On the flip side, the 2030's black level is decent but not great. In darker TV and movie scenes, blacks look quite gray, and the resulting image contrast is only average. The Home Cinema 2030's rated dynamic contrast ratio is 15,000:1, which is again on par with others in this price class. Epson has included an auto iris on the 2030, something you don't always see at this price, and it helps a bit to improve black level in darker scenes. Still, you shouldn't expect the kind of black level and contrast you get from step-up models like Epson's new $2,600 Home Cinema 5030UB. I spent several weeks with the 5030UB before reviewing this model, and the performance difference is not subtle when it comes to the richness and depth of a Blu-ray film image.
The 2030 is equipped with a solid number of advanced picture controls to fine-tune the picture quality, including: multiple color-temperature presets, plus RGB offset and gain controls to more precisely dial in the white balance; noise reduction; normal and eco lamp modes (the 2030 uses a 200-watt UHF E-TORL lamp rated at 6,000 hours in eco mode), the aforementioned auto iris with normal and high-speed modes; and a color management system to adjust the hue, saturation, and brightness of all six color points. Some notable omissions are the frame-interpolation modes found in the higher-priced models that help to reduce motion blur and film judder, the skintone control, and most importantly the adjustable gamma control. All four of the picture modes measured a very light gamma -- in the 1.69 to 1.93 range - nowhere near the recommended 2.2 to 2.4 target. This further contributes to the 2030's grayish blacks and is another sign of the projector's emphasis on brighter-room performance. On the plus side, the 2030 did a solid job reproducing finer black details in my favorite black-level demos from The Bourne Supremacy (Universal), Flags of the Our Fathers (Paramount), and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Buena Vista).
Of the four picture modes, the Natural mode was the closest to reference standards out of the box, with a grayscale Delta Error of 8.83, a slightly blue color temperature, and a 1.88 gamma average. I was able to use the RGB offset and gain controls to dial in a pretty neutral color temperature; but, with no ability to correct the gamma, the calibrated grayscale Delta Error was still 7.46. None of the six color points came in under the DE3 target, but they weren't excessively far off the mark, either (with Delta Errors ranging from 3.5 to 7.3). Unfortunately, using the color management system was an exercise in frustration for me. I was able to fix the luminance value (brightness) of all six colors, but the hue or saturation of each color was generally off the mark, and I could not make any meaningful correction to hue or saturation without adversely affecting the luminance in a major way. Thus, I was not able to successfully bring all three parameters into proper balance. To sum up all this tech speak, the Home Cinema 2030 can produce a fairly accurate picture, but it lacks the complete range of controls to take the performance to that next level of precision.
Finally, the Home Cinema 2030 is a 3D-capable projector with a built-in 3D transmitter; the RF glasses are sold separately and will run you $99 apiece. A few quick 3D demos showed good performance in this area. The 2030's high light output helps compensate for the loss of light due to the active-shutter glasses, allowing 3D content to remain nice and bright. I saw very little crosstalk in my demo scenes from Monsters vs. Aliens (20th Century Fox), Life of Pi (20th Century Fox), and Ice Age 3 (20th Century Fox) - perhaps a bit more than I saw with the 5030UB that uses Epson's 480Hz Drive technology, but overall I had no complaints with the 2030's 3D performance.
Competition and Comparison
The BenQ W1080ST DLP projector is a 1080p projector that has similar specs (2,000 lumens of brightness, 10,000:1 contrast, 3D support, 1.2x zoom, USB port, built-in speaker and audio output) and currently sells for $999. Viewsonic's PJD7820HD and Pro8300 DLP projectors also share similar specs and pricing. Optoma sells several 1080p models around or below the $1,000 price point, including the HD25e ($855), HD25-LV ($1,055), and HD131Xe ($799). Epson's own Home Cinema 2000, which has a slightly lower brightness rating of 1,800 lumens, sells for $850.
The Epson Home Cinema 2030 is loaded with features and offers good performance for a projector in its price class. It's important to understand the different goals of the home entertainment projector versus the home theater projector and shop accordingly. If you're looking for a budget projector for a more traditional theater environment that has good light control, there are other 1080p projectors in this price range that can perform in little better in the black level and contrast departments to produce a more "theater-worthy" image, at the expense of light output. If, on the other hand, you're in the market for a very bright, plug-and-play projector that's going to see more use in a den or family room with abundant ambient light - and you want to connect sources via WiFi and MHL - then the 2030 definitely belongs on your audition list.