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.