind that standard lamps when operating in their brightest (High) modes typically lose about 25% of their brightness in the first 500 hours of use and then continue to degrade more slowly.
Consider using an initial image size that will give you suitable brightness in Eco lamp mode. You can then boost the brightness as the lamp ages by switching to Medium and then High. Alternatively, or in combination with that, you can start with one of the lower-brightness predefined color modes and switch to a brighter mode as needed. Unlike some of the competition, the 3100 delivers good enough color quality in all predefined modes that switching to a brighter mode won't sacrifice a significant level of color quality.
Fan noise. With the lamp at full brightness, the 3100 is louder than most home theater projectors. Even long-time New Yorkers who have learned to ignore constant street sounds coming through their apartment windows could find it annoying. However the Medium power setting is much quieter, and Eco is barely audible. Since these lamp power modes still put out ample light for most home theater use, concern about fan noise comes into play primarily for those who want or need to run in High lamp mode for maximum lumen output.
Auto iris lag. When the brightness level changes significantly between one scene and the next, the brightness occasionally pulses over one or two seconds while the auto iris searches for the right setting. This doesn't happen often, but if you find it bothersome, you can turn the auto iris off. In rooms with ambient light, it won't improve black levels in any case.
3D Requires Compromise. Having two 3D modes to choose from is a plus, since you get to pick the one you like better. But either one is a compromise, with a choice between a brighter image with a slight green bias or better color fidelity with lower brightness.
The Epson Home Cinema 3100 is so easy to recommend that it is wins our rare Editor's Choice Award. Its exceptional lens shift range, 1.6x zoom, and high lumen output translate to lots of flexibility for screen size, desired ambient room lighting, and placement either in ceiling mounts or behind the audience on bookcases or shelves. And with only a small loss of brightness at the extreme telephoto setting, you don't have to worry about a tradeoff between brightness and position. Even better, the 3100 delivers a significant step up in black level, color vibrancy, and color fidelity compared to less expensive models like the Epson 2040. It's only a small step below the Epson 3900 in performance for a lot less money, and much of the difference between the 3100 and 3900--particularly in black levels--will largely disappear if there is any ambient light in the room.
All things considered, the Epson Home Cinema 3100 hits a sweet spot and delivers outstanding bang for the buck -- and not only for a variety of home theater and home entertainment installations. We would not be surprised to see it showing up in a lot of sports bars and other similar venues that can benefit from its unique value proposition.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Epson Home Cinema 3100 projector page.