Projectors

Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3020e LCD Projector

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction to the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3020e LCD Projector

Each year at the CEDIA Expo, I look forward to seeing the latest projectors from all the major manufacturers. While some do not update their products annually, Epson always has something new to offer. This past September, I got an in-depth look at all their latest models including the subject of this review, the PowerLite Home Cinema 3020e.

Epson's projectors are divided into three product lines: Portable, which offers solutions with an integrated DVD player and speakers; Home Cinema which has 10 models of varying price and capability; and Pro Cinema which boasts even better performance, longer warranties and extra accessories in the box. The 3020e occupies the middle ground in the Home Cinema series.

Last year, I reviewed the Home Cinema 5010e which boasted wireless HDMI among its many features. This enhancement has made its way down the model line into the 3020e which retails for a mere $1899. If you want to save $300, you can opt for the Home Cinema 3020 (non-e) model which is identical save the wireless HDMI feature. Of course there are many other things to talk about here but one thing remains constant: Epson always delivers tremendous performance for the money. The 3020e includes full calibration controls, excellent light output, high-quality 3D, a great lens, and of course, superb image quality. Needless to say, I was excited when the review sample arrived at my door. Let's see what Epson brings to the party this year!

EPSON POWERLITE HOME CINEMA 3020E LCD PROJECTOR SPECIFICATIONS

  • Design: LCD Projector
  • Panel Type: 3 Poly-silicon TFT Active Matrix, 0.61-inch
  • Native Aspect Ratio: 16:9
  • Native Resolution: 1920x1080
  • Anamorphic Lens Support: No
  • 3D formats: frame-sequential, side-by-side, top-bottom
  • 2D-3D Conversion: Yes
  • Throw Ratio: 1.32 – 2.15:1
  • Lens Shift: No
  • Light output (mfr): 2300 Lumens
  • Contrast ratio (mfr): 40,000:1 Dynamic
  • Iris Control: 2 Auto Modes
  • Image size: 30" – 300"
  • Inputs: 2 HDMI 1.4a, 5 Wireless HDMI, 1 Component, 1 Composite, 1 VGA, 1 Stereo Audio RCA, 1 USB
  • Control: 1 RS-232, 1 RJ-45 for External 3D Emitter
  • Speakers: 2 x 10 Watts
  • Lamp power: 230 Watts
  • Rated lamp life: 5000/4000 Hours (Eco/Normal)
  • Dimensions: 5.4" H x 14.4" W x 15.5" D
  • Weight: 13.2 Pounds
  • Warranty: 2 Years
  • MSRP: $1,899
  • 3D glasses – 2 Pairs Included, Additional Pairs $99 Each
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  • SECRETS Tags: Epson, Home, Cinema, LCD, Projector, Video

Design of the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3020e LCD Projector

The 3020e keeps the design concept of last year's projectors with a retro-Star Wars look that, to my eye, looks kinda cool. To distinguish it from the 5010 and 5020 models, the front vents are gray rather than black. The lens is center-mounted and fixed; there is no mechanical lens shift. Levers on the lens barrel adjust focus and zoom. There is also a slider for horizontal keystone correction. The slider doesn't mean the adjustment is mechanical; it is indeed a digital alteration to the image. It allows you to place the projector on a coffee table and get a square picture if you can't center it on the screen. Vertical keystone is adjusted with top-mounted buttons. The use of any sort of keystone will reduce resolution however, and should be avoided. If you need further help with image alignment, there are two leveling feet at the front of the chassis. Additional controls on the top panel include volume, power, menu and source select.

Around back there is a full complement of inputs that cover two HDMI 1.4a, one each of component and composite, and a VGA connector. If you include the five-port wireless transmitter, that brings the HDMI input count to seven. There is also a stereo audio jack, which lets you connect a DVD or Blu-ray player and power the two speakers for a temporary setup on a coffee table. Since the 3020e is both compact and quiet; this is a pretty nice option. All you need to add is a portable screen for instant movie night. There is a handy USB port there too, where you can plug in a thumb drive and view photos. And if you want to integrate the 3020e into an automation system, RS-232 is included. IR sensors are mounted on both the front and back of the projector so you won't have any trouble sending commands from the excellent remote.

Speaking of which, the remote is one of Epson's typically functional designs. It is backlit, but you have to press a dedicated key first; it won't light up if you press any other button. At the top are discreet power controls followed by a button for each input. Then you have transport, volume, and mute keys which can control components connected via HDMI CEC. Compatibility will depend on the electronics in your particular system. In the middle are the menu navigation keys along with a 2D/3D toggle and buttons for color mode (picture mode) and Super Res. The lower section has more direct-access buttons for various image adjustments and picture memories. Finally, there is a set of controls for the wireless HDMI transmitter.

The wireless HDMI transmitter has upped the ante from last year's model. It now has five inputs and a charge port for the 3D glasses. You can set everything up in the menu and once it's connected, you can pretty much forget about it. You'll need line-of-sight between the transmitter and projector for best results. An on-screen signal strength meter lets you know the status of the connection. If you don't want to use the wireless function, the transmitter can work as a traditional switcher since it has HDMI and Toslink outputs. The remote has buttons to control all its functions. This is far more usability than the unit I received with last year's 5010e which only had a single source input; and its output was wireless only.

Epson has also updated their 3D glasses from last year. The new model is much lighter and more comfortable than before. The battery is rechargeable through a micro-USB port. This can be connected, with the included cable; to a computer, the wireless transmitter, or the rear of the projector. The glasses charge fully in 40 minutes. In a pinch, a three-minute charge will give you about three hours of use. My favorite upgrade is the mechanical power switch. Now you know for sure if they're turned on or off. Connection is made via RF and has a range of 32 feet. I never had any issues maintaining sync once I realized I had to turn on the glasses AFTER switching the projector to 3D mode.


Setup of the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3020e LCD Projector

Without lens shift, I had to place the 3020e right-side-up, aligned with the bottom of my 92-inch screen. My shelf was a bit too high but you can install the projector upside-down if you have the right offset (.1-.3 inches below the bottom or above the top of the screen). I ran my usual 50-hour burn-in slides in order to settle the bulb before calibration.

I tested both wired and wireless connections. In each case, I output the signal directly from an Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player. The wireless worked well as long as I had line-of-sight between the projector and transmitter. I did have to reset it once after a few days of non-use. Overall though, it worked better than the previous version I tested in the 5010e. It does take longer for the image to appear on startup and the opening sequences on Blu-rays are rough since the refresh rate changes so often. Every time this happened I watched a black screen for several seconds. If you want faster response during frame-rate changes, the wired connection is best. Still, there are many installations where wireless can solve a multitude of challenges.

Since Epson's menu system has always been a model of efficiency and logic, and I was happy to see they hadn't changed anything. All the controls you need for calibration are in the Image menu. There are five 2D picture modes, and two for 3D. Unless you need lots of light output, Natural or Cinema are the ones to use. And in 3D, Cinema provides the most accurate starting point for calibration. As you'll see later in the benchmark section, the 3020e can really benefit from a professional calibration. While it may seem excessive to spend another $300-$400 on an inexpensive model like this; the end result is well worth it and you'll still have a great picture for not a lot of money.

2D calibration was no different than past Epson models I've worked with. I observed clipping of white until I turned on the Epson Super White control in the Advanced menu. Then I dialed down the contrast control 12 clicks to set the peak light level at the 20 foot-Lambert mark. I found this sweet spot provided the best compromise between contrast and absolute black level. I could have dropped contrast even more to get a better black level but the image lost some pop. While the auto iris does a good job at improving perceived contrast, a manual iris would have been even better. Since there's so much light available, closing down would have increased contrast and deepened the black level. All of my tests were done with the bulb in eco mode. And viewing was done with the iris set to fast.

The rest of the calibration was straightforward. Gamma tracking was already very flat so I raised the preset one click to get to an average value of 2.2. I used the absolute color temp control to get the grayscale closer before visiting the RGB menu to adjust the highs and lows individually. The color management system (called RGBCMY) was helpful but not entirely functional. I was able to improve the color points with the saturation controls but I found this negatively affected accuracy at lower saturation levels. See the benchmarks for a more detailed explanation of my findings. I settled on simply changing the color brightness controls to achieve a nice balance.

Turning to 3D; I had hoped to use the same settings as the 2D calibration but I was unable to. I had to adjust both the white balance and the CMS to achieve an accurate image using the 3D Cinema mode. You can create separate calibrations for 2D and 3D but you have to use the 3020e's memory feature. Simply switching into 3D mode won't change all of the settings. Luckily there is a dedicated remote button that brings up the memory list. And you can't select a 3D memory in 2D and vice versa. See the benchmark section for a better explanation of 3D calibration with the 3020e.


The Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3020e LCD Projector In Use

For this review, I watched some familiar content; 2D Blu-rays that I had seen recently on my reference Anthem LCoS projector. With all 2D titles I tried out the 3D-conversion feature. Epson provides brightness and depth controls to help you tweak the image to your liking. While the 3020e did a passable job with most content, there's still no substitute for native 3D Blu-ray. In the case of the discs I watched, the conversion did not enhance the experience; it just provided a different one.

Men In Black 3 is the typically excellent transfer most modern films enjoy with rich bright colors, excellent contrast and exquisitely fine detail. Epson projectors have always impressed me with their sharp lenses and the 3020e did not change this pattern. In fact for such an inexpensive model, the lens performed well above average. I did observe slight panel convergence errors in test patterns but actual content looked fantastic. During close-ups of Tommy Lee Jones' deeply textured face, I could plainly see the subtle changes in camera focus as he talked and moved. The overall image was bright and punchy; not surprising given the 21 fL peak output I achieved after calibration. My only nitpick was the black level which was more like a dark gray. Even in bright scenes, black objects weren't quite black and there wasn't quite the pop I'm accustomed to seeing in higher contrast displays. The auto iris never called attention to itself. I couldn't hear it working unless there was no sound and I couldn't see any sign of its operation either. I left it on for all my viewing.

Prometheus is a great torture test for black level detail and dark scene contrast. The 3020e fell a bit short on this movie. Detail was all there thanks to the accurate and flat gamma tracking but the image never dropped below a dark gray tone. I employed the auto iris on both its normal and fast settings, and there was an improvement but not enough to mistake for an LCoS projector. I was running the 3020e in its eco (low-lamp) mode. I wish there had been a manual iris feature because then I could have set the lamp on high and closed down to achieve better contrast. As delivered, I couldn't set the brightness any lower without crushing detail. Color resolution was excellent, even in the almost monochromatic landscapes of the alien world.

Dropping in an older film, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles; the 3020e impressed again with its excellent ability to render detail. While a high-end DLP is the ultimate in front projection sharpness, this affordable LCD projector stands up extremely well. I could see the Blu-ray's added edge enhancement clearly (shame on you Paramount) but faces and clothing looked fantastic. And the bright image really put a shine on the older material. There was a little grain but it never intruded.

Moving to 3D, I grabbed two uber-familiar titles, Grand Canyon Adventure and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. I quickly discovered that you have to cue up your 3D title (so the 3020e switches to 3D mode) BEFORE turning on the glasses. If the glasses are on already, they won't pair. Once I settled in, I enjoyed a bright and sharp 3D experience. Light output is the most important factor in a good 3D presentation and the Epson has plenty of it. There are two 3D modes, Dynamic and Cinema and both use the bulb's high output mode. The fan noise increases as well, though not intrusively. Cinema mode looked very accurate and you can calibrate it separately if you want. Crosstalk was not evident in either film and the 3D effect was very deep and realistic. The included glasses were nice and light and didn't create any pressure points on my nose or ears. I also liked that they had a real power switch rather than a toggle button. That way you know they're on just by feeling. Whether you're watching live-action or CGI content, the 3020e does 3D extremely well.


The Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3020e LCD Projector On The Bench

You may have noticed a recent change in our video display testing here at Secrets. We've upgraded to the latest version of CalMAN, 5.0 for starters. This software adds many new tests to our benchmark suite. In fact, there are far more measurements available than we could ever hope to include in a single article. We're keeping the usual grayscale and gamma tests but we've added a new color test, the saturation sweep. This shows us a lot more of how a display's true color performance stacks up because it measures each primary and secondary at multiple saturation points.

We're still using the i1Pro spectrophotometer to measure color, and a C-6 tri-stimulus colorimeter to measure light output, but we've brought in a new Accupel signal generator, the DVG-5000. This unit supports all resolutions and refresh rates up to 1080p/60, includes motion patterns, and adds a 3D mode that allows measurement of crosstalk. It will also display any pattern at any luma level allowing for much finer resolution in color and grayscale measurements.

Color and Grayscale Performance-

Out of the 3020e's five picture modes, Natural and Cinema provide the best out of box performance and the best basis for calibration. In fact, they're nearly identical with Natural having just the slightest edge in accuracy. I used that mode for all my 2D measurements. Here is the default grayscale and gamma chart.

You can see it's pretty warm at all levels except 100 percent. Gamma is nice and flat though and tracks just a hair below 2.2. Delta E numbers are just above the point of visibility.

Here is the eight-point color sweep with luminance levels and Delta E values.

This is a pretty good result. Delta E measurements are right on the edge of being invisible to the naked eye. Luminances are also quite good except for blue which is about 18 percent too low.

We can see a little more of the story with the saturation sweep.

As it turns out, blue is just fine until the 100 percent level where the luminance drops below spec due to clipping. A reduction in the contrast control can fix that, or you can turn on the Epson Super White, which reveals all the color information up to video level 255.

Calibrating the RGB controls and adjusting the gamma control to its 2.3 setting produced an excellent chart with flat grayscale tracking, flat gamma and Delta E levels all below three. In fact only 100 percent was above two.

The CMS does not work quite as well as it could. Even adjusting the saturations to their max wouldn't get the color points on spec. It's pretty close though and the luminances are excellent.

The CIE chart doesn't tell the whole story however. In the saturation sweep, you can see the luminances below 100 percent are not as good as they could be, especially for red.

My first result was actually worse than this. Adjusting the saturation and hue controls in the CMS made the measurements at 80 percent and above look great but everything below was poor. I went back and changed only the brightness controls for each color and tweaked the hues for just the secondaries to balance things out better.

3D Performance-

Using the crosstalk pattern in the Accupel generator, I measured 0.78%. This is a very low figure, invisible to my eye at least. This means only 0.78% of the one eye's image bleeds to the opposite eye. It also indicates fast response from the projector's LCD imaging chips. There was a slight increase in measured crosstalk, to 1.1%, when the auto iris was engaged. Again, this is invisible to the naked eye.

Color and grayscale performance was about the same after calibrating in 3D mode. I had to make major changes in the CMS to achieve the same accuracy as 2D mode. Grayscale required a change to the green gain control, and I had to increase the absolute color temp to its maximum setting of 10000K. I left the gamma set at 2.3 but tracking was not quite as flat, rising slightly below 50 percent.

After adjusting the 3D Cinema mode, I wound up with charts that looked almost exactly like the ones pictured above. You can expect the 3020e to perform the same with either 2D or 3D content provided you calibrate the modes separately.

Contrast Performance-

The Epson 3020e proved to be a very bright projector. In the Natural and Cinema modes, the peak output was nearly 40 foot-Lamberts before calibration, which is bright enough to compete with a medium level of ambient light. And this was at the bulb's Eco (low-power) setting! After calibration the peak output was a more eye-friendly 22.526 fL with the iris off. Turning it on didn't change the max number but it did reduce the black level from .009 to immeasurable. Therefore the native contrast ratio was 2472.8:1; very respectable for a projector in this price class.

In 3D, light output is significantly reduced. With the iris on or off, I measured 8.232 fL peak through the glasses. The black level was immeasurable regardless of the iris setting. While this may seem like a low number, the almost complete lack of crosstalk, and the ability to dial in an accurate calibration, made 3D content look bright and punchy. This is one of the better 3D projectors I've reviewed in terms of overall image quality and brightness.

Video Processing-

The 3020e did extremely well in our video processing tests, passing all of them, with the exception of 2:2 pulldown which is a common failure. It locked on for a moment but then lost the cadence and was unable to restore it. In single-pixel multi-burst patterns, RGB fared best with 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 just a little less clear, but still passing. If your disc player is capable, RGB is the best signal output choice. The projector failed the WTW clipping test initially until the Epson Super White was turned on. It's off by default.


Conclusions about the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3020e LCD Projector

The Highlights

  • Lots of light output
  • Accurate color and grayscale after calibration
  • Flat gamma tracking
  • Excellent lens and screen uniformity
  • Wireless HDMI adds convenience with five inputs
  • No visible crosstalk and a bright picture makes for excellent 3D

My Wish List

  • Lens shift would increase installation flexibility
  • CMS still needs work to be truly useful
  • Out-of-box color and grayscale performance could be better

Epson has always been a value leader with their front-projection models and the 3020e continues that tradition. This is the fourth generation I've reviewed and they just keep getting better and better. Making the wireless HDMI available in a sub $2000 model is another thing that sets them apart. Add to that prodigious light output from only a 230-watt bulb, excellent optics and decent color accuracy; and you have a winning product here. It's the little things that count and it seems every year, Epson adds just enough to stay ahead of the competition. You'd have to spend quite a bit more money to do significantly better. If you're on a tight budget, it'll be difficult to improve on the Epson Home Cinema 3020e.