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.