Over the past couple of years, Epson has focused a lot of attention on the home entertainment projector market. Compared with home theater projectors that emphasize black-level performance and are ideally suited for dedicated theater rooms (or at least rooms with good light control), home entertainment projectors are aimed at people who want a big-screen viewing experience but don't have a light-controlled theater space or other home theater elements like an AV receiver and external speakers. Basically, they want the large screen provided by front projection with a more TV-like set of features.
Three elements you'll usually find in a home entertainment projector are good light output, an integrated speaker, and a small, portable form factor that makes it easy to move the projector around and set it up wherever convenient. Also, these models generally fall at the lower end of a company's lineup, price-wise.
A quick glance at Epson's Home Cinema projector lineup (http://www.epson.com/cgi-bin/Store/jsp/home-theater-projectors/home-cinema.do?UseCookie=yes ) reveals a lot of home entertainment models priced under $2,000. The subject of today's review, the Home Cinema 2045 released in late 2015, meets all of the above criteria. This $849 1080p projector has a rated light output of 2,200 lumens and a dynamic contrast ratio of 35,000:1. It's a 3D-capable LCD projector with an integrated five-watt speaker, and it includes an MHL input and wireless streaming technology (Miracast and Intel WiDi) to easily incorporate tablets, smartphones, and streaming sticks as AV sources.
The lower-priced Home Cinema 2040 ($799) omits the Miracast/WiDi wireless streaming but is otherwise identical to the 2045. Both of these projectors serve as the replacement to the Home Cinema 2030 that we reviewed a couple years ago.
Setup and Features
In form and features, the 2045 has a lot in common with its predecessor, the 2030--but with a few notable upgrades. The 2045's physical appearance and dimensions are nearly identical to those of the 2030: it measures 11.69 inches wide by 9.80 deep by 4.69 high (including its feet) and weighs just 6.9 pounds. The projector's lens sits slightly to the left on the front chassis; located just above it is a lever to manually open and close the screen cover that protects the lens during travel. Closing this cover during video playback automatically turns off the bulb--a 200-watt UHE bulb that has a rated lamp life of 7,500 hours in the Eco brightness mode and 4,000 hours in the Normal brightness mode. At the right side of the front chassis is a fan vent.
Around back, you'll find you two HDMI 1.4 inputs, one of which supports MHL to connect a compatible smartphone, tablet, or streaming stick. There's also a PC RGB input and a composite video input (with stereo analog). The Type A USB port supports photo playback (JPEG only) and slideshows, or you can use this port (as I did) to power a wireless HDMI dongle like the DVDO Air3C-Pro. Lastly, there's a standard analog audio mini-jack output to send audio to an external sound system if you don't want to use the integrated five-watt mono speaker, which is also located on the backside to the right of the connection panel.
Absent from the connection panel are an RS-232 port, a 12-volt trigger, a component video input, and a LAN port for IP control and network connectivity. None of these omissions is particularly surprising at this price point. While there's no way to add the 2045 to your own broadband network, the integrated Miracast/WiDi function allows you to set up a direct WiFi link between the projector and compatible phones, tablets, and PCs to wirelessly stream AV content. Epson offers a free app called Epson iProjection to help you add your phone/tablet to the projector's direct network. Unfortunately, I don't own any Miracast-enabled sources, so I could not test this feature. If you have no need for Miracast connectivity, then I suggest you get the lower-priced 2040 model instead.
To physically position the image on your screen, the 2045 has a 1.2x manual zoom, which isn't as generous as you'll find on higher-priced Epson models like the Home Cinema 3500 and the Home Cinema 5030UB, but it's on par with or better than what you get with other models in this price range. The throw ratio range is 1.22 to 1.47. Also typical at this price is the lack of lens shifting.
Since tabletop placement is the most likely setup scenario for a home entertainment projector, Epson has included a pop-down, adjustable foot near the front of the unit to aim the lens up at a screen, and horizontal (+/-30 percent) and vertical (+/-30 percent) keystone correction is available to correctly shape the image. (You can also configure the projector for ceiling or behind-the-screen placement.) Automatic vertical keystone correction is turned on by default; when you power up the projector and place it on your stand or table, you will see it adjust the image shape from trapezoid to rectangle. This worked quite well in my setup, where I placed the projector on a 26.5-inch-high TV tray about 10 feet away from my 100-inch-diagonal drop-down screen. Horizontal keystone correction can be manually adjusted via a slider control on the projector's top panel, and both vertical and horizontal adjustment can also be controlled in incremental steps through the setup menu. It's important to keep in mind that the more keystone correction you apply to the image, the more detail you lose.
The 2045 has four aspect-ratio options: auto, normal, full, and zoom (not at all surprising is the omission of an anamorphic mode for use with an anamorphic lens attachment to show 2.35:1 movies with no black bars). You can adjust the level of overscan to cut off the picture's edges if you're seeing noise in your cable/satellite signal; options are off, auto, 4 percent, and 8 percent.
In terms of picture adjustments, the 2045 has a solid number of advanced controls, including: four picture modes (Dynamic, BrightCinema, Natural, and Cinema); an 11-step color temperature dial, plus RGB offset and gain controls to more precisely dial in the white balance; a six-point color management system to adjust the hue, saturation, and brightness of all six colors; an Image Enhancement menu with incremental adjustments for noise reduction, MPEG noise reduction, and detail enhancement; Normal and Eco lamp modes; and an auto iris with Normal and High-speed modes. A feature that was missing from the 2030 but has been added here is the ability to enable frame interpolation to reduce motion blur and film judder, with settings for Off, Low, Normal, and High. The most noteworthy omission in terms of picture controls is an adjustable gamma control.
The 2045 supports active 3D, and the 3D transmitter is built into the projector; however, no glasses are included in the package. You must buy the RF glasses separately at $99 apiece. There are two 3D picture modes (3D Dynamic, 3D Cinema), and you can adjust the 3D depth and brightness in the setup menu, as well as designate how large your screen is to appropriately tailor the 3D effect.
The 2045 comes with a small IR remote that lacks backlighting but features dedicated input buttons, playback controls, and direct access to functions like color mode, memory settings (you can store up to 10 picture memories), a pattern to assist with image placement, image enhancement tools, frame interpolation options, and more. The remote also includes a Home button that pulls up a new Home screen through which you can select a source option or jump directly to Color Mode, 3D Setup, Power Consumption, Auto Iris, or Main Menu. Should you misplace the remote, the 2045's top panel sports buttons for home, menu, power, vertical keystone, and volume.
I began my evaluation process, as always, by measuring the Home Cinema 2045's various picture modes as they come out of the box (with no adjustment) to see which one is closest to reference standards. Using my Xrite I1Pro 2 meter, Spectracal CalMAN software, and DVDO iScan pattern generator, I found that the Cinema mode was closest to accurate in color temperature, while the Natural mode was closest to accurate in its color points...and both offered similar gamma and light-output numbers out of the box. You could use either one as a starting point from which to dial in a more accurate picture; I chose the Cinema mode, which measured a maximum gray-scale Delta Error of 9.89. The white balance had a somewhat green emphasis, and the gamma average was 3.25 (see the charts on Page Two for more details). That gamma number is misleading, though, since the projector's auto iris skews the results. When I turned off the auto iris during calibration, I got a much lower (i.e., lighter) gamma around 2.0. On the color side, the least accurate color was cyan, with a Delta Error of 6.38. The other colors hovered around or just below the 5.0 Delta Error mark.
Overall, these out-of-the-box numbers are solid for a budget projector--not spectacular, but not so far off the mark that calibration becomes an absolute necessity. Still, you can get better results should you choose to invest a couple hundred dollars in hiring a professional calibrator. Using the RGB gain and bias controls, I was able to lower the gray-scale Delta Error to 4.77 (anything under five is considered very good), and the gamma average ended up at 2.14. Since the 2045 lacks adjustable gamma, you don't have the tools at your disposal to dial in a darker gamma closer to the 2.4 standard that we use for HT projectors. Then again, a lighter gamma is quite common in home entertainment models that are intended for brighter viewing environments.
In the color arena, I was able to improve the color brightness and accuracy of all six color points using the color management system--lowering the Delta Error to below 3.0 for all six colors. The hue and saturation controls in the CMS don't work perfectly, but they are more effective than I've encountered in many budget projector models. However, I will add that, after performing my color adjustments, I felt that skintones looked less accurate, with a bit more red, than they did before calibration; so, I wound up dialing back some of the color adjustments to get a more natural-looking image overall.
As I mentioned, the 2045 has a rated light output of 2,200 lumens. In my testing room, the Cinema and Natural picture modes served up about 30 foot-lamberts on my Visual Apex 100-inch-diagonal, 1.1-gain screen in the Eco lamp mode. The BrightCinema mode served up about 40 ft-L, while the brightest but least accurate Dynamic mode served up 66.5 ft-L. Both of these modes are set to the Normal lamp mode by default, which puts out a fair amount of fan noise compared with the Eco mode. I found the BrightCinema mode to be a good choice for daytime or brighter-room viewing. It's bright enough to produce a generally well-saturated image with the room lights turned up, while its color balance and skintones are still respectably neutral right out of the box. I watched a lot of afternoon games during the early rounds of the NCAA March Madness tournament, with room lights on and some light spill around the window shades, and enjoyed a vibrant, engaging image. You can mate the 2045 with an ambient-light-rejecting screen material for even better results.
After calibration, the Cinema picture mode put out about 22 ft-L, which strikes a good balance for dark-room viewing. Generally speaking, home entertainment projectors struggle to produce a really dark black, due to their emphasis on light output. The inclusion of an auto iris (which is slightly audible when making its adjustments) does allow the 2045 to perform respectably well in this area. In a dark room, the overall image saturation of Blu-ray movies was good, but the deepest blacks in my demo scenes from The Bourne Supremacy, Gravity, and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation definitely looked more gray than black, causing these scenes to look a bit washed out. The 2045's black level was noticeably lighter than the higher-end Home Cinema 5020UB that I use as a reference, but it was quite similar to that of the $799 Optoma HD28DSE--and the Epson picture had slightly better black detail than the Optoma.
The 2045 serves up a nice level of detail with 1080p sources, as long as it's positioned properly. As I mentioned earlier, the more keystone correction you use to fix the shape of the projected image, the less detail you'll see. When I first placed the projector on a lower tabletop requiring more vertical keystone correction, I could clearly see banding (i.e., loss of detail) in the resolution test patterns on my HQV HD Benchmark and Spears and Munsil test discs. The 2045's noise reduction control does a nice job keeping digital noise to a minimum, even in low-light scenes.
Frame interpolation is another feature that's often missing in budget projectors, but it is available here. The 2045's Normal frame-interpolation mode provided some improvement in motion detail, showing some visible lines at the HD720 resolution in the motion-resolution test pattern on the FPD Benchmark Blu-ray disc. Likewise, the "license plate" test pattern on this disc revealed readable numbers on the fast-moving cars without producing the image ghosting that you see with some FI modes. So it's a good feature to use to get maximum detail when watching that afternoon sporting event. I personally don't like the smoothing effect that frame interpolation produces with film sources, but a lot of people do--for them, the Normal mode did the best job with Blu-ray movies of smoothing the motion without adding excessive stuttering or smearing, although I did see instances of both. The Low and High modes consistently added stuttering and/or smearing and should be avoided.
Finally, there's 3D performance. Since the 2045 doesn't come with 3D glasses, I used the ELPGS03 glasses (http://www.epson.com/cgi-bin/Store/jsp/Product.do?sku=V12H548006 ) that came with the 5020UB and watched demo scenes from Life of Pi, Monsters vs. Aliens, and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. The 2045's good light output is beneficial for 3D, and I was able to enjoy a well-saturated, well-detailed image with good overall contrast even with some room lights on. I saw no ghosting in any of my demo scenes, including my favorite ghosting challenge scene: chapter 13 of Monsters vs. Aliens, where a spoon flies into view and then comes back out at the audience. This spoon can often look like two distinct spoons in a display that has ghosting issues, but it was cleanly rendered here.
Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...