Epson Home Cinema 3020 Projector - Image Quality
Before we discuss the picture quality of Epson's Home Cinema 3020, our usual comments on the color accuracy of the images:
A lot of processing goes on from the start of a photo shoot until you are viewing the Epson Home Cinema 3020 images on your computer screen. As a result, these images are reasonable indications, but not accurate enough for comparing precise color, saturation and other aspects. Note: Selected images relating to shadow detail, and especially black level performance can be very effective at demonstrating how the Home Cinema 3020 positions itself compared to other home projectors. Different computers, browsers, displays, graphics cards, and software, all affect how the image looks on your screen.
I've always said, that all home theater projectors, including this Epson Home Cinema 3020, definitely looks better live at your place, than any of our images would indicate.
11/9/2012 - Art Feierman
Epson Home Cinema 3020 Out of the Box Picture Quality
Cinema looks pretty good out of the box. At full power the picture is a just a touch warm, and definitely very watchable. Living Room mode delivers a few hundred extra lumen, and also looks good, although a bit cool. Both can be improved slightly with a single setting change. In the case of Cinema, adjust the color temp setting from 6500 to 7000, and for Living Room, lower it from 7500 to 7000. Bingo, really good just got better, without any calibration.
Dynamic mode is the brightest, and it is heavy on greens. It's the only color mode that doesn't look great. Still, not near as bad as many other Dynamic modes out there, including the BenQ W7000. Mike's "quick-cal" improves Dynamic mode rather nicely without sacrificing too many lumens.
Epson Home Cinema 3020 Projector - Flesh Tones
The Cinema mode and Natural are almost identical. Skin tones look very good in both, while in Living room mode, theys till look good if a touch thin on red (unless you follow our suggestion above, or check out the Calibration page)
Post calibration Cinema mode looks really great. It should the projector measures very close to ideal. Visit the performance page where you can see comparative photos comparing the different modes, on a model with plenty of skin showing for the comparison. The uncalibrated Cinema mode looks very good, but it gets even better after Mike's grayscale calibration. Skin tones are a touch softer and better still, after Mike calibrated the individual colors with the Color Management System. All these images are post calibration, but only the grayscale, not the CMS.
Let's look at some assorted images, starting with good examples of skin tones. Above and below, our usual suspects - Gandalf and Arwen, from Lord of the Rings, on Blu-ray.
Below are our three James Bond images from Casino Royale. Each has a different lighting scenario, the first - full sunlight, the second image; indoor fluorescent, and finally, filtered sunlight in the third image. And as one would expect, that causes each image of James Bond - Daniel Craig - to have different looking skin tones.
More images we like for considering skin tones:
Above, HDTV - Saturday Night Live
Epson Home Cinema 3020 Black Levels & Shadow Detail
While Epson's $1000 more HC5020UB has the best (blackest) blacks we've ever seen in an under $3000 projector, the Home Cinema 3020 is not remotely in its league. In reality black level performance for under $2000 projectors is just average.
There are several projectors selling for under $2000 that can do a much better job at blacks. If there's one area where we really could have appreciated the HC3020 performing better, it has to be black level performance. Yes, it's a family room type projector, where lighting usually isn't near perfect, but even in such rooms, better blacks can be appreciated, even if no where near as much as in a dedicated home theater.
Below our starship image comparison from The Fifth Element.
Epson Home Cinema 3020:
Acer H9500BD (below) - this projector shared our Best In Class award last year, with the older HC3010. As was the case last year, the Acer - which had the best black levels in the price range, still does a better job on blacks than the newer Home Cinema 3020:
Viewsonic Pro8200 projector:
Sony VPL-HW50ES (LCoS projector $3,699):
Vivitek H1080FD ($899):
BenQ W7000: The BenQ is more of a home theater projector than a home entertainment one. It definitely does better on blacks - it is one of only two under $2000 reviewed projectors, that we consider "ultra high contrast."
Shadow Detail Performance
Below is a favorite image for looking at dark shadow detail. It's also a good test of black level performance. While as already noted, the black levels of the 3020 are only average, that definitely is the case for dark shadow detail. Look at the shrubs on the right and behind the tracks, and also in the darkest portion of the woods, that there's plenty of dark shadow detail. Most of the projectors' images below crush the darkest detail more.
Epson Home Cinema 3020:
Epson Home Cinema 3010: There may be some color shifts, but the shadow detail is about identical.
Optoma HD33: Definitely not quite as good.
Acer H9500BD: Better blacks, but not quite as good on dark shadow detail
BenQ W6000 (ultra high contrast, 2D, $2000+):
Sony VPL-HW50ES: A big bucks top performer that's easily twice the price.
Black Level and Shadow Detail Performance: Home Cinema 3020 Projector - Bottom Line
As a family room projector most owners will find the black levels to be acceptable, and the shadow detail to be rather excellent. Black levels performance though, is not likely to inspire serious enthusiasts looking to put the HC3020 in a dedicated theater / cave type of room.
No one's going to complain about the shadow detail, but if you are really into black level performance, as I am, you'll have to weigh this one relative weakness against the many benefits.
Epson Home Cinema 3020 - Overall Color & Picture Quality
On everything but the darkest scenes where black level performance starts making a real difference, this Epson excels in terms of picture quality. With or without calibration (or use of our provided settings on the Calibration page), color in best modes is really very good.
Just comparing "out of the box" performance, this Epson is certainly one of the best in the price range. Dynamic mode, as is typical of most projectors, has a strong greenish caste but not as much as last year. Mike's "quick-cal" settings make that Dynamic mode very watchable. Or, for an almost as bright picture, there's the default Living Room mode. Epson's Living room mode is still brighter than almost any competing projector can muster in any of their bright modes, and the HC3020 is likely to look better than any of those competitors in their bright modes.
A mix of additional images to show off the Epson Home Cinema 3020:
Note, while I have complained a bit about blacks (the images showing them to you are intentionally very overexposed), look at this normally exposed image of the Enterprise above. Not bad, not bad at all!
Epson Home Cinema 3020 Projector: Performance, HDTV and Sports, including 3D
The Home Cinema 3020 is generally great on HDTV. The one caveat - if you are watching a dark movie on TV, then the same issues regarding black levels apply, if less so.
Football though, this time of year gets a large chunk of my 3D viewing, then there's also those Discovery HD and similar type programs.
Note please: Football images are all taken with shutters partially open, and rear lights turned on. All other HDTV images taken with minor ambient light. (Below, first image gives you an idea of how the room looks with the lighting - which makes the image on the screen look overexposed). The second one is exposed to make the screen look like it did when viewing. The lower pair: ambient light hitting the screen with no projected image (same amount as when shooting the photos). Lower right points the camera to the back of my room.
(Note, image above - I'm just not a vampire type person - this from Vampire Diaries, but now that I can see all the recorded programs on any of our DirecTV boxes, from any room, I "borrowed" this from my wife's recordings. Wow, those vampires are all so hot, no wonder my wife watches this show!)
The one feature the HC3020 projector lacks, in terms of sports viewing, is CFI - creative frame interpolation - often referred to as smooth motion. Of course, very, very few projectors under $2000 offer this feature. As I've said dozens - if not hundreds of times, I consider CFI to be a nice feature to have, but one I, and most, can live without. I'm watching the Penn State vs. Nebraska football game right now as I write this, and I'm not missing CFI, although I'd probably have it turned on, on the low setting if I was using the more expensive HC5020 which does have it.
Watching the HC3020 in Living Room mode, the picture is bright, good color, and very dynamic. I've got the shades partially open, and the room's rear lights turned on. The game looks great - vibrant!
I've got Super-Resolution dialed up to 3 for the game, making the image look extremely crisp, and it adds a noticeable amount of contrast at this setting (too high for movies).
Other than adding CFI, and when I factor in the best in class brightness, I can't think of a better projector in the Epson's price range for sports and general HDTV viewing. especially in less than ideal room situations.
3D HDTV worked just great although I really didn't watch very much. In 3D, the far brighter picture of this Epson really doesn't let the competition compete seriously.
Above: from HGTV's Million Dollar Rooms show.
Epson Home Cinema 3020 Projector: Bottom Line on HDTV Sports, and also 3D HDTV content
A great HDTV and sports projector value. Our other favorite from last year, the Acer, comes up dramatically short compared to this Epson HC3020 in terms of 3D brightness.
In terms of 2D HDTV, I've listed the only shortcomings I can think of: The average black level performance, and the lack of CFI. Since almost none of the direct competition offer CFI, that becomes sort of a moot point. Black levels are far more important for your Blu-ray movie viewing than on HDTV, especially since blacks coming in on HDTV are already compromised compared to Blu-ray.
My bottom line for HDTV and Sports is: You will either have to sacrifice a lot of brightness (expecially for 3D), or wait for some new projector to hit the market in this price range, to find a better choice than the Home Cinema 3020.
Below - a little Coldpay, anyone?
Above: Olympic stadium, below an NFL stadium at night
OK, you've seen enough images, time to give you a break, so we'll talk brightness and other performance aspects on the next page.