Epson Home Cinema 1080 Home Theater Projector and Pro Cinema 1080 – Overview

The Epson Home Cinema 1080 arrived the other day. This was a surprise. I had been waiting weeks and weeks for the Pro Cinema 1080, so was surprised to see the Home Cinema 1080 version arrive only a few days after the initial announcement of the projector. Still now word on the The Pro Cinema 1080, which, by comparison, had been announced long ago, with Epson showing the Pro version at CES in early January.

The Home and Pro Cinema 1080 projectors are almost identical. Some key differences: The Home Cinema 1080 has a price set of $2999, compared to $4999 for the Pro version. the Home version comes with a white finish, while the Pro Cinema 1080 comes finished in a shiny black case. Beyond the cosmetics, the Pro version comes boxed with a ceiling mount, and a spare lamp (a roughly $500 value), while, by comparison the Home Cinema 1080p includes neither spare lamp nor mount.

Due to details to be discussed later, we are giving the Home Cinema 1080 our Hot Product Award. The Epson Pro Cinema 1080, by comparison, despite it’s higher price, will still serve a viable group of consumers, Since we consider the Home version to be the better overall value for most, the Pro Cinema does not get our Hot Product Award. Instead, the Pro Cinema 1080p receives a Special Interest Award. Please note: We did not test the Pro version. The differences noted are provided by Epson, both from conversation and the manuals.

The Home Cinema 1080p’s strengths that earn in our award, focus primarily on: Brightness (the brightest of the 1080p LCD projectors by a significant margin, and, important to many, the 1080p projector that produces the brightest image in it’s brightest mode; Low cost (the first 1080p projector under $3000); great placement flexibility.

Image quality is overall very good, although black levels and shadow detail, while very competitive, turned out to be a bit dissapointing considering the 12000:1 contrast ratio claim. Black level performance is comparable to slightly better than the other LCD projectors, the DLP and LCOS projectors have the advantage, especially on content where dynamic irises are less effective at enhancing black levels.

The big difference between the two Epson 1080p projectors is in the menus. The Pro Cinema 1080 is ISF certified and has the usual ISF modes for calibration, locked by a password. The Home Cinema 1080, is not ISF certified, and does not offer the ISF day and night modes. Note: ISF = International Science Foundation, and is the organization of professional calibrators. The color presets have different names, and possibly different performance, between the two. For example, the Home Cinema 1080p has modes like Theater, Theater Black 1 and 2, Dynamic… The Pro Cinema 1080, instead has modes called Vivd, HD, Silverscreen…

For those of you looking to save some money, understand that the Home version still has lots of controls for a calibrator to work with and produce “calibrated” results. Let’s just say that if you are planning to buy from a local, install type dealer, and want the projector professionally calibrated, you probably won’t mind too much the extra cost of the “Pro”, and will probably like the ISF Day and Night settings that the calibrator will set up. Still, properly done, I doubt (haven’t received a Pro Cinema 1080, as mentioned), that there is much you can do with the Pro that can’t be done with the Home Cinema 1080p. The Home version has lots of savable user settings, like previous Epson home theater projectors, so that won’t be an issue.

Perhaps most importantly, the Home Cinema 1080, for the moment, at least, can claim the honor of being the least epensive 1080 projector on the market, and that alone will help Epson sell lots of them. It is definitely the first 1080p projector that can be had, in the US, for less than $3000!

Not only do you get a rock bottom price for this resolution of projector, but, despite all the fuss I just made above, regarding ISF calibration, etc., the Epson offers rather impressive color accuracy right out of the box. Upon setting up the Home Cinema 1080 for the first time, I popped the Blu-Ray version of X-Men: The Last Stand, into my PS3, and watched about a 20 minute segment. Overall I was very pleased, considering I had made zero adjustments.

The Home Cinema 1080 relies on a dynamic iris to obtain the claimed 12,000:1 contrast ratio. As many of you know, it seems like every new projector to two that hits the market has new, breathtakingly high claimed contrast ratios. Most recently, we reviewed, the Sony Pearl, and JVC RS1, both 1080p projectors claiming record holding 15,000:1 contrast ratios. Contrast used to be the best indication of how good a projector is, on producing the blackest blacks. For good or bad, the use of dynamic irises, and dynamically dimming lamps, has made the contrast ratio number far, far, less accurate an indicator of a home theater projector’s ability to produce the blackest blacks. The Sony vs JVC, demonstrated that. The Sony can do exceptional black levels on very dark scenes with no real bright spots, but the blacks are far less impressive when there is some really bright material in a scene. The JVC, claiming its 15000:1 without dynamic iris or dimming lamps, managed to still do blacker blacks than the Sony on those almost all really dark scenes, and produced significantly darker blacks on normal scenes. Even from the first night’s watching, I can tell you right now, that the Epson cannot compete with the Sony for black levels, let alone the JVC. That’s not to say that the Epson didn’t still manage impressive blacks and very good shadow detail in most scenes.

I’ll go more into this issue in the Image Quality section next, but it’s time to move on.

We have given the Home Cinema 1080p our Hot Product Award. Why? Easy: It’s the brightest of the LCD 1080p projectors, to date, it has really good color accuracy (in best modes – Theater Black 1is the one I used the most), right out of the box, and offers extremely flexible room placement. All of these things by themselves are very good, but when combined with being the least expensive of the 1080p projectors currently shipping, how could we not give it the award?

The Home Cinema 1080 shares the same new lens first shown on the Epson Pro Cinema 810, and on the Pro Cinema 1080. In our review of the Pro Cinema 810, we found the new lens to slightly improve the sharpness over the older Epsons – the Cinema 550 and 800.

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