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Epson Ensemble - 1080p projector system - the First easy to install projector based home theater

When Epson initially announced the Epson Ensemble back at CEDIA almost a year ago, I was blown away by the concept. Now I've have the chance to review it, and that means, the whole system, including the installation! The Epson Ensemble is being installed in my home, as I write. It is actually in my testing room/office. I'll be doing a full review, in addition to this blog and a follow up one in the next 24-48 hours. The review will include the entire process of installing the Epson Ensemble, as well as the final results. I better start out by describing the Epson Ensemble, so everyone understands the concept.Epson's idea, was to make installing a complete, projector based home theater system, no more complicated than installing a plasma display, or a large HDTV. Being able to do that, is the trick to make a real (projector based) home theater, easy, painless, and affordable, and that means, that finally, a large screen based system, can now be practical for the masses, not just the DIY (do it yourself - for those not familar) crowd, and the wealthy, check writing folks. Here's the scoop: The complete Epson Ensemble HD retails for $6999. The Epson Ensemble HD is based on the Epson Home Cinema 1080 projector. It comes in lots of boxes, as it contains the following:
  • Epson Projector - the Home Cinema 1080
  • 100 inch motorized screen (white case)
  • Front left, center and right channel speakers - built into the screen housing!
  • Rear left and right channel speakers (built into the platform that holds the projector)
  • A powerful subwoofer
  • A black finished equipment stand (houses the subwoofer), offers a middle shelf, and top shelf
  • A control console that also contains a DVD player (console sits on the top shelf of the stand)
  • A Harmony programmable remote control, designed to control the whole system
  • A complete set of channels to run wires neatly along walls or ceilings so there is no mess (white, can be painted)
  • All the wiring needed
Note, a second version, with Epson's lower resolution 720p projector retails for $4999.
Also of note, the speakers for the screen assembly and the projector shelf, are from Atlantic Technology, who helped Epson develop the complete system. For those who don't closely follow home theater audio, Atlantic Technology is a very well respected manufacturer of mid and higher priced range surround sound and stereo systems. I'm expecting very impressive sound, when this is all done!
Getting the picture? This is a complete home theater, one that should be installable in about a half day, even by the "basic" installer types used by companies like Circuit City and Best Buy. Expect, however, your local home theater professional dealers (they all install) to sell the bulk of these.
My reckoning is that the simplicity will allow those CEDIA dealers to finally be able to offer up a complete home theater solution for well under $10,000 rather than the $10,000+ - $25,000 that has been the "entry level" for those type of dealers. That opens up new markets for them, and they can give you more options than the "big box houses" like Best Buy! They are also the ones who will know how to make final adjustments to the image quality, and properly balance the sound system, to maximize the system performance!
Of course, you do have the option of running all the wires in-wall, if you don't want to use the channels. For the installation in my room, I chose to have all the wires run in-wall, as that would be the more complicated, and expensive alternative, and from that, I can easily comment on using the wiring channels, with a very good estimate of how much time is saved.
Just a moment to comment on the projector itself. As mentioned this is the Epson Home Cinema 1080, late last year, Epson started shipping their newer Home Cinema 1080 UB, with better black levels, but not in the Ensemble. This older Epson is still a very good projector, however, which we reviewed back in April 2007, right after it started shipping. The Home Cinema 1080 in the Ensemble is still very competitive with other best selling projectors in its price range, including the Panasonic PT-AE2000U, the Mitsubishi HC4900 and HC5500, and the Sanyo PLV-Z2000, as well as some very good DLP projectors like the Optoma HD80, HD803, and HD8000.
OK back to the install: Yesterday was Day One: Had I chosen to have the installers use the wiring channels instead of opening up the walls and ceilings, Day One would easily have also been Last Day.
Day One: The two man installation crew arrived right on schedule, (early actually), at 10:15am. It took 10 minutes or so, to unload all the boxes (seven, I think). The screen box, btw, is long, and heavy (it has the speakers in it - as mentioned).
After mapping out the installation, they proceeded to open up the ceiling for wires to run to the screen, and the wall below it, down to where the equipment stand is (and where power enters the whole system. The town I live in - San Clemente - is a bit heavy on the housing codes, so our house has horizontal firebreaks in the walls, and vertical ones in the ceiling - requiring more cuts into wall and ceiling that most houses would require. They put other cuts on that wall, and opened up the ceiling in 4 or five spots for wires to run to the projector/rear speaker shelf.
Naturally, no in-wall/ceiling installation is as easy as anyone would hope, and there were some surprises in the walls. I'll go into that in more depth in the review, but for now, lets just say - more cuts, requiring more drywalling, than most houses would require.
By the time they finished up yesterday, at 3:30 (that includes a round of beers I provided, to celebrate the end of Day One), all the wiring had been completed, and tied up neatly waiting for the equipment. This crew, I should note, is fully talented. By the time they had left, all the cuts in the ceiling and walls were closed up, and drywalled. Since time is needed for that to dry, that was the logical place to end Day One.
Today's agenda - they're working now (arrived at 10:30ish), it started with them repainting, over the drywall. Our walls are sort of chocolate colored in that room, and I had in my garage, extra paint for the walls, and for the ceiling. At this point, the first coat is drying. It will probably need a second coat as well, but it already looks very close, so maybe not.
As soon as they are done with the painting, all they have to do to complete the installation:
  • Install the screen's bracket a 5 foot or so wide piece, that can be ceiling or wall mounted.
  • Mount the screen to the bracket, and connect the wires
  • Install the mounting plate for the projector shelf (the projector shelf can also be ceiling or wall mounted)
  • Attach the shelf
  • Place the projector in the shelf, and attach the wires
  • Adjust the projector (focus, lens shift, and image adjustments)
  • Turn it all on, and pop in a DVD
They tell me that they should be done before 3pm.
If all goes well, that means the total installation - with running everything, including power, through the walls, will have taken less than 10 hours!
Based on what I've seen so far, and that much of the time spent yesterday, and today, has dealt with doing the in-wall work, I am pretty confident that this total installation, using the channels, probably would be in the 4.5 to 6 hour range, and I suspect, closer to 4.5. This lines up well with their own estimates which were 4.5 - 5.5 hours when we first spoke about doing it with the wiring channels.
Let's crunch the numbers:
I'll stay focused on the Home Cinema 1080 projector version: $6999.
Add to that, along the walls (channels) installation - figure 4.5 to 6.0 hours. Figure $125 - $175 per hour.
That makes the low number (least hours, least cost per hour): $562.50 for labor, the high number works out to $1050.
Now for my more complicated in-wall/ceiling install, the costs are obviously going to be higher, but remember, my crew is doing everything, including the drywalling and touch up painting, which if you use someone who only does that kind of work, that would likely save $75 - $100 per hour for what I'll guess will be 3 hours out of the anticipated 10 hour project.
Thus, I expect that for most folks, even running all the wires in-wall/ceiling, the labor bill would likely be from around $900 to about $1700. With me having them do everything, I figure, at $150/hr, we end up at $1450!
Add it up, even without any discounts, you end up with a completed room, including all audio and video, from about $7500, to $8500 regardless of whether you go in-wall, or outboard.
When you consider that a 65" plasma, installed, with sound just in the front (with a good surround sound system, like the Yamaha sound processor, will almost certainly cost at least as much, you end up with a picture over 3 times the size, for the same bucks!
REAL Home Theaters for Everyone! That's what this is all about. Finally! Those tiny little 50 inch plasma dispays can now stay back where they belong, in your bedroom, and in the kitchen. Real men (and women, of course) watch really big screens! Football on less than about 100" diagonal is simply unacceptable once you've seen a good projector based system. And who wants to watch a movie on a 42" plasma, it takes at least 4 times that to get the theater sensation. But, most of you reading this, already know it!
Lots of pictures, including the cuts in ceiling and wall, and of course, the mounting of projector and screen, and the finished room will be posted in the follow-up to this blog - tomorrow or Saturday, and in the full review of the system, in about a week or so.
I've got to get back in there, and see what they are up to! -art

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