Epson is undoubtedly one of the most prolific manufacturers of home entertainment projectors in today's marketplace. While many projection companies tend to release one new projector every year or so, Epson consistently introduces several models each year. The result is a product line that covers all the bases in terms of both features and pricing.
The new PowerLite Home Cinema 6100 falls in the middle of the line price-wise. This $1,999 3LCD projector is the least expensive 1080p model in Epson's roster, yet it boasts some specs that are better than those of the model it's intended to replace: the Home Cinema 1080, which I happen to own. The 6100 has a rated 1,800 lumens of light output in its high lamp mode and a quoted 18,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, compared with 1,200 lumens and 12,000:1 for the Home Cinema 1080. It adds a second HDMI input (HDMI 1.3a), as well as a new auto iris, more picture adjustments and a more efficient 200-watt E-TORL lamp with a listed 4,000-hour life.
What you don't get in this mid-level model is the UltraBlack technology found in the higher-end Home Cinema 1080UB ($2,799) and the new 6500UB ($2,999). You also don't get the 6500UB's HQV video processor, 12-bit panel (the 6100 has a 10-bit panel) and 120Hz FineFrame mode. Despite these omissions, the 6100 is still a well-endowed entry-level LCD projector that represents an excellent value in the 1080p projection marketplace.
I've always liked the aesthetic of Epson projectors, but the company has decided to move away from the stylish curves and pearlescent finish that characterize older models like the Home Cinema 1080. The 6100 is much more utilitarian: it's bigger, with a boxy shape and a matte white cabinet with gray side panels. As with previous models, the 6100's top panel has manual lens-shift wheels, as well as power and source buttons and indicator lights for lamp life and temperature. Epson has moved the menu, escape and navigation buttons from the top to the side panel, and the buttons sport a gray finish that allows them to blend into the cabinet design. The back panel sports all of the inputs you'd want, including two HDMI, one component video, one VGA, one S-video and one composite video, as well as both RS-232 and 12-volt trigger ports. Epson has also redesigned the remote, foregoing the curvy, TiVo-like shape of older models for a more straightforward rectangular design. On the plus side, the remote still boasts the traits I most like to see: dedicated input buttons, full backlighting and a clean, logical button layout.
Positioning the 6100's image on my 75-inch-diagonal Elite screen took just seconds, thanks to the many ergonomic controls that Epson incorporates into its projectors: 47 percent horizontal and 96 percent vertical lens shift, 2.1x manual zoom, adjustable feet and an onscreen pattern (easily pulled up via a button on the remote) that assists with both image placement and focus. You can set up the 6100 for front or rear projection and tabletop or ceiling placement. In my case, I set the projector on top of my vertical equipment rack in the back of the room, about four feet high and 12 feet from the screen, and fed HDMI from my Pioneer Blu-ray player and DirecTV HD DVR directly into the 6100's two HDMI inputs.
Once the projector's physical set-up was out of the way, I turned my attention to video set-up. As with the Home Cinema 1080, the 6100 offers a generous assortment of picture adjustments, including skin tone, incremental color temperature (in 500K steps), RGB offset and gain controls and custom gamma settings. This model also sports some worthy new menu options, such as an x.v.Color picture mode for HDMI signals, a 2:2 pulldown mode that allows the projector to display 24p film signals at 48Hz (instead of 60Hz) to reduce judder, and a revised RGBCMY menu that lets you adjust the brightness (as well as the hue and saturation, previously available) of all six color points. Enabling the auto iris allows the projector to adjust its light output to suit the content being displayed. While the Home Cinema 1080's menu only offers on/off settings for the iris, the 6100 adds the ability to choose between off, normal and high-speed modes. The new iris system is both faster and quieter than that of Epson's previous incarnation.
The 6100 not only allows you to set different image parameters for each of its seven picture modes, it also lets you set different parameters for standard- and high-definition sources within each picture mode. The projector automatically recalls these adjustments but, should you need to save more configurations, the 6100 can store up to 10 different set-ups in its memory.
I first powered up the Home Cinema 6100 during the day, and I was immediately struck by how bright it is in the Dynamic picture mode. The quoted 1,800-lumen spec doesn't seem too far off the mark in this mode; on my 75-inch screen, the projector has ample brightness to display a well-saturated image in a room with a fair amount of ambient light. My review period fell right at the start of baseball season and the NBA playoffs, and I checked out a number of daytime games. With the room's blinds shut but no blackout shades drawn, the 6100's image really popped off the screen. Beyond just being bright, though, the Dynamic mode is actually pleasing to behold. Most projectors have a bright/dynamic mode that veers way too green, with cartoonish colors. However, with only a few minor adjustments to the picture controls, the 6100 serves up a much more natural-looking image. It's still not entirely accurate, but the color temperature is closer to neutral, and colors are vibrant without being garish. Finally, here's a projector that I can enjoy, rather than simply tolerate, during the day.
When the sun set, it was time to switch over to the Theatre Black 2 picture mode to check out my favorite DVD and Blu-ray demo scenes. With clips from The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), Kingdom of Heaven (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment), Black Hawk Down (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) and Ghost Rider (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), the 6100 exhibited many of the same qualities that I like in the Home Cinema 1080: pleasing color, a generally neutral color temperature and natural skin tones with no false contouring. Whereas the 1080 is a little low in the brightness department, the 6100's excellent light output breathes life into brighter Blu-ray and DVD scenes. Also, black detail in scenes from Ladder 49 (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), The Bourne Supremacy (Universal Studios Home Video) and Signs (Buena Vista Home Entertainment) was good. In general, black-to-white transitions were smooth and there wasn't too much noise in backgrounds - maybe a bit more than the 1080 produces, but the noise-reduction function does a good job of cleaning things up without softening the picture.
One of the Home Cinema 1080's shortcomings is in the detail department. At the projector's default sharpness setting, edge enhancement - or an artificial sharpening of fine lines and hard edges to make the picture appear more detailed - is clearly visible. To lessen the effect, you must turn the sharpness control way down, which noticeably softens the picture. With the 6100, Epson has wisely addressed the issue. On the default sharpness setting, a bit of edge enhancement is still evident in test patterns, but it's much less noticeable with real-world content. Epson provides both basic and advanced (thick/thin/horizontal/vertical line adjustment) sharpness controls to fine-tune the image, but I was content to stick with the default setting. With both HDTV shows and Blu-ray content, I felt the 6100 presented a well-detailed image, with facial features and other fine details clearly evident. The picture isn't quite as razor-sharp as that of the best higher-end projectors I've seen, which may be more noticeable if you have a really large screen. However, on my 75-inch screen, I didn't feel that high-def sources were at all lacking in clarity or detail.
As I mentioned, the 6100 adds a new 2:2 pulldown mode for 24p film sources. When you feed the projector a 1080p/24 signal from a Blu-ray disc, it outputs the image at 48Hz instead of 60Hz. Basically, the processor doubles each film frame (24 x 2, or 2:2 pulldown), which allows for smoother movement than the traditional 3:2 pulldown process needed for 60Hz. You have the option to turn this feature on or off in the menu. With 2:2 pulldown employed, several long, slow pans in The Curse of the Black Pearl were definitely smoother and less juddery than I saw in the 3:2 pulldown mode, but the difference is admittedly subtle.
Even though the 6100 doesn't use the Silicon Optix HQV chip found in the higher-end models, its video processing proved to be above average. It passed the 1080i deinterlacing tests on the HD HQV Benchmark Blu-ray disc (Silicon Optix) and cleanly rendered both 1080i HDTV channels and Blu-ray signals output at 1080i from my Pioneer BDP-95FD. In the standard-def realm, the projector does a good job of up-converting 480i SDTV and DVD content to 1080p resolution, producing a nice level of detail. It didn't pass all of the tests on the HQV Benchmark DVD (Silicon Optix), but it did pass the all-important film-based processing test. Likewise, my favorite real-world demo scene from Gladiator (DreamWorks Home Entertainment) looked clean, with no blatant moir� or jaggies. The projector couldn't quite handle the Venetian-blind torture test in chapter four of The Bourne Identity (Universal Studios Home Video), as it struggled to catch and hold the cadence, but otherwise it produced a generally clean, detailed image with 480i sources.
The tradeoff for the 6100's excellent light output is that its black level is not as good as you'll find in some step-up projectors. In demo scenes from The Bourne Supremacy, Signs and The Curse of the Black Pearl, blacks looked a bit too gray, and the higher black level ultimately brought down the projector's overall contrast. The picture was by no means washed out. As I mentioned above, brighter scenes can look very engaging because of the better light output, but darker scenes looked somewhat flat. Overall, the picture just doesn't quite have the depth and richness you'll get from a more theater-worthy projector with a deeper black level.
The 6100 exhibited some motion blur with faster-moving content. As I watched the NBA playoffs, background faces and other fine details grew noticeably blurry during fast camera pans. To double-check, I popped in my FPD Software Group Blu-ray disc; sure enough, some image blurring was evident with all of the motion tests. It wasn't excessive, but it was noticeable.
The inclusion of a 2:2 pulldown mode is a nice perk. However, if you move up to the 6500UB, you get a 4:4 pulldown mode (96Hz) and a 120Hz FineFrame mode, which uses motion interpolation to produce that super-smooth, video-like effect that many people enjoy in LCD flat panels. You also get the UltraBlack technology, which should provide deeper blacks and a better overall contrast ratio. If you're a movie buff who finds judder especially bothersome, you might want to invest in the higher-end model.
Epson's PowerLite Home Cinema 6100 offers a lot of worthy features and above-average performance for a great price. It may not be the ideal choice for the serious theaterphile. However, this 1080p 3LCD projector proves to be an especially good option for someone who wants to enjoy the big-screen benefits of a projector, but doesn't have a completely light-controlled viewing environment.