Epson Ensemble HD 720: A Complete Home Theater System: Commentary, Summary and Conclusions
Epson Ensemble HD 720 - Details
The Ensemble HD720 home theater system remains unchanged, except for the $300 price reduction. It's now $4699, down from $4999. The overall value proposition therefore remains pretty much unchanged. That $300 drop is also about what the typical 720p stand alone projector has experienced in pricing over the last year since the Ensemble HD720.
I haven't physically seen the "new" Ensemble HD 720. Epson changed the cradle - made it wider - to support the new wider 6xxx series projectors. My assumption is that the Ensemble HD720 will continue to use the smaller cradle (or at least until they run out of them. There's no reason why the Home Cinema 720 won't work just fine in the larger cradle. This is a non-issue. The older and newer cradles look the same, just one is a few inches wider.
Images below are from our review of the included Home Cinema 720 projector. That is an older review, with images taken with a different camera setup. The images here are a bit more saturated than the original image on the screen.
Epson Ensemble HD 720 compared to the Ensemble HD 6100
Front end price vs. Long term cost of operation and higher resolution, summarizes the difference between these two options. As noted in the similar page on the 6100 version, you save $1300 upfront with the 720, but, over a number of years, you can recoup a lot of that with operational savings on the 6100 thanks to the longer life lamp. Think this way. By the time you get to 8000 total hours, you will have just finished up your second lamp with the 6100, while you will be within 500 hours of using up your 5th lamp on the Ensemble HD 720. At $350 a lamp - when you buy the 5th one for your 720 - you will have spent $1400. When you buy your 3rd for the 6100 version, you will have spent $700. That's a cool $700 savings. By 10,000 hours, you'll have bought 6 lamps vs. 2 (but you'll have used half of the 6100's lamp by then).
In other words, for a moderately heavy user - 24 hours a week - the lamp savings will have offset the entire price difference in 8 or 9 years. For folks running 40 hours, figure about 5 years and change.
So, if you are planning on buying a keeping an Ensemble for a very long time, and the upfront price difference isn't a big deal, the 6100 may be the more attractive version, with slightly better picture quality, and higher resolution.
Epson Ensemble HD 720 compared to the Ensemble HD 6500UB
Enthusiasts will certainly prefer to own the 6500UB version of the Ensemble HD, as it is perhaps the best overall projector anywhere near its price point, and comparable to many far more expensive projectors. The same long term cost savings that I covered above, apply when comparing the Ensemble HD 720 to the 6500UB version. For your $2200 difference, you get not only higher resolution, but a truly superior picture thanks to the outstanding black level performance of the 6500 UB projector, as well as the long term savings of a longer life lamp.
The interesting thing, though, about the pricing differences, is that a stand-alone 6500UB sells for about $1600 - $1800 more than a stand alone 720 projector.
This means that you can really start out (if the budget is tight) with the Ensemble HD 720, and, perhaps 6 months or a year from now, upgrade the projector. I figure that by 12/09, the high price of the 6500UB online will be no more than $2500, and probably at least a couple hundred dollars less. As mentioned in the Ensemble HD 6500UB page, You could then replace the Epson 720 projector with the 6500UB. You are shelling out, perhaps $2500 (let's figure high) for that projector, but your used Home Cinema 720, should command at least $400, and probably $500 - $600. Using the $500 number:
Ensemble HD 720, with later upgrade to 6500UB: $4699 + $2500 = $7199 - $400 (for the sale of the 720 projector) = $6799. That compares with $6899 if you just start with the Ensemble HD 6500UB. In other words, you can start "on the cheap", but end up the same place, without it costing you more in the long run.
I think this is a great approach for a lot of first time home theater folks. The Ensemble HD 720 is affordable, but many people "get the bug" and become enthusiasts, and ultimately go out looking to improve their setups. This is a great way to accomplish that. Technically down the road (dare I say it), you could even drop in a different brand of projector - as long as it fits inside the cradle, has the necessary lens throw and shift to fill your screen properly, and doesn't run hotter than the Epson projector. Note: DLP models typically run hotter, as they use higher wattage lamps, however in a couple of years it's likely that most projectors coming out will have LED light sources (cooler running), rather than the conventional UHP lamps.
The real bottom line on the Ensemble HD 720 is that it is the only such "all-in-one" pre-configured, easy, and quick to install solution, available for under $5000!
Epson Ensemble HD 720 System: Pros
- Rich dynamic looking image with good (not exceptional) skin tone reproduction
- All-in-one system - remember the old adage? "Keep it simple" Epson has
- LivingRoom mode provides very good color accuracy for a brighter mode, great for HDTV, Sports, and for movies with modest ambient light
- Dynamic mode is brighter than all but a very few projectors can produce
- Good shadow detail performance
- Black level performance is a little better than average among the 720p projectors
- Sharp image, sharper than the average 720p projector, but definitely not the sharpest
- With the heart of the Ensemble HD 720 being a 720p 3LCD projector, pixel structure is slightly visible at normal seating distances
- Very good menus
- The only under $5000 complete solution available today, without having to research and shop for a lot of different components
- Designed to be installed in 5 hours or less, thanks to overall design, and provided powder coated wiring channels (no need to cut holes in walls/ceiling to run wires
- Epson might have put it this way (to quote an old song): "We will, we will Rock You!"
Epson Ensemble HD 720 System: Cons
- Very average lamp life from the Home Cinema 720 projector - with less than half the lamp life rating (at full power) of the projectors in the more expensive Ensemble HD systems (1700 hour rating at full power, compared to 4000 hours on the projectors in the other Ensemble packages)
- Only one size screen (100 inch diagonal) configuration. Your room will need to be approximately 14 feet deep to acommodate the Ensemble HD
- Epson should have fully programmed the projector controls into the provided universal remote control. The fact that they provide a separate remote for the projector is dandy, but, why not do the obvious, so that people won't need the other remote?
- Only 720p true resolution, although anyone could decide later to drop in one of the higher end Epson projectors (or even possibly a competitor) to move up to 1080p native resolution
The Bottom Line: That's easy! Finally, a large screen, projector based home theater system, that requires no more hassle to buy and install (actually less) than an LCDTV with separate sound system. And it's a system that you can ultimately upgrade down the road, with an even better - and higher resolution projector.
The whole package works as promised, and you should definitely be pleased. The Ensemble HD 720 is a well balanced combination of impressive video and rich, powerful sound. I can best desribe the sound system by saying it rocks, be it for action movies, or if you just want to do some excellent music!
If you've been contemplating a projector based home theater system for a while, and have been intimidated by the complexity of buying and having it installed, here's what you have been waiting for!
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