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Epson Home Cinema 3500 Projector Review - Picture Quality

Posted on October 30, 2014 by Art Feierman
EPSON HC3500 PROJECTOR REVIEW - PICTURE QUALITY:  Out of the Box Picture, Skin Tones, Black Level Performance

Out of the Box Picture

With four 2D picture modes available to choose from, Epson gives you the usual choices of maximum brightness with less than its best color, or lower brightness and better color.

Natural and Cinema are the two best modes, as in best color, right out of the box.  Natural is closer to 6500K the target color temperature, and is basically right on the money, Cinema is slightly cooler (not by a whole lot) so a touch more blue relative to red.

The image player contains three images of the Sunday Night Football opening song.  Note that all three are in Living Room mode, but the only difference is the amount of ambient light that I'm letting in the room.  The most washed out of the three has at least as much ambient light in the room as I've allowed for any home entertainment or home theater projector except for one 6000 lumen projector!

Living Room mode (and Auto mode) are definitely the coolest with strongest blues (color temp between 7500K and 8000K), and then there's Dynamic, the brightest mode. Dynamic overall is worm - it's white is actually slightly warmer than Natural mode, but, as with almost every Dynamic mode on a projector it is strong on greens.  Unadjusted, Dynamic is the least desirable mode from a standpoint of having an accurate, good looking picture.

Most of the sports images were taken using Living Room mode, unadjusted, and look pretty darn good.

For out of the box, these modes are all reasonably good based on their intended purposes.

Keep perspective - this is not a higher end home theater projector.  I can't say that one or two lower cost projectors aren't a little more accurate right out of the box, but the Epson does well.  It does even better with Mike's calibration settings added in!

Skin Tones

In general, both before and after Mike's calibration, faces tend to show a touch more red than I'd call ideal.  However, one can mostly compensate for that by using the Skin Tone adjustment.

The default Skin Tone setting on the Picture menu is 3 for Natural and Cinema.  You might want to try settings 4 or maybe even 5 which will add a touch of green/reduce red to see if that pleases you better  Faces in general look a touch more natural that way (I like 4).   These images, it must be noted were taken with the 3 setting.

As you can see from this batch of "skin tone" images, despite my comments about red, they really look good!

The many images here other than sports were taken using Natural mode, post calibration.  All considered the Epson does a very nice job but some other projectors will be a little more on the money, post calibration.   From a practical standpoint though, the Epson really looks very good, and it will take someone very demanding, seeking accurate color to have any real complaint.  The average family member will just think this Epson looks magnificent!

The last three images - Daniel Craig as Bond in Casino Royale are there to simply demonstrate that skin tones are not a consistent thing, they change dramatically depending on the type of lighting.  In this case - full sunlight, then fluorescent, then night. Very different.  You are looking not for an absolute color, but what looks right.


HC3500 Black Level Performance

Black level performance is perhaps the single most important separator of home theater projectors from home entertainment projectors.

It plays out this way.  If you've got that cave or home theater, or even if you have a less desirable room but want to watch your movies only at night when you can fully darken a living room or family room, that's when black levels come into play.

Understand, it takes very little ambient light to negate most of the benefit of great black level performance.  Consider that a 30 watt desk lamp in the back of your room, when turned on, will destroy most of the difference in black levels on dark scenes that separate a good $1500 projector from a great $5000 one.

Its about those dark scenes.   A typical $1500 and $5000 projector may be very close in terms of overall color, and the lower cost one is probably the brighter of the two.  Look at a typical scene outside in daytime, or taken in a normally lit room, and the differences between OK, and great blacks are there, but not very noticeable.   But if you are looking at a very dark scene, such as our starship image, or the night train scene from Casino Royale (Bond), the difference in the picture is massive!

In our comparison images using the night train, most of the projectors are under $2000, and most have black level performance not dramatically different from the Home Cinema 3500.  But I have also included the last two image - Epson's $2499 Home Cinema 5030UB/Pro Cinema 6030UB, whose black level performance is the envy of all but a couple of other under $5000 projectors.

The brighter the overall image, the brighter the black levels - seen in the darkest areas and in the letterbox at top and bottom.  Note, for example, that the 2nd and 3rd images (a pair or BenQ projectors), the overall image is darker due to slightly different exposure), if they were lighter, so would be the dark areas.

You'll immediately notice what a huge difference.  Also there is the Sony HW40ES which lacks a dynamic iris, but does very well considering, although no match for the more expensive Epson, it definitely does do better than the HC3500.  Of course neither the more expensive Epson (2400 lumens) or the Sony (1700 lumens) is any match for the HC3500 in terms of brightness.   Thus you could conclude that the HC3500 makes a good (from a black level standpoint) entry level HT projector, as well as an extremely bright HE projector.

The Home Cinema 3500 does use a dynamic iris to enhance black level performance, and it helps.  You'll note that it does a better job than BenQ's HT1075 we recently reviewed.  It doesn't do as well as the Optoma HD25-LV, which has very good blacks, but in that case, the Optoma has other related, and serious issues with shadow detail

All considered for the price, the Epson does very well, certainly compared to many home entertainment projectors we've reviewed.  However, there are a couple of true home theater projectors near the price, with better blacks, but, even those are no match for that Epson 5030UB (or even the Pro Cinema 4030 which is closer to the 3500's price).  But you sure do get far more brightness with the HC3500!

The last image is a direct, side-by-side comparison with the Epson on the right, and the BenQ HT1075 on the left.  The Epson consistently provided slightly better black level performance on dark and near dark scenes.

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