Home Cinema 3500 Value Proposition and Competition
If considering home entertainment projectors from $1000 to $2000, the Home Cinema 3500 has to be considered a first class choice. It's a projector with impressive performance, and thanks to an excellent feature set, it probably has as much capability as any home entertainment projector near its price. Understand, if you have a dedicated home theater with dark surfaces and full lighting control, you could buy this projector - it will perform, but that's not where its biggest strengths are.
It is the sum of the Home Cinema 3500's strengths as a home entertainment projector - including brightness, color, sharpness, and support - that makes it an excellent choice in any reasonable media room, living room, or family room. For that it earns our Hot Product Award!
Of course, just because a projector is extremely popular, or wins awards doesn't mean it's the best one for your particular situation, that's for you to figure out. That said, some projectors are better all around projectors in that they are good, or strong in all the major decision areas.
Will it work in your room - place where you need it to be? Is it bright enough for your room? Does it have great warranty and support? Does the picture quality meet your expectations. Does it offer a good overall value compared to the competition? Is this the projector that will really meet, no, exceed your expectations?
In the previous pages we've discussed all the key areas of capability and performance, and found no glaring weaknesses. Oh, for a home entertainment projector it has good black levels, but they aren't up to serious dedicated home theater projectors costing not too many hundreds more. (Epson makes several of those.)
Once again, a reminder - if you have a room with a fair amount of ambient light, you'll want to get an appropriate projector screen for that room environment.
Stacking up Against BenQ, Optoma, Sony, Panasonic
Let's do some very quick projector comparisons. I want to start with an area that I think is more important than many readers apparently do. That's warranty and support.
Compared to those other four brands, The Home Cinema 3500's two year warranty with 2 years of rapid replacement program is one of the best. In fact it's the only company offering a replacement program. Believe me, if you have a warranty failure having a replacement projector arrive two or three days after you contact Epson sure beats waiting what is often weeks for a repair. Ouch! When it comes to duration of warranty, of the group above - Optoma's have 1 year, Panasonic has 2 years (with a maximum hours on the lamp limitation), Sony and BenQ offer three years. The thing is, Epson offers an optional 3rd year factory warranty along with a third year of support, if you are so inclined. My basic take is that every projector should have at least a 2 year warranty.
Now to the stuff folks care about: Brightness
Nothing we've reviewed without spending $4K and up, that qualifies as a home entertainment projector is brighter. Oh, Panasonic has a 3 year old 2D only projector that measures about the same, and most competitors have at least one model that has 2/3rds of this Epson's brightness. Still, about 2250 calibrated lumens is massive! And almost 3000 usable lumens may make a real difference in YOUR room, compared to a competitor with 1500 (that's where we start calling projectors "light canons") or 2000 maximum lumens. Brightness therefore is a definite win for the HC3500 projector!
Of course you want great color. Out of the box, this Epson overall seems to offer much better color than the competing Optoma (HD25-LV, etc.), and Panasonic home entertainment projectors (PT-AR100U). BenQ (HT1075 W1500, W1070) and Sony (VPL-HW40ES - really a home theater projector) however, are as good or slightly better, I'd say they each have a best mode a touch better, but all are improvable. Still all are improvable, and we provide settings info that will make all of them have better color.
Post calibration all of these projectors end up with at least very good color. I'll let the 100 plus pictures in this review sell you on the color of this Epson.
When it comes to black levels, its interesting that a couple of Optoma's are the best of this group, but they pay a price with a much too contrasty look (HD25-LV), which ruins them for me. Since you probably are not viewing in your "media or living room" running in pitch blackness, then the better black levels of the Optoma get marginalized. The Epson beats the other Optomas, the BenQs, and the Panny, but not by huge margins
Sharpness - thanks to Super-Resolution the Home Cinema 3500 can produce as sharp looking image as any of these, in fact sharper looking that most.
If you aren't using an external stereo or surround sound system, then count the Epson has having better (and louder) overall sound than any of the BenQs, Optomas, or Panasonics we've reviewed and heard. The Sony has no audio (also true of Panasonic's home theater projector but their home entertainment PT-AR100U is the one I'm comparing).
Bottom Line: If you need a bright projector, with really good color and a great feature set, and also want the peace of mind of great warranty and support programs, I'm not sure any other home entertainment projector under $2000 can best the Home Cinema 3500. Actually there's projector that can - but that's the Home Cinema 3600e which for that $300 more gives you built in wireless hdmi to simplify installation or setup.
When it comes to placing the projector, the Epson is hands down the champ - well, almost. More zoom range, and a good amount of lens shift. Only that 3 year old, 2D only PT-AR100U has more zoom and also lens shift, and it's not as close a competitor as the others.
No projector is perfect, or has all the possible features. This Epson is no exception. I would have liked to see Creative Frame Interpolation for sports viewing ("smooth motion"). I would have liked also for the Picture In Picture to be able to use 2 HDMI sources at once, but CFI is very uncommon in under $2000 projectors and I can't think of any under $2K projector that supports PIP with two HDMI sources. I'd also like those speakers to be able to operate when using the audio out, so people could simply add a powered subwoofer, but I've yet to find a projector that allows for that.
So, I have a wish list for further improvements, but for the most part the competition doesn't have CFI either, or Picture in Picture, or a fully usable Audio out.
The crazy thing here, is I've been toggling back and forth a few times in the last week between the Home Cinema 3500, and Sony's $27,000 true 4K projector. No, the Epson is no match in any area but one - it's twice as bright. But that advantage really impresses my friends who come over for Sunday football. OK, my buddies aren't highly critical, which I guess means "brightness first".
Getting the idea?
If you do have that dedicated cave, and are looking for the most perfect image, that's not the 3500. Then look to true home theater projectors like the Sony, Epson's own Pro Cinema 4030 and 6030UB, and others. They will have different feature sets, and better black levels, but won't be as competitive in more traditional rooms.
Is the Epson the best home entertainment projector for YOUR under $2000 investment? You'll have to do your own check list, but unless you have some unique requirement, the answer for you, and for most, is probably a Yes!
Congrats to Epson for making more than the usual minor improvements as they replace the older 3000 series projectors. The Home Cinema 3500 is one home entertainment projector I can definitely recommend to friends.