Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080 Hands On

Epson, one of the big boys in the projector business, loaned me the PowerLite Home Cinema 1080 for a test drive. The Home Cinema is the first 1080p, three-LCD projector priced less than $3,000 ($2,999). That price, in itself is a big deal considering that just three years ago you would be paying more than $30,000 for a 1080p projector. Besides the price, Epson didn’t cut any corners on the PowerLite Cinema.

The introduction of the PowerLite Home Cinema 1080 follows on the heels of the more expensive PowerLite Pro Cinema 1080 ($4,999). These are similar projectors with pretty much the same specs. The Pro model is sold and installed by ISF-certified installers. It comes packaged with a replacement bulb and ceiling mount and a three-year warranty. Also, there is a $300 mail-in-rebate that can be applied to the purchase of a screen that costs more than $300. Then there is the body color; Pro is black and Home is pearly white, but the bodies are very much the same and unlike the Pro, the home comes with only a two-year warranty.

Why a projector?
Truth be told, the best high-definition picture that you can see is from a home-theater projector using front projection. Not plasma, nor LCD, not even rear projection — front projection wins best picture every time, hands down. That fact seems obvious once you see the big picture.

What’s new in HD technology?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock you probably know that 1080p (progressive) is where high definition is at. Necessary to get the most from Blu-ray and HD DVD which are encoded in 1080p, the Home Cinema 1080 accomplishes true high-def 1080p without compression. It uses three LCD chips with 1,920×1,080 pixels on each chip and that’s a beautiful thing.

Epson is first again by offering HDMI 1.3 connectivity (1.3 is the newest HDMI standard) with “Deep Color” support. The back panel only has one HDMI port, component video, one 15-pin VGA for analog RGB, one composite, one S-video, one RS-232c, and D4/SCART.

Check it out
The PowerLite Home Cinema isn’t big — the footprint is 16-inches wide, 12-inches deep and 5-inches high. I plug in a HDMI cable (not included). All set now, I pick up the remote and power up. I access the menu and it is easy and intuitive with an advanced section for bias, hue and saturation adjustments. Pointing the projector at the screen on my wall I move the picture to the center of my screen using the two wheels on top of the projector. The lens shift capability (96-degree vertical, and 47-degree horizontal) means I can fit and project at almost any angle, but for the best picture results try to place the projector as close to the center of the screen as possible. Then, I focus the picture by moving the lens in much the same way you would with a SLR camera.

Watching a movie on a HD DVD player is outstanding. The brightness is very good with a contrast ratio 12,000:1 with dynamic iris, but note that this as an auto iris so the contrast number will change from scene to scene. For the lens, Epson uses its exclusive AccuCinema lens system that has 14 lenses, with two aspherical lenses that makes the picture uniform across the viewing area. For standard DVD, I use the Oppo DV-981HD DVD player which up converts to 720p and the picture also looks great.

I notice that there is some fan noise (slight whirring sound) in the quiet scenes. I have the setting in the high mode but when I switch the settings to the low mode, the noise drops significantly. Another advantage of the low setting is it extends the lamp life from 1,700 hours (at high mode) to 3,000 hours. Replacement bulbs cost $349, which is pretty standard. Keep in mind that this is on my table, so it’s pretty close (about three feet from me). For permanent installations you’ll want to use a shelf or ceiling mount. That should create enough distance to eliminate any sound issues.

The fan exhausts air out of the front but it’s on the side that is away from the light path. Good design, which also insures that there won’t be a problem with heat buildup if the PowerLite is mounted near a back wall. The only design aspect that I quibble with is both the air filter and lamp housing are accessed from the bottom of the projector. That’s definitely awkward if you have to clean the filter or replace the lamp, especially if the projector is mounted on the ceiling.

Epson’s Home Cinema can project a 10-foot wide picture with stunning clarity. The color, image quality, sharpness and detail in its high-def picture is excellent.

Every once in a while there is a product that’s a keeper and this is one. If you’ve been waiting for a really good 1080p projector at $3,000 then wait no more. Its going to be a while before someone else comes up with better quality at this price. In terms of value and picture quality the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080 gets a solid A.

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