he Epson Home Cinema 8100 prices out right in the middle of the Entry Level class. As of this writing, the least expensive 1080p projector is now $899, and the most expensive in this class is $1999.
Since I started talking about relative pricing, there's one more key factor in cost, and that is cost of operation. The biggest aspect of that, of course, is the life, and price of lamps. Epson rates their lamp at 4000 hours at full power. That's the longest of any projector in this report (most are 2000 hours at full power). Epson lamps are also relatively low priced, at $299. Most of the competition is $350 - $400. The combination of the low cost lamp, and long life, actually makes the Epson one of the least expensive projectors in the class, in terms of total cost. That despite the average selling price. If you wanted to have enough lamp life to go 8000 hours, the Epson can save up to $900 in lamp costs, compared to the competition.
Let's talk brightness. In "best" mode, the Epson is in the middle of the pack, one of those projectors with about 500 lumens, (mid-point on the zoom lens). True there are much brighter projectors in "best" mode, such as the Mitsubishi HC3800 (a DLP), but it is the brightest of the LCD projectors in the group, including the PT-AE4000, the most expensive projector in this class.
The Epson "really shines" when it comes to "brightest" mode lumens, with over 1300. This makes it one of the very brightest projectors under $2000, and particularly suitable for dealing with ambient light when you need to.
It comes down to this. Although the Epson doesn't have enough lumens in its "best" mode to fill a much larger than 110" screen (normal screen surfaces, not high gain). For those that do want to go larger, Epson has multiple preset modes, and can still produce a good image capable of handling a larger screen. LivingRoom mode won't end up as good as, say TheaterBlack 1, but it's not bad considering it's got double the lumens.
In "brightest" mode, the Epson Home Cinema 8100 is a "light cannon", able to handle my own 128" Firehawk G3 screen, with moderate amounts of controlled ambient light. For this past year's Superbowl, my far more expensive JVC was pulled off the shelf, and an Epson (actually the similarly bright 9500UB), replaced it so we could party while watching the game, without the room being too dark for 30 people.
The Home Cinema 8100 projector offers some of the best black level performance in the price range, but hardly the best. The best is reserved for the ultra-high contrast projectors like the PT-AE4000. That said, only a couple of projectors in this class can beat the Epson. Most of the others fall somewhere between a "little short of the Epson's black level performance" to "not even close to the Epson".
Warranty is another strength of the Home Cinema 8100 projector. Epson delivers a two year warranty, with their overnight replacement program for both years. Although one of the projectors in this class offers 3 years, (Sanyo PLV-Z700) that Sanyo lacks a replacement program, and also, of note, Sanyo does not replace DOA units, they repair them (quickly, I must note, in all fairness - normally you'll have it back in a week.) Although shorter than the Sanyo's three years, we consider the Epson warranty to be about the equal to the Sanyo due to the other trade-offs, especially, the replacement program.
Placement flexibility has always been an Epson strength. It may be the key reason many of you buy the Epson over the Mitsubishi HC3800 that tied it for this award. It's 2.1:1 zoom lens range offers the widest placement range of the field (even if only a hair better than the Sanyo PLV-Z700 or the Panasonic PT-AE4000). A lot of lens shift, along with the zoom lens range, makes it the most flexible in terms of placement, with only the Sanyo and Panasonic coming close (the Panny has a touch more lens shift, but a little less zoom range).
Of the remaining projectors in the Entry Level projector class, all the rest are DLP, and none of them has more than a 1.2:1 zoom ratio, and none have lens shift. In other words, the rest have very limited placement flexibility, and among other things, cannot be shelf mounted in the rear. The Epson is just as at home whether you ceiling mount, shelf mount, or put it on a table top. As an added bonus, with this Epson, should you ceiling mount, you can change out the lamp without unmounting the projector. That's a nice feature found in perhaps half of the home theater projectors out there.
If you are a black level fanatic (as many say I am), you can definitely do better, with the Panasonic, a key reason why the PT-AE4000 took top honors in this entry level class of projectors.
The Sharp XV-Z15000, a DLP, should come pretty close to the Epson in terms of black level performance. Most likely the two, are more different, than better/worse, overall.
The Epson does not support an external anamorphic lens, but that is not a significant factor. If you really want to spring $3000 - $4000+ for an anamorphic lens and sled, you almost certainly would spend the many hundreds more for one of the ultra-high-contrast projectors. That said, that Panasonic can "emulate" using an anamorphic lens, for no additional cost. A consideration.