Hot Product Awards: Those of you who are paying attention will note that I have given the 720 and 6500UB versions of the Ensemble HD, our Hot Product Award. The Ensemble HD720 was a slam dunk - it's the lowest priced of the solutions, a very good value, and, as I point out elsewhere, can be used as a stepping stone to even better performance, allowing an owner to upgrade the projector later, and still not end up spending much more than just buying the top of the line Ensemble HD 6500UB right away. The Ensemble HD 6500UB, on the other hand, is the flagship, and in my opinion, has at its heart, the best under $3500 projector around. It provides true enthusiast performance, at a reasonable price, without the hassles associated with selecting components piece by piece, and a complicated installation.
Finally, there's the Ensemble HD 6100. I was very tempted to give it a Hot Product Award too, but I can't go around giving the award to every version. Since it's priced in the middle, many will choose to go the 720 route, and many others, the 6500UB. All considered, distinguishing itself is always a challenge for a product boxed in by similar products that are more expensive/better, and less expensive/not quite as good. The ultimate reason I almost gave the Ensemble HD 6100 the award too, is that is is probably the best value and performer for those who see sports and general HDTV viewing as their primary use. For such content, the extra black level performance the 6500UB provides provides little benefit. Bottom line: Sports fans - despite the lack of the award, the Ensemble HD 6100 may well be the best of the three for your viewing pleasure and value!
Epson Ensemble HD Special Features
Projector Lamp Life
Epson is pushing their E-Torl lamp, as being both more efficient. It draws only 170 watts, (less than most home theater projector lamps which are typically 200 to 250 watts). While it is nice to be green, I doubt that saving 30 watts will overly excite many. More significant, though, is Epson's lamp life claim for the Ensemble HD systems. Epson is claiming 4000 hours in full or low power modes. Very few projectors (home theater or business) claim more than 2000 hours in full power, athough a couple of others do offer lamps in low power mode of 4000 or 5000 hours. (3000 is the "standard" for low power operation). Interestingly, of the other brands, the projector that comes to mind with the 5000 hour rating (at low power) is one of the least bright home theater projectors, and therefore least likely to be used in low power. That same projector is rated only 2000 hours with the lamp operating at full power. Note please: The Ensemble HD 720 still uses the older Home Cinema 720 projector which as a lamp life of 1700 hours at full power, and 3000 in low power.
If you figure a $360 cost for a replacement lamp, with a 4000 hour lamp life, that's $.09 per hour - or about eighteen cents cost to watch a 2 hour movie. Now consider the cost of one package of micro-wave popcorn, and you have to concede that the cost of operation is pretty low.
Another way to look at it is this: One lamp - good for 2000 two hour movies costs about $350 - $370 (I'll use $360 for calculations.) One trip to the movie theater (we'll skip the cost of gasoline), with one ticket, and $5.50 for food (that's one medium soda, OR one medium popcorn, where I live), works out to less than 23 movies with a $5.50 snack for each person - although matinee performances, seniors, and students pay a little less for the tickets, so maybe 25 or 26 movies.
If you can hold back your enthusiasm for most movies that hit the theaters, and wait until they are out on Blu-ray, you'll get a better movie experience, and save a bundle in the long run.
The bottom line, the 1080p projectors in the Ensemble HD systems provide big savings compared to going out for movies, and lower cost of operation than other projectors, thanks to the longer lamp life.
Creative Frame Interpolation
Creative Frame Interpolation, which smooths out panning somewhat in movies, as well as some fast action is available only on the Ensemble HD 6500UB, as that is the only one of the Epson projectors used in the Ensemble HD systems, to offer CFI.
CFI is just starting to become popular on LCDTV and Plasma TV products, and is just starting to appear in home theater projectors. As of this writing, there are only a handful of projectors offering it, including the Epson "UB"s, the Sanyo PLV-Z3000 and the Panasonic PT-AE3000. While less than 10% of home theater projectors offer CFI, those that do are some of the most popular. I wouldn't be surprised if, among the 1080p projectors, more than half of the units sold this year have CFI. Even if you have a projector with CFI, you won't necessarily engage it for all your viewing. It's most popular for sports viewing, but there are more trade-offs when viewing movies.
Impressive Audio Performance
All Ensemble HD packages include the same audio capabilities. The 100 inch diagonal 16:9 motorized screen contains the front left, center, and right speakers in the screen's housing. The cradle for the projector also houses the rear left and right speakers. Finally, there's a hefty powered sub-woofer provided with the Ensemble HD systems. As an added bonus, for those who really want to "rock the house", the AV Controller has a second sub-woofer output, so you can add a second subwoofer.
Programmable Remote Control
The Ensemble HD systems all come with the same, Universal brand remote control. It comes partially programmed. I say that, because it does not have all the projector's controls programmed into it (you can add them), since they provide the projector's remote as well. You'll likely also want to program in your cable or satellite box as well as any other devices. The Universal remote allows you to add any devices that they have codes for (thousands), and in the event you have a device that they don't have in their database, the remote can learn the codes. All considered, it works great. The fact that the sensor for the remote is high up on your wall (center of the screen housing) makes for great operation, as "line of sight" is going to be good from virtually anywhere in your room. I've added my cable box to the remote of my own Ensemble. It was about as straight forward as one could hope for, and works fine.