Hands On the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080: How Much 1080p-ness Can you Get for $3K?

Click to viewWhen we first received an Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080 projector earlier this week, we were eager to take it into our test theater for a look-see, wondering just how much projector you can get for your $3000 these days. Surely there must be a catch to a 1080p projector that costs so comparatively little. It didn't look like it was missing anything when we looked at the spec list: Packed with three LCDs, this puppy has the latest HDMI 1.3 input in the back, a quoted 12,000:1 contrast ratio, that Blu-ray and HD DVD-friendly resolution of 1080p, and it doesn't look half bad, either.

The first thing we wanted to try was an HD DVD using its HDMI 1.3 port. Loading our newly acquired HQV benchmark test HD DVD disk, it was hard to find anything wrong with the picture we were looking at. The blacks were some of the blackest we've seen with an LCD projector at any price, and blacks are a weakness of LCDs. There were hardly any visible jaggies in the diagonal lines test, and that "screen door effect" of visible gridwork that plagues LCD projectors was nowhere to be found here, unless you stuck your nose right up next to the screen.

But how does its projected image look when it's blown up to projectus giganticus size?

Hands On the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080: How Much 1080p-ness Can you Get for $3K?

Hands On the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080: How Much 1080p-ness Can you Get for $3K?

Hands On the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080: How Much 1080p-ness Can you Get for $3K?

Hands On the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080: How Much 1080p-ness Can you Get for $3K?

Hands On the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080: How Much 1080p-ness Can you Get for $3K?

Hands On the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080: How Much 1080p-ness Can you Get for $3K?

Hands On the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080: How Much 1080p-ness Can you Get for $3K?

Hands On the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080: How Much 1080p-ness Can you Get for $3K?

Moving the projector way back into the cheap seats at the Midwest Test Facility theater, we were almost able to get the picture up to its largest quoted 120-inch diagonal size, which was just downright enormous. Even then, the HD DVDs that we viewed, a total of five of them, all looked pristine in all of their 1080p glory, and still, there was no screen door effect. Hey, we could get used to this. The sharpness was tremendous, the colors were vivid as we've ever seen with any projector, and heck, the thing didn't even make a whole lot of noise on its highest brightness setting. Lowering the projector to its low brightness setting cut the fan noise in half, and it was barely even audible as it sat on its test bench in the back of the room.

Next it was time to test how evenly lit its projected image is, so we moved the projector closer to the screen, to our customary 84-inch diagonal test size at which we test brightness for all of our projectors here. Measuring on a nine-way grid with our precision light metering equipment, we noticed impressive uniformity of the light, with the hottest spot of 588 lumens dead center on the screen, and the lowest, 468 lumens on the lower left part of the screen. These are some good numbers compared with most projectors we've seen, and result in a screen that appears evenly lit watching normal program material.

Next we plugged in our Xbox 360, and tried out some good old 720p Gears of War fragging. The three LCDs kept up with our quickest movements with nary a lag, and with the 5.1 surround sound blasting away, Phoenix, Cole and friends never had such a dramatic time taking down the Locust. The spooky dark places looked dark enough to be dimmer than dark gray, and the colors were even more vivid than on our LED-lit Samsung HL-S5679W 1080p rear-screen projector, the former color champ.

How's a computer look on this projector? We plugged in a laptop with a graphics card that's capable of outputting a 1920x1080 image, and this was also a startlingly sharp and clear. We closely viewed our DisplayMate set of benchmarks, and this projector ran through that video obstacle course without even breathing hard. We were also impressed with the playback of images from a TiVo Series3 in 720p, again handily beating our 1080p rear-screen projector as well as a 720p LCD we had lying around, too.

The bottom line? If you're looking for a 1080p projector, $3000 is a pittance to spend for such tremendous quality. We're hoping to test another 1080p projector soon, namely the identically priced PT-AE1000U if Panasonic is up to the challenge, but for now, this is the best gigantic screen picture we've ever seen. It's downright excellent, and worth every penny of its $3000 price. Thumbs up, all the way. So how much 1080p-ness can you get for $3000? About 120 inches.