Epson Home Cinema 2030 Black Levels & Shadow Detail
Whenever I get enthused about a $1500 or $1000 or $700 projector for the home, Black Level Performance reminds me that these are the entry level and near entry level 1080p resolution projectors. The one thing always missing from $1000 or so projectors are really good black level performance. What’s the difference? With far better black level performance, dark scenes, become far more dynamic, alive. Some, including myself, have referred to great black level performance as the “holy grail” of home theater projectors. While there is variation in handling blacks among the $1500 and under projectors, they are all a far cry from the best $2500 to $3500 projectors. I mean a very noticeable difference on dark scenes. The Home Cinema 2030 is no match for Epson’s $2600 price range Home Cinema 5020 UB with its exceptional blacks level performance, (better than many projectors far more expensive). Other low cost projectors, while perhaps slightly better or worse at blacks than the HC2030, are very similar to each other compared to that next up class of “ultra-high contrast” projectors as we refer to the beter of the more expensive home theater projectors. That said, the Epson Home Cinema 2030 does have a dynamic iris to help out with black level performance. It helps and gives the Epson better blacks than the less expensive DLP competition, but the DLP’s around the $1000 price point and up to several hundred dollars higher, offer from just slightly better blacks (BenQ W1070/1080ST) to even more so ($1299 Optoma HD25-LV). Consider the black level advantage of those to be one item in your decision process. Again, it’s the big move up to the best $2500 to $3500 projectors where the black level improvement is dramatic. Think this way. On a 1 to 10 scale, where the Epson Home Cinema 5020UB is a 9, the Epson 2030 and every other projector I can think of under $1500 MAP, would have to be ranked between 2 and 3. Having a single candle lit 15 feet from your screen will destroy far, far, more black level performance, than the difference between any of the low cost projectors. That is to say, if you aren't watching in a really dark environment, the $1000ish projectors are all going to be fairly similar. Check out the comparative images. As you can see, The differences are there, but I’ve included a couple of more expensive projectors (The Epson UB and the Sony HW50Es) to demonstrate when it’s a game changing difference, rather than subtle.
One more time with enthusiasm: The differences in black level performance between the competition around this price range is small enough that if there’s any ambient light present, all bets are off. You’ll only be worrying about minor differences if you are watching in the dark – as in a dedicated home theater, or all lights shut down, night time viewing. Acer H9500BD (below) - This $1600 projector has the best blacks of the under $2000 projectors, but it's a far less friendly projector overall, one with a lot of idiosyncrasies. That said, if you are a home theater enthusiast looking for a projector for a dedicated home theater or cave, this one's got enough black level difference to make it worth considering for the extra bucks, although still no match for projectors one more step up in price! Optoma HD25-LV: This one's visibly better on blacks, to take advantage of properly optimized rooms BenQ W1070: This image is a bit darker (note the brightness of the starship), but the W1070 does have a slight black level advantage in a fully darkened room. Viewsonic Pro8200 projector: This Viewsonic which has been around for a couple of years isn't quite as good as the Epson. Mitsubishi HC4000: In it's 4th year, this projector which once was our lowest cost recommendation for better blacks is now average for the $1000 price point. It's about on par with the Epson but it does so without a dynamic iris. Sony VPL-HW50ES (LCoS projector $3,699): This is what black levels should look like. Notice that the letterbox and the background behind the stars are darker than the Epson 2030, but the projector is drastically overexposed. In our testing that's "great blacks." Viewsonic PJD7820HD: This $699 cross-over business DLP projector is the lowest cost 1080p projector that is really sold to the home market as well. DLP or not, it lacks a dynamic iris, and the end result is the Epson has a slight black level advantage on most darker scenes. The similar Acer H6510 performs about the same (no image shown). BenQ W7000: The BenQ is more of a home theater projector than a home entertainment one. It definitely does better on blacks - it is one of only three under $2000 reviewed projectors, that we consider "ultra high contrast." All of which are at least $500+ more than the Epson Home Cinema 2030