The floodgates have begun to open in the world of "entry-level" 3D front projectors. When I reviewed the JVC DLA-X3 back in July, the only other sub-$5,000 models were the Sharp XV-Z17000 and Sony VPL-HW30ES (reviews coming on both of those, by the way). Since then, Optoma, Panasonic, Mitsubishi, and Epson have all entered the fray. In fact, Optoma and Epson have already redefined the entry-level price point for 3D front projection with the introduction of the HD33 and Home Cinema 3010, respectively. Both of these models carry an MSRP of $1,999 and a street price around $1,500-$1,600.
Epson's 3D lineup also includes the step-up Home Cinema 5010 and its custom-market counterpart, the Pro Cinema 6010. The 3010 and 5010 models come in wireless-friendly versions, dubbed the 3010e and 5010e. These models feature a built-in WirelessHD receiver and a standalone WirelessHD transmitter that allow you to wirelessly send the HDMI signal from your sources to the projector. The WirelessHD standard operates over the 60GHz band at a distance up to about 32 feet. This perk adds $200 to the MSRP, with the HC3010e carrying a street price around $1,799. Beyond the integrated WirelessHD receiver, the 3010 and 3010e are identical in terms of their specs and performance, so all of my observations apply to both.
Setup & Features
The HC3010e is a 1080p 3LCD projector that uses active 3D technology, which means it alternately flashes a full-resolution left-eye and right-eye image. Active 3D requires the use of special active-shutter 3D glasses that sync with the projector's signal to direct the appropriate image to each eye. The HC3010e has a built-in IR sync emitter that allows the projector and glasses to communicate up to a distance of about 20 feet. However, the HC3010e does not come with any 3D glasses. The V12H483001 glasses cost about $99/pair. (The basic HC3010 comes with two pairs of 3D glasses.)
Featuring an auto iris, the HC3010e has a quoted dynamic contrast ratio of 40,000:1 and a quoted brightness of 2,200 lumens. This projector lacks Epson's 120Hz FineFrame technology to reduce motion blur and film judder, but it does offer 48Hz output of 24p sources. The HC3010e sports two integrated 10-watt speakers and a USB port that supports photo playback with an auto slideshow option. It uses a 230-watt E-TORL lamp with a rated life of 4,000 hours in Normal mode and 5,000 hours in Eco mode. This model lacks the (pending) THX certification and higher-end Fujinon lens used in the 5010/6010; the step-up models have a rated dynamic contrast ratio of 200,000:1 and rated brightness of 2,400 lumens.
The HC3010e has a slightly rounded, glossy-white cabinet with a center-oriented lens. The top panel includes buttons for menu, escape, source, power, keystone correction, and volume. The two speakers fire from the backside, sandwiching a connection panel that includes two HDMI, one VGA, one component video, and one composite video input. You also get the aforementioned USB port (plus a second USB port for service only), a stereo analog input, an RS-232 port, and a 3D IR emitter port to which you can attach the optional V12H484001 emitter to extend the range between glasses and projector to up to 32 feet. This unit lacks 12-volt triggers. The supplied remote offers full backlighting, dedicated source buttons, and direct access to a lot of desirable controls, such as color mode, auto iris, aspect, RGBCMY (color management), and more.
Given the low price point, it's not surprising that the HC3010e doesn't offer the full complement of physical-setup tools that you get in Epson's higher-end projectors. Manual zoom (1.6x) and focus rings sit next to the lens, along with a horizontal keystone slider and vertical keystone buttons to correct the image shape when the projector is placed off-center. The two front feet are adjustable, and Epson includes its usual onscreen test pattern to aid with sizing and focus. The big omission is lens-shifting ability; this model does not offer any horizontal or vertical lens shift, which made it more challenging to position the image on my 75-inch-diagonal Elite screen. The bottom of the projected image is in line with the top of the lens, so the image was too high when I put the projector on top of my tower-style equipment rack (where my own Epson Home Cinema 1080 usually sits) but too low when I put it on a coffee table. I have a motorized drop-down screen and could have lowered it enough to meet the HC3010e's image height, but that position would've been too close to the ground for my taste (and my toddler's fingers). I eventually came up with a happy medium that required rearranging some furniture.
Epson still includes a healthy assortment of picture adjustments for this budget projector. You get five color modes for 2D content (Auto, Dynamic, Living Room, Natural, and Cinema--as usual, I went with Cinema) and two for 3D content (3D Dynamic and 3D Cinema); 12 color-temperature presets, plus skintone adjustment and RGB offset and gain controls; an advanced color management system that lets you adjust hue, brightness, and saturation for all six color points; five gamma presets and custom setup; noise reduction; Normal and Eco lamp modes; three settings for the automatic iris (Off, Normal, and High-Speed); and 10 memory options to store different profiles. As I mentioned above, this model lacks Epson's 120Hz technology, but you do have the option of enabling 2:2 pulldown, which outputs 24p Blu-ray sources at 48Hz and results in slightly less judder than you get with the 3:2 pulldown used for 60Hz. Aspect-ratio choices are Auto, Normal, Full, Zoom, and Wide, with the option to add up to 8 percent overscan. There's no anamorphic picture mode to view 2.35:1 sources without black bars (when mated with an add-on anamorphic lens).
In terms of 3D setup, Epson has integrated the IR sync emitter into the projector cabinet, so there's no need to attach an emitter box, as is the case with some 3D projectors (unless you choose to add the optional emitter to extend the range). All you have to turn do is turn on the 3D glasses and switch to a 3D source. The first time I played a 3D source, the projector automatically switched to the 3D Dynamic picture mode; I manually changed to the 3D Cinema mode, and the projector remembered that choice for future 3D sources. Many of the aforementioned picture adjustments are still accessible in the 3D modes, but there are a few exceptions. The projector is locked in the brightest lamp mode, the auto iris does not function with 3D content, and you can't change the level of overscan. Within the special 3D setup menu, you can enable/disable 3D playback, select a 3D format (auto, 2D, side by side, top and bottom), swap the left/right images, and adjust the brightness of 3D content (low, medium, high). The 3010e does not include the 2D-to-3D conversion found in the step-up 5010/6010 models.
One feature not often found on projectors is the HC3010e's Split Screen function, which allows you to watch two sources simultaneously; these side-by-side images can be presented at the same size or with one being larger than the other. The only catch is, you can't do two HDMI sources at once, but you can do HDMI on one side and HD component or VGA on the other.
Finally, if you choose to use the WirelessHD feature (and why wouldn't you, if you paid extra to get it?), the function is turned on by default and is very easy to set up. You simply connect your HDMI-enabled source or A/V receiver to the single HDMI input on the supplied transmitter--a smallish, cylindrical device (it measures 2.3 H x 6.1 W x 2.4 D inches and weighs just 0.4 pounds) that can sit inconspicuously in your equipment rack. When you power up the HC3010e, its integrated WirelessHD receiver will automatically link with the transmitter, and the image appears on the screen. WirelessHD is actually treated as its own dedicated source, separate from the two HDMI inputs, which means you essentially have three HDMI inputs on this projector. You could run one HDMI source wirelessly and still connect two more directly via the HDMI inputs. I had no trouble establishing and maintaining a link between the transmitter and receiver, with my review sample sitting about 11 feet from the transmitter unit.
One of the challenges that faces an active 3D display, be it a TV or projector, is image brightness. The shutters in the glasses diminish light output, so you have to start with a very bright picture to get a 3D image that pops. Light output has been an issue for many first-generation 3D projectors, but the HC3010e proves up to the task. This is a very bright projector, particularly when mated with a smaller screen. I use a modest 75-inch-diagonal Elite Screens model with 1.0 gain, and the HC3010 produced an extremely bright image...even in the preferred Cinema color mode and the Eco lamp mode. As I type this, Sunday-afternoon NFL football is playing on the screen, and I've got the blinds pulled up on one of the room's two windows...yet the HC3010e still serves up an image with above-average saturation without forcing me to switch to the brighter lamp mode or one of the more exaggerated color modes. Granted, I wouldn't want to watch a darker movie in this type of setting, but it's ideal for sports, gaming, and HDTV. Plus, since the projector is putting out that much brightness in the Eco lamp mode, there's very little fan noise to distract.
Read more about the performance of the Epson Home Cinema HC3010e on Page 2.
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.
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.
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.