Epson Home Cinema 2040 Review

So, I think at some point, most men (of the geeky variety) dream of having a home theater or screening room of some sort. Well, that was me as soon as we built our home almost a dozen years ago. We decided to finish out the upstairs for my office area with a bonus room and a large wall resulting with 120+ inches of available space magically appeared. I knew then what I wanted . . . of course, 12 years ago, to get a screen that big at any decent quality required a HUGE price tag.

Enter 2015 Christmas where I actually was able to save some of my Christmas gift money and decide to use on myself (yeah, one of those usually loses out!). I decided to do some quick reviewing and, based on many, MANY reviews, decided on the Epson Home Cinema 2040. So, here we go . . .

Quick list of what I’m using as inputs & outputs:

  • Sony PS3 for Blu-Ray/Video Games attached via HDMI
  • Nintendo Wii attached by Composit (yellow) video and LR audio
  • Audio is fed to an old Sony Receiver to my old box speakers via the mini aux jack from the Projector

Initial Impressions – Day 1

First off, I have never owned a projector. I’ve seen them at presentations, schools, etc. I remember one my church had growing up that projected a whopping 640×480 resolution. Blow that up on a wall and you could play a quick connect 4 game due to the abysmal resolution. Anyway, this projector is a nice 1920×1080 (Full HD), so we’re doing much better in that regard.

Setting up
Out of the box, this guy is very nice as far as size. It fits nicely on a back cabinet (approximately 13 ft from projection wall). Setup was a breeze – just power cord and HDMI from PS3 and powered in 30 seconds. I did take about 3-5 min to adjust the angles, but it wasn’t hard to align at all. NOTE: this projector does not have adjustment left to right for offset viewing, so you’ll need pretty much a dead center position from left to right. I did some research as to the size vs distance and this worked out perfectly.

First look – my advice on projector viewing and what to expect
I have been happily watching a Panasonic Plasma for the past 4 years or so. The blacks are amazing . . . the color is amazing. It’s pretty much as good as I’ve ever seen on a TV. So, my initial viewing of an image for this projector was actually pretty underwhelming. However, after an afternoon of video games and movie testing, I can say that this does look pretty great – the size greatly outweighs any loss of contrast. Bottom line, expect to “adjust” to the new picture if you’re used to any modern flat screen television. If you’re used to an old tv or just don’t care about that kind of stuff, you will love this projector.

A quick Nintendo Wii side note:
Kids love the giant screen . . . image is absolutely horrible since it’s not HD. Tennis fun outweighs the latter though.

Grain of salt . . . using wall.
My initial viewing today got better and better – even to the point where I’m likely going to keep the item. The fact that I’m using a beige wall right now adds to my good impression. If/when I keep it, I’ll hopefully follow some guidelines on painting the wall for much better contrast – or purchasing a screen.

3 Months Later

So, pretty much, this is a great, awesome thing! It didn’t take a week or two for my kids (all three) to start hanging upstairs to view their Netflix and so forth on the giant screen. Movie night is so very awesome. Seriously, all members of the family enjoy being upstairs in the “cave” we’ve created. It’s a very nice escape.

White, White, WHITE!
OK, remember I said I used a beige painted wall. Well, I went with this tutorial (with much help from my wife – thanks!) and the change is unbelievable. I only needed a quart of the paint, FYI – 4 coats was needed though and well worth it. Here’s a shot of the before/after during the job with just one coat of paint. Each coat brought even more brightness and vividness. This is the point I was sold.

wall

Likes at this time…

  • Bigness – yep, seeing a movie just can’t happen on the 50″ downstairs now. Even with half decent speakers, this is the place to be.
  • Color/Contrast* – I’ll pop and asterisk there because, being the nit picker on color, I’ll always see dark scenes and think “man, that could pop a little better”. My other family members, haven’t mentioned one time this issue, so I’ll call that a win. Still, this is the best projection I’ve seen outside of professional setups. I haven’t said anything to my better-half about it, so that’s saying something!
  • Sound – I’m going to go outside the review for a second. I really don’t think I would enjoy this as much without some half-decent sound. That big screen really does need “biggish” sound to make the full presentation work. If you’re looking to do something similar, at least get a decent stereo receiver and some solid bookshelf speakers – at a minimum. I already have visions of tower speakers in my future!
  • FOOTBALL, FOOBALL, FOOBALL! – Yeah, they’re right . . . it IS better on a big screen . . . so very much better! #hailstate

Dislikes at this time (minor ones)…

  • Color/Contrast* – here is the flip side of that first entry. Note: this is a very MINOR issue – even to the point that I don’t worry about it. I say that it’s something of an issue for those who have to have that extreme contrast of plasma/high end TV. You just won’t get it, so if you can accept that, you’re good!
  • Automatic Iris – this unit has a feature of normal and fast iris operation. This is where the iris in the lens opens and shuts automatically as you get to darker scenes (to help contrast). My projector is located such that it’s about 3 feet from my head. So, needless to say, I had to disable this. The short bursts of subtle noise is just too much in the quite scenes. I don’t really notice it’s not in use though.
  • Noise – I really worried about noise complaints from reviews of (well any) projectors. Most said that they didn’t notice noise unless it was a dead quiet scene. And, that’s largely true. Unless you are the kind of person who really hones in on things like this, noise is a non-issue. HOWEVER, full power (non-eco) mode is absolutely not happening unless I, for some reason, have a heavy metal concert blasting – so very loud for a fan in that mode! Eco-mode in a dim room is totally fine (and saves the life of your bulb too).

Conclusion

After almost 2 decades of dreaming of a large screen “man room” sized setup, the Epson 2040 has definitely delivered. I did have to take a small step backward in contrast, but the sharp detail and great color more than made up for the sacrifice. Oh, and there’s the amazing price (relatively speaking). I feel confident this will keep me satisfied for several years . . . you know, until 4K or 8K screens are main stream!

Epson Home Cinema 2040
(sometimes Amazon will drop $100, so be on the look out for deals!)

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My Mac Switch: One Year Later

Wow, feels like I’ve actually waited a year to even post (yep, sure did)! Whew! Actually, I have a lazy Friday evening, so I thought I’d jot some stuff down.

For years, I said I’d never do it . . . there was no use for Mac and Windows was the king (percentage wise by users), so why would I even entertain the thought, right? Well, you can view my post on HP Overheating to see where the decision started to sway.

I started working with web/graphic design in 1998 after college. I’d worked on my projects with Windows 100% during that time. The only interaction with Mac was with my father-in-law and photography editing. I thought his Mac Pros were pretty sweet, but didn’t really get far out of Photoshop. I had that on my Thinkpad (God bless it – still a favorite) and my HP Envy (super powerhouse . . . refer to heating though) and it ran fine for all intents and purposes.

Still, I usually get 3 or so years out of a piece of equipment before seeing a benefit from a new machine (sometimes longer). When the HP felt a bit long in the tooth, I gave some serious debate to all platforms. I looked at gaming PC laptops, engineering workstations . . . all of it. I got some great input across the web but found that Mac was always at the top for many lists. I checked performance charts for 2D applications and the chart bars were always at least 2x the PC counterparts. I made one final call to my pal Bill Reid to get his expert opinion . . . he said he had Mac in the past and was impressed with them, but the price was the big issue. Understandably, you can get comparable horsepower for much less.

So, there was the question – do I throw down the extra cash to go Mac? In the end, it was a matter of curiosity that made me click the button. “What is all this hoopla about OSX” and “Can it really be that efficient for work and design”? So, I took the plunge.

I’ll admit, at first, I was totally in a weird place. I wasn’t familiar with the layout, file system, interaction . . . then, 5 minutes past and I was at home – ha! Really, there was a day or so of acclamation, but it was “fun” to get used to it. In the end, OSX isn’t the example of what I’ve heard from others. Some would say, “if you’re used to Windows, Mac will not be fun for you”. Fortunately, I’m a bit of a nerd, so it was enjoyable to see what could be.

That was November of 2013. I quickly learned what all the fuss was about. I’ll preface the rest of what I like by admitting I am not “that guy” when it comes to Mac. Windows is still king of the hill, and for good reasons. However, my experience with OSX and the Macbook Pro hardware has solidified my position that this is where, for my needs, I want to be when it comes to being productive.

Here are a few highlights of why I am impressed with the Mac:

  • Speed – This is the main “feature” I enjoy. Yes, it was the latest hardware for Fall 2013, but OSX has a certain “snappiness” that you can feel as you use it throughout the day. My notebook came with the PCI-e SSD for storage and the term “click and it’s done” is, in most cases, a reality. From the ~10 second boot time (from shut down) to the “instant on” of opening the lid to wake from sleep, the time I save not waiting on little loading moments is paramount. When I opened Photoshop (full version) in less than 5 seconds, I think I may have giggled like a little girl – yes, this thing is fast.
  • Cool and quiet – OK, I was coming from a thermo-nuclear laptop called the HP Envy, so anything would be cooler. However, I can run Garage Band to record audio in an isolated room and the laptop is no longer the issue. The Fan only fires up under crazy heavy loads (like compiling video in Premiere, etc). 99% of the time, it’s not heard at all. Even on my lap, all is nice and comfortable.
  • Screen/Video – holy cow, Retina screens are unbelievable. Unfortunately, most of my work is done on a 24 inch external monitor with the MacBook screen as a 2nd and another 4:3 monitor as a 3rd (can’t wait for 4K screen someday). But, when I need to preview imagery for final print, etc., the Macbook screen is very nice. Yes, I realize only a fully calibrated monitor is acceptable for print, but for web and newspaper ad work, it does very well.
  • Battery – this is a small detail for someone who works from a desk all day, but I’ve been typing, watching video, and editing since 5:30 and I’m just past half battery after 3 hours . . .
  • That virus thing – yes, Macs are at 7% or so of the market. No, the hackers and virus makers aren’t too keen on wreaking havoc on the Mac community (yet). Still, not worrying with adware bog down and viruses is actually something very noticeable in my day to day routine. PSA: Don’t open any email you don’t recognize and use a firewall, people!
  • Yosemite (OSX Software addition) – I already mentioned the efficiencies of the OSX platform. Well, Yosemite update has kicked my productivity up a notch. I already was using iMessage to easily type messages to my family, friends, and (increasingly), clients. With Yosemite, my iPhone talks to my Mac so that I can take/make calls (yes, sometimes I get that speakerphone tinny sound – I feel they will work that out), but I can now text (green bubble) as well as iMessage. I don’t pick up my phone now. This shaves minutes off my time and that makes for an efficient day.
  • Easy jump for CC subscribers – I work mainly from Adobe Creative Cloud suite of software. I thought it’d be different on Mac. Well, it isn’t. All menus are in the same place, so really, that was my only major hurdle. If you use Creative Cloud on Windows, it’s right at home on the Mac. Get a 2 button mouse and you’re all set for shortcuts.
  • Time Machine Backup – grab an old USB hard drive and plug it in. Turn on time machine and I can backup hourly/daily/weekly all my data (including the operating system). If anything happens, it’s a quick reload of the backup and I’m back where I’m started. I wish all backups were as simple as this. I can also backup to my network attached server – so I have two full backups for assurance. Plus, I can grab a file at any point from the past year (all changes) – so cool to find a file that I goofed on and restore it to continue on – all in about a minute.
  • Bonus: Screen grabs – I know this is minor for most people, but the fact that I can grab a preview of a design and quickly throw it into an email or text is the best thing ever. Where I used to save a file, attach, etc., I now get it done in a few seconds. So good . . . soooo good.

I won’t bore you further. You should be able by now to tell I’m sold on the Mac platform. I still have my trusty windows desktop next to me for the occasional file manipulation or windows program, but really, I haven’t needed Windows. I thought I’d load it on the Macbook side by side, but then figured I’d try to go straight OSX. I’m glad I did.

The price premium is real. However, after a year, my machine is just as fast as it started and the extra money is one of those things I don’t fret over or regret. I hope and feel that I can get 4-5 years out of this machine instead of my normal 3. It is built very well, so I feel like it’s up to it – as long as Apple doesn’t do their thing and create something that won’t work on older hardware . . . they’d NEVER do that, right?

Feel free to comment below – glad to answer any insights – please no flame wars!

Specs for the machine reviewed
Macbook Pro 15″ Retina Display
500 GB SSD
16 GB RAM
Core i7 Processor (2 Ghz)

PS, I racked my brain to find something I didn’t like (other than the price!). Found it . . . when you are opening a file in a program, you can’t rename a file at the same time within that window – I find I miss that from time to time!

Ubuntu Netbook Remix

OK, so I was quite excited to give my wife a nice little happy by way of the HP Mini 1000 computer a few years back. It was small, stylish and would even fit into her purse for her to use at a moment’s notice when she needed to get online. She LOVED it. Windows XP worked at a nice clip, the smallish, but ample 8 GB Solid State drive was totally silent . . . it seemed like I nailed it.

Enter the “Windows XP + Time = Piece of Junk” phase. After a few months, this darling of a computer turned slower than my 5-year-old on the first day of school. It was unbearable just to get running and could barely even open the web browser (which is the main reason I got it – for her to surf and tinker on the web for email and such).

So, there it sat for almost two years. I re-installed Windows a time or two, but it quickly slowed to the same sad state.

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the upcoming Google Chrome operating system to try out, since it claims to be lightweight and nimble on small “netbook” computers, but then I remembered another solution. I tried Linux (Ubuntu) a few years back on an old Pentium II 450 MHz machine. I was pleasantly surprised at the speed of getting around even on that ancient computer. So, I headed back to http://www.ubuntu.com to see about a copy for this netbook. Well, they had a flavor tailored just for it – cool!

I was debating (for about 5 seconds) about the install since I had only USB (no disc drive) to install with, but then saw the simple set up through making an installer out of a USB drive. Seriously, anyone who barely knows how to run a computer could do this process. Kudos to Ubuntu for making it so painless.

So, I downloaded the ISO file of Ubuntu (took about 30-40 minutes on a decent broadband connection), created the USB drive, and even got to try the system out by running it from the USB drive first to see if everything worked. There is a testing app built in to see if things like sound and other basic hardware are compatible. For the HP Mini I’m on, everything was ready to go, save some WiFi issues (see below). Ubuntu hit a home run this time, it seemed. On my previous install (the old PII computer), there were several drivers missing and some patchwork to get it running right.

The one hurdle of the whole process, getting my wireless card to work, was actually not so bad, thanks to http://www.ubuntuforums.org. There are so many great users and developers in this community, you can find solutions to most any issue. I simply searched “HP Mini Wireless” and found a solution within the first few threads.. It was a sort of advanced move using the terminal and some code, but was straightforward and fixed my wireless issue (now, I’m writing this from the couch rather than the office tethered to ethernet).

So, how does it run? Let’s just say I’m impressed. I counted seconds during boot time and it was just over 20 from off to fully running. I’m anxious to see how this stacks up over time. Even the Firefox browser is quick to load – this is encouraging, since the same program on my work computer, with much more horsepower, is a beast to open. The use of the menus and programs is smooth and satisfying. They’ve done a great job with the look of the icons and layout. It’s similar to using a Mac, in my opinion. Of course, there aren’t allot of swooshing graphics, but the minimal use of fades and highlights is really effective.

The layout of the menu is along the left side in the Netbook edition and gives you a good, concise layout of all of the software options (games, office, internet, settings, etc.). There’s a nice “Favorites” folder at the top to place your most used programs – I like this already. I’ve read that I can switch to the default view of Ubuntu if needed, so I might try that later.

There’s the software app that lets you choose from various applications (most free!), so I’m excited about digging in. I probably won’t get too crazy – I only have 4 GBytes left on the machine, so I might give some time to add things to see how performance progresses. Oh, I mean, my wife might give time . . . it’s her machine, after all, right?!

I’ll leave it at that for now and come back later for an update. I’m glad Linux is progressing as it has. This is a major improvement over even 2 years ago and I look forward to seeing their progress. If you have a machine to fool around with, I highly recommend trying Ubuntu. I don’t advise using it for your main machine (yet), but it’s a great alternative to Windows for light duty computing. Enjoy

FYI, to set the driver for the HP Mini wireless chip, head to the terminal app in Ubuntu, then enter the following command:

sudo apt-get install bcmwl-kernel-source

Reboot and you should be good to go. You’ll need to be hooked in via Ethernet to enter the above command, btw.

Update: August 2nd

Wow . . . I mean, seriously, this machine has a whole new usefulness now. Standby mode is snappy. When you open the lid, the screen zips back to life and connects to the wireless by the time you open the browser. Good stuff. Chromium is still my favorite browser and on linux, it’s no exception – super fast. I’m tempted to use the bookmark sync feature in Google.

Logitech Performance Mouse MX

Update: Still lovin’ this mouse. Leaving the USB receiver in the slot has proven to be quite handy since I take my laptop several different locations per week. Tracking is spot on . . . even took my laptop to work before sleep and it tracked great on my mattress. Battery has been adequate. I’ve charged it maybe once a week just in case via the USB cable (again, a great convenience to work while it charges). I think I could get easily 3 weeks of heavy use though.

OK, so I bit the bullet and bought the Logitech Performance Mouse MX. My old mouse’s “feet” have gone horribly awry, so I used that as an excuse for a new, fancy mouse (there, I said it). I knew I loved Logitech (old one was such), so when the new Performance Mouse MX came out a couple weeks back, I thought I’d give it a whirl. This is an initial 2 day review, so take it with a grain of salt. I’ll just list a few pros and cons here, then post more later if needed. Overall – love it.

Why It’s Great So Far . . .

  1. Feels really good. My old one did too, but the thumb insert is a great feel. I have big hands too, so smaller handed people, I think, will like it as much.
  2. More buttons than I thought – my old Logitech had three programmable buttons that I used. I pretty much had copy, paste, then a “minimize all” so I could quickly clear the desktop. The Performance MX has all that (almost) and more. Not only are there 2 buttons for my copy/past (or forward/back, etc.), but there’s a zoom button (handy for photoshop). The scroll will tilts left and right for two more buttons. AAAAnd, my new favorite, a hidden thumb button switches tasks. But, not a simple Alt-Tab function – this brings up a Mac like cascade of all open applications shown on the screen, then you click what you want. I can see this saving much time throughout the day switching between tasks.
  3. Tracking – bulletproof so far. Haven’t tried glass, but all other reviews say yes, so I don’t see why not. The pads on the bottom glide nicely over various surfaces (have tried Corian, plastic table . . . pants leg – they’re all equally trackable).
  4. Wireless – I’ve always stood back when it came to wireless mice. Don’t want to take changes in glitchy performance. This one is rock solid. Great after boot up, after sleeping, overnight, etc. I like that there’s a switch for packing and traveling too. Will post back here if I notice some battery issues.
  5. Pluggable USB – if your batteries do run down, there is a USB cable (micro USB?) that plugs right into the front and charges as needed so you don’t have any downtime -sweet. PLUS, the USB receiver is so small (seriously, it’s crazy small), you can leave it in your computer – no more USB stick style receivers.

What you might not like . . .

  1. Cha-ching – $100 . . . ouch. You might find it for $96 on Amazon . . . if I didn’t use this piece of equipment so much in my daily routine, I’d most likely go with a lower model.
  2. Buttons . . . they are very clicky. Some might find them to be a “cheap feel”, but I rather like the feedback
  3. No Lefty (yet) – this is a right handed only mouse (for now at least)

Overall, with a day or two of light use, this is a worthy mouse. For a heavy Photoshop user and web programming (copy/paste) with the addition of the very nice task switching button, I’m sold. The $100 price tag is a bit steep though . . . for those who read this a year from now, you should be in a much better situation!