Epson Ensemble HD 6500UB 6100 and 720 Home Theater Systems - Mini Review
First, what is an Ensemble HD? It's a complete, projector based home theater system, designed for easy installation.
In this review we will look at three versions: Ensemble HD 6500UB, Ensemble HD 6100, and Ensemble HD 720.
They all include projector, screen, full 5.1 surround sound (built into screen and projector cradle) with an AV receiver (which Epson calls an AV Controller), that has a built in DVD player. In addition, there's a powered subwoofer, equipment rack, a pre-programmed remote control. It comes with a number of powder coated wiring channels to be mounted to wall or ceiling to run cabling. That means no need to open up those walls or ceiling. Because they are powder coated, you can paint them over to match your ceiling or walls, making them almost invisible.
In summary, it's a complete almost "instant" home theater system, based around a front projector and a 100 inch diagonal screen. The concept, of this instant home theater is a great one, whether it be the Epson Ensemble HD, or products of similar designs in the future by other manufacturers who have yet to release products like this one.
It is designed to be installed in about 4-5 hours by a professional, or can be done by individuals who aren't intimidated by hanging a screen, or the projector cradle. If you can handle basic power tools a level, and perhaps a paint brush, with confidence, it should be right up your alley.
Epson recently released two new 1080p versions of the Ensemble HD to replace the original, single 1080p version of the Ensemble HD complete system, as well as dropping the price of the Ensemble HD 720 which remains in the lineup. Since we have already reviewed all three Epson projectors that are available in the three different packages, and since we have previously reviewed the older complete systems, here we will simply discuss the new models, the projectors inside them, and the value propositions, of these unique home theater solutions. In other words, no, I have not been sent any of the new versions, but am basing this "mini-review" on what we have observed with the older Ensemble HD systems, and the impact of the newer projectors and lower price points.
Epson Ensemble HD models for 2009 - Overview
There are now three versions of the Ensemble HD. From the top down, first is the Ensemble HD 6500UB. This configuration has Epson's top of the line Home Cinema projector as it's heart. For less money (see the specs below), Epson offers a second Ensemble HD, also with a 1080p projector. This model is the Ensemble HD 6100. It most closely resembles the older Ensemble HD 1080 system. Finally, there's the Epson Ensemble HD 720, which is essentially the same as the original Ensemble HD 720 released last year, but several hundred dollars less expensive.
the good news:
- Easier to find - the previous Ensemble HD systems were available from a select group of local installing dealers. Epson continues to expand that aspect of their distribution channel. The real news, however, is for those who are Do it yourself - DIY - types, and plan to install it themselves. Also it's a solution for folks who just aren't close to one of those authorized dealers.
Epson has authorized two of the largest online resellers to sell the Ensembles. This I believe is a good thing, though some of the local dealers won't be thrilled.
- The new systems are better than the old ones. That's impressive, in that we gave the original Ensemble HD 1080 our only Outstanding Product of 2008 award.
- More appeal to the serious enthusiast - last year's top of the line Ensemble HD did not offer last year's top of the line Epson Home Cinema projector (the 1080 UB). Thus, if you wanted the superb black level performance that the 1080 UB offered, you were out of luck. This year, you can have the Ensemble HD with the Home Cinema 6500UB, which is superior to the old 1080 UB. Or you can go with the Home Cinema 6100, which is an improved version of the Home Cinema 1080 that was included last year.
- Better price performance. The new package with the top of the line 6500UB costs $100 less than the old package with the Epson Home Cinema 1080 - their entry level 1080p projector. The version with the 6100 costs $900 less than last years, and the 720p package also drops in price.
The bad news:
Well there should be some, but I can only come up with two issues, neither of them could actually be considered bad:
- The AV Controller still only has a standard DVD player. They could have upgraded it to a Blu-ray player. (The price would have gone up a few hundred dollars?) Many folks already have a Sony PS3, or other Blu-ray player, however, and they can just plug them in.
- As has been put forward by a number of enthusiasts, it's definitely possible to buy a complete home theater system, piece by piece, and end up with better performance for the same dollars. (That presumes you install an individual component system yourself). I can't argue that. (On the other hand you could spend just as much or more, and not do as well.
The thing is, while many hard core enthusiasts will love the whole package, they aren't the market that the Ensemble HD is really targeted at. The whole concept was to make building a projector based home theater in your house to be not significantly more complicated than installing one of those tiny 50 inch LCDTVs and surround sound system, and maybe less so.
That's the core reason I'm so enthusiastic about the concept. Most non-hard core enthusiasts prefer to avoid having to figure out their room, separately selecting projector, screen, AV receiver, DVD/Blu-ray player, speakers, subwoofer, a programmable remote (and programming it), and the much longer times it would take for all the individual components to be assembled and installed.
If Epson can move some serious quantities of the Ensemble systems, it won't be long before you see similar products from the other major manufacturers.
I should point out, that like with the older systems, the Epson Ensemble HD is actually a collaboration between Epson, and home theater speaker company, Atlantic Technologies. Afterall, video is Epson's thing, not audio. Makes sense to bring in a well respected speaker company.
In other words, the Ensemble HD is real home theater, for the masses. (OK, not all of the masses, as the Ensemble's start at $4699.)