Highly Recommended Award
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The Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3500 is the newest home entertainment projector from Epson and has already been attracting a lot of attention. Priced at $1,699, the Home Cinema 3500 has a lot to offer: 1080p resolution, high light output, powerful speakers, and the excellent zoom and lens shift that folks have come to expect from mid-range Epson projectors.
The Home Cinema 3500 is not the only projector in this new line. Epson released the Home Cinema 3600e ($1,999) with WirelessHD and the Home Cinema 3000 ($1,299) which is the replacement for the Home Cinema 8350. As the mid-range model, the Home Cinema 3500 offers a killer picture for rooms with ambient light, and its high brightness is a boon for big-screen 3D movies.
The Home Cinema 3500 establishes its home entertainment bona-fides right up front with a brilliantly bright image. The 2,500 lumen rating is conservative, at least on our test unit, and performs very well in rooms with ambient light The other thing that immediately grabbed our attention was the sound. The Home Cinema 3500 has two 10W speakers that are much larger than those found on some other projectors, giving it a clarity that is unusual for on-board speakers. In the past, Epson has released several home video projectors with impressive sound, and it's good to see them continuing the tradition.
Even in a bright room, the Home Cinema 3500 has enough power to light up a fairly large screen. At 100" diagonal, the picture never seemed washed out or dull, despite significant ambient light in the room. During peak daylight hours, some might want to shrink the screen down to a more modest 80" diagonal to maintain good contrast, especially if your living room is covered in windows like mine is. But this trade-off is a matter of personal taste.
With the lights off, the sky's the limit as far as screen size is concerned. This can be quite dramatic, especially when you zoom the projector to fill up the entire wall and gather the family for movie night.
Great 2D Image. The Home Cinema 3500 is engineered to look great in the living room or anywhere ambient light is present. The projector's high light output keeps the image from getting washed out, but black level and contrast are solid enough that the picture has plenty of pop for nighttime use. The stock color calibrations aren't perfect, but they're definitely in the ballpark, and the projector's calibration controls are a bit coarse but otherwise easy to use. Super Resolution makes everything look sharp and detailed, and even helps standard-definition material look better.
Great 3D Image. The Home Cinema 3500's super-high brightness gives it a striking 3D picture. Using the same radio-frequency 3D technology as Epson's higher-end projectors, the Home Cinema 3500 produces a 3D image with minimal crosstalk. 2D to 3D conversion is included, and while we're not fans of this feature in general it is executed well on the Home Cinema 3500.
As far as the hardware is concerned, the Home Cinema 3500 uses an internal RF emitter to synchronize the 3D glasses. Both the 3500 and the 3600e come with two pairs of the same ELPGS03 glasses used on all current Epson 3D projectors, and additional pairs are $99 direct from Epson. The glasses are comfortable and rechargeable via an included USB cable. Glasses must be paired to the projector before use, but this process takes seconds and you only need to do it once.
Bright image. With over 2500 lumens to work with, you can use the Home Cinema 3500 to create a giant picture in a darkened room or a theater-sized image in your living room. Even with some ambient light, image sizes of 80" to 100" diagonal are attainable and look great. And the extra brightness helps when you want to use 3D, too.
Picture-in-Picture. P-in-P can now handle two HDMI sources simultaneously. It's now possible to watch a Blu-ray movie on the main screen and keep a football game on the subscreen even though both sources use HDMI. As for limitations, you can't watch 3D movies with P-in-P, and you can't use the "Fast" Image Processing feature.
Onboard speakers. With 10W stereo speakers featured prominently on the rear panel, the Home Cinema 3500 has better audio capabilities than most projectors regardless of price range. Most projector speakers are small and tinny, with distorted, crackly sound whenever the volume is pushed too high. The Home Cinema 3500's 10W speakers are louder and larger than most, making them more akin to the speakers on your television than the ones in your laptop. And for what it's worth, we pushed volume all the way to maximum without any serious distortion or breakup in the audio. An external home theater sound system is still preferable for movies, but the onboard speakers are easily good enough for portable use or TV watching.
Placement flexibility. A 1.6:1 zoom lens and H/V lens shift make the Home Cinema 3500 easy to set up and use in almost any room. All controls are manual; the zoom and focus use the typical rings around the lens, while shift is adjusted using large dials on the top surface of the projector. The Home Cinema 3500 also has front-mounted exhaust vents, so it can be placed in a bookshelf or other tight enclosure without overheating. This is also ideal for coffee table placement, as the projector will not kick hot air back towards the audience.
WirelessHD. For an extra $300 over the price of the Home Cinema 3500, the 3600e includes WirelessHD. Epson's implementations of wireless high-definition video have been consistently excellent in the past, and that's still true; the included transmitter has five HDMI inputs as well as an optical audio output for folks who want to use their own sound system. You switch inputs using the projector's remote control.
Projectors are a secondary display for a lot of folks who still use a TV for their day-to-day viewing. With this in mind, the WirelessHD transmitter includes an HDMI output port so you can wire the box into your existing system. Switching to the projector becomes seamless -- just press a button.
The price gap between the 3500 and 3600e models is in line with the cost for an aftermarket wireless HDMI solution. And the receiver is built in to the projector, not hanging off the back. Overall, Epson's implementation of WirelessHD is quite well executed.
Super Resolution. Epson's Super Resolution system applies selective enhancement to an input signal to increase apparent detail. The Home Cinema 3500 allows you to adjust Super Resolution between 0 (off) and 5, and the projector comes from the factory set at 3 in Cinema mode. At times, 3 can be a tad too aggressive, so we bumped it down to 2. Super Resolution also works wonders on standard-definition DVDs -- it doesn't make them look like HD, but it does take away some of that softness around the edges that all SD content seems to have developed since HD became commonplace.
MHL. Mobile High-Definition Link, or MHL, is used to connect mobile devices to displays. It is also used to drive streaming media devices like the Roku Streaming Stick without an external power supply. The Home Cinema 3500 has MHL capability on its HDMI1 port, while the 3600e also includes MHL on the WirelessHD transmitter's HDMI5 input. This is especially handy for portable use.
Light output. Somehow, "bright" seems inadequate to describe the light output of the Home Cinema 3500. Rated at 2500 lumens, our test sample actually peaked at 2778 ANSI lumens in Dynamic mode with the lamp at full power and the zoom lens at the widest angle setting. That's a little more than 10% over the published specification in an industry that is known for optimistic specs.
The Home Cinema 3500 has only four image modes, not including two separate 3D modes. Dynamic is bold and bright, ideal for those times when you really need every last lumen. Living Room mode, at 2083 lumens, has a more balanced appearance and a bluish tint to its grayscale. Natural and Cinema, at 2163 and 2179 lumens, are the Home Cinema 3500's "theater" modes, optimized for use in darker rooms with less ambient light. Even so, they still pump out quite a bit of light.
The Home Cinema 3500's lamp power is controlled through the Power Consumption menu. But in addition to Normal (100%) and ECO (75%) power, there's also Medium (90%), which splits the difference. However, even in ECO mode, light output doesn't drop below 1500 lumens.
Long zoom lenses allow the most light to pass through when they are used at their wide angle settings (when the image is as large as it can be for a given throw distance). In the past, Epson's 2.1:1 zoom lenses have reduced light output by up to 42% at the maximum telephoto setting. So it's a breath of fresh air to see that the Home Cinema 3500's 1.6:1 zoom lens causes a reduction of only 11%, even when used at the extreme end of the zoom.
Contrast. The key difference between the Home Cinema 3500 and the more expensive Home Cinema 5030UB is black level. In head-to-head comparisons, the 5030UB lives up to its Ultra Black moniker, making the Home Cinema 3500 appear lackluster in comparison. This isn't to say that the Home Cinema 3500 doesn't produce a high-contrast image for such a bright projector, because it certainly does. In ambient light, light output has much more to do with overall contrast than black level does.
Color. Each of the Home Cinema 3500's color modes are calibrated to work well in a specific situation. Dynamic mode is for those times when you need every lumen. Living Room mode is less bright and a little bluish, but it's a great mode for television and other non-film content. Natural and Cinema are mostly the same, aside from a little bit of gamma tweaking, and either mode does a good job with photography, video, or film.
Sharpness and Clarity. A sharp image is important, and sharpness can be affected by a lot of things. Our Home Cinema 3500 was quite sharp, and we didn't see any panel misalignment or major chromatic aberration during our testing. The image is sharp and detailed even without enhancement, but Super Resolution can boost the appearance of detail even so. The default SR setting of 3 is a touch too aggressive for our tastes, but 2 was right on the money.
Input lag. The Home Cinema 3500 measured 106 milliseconds of input lag in all of its image modes. That equals six frames on a 60 frame-per-second input signal. Like other Epson projectors, the Home Cinema 3500 includes an option for "Fast" image processing, which reduces lag to 45.9 milliseconds (just under three frames) but also reduces image quality.
Black level. The Home Cinema 3500 has a black level that is on par with other home entertainment projectors, making it a good choice for rooms with ambient light. However, in a pitch-black theater space, the limitations of the Home Cinema 3500's black level are evident. For those pitch-black spaces, the Home Cinema 5030UB offers deeper, darker black levels for better home theater performance. In other words, the Home Cinema 3500 and 5030 are designed for different roles. If you're considering the Home Cinema 5030 for a room with ambient light, or the Home Cinema 3500 for a room without ambient light, you should think about switching.
Iris flicker. If you run the projector with Power Consumption set to High and turn on the automatic iris, you may notice flickering in the image as the iris flutters. It manifests every second or two, sometimes less, as a momentary darkening of the image before returning to full brightness a split-second later. This artifact only occurs when using High lamp mode, but either auto-iris mode (Normal or High Speed) will trigger it. The workaround is simple; either use Medium or ECO lamp power, or turn off the iris. Luckily, the occasions that call for maximum light output, i.e. rooms with bright ambient light, would not often benefit from iris use.
Input lag. With Image Processing set to "Fast," the Home Cinema 3500's 45.9 millisecond lag time is low enough for many gamers. But some folks, especially those who play fighting games or fast-paced PC shooters, do require faster performance. Those people know who they are already. If you're gaming on a projector and don't experience detrimental lag, you can likely cope with 45 milliseconds.
No frame interpolation. At $1,699, the Home Cinema 3500 is priced competitively with several projectors that offer frame interpolation. Then again, some folks don't use or enjoy frame interpolation. It's something to be aware of when considering your purchase, at least.
Audible noise. With the lamp at full power, the Home Cinema 3500 is louder than most home theater projectors, but right on par with other home video projectors. Setting Power Consumption to ECO does reduce fan noise significantly. At this setting, fan noise is noticeable but not obtrusive unless you've got your head within, say, five feet of an exhaust vent.
The Home Cinema 3500 is built with its exhaust vents on the front of the case, so hot air is propelled outwards and to either side (away from the lens). So if you're sitting in front of the projector, you'll likely hear a lot more audible noise than someone who places the projector on a coffee table in front of the seats.
The Home Cinema 3500 is built for ambient light and living room use rather than a man-cave home theater. In particular it is less suited to dedicated home theater than the 8350 was, especially since it is difficult to reduce brightness to a level that would be appropriate for dark room viewing. It is also less suitable for gaming; increased image processing means increased input lag, and that can be a problem for serious gamers. The 8350 was one of the fastest projectors around, and those folks hoping for a low-lag replacement model didn't get their wish.
Nevertheless, the 3500 performs admirably for its intended use. If you need portability or you prefer to watch with ambient light in the room, this is your projector. It is an ideal solution for outdoor, backyard movies due to its portability and robust onboard speakers.
Though it is priced a little higher than some other home video projectors, the increased price gets you best-in-class placement flexibility, possibly the best inbuilt speakers we've ever heard on a projector, and higher than typical light output. The Home Cinema 3500 is an ideal option for those who need a bright portable 1080p projector with its own sound system. As a home video projector, it's a solid value that combines a unique set of features in a very attractive way.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Epson Home Cinema 3500 projector page.