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The latest addition to Epson's home video projector line-up is the PowerLite Home Cinema 2030, a sub-$1000 projector ideal for living room use. The Home Cinema 2030 has 1080p resolution and full HD 3D with radio-frequency glasses synchronization. In a first for Epson home video projectors, the Home Cinema 2030 is also compatible with Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) devices like the Roku Streaming Stick, giving you a new way to access content from smartphones or streaming services easily from your projector.
In many ways, the Home Cinema 2030 resembles a slimmed-down Home Cinema 3020 which is larger and more expensive. It lacks the 3020's longer zoom lens, higher contrast ratio, and more powerful sound system, but it retains the core functionality and image quality that made the Home Cinema 3020 a successful home video projector. The lower price of $999 will make it attractive to those looking for a first projector or even a secondary projector for game rooms and weekend use.
Editor's note 9/20/13: The replacement lamp price for the Epson 2030 has been set at $99, not $299 as this article originally stated. The text of the review has been edited to reflect this.
The Home Cinema 2030 looks deceptively simple. The projector is encased in glossy white plastic and has an offset lens with an integrated sliding lens cap that doubles as an "image mute" switch. The projector's control panel is on top of the projector while the connection panel is on the rear. Lamps change through the top of the case, which is a bonus if you are considering a ceiling mount, while air filters are swapped through a separate access door near the lamp.
The Home Cinema 2030 produces a sharp, bright, well-saturated image that is perfect for film or video. In a living room, the projector's Living Room mode creates an image that is color-balanced and high in contrast, while Cinema mode caters to dark-room viewing and deepens black levels with the projector's automatic iris. Detail is crisp and clear thanks to the Home Cinema 2030's native 1920x1080 resolution.
On first startup, we switched the Home Cinema 2030 into its different image modes to get a feel for the projector's capabilities. The brightest mode is Dynamic, which measured almost 2200 lumens on our test sample (out of a rated 2,000). Dynamic's green tint makes it an acceptable choice for use in strong ambient light when you need it, but for better picture balance you will want to look into Living Room mode (1670 lumens) or Cinema mode (1450 lumens), both of which have better contrast and color balance than Dynamic. Living room mode has a slight blue cast, but this can actually helps to counteract ambient light, which tends towards yellow.
In a brightly-lit living room, the Home Cinema 2030 will produce a bright and vibrant 60" diagonal image. However, if you turn the lights down some you can get a much larger image without giving up shadow detail and dynamic range. The projector has an automatic iris which is a useful addition in dark viewing environments, but you may want to disable it if you have ambient light in the room since ambient light will compromise a projector's black level anyway.
Full HD 3D. The Home Cinema 2030 includes full 3D capabilities, so you can connect it to a 3D Blu-ray player or set-top box and start watching 3D right away. The Home Cinema 2030's 3D image quality is quite good and nearly artifact-free. The 3D image has no visible crosstalk at default settings, save in exceptionally difficult scenes, and even then the artifact is only faintly visible. 3D flicker is also largely absent.
RF 3D Glasses. The Home Cinema 2030 uses Epson's radio-frequency (RF) 3D glasses -- the same glasses used on the more expensive Home Cinema 3020 and Home Cinema 5020UB projectors. RF glasses have several advantages over infrared (IR) glasses: they do not lose synchronization as easily as IR glasses, the RF signals do not interfere with the operation of infrared remote controls, and they can be paired to a specific projector in environments where more than one projector is operating. That last benefit is only useful to people who run more than one 3D projector in a small environment, but it's something we appreciate very much during projector evaluation. The Home Cinema 2030 does not include any glasses in the box, which keeps costs lower for those who do not plan on watching 3D content. If you do decide to add 3D glasses, the Home Cinema 2030's RF emitter is internal; it does not need to be purchased separately.
MHL. One of the Home Cinema 2030's two HDMI ports has Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) functionality, allowing it to be connected to mobile and streaming devices which support this protocol. Aside from many Android smartphones, the most popular of these devices are streaming media sticks such as the Roku Streaming Stick. These devices allow you to watch content from popular Internet streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant Video from your projector by just plugging in a device that's about the size of a standard USB thumb drive. It does not require any external power or data connections since the MHL port itself supplies power to the device. The MHL specification also allows control of the device over HDMI-CEC, also known as HDMI Link (or any number of other names, depending on the device's manufacturer). The Home Cinema 2030's remote control includes playback and navigation buttons. If you want to use the Home Cinema 2030 as a mobile projector, the MHL port gives you a no-hassle way to get content to your projector without running any additional wires. If you are worried about sound output, fear not: the Home Cinema 2030 has stereo RCA audio output jacks, so you can easily output sound to a larger set of speakers.
Epson Home Cinema 2030 rear connection panel
USB Projection. Like previous Epson home video projectors, the Home Cinema 2030 has the ability to display image and movie files from a USB thumb drive or other connected USB device. By pressing the "slideshow" button on the remote control, the projector will search attached media for valid files and then present them in a grid view for browsing. Using this function, we were able to display JPEG and PNG images directly from the projector. This function is particularly useful for slideshows of vacation photos or other photography display. However, 1080p images are not displayed at 1:1 native resolution due to a status bar that is always present at the bottom of the image.
Onboard sound. The Home Cinema 2030 has a basic sound system on-board consisting of a 2W monaural speaker. While this lacks the power of the Home Cinema 3020's 10W stereo speakers, it is adequate for casual viewing with a small audience. More importantly, the speaker did not experience any tinny distortion until we brought it to 9/10 on the volume scale. Many competing projectors' speakers will distort at lower volume levels.
Lamp life. The Home Cinema 2030's E-TORL lamp is rated for 5,000 hours of use at full power or 6,000 hours of use in Eco mode. Replacement lamps cost only $99 from Epson.
The Home Cinema 2030 has an air filter that requires occasional replacement. However, replacement filters cost $19, and existing filters can be cleaned several times before they are due for replacement, so this cost is negligible.
Warranty. The Home Cinema 2030 comes with a two-year warranty, which also includes 90 days of coverage on the lamp. Epson's warranty coverage also includes PrivateLine, which is a toll-free customer support line that is provided free of charge for the duration of the warranty period. If your projector should require replacement during this time, Epson includes ExtraCare, an express replacement option, wherein Epson will cross-ship a replacement projector to you. Epson requires a credit card in order to hold a deposit, but upon successful completion of the swap, you are not charged anything. Epson covers the cost of the replacement projector as well as shipping in both directions.
Light output. Epson's projectors often exceed their lumen specifications and the Home Cinema 2030 is no exception. The projector's Dynamic mode, which is the brightest mode available, measures 2172 lumens on our test sample out of a rated 2,000 lumens maximum. Dynamic mode has a green bias, making it ill-suited to content that requires accurate color such as HD film and video. But it does a good job of cranking out the lumens for, say a Super Bowl party, when image brightness is more important than color fidelity.
Living Room mode, at 1670 lumens, has none of Dynamic mode's green push but it is still cooler than normal, measuring around 7800K average in our color temperature tests. This cool tint can help to cancel out the yellow tint of ambient light created by incandescent lightbulbs or compact fluorescent bulbs made to mimic incandescents.
Cinema mode measured 1441 lumens on our test unit, and in factory default settings has an average color temperature of about 7200K. The Home Cinema 2030 has full color controls, so it is relatively easy to balance Cinema mode for the ideal 6500K color temperature. Doing so on our test unit did not result in much loss of light output. Cinema mode has the best dynamic range and black level of any default image mode, as well, making it the best choice for film and video when the room lights are off.
For true dark-room home theater viewing, all of the Home Cinema 2030's image modes are more than bright enough. If you wish to lower brightness, say to use the projector on a smaller screen, reducing lamp power cuts light output by 32%, bringing Cinema mode to 948 lumens on our projector.
Contrast. Home video projectors do not produce the deep, dark black levels of home theater projectors because they are intended to be used in ambient light. However, some home video projectors have potential for crossover home theater use, and the Home Cinema 2030 is one of them. It includes an automatic iris which is active by default in Cinema mode, reduces black levels in dark scenes, giving the impression of overall higher contrast. The Home Cinema 2030's iris is quick and quiet during operation, though it can be heard if you sit very close to the projector itself and have the sound turned off.
As far as dynamic range is concerned, the Home Cinema 2030 turns in a respectable performance, though it does not quite match some of its similarly-priced competition based around DLP technology. The Home Cinema 2030 preserves shadow detail well and does not crush blacks or blow out highlights, but dynamic range is not the projector's strongest suit.
Color. In factory default calibrations, the Home Cinema 2030's Cinema mode has a slight bias toward blue and green, resulting in an average color temperature around 7200K. This is fine in rooms with some ambient light, but if you want an ideally balanced picture for viewing in the dark, you may want to make a few adjustments.
Epson Home Cinema 2030 RGB levels, Cinema mode, factory defaults
The Home Cinema 2030 includes full color controls. White balance is adjusted using the projector's RGB Gain/Offset controls while color gamut can be calibrated using RGBCMY hue/saturation/brightness controls. The latter require a color meter and some software, so most folks will opt to leave them alone. It doesn't hurt that the Home Cinema 2030's default color gamut is not too far from the Rec. 709 HD standard.
Epson Home Cinema 2030 color gamut
On our test unit, white balance required a boost to red in both the low end (Offset) and the high end (Gain). After that, calibration became a matter of balancing red against blue and making sure green was not overdriven. Our final calibration looked like this:
Epson Home Cinema 2030 RGB levels, Cinema mode, calibrated
Input lag. The Epson Home Cinema 2030 has two options for image processing: Fine and Fast. Fine processing is the default, and for film and video it is the best option. However, gamers looking for the lowest possible input lag can make use of Fast processing to cut lag times significantly.
Cinema mode measured 100 milliseconds, or 6 frames, of lag using Fine processing. For gamers, this is unacceptable. Even something as simple as moving and clicking a mouse can make this level of lag readily apparent to even the casual user. However, switching to Fast processing results in 34ms (2 frames) of lag, which is faster than most home theater projectors. Many gamers will find 34ms acceptable, though there are projectors that are a bit faster still, getting down to 1 or 1.5 frames of lag.
Throw Distance and Throw Angle. The Home Cinema 2030's 1.2:1 manual zoom lens can display a 100" diagonal 16:9 picture from 8' 11" to 10' 9". That throw distance is about 1.4 times the screen width, or about where many viewers may want to be sitting. If that is your preferred viewing distance you may want to consider placing the projector on a pedestal between the seats or ceiling mounting it.
The 2030 has an unusual throw angle for a home video projector--the projected image is 92% above and 8% below the lens' centerline. On a 100" diagonal image, that would put 4" of the image below the centerline of the lens. If you place the image on a standard height coffee table, the bottom edge of the projected image would appear only 12" to 14" above the floor. This may be too close to the floor for ideal viewing, especially if you are sitting behind the projector.
If you ceiling mount this projector you will probably need to use a drop tube extension to avoid placing the top edge of the image right up against the ceiling. Or you can simply tilt the unit downward and square up the image with keystone correction. The Home Cinema 2030 has excellent keystone correction, but you may not want to use it if you are trying to obtain a 1:1 pixel-mapped 1080p picture.
Placement locations for the Home Cinema 2030 could be a high coffee table (at least 20" tall), a ceiling mount with a drop tube, a pedestal between the seats, or a low rear shelf mount projecting just over the heads of the audience.
No lens shift. The 2030 has no lens shift which is typical for 1080p projectors priced under $1000. This means that extra care must be taken to position the projector precisely in order to fill a screen that may already be installed.
Contrast. While the Home Cinema 2030 produces a great image, dynamic range is average when compared to other sub-$1000 home video projectors. Many of these use DLP light engines which tend to have higher dynamic range. However, with the use of the automatic iris, the Home Cinema 2030 can have superior black levels to these projectors in shadowy scenes.
Color controls. While the Home Cinema 2030 has excellent controls for adjusting color temperature, those adjustments are saved across all image modes. In other words, you cannot have one set of color temperature adjustments for Living Room mode and another set for Cinema mode. If you plan to use the projector at different times of day and in different amount of ambient light, this can become frustrating.
Sound. The Home Cinema 2030's 2W mono speaker is a good option for sound output when nothing else is available, but several of its competitors feature more powerful speaker systems, making them more useful in a portable capacity. When no other sound output device is available, powerful onboard speakers can be a life saver.
The Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2030 is Epson's most attractive home video projector to date. It features many of the best features of previous Epson home video projectors, such as 1080p resolution and full 3D compatibility using RF glasses, while bringing in exciting new features such as MHL connectivity for attachment to next-generation streaming media devices.
The Home Cinema 2030 faces competition from other sub-$1000 home video projectors. The Home Cinema 2030 holds its own with excellent brightness and color saturation, though dynamic range puts it in the middle of the pack with regards to overall contrast. Features like RF-sync 3D glasses and MHL compatibility make the Home Cinema 2030 an excellent option for home video, while its automatic iris makes it quite viable as an inexpensive solution for dark-room home theater. The Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2030 is a steal at $999.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Epson Home Cinema 2030 projector page.