Of course, the tradeoff for increasing the light output is that a projector's black level can suffer. Thankfully, this budget model still includes an auto iris to help dial back some of that brightness in darker scenes. As a result, the HC3010e still produced a solid black level even on my 75-inch screen. (If you've got a larger screen, the black level will improve and brightness will decrease, but that's not really a concern with such a bright unit.) No, the black level doesn't compare with that of the JVC DLA-X3I recently reviewed, but then that model wasn't nearly as bright, which was a concern with 3D content. The HC3010e can still produce a well-saturated film image in a dark room, and its ability to render fine black details is very good.
Skintones generally looked natural in mid to bright scenes, but they sometimes had a bit too much red in dark scenes. Likewise, the darkest blacks had a slight red push, but otherwise the color temperature was close to neutral across the range. Colors are rich without being oversaturated, although I did think that greens could benefit from some tweaking of the color-management controls. Color management is not a given in the budget category, so it's a welcomed inclusion here.
In the processing realm, the HC3010e passed the 480i and 1080i tests on the Silicon Optix HQV discs, and it passed my standard arsenal of real-world tests, which includes the Coliseum flyover in chapter 12 of Gladiator (480i DVD), the windows blinds in chapter 4 of The Bourne Identity (480i DVD), the opening staircase shot in chapter 8 of Mission Impossible III (1080i BD), and the RV grille in chapter 5 of Ghost Rider (1080i BD). The projector's upconversion of 480i sources produced only an average level of detail, while the detail level with HD sources was excellent. In terms of digital noise, I saw some noise in blacks, as well as other solid colors, but it wasn't excessive. Setting noise reduction to its highest level produces a very clean image but also causes smearing in dark motion sequences; so, it's best to leave NR at a setting of 1.
Finally, it was time to put these elements to the test in the 3D realm, and this is where the HC3010e had a chance to shine...literally. With 3D content, the HC3010e automatically switches to the even brighter Normal lamp mode, and I also set the 3D image brightness to high; the resulting 3D image was wonderfully bright and engaging. Combined with the great detail you get from the active 3D approach, the rich color, and the large screen size, the HC3010e offers a wonderfully immersive 3D experience. The V12H483001 glasses were comfortable to wear, even over my regular glasses, and they include a handy switch that tightens each leg to provide a better fit around a smaller head.
The HC3010e's dual speakers do a respectable job. I'd say their performance is on par with the best flat-panel TV speakers I've heard and not nearly as tinny or hollow as you get from many of the panels on the market. In my case, with the projector placed behind me and the speakers firing from the back, the soundfield was clearly located behind the seating area, which was awkward. The use of the internal speakers makes a lot more sense when the projector will sit in front of or directly above you.
Low Points As I mentioned above, the inclusion of the auto iris allows the HC3010e to produce a respectably deep shade of black, but this projector doesn't have the kind of black level that you're going to find in the best dedicated home theater projectors--so the image doesn't have that higher degree of contrast for movie watching in a dark room. Plus, the auto iris is louder than I've heard from any recent projector. You can definitely hear it making its adjustments in a quiet room; of course, reviewers are usually the only ones staring at a projected image with no accompanying volume. With my audio system at a modest level, I seldom heard the iris, but there were a few instances during quiet scenes from the film Super 8 where I could hear the clicking adjustments. On a similar note, while fan noise wasn't a concern at all in the Eco lamp mode that I used for 2D viewing, the fan is much louder in the Normal lamp mode that you have to use for 3D content.
Because the projector lacks 120Hz technology, motion blur is a concern. The motion-resolution pattern on the FPD Benchmark BD showed a loss of detail down to DVD quality during its motion sequence, and you will likely notice some blur during fast-moving sporting events and action films. I'm personally not a fan of de-judder technology that creates new frames via interpolation, resulting in that overly smooth video-like effect with film sources; so, I did not miss it here. If you are especially sensitive to motion blur or really like the smooth look of frame interpolation, then you might want to move up to the 5010 model, which does include 120Hz FineFrame.
The one cause for concern in the 3D realm is crosstalk. I saw more instances of crosstalk with this model than I did with the JVC DLA-X3 (the only other 3D projector I've reviewed thus far). It wasn't an ever-constant issue but instead seemed to vary by source. With the Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs Blu-ray 3D disc, I saw almost no crosstalk; however, with Monsters vs. Aliens, I saw quite a bit.
The absence of lens-shifting capability is common in the entry-level realm, but this makes it more challenging to integrate the projector into an existing HT environment where the screen and other room elements are already set in place. If you're starting from scratch with the placement of both the projector and screen, then it should be easier to position everything where you'd like it to be.
Finally, when using a WirelessHD connection, the projector was slow to switch between resolutions during my HDTV sessions. The screen goes black, with an error message that says "Cannot receive signals or no signal is being input." This message would also appear when I first cued up DVDs/BDs and waited for the main menu to appear. The picture shows up after a few seconds, but it's a little annoying to see an unnecessary error message constantly flash on the screen.
Competition and Comparison At this stage in the game, the direct competitor to this product is Optoma's HD33. I haven't personally reviewed the HD33 and thus can't compare and contrast the two beyond their specs. The HD33 has a rated brightness of 1,800 lumens and a rated contrast ratio of 4,000:1, with no auto iris. It lacks lens shifting and has a 1.2x zoom, but it does include 120Hz technology. It doesn't come with 3D glasses and uses an external sync emitter (included in the package), instead of an integrated one. Optoma's sync emitter uses RF technology, instead of IR. Both Projector Central and ProjectorReviews.com have directly compared these two models, so you might want to visit those sites for more information.
Conclusion The Epson Home Cinema 3010e is a very good all-purpose projector in the budget category. Its brightness helps it deliver an engaging (albeit not perfectly clean) 3D picture and also gives it excellent versatility to watch HDTV, sports, and other bright content in a room that lacks light control, yet it still offers good performance with movies in a darker environment. The built-in speakers and WirelessHD capability add an even higher degree of versatility to move this projector outside a traditional theater space. Set it up in the middle of the family room with a pull-down screen and enjoy some big-screen football or 3D gaming. Take it to the backyard for an outdoor movie night without the need for an extra-long HDMI cable. If you don't think you'll use the WirelessHD capability, it makes more sense to get the basic HC3010 model instead; you'll save $200 on the projector itself and another $200 on the two pairs of 3D glasses that are included in the package. Whichever route you choose, this Epson projector represents an outstanding value in big-screen entertainment.