For several years now, Epson has been the only game in town when it comes to entry-level 3LCD home theater projectors. Their Home Cinema 8350 has been consistently popular for four years - an eternity in the consumer electronics world, where almost every other projector released at that time has long since been discontinued. So Epson has now released a successor model--the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3000.
The Home Cinema 3000 is an upgrade to its predecessor in just about every measurable way. A bold, bright image makes it a good fit for bright living rooms rooms and extra-large screen sizes, and it's easy to install thanks to its 1.6:1 zoom lens and extensive lens shift. With prices starting at $1,299, the Epson Home Cinema 3000 is a great stepping stone between the sub-$1,000 projectors and more specialized home theater models that cost $2,000 or more. By striking a balance between performance, features, and price, the Home Cinema 3000 should appeal to a lot of folks looking for their next projector.
The main reason to get a projector instead of a television has always been picture size, but a lot of folks who are new to the hobby aren't ready to commit to a blacked-out cave for their home theater. The Home Cinema 3000 is ideal for these people. The sheer brightness and vividness of the picture means that you can put up a big, bold image in a room with white walls or imperfectly covered windows, such as a spare bedroom or living room.
When you start up the Home Cinema 3000, you get a big brilliant picture. As with many other Epson home theater projectors, the lumen rating is slightly conservative, and Dynamic mode exceeded the expected 2,300 lumens. And while the color is greenish, Dynamic mode isn't unusable by any means; it would be a good choice for TV viewing when precise color accuracy isn't as important as brightness.
The real promise of this projector, however, is its Cinema mode. Producing over 1700 lumens with the lamp at full power, Cinema mode's color is accurate enough to begin using right away, and contrast and black level are surprisingly good for such a powerful projector. The automatic iris noticeably improves black levels and is useful in dark rooms. The image is smooth and has little in the way of digital noise, but a one-notch increase in Noise Reduction removed what little was there to begin with and didn't appreciably decrease detail.
Great 2D image. If you want a big, bright picture in your living room, the Home Cinema 3000 can deliver. The projector has the power needed for large screens, even in ambient light, and enough contrast to make nighttime movies look their best. Color is set reasonably well straight from the factory, but full calibration controls are present for those who like to fiddle with their tech.
Full HD 3D. As we've learned over the years, brightness is key to an enjoyable 3D experience. Most 3D technologies involve a huge reduction in the light that reaches your eyes, so starting from a super-bright image is one way to ensure comfort for your audience. While none are included, the Home Cinema 3000 uses Epson's radio-frequency (RF) glasses (model ELPGS03, $99). The RF technology relies on a built-in RF emitter. Glasses must be paired to the projector the first time you use them, but this only takes a few seconds. With no interference from IR remotes and no line-of-sight requirement, it's practically impossible for RF glasses to lose sync.
Placement flexibility. The Home Cinema 8350 was one of the first inexpensive projectors to include a long zoom lens and H/V lens shift. The Home Cinema 3000 continues this tradition, and is the least costly projector released this year to include a 1.6:1 zoom lens and manual H/V lens shift. The lens will put a 120" diagonal image onto your screen at distances from 11' 6" to 18' 9", and it will display a 100" diagonal image from only 9' 7" - meaning you can potentially get a 100" diagonal screen into that bedroom you aren't using.
These features make the Home Cinema 3000 easy to install, and they eliminate those moments of hair-pulling frustration when you realize you installed your ceiling mount three inches too far to the left. On projectors without horizontal lens shift, you'd have to uninstall the mount and start over. With the Home Cinema 3000, you turn a dial instead.
Placing a projector on a shelf is possibly the easiest way to get it set up, and is a popular option amongst the do-it-yourself crowd. With this in mind, Epson put the exhaust vents on the 3000 series projectors on the front of the case, angled away from the lens. This allows for placement in tighter quarters, such as a bookshelf, without overheating the projector.
P-in-P. Epson calls it "P-in-P," but you probably know it as picture-in-picture. While watching one thing, you can pull up a smaller "subscreen" that will display a second source. Unfortunately, only one of those sources can be HDMI; the higher-end Epson home theater models can display two HDMI sources at once.
Panel Alignment. All three-chip projectors are potentially susceptible to convergence problems, which occur when one of the imaging elements shifts slightly in relation to the others, causing color fringes and a loss of sharpness. These shifts can occur during shipping or as a consequence of years of wear and tear, as a projector heats up and cools down over and over again. Whatever the cause, the Home Cinema 3000's Panel Alignment feature means that you can correct for small errors without sending the projector in for service.
2 year warranty. Most inexpensive projectors have a one-year warranty, with a few notable exceptions. The Home Cinema 3000 comes with a two-year warranty, and offers extended warranty periods of up to two years on top of the existing warranty. The warranty also includes 90 days of coverage on the lamp.
No rainbows. As the Home Cinema 3000 is one of the few entry-level 1080p projectors that isn't a single-chip DLP, it's worth mentioning that 3LCD projectors are completely rainbow-free.
Light output. We've already mentioned the Home Cinema 3000's impressive brightness several times. Out of a 2,300 lumen specification, Dynamic mode measured 2,495 lumens with the lamp at full power. Ironically, we've come to expect that Epson projectors will exceed their advertised lumens, despite a tendency in the projector industry to publish sanguine specs.
Cinema mode, our preferred setting for film and video, measures 1703 lumens at full power on our test sample. Dropping to Medium power brings light output to 1,533 lumens, a reduction of 10%, and significantly reduces audible noise. Eco mode, the lowest setting with the least audible noise, still measures 1196 in Cinema mode. That's a reduction of 30% from full power, but still plenty of light.
The Home Cinema 3000's 1.6:1 zoom lens is notable for causing a very small reduction in light output, even at its maximum telephoto setting. Whereas other projectors with 1.6:1 zoom lenses tend to lose about 20% of their light output, the lens on the Home Cinema 3000 reduces output by a scant 11% at full telephoto. You can put the projector in the back of your room without fear.
Contrast. Built for big screens and bright ambient light, black level on the Home Cinema 3000 can't measure up to the performance of dedicated home theater projectors like the Home Cinema 5030UB. It still produces an engaging picture with good definition in shadows, and is perfectly capable of creating a compelling image for home theater, but the Home Cinema 3000 is not a less-expensive 5030UB. Likewise, the Home Cinema 5030UB is wasted in a room with ambient light, because you aren't getting the super-deep black level that you paid for. Folks shopping for a projector need to understand the difference between the two.
Color. At factory settings, Cinema mode's grayscale is within spitting distance of 6500K, so most folks will probably just run with the projector as it comes. If you already have calibration equipment and want to take a crack at improving the picture, the Home Cinema 3000 has full color controls, including high-end and low-end adjustments for red, green, and blue in addition to a full color management system.
Input lag. We measured 104 milliseconds of input lag in all of the Home Cinema 3000's image modes when Image Processing was set to "Fine." That's six frames of a 60 frame per second signal. At that speed, an audio delay circuit would improve your home theater experience and ensure that the audio doesn't arrive before the video. Switching to "Fast" Image Processing reduces lag to 46ms, or 2.75 frames. That's fast enough for most gaming use, but still a bit pokey for serious fast action gamers.
Black level. The Home Cinema 3000 is built for living rooms, media rooms, and multi-purpose rooms - in other words, places where there is likely to be significant ambient light. However, the high brightness that makes the projector appropriate for such spaces limits its black level when it is used in a darkened home theater. If you need a projector for a darkened theater, Epson makes the Home Cinema 5030UB, which is selling for $2,299 right now.
Iris flicker. When high lamp mode is paired with any iris setting except "off," you will see some dark flickers in the image caused by the iris fluttering closed at inappropriate times. They only last for a split second, and they are limited to high lamp mode, so they are unlikely to cause problems in everyday use. The Home Cinema 3000 is bright enough that high lamp mode is best used to combat ambient light, in which case the iris won't help anyway.
Audible noise. Fan noise on the Home Cinema 3000 is something to consider. If you run in Medium mode (which reduces light output by just 10%), or in Eco mode, fan noise is not a problem. But in full power mode, it becomes much more noticeable and may be objectionable in a quiet theater setting, especially if you're sitting near the projector. It will sound louder if you are sitting in front of the projector due to the forward-facing exhaust vents. Conversely, placing the Home Cinema 3000 on a coffee table in front of the seats is an easy way to reduce fan noise.
No frame interpolation. It's not uncommon for inexpensive projectors to lack frame interpolation, though some entry-level projectors do offer the technology. Frame interpolation, if you've never seen it before, inserts interstitial frames to smooth out fast motion and reduce judder in film and video. None of the 3000-series projectors currently available have frame interpolation; to get it, you'll have to step up to the 5030UB.
No super resolution. The Home Cinema 3000 delivers all of the detail and clarity that one expects from a high-definition picture, and its bright, punchy picture only enhances that impression. However, one thing that the Home Cinema 3000 lacks is Super Resolution, a staple feature of other Epson home theater projectors that enhances the appearance of fine detail by performing selective, limited edge enhancement. If you're a fan of Super Resolution, you'll want to look at the Home Cinema 3500 ($1,799). If you're not a fan, this isn't an issue - you're not getting a feature you wouldn't use anyway.
The Home Cinema 3000 is seen by many as a successor to the Home Cinema 8350, an immensely popular 1080p projector released in 2010. The Home Cinema 8350 brought together a high-quality image and unprecedented placement flexibility at a bargain price. Upon release, it sold for $1,299 - the same price as the Home Cinema 3000. But aside from price, brand, and resolution, the two projectors share little else in common.
In a heads-up comparison, the Home Cinema 3000 outpaces the 8350 in most areas. Light output jumps from 560 lumens to 1703 lumens in Cinema mode. There's a visible, though not dramatic, improvement in contrast. Color accuracy is better out of the box, and the projector is both smaller and lighter, so portable use is more feasible than before. There's also a small improvement in vertical lens shift range, but not enough for this to be a serious decision factor for most people.
The Home Cinema 3000 also includes a number of features, such as Full HD 3D support and panel alignment, that are not available on the 8350. Panel alignment is particularly important, as it means less downtime as the projector ages - always a good thing.
On the other hand, the Home Cinema 8350 still does certain things very well. Its 2.1:1 zoom lens offers more flexibility than the 1.6:1 zoom of the Home Cinema 3000, though it loses quite a bit more light (39% vs. 11%) at its maximum telephoto setting. It has a deeper black level, though this is primarily due to its lower light output. The black level advantage disappears when you equalize light output between the projectors. The Home Cinema 8350 is much quieter during operation and nearly silent in Eco mode. It also has less input lag than the Home Cinema 3000 (33ms vs. 45ms), which is important for certain gaming applications.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Home Cinema 3500, the next model up in Epson's 3000 series. The Home Cinema 3500 costs $500 more than the Home Cinema 3000, but that $500 goes a long way.
For the extra five hundred bucks, the Home Cinema 3500 includes:
What the extra $500 doesn't get you is any improvement in contrast, color, detail, or overall picture quality. Aside from the brightness difference, the two projectors' pictures are identical.
Since the Home Cinema 3000 is already quite bright, home theater users won't get much benefit out of the extra lumens on the 3500, but the brightness boost will be useful in ambient light. Likewise, 2D to 3D conversion and 3D glasses only appeal to people who enjoy 3D, while MHL support and onboard speakers are attractive to folks interested in portable projection. It's not that one projector is better and the other is worse, but there is value to be had in the upward step if you need or want the Home Cinema 3500's extra features. The upgrade means that the Home Cinema 3500 is a better projector for certain applications, namely portable use, 3D, and high ambient light situations.
Once upon a time, Epson released an inexpensive 1080p projector called the Powerlite Home Cinema 8350. We knew it was something special, and gave it our Editor's Choice Award for that year. We had no idea, however, how much staying power it would have. Yet here we are in 2014 discussing whether or not the Epson Home Cinema 3000 is a worthy successor to a four-year-old projector.
In short, we think the Home Cinema 3000 is a worthy upgrade, and most folks will get more value out of the newer projector. The exceptions are few: those with extra-long throw distance requirements, and gamers who need super-fast performance. Even then, it would be worth finding a way to work around those restrictions and use the newer, brighter, better projector.
But the Home Cinema 3000 doesn't need to be compared to other projectors to prove its worth. It stands on its own as a great product for use in ambient light or extra large home theater screens. Folks who've been considering the Home Cinema 8350 but disliked its lack of 3D or relatively dim image can finally stop looking, because there's a new LCD budget king in town.
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