Posted on November 27, 2019 By Scott Wilkinson
Epson has long been known for offering excellent home-theater projectors at very reasonable prices, and the new Home Cinema 3800 is no exception. With a list price of $1699 and support for 4K/UHD and HDR, it offers a lot of bang for the buck.
The Epson HC3800 measures roughly 16″ x 13″ x 6.5″ (LxWxH) and weighs a mere 15.2 pounds, making it easy to use in different locations or permanently mount in a home theater. The 250W UHE lamp is rated to last 3500 to 5000 hours, and the cooling fan generates noise in the range of 24 to 35 dB, both depending on the selected lamp mode—lower brightness means longer lamp life and quieter operation.
Speaking of brightness, the HC3800 claims a peak brightness of up to 3000 lumens—which, of course, will almost certainly be lower after calibration or even in its out-of-the-box Cinema picture mode. Even then, it might still be higher than most calibrated SDR projectors in order to display HDR effectively. If so, this projector is well suited for use in rooms with some ambient light, though HDR looks best in dark environments. You can also use an ambient light-rejecting screen in brighter rooms.
As Epson has touted for years, its peak-brightness specs apply to both white and color brightness—that is, the peak brightness as measured with a white test pattern and as calculated by adding the measured peak brightness of separate red, green, and blue test patterns. This cannot be said of many inexpensive single-chip DLP projectors, which sometimes include a clear segment (or other colors) in the color-filter wheel to boost the overall image brightness. Unfortunately, this can compromise the projector’s performance with dimmer, less saturated colors in real-world content.
Three-chip projectors, such as 3LCD and LCoS, can inherently achieve equal white and color brightness. Most of Epson’s models, including the HC3800, are based on 3LCD imaging, in which there are separate panels for red, green, and blue, with no other colors added to the mix. This allows equal white and color brightness since white is strictly a combination of the three primary colors.
Each of the three LCD imaging panels in the HC3800 has a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels. Epson’s 4K Enhancement technology quickly shifts each pixel back and forth diagonally between two positions, doubling the effective number of pixels on the screen. This is still not native 4K/UHD resolution, which has four times the number of pixels as 1920×1080, but good image processing—which Epson certainly has—helps make it look much sharper than full HD. Plus, projectors with native 4K/UHD resolution start at $5000.
Thanks to 4K Enhancement, which is part of Epson’s 4K Pro-UHD suite of technologies, the HC3800 can accept and display 4K/UHD content from UHD Blu-ray discs and streaming providers that offer it. Most people can’t see the difference between true 4K/UHD and 4K Enhancement pixel-shifting at normal viewing distances, especially with a high-quality lens. Epson touts its precision lens in the HC3800, which helps bring out the extra detail.
Another important feature offered by this projector is horizontal and vertical lens shift, which are not often included in projectors at this price point. This allows great flexibility in placing the projector while keeping its image aligned with the screen. Like virtually all projectors, the HC3800 also offers keystone correction to compensate for off-center placement, but this degrades the visible detail, wiping out the benefit of 4K Enhancement. I strongly recommend against using keystone correction if you can possibly avoid it.
In addition to lens shift, the HC3800 offers a zoom lens with a zoom ratio from 1.0 to 1.62 and a throw distance range from 1.32 to 2.15 times the screen width. That means the projector can be placed from 3.8 to 46.3 feet from the screen and create an image from 40″ to 300″ diagonally. I’d call that pretty darn flexible, though the extreme ends of those ranges would not produce good picture quality.
Like many projectors these days, the HC3800 supports high dynamic range in the HDR10 and HLG formats. Epson claims a fully 10-bit signal path with partial 12-bit processing, which should help eliminate any visible banding. Also, the dynamic contrast ratio is specified at 100,000:1 with the auto iris enabled. Manufacturer contrast-ratio claims are almost always wildly inflated, so I take this number with a big crystal of salt.
Many experts say that projectors can’t do “real” HDR, because there is simply too little light coming off the screen. For example, Dolby Vision projectors in Dolby Cinema venues achieve a peak brightness of 108 nits on a screen measuring 20 or 30 feet wide, which is twice the peak brightness of a conventional commercial-cinema projector but only a tenth or less of what many HDR-capable LED/LCD TVs can reach. So, most people say that HDR projectors are more properly called “extended dynamic range” or EDR. I’m fine with that distinction, though the image quality of such projectors is still clearly better than those that reproduce only SDR.
3D might be gone from new flat-panel TVs, but it’s still going strong in projectors. The HC3800 supports all 3D formats, though the resolution of 3D content is limited to 1920×1080. Viewing 3D requires optional RF-based active-shutter glasses, which are available from Epson and third-party companies like Xpand.
Epson claims the input lag is no more than 20 ms (4K @ 60 Hz), though we have measured the input lag of other similar Epson projectors at 27 ms at 1080p. In general, an input lag of 55 ms or less is acceptable, while a lag in the mid-30s is considered good. The HC3800’s input lag of 20 to 27 ms is very good, which will please gamers.
The HC3800 offers two onboard speakers with a total of 10W of amplifier power. This is very handy if you routinely move the projector from, say, the living room to the bonus room to the back yard for outdoor movie night, and it’s better than many projectors that provide only one speaker. But it’s undoubtedly a far cry from just about any outboard audio system. Fortunately, the projector offers an audio-output jack that sends the audio signal to an external speaker system, which should give you much better sound quality.
In addition to the physical audio output, the HC3800 can send audio to an external speaker via Bluetooth using the high-quality aptX codec and A2DP profile. This eliminates the need for a cable between the projector and speaker, adding to its flexibility. This is a great feature I wish more projector manufacturers would adopt.
One feature that’s missing from the HC3800—and, to be fair, most other projectors—is a suite of built-in streaming apps that can be found in so-called smart TVs these days. Optoma and LG offer a few “smart projectors” with streaming apps, but this is still fairly rare. Of course, most users get their online content from a streamer such as Roku or Amazon Fire TV, which can easily be used with the HC3800.
The HC3800 provides two HDMI inputs, both of which operate at HDMI 2.0’s highest bitrate of 18 Gbps. This allows them to accept UHD HDR signals at frame rates up to 60 fps. A USB port labeled DC Out provides power (5V/2.0A) for things like streaming dongles, such as the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Roku Stick, which plug into one of the HDMI ports but require power from a USB port.
Another USB port is used for firmware updates and to connect a wireless dongle for Epson’s iProjection app, which lets you send content from a mobile device or computer wirelessly to the projector over your local network. Oddly, however, the manual says, “Wireless network connectivity is not recommended for video streaming.”
Hmm…if it’s not recommended for video streaming, what’s the point of having it on a projector? According to Epson, “Static images work well, but we prefer to be up front about video performance to avoid dissatisfaction.” So it’s fine for photo sharing but not necessarily for video streaming.
A mini USB port is intended for service personnel only. Finally, there’s an RS-232C port for connecting to various control systems, a 3.5mm analog-audio output, and a 12V trigger output.
The remote is quite comprehensive. It provides direct-selection buttons for the two HDMI inputs as well as one labeled LAN, which selects the wireless adaptor if it’s connected to the projector. There are also transport buttons for content playback and quite a few dedicated parameter-access buttons.
I’m a big fan of Epson projectors, which offer a potent combination of high performance and reasonable prices, and the Home Cinema 3800 clearly follows that mandate. With relatively high brightness, it’s appropriate for a variety of environments, and it’s portable enough to be easily moved from one to another. And with horizontal and vertical lens shift, placement in those environments is made much easier.
Thanks to its HDMI inputs that operate at 18 Gbps and Epson’s 4K Pro-UHD technology, the HC3800 can display the latest 4K/UHD HDR content. Plus, the built-in speakers reproduce the content’s audio without needing external speakers—though an outboard audio system will most likely sound better.
If you already have an audio system to use with the projector, you can save $200 and get the Home Cinema 3200, which is nearly identical to the HC3800 without the built-in speakers. The only other differences are a slightly lower peak-brightness spec (2900 lumens) and a dynamic contrast ratio up to 40,000:1. As that review concludes, “The Home Cinema 3200 strikes a fine balance between performance and value.” The same can be said of the HC3800.
I don’t care about onboard speakers, but I would still spend the extra $200 for the greater contrast ratio and a slightly higher peak brightness of the Home Cinema 3800. It seems like a fine contender in the under-$2000 projector market.
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