The Epson Home Cinema 6100 is Epson's new entry level 1080p home theater projector. Currently selling around $1800 with a mail in rebate, it is one of the least expensive 1080p models currently on the market. It is also one of the brightest. It is rated at 1800 lumens, but we actually measured 1,864 lumens in its brightest configuration. That is a tremendous amount of light. It makes the 6100 well-suited to living room and ambient light conditions in the home, and it should have great appeal to owners and managers of sports bars. Generally, people who are buying budget projectors such as this one are not investing a big chunk of cash to prepare a dedicated, darkened theater room. So the abundance of light that the 6100 can deliver will come in very handy for many of its users.
Specifications for the Epson Home Cinema 6100
ANSI lumens: 1800
Contrast (full on/off): 18,000:1
Light Engine: 1920x1080, native 16:9 3LCD, with 200W E-TORL lamp.
Video Compatibility: 1080p/60/50/24, 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p, 480i.
Connection Panel: Two HDMI 1.3 ports, one 3-RCA component port, one composite video, one S-video, one RS-232c, and one 12-volt trigger. In addition, it includes a VGA port.
Lens: 2.1:1 manual zoom/focus lens, with manual vertical and horizontal lens shift.
Lamp Life: 4000 hours
Replacement lamp price: $300.
Warranty: Two years.
Overview of Features
Brightness. The single most distinctive attribute of the Home Cinema 6100 is its lumen output, which exceeds that of every other 1080p home theater projector we've seen. Its brightest configuration is Dynamic Mode, with the zoom lens set to wide angle and the lamp on high. With these settings we measured 1,864 lumens. And this was with over 100 hours on the lamp. With a fresh lamp it would have measured close to 2000. Furthermore, Dynamic Mode on the 6100 is largely precalibrated to render an acceptable video image. Color balance is exceptionally good compared to the garish green picture we see on most Dynamic mode settings. In factory default settings, Dynamic's highlights are blown out, brightness is a bit overdriven, and color saturation is weak. But with a few adjustments, these defects are easily corrected, and you end up with a remarkably good looking image that is still extremely bright.
Of course, Dynamic is way, way too bright for dark theater viewing, unless you happen to have a 300" screen. There are several ways to cut down on the light output. First, you can choose alternative operating modes. The Living mode measured 1,458 lumens, but it has a much cooler than normal color balance (in fact it is not as balanced as the brighter Dynamic). The operating modes for dark theater viewing are Natural (535 lumens), Theater (526 lumens), Theater Black 1 (388 lumens), and Theater Black 2 (489 lumens).
All of these measurements were with lamp on high and zoom set at maximum wide angle. Putting the projector into low lamp mode drops lumen output by 24%. Moving from maximum wide angle to maximum telephone drops lumen output by 41%, which is normal for a 2.1x zoom lens. Using the mid point of the zoom, light is curtailed about 20% from its maximum at wide angle.
Contrast. The Home Cinema 6100 is the $1,800 entry level 1080p projector in Epson's product line. In terms of image quality, the most obvious thing you give up by not stepping up to the $2,500 Home Cinema 6500 is contrast and black level. The Full On/Off contrast reading, assisted by the auto iris, was 8,071:1. The ANSI contrast reading was 248:1. By comparison, the 6500 measured 18,000:1 and 389:1 respectively. In a nutshell, what these numbers means it that the 6100 does not have the snap and sparkle that you get from the very high contrast models. Nor does it have the color saturation, which comes with higher contrast. So for those looking for the best picture quality, there are very good reasons to spend the extra $700 to get the higher performance model.
This is not to say that the 6100 picture is dull and unwatchable. Far from it. This projector has the same contrast performance as many of the previous generation 1080p projectors released just eighteen months ago. So it is a good value as an entry level projector. If you don't have $1,800 to shell out for a projector, the Panasonic AX200, currently selling for about $1,100, is the most obvious step down in price for those who want high lumen output and a solid value in budget class home theater projectors. But for the incremental $700 it costs to step up from the AX200 to the Home Cinema 6100, you get higher contrast, better black levels, and native 1080p resolution vs. the AX200's 720p. In essence, the Home Cinema 6100 is competitively priced for what it delivers.
Connectivity. Connectivity is good by competitive norms. There are two HDMI 1.3a ports, one 3 RCA component, one S-video, one composite, one VGA port, one RS-232c, and a 12-volt trigger.
Sharpness. As with the 6500/7500 models, Epson has programmed the default Standard setting on the 6100's Sharpness control to have some artificial edge enhancement. So the picture does indeed looks quite sharp out of the box. To remove all edge enhancement, move the Sharpness setting from 0 to -5. The 6100 produces a sharp picture that is commensurate with other 1080p class products.
Lamp life. A major selling point on the Home Cinema 6100 is the stated 4000 hour lamp life. Most other projectors are rated at 2000 hours. And with replacement lamps costing $300 or more, this is a major source of concern for those buying budget projectors.
One word of caution. Vendors do not publish data on how quickly lumen output degrades over the life of the lamp. But you can always assume that a lamp will have lost 50% of its initial light output by the end of its life, and most of that degradation happens in the first half of the lamp's usage life. Quite often, projector users prefer to replace lamps before their official end of life in order to keep the lumen output of the projector closer to peak performance.
Issues and Limitations
Defocusing. Those who have followed this site for the last few months are aware that the initial design of the 6100/7100 and 6500/7500 models exhibited a tendency for the projectors to defocus over the first 30 to 45 minutes of run time. Epson modified the exhaust tunnel to improve airflow, and this substantially reduced the problem on the 6500/7500 series. It reduced the problem somewhat on the 6100 as well, but we still see more defocusing than we'd like on our modified 6100.
We are located at 3100 feet elevation, on the west side of Las Vegas. We suspect that elevation has an aggravating effect on the defocusing situation since the air is thinner here than at sea level. Humidity may be a factor as well since average humidity during our testing has been about 20%. Epson reports that testing on modified 6100's done at their US headquarters in Long Beach, CA, which is at sea level with humidity closer to 60%, shows virtually no defocusing problem. So we will not be surprised if we hear that users at lower elevations see little or no problem. We have not yet had a chance to test our particular 6100 sample at Epson headquarters. Doing so would give us a more precise indication of how a single unit behaves in both climates.
If the unit you have does tend to go out of focus a bit as our does, the solution is to let it warm up for 45 minutes, then focus it and leave the lens in that position. The image will be a bit softer than ideal during the initial 30 minutes of viewing. However, with the modified units, the problem is not as serious as it was before. You wouldn't ever notice it with standard definition material, and it is rather subtle with Blu-ray HD material.
It is a mystery why the modified 6500/7500 units showed a substantial mitigation of the defocusing problem, while the modified 6100 showed some improvement, but less than the 6500/7500. It may be due to other differences in design, such as the use of inorganic LCD panels in the 6500/7500, and organic panels in the 6100/7100 series. But it is all speculation at this point.
Organic LCD panels. To our knowledge, there are only three 1080p LCD projectors currently on the market using organic LCD panels. Those would be the Epson 6100 and 7100, and the Sanyo Z700. One way to tell the difference between organic and inorganic panels is to burn a static image for a while, then turn it off to see if a ghost image remains. Organic LCD panels are susceptible to image persistence, whereas the inorganics are not. If you were to turn on a 6100, feed it a white field image, and leave the on-screen menu active for an hour or so, after turning the menu off a subtle shadow of the menu image remains on the screen. This does not happen on the 6500 or 7500.
In the heat of competition, advocates of other technologies have described this phenomenon as burn-in. This is not really accurate. Burn-in, as the term is commonly used, refers to permanent damage that can be sustained by phosphor-based video displays such as plasma and CRT. Once a Fox TV logo is etched into one of these displays through long-term exposure, it cannot be removed. Conversely, image persistence on an LCD, should it occur, is normally reversible by displaying a solid white screen for a period of time and allowing the LCD crystals to return to their native state. Moreover, image persistence is a phenomenon that occurs only on organic LCDs. We've never seen it occur on an inorganic LCD product.
Another issue that may arise from the use of organic LCD panels is color shift and contrast reduction over a long period of time. In the past, some LCD projectors with insufficient cooling and UV filtration have shown a tendency for the LCD panels to degrade, particularly those in the blue channel. When this occurs, the picture can shift toward a warmer yellow hue, color uniformity can be affected, and contrast is compromised. The way to fix it is to replace the damaged LCD panel, which is an expense most users usually don't want to deal with.
It is the organic compounds in the organic LCDs that can degrade with long term exposure to intense UV light and heat. Manufacturers of LCD projectors claim that degradation problems have been resolved with improved UV filtration and cooling designs. Thus, a projector using organic LCDs today will not have the same tendency to degrade as earlier generations. This may be the case. There is no way to verify it without running several different models for a few thousand hours each. Nevertheless, since inorganic LCD panels do not contain the compounds that have been subject to decay in the past, it is assumed that LCD projectors using inorganic panels are not susceptible to long term degradation as their organic predecessors have been.
Fan noise. Fan noise on the 6100 is above average as compared to most 1080p home theater projectors. As a group, these models tend to be relatively quiet, an on occasion stone silent. But fan noise on the 6100 is by competitive standards somewhat more noticeable than is typical in low lamp mode, and more noticeable yet in high lamp mode. Most of the time the audio track of a film will drown out the fan noise. But if you are using the 6100 in a small room, you may become conscious of it during quiet interludes.
Noise Filter. The noise filter has four options, OFF, 1, 2, and 3, with 3 being the most aggressive setting. We prefer to run with it off. The noise filter softens the picture on any setting, and in particular if the filter is set at 3 the picture looks decidedly flat and lifeless.
The Home Cinema 6100's $1,800 street price is currently sandwiched between two Sanyo 1080p models--the PLV-Z700 selling at about $200 less, and the PLV-Z3000, selling at $1,995 with rebate, or about $200 more.
The key advantage of the 6100 over either of the Sanyo models is high lumen output. If you have a lot of ambient light in the room, the 6100's high brightness mode will give you a picture with more sizzle than either the Z700 or Z3000 can deliver. For ambient light situations, the Home Cinema 6100 would be our clear recommendation. A secondary advantage is the 6100's stated 4000 hour lamp life. Sanyo does not publish anticipated lamp life as a spec on any of its projectors, but you can safely assume you won't get more than 2000 hours out of it.
On the other hand, if you have the advantage of a dark viewing room, the competitive dynamics change significantly. For $200 more (at this writing), the Sanyo Z3000 offers higher contrast, deeper black levels, and richer color saturation. It also has frame interpolation and 5:5 pulldown which, for some subject matter, works well to reduce motion judder and create a smoother, more stable picture. The Z3000 has inorganic LCD panels, and lower fan noise (virtually silent in low lamp mode). It has a manual air pump that (presumably) will enable the user to remove dust particles from LCD panels without having to send the projector in for service. (We've never had a dust particle appear on a Sanyo LCD panel, so we've never been able to test this.) The Z3000 also comes standard with a three-year warranty vs. the 6100's two years. Thus, if you plan to use your projector exclusively for dark theater viewing, the Sanyo Z3000 is the better choice for maximum image quality in this price range.
If you want the brightest 1080p resolution picture you can get for under $2,000, the Home Cinema 6100 is it. Nothing else in this resolution class and price range comes close to the sheer lumen power of the 6100. So for family room entertainment, football parties, and any situation where you want a bright 1080p picture in ambient light, the 6100 should be high on your list of models to consider.
In particular, the 6100 is an excellent candidate for sports bar installations due to its high resolution, low price, long lamp life, ease of installation due to zoom and lens shift, and brilliant picture. Meanwhile, its relatively modest contrast is irrelevant in a sports bar, since in ambient light it is all about lumens. The 6100's slightly higher fan noise is also irrelevant in a sports bar.
In short, at this moment with pricing as it is in the 1080p marketplace, we would have a hard time recommending the 6100 for a dedicated dark room home theater since the Sanyo Z3000, at almost the same price, has real advantages in picture quality while the 6100's extra light is not needed. But in any situation where you need the extra light that only the 6100 can give, it is a great alternative.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 6100 projector page.