Epson Home Cinema 1080 and Pro Cinema 1080 Projector Reviews: Summary, Pros, Cons
Let's start with the Home Cinema 1080, since that's the only one I actually got to play with. I am impressed. Of the three 1080p LCD projectors, this is my new favorite. The Panasonic may have a pixel structure that is for all practical purposes invisible, and has some great features built in for optimizing its performance, and the Mitsubishi, does give the feeling of being slightly sharper, whether or not it resolves any more detail, plus the Mitsubishi is super quiet. The Epson is the noisiest of the three, by the way.
Still, the Home Cinema 1080 has a killer list of strengths, the most significant are:
It's brighter than the competition.
It's the most flexible (although not by much compared to the other 2 LCD models).
It's out of the box colors are pretty impressive, as is black level performance.
It's got a great warranty, and support program.
And, if that weren't enough - it costs less than any other 1080p projector at the time of this writing (4/07).
I should also mention the other two under $5000 1080p projectors. The first is the Sony Pearl - the VPL-VW50. This 3 chip LCOS (SXRD as Sony calls it), has the edge in black levels without any doubt, but is one of the least bright projectors in the group. I'd give the Sony VPL-VW50 the edge in "film-like" characteristics, and is probably the better choice for those seeking a perfect image under $5000. I found my test Sony to be pretty sharp, despite previous experiences at trade shows where I always suspected it was a bit too soft. That said, the Sony I tested, and the Epson are about even in sharpness.
The Optoma HD81, by comparison, has just dropped from about $7999 to $4299, so with discounts is still a chunk more than the Epson. The HD81 is also one of those very film like projectors, and is exceptionally strong on rich dark colors, a trait it shares with the Epson. The Epson is going to be more suitable for most folks, with it's easy room placement - the Optoma lacks lens shift, and has only a 1.2:1 zoom, so mostly it's for ceiling mount only. The outboard processor of the Optoma HD81 is a strength, in addition fo Gennum's reputation for excellent processing, the Optoma simplfies wiring with only two cables needing to run from all of your equipment to the projector (a money saver), and compared to any projector without outboard processing, an amazing amount of input switching. (3 HDMI inputs, and that's just the start). Potential Optoma buyers will figure out who they are, the Epson will have much more appeal to typical users.
I'll just say this about the Epson versus the JVC. Don't go there! The Epson is roughly half the price, and a great value. The JVC is just the best projector around (short of those really high priced 3 chip DLP 1080p projectors - and who knows... it may match them in everything but brightness). The difference in black levels, as shown, is dramatic, so the JVC is a step up. The Epson can muster out a lot more lumens in it's brightnest mode, and has some other nice touches, but I watched these two side by side for more than an hour... It's like a top college sports team, compared to a top pro team. Hey, the JVC is commanding almost twice the price. Which ever of these two you choose, you will get your money's worth!
Pro Cinema 1080 - Ok this is basically the same projector but it lives in a different world, so it's time to talk about all of that.
Epson has decided to market two lines of similar projectors. They have a good reason, but whether that matters to you or not, we shall see. The high volume market for projectors is mostly internet based, which, is strongest on projectors under $2000. On the other hand, there are literally thousands and thousands of local "install" dealers - many of them referred to as CEDIA dealers (the CEDIA organization dealers all do installation, often have a staff of people who are trained and certified, and most of them either have a professional calibrator on staff, or work closely with one. They also are generally allergic to any real discounting. As a result, local dealers tend to avoid carrying any projector that can easily be obtained online at heavy discount prices. Think I'm kidding, in most major cities (in the US) you can't even find a place to get a demo of the most popular home theater projectors from Optoma, Panasonic, etc. So here comes Epson - on he lower end, the Cinema 400, and now the Home Cinema 1080, both Ok for online and "big box" houses (like Best Buy, Circuit City, etc.)
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Then there is the Pro Cinema 810 (720p resolution) and the new Pro Cinema 1080.
The first thing these two have, is longer warranties. Next, they are both ISF certified. That is, they provide all the necessary functions for a professional calibration (which by the way improves performance significantly beyond what my basic grayscale adjustments do. That also means that there are separate "Day" and Night modes (with without ambient light, so the projector can really be optimized for your exact room conditions (normal ISF calibration is done in your finished room, so wall and ceiling colors/brightness, screen surface, etc. are all part of a pro calibration, and what a difference it makes. A last thought for those of you starting to see why many buy from high quality local dealers. I've been writing reviews of home theater projectors for three years now, and am fairly competent with my testing equipment.
But, I am planning to have my projector professionally calibrated by someone who's skills are definitely a magnitude beyond mine. I know what a difference it can make.
OK, I digress (as usual). Back to the Pro Cinema 1080. The outboard processing, the ISF capabilities that the local dealers that sell it, offer, let those not afraid to spend more, take the basic engine of the Cinema 1080 to a different level of performance. The Pro Cinema 1080 calibrated by a professional may still not be able to match the black levels and shadow detail of the JVC RS1, but, it will close the gap.
Many people looking for a front projection home theater system, are looking for a quality local dealer that knows their stuff, and can provide you with everything you need, from projector to audio equipment, wiring and installation, even calibration. If you also want to get the maximum performance out of all the equipment you buy, and have a local dealer on hand, should a problem occur, then the Epson Pro Cinema 1080, starts looking very attractive, even though its about $1500 more than the Home Cinema. (officially $2000, but you get that spare lamp and a ceiling mount). And, don't forget that extra year warranty.
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By the way, some local dealers will install projectors you buy elsewhere, but, don't you worry, if they are doing your room, they will almost certainly recoup most of the savings you made shopping online. It's logical, and it's fair. Also, if you buy your projector elsewhere, and there are issues with it, the local dealer, who primarily works on an hourly basis, is going to be charging you for all the extra time, working with the defective product. When you buy the equipment directly from them, their obligation is to check everything out in advance, so if, say a projector is defective, they would be expected to replace it, without charging you for the lost time. Ultimately you make the call.
OK, time to summarize - remember, we only tested the Home version, but, from a technical standpoint, the two projectors have the same "engine", so even though they have different menus, and some other differences, from a performance standpoint they should be close to identical.
Epson Cinema 1080 Pros
- Lowest Cost 1080p projector (Home version)
- Brightest1080p projector (both versions) under $10K (so far) in brightest mode
- Very good brightness in "best mode"
- Very good black level performance
- Very good warranty (2 years) for the Home Cinema version (includes overnight replacement program
- Industry best warranty for the Pro Cinema version: 3 years with overnight replacement program
- Lots of user savable settings (both)
- Very good color out of the box (but best modes should have color temp set for 6500K, instead of defaults)
- ISF Certified, and support for ISF Day Night modes (Pro Cinema 1080 only)
- Tremendous placement flexibility (both models), including 2.1:1 zoom lens, and vertical (with lots of range) and horizontal lens shift
- Good remote control
- Very good menu system
- First affordable 1080p projector to support HDMI 1.3, which means more color depth, and more shades of colors for smooth images, noticeable in skin textures, sky color, etc.
- Support for 1080p 24fps
- Excellent price performance (Home version)
- Better than average physical appearance (generally - a good looking projector)
- 12 volt screen trigger
Epson Cinema 1080 Cons
- Noisy when lamp is in full power mode (note no noisier than a couple other "loud" 1080p projectors
- If ceiling mounted, projector must be unmounted to replace lamp
- Only one HDMI input
- Although sharpness is definitely acceptable, room for improvement compared to competition.
Epson Cinema 1080 Typical Capabilities
- Sharpness is about average for 1080p projectors
- Audible noise about average in low power lamp mode
- Good shadow detail
- Pixel structure - not as good as Panasonic PT-AE1000U or LCOS projectors (Sony and JVC), but good enough that pixels are not normally visible at normal seating distance
- Relies on dynamic iris to enhance black levels - great on really dark images, but on scenes with a mix of dark and bright areas, only slightly better than average performance (of the 1080p projectors, all of which have at least very good black levels, overall)
- Price/performance for the Pro Cinema 1080
- No light leakage issues
- Average lamp life
- Average array of inputs
Epson Home Cinema 1080 and Pro Cinema 1080 Summary:
There is no question that the Home Cinema 1080 is an excellent value. It is not just the least expensive 1080p projector on the market (as of 4/07), but a better than average performer, despite the low, sub $3000 selling price.
The Pro Cinema 1080, although significantly more expensive, represents an equivalent value, if you are shopping for 1080p projectors from local, installation oriented home theater companies.
All in all, Epson provides a very good product, and backs both with great warranties, and, not forgetting Epson has a great reputation for supporting customers after the sale.
With the Home Cinema 1080's sub $3000 selling price, 1080p projectors have just reached a new level of affordability. Perhaps more to the point, the Epson is not just 1080p resolution, but an impressive performer as well. It will pose a challenge for many, in that those looking to spend more like $2000, will now have to think hard about whether it makes sense for them to find a way to find the extra dollars and go for a really nice 1080p projector.
The final word, is simply this. Between the three low cost LCD 1080p projectors, and taking price into consideration, I would have to pick the Epson as my first choice. I realize that the Panasonic and Mitsubishi each have some strengths that the Epson can't match, but Epson has more than enough of their own strengths to make it a great choice.