Video projectors are perfect for creating a wall-filling picture that is easily resized to best fit the available space. Projection in a dark room is the best case scenario as there is little interference with the creation of an immersive and detailed viewing experience. Projection in spaces with ambient light reaching the screen surface require much more light output to look good, and the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3500 came through with impressively bright imagery and useful audio/video (AV) extras that added to an already strong value.
Size, style, and setup
The Home Cinema's curvy white-colored chassis measures 16.1" x 12.6" x 6.4" (WxDxH) and weighs in at 15 pounds. The projector's slightly offset lens configuration provides space for a front facing exhaust that's ideal for placement close to a wall at the back of the room or on a table in front of the viewer. A removable cover on the top of the projector provides easy access to the lamp module even if inverted for ceiling mounting, and a side intake vent simplifies air filter maintenance.
The Epson 3500 features 3LCD technology that incorporates a 3-chip light engine for superior color brightness compared to single-chip DLP projectors. Three-chip projectors process and display primary colors (red, green, and blue) simultaneously whereas a single-chip design quickly flashes each primary color in sequence. The projector's 0.61 inch 1080p LCD panels refresh at 240Hz in 2D mode doubling to 480Hz during 3D playback. Two pairs of rechargeable RF 3D glasses are included in the box.
As a home theater projector, the Epson 3500's primary benefit is its brightness. It's the brightest projector I've tested to date with its maximum light output rated at 2500 lumens including an equivalent level of color brightness. The BenQ HT1075 is a favorite value of mine that features a single-chip DLP light engine that can produce 2200 lumens of white light output, however, its color brightness measures about 37% less at 1390 lumens. For light-controlled rooms, the 3500's ample brightness will easily fill the largest screen sizes or a wall (ceiling-to-floor) with well-defined imagery.
Projector brightness and cooling fan noise go hand-in-hand. The projector's 250W UHE lamp operating in Eco mode kept fan noise to barely audible levels yet still provided ample brightness for a smaller 80" screen in a room with some ambient light. The much brighter Medium lamp setting increased fan noise into the audible (but very tolerable) range and made for a much improved viewing experience during daylight hours. I found the slight difference in light output between the Epson 3500's Medium and High lamp settings wasn't enough to justify the latter's increased fan noise.
Lens controls on the 3500 are all manual and include a 60% vertical and 24% horizontal lens shift adjustment - pricier projectors like the excellent Panasonic PT-AE8000 extend vertical lens shift to 100% of the screen height. Compared to projectors that provide only digital keystone correction (that the 3500 also has), lens shift allows for precise image placement without altering geometry or degrading fine picture detail. The 3500's 1.6x zoom lens gives it good throw range too. For example: filling a 100" screen, the 3500 can be positioned 9.6' to 15.6' away from from the screen surface. A 120" screen would increase the throw range to 11.6' to 18.8'.
The 3500's picture presets include a Dynamic mode that maxed out the brightness with a slightly green-hued picture and audible fan speed to keep things cool. A Living Room preset defaults to a medium lamp setting, reduced fan speed, and a cool (bluish) color temperature that proved ideal for general daytime use. For a calibrated picture setup, the projector's Natural picture mode preset produced a good RGB balance that was well-matched to the D65 white point used in HD video production.
Prior to calibration and use, I confirmed the convergence of Epson 3500's 3-chip system using a convenient built-in test pattern and related adjustment controls. A convergence check is a must for any 3-chip projector as it improves picture brightness and detail with all displayed content.
Use of the 3500's RGB gain/offset controls enabled me to better optimize the Natural picture preset for my setup (above): reduced red slightly in the darker grays, reduced blue in the brighter grays, and smooth out the gamma response. The 3500's color management controls were unable to improve upon the projector's somewhat truncated primary color response that limited the saturation of secondary colors like cyan and magenta (below).
The above response is likely due to relatively 'loose' RGB filters being applied to the white light source enabling more light energy (luminous flux) to exit the system. I've measured superior coverage of the HD color palette with more costly projectors including the Sony VPL-HW40ES and Epson's 5030UB, but they're less suited for use in rooms with elevated levels of ambient light compared to the Epson 3500.
In addition to being the brightest consumer 1080p projector I've seen, the Epson 3500's built-in stereo speakers (2x10W) proved impressively loud and clear. These rear-firing speakers won't replace a decent soundbar or surround sound system, nor will they delivery room shaking bass, but its ample volume proved useful for impromptu use where audio options are limited.
Inputs are located on the rear of the Epson 3500 and include two HDMI ports (one MHL-enabled), component video input, VGA, and composite video. There is also a 12V trigger output and serial port for integration with an electric screen or home theater control system. The 3500's USB port enables easy display of JPG slideshows, but I found it more useful for powering a DVDO Air3C-Pro wireless HDMI receiver (read review). Epson also offers the similarly-speced Home Cinema 3600e that integrates WirelessHD technology and includes a 5-port HDMI transmitter hub.
A picture-in-picture function includes options for placement and resizing of the sub-screen. Epson claims this function will work with almost any combination of inputs, but I was unable to successfully enable it when feeding both of the Epson 3500's HDMI ports with HD source devices.
The 3500's substantial baton-style remote is fully backlit and features large mashable buttons that are clearly labeled. The remote's dedicated shortcuts proved useful and included buttons for quickly selecting picture presets, detail enhancement levels, and lamp power levels.
The Epson 3500's dynamic iris was adept at seamlessly reducing light output for dark scenes to enhance contrast perception, however, this projector is optimized for brightness and projectors like the Epson 5030UB and the Sony VPL-HW40ES produce darker black levels in a dimly-lit environment where light output isn't as critical. For dark room use, the Epson 3500's extra brightness would be useful for very large screen sizes or when trying to fill a wall floor-to-ceiling with imagery.
That extra brightness proved ideal for 3D viewing as the Epson 3500 delivered the best home 3D experience I've had to date. The slight tint of the excellent rechargeable RF glasses improved perceived contrast, and the projector’s 480Hz 3D mode exhibited very little crosstalk with the games, Blu-ray movies, and streaming sources that I examined.
The selection of Blu-ray movies experienced on the 3500 included Samsara, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and The Dark Knight. I was picking out details on the big screen that I hadn't noticed before. However, scenes with lots of dark detail reinforced the projector's suitability for brighter room environments where some ambient light is best countered with increased light output.
Motion resolution performance of the Epson 3500's 3LCD technology is similar to that of any other LCD that lacks video smoothing technology (motion compensation/estimation) or has the feature turned off: 300-350 lines on a 1080 line test pattern. Static resolution tests produced 600 lines with the Fast video processing setting enabled and 800-850 lines with the Fine setting enabled. The Fast/Fine setting also affected video lag measurements with a drop from 111ms to 47ms when switched to Fast.
An adjustable detail enhancement setting labeled Super Resolution improved the appearance of lower resolution content like DVDs and standard definition TV shows when enabled at moderate levels, but it also reduced the projector's ability to filter jagged edge artifacts and I left it disabled with most HD sources.
Bottom line: it's bright!
Video projectors deliver truly big screen viewing on a budget, and the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3500 brings this experience to more places with bright, detailed imagery at an attractive price. I've put several hundred hours on the 3500 in a room environment that almost always has some ambient light present, and its ability to push additional light output on demand has left my reference flat panel television feeling a bit neglected. I've also become accustomed to using wireless HDMI with this projector and would give greater consideration to the Epson 'e' models that integrates this feature.