Out of the Box Picture Quality
Home projectors in general, have come a long way in the past five or six years, in that most projectors a their best needed a good bit of "calibration," tweaking," or what ever you prefer to call it, to maximize the picture quality. But of late many projectors look awfully good "right out of the box."
This Home Cinema 3700 is one of those. The HC3700 has six total pre-set color modes, and 10 user savable memories as well. As is typical, Dynamic, the brightest one, has the least best color, with a tendency toward strong yellow greens, but even this Dynamic mode is far tamer than what many other projector's brightest modes look like.
In addition there is an Auto mode, which apparently also relies on the light sensor on the control panel to determine room brightness, and select a mode for you. I'm old school, I routinely switch between Bright Cinema and Cinema, the two modes I use.
Bright Cinema and Cinema both look really good without adjustment. Natural, the fourth regular mode, is slightly more muted, less to my taste, but also good. Dynamic has the usual expected extra yellow green, but it's relatively tame compared to many projectors' brightest mode.
This small photo player contains images that are all "out of the box", with the only adjustment a slight reduction to color saturation, which I do for all photoshoots, or the results from my camera come out a bit oversaturated. BTW for any images in this review, I recommend you adjust the saturation of your monitor or laptop, etc. to what looks right, as everyone's devices are different in this regard.
In addition there is a 3D Dynamic and a 3D Cinema, with 3D Dynamic being a bit brighter, but not having as good color.
I normally will recommend Bright Cinema for most viewing with more than a little ambient light, especially sports and general HDTV. I prefer Cinema for movie viewing with lights out.
Home Cinema 3700 Skin Tones Handling
First thing to note, I had Eric calibrate two modes of ths projector - Bright Cinema and Cinema. The first four images above, show Natural (uncalibrated), Cinema, Bright Cinema and Dynamic (uncalibrated). All were taken with the same exposure, so the images show relative brightness as well.
The fifth and sixth images are again Cinema, but this time the fifth image is uncalibrated, the sixth one is.
The seventh and eighth images are again uncalibrated and calibrated, but this time using Bright Cinema.
You can see from comparing both versions of the two Cinema modes, that Epson's out of the box color is pretty close to the calibrated color! Nice!
After other sample images, we have the usual Bond photos, demonstrating that skin tones vary tremendously depending on the type of lighting conditions (whether director controlled or not). Thus, Bond's skin tones look very different between full sunlight, fluorescents (airport scene) night, and filtered sunlight.
Black Level Performance
To me a couple of features and capabilities define the difference between Home Entertainment, and Home Theater.
Home Theater is considered "higher end" with overall better picture quality. Yet even lower cost projectors than this Epson can demonstrate excellent color. What is often the real defining difference is how well projectors handle black levels, especially in the darkest scenes. We enthusiasts often refer to superb black levels as the "holy grail" of home theater projectors. BTW if you have even the most minimal ambient light present, that will negate a lot of the difference in performance on dark scenes when comparing good projectors vs great ones.
The photo player here shows our favorite image for looking at black level performance and dark shadow detail handling - it's from Casino Royale (Bond) a frame we refer to as the night train scene, which when photographed is intentionally drastically overexposed, and then converted to greyscale.
The next five mages show the same scene from projectors costing less than $1000 to others far more expensive. Unfortunately it's impossible to have them all equally bright (my camera works in 1/3 f-stops) but you are looking for brighter whites, combined with darker blacks as the sign of a superior projector. You'll also immediately notice that the better ones appear to have more contrast, and pop.
Following the HC3700 Bond train, (unfortunately not all are labeled) are: The second one is the Epson 5040UB (significantly superior) that I discuss below, the differences are pretty obvious, bright areas are brighter, dark areas darker on that Epson UB. Next is the Sony HW45ES, followed by JVC's RS400 - a $3999 projector which has the best black levels of any projector we've reviewed under $6000. The last two are the BenQ HT4050, a slightly less expensive DLP projector, and finally Epson's similarly priced HC1440, which can't match the black levels, but is a true "bright room" projector with 4400 lumens, that projector is geared to be used in rooms not fully darkened, where room lighting already compromises black level performance. Following those are some additional dark scene images for your consideration.
This Epson HC3700 and it's siblings use 3LCD panels which provide a basic "native contrast" that produces blacks that are a cut above entry level. Epson also serves up a dynamic iris to further enhance the black levels (by making blacks darker), on darker scenes (a dynamic iris doesn't operate on bright scenes.
All considered black level performance is pretty good, although there are DLP's in the price range with blacker blacks. (See the BenQ HT4050 image as one example.) Still, the goal for serious enthusiasts is what I dub "ultra high contrast" performance. the HC3700 doesn't get there, nor by my reckoning, do any sub-$2000 home projectors.
The HC3900 with different, higher contrast 3LCD panels comes a bit closer, but still not there. You have to move up in Epson's line to their UB (Ultra Black) models for great black level performance. I can't really think of any current projectors that can rival the 5040UB at $2999 for it's price or less, when it comes to handling those dark scenes, so that represents the big step up, but it really is twice the price.
Under $1500 here buys you good dark scene handling, but spending 2X to 10X+ the price, is what it takes for great, and believe me, there are a number of over $3000 projectors that don't do a significantly better job than the HC3700. In other words, the HC3700 is at the high end of home entertainment, in this regard, but not quite "serious" home theater when it comes to black levels- that's just at a higher price point.
From a practical standpoint, I would state that the HC3700's black level performance is not quite as good as Sony's $1999 VPL-HW45ES, who's LCoS panels have better native contrast, but Sony doesn't have a dynamic iris to help out.