The Art of Home Theater Projectors

Epson Home Cinema 8100 Projector – A First Look review

UPDATE: The Epson Home Cinema 8100 projector review has been posted.

Greetings all!

OK, this is probably a bit premature – even for a first look, but, hey, I’ve received a fair number of emails telling me: HURRY!  I need to know about the Home Cinema 8100, asap!

So, let’s start at the beginning.  The Epson Home Cinema 8100 projector is basically an upgraded version of the Home Cinema 6100.

The biggest news is price. The Epson Home Cinema 8100 starts out with a MAP (minimum advertised price) of $1599!

Basically, rebates (which often come and go), notwithstanding, the 8100 is about $300 less than it’s predecessor, the 6100 which is finishing it’s “career” with a MAP of $1899 (and a rebate, I think), in exchange for which you get just a slightly better projector.  Nothing wrong with a 15+% price drop and slight performance improvements from one year to the next.  That’s particularly good here in the US, as the US dollar has not been doing that well.  (Seems like LCDTV’s and Plasmas really haven’t come down in price at all in the last year.)

You won’t be able to tell any real difference by looking at the 8100 and 6100 (a slight color change to the side panels?)  There is also the Pro Cinema 9100 which is near identical to the 8100  but it also supports an anamorphic lens, comes in black (not white), and has a 3rd year warranty.  Most likely the Pro Cinema 9100 will only be sold through local authorized installing dealers, and typically Epson bundles the Pro projectors with a ceiling mount and a spare lamp.

You won’t see a change in the claimed brightness – the Home Cinema 8100, like the 6100 is rated 1800 lumens.

In Fact about the only spec that changes is the contrast, which magically doubles from the 6100′s 18,000:1 to 36,000:1.

Best I can tell, so far, is that the extra contrast is coming from a new improved dual iris.

I haven’t worked with it enough yet (and don’t have an older one here) to see if the new iris is able to deliver blacker blacks, without the iris action being more noticeable than on the Home Cinema 8100′s predecessor.  If all is well, you’ll end up with a slight improvement in black levels with no real cost elsewhere, thanks to the iris.  Don’t expect a dramatic difference – a doubling of contrast is a minimal change, not night and day, whether you are going from 2000:1 to 4000:1, or from 30,000:1 to 60,000:1.

But back to the Home Cinema 8100, and it’s sibling the Pro Cinema 9100:

The preliminary info doesn’t indicate any other new features.  The lamp is still rated 4000 hours in both full and low power.

Ok, so what we have here, is a projector that is “classic” Epson.  Based on my preliminary viewing, colors should be extremely good, but skin tones just won’t rival the naturalness and richness of the better DLP projectors.  On the other hand, like previous Epson’s the 8100 has a lot of punch to the picture.  Sports fans should love the lumens.   For hard core movie fans, the Epson has to do battle with several competitors, none, however, more challenging than the new Mitsubishi HC3800.  Most likely, I would have predicted that, when it’s all over, the Mits will have the advantage in skin tones, and overall color, while the Epson Home Cinema 8100 will produce better black levels, and have a lot more brightness available, when you need it.  The Mitsubishi almost certainly will have the slightly sharper image.

I wrote the above paragraph before I spent a lot of time with the Epson Home Cinema 6100  and Mitsubishi HC3800 running side by side. (Remember, the Epson is a pre-production unit, the Mitsubishi an engineering sample, so some of the reality will change with full production versions of the projectors.

Last night I discovered that my expectations were partially wrong.  The Mitsubishi definitely holds it’s own in terms of black levels, with the Epson Home Cinema 8100.  On just the right really dark scenes with no bright areas, the Epson definitely can produce a blacker black, but, on most dark scenes, the HC3800 actually had a slight advantage, or the two were so close to identical as to not matter.  It didn’t help the Epson that (as is very typical of pre-production units) the background was uneven, with extra red in three corners, and rather significantly in the lower right corner.  A production unit shouldn’t do that, and should also then appear to have a touch lower black level, overall.  Still, unless there is a real shift with the production units, I’d have to say that the Mitsubishi has a slight advantage in blacks, and that is a surprise.  (And I took a whole lot of images to prove it!)

The Epson is impressive, if not exciting, by virtue of  just being an evolutionary improvement.  It’s likely to be the family room, bonus room projector of first choice for most shoppers.  For hard core movie enthusiasts, it should be interesting how the the Epson and Mitsubishi slug it out for the hard core movie fan.  The Epson has a good advantage in placement flexibility (no lens shift for the Mitsubishi HC3800).  The Mitsubishi will have a lot more lumens in best mode, and likely a more “film like” picture, though with a touch less “pop and wow”.

When it comes to sports, and general TV and HDTV viewing, the  Epson dominates in both absolute brightness and color when comparing brighter modes..  Both have long life lamps, and good warranties, although the Epson has a slight edge on both.  Mitsubishi’s brightest mode combination yields a very greenish image, and no way to really fix it.  The next brightest combination really isn’t visibly brighter than the Mitsubishi’s extremly bright “best” mode.   The Epson this year, does a far better job on color in Dynamic mode, than last year’s 6100.  In other words, compared to the Mitsubishi, when you dial in that football game, the Epson will not only be significantly brighter, but have better color.

Regarding brightness, Mike has measured and calibrated the Home Cinema 8100.  I was surprised to see that it measured less than 90% of the brightness of the older 6100.  I do believe for now, that I’ll attribute that to the pre-production status of this unit.  Afterall, I can’t come up with any other good rationalization as to why the Home Cinema 8100 would not be a bright as the 6100.

The Home Cinema 8100 offers 48 fps interpolation from 24 bit sources.  Unlike the higher end Home Cinema 8500UB, it does not support 96fps or 120 fps interpolation, or any creative interpolation.

Not much else to report.  The same remote control, the same menus (give or take).  If you liked the Home Cinema 6100, then you’ll like the Home Cinema 8100 even more, with it’s slight contrast increase, and lower cost.  Like last year’s projector, the 8100 comes across a little weak, when it comes to dark shadow detail.  Not bad, but bested slightly by any number of projectors.

Last year, the biggest competition to the 6100 was from slightly more expensive projectors that are of the “ultra-high contrast” variety, including Epson’s own UB, the Panasonic PT-AE3000, and Sanyo PLV-Z3000.  This year, the toughest competition looks to be from a very capable DLP projector at the same price.

All considered, the Epson looks to be a very good overall value, for a projector around $1500, but it’s not without some real competition.  It should be strongest in family room type environments, and among sports fans!

OK, that should keep you folks somewhat happy for the 5 – 6 more days until I post the full review.  -art

PS.  I’ll probably add a couple or three images to this blog, late tonight, including at least one of a side by side with the Mitsubishi.

News And Comments

  • Jussi Mattila

    Can you comment on how loud is the new iris? Is it the same as in 8500?

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Not yet. I had it off for all my sports viewing, and really haven’t started on movies yet. I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary, when I was doing some photos, so my guess is about the same. -a

  • Adam

    Art,

    I would really like to know what makes the 8500/6500 so much better than the 8100. You love the 6500UB but seem very lukewarm about the 8100, yet the only real picture difference seems to be black levels and frame interpolation–all for double the price. What am I missing?

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Greetings Adam,

      You hit the nail on the head, except for the phrasing: “yet the only real picture difference…” The thing is, a dramatic improvement in black levels is a huge difference. As I have said in the past (too many times): Great black levels are the holy grail of home theater projectors.

      It’s the great black levels that have most reviewers picking the JVC RS20 as last year’s best under $10K, projector. Creative frame interpolation – a nice touch, but the jury is out on the value. It can be nice for sports, but few (at least with the current cfi technology), will use CFI for movie viewing.

      So, yes, you will be paying almost double with the 8500UB to get those incredible blacks (consider CFI a freebie), that while not a match for the JVC RS20 (or RS10) are pretty much the equal or better than any other projectors on the market, including the 5 figure 3 chip DLPs.

      On bright scenes, great blacks are a bonus, but on very dark scenes, and mixed scenes, the difference is (I hate to do this), almost night and day. Those projectors with great black level performance don’t look washed out, and dull, while projectors with merely very good blacks, do look that way, by comparison.

      Until you’ve seen a two projectors in a good dark environment, running dark scenes, one with great black levels, and one with good ones, it’s hard to appreciate how important better blacks can be. Although you can get the idea, on a number of the photos I use for black level and shadow detail comparisons.

      As to the 8100, I am a bit disappointed. With the doubling of the contrast to 36,000 I had hoped for blacks approaching the original 1080 UB, which claimed 50,000:1. Alas, it was not to be. I can see virtually no difference under normal viewing between the 8100 and the older 16,000:1 6100, other than on the very darkest (no bright areas at all), scenes, where the improved iris makes the blacks a little blacker than on the 6100. But, it would seem, that on the typical dark scene with some bright areas (a far, far, far, more common thing), the 6100 and 8100 are probably about identical. By comparison, it’s the different panels, in the 6500UB (and forthcoming 8500UB), that create a significantly better native black level (before the iris is factored in).

      So, yes, to me, and to most experienced HT projector owners, great blacks are about as important a ‘feature” as you can want, and the biggest reason for spending more money. Afterall, the $8000 JVC RS20, isn’t particularly bright (above average in best mode, below average in brightest). It’s not particularly sharp, it doen’t have fancy features like CFI. It’s basically just another good projector – except for the best black performance around, and accomplishing it without a dynamic iris, a device that inherently has issues, in that they deliver better blacks but, you can sometimes spot the iris action, and they compress the dynamics of the image you are watching. (That would be all projectors with dynamic irises not just the epsons). BTW, home theater projectors prior to the late 1990s were pretty much all CRT types (three gun). CRTs do “true black” that is, when something is supposed to be black, (the absence of light), that’s what the crt does – it outputs nothing. Unfortunately fixed panel devices be they LCD, Plasma, LCoS, or DLP, all have minimum levels of “white” when black is called for, thus the quest for the grail – blacker blacks.

      Bottom line – you missed nothing. But you underrated perhaps the single most important “feature” – blacker blacks.

      Finally, consider this. I generally break out home theater projectors into two classes – in terms of black level performance:
      1. typical projectors
      2. what I call “ultra-high contrast” projectors

      Now, last year, I could comfortably state that virtually all projectors claiming 30,000:1 or higher contrast, were “ultra-high” contrast projectors, based on actual performance. What the Home Cinema 8100 shows me, and also, likely the Mitsubishi HC6800 (a 30,000:1 projector replacing the 15,000:1 HC6500), is that it’s not a fixed number that matters, but the end result.
      If everything else was truly equal, there would be almost no visible difference between the 36,000:1 6100, and the original UB – the 1080UB, at 50,000:1. An improvement of 40% in contrast is almost nothing. Yet the difference is huge. I have the 1080UB in my Ensemble HD, and I’ve looked at the blacks on it, compared to the 8100, and the old 1080UB still does significantly better blacks.

      No one has come up with a good way to “rate” black levels numerically. Dynamic irises vary in operation, and almost all projectors (JVC notwithstanding) in the $2000 – $10000 range now have dynamic irises.

      So, that keeps reviewers like myself, in a job. You can’t tell black level performance from the contrast spec. (note that the 4000:1 HC3800 does better blacks (slightly) on most scenes, than the 8100 with its 36,000:1), so I get to do my subjective calls.

      BTW, on that note, when I get blog comments, and emails from folks outside the US, and even is some more suburban and rural locations in the US, I’m often told that “where I live” I can’t find anyplace to see these projectors demo’d. Well, just to let you know, I live outside of LA, and even in the “big cities” its near impossible to find a dealer set up to properly demonstrate a $1000 or even a $10,000 projector. Yes, if you are spending $25K, or $100K on a projector, you can get it demo’d.

      So, I feel your pain. At least I get to play with them all, if only 2-4 at a time. -art

  • Bjorn

    Excellent post Art, there really is nothing as important to picture quality than black level, the search for the holy grail indeed :-)

    On the last part, completely agree it really is horrible how hard it is to find a local dealer where you can demo a projector. Like you, I’m also just outside of L.A. and the only places I’ve found around here where you can demo projectors are Magnolia @ BestBuy who has two pjs, a Sony WV60 and another older Mitsubishi model, and Wilshire Entertainment who when I recently checked had the Epson 7500UB (with a horrible setup on a very small screen) and a 3-chip Runco in a separate room, so even here you are VERY limited in what models you can get demo’ed, not to mention compare between them…

    With availability like that, it’s no wonder so few people have, or even know about projectors for using as a home theater. So sad…

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Yes, very sad, but then, it keeps me in business, so I won’t complain to much. The good news is that there is a positive trade-off. Since few actually see a home theater projector before owning it, the feedback is that in almost every case, (even flaws, notwithstanding), people are consistently writing that when they finally got everything, and got it set up properly in their rooms, that the end result was significantly better than their expectations. I realize that may not be as true with folks on their 3rd or 4th projectors, but then, they know what to expect, and they are typically only buying incremental improvements, not “night and day”.

      So the good news is that while we all tend to pick at the flaws of our projectors, it seems we are overall, extremely satisfied. -a

  • Ivan Nunez

    Thank you Art for the response. I realized I made a mistake too, thank you for correcting me. Yes, being down around 7 inches will be a problem. My only option would to be tilt the projector and use keystone correction. Would you recommend this Art? I’m thinking of tilting the projector enough to make it raise about at least another ten inches. I don’t know if you have tested the keystone correction on the Mitsubishi hc3800, but in-case you have was the image quality degraded to a point where it a makes a huge difference? Some people say its bad while others say it really isn’t. Your professional opinion would be of good use here Art.

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Well, I’m fundamentally opposed to using any keystone correction. It results in the softening of the image. Hey, I’m just as opposed to overscan correction that chops off the outer 2, 3, 5% and expands the image to fit. I strongly prefer cropping instead of overscan. It gives you a slightly smaller image of 2, 3, 5%, whatever is offered, but maintains the 1:1 pixel ratio. So, no, I don’t like your idea. YOu could go with a screen 20″ diagonal less to buy yourself 10 inches, or compromise some where in that.

      Or, you could go with a 3LCD projector like the new Epson 8100, although I have a preference for the HC3800 for skin tones and overall image quality, while the Epson has the most lumens available for things like sports viewing. Other solutions cost more. I can’t remember off the top, but the Sharp XV-Z15000 may have less lens offset (check the review). And of course, the BenQ W6000, but that’s almost twice the price. Around $2K plus, there’s also the Sanyo PLV-Z3000, and you may be able to find a really good deal now, or soon, on the Epson 6500UB, but I doubt much below $2200, if that. -art

  • Brian Gillespie

    Art, I was wondering if the 8100 has a blanking feature that would allow me to crop down the picture if I so desire. My current projector, the Panasonic AE2000 only has an overscan feature, that when activated, slightly softens the picture.

    One other question: Overall I have been happy with the 2000, but I have never been 100% happy with the sharpness. Would I see a significant increase in overall sharpness if I switched to the 8100?

    Thanks,
    Brian

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Brian, no, the 8100 does not have a crop feature, only overscan, (which does soften the image). I’m a big fan of having a cropping feature, with it, you won’t fully fill the screen, but by my take, I’d rather maintain the 1:1 pixel mapping, than fill the screen with the softer image.

      The Epson should give you a bit more sharpness, but not greatly so. (It will be to a large degree, dependent on how good the panel pixel alignment is between the individual projectors, but the Epson overall has the advantage. For a truly substantial sharpness change, though, the DLP’s have the advantage – YOu might look at the Mitsubishi HC3800 for example. All that said, I wouldn’t really go from the AE2000 to the 8100 – it’s pretty much a sideways move. Your next step really should be the Epson 8500UB, perhaps the Panny 3000 (or 4000) – but for the same sharpness, or the BenQ W6000. -a

  • Eiffel

    Ivan, Art, rather than using keystone correction, wouldn’t it be possible to tilt both the projector and screen. Obviously this would work within a limited range, but this should be an acceptable workaround.

    Ballpark estimates tell me that if the Projector is 15 foot away from the screen, a 1 degree tilt would raise the screen by nearly 2in

  • John Thacker

    “you may be able to find a really good deal now, or soon, on the Epson 6500UB, but I doubt much below $2200, if that.”

    I’m seeing better deals right now on the Panasonic AE3000U than the Epson 6500UB, but again, not much below $2200.

  • http://theaterprojector.org Theater Projector

    Your first look reviews are more comprehensive than most people’s full reviews. Thanks so much, keep up the good work.

  • Steve Atkinson

    Hi Art…….

    It has been two weeks since BenQ was supposed to get back to you on the iris “issues” with the W6000.

    What if anything have you heard?

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Nothing yet Steve,

      But, it’s not like we say. “Hey, this can be improved” and 24 hours later they go “you were right – this is much better”. Firmware upgrades, in reality, from the time they start working on a problem (be it Epson’s old CFI issues) the issues with the W6000 iris, etc., it’s usually a couple of months before anything actually shows up as a “fix” or improvement. Hang tight. I’ll harass them some more. -a

  • Ivan Nunez

    Hey Art,
    I know you are working hard in reviewing all these pre-production models, but I am curious to see by when will you have the Mitsubishi hc6800 review up?

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Hi Ivan,

      Hmm, still haven’t received my HC6800 in for review. Probably arriving next week. Just got in the Optoma 8600 which is next. After that, either the HC6800 (most likely) or, if it arrives sooner than expected, I’ll likely do the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB first, immediately followed by the Mits. -art

  • Hieu

    Art, how would you rate the performance of this projector against the Panasonic AE3000?

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Hi, I’m working on the competitors sections of both the Mitsubishi HC3800 and the Epson 8100 and should have them both posted tomorrow night. Hang in there. -a

  • Steve Atkinson

    Hi Art….. I understand re-coding the iris will take some time…. just curious of BenQ got back to you and “admitted” the iris could use some improvement and would verify that they are re-working the firmware and “will have” an improvement… even though they probably will not be able to give you a hard delivery time at this point.

    Thanks for your hard work!!

  • Matt

    Hey Art,

    I’ve been reading your reviews for years and really appreciate the detail you go into with your reviews. So thanks!

    I have one question for you. I’ve been strongly considering the Sharp XV-Z15000 as a replacement for my Marantz VP4001. Would you say that would be a step up or down for me?

    Like you I’m fairly concerned with good black level performance. I’ve never seen a dynamic iris in action and am a bit concerned that the Z15000 might not be my cup of tea coming from the manual iris on the VP4001. Unfortunately I can’t find a demo of it anywhere in town.

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Hmm, more sideways. Well, great black levels only seem to exist in JVC projectors (without dynamic irises) and projector with dynamic irises (but not all).

      You likely will first notice that the Sharp, literally won’t have quite as Sharp an image as the Marantz. With iris off, it’s likely that the two projectors are probably similar in black levels. I like the Sharp, but, all considered, I’d say the BenQ W6000 is more what you are looking for – a bit more performance, overall, enough to convince you that you really are upgrading more than just resolution. All dynanmic irises are visible in operation. Most of us, simply tune out, and don’t notice when watching a good movie. Some, however are more noticeable – on certain things -than others. I think I’m starting to over-obsess about dynamic iris action. Even projectors where I am critical of the iris action (including the W6000 on certain scenes), the iris action is rarely noticeable if you are “into” the movie. Tough for me to assess how you will take to dynamic irises. Over $2000, it’s now hard to even find a HT projector without one, (except the JVCs of course).

  • Adam

    Art,

    Looks like you had better add the new Panasonic PT-AE4000 to the competitors list for the 8100 review. From the looks of things, the new Panny is just as bright as the 8100 in everything except Dynamic mode–and it’s only $1999.

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Yep, done and posted. -a

  • Adam

    Art,

    This is YOUR blog and I don’t want to impose, but I would like to let Brian G. know that that the default “zero” sharpness on the Panasonics is less sharp than the defaults on other projectors. Try increasing the sharpness via the sharpness control and you should be able to dial it up a little with no unwanted effects.

  • Ivan Nunez

    Hey Art, Projector Central has just posted a review of the Panasonic ae4000u and confirmed that it will be arriving here in the US. My question is when will it be arriving and is it really “bestest” projector out there right considering price/performance. How much of a difference are we expecting to see from its previous model (ae3000u)? Would it be dramatic? Because it seems that they admire everything this projector has to offer, not to mention the image quality which they’ve said was the best they have seen by far under the 3k range this year. They even said it matched the picture quality of projectors five times the cost. I would like to know your opinion about this Art and by when do you think you will have the panasonic ae4000u pre-production review up?

  • Jack

    Hi Art,

    I don’t know to much about projectors and home theaters so I’ve been trying to do some researching. I must say that I’ve read a number of you reviews, but yours are the most comprehensive I’ve found.

    Since I’m new to the whole projector thing, I was planning on starting out modestly. I am currently looking at the Viewsonic Pro8100 which I can purchase for about $1,300 Canadian. Since you have reviewed both the Pro8100 and the Epson 8100, I was wondering if you could briefly tell me how they compare? Do you think I better off waiting for the Epson? Thanks.

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Jack, I don’t know for sure. It seems like a really long time ago, that I saw the Viewsonic. I’ve heard about the fixed firmware, and that’s good, and the price is excellent!

      In reviewing what I wrote way back when, here are my best conclusions:
      Brightness in best mode: Tie (note we explained way back that reviews starting earlier this year, have been with new equipment. Previously, we knew our gear was overly optimistic, but since “apples to apples” was not a problem. To compare review lumen counts for reviews before 12/26/08, multiply those by .72. ie. a projector in 2007, measured as 450 lumens is really 450x.72=324 lumens when comparing to the newer reviews. Thus the viewsonic is mid 400′s as is the Epson. The Epson will be brighter in brightest mode.

      Based on my comparison of black levels to the old Sanyo Z2000 which was comparable. It had very good black levels prior to the newer generation “ultra-high” contrast projectors. So, the Viewsonic was very good. The Epson 8100 however should at least beat the Z2000 though maybe not by much, and same compared to the Viewsonic.

      And so on. Quite honestly, I’d say the Epson is the better overall projector, but they should be close, but for $300 less the Viewsonic would be hard to pass on. Keep one thing in mind – if overall budget is really tight, it’s pay now, or pay later, with this pair. I speak of the much longer life of the Epson lamp (and lower cost). If you are keeping the projector for a few years and use it regularly, the Epson will end up costing less.

  • Richard

    Art.
    Thanks for the very relevant info on the Epson. I read your review, but it I assume it was still a pre-production model. In your calibration section, will these configuration change with the full production model? Thanks

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      According to Epson, the color tables are the same, so there should be no real change. Any “differences” therefore would likely be lamp to lamp variation. Remember, this is basically the same projector with minor improvements, over last year’s. A significant change would be more likely on an all new model. -art

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