Projectors

Epson Home Cinema 2030 LCD 3D Projector Review

ARTICLE INDEX

Epson 2030 LCD 3D Projector Review Highlights

I have been reviewing projectors for SECRETS for a number of years and I have been reviewing Epson's Home Cinema line of projectors every year for quite a while now. In fact the Epson Powerlite Home Cinema 5020UBE 3D LCD Projector that I reviewed in 2013 was awarded a SECRETS Best of 2013 Product Award. I usually talk about how it's the best in the under-$3,000 category and how its performance is on par with projectors costing much more. The Epson Home Cinema 2030 offers excellent value and performance for your $900 investment. It is not designed for a high-performance home theater, but for portability and ease of use.

  • It offers a wide range of input options, great light output and many additional features.
  • It is the lightest and smallest projector I have reviewed.
  • The 3D glasses are light and comfortable.
  • Set-up is very straightforward.
  • Benchmark and Calibration Results: Grayscale tracking - good: Gamma and Color results not as solid.
  • Movie Content -Optical clarity, color, and brightness are quite good.
  • Black levels not great.
  • One of the best 3D displays-for 3D fans

I highly recommend this Epson 2030 Projector for a big-screen experience with a small investment.

Epson Home Cinema 2030 LCD 3D Projector

Introduction to the Epson Home Cinema 2030 LCD 3D Projector Review

I have been reviewing Epson's Home Cinema line of projectors every year for quite a while now. I usually talk about how it's the best in the under-$3,000 category and how its performance is on par with projectors costing much more.

EPSON HOME CINEMA 2030 LCD 3D PROJECTOR REVIEW SPECIFICATIONS

  • Design: Three-Chip LCD Projector
  • Panel type: C2Fine
  • Native Aspect Ratio: 16:9
  • Native Resolution: 1920 x 1080
  • Anamorphic Lens Support: No
  • 3D Formats: Frame-Packing, Side-by-Side, Top-bottom
  • 2D-3D Conversion: Yes
  • Throw ratio: 1.22 – 1.47
  • Lens Shift: No
  • Light Output: 2,000 Lumens
  • Contrast Ratio: 15,000:1
  • Iris Control: 2-speed Auto
  • Image Size: 34" – 328"
  • Inputs: 2 HDMI 1.4a (1 MHL), 1 Composite, 1 VGA, 1 RCA Stereo Audio, 1 USB
  • Audio Output: 1 3.5mm Stereo Mini-Jack
  • Control: 1 RS-232
  • Lamp Power: 200 Watts
  • Rated Lamp Life: 6,000 (ECO) / 5,000 Hours (Normal)
  • Dimensions: 4.25" H x 11.69" W x 9.72" D
  • Weight: 6.4 Pounds
  • Warranty: 2 Years, 90 Days Lamp
  • MSRP: $899.99 USD
  • 3D Glasses: RF, Sold Separately, $99/each
  • Epson
  • SECRETS Tags: Epson, Cinema, LCD, Projectors, 3D, Video, Projector Reviews 2014

Today, I'm doing something a bit different. Those of you awaiting a review of the Home Cinema 5030UB will have to hold on just a little longer. That projector will be in my theater soon but in the meantime, Epson was kind enough to send me the Home Cinema 2030. This is a budget model to be sure but in typical fashion, it packs a ton of features and performance in for a trifling $900.

Here's what you get with the Cinema 2030: 2,000 lumens of brightness, 3D, HDMI with MHL, USB with networking capability, and a built-in speaker. Here's what you'll have to move up in price for: lens shift, higher quality optics, lower black levels, THX certification, and wireless HDMI. If you're looking for a portable projector that works in a variety of environments, and can connect to any conceivable video source, I don't believe you'll have to look any further! Let's check it out.

Go to Page 2: Design

 


The Design of the Epson Home Cinema 2030 LCD 3D Projector

This is easily the smallest projector I've ever reviewed. At just over six pounds, it's also the lightest. The chassis is made from a high-impact white plastic that seems fairly resistant to jostling and to fingerprints. You can easily stow the HC2030 in a backpack or small duffel. The lens is offset to one side opposite a small exhaust vent.

On top are enough controls to operate the 2030 without the remote. Above the lens are manual controls for focus and zoom along with a sliding door that eliminates the need for a separate lens cap. Another slide bar adjusts horizontal keystone. The big thing missing here is lens shift which is not something you'll find on any sub-$1000 projector. The lens has no throw offset so to get a square image without using keystone correction, you'll have to place the projector in line with the center of your screen.

On the back is a complete set of inputs. In addition to two HDMI 1.4a ports, there's VGA, composite, and USB, which is a first for me. The USB input will accept a LAN adaptor or a thumbdrive with picture files, but the easiest streaming solution is to plug a Roku or Chromecast dongle into HDMI 1 which supports Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL). This is the first projector I've seen with this feature.

The zoom range is fairly small so you're a little limited in the distance versus image size ratio. The manual gives you a guide to typical screen sizes and tells you the throw distance range. While it's easier to set up a projector with lens shift and a wide zoom, I didn't really have any trouble adapting the HC2030 to my theater.

The technology here is Epson's familiar 3LCD engine with C2Fine imaging chips. It's tuned more towards high light output rather than a large dynamic range. Epson expects, and rightly so, that the 2030 will be used in less-than-ideal projection environments. And with the whole lotta light I measured from this diminutive box, I'd say they've done a good job. It'll still look best in the dark but you can plop it on your coffee table and project an impressively large image on your living room wall with ease.

The feature list almost makes one think they're reading about an HDTV. There's 3D of course but the addition of MHL and USB inputs with network capability means this is the first projector I've seen that you can stream to. In fact with a wireless USB LAN module (sold separately), and free software, you can do it easily from a laptop. Epson sent me a Roku stick to plug into the MHL port; which is much easier since the interface and networking hardware is all built into a thumbdrive-sized device.

MHL is also a first for a projector in my experience. This interface is popping up on pretty much every new HDTV and a lot of computer monitors too. It allows you to connect a smartphone or tablet and stream from it. And the 2030 will charge your device while you watch. If you have a Netflix account for example, just call up your favorite movies on your phone and watch them projected up to 328 inches!

I also mentioned a built-in speaker. This eliminates the need for a separate sound system when you need complete portability. The speaker is small and only has a 2-watt amplifier so it's fine in a pinch. The HC2030 has analog audio output in the form of a 3.5mm mini-jack so if you have powered speakers handy, that's your best option.

The remote is quite different from the ones I've seen in the past from Epson. It's extremely compact, which isn't surprising given the projector's intended use. What is surprising is that it is not backlit. I know the HC2030 is a budget model but is backlighting that expensive to implement? Ergonomically, the small form factor means the buttons are tiny and close together. Fortunately their different shapes make it fairly easy to operate without looking. It is also very powerful. I could point it just about anywhere and the projector would respond. It provides all the functionality of Epson's larger remotes like discrete input keys and one-button access to the iris and picture modes plus volume and transport controls. If your source works with HDMI-CEC, you'll only need a single remote to control everything.

Let's set the HC2030 up and check out the menu system. Go to Page 3: Setup

 


Setup of the Epson Home Cinema 2030 LCD 3D Projector

I placed the HC2030 right-side-up on a small stand just in front of my seating. This allowed me to easily fill a 92-inch diagonal screen with an extremely bright image. Video was fed via HDMI from an Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player. I also played with the Roku stick Epson included with my press sample.

I placed the projector level to avoid keystone correction. Epson has a neat sensor that will automatically adjust keystone when the projector is not level. I can understand the necessity for this in a projector like this but if you can avoid using it, you'll be able to maximize image quality. Any sort of keystone correction will reduce vertical resolution and introduce softness.

The menu system is laid out just like every other Epson projector I've ever worked with so it was instantly familiar, just missing a few things. I went right to the Cinema and Natural picture modes for my evaluation since they've traditionally been the most accurate. Other modes are labeled Living Room and Dynamic and take licenses with color to help the 2030 compete with ambient lighting. Use them as a matter of personal preference but if you're looking for the best image to watch in the dark, go with Natural or Cinema. The difference between the two is subtle but I'll explain it more in the Benchmark section.

Epson provides every calibration control from their more expensive models except gamma correction. I found this an odd omission. The vast majority of people purchasing a $900 projector aren't going to touch the color management system, but a couple of gamma presets would be an easy way to improve image quality especially given the low contrast inherent in this model. Speaking of contrast, you will absolutely, positively want to use the auto iris. Not only does it visibly improve black levels, it does so with no penalty to gamma, which is a nice surprise. The last control in the Image menu is Power Consumption (translation – lamp power). On ECO, the bulb is rated for 6000 hours and I got over 30 footLamberts peak. On Normal (5000 hours lamp life rating), you can pump over 43 fL of light from the 2030. Now that's a lot of light from a 200-watt bulb! Oh and before I forget, go into the Advanced sub-menu and turn Epson SuperWhite On. This improves gamma a bit and extends the signal range to show all above-white information.

Here are the highlights from the other menus. In Signal, you can set a few options for 3D like depth and brightness. Depth works when converting 2D images to 3D. Use this one to taste. Brightness will do just as it says but at the penalty of increasing crosstalk. The HC2030 is bright enough in 3D without this. Here also are options to tweak computer-generated images. Lastly is Image Processing, Fine or Fast. Use Fine for most content but if you're playing games, input lag is reduced significantly with the Fast option.

In Settings, you can adjust the keystone correction manually if the automatic function doesn't work to your liking. Again, try to avoid using this if possible. HDMI CEC is supported here if you want to control your source from the 2030's remote.

The last thing I did before calibrating was to pair the 3D glasses. Epson included them with my press sample but you'll have to buy them for $99 separately. Operation is via RF so you don't need line-of-sight with the HC2030. They charge via USB. To pair them, send a 3D signal to the projector and turn the glasses on. Within a few seconds they're recognized with an on-screen message that indicates success and tell you the remaining battery power. In my tests, they fired up without fail every time. They're light and comfortable and easy to wear for long periods. I had no trouble getting through Avatar without a break. Go to Page 4: In Use

 


The Epson Home Cinema 2030 LCD 3D Projector In Use

No matter what the price point of a projector I review, I subject it to the same torture tests. I look for Blu-ray content that tests black levels, gamma, color, fast motion, rapidly changing brightness levels, and clarity. While I expect more expensive displays to look better, there are fundamentals that even the lowest-priced projectors can and should have.

Typically I run all the benchmarks and calibrate before watching any content. While I got great numbers for grayscale tracking, gamma and color were not as solid. I was curious to see how the picture would look with actual content. Well, I was not disappointed. The Home Cinema 2030 looked just as natural and bright as its more expensive brethren in the Ultra-Black line. Black levels are definitely not on par with those projectors but optical clarity, color, and brightness are quite good here.

Before I watched movies, I tried out the Roku stick Epson sent along. It was just like using the same device on an HDTV. It has its own remote so once you create an account, you can check out all the streaming services it offers. I use Netflix so I checked out a few titles from my queue. Their quality has improved tremendously in the last year or so and everything I tried looked great. As always, your particular Internet connection will determine the compression rate. I have 60 Mbps courtesy of Bright House so while it's definitely not Blu-ray, it looks pretty good; especially the high-def content.

I started my Blu-ray viewing with Fried Green Tomatoes, a transfer that while solid, does exhibit a fair amount of softness and film grain. There are also nighttime scenes that test a display's ability to render fine shadow detail. When viewing these, the detail was there thanks to the 2030's flat gamma tracking but the blacks weren't quite black. Using the auto-iris on Fast helped to improve contrast. It makes a significant difference and I recommend using it all the time. Clarity-wise, the image looked as good as it could for this particular transfer. Noise was kept to a minimum and clarity was far better than I'd expect for a $900 projector. Thanks to a decent lens and the spot-on convergence of my press sample, the image was crystal-clear.

Next I watched Baraka which is a definitive example of the film-maker's art. This title has no digital content whatsoever. It's nothing but an exquisitely-shot 97 minutes of 70mm film greatness. There are lots of long scenes where all you see is the sun rise or people getting off and on a subway. When the camera is stationary like this, you can really see detail and light in a unique way. Here I could see the 2030's iris working a little. During one sequence, the sun rises over bluffs in a desert. It was easy to notice difference in speed between the sunrise and the iris' action. It wasn't a rapid pumping, just a subtle flicker. Overall I'd say it works pretty well, aside from it being a little noisy. That's a good thing because you really need it to get the most out of this projector.

To give brand-new content its due, I watched Thor, The Dark World next. This movie has many dark murky scenes that frankly don't look that great even on a reference-level display. Here I was surprised a little. While blacks weren't rich and deep, I could see detail without straining and the lower contrast didn't really bother me. The impression of depth and dimension was quite good in fact. Contrast ratio is not the only thing one should consider when buying a projector. In the HC2030's case, clarity and color detail make up for a lack of dynamic range.

I finished up my 2D watching with another dark title, Terminator Salvation. Again the shadow detail was excellent despite the overall grayish look to the image. I know many projector buyers are looking for maximum contrast but even though the 2030 doesn't render great blacks, it still provides an extremely compelling image. Not only is the color superb, detail and clarity are far better than any other sub-$1000 projector I've watched.

With the tremendous brightness available from the Home Cinema 2030, I had high expectations for 3D movies. Again, I was not disappointed. I've watched a fair number of 3D displays, both projectors and flat panels. In all cases, the brighter displays look the best. With active systems, you're looking at as much as 80 percent less brightness in 3D. To succeed here, you've got to start with a lot of light; it's just that simple. And crosstalk isn't really an issue now that 3D has been out for a few years.

I started with a CGI title, Wreck-It Ralph. This is a good to test for crosstalk because it employs a lot of depth cues; more than many other animated films. I'm happy to say I saw no artifacts whatsoever. If you delve into the 2030's 3D menu you'll find a 3D Brightness control. I suggest leaving this on Medium. Setting it to high opens up the glasses a bit and does provide more light but at the expense of visible crosstalk artifacts. There's plenty of light already, trust me!

I'm not sure I'll ever review a 3D display without watching Avatar. Say what you want about the story but as an experience, there's just no equal. This is why you want a big screen. When you have bright clear 3D at 92 inches diagonal, the sense of immersion is tremendous. This was another title that elicited the adjective "compelling." If you pass out the glasses to your friends and cue up Avatar, you will wind watching the entire movie whether you planned to or not! Go to Page 5: On The Bench

 


The Epson Home Cinema 2030 LCD 3D Projector On The Bench

I installed the projector right-side-up at an 8-foot throw distance. Test gear included an Accupel DVG-5000 Pattern Generator, i1Pro Spectrophotometer, Spectracal C-6 Colorimeter, and CalMAN 5.2 software. Measurements were taken off the screen; Carada Brilliant White, gain 1.4.

Since few users of the Home Cinema 2030 will have their projector professionally calibrated, I recommend Natural as the best out-of-box mode. Cinema is subtly different in both grayscale and color and very different in its gamma response. I'll let the charts tell the story.

Cinema Mode

When I see Cinema mode on any display, I gravitate towards it as the likely best starting point for calibration. And hopefully, it will be pretty good out of the box.

The last few Epson projectors I've tested worked better in their Natural picture mode. You can see why Cinema is not the better choice here. Grayscale tracking runs visibly cool and gamma is far too low (too bright) across the board. The image is bright but lacking in depth and color detail. Delta E average is 3.17 and the gamma average is 1.70.

This is an odd result for the gamut measurement. Red and Green are under-saturated at the 100-percent point. Green and Yellow make a curve out of their hue as saturation increases. And Magenta tracks well until 100-percent saturation where it veers towards Blue. Looking at the luminance graph, we see that most colors are way too bright. Delta E average for Cinema mode color is 5.52

Natural Mode

Luckily, switching to the Natural mode cleans things up considerably.

This grayscale and gamma result is much better. Remember, I haven't calibrated yet. Errors are invisible at all brightness levels. Gamma is still too bright but it's a lot closer to 2.2 than before and the tracking is greatly improves. The Delta E average is 1.04 and the gamma is 1.91; much better than Cinema!

Some of the strange tendencies are still there from the Cinema mode but they're far less so. The CIE chart is a lot better and color luminances are much closer to a proper balance. The average color error in Natural mode is 3.41.

Calibrated

Grayscale tracking doesn't require too much work to bring the average error down to .83 Delta E. That is excellent performance. Gamma stays nearly the same at 1.90.

Epson's CMS won't help the under-saturated primaries but I was able to reduce the over-bright colors pretty well by lowering the luminance sliders. And magenta is greatly improved in hue. Because of over-saturation in the lower green levels, I wasn't able to improve the average error. It's still around 3.4 Delta E. Despite the average numbers, the color looks significantly better balanced and more natural when you make these adjustments.

I always like to see an auto-iris' effect on gamma. Usually it plays havoc but this time, it made very little difference. The only change is that the upper brightness levels are a tad brighter. The overall improvement in contrast is well worth this small tradeoff.

Contrast & 3D Performance

Contrast performance is definitely below what I've seen from other Epson LCD projectors. The HC2030 is designed for high light output rather than deep blacks. Usually I calibrate to around 16 foot Lamberts peak output but in this case, I experimented with different numbers to find the all-around best contrast ratio.

The only way to reduce output from the 30 fL default is to reduce the Contrast control. It has 24 steps on either side of center and I settled on -17 as the sweet spot. At that setting, with the iris turned on the maximum white level is 17.883 fL, the minimum black is .044 fL, and the contrast ratio is 406.9 to 1. That ratio increases as you turn up the Contrast slider. The best result I measured was 708.1 to 1 with Contrast on zero. At that setting, the max output is 30.7977 fL and the black level is .0435.

If you're after maximum brightness, turn the lamp to its Normal setting. You'll get an increase in fan noise as it spins faster. There you'll see a max white of 43.7695 fL, a black level of .0523 and a contrast ratio of 836.8 to 1.

In 3D mode there are two picture modes, 3D Cinema and 3D Dynamic. In 3D Cinema, I only had to make minor changes to the calibration settings to achieve similar results for color and grayscale. The lamp is automatically turned up to Normal which makes the gamma value a little lower than in 2D mode.

I measured an extremely low crosstalk number of .39 percent. This is completely invisible to the naked eye. I saw no crosstalk in any content unless I turned up the 3D Brightness setting which is unnecessary. In 3D Cinema I measured 5.3593 fL peak, .0083 fL for the black level, and a contrast ratio of 648.5 to 1. This is excellent 3D performance.

Video Processing

The HC2030 has decent video processing especially given its price point. The only failures were in the 4:2:2 chroma burst and plate patterns and mixed content vertical. The best signal mode to use here is RGB but 4:4:4 is nearly as good. I discovered that calibration settings are specific to signal format but not signal resolution. If you calibrate with RGB, you'll need to copy them over for YPbPr or vice versa. In order to display all above-white information, Epson SuperWhite must be turned on. Go to Page 6: Conclusions

 


Conclusions about the Epson Home Cinema 2030 LCD 3D Projector

Likes

  • Lots of light output
  • MHL and USB inputs provide streaming capability
  • Clear, sharp image
  • Excellent 3D performance
  • Accurate color and grayscale
  • Super-portable

Dislikes

  • Small zoom range and no lens shift
  • Loud iris operation
  • Not-so-great black levels
  • Non-backlit remote
  • No gamma control

Obviously the Home Cinema 2030 is not designed for a high-performance home theater. Its low contrast and high black levels move it out of that category; but that isn't Epson's intent. With easy portability, a fantastic array of input options, and tons of light output; this is a projector you can plop on a coffee table or even set up outside for a drive-in movie experience. It's super-easy to watch your content on the big screen with only a smartphone or streaming stick. And the built-in speaker means there's another component you won't have to carry.

I've always been a fan of Epson's products. They offer tremendous value and performance for the money. The HC2030 was my first opportunity to try one of their low-priced models and I came away impressed. I could see taking this projector on a trip and using it for a relaxing movie night in an otherwise boring hotel room. And if you're a fan of 3D, its brightness and non-existent crosstalk make it one of the best 3D displays I've seen to date; including flat panels.

Obviously to sell the Home Cinema 2030 for $900, a few things had to be left out. But those features are more than made up for with tremendous light output and flexible connection options that you probably won't find on most high-end models. If you're dying to try the big-screen experience and don't want to spend a lot of money or build a dedicated theater, look no further; highly recommended.