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Epson PowerLite 3020 review: Epson packs features, OK performance

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The Good The Epson PowerLite 3020 offers up decent amounts of shadow detail and black level for a budget-minded projector. It's easy to use and offers a lot of tweaking capabilities. 3D and 24P playback are miles ahead of what a TV at the same price can offer.

The Bad WirelessHD (3020e only) is an expensive upgrade and needs clear line of sight to work; colors are a little off compared to the cheaper BenQ W107; black levels come at the expense of a noisy iris motor.

The Bottom Line The Epson PowerLite 3020 projector series offers up a decent deal with a sophisticated picture and a couple of unique features.

6.9 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Value 7

In the past if you wanted a really big screen you'd get a projector. But with companies like Sharp now releasing 90-inch televisions, big-picture aficionados with extra cash can avoid the hassles of buying a projection screen and having to nurse a pitch-black room.

For others with the room, time, and money, a projector is a great option and can give you a much bigger screen than any flat-panel LCD or plasma for a fraction of the price. As a wise man once said, don't buy a jumbo TV, but a projector.

Epson has built some impressive projectors in its time, and for the money the PowerLite Home Cinema 3020 does some things very well. You have the choice of two versions, the 3020 ($1,599) and the 3020e ($1,899) which includes a WirelessHD hub. Personally, I think you should opt for the one without the wireless HDMI and save yourself some money. Whichever version you pick, the Epson is a competent projector which offers decent black levels and shadow details for an LCD-based model. Only some slight color aberrations, a very noisy iris motor, and a better performance from the cheaper BenQ W1070 spoil things for this Epson.

Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET
Once upon a time, the lords of home theater didst decree that projectors shall take on the appearance of science-fiction drop-ships. Lo, as it was written, Epson has tirelessly intoned the ancient ones' commandment with its 3020 projector.

Of the half-dozen projectors we reviewed as part of our shootout, the Epson 3020 and 5020 designs were voted the "most likely to have been stolen from the doodle pad next to James Cameron's telephone."

The sci-fi look is due to the large exhausts that dominate the front of the 3020. Unlike the BenQ W1070, the ports are angled so that stray light leakage is directed to the side rather than onto the screen.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote control is comprehensive and as large as most home theater receiver remotes without being overwhelming. If you get the 3020e, the remote also comes with controls for the wireless HDMI transmitter.

Key TV features
Projection technology LCD Native resolution 1920x1080 (1080p)
Lumens rating 2300 Iris control Yes
3D technology Yes 3D glasses included 2 pairs
Lens shift No Zoom and focus Manual
Lamp lifespan 2000 hours Replacement lamp $299
Other: Integrated 10 W stereo speakers; additional 3D glasses (model ELPGS03, $99 list)

There are three main technologies when it comes to projectors: DLP, LCoS (SXRD for Sony and D-ILA for JVC), and LCD. The Epson is a 3LCD projector, which as the name suggests, uses three separate RGB panels to generate an image. As LCD is typically lacking in contrast compared to other technologies, the projector includes a motorized iris for better black levels.

If you're looking for any projector that will also do 3D you need to look at a model priced higher than the $1,000 mark. The Epson is one such example, and it includes two pairs of active shutter 3D glasses in the box. The glasses communicate with the projector via RF and additional pairs cost $99 each. At this price you get setup features like a digital pincushion control but no motorized lens shift.

The Epson also has onboard 10W speakers located in the back of the chassis.

Setup: The Epson's front feet are adjustable, an improvement over the single front leg found on some other units. The company says the product has a throw ratio between 1.32 and 2.15 while being capable of a maximum 300-inch screen size. The lens comes with a set of manual focus and zoom controls as well as a digital keystone correction. The unit is capable of a maximum light output of 2,300 lumens, which makes it well suited to dark rooms or very dimly lit ones.

Picture settings: The projector comes with a number of different picture modes such as Natural, Cinema, and two dedicated User modes. When activating 3D content the projector offers two more modes, 3D Dynamic and 3D Cinema. For advanced setups, the projector offers an extensive number of controls including tweakable Gamma settings, two-point grayscale, and a full Color Management System.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Connectivity: For a wallet-friendly projector, the 3020 offers a decent selection of inputs including twin HDMI ports, component and AV jacks, and a VGA adapter. A USB port is also included for firmware updates.

The WirelessHD transmitter. Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET

If you opt for the step-up 3020e, you get the convenience of a wireless HDMI system, and this could be great for impromptu movie nights or if you don't want to route HDMI cables through your walls and ceiling cavity. The wireless receiver is onboard the projector and Epson includes a transmitter dongle that hooks up to your video sources and includes five HDMI inputs, one HDMI output, and an optical audio.

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