Review: Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2030 projector

Home projector excels at 3D and bulb life, but has brightness issues and poor color presets (August 26th, 2014)

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Product Manufacturer: Epson

Price: $850

The Good

  • 3D performance
  • Bulb
  • Color range

The Bad

  • Feet
  • Necessary color adjustments
  • Preset color modes

With high-definition televisions now the standard, 4K televisions becoming the next big thing, and plasma TVs going the way of the dinosaurs, in-home entertainment is an interesting beast these days. There are an overwhelming number of choices. Projectors could be a money-saving option, but they still suffer from overwhelming model choices, from business-oriented units to full-blown home theater experiences. Epson, however, hopes to simplify that with the PowerLite Home Cinema 2030, a projector that offers full 1080p without breaking the bank like some home theater choices. But does the projector exceed the TV experience, or will users want their flat panels back?

The PowerLite 2030 isn't the best-looking, nor the smallest projector that Epson offers -- it takes on a sort of bubble-like approach to its design. The sides are generously rounded, blending into the top that slopes down to the front where the main vent and lens sit. The projector is offered in a shiny white color that seems like it would be better suited to a sterile environment like a board room rather than a home theater. It's also a tad on the bulky side at 6.4 pounds, with dimensions of 11.6 x 9.6 x 4.1 inches.

Users can position the PowerLite 2030 in four ways, including the standard front-facing manner, rear projection or upside-down on a ceiling mount in forward and rear modes. There are three mounting points on the bottom of the unit to keep it secure; however, the mount must be purchased from Epson. A number of video modes are possible with the projector, helped by its generous choice of inputs. Two HDMI ports are included in the unit, one of which is MHL enabled for use with tablets or media units like the Roku Streaming Stick. VGA, RS-232C, RCA (video and audio) and USB ports are also on the device.

The feet on the other hand are a low point, as they are plastic rather than something more solid like metal. At most lengths, they feel wobbly, with the full extension being unstable. Unfortunately, the front foot isn't spring-loaded either, a feature that is rather handy to have in a projector. It still catches firmly, so at short adjustments the PowerLite 2030 is somewhat steady. However, bumping the surface it sits on or placing a hand on it can easily cause it to rock.

Sound output is also possible through the built-in, two-watt mono speaker or a 3.5mm audio output to attach a speaker. The sound quality from the speaker is poor, but with the rating of the speaker and only a single channel of sound, that is to be expected. Anyone using a projector in such a situation should have some sort of sound system in place for the best audio performance.

The PowerLite 2030 handles a long list of video modes and compatibilities, interfacing with computers, tablets and an assortment of media devices. Video in 2D and 3D is supported in 720p, 1080i and 1080p modes. Native resolution is 1920 x 1080 (1080p), but it can also handle 480i, 576i, 1080i, 480p, 576p, 720p, 1080p, NTSC, PAL and SECAM. The native aspect ratio is 16:9, but it also supports 10:10 and 4:3.

Unfortunately, the projector doesn't have automatic focus, so lens adjustment is handled manually by a lever accessed on the top of the projector. The f-stop for the PowerLite 2030 ranges from 1.58 to 1.72, with a focal distance of 16.9 to 20.28mm. There is a second lever on the top as well, which allows users to use zoom at a ratio of 1.0 to 1.2. Each of the levers for lens adjustment have a fluid, but firm feel to them. They are also set into the body, making it harder to accidentally shift the lens. Even if the projector is bumped on accident, it won't shift the focus, as some friction needs to be overcome to do that.

Projection distance is stated as 3.5 feet to 35.5 feet. In a home environment, distances between three and at least 15 feet provided a clear, watchable picture. Because of the size of the testing environment and available blank walls, nothing past that could be tested for a complete picture. At all tested ranges, the picture remained clear, with little pixelation or artifacting outside of some that is typically seen in thick character outlines in animation. To test what the projector may be like in a daily-use environment, the unit was run for 12 consecutive hours. During the operation, no issues were detected, nor did the unit trigger a shut-off for overheating. As expected, the unit put out a fair amount of heat during the period, which could be felt from up to three feet away.

Colors and video are handled a little bit differently than other projectors, thanks to a technology found in Epson devices. The PowerLite Home Cinema 2030 comes with 3LCD technology that Epson says delivers brighter colors when compared to other projectors on the market. The technology, which uses three chips, helps prevent the "rainbow effect" that occurs in mostly older digital light processing (DLP) projectors. During the course of several types of movies and television shows, not one instance of the effect was seen.

White and color brightness is rated at 2,000 lumens, but the bright colors feel like they are slightly washed out at times. The brightness is enough to still have a solid picture in a lit room, but as with most projectors it becomes hard to make anything out when sunlight is added in. There is a rich depth of color to play with, even when the washed-out color is witnessed. Solid blacks are impressive using the settings out of the box, as they have very little artifacting at the edges or off-color spots that sometimes show up.

Six color presets are built into the projector, with two set for 3D and four for 2D. Because the projector seems so bright and washed out in some instances, the cinema mode ends up being the best to use. Epson states that the cinema mode is meant for bright rooms, but even with no overhead lights it was the preferred mode to use. Traditionally dark shows like "Supernatural" looked the best in this mode, while high-contrast anime pretty much required it to be enjoyable viewable. Even then, additional adjustments to tone down brightness and contrast were needed. Skin tones remained fairly well-balanced, but did drift into a slight red tinge in some shows. Shadows tended to stay consistent, but did break up some if camera shifted quickly in the frame. Whites remained bright throughout, even with the "eco" mode turned on.

In 3D mode, colors looked somewhat better with the dark glasses on. Rise of the Guardians kept its vibrant colors in every mode, but still felt too bright in some situations. The performance of the 3D was superb, as the numerous levels of snowflakes could be experienced without artifacts or heavy blurring on the edges during the start of the film. There were some small instances of blurring during heavy action, but that isn't uncommon for a projector. Other films that weren't truly optimized for 3D like Dredd weren't as impressive, but the PowerLite 2030 handled it with ease. Consumers will be required to purchase glasses if they want to use 3D, as Epson doesn't include any in the box.

The bulb for the Epson projector is impressive as well. It's rated for 6,000 hours in the "eco" mode, or 5,000 in the standard mode. Operation in the "eco" mode is preferred, since the standard mode shows off the washed out colors to a greater degree. The deal becomes better, as a replacement bulb directly from Epson is only $100.

There are several other smaller features that are welcome on the PowerLite 2030. The auto-keystone works in only a few seconds, but rarely needs to be adjusted once it corrects. It also has an auto-iris feature to help keep blacks at their best, which works on this specific projector with next to no lag time. It also comes with a horizontal keystone slider on the top of the unit, and a lens cover that doubles as an A/V mute partition. It also supports wireless connections, but an additional module needs to be purchased.

For $850, the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2030 is a decent projector. The 1080p HD video, 3D capabilities and 3LCD technology give consumers a number of good options to consider. While the brightness and color presets can be a sore spot for consumers, in many instances it can be overcome. There are enough features in the projector to keep consumers interested, but for people that don't want to adjust the picture from show to show, it might not be the best selection. Projectors don't operate in the same manner as a television, so users generally have to adjust something to get the best picture. For users that don't mind taking a few extra steps to get the best out of their viewing experience, then the PowerLite 2030 is a good option that costs less than most large-screen (55-inch or greater) HDTVs.

by Jordan Anderson


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