The Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2030 offers a decent image and a good mix of features at a low price, but is still bettered by rivals.
If you have $1,000 burning a hole in your pocket you could opt for an LCD TV, or, as CNET's Geoff Morrison might advise, you could spend it on a projector.
The Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2030 is one the least expensive 1080p LCD home-theater projectors. It also includes a number of features unusual at the price, including 3D playback, MHL compatibility, an onboard speaker, and full color and grayscale controls.
Picture quality is decent for a cheap LCD projector, though the black-level benefits of the automatic iris are still minimal when compared to the DLP picture of the BenQ W1070 and BenQ W1080ST. Color is a little lackluster, and the combination of a long throw and lack of manual lens shift means your placement options are limited. On the other hand, 3D playback is very good, and the Epson's brightness is powerful enough to be visible in a dimly lit room.
Despite its faults, the Epson 2030 manages to do a lot with only a minimal outlay.
While the Epson 3020 and higher-up projectors have a sci-fi look, the budget models are a little more pedestrian in appearance. The white 2030 shares the same basic chassis as the PowerLite 730HD but adds a beefier lens. Compared to the chunky 3020, the 2030 is much more coffee-table-friendly, measuring 11.69 inches wide by 9.72 inches deep and 4.25 inches high. It has an angled front exhaust port to prevent light from leaking onto the screen -- a feature the competing BenQ W1080ST doesn't offer.
The remote that ships with the 2030 isn't as comprehensive as the model that comes with the more expensive projectors, but it does have a volume control and playback controls for the MHL connection.
|Projection technology||LCD||Native resolution||1,920x1,080 (1080p)|
|Lumens rating||2,000||Iris control||Yes|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||No|
|Lens shift||No||Zoom and focus||Manual|
|Lamp lifespan||Up to 6,000 hours||Replacement lamp cost||$99|
|Other: Additional 3D glasses (model ELPGS03, $99 list)|
The PowerLite Home Cinema 2030 adds a couple of extra features from the cheaper 720p PowerLite 730HD. Firstly, Epson claims this is the first full 1080p LCD projector for under $1,000, and secondly, it is still one of the first with an MHL port. MHL was "big" at CES 2014, but apart from the Roku Streaming Stick, there haven't been any other streaming products that use the technology. MHL was originally designed to enable customers to connect their smartphones via an HDMI cable to their TV, but with devices like the Chromecast enabling wireless connection it's debatable whether MHL will truly take off. The fact that the 2014 Roku Streaming Stick dispenses with MHL altogether is especially telling.
As a budget offering, the inclusion of 3D playback is surprising, but having to buy active glasses separately is a little annoying. Thankfully, the projector is Full HD 3D-compliant, so any compatible glasses will work.
Want to hear your movie without hooking up a speaker system? The Epson also has an onboard 2W speaker at the back of the unit.
Picture settings: The projector comes with four different picture modes, including Dynamic, Living room, Natural, and Cinema. When activating 3D content the projector offers two more modes, 3D Dynamic and 3D Cinema. For advanced setups, the projector offers a two-point grayscale, and a Color Management System (CMS).
Connectivity: In addition to the onboard speaker, the 2030 includes two HDMI inputs with (MHL), A/V, PC, two USB ports (one for updates and another for playing digital media) and an audio-out connection.
The PowerLite Home Cinema 2030 offers a decent picture given the price, with OK black levels and shadow detail. The unit is capable of quite a high light output for the money and will work in a dimly-lit room. 3D playback is very good, though you will need to buy glasses separately. Color is a little lackluster though, particularly lacking in regard to red and skintone saturation.
|Comparison models (details)|
|BenQ W1080ST||Short-throw DLP projector|
|Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5030UB (reference)||3LCD projector|
Black level: Unless you're paying a pretty penny for an LCD projector, one of the first picture quality elements that will suffer is black level. While the automatic iris of the Epson 2030 does help a little, as a unit it's not able to better the contrast offered by a DLP at the same price.
The Epson's dynamic iris is only able to lower black levels so much. I found if there are a few bright spots in the middle of a dark scene, the overall black level suffer. This was evidenced in the scene from "Driver" where Irene grasps Driver's hand under the vacillating street lights (30:29). The BenQ W1080ST, which lacks an iris, was much blacker here (roughly twice as black according to our handheld meter), though both had about the same level of shadow detail.
Switching to "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II," the Epson's shadow detail was a little worse than the BenQ by eking out less detail from the clifftop scene. The BenQ gave better definition to the figures -- they actually had a volume and space around them -- and you could see a little further into the murky background. However, while there was a slight green tinge to the blacks of the BenQ the 2030's were more neutral.
Color accuracy: Even with the use of the CMS it wasn't possible for the Epson 2030 to match the BenQ W1080ST, much less the Epson 5030 for color performance. Compared to the rich reds and and skin tones of the BenQ while watching "Star Trek," the Epson looked a little drab, though the yellow-green grass and pale blue San Franciscan sky looked the same on each.
On my first viewing of "The Tree of Life," the mother's face looked sickly via the Epson compared to the BenQ, and even after going back to the Epson's CMS and tweaking it, her lips looked a little too blood-red next to her even whiter skin. The Epson 503 and BenQ alike made Jessica Chastain look altogether more alive.
Video processing: As a budget projector, the Epson 2030 does a pretty good job of both maintaining cadence for Blu-ray 24p content and successfully displaying interlaced 1080i material. The model lacks any type of motion compensation capabilities, and so its motion resolution was ultimately low at only 320 lines. Gamers may also want to look at a competing product if they want ultrafast response times -- the Epson recorded a relatively slow and arguably noticeable lag of 47.2ms.
Be aware that the digital keystone also adds jagged edges to lines, so setting the projector up directly in line with the screen is your best option.
Uniformity: While the Epson was able to successfully mask light leakage from the vents at the front of the unit, its uniformity was worse than the "leaky" BenQ W1080ST. The image on the unit we received was brighter in the middle on a white screen and noticeably darker on the bottom right-hand side in particular.
Bright lighting: Despite having the same light output rating as the BenQ W1080ST (2,000 lumens), the Epson was able to squeeze out a little more brightness with a maximum of 64.2 lumens on its brightest setting. While not "accurate" in terms of color, it was able to do this without the greenish-whites of the BenQ. If you want a projector that can be used in a well-lit room, you'd need a much higher-powered machine than this, but it nonetheless produced a watchable image in a less-than-optimal environment for bright scenes.
3D: Though it's a fairly flimsy reason to buy a TV, the Epson features a standout performance in 3D playback. Our Hugo test scene was solid looking 3D and not too "poppy," with only a small amount of crosstalk on Hugo's outstretched hand. This is impressive, as even expensive 3D TVs can foul up this test.
|GEEK BOX: Test||Result||Score|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.026||Poor|
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)||2.24||Average|
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)||1.833||Good|
|Dark gray error (20%)||1.829||Good|
|Bright gray error (70%)||1.26||Good|
|Avg. color error||3.261||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 (Game mode)||47.2||Average|