Epson PowerLite 3020 review: Epson packs features, OK performance

Picture quality
Epson has a reputation for quality projectors, and if it wasn't for the upstart BenQ W1070 the 3020 would come highly recommended for its picture quality at the price. Its colors are natural and shadow detail is fine for the price. Black levels are decent but not overly impressive and the downside is the overly noisy iris motor.

Comparison models (details)
BenQ W1070 Single-chip DLP
Mitsubishi HC7900DW Single-chip DLP
Sony VPL-HW50ES Three-chip SXRD (reference)

Black level and light output
Shadow detail on the Epson is very good with plenty of contrast, though the slightly brighter overall black levels means the image doesn't pop quite as much as that of the BenQ. And if you're wondering, the "Good" Geek Box result below was measured on an almost entirely black screen, with the iris almost closed -- with standard dark scenes that contain even a little lighter material, the Epson's black levels looked comparatively lighter.

Additionally, the iris motor on the Epson is quite loud and could range from pepper grinder to inkjet printer in volume. It was most obvious from changes between dark and light scenes. Feeling around on top of the projector it seems that the loose control buttons were contributing to the noise by resonating when the iris moved. Taping them down didn't completely fix the problem, though. I decided to use the iris anyway, however, because the 3020 needs all the help it can get in reproducing dark scenes.

On the "Star Trek" scene I have nicknamed "the ninja pine cone" (Chapter 4, 28:18 min.), as the Romulan ship skulks across the screen, the Epson outclassed the BenQ at illuminating some low-level details the otherwise blacker image of the BenQ missed. Both literally paled in comparison with the Sony VPL-HW50ES which had almost plasma-like shadow detail in this scene.

The Epson was able to replay the dark Creation sequence from "The Tree of Life" (Chapter 4, 19:40) without solarizing effects. In this and other scenes, I didn't notice overt brightening or darkening caused by the iris -- transitions were admirably gradual. However, lack of dynamic punch did make the stark color-on-black scenes look a little more inconsequential compared to the BenQ.

In terms of light output, the Epson had plenty for our dark room and 120-inch-diagonal, high-gain StudioTek 130 screen. I measured a maximum light output of 68fL in Dynamic mode, which is good for a budget projector, but the trade-offs of that mode include terrible color. That number beats the light output of the BenQ and especially the Mitsubishi.

Color accuracy: Colors were very similar between the Epson and the BenQ, though the Epson had better red saturation. On a closeup of a baby's face during "The Tree of Life" (39:16) there were some problems in shadow areas with some greenish discoloration in shadow areas of the skin that weren't present on any of the other projectors.

The Epson's skin tones had the propensity to be a little overcooked, as during one scene (29:51) the young Kirk (Chris Pine) looked more like the flushed 81-year-old that used to play the role. In addition the grass lawn he was standing on looks a little too yellow in comparison to those on the BenQ and our reference Sony VPL-HW50ES. Black areas were also blue instead of black, as is common with LCD.

Video processing: If you're looking to buy a projector, it's probably because you want to watch movies on it. Based on its performance in our video processing tests, replaying movies is exactly what this Epson is good at. In both the 1080i deinterlacing test and the 24p compliance test, the Epson was rock-solid, meaning Blu-ray discs will play back as intended without adding any extra judder. However, the motion resolution of the projector was only average. At 320 lines of resolution, this means you may not see as much detail in moving images as you would with some other projectors.

Bright lighting: If you're serious about watching a projector in a lit room, then you'll need to spend a lot more than what the Epson costs on a brighter projector. While the Epson was capable of a bright-enough image when we upped the lights, it was only with the blinkingly poor colors of Dynamic mode. Even so, there was still light bleed from our soft downlights. Like most home theater displays, this projector is best used in the dark.

3D: After years of testing 3D TVs, there's one thing that has impressed me about this crop of projectors: how good their 3D performance has been. While the format has failed to spark the interest of the home-viewing public, 3D films are still being made, and a projector such as the Epson 3020 can help you come much closer to the theatrical 3D experience than just about any TV. The Epson exhibited little to no crosstalk even in highly contrasting images, and the glasses' filters added favorably to the black levels of the image.

GEEK BOX: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.007 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.1 Average
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 2.17 Good
Near-black error (5%) 2.6413 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.5956 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 2.1456 Good
Avg. color error 2.62143333333333 Good
Red error 1.1288 Good
Green error 3.7245 Average
Blue error 4.286 Average
Cyan error 2.2209 Good
Magenta error 3.424 Average
Yellow error 0.9444 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 320 Poor
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 320 Poor
Input lag (Calibrated mode) 89.3 Poor

Epson PowerLite 3020 calibration report by

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