The Art of Home Theater Projectors

New Epson Ensemble HD 1080 systems announced

UPDATE: The Epson Ensemble HD Home Theater system Review has been posted.

Greetings,

As many of you know, I don’t blog very often about new projector announcements, but today is an exception.  Earlier today I received a press release from Epson, announcing two new versions of the Ensemble HD Home Theater system.   One uses the Home Cinema 6100, and has an MSRP of $6499, while the other has the Home Cinema 6500UB, for $7999.

What I really like about the announcement is that there will be two versions, one with Epson’s entry level 1080p projector – the Home Cinema 6100.  Of greater interest to myself, and many potential buyers, however, is that the other projector available in the Ensemble HD is the Home Cinema 6500UB, their higher performance, ultra high contrast projector.

Many of you are aware that I’m a big fan of the concept around the Ensemble HD, and I hope to see other projector manufacturers launching similar products soon.  I say this because I see completely integrated, projector based, home theater systems as the way to take projector based home theater into the mass market.  As of right now, home theater projectors are primarily purchased by “enthusiasts”, “hobbyists” etc.

Most “typical consumers” see a projector based home theater as just too complicated to tackle.  It requires deciding on a projector that will meet your requirements (brightness, room placement, performance), an AV Receiver, a 5.1 surround sound system (speakers and subwoofer), programmable remote control, DVD or Blu-ray player and screen.  Then there’s running wires and installation in general, always far more complicated than doing the same for an LCDTV or Plasma, because the projector ends up either ceiling mounted, or on a rear wall, instead of up front as are the smaller “TVs”.

When Epson announced the original Ensemble HD systems about 20 months ago, the whole idea was – 1 purchase (ok two if you wanted a Blu-ray player), put in by an authorized dealer, the complete installation completed in an afternoon.

Epson, unfortunately – at least for enthusiasts – only offered their lower performance of two 1080p projectors in the Ensemble (and also a 720p Ensemble version with the Home Cinema 720 as its projector).

I should note that the Ensemble HD 720, with the Home Cinema 720 inside, remains in the lineup, at the same $4999 price point.

The lower end of the two 1080p versions, the one using the Home Cinema 6100 (Ensemble HD 6100), as mentioned has a price of $6499, a $500 drop from the older Ensemble HD 1080.  The Home Cinema 6100 is the improved replacement for the Home Cinema 1080 which was in the old Ensemble HD 1080, so you get a newer, slightly better projector for $500 less than the old system.  Not bad!

The configuration for those wanting the best possible picture – along with the convenience of a fully integrated, quickly installed system, is the version featuring the Home Cinema 6500UB.  That projector recently picked up our Best In Class award (it was a tie), for projectors selling in the $2100 – $3500 price range.  I consider the 6500UB to be a superb performer, and have concluded that any projector that would be considered to be significantly better overall  as costing at least a couple thousand dollars more.

As stated above, the version of the new Ensemble HD system with the Home Cinema 6500UB projector has an MSRP of $7999.  Now that’s $1000 more than the older Ensemble, but it has the newer version of the top of the line Epson, rather than the old Ensemble’s entry level Home Cinema 1080.

Those of you who are regular readers of my blog know that I have the older Ensemble HD 1080 installed in my “second” home theater room.  I was, however, able to convince Epson to exchange (after I reviewed it)  the Home Cinema 1080 that came with it, and for an open sample of the Home Cinema 1080UB.  As such, I’m now pretty used to what this newest, top of the line Ensemble is capable of (since the 1080UB was replaced by the 6500UB, which is very similar, and only slightly improved in terms of performance.

The version of the Ensemble HD, therefore produces a high quality, serious enthusiast class picture, with plenty of brightness, in a complete system, for a reasonable price, especially when one considers the low cost of installation compared to buying separate components and paying someone to do a full installation, remote programming, etc.

Last year we gave the Ensemble HD 1080 our Outstanding Product 2008 award.  We didn’t give it because we felt hard core enthusiast couldn’t piece piece together a similar or better system for the same money or a bit less, but because the Ensemble makes high performance available to folks that don’t want the hassle of piecing together individual components.

At this point, I’m not sure if the new version will get a review, in the near future, since the performance differences are just that of the differences in the two projectors, which has been covered in reviews of the Epsons.  Click to read our full review of the Epson Ensemble HD.

Now you can let your non-enthusiast friends know, that they can easily equip a suitable room with a complete projector based home theater system, with some pretty impressive, enthusiast caliber performance, without 90% of the hassle.  -art

PS.  Remember, not everyone out there is an enthusiast.  My wife and daughter, for example love the Ensemble HD system.  They rarely show up in my main theater, but they find the Ensemble easy to use (they could never master my many remote controls, in my main room), and love the picture.  Most of my friends don’t notice, or don’t care, about the performance differences between my JVC RS20 based theater, and the smaller Ensemble based one.

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