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Epson PowerLite 3020 review: Epson packs features, OK performance

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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.

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6.9

Epson PowerLite 3020

The Good

The <b>Epson PowerLite 3020</b> 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.

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
Design
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.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Key TV features "="">Other: Integrated 10 W stereo speakers; additional 3D glasses (model ELPGS03, $99 list)
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

Features
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.

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.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">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

Epson_PowerLite_Home_Cinema_3020_35481368_11.jpg
6.9

Epson PowerLite 3020

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7Value 7