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Epson Home Cinema 8100 Projector - A First Look review

UPDATE: The Epson Home Cinema 8100 projector review has been posted. Greetings all! OK, this is probably a bit premature - even for a first look, but, hey, I've received a fair number of emails telling me: HURRY!  I need to know about the Home Cinema 8100, asap! So, let's start at the beginning.  The Epson Home Cinema 8100 projector is basically an upgraded version of the Home Cinema 6100. The biggest news is price. The Epson Home Cinema 8100 starts out with a MAP (minimum advertised price) of $1599! Basically, rebates (which often come and go), notwithstanding, the 8100 is about $300 less than it's predecessor, the 6100 which is finishing it's "career" with a MAP of $1899 (and a rebate, I think), in exchange for which you get just a slightly better projector.  Nothing wrong with a 15+% price drop and slight performance improvements from one year to the next.  That's particularly good here in the US, as the US dollar has not been doing that well.  (Seems like LCDTV's and Plasmas really haven't come down in price at all in the last year.) You won't be able to tell any real difference by looking at the 8100 and 6100 (a slight color change to the side panels?)  There is also the Pro Cinema 9100 which is near identical to the 8100  but it also supports an anamorphic lens, comes in black (not white), and has a 3rd year warranty.  Most likely the Pro Cinema 9100 will only be sold through local authorized installing dealers, and typically Epson bundles the Pro projectors with a ceiling mount and a spare lamp. You won't see a change in the claimed brightness - the Home Cinema 8100, like the 6100 is rated 1800 lumens. In Fact about the only spec that changes is the contrast, which magically doubles from the 6100's 18,000:1 to 36,000:1. Best I can tell, so far, is that the extra contrast is coming from a new improved dual iris. I haven't worked with it enough yet (and don't have an older one here) to see if the new iris is able to deliver blacker blacks, without the iris action being more noticeable than on the Home Cinema 8100's predecessor.  If all is well, you'll end up with a slight improvement in black levels with no real cost elsewhere, thanks to the iris.  Don't expect a dramatic difference - a doubling of contrast is a minimal change, not night and day, whether you are going from 2000:1 to 4000:1, or from 30,000:1 to 60,000:1. But back to the Home Cinema 8100, and it's sibling the Pro Cinema 9100: The preliminary info doesn't indicate any other new features.  The lamp is still rated 4000 hours in both full and low power. Ok, so what we have here, is a projector that is "classic" Epson.  Based on my preliminary viewing, colors should be extremely good, but skin tones just won't rival the naturalness and richness of the better DLP projectors.  On the other hand, like previous Epson's the 8100 has a lot of punch to the picture.  Sports fans should love the lumens.   For hard core movie fans, the Epson has to do battle with several competitors, none, however, more challenging than the new Mitsubishi HC3800.  Most likely, I would have predicted that, when it's all over, the Mits will have the advantage in skin tones, and overall color, while the Epson Home Cinema 8100 will produce better black levels, and have a lot more brightness available, when you need it.  The Mitsubishi almost certainly will have the slightly sharper image. I wrote the above paragraph before I spent a lot of time with the Epson Home Cinema 6100  and Mitsubishi HC3800 running side by side. (Remember, the Epson is a pre-production unit, the Mitsubishi an engineering sample, so some of the reality will change with full production versions of the projectors. Last night I discovered that my expectations were partially wrong.  The Mitsubishi definitely holds it's own in terms of black levels, with the Epson Home Cinema 8100.  On just the right really dark scenes with no bright areas, the Epson definitely can produce a blacker black, but, on most dark scenes, the HC3800 actually had a slight advantage, or the two were so close to identical as to not matter.  It didn't help the Epson that (as is very typical of pre-production units) the background was uneven, with extra red in three corners, and rather significantly in the lower right corner.  A production unit shouldn't do that, and should also then appear to have a touch lower black level, overall.  Still, unless there is a real shift with the production units, I'd have to say that the Mitsubishi has a slight advantage in blacks, and that is a surprise.  (And I took a whole lot of images to prove it!) The Epson is impressive, if not exciting, by virtue of  just being an evolutionary improvement.  It's likely to be the family room, bonus room projector of first choice for most shoppers.  For hard core movie enthusiasts, it should be interesting how the the Epson and Mitsubishi slug it out for the hard core movie fan.  The Epson has a good advantage in placement flexibility (no lens shift for the Mitsubishi HC3800).  The Mitsubishi will have a lot more lumens in best mode, and likely a more "film like" picture, though with a touch less "pop and wow". When it comes to sports, and general TV and HDTV viewing, the  Epson dominates in both absolute brightness and color when comparing brighter modes..  Both have long life lamps, and good warranties, although the Epson has a slight edge on both.  Mitsubishi's brightest mode combination yields a very greenish image, and no way to really fix it.  The next brightest combination really isn't visibly brighter than the Mitsubishi's extremly bright "best" mode.   The Epson this year, does a far better job on color in Dynamic mode, than last year's 6100.  In other words, compared to the Mitsubishi, when you dial in that football game, the Epson will not only be significantly brighter, but have better color. Regarding brightness, Mike has measured and calibrated the Home Cinema 8100.  I was surprised to see that it measured less than 90% of the brightness of the older 6100.  I do believe for now, that I'll attribute that to the pre-production status of this unit.  Afterall, I can't come up with any other good rationalization as to why the Home Cinema 8100 would not be a bright as the 6100. The Home Cinema 8100 offers 48 fps interpolation from 24 bit sources.  Unlike the higher end Home Cinema 8500UB, it does not support 96fps or 120 fps interpolation, or any creative interpolation. Not much else to report.  The same remote control, the same menus (give or take).  If you liked the Home Cinema 6100, then you'll like the Home Cinema 8100 even more, with it's slight contrast increase, and lower cost.  Like last year's projector, the 8100 comes across a little weak, when it comes to dark shadow detail.  Not bad, but bested slightly by any number of projectors. Last year, the biggest competition to the 6100 was from slightly more expensive projectors that are of the "ultra-high contrast" variety, including Epson's own UB, the Panasonic PT-AE3000, and Sanyo PLV-Z3000.  This year, the toughest competition looks to be from a very capable DLP projector at the same price. All considered, the Epson looks to be a very good overall value, for a projector around $1500, but it's not without some real competition.  It should be strongest in family room type environments, and among sports fans! OK, that should keep you folks somewhat happy for the 5 - 6 more days until I post the full review.  -art PS.  I'll probably add a couple or three images to this blog, late tonight, including at least one of a side by side with the Mitsubishi.

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