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Epson 301e

Epson LCD projector a fine home theater experience

By Jim Bray
March 18, 2012

If you want the best home theater experience, and you have the room for it, nothing can beat a front projection system. And if you're looking for value, Epson has a line of three LCD projectors that offer excellent performance for the dollar.

I know this for a fact because I've been using Epsons as my reference projectors for several years now and they not only offer fine performance, they're hard to beat for the price.  

Epson's PowerLite Home Cinema 3010e ups the ante substantially over the last Epson I reviewed a couple of years ago. Not only is it brighter and with better contrast, it also offers 3D performance and a WirelessHD capability you have to see to believe. All for a suggested retail price of $1799 U.S. Heck, you can spend more than that on an LCD TV these days and not get the "WOW! Factor" of this front projector.

Well, don't forget you also need to buy a screen and depending on which one you get that can add to the total substantially. I have a 106 inch tab-tensioned screen – which means it's stretched out to its full and proper shape each time you extend it to prevent it from wrinkling. I had two screens previously that wrinkled over time, thanks to the law of gravity, making them unacceptable to a video snob such as myself. The tab-tensioned one, however, has lasted for a few years with no problems, so that's is definitely the way to go if you're opting for a roll up screen as opposed to a wall-mounted one.

But back to the Epson, which I'm considering very seriously purchasing as an upgrade for my current Epson. It isn't that the old Epson hasn't served me well; in fact, it works flawlessly and provides us with a lot of home theater enjoyment – and there's plenty of life left on its bulb. This new one, however, is appreciably better, brighter (though you'll still want to control the room light) and with a more detailed picture – the features I really want. 3D is a bonus; I review Blu-rays and since 3D is the current flavor it would be nice to have that capability – though I wouldn't use it much.

Epson included two pairs of 3D glasses with the  sample 3010e but their website says it doesn't come with any, so there's an additional expense of a couple of hundred clams if 3D is important to you.

Epson claims 2200 lumens output for the unit, with a contrast ratio of "up to" 40,000:1 (1600:1 in 3D, apparently), which are very good specifications. In our tests, we found the projector appreciably brighter than our reference unit (which is two models old now) and that, plus the contrast level, made for a breathtaking picture. Colors and detail look fantastic; this is a projector you can watch for hours on end and not get tired (well, 3D makes my eyes tired, but 2D doesn't). And so far as its brightness is concerned, it required less control of the room light to create an acceptably enjoyable image; heck, you could almost take it outdoors and run it. Almost…

I did notice that we'd get a strange flash of extra brightness sometimes when the picture changed scenes, but it wasn't often – and it was only for an instant. While it was a tad obtrusive, I wouldn't consider it a deal breaker.

The projector even has speakers built in, which could come in handy if you're using it to make presentations in a boardroom of someone's office, but in practice the last thing you want for your home theater is two comparatively dinky 10 watt speakers hanging over your head. Needless to say, we eschewed this method (once we assured ourselves that the speakers do, indeed work) and ran the audio through our main audio system, which currently uses Crestron's 400 watt per channel Procise system for power and processing, and a combination of Definitive Technology speakers with an extra M&K subwoofer just to make sure the oomph level is optimal. And it is.

This has nothing to do with the projector, of course; you could couple the projector with a home theater in a box and it will offer better audio than the Epson's built in system. Just look at the Epson's speakers as a bonus, there in case you need them.  

Epson claims a lamp life of 4000 hours at full power, 5000 hours in eco mode (which darkens the picture appreciably). At the brighter setting, that 4000 hours means 500 days of running the projector eight hours a day, which you're highly unlikely to do. My projector currently has just shy of 1000 hours on it over some three years of reviewing home theater components and content. Lamp life shouldn't be an issue, therefore.

 We discovered to our chagrin that our preamp/processors aren't 3D compliant, which would have thrown a major monkeywrench into our 3D viewing if not for the Epson's wireless HD transmitter. We ran a second HDMI cable from our Oppo BDP-95 audio/video player to the wireless unit, fired it up, and presto! 3D in all its supposed glory!

The wireless performance was flawless. I'd figured that streaming 1080p 3D would be a bandwidth hog and might cause problems, but it wasn't to be – and it could save you some money and hassle because otherwise you have to spring for – and string – a long HDMI cable. Mine HDMI cable is 65 feet and it's just long enough.

Setup of the projector is child's play (that's setup, not mounting – especially on the ceiling – which is something I wouldn't unleash my ten-thumbed fingers onto alone). For picture setup, I use the Digital Video Essentials HD Basics disc to ensure proper performance, and as usual the Epson was pretty much bang on right out of the box. Heck, I ended up leaving it in "auto" mode most of the time once I'd messed around with all the settings and it looked great.

You can feed two separate 2D images to the Epson and it'll display them side by side. I can't see much point to this, but it's there. You can't do that in 3D, though.

Video material we viewed ran the gamut of our favorite Blu-rays, such as The Incredibles (Heck, any Pixar title!), Peter Jackson's King Kong and Lord of the Rings, and some wonderful concerts discs from Eagle Vision. For 3D, we watched the final Harry Potter film, which looked great, as did Coraline, though the movie wasn't as good as its 3D.  

I have eye issues with 3D programming, in that I don't see the images extending out into the room between me and the screen – or not much, anyway. Instead, I see the screen as a big window onto a neat-looking 3D world behind it, which can still be pretty interesting. As a 3D denier who thinks it's just a flash in the pan, however, I don't worry about that excessively, though of course as long as I'm reviewing the stuff I should try seeing it properly. Fortunately, I have family and friends who can help me here.

I also want to thank Warner Brothers for helping. My favorite 3D experience to date was The Polar Express, which blew me away in 3D IMAX several years ago, with images that definitely intruded into the theater. Warners indulged me with a copy of Polar 3D (the real one, not that red/blue glasses version) and, while it still wasn't as good to these eyes as in the IMAX experience did, it was easily the best 3D title I've seen in the home theater. When I watched it with my wife, she noticed all its great 3D stuff I remembered, such as snow falling in front of your face, the train's cowcatcher extending right near your nose, and of course the roller coaster sequences. I still had problems with the 3D, but it was the best I've seen, so if you're looking for demo material, Polar Express 3D isn't a bad place to start.

The Epson's backlit remote control works well and is easy to figure out.

This model features a centrally-mounted lens, which means it'll be off center if you mount it where your older Epson projector was hung (my older unit's lens is off to one side of the front panel). This shouldn't be a huge deal, because you can shift the picture left or right using the keystone adjustment. Ditto for zoom; this unit's lens has an up to 1.6 zoom rate and that was plenty to fill my 106 inch screen from about 13 feet back. You focus and zoom it manually, and it handles vertical keystone adjustment automatically.

Clearly, Epson has knocked it out of the park once again when it comes to an affordable, high quality front projector. Highly recommended.

Copyright 2012 Jim Bray

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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