Epson Home Cinema 3500 Projector Review

Projection setups are no longer only limited to the dedicated home theater. More and more I get asked by people what projector or screen they should buy to use in a living room. Rooms where you’ll have the lights off at night for watching a movie, but also want to be able to watch a game during the day, or be able to have some lights on in the room so it is more like a home and not a cavern. Two things help a projector out in a situation like this: install flexibility and light output.

Model:Home Cinema 3500
Display Type:LCD
Inputs:2x HDMI 1.4a, 1x Component, 1x Composite, 1x DSub, 1xRS232, 1x Stereo RCA
3D Support:Yes
Projector Size:16.1″ x 12.6″ x 6.4″
Projector Weight:14.9 lbs.
Review Date:February 5, 2015

Epson has a new entry for this market with their $1,600 Home Cinema 3500 projector. It offers 2,500 lumens for enough brightness to overcome ambient light, lens shift to make installation easy, integrated speakers, and a compact size that is easy to move around. All these features combine to make it a projector that will do well in a mixed use environment. For a dedicated home theater room I’d step up to their 5030UB projector but only because those rooms are completely dark.

Easily Adaptable

Epson Home Cinema 3500 Projector

The Epson Home Cinema 3500 is a 3LCD, 1080p projector that has a good feature set. Two HDMI inputs, a component input, and a PC input have almost everything covered for a typical room. Unlike some projectors it both supports 3D and includes two pairs of RF glasses. It is rated for 2500 lumens, which is enough for almost any environment. For nighttime that is far too bright so it provides ECO and Low lamp modes to extend bulb life. Also impressive is support for both vertical and horizontal lens shift. Unlike most DLP projectors in this price range, this makes placement of the Epson much easier as it doesn’t have to be above or below the screen.

The rear also finds a pair of stereo speakers. At home you want to use your own speakers or a sound bar, but in a conference room, outdoors, or at a friend’s house they will do. You want to take the Epson to a friends house and watch the game or play some games? The speakers will suffice here but that is it.

Bright, Colorful Images

The Epson has no problem putting out a bright, colorful image on screen. I mounted it to my OmniMount PJT40 mount above my head and used a 100” Silver Ticket white screen for the review. Even in the lowest light ECO mode and calibrated, the Epson still manages to display an image with over 29 foot-Lamberts on the screen. The accepted standard for a projector is between 14-16 fL so the Epson is plenty bright. Since the bulb is rated for 5,000 hours in ECO mode, even if you lose half the light output in that time it will still be bright enough. Or you can go with a 120” or larger screen with the Epson and enjoy the immersive experience.

In my room the lens shift flexibility helps on the Epson. Due to the ceiling most DLP projectors will not work because they have to be above or below the screen. The Epson can use my mount that is level with the top third of the screen and shift to line up. The controls are manual but offer enough fine control to make it easy to setup. DLP projectors work for most people in their rooms, but the Epson is even more flexible and will work in environments where DLP will not.

More details on the calibrated image from the Epson can be found on Page 2, but a good starting point is use Cinema mode. That gets you an image that is close to accurate and looks good projected up on a neutral colored screen. The first thing I watched was the Colts-Broncos and Packers-Cowboys football games in this years NFL playoffs. Here is where the Epson excels. With its large lumen output I can watch the game in a cave, or switch the lamp into high mode when I want to turn the lights on. The colors on the field pop and motion looks good.

Epson Home Cinema 3500 Projector

Bringing the kids down into my theater, they like watching Despicable Me 2 on the Epson. The bright color palette of the film is good through the Epson. They’re both a bit young to go to the movie theater and enjoy the experience still, but with the Epson Home Cinema 3500 they get that at home. CGI films all look good on the Epson with their bright color palettes which take advantage of the light output.

Watching Gone Girl the Epson still does a good job, but also shows what more expensive projectors get you. The image quality is good and people less picky than me are not likely to be disappointed with it at all. Where the Epson comes up short is with shadow details and fine textures. When characters have a dark suit or outfit, those completely disappear into blackness. You don’t see the definition of the lapel against a jacket, it is just a flat black object. Fine textures like a herringbone pattern do not look as clear and detailed as they do on better projectors. The lens on the Epson is good, but it isn’t as detailed as that on a more expensive LCD projector.

In a family room or with the lights on, you will not be able to see these issues. The shadow detail is obscured by any ambient light and the difference is noticeable in a darkened home theater room. The letterbox bars on the Epson are a dark gray and not the black that you get from more expensive models. Epson tried to improve this with an automatic iris that can help to improve black levels and contrast ratios.

The iris has three options: Off, Normal, and High Speed. With it off, the black floor is unchanged regardless of content. Once enabled, the iris opens and closes depending on how dark the screen is. In dark scenes, it lowers the light output to make the image darker. This helps a bit, but it also is possible to see the iris in action when scenes shift from light to dark. If you move from a nighttime image to a bright outdoor scene, you’ll see the image quickly brighten after it changes.

The final Harry Potter film remains my black level torture test. Chapter 12 opens with Voldemort and his minions gathering on top of a hill overlooking Hogwarts. The dark scenes here are murky with a bit of a green tint, even after I calibrate the Epson to my screen. Bringing out the definition here requires bumping up the brightness, but that washes out the black levels even more. If you are going to use the Epson in a pitch-black home theater room most of the time, you should step up to their 5030UB model instead. It does a much better job with these dark scenes in a theater room. If you’re watching it in the living room with some lights on, you will not see the difference and that is who the Home Cinema 3500 is for.

Gamers will be OK with the Epson as well. With the image processing features turned to Fine, the lag is a long 109ms, but setting it to Fast reduces that to 46ms. This is almost 3 frames on a 60fps game, but it is in line with many other TVs and projectors. Those after even faster response times should look at the BenQ HT1075 projector

Even though Cinema provides the best image quality, sometimes you just need to have a bright image and the Epson can do that. Set to high lamp mode and Dynamic, it puts out the rated 2,500 lumens. On a 100” screen, this is over 90 foot Lamberts of light, or more than double what you would set an LCD to do. If you want to watch the game with friends over and the lights on, this will make the image bright enough for everyone to see. It has a color tint to it and doesn’t look as good as Cinema, but it has its purpose.

Living Room Cinema

Epson Home Cinema 3500 Projector

Projectors are becoming more and more popular at home, and models like the Epson Home Cinema 3500 are why. It doesn’t tie you down to a pitch black room for viewing but does well in a living room setting. For the price of a nice 60” 1080p TV you are getting a projector that can do an image four times as large. It has the brightness to work in a room with ambient light and not need a completely black cave. If you’re still a fan of 3D, and I know there are at least a couple of you still out there, it does well here with plenty of light to make it look good.

What you give up with the Home Cinema 3500 are the deep, dark blacks and fine shadow detail that projectors like the Epson 5030UB and Sony VPL-HE40ES produce. If you have a dedicated home theater room that has no ambient light, stepping up to one of these will make a visible difference. If you’re going to watch in the living room and it isn’t pitch black then these advantages start to vanish.

If you want to move up to a big screen and don’t want to do all your viewing in a black room, the Epson Home Cinema 3500 makes a good choice. The improvement in projectors from just a few years ago is incredible, much like the improvements that flat panels kept making a decade ago. That $1,600 gets you a projector that almost everyone will be happy with and can work in a room with light is something you couldn’t do before. Highly recommended for people that want to bring that cinema experience home.

Epson provided some feedback in response to my lower contrast ratio measurements: “We (Epson) worked to compare your contrast findings to what we have measured and they are a bit below what we would expect. For the purpose of this review, the team at Epson measured contrast with the lens position at 10:0 Vertical, 5:5 Horizontal; Zoom: wide; Color mode: Dynamic; Power Consumption: High; Auto Iris: Off. Of course depending on color mode, timing, lens position, mode by model and other circumstances, the measurement result may vary.”