Epson 2040 LCD Projector Review

We’ve reviewed a number of sub-$1,000 projectors here but they’re all had one thing in common: they are DLP-based. For many people, this is just fine, but all DLP projectors have one drawback in rainbows. If you don’t see rainbows, then this isn’t a problem for you and you may not even know what they are. For those that do see them, they can cause a DLP projector to be almost unusable.

The Epson 2040 is a $800 projector that uses 1080p LCD panels instead of a DLP light engine. It is very bright, with good color and all the controls needed to calibrate it accurately. It even includes features like motion interpolation that videophiles will scoff at but can really help for watching sports on a projector. If you don’t have a problem with rainbows, a DLP like the BenQ HT3050 or HT2050 is a better bet, but the Epson 2040 is a very good alternative that produces a nice, bright image.

Bright and Compact

Specs
Manufacturer: Epson
Model: 2040
Lumens: 2200
Display Type: LCD
Resolution: 1920x1080
Inputs: 2x HDMI, 1x RCA, 1x VGA, 1x WiFi
3D Support: Yes
Projector Size: 11.69" x 9.65" x 4.49"
Projector Weight: 6.9 lbs.
Review Date: January 13, 2016
Price: $649.00
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The Epson 2040 and 2045 projectors are virtually identical. The only difference is that the 2045 includes support for Miracast and WiDi screen sharing while the 2040 leaves those out. Since they often sell for the same price, you should probably look for the 2045. Each offers 1080p resolution, is rated for 2200 lumens of brightness, and have bulbs that are good for 4000 hours in Normal mode and 7000 hours in Eco mode. Even if you watch a movie or two a day on these you’ll still have a bright image years down the road.

The compact size makes it easy to place the 2040 in the room which is important because of a feature it lacks: lens shift. While the competing BenQ projectors don’t offer much lens shift, the little bit that they do offer can make the difference between having it lined up perfectly or having to make image sacrifices. In the case that you don’t line up perfectly the Epson 2040 includes keystone correction in the menu system. In use this keystone correction can sometimes be invisible, but with lines and patterns can lead to visible shimmering. I still suggest you try to avoid using it if at all possible.

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Another feature that the Epson includes that most projectors in this price range do not is motion interpolation. I will always hate using this with films, but on TV it can make motion much smoother. Watching football on the Epson it benefitted from the interpolation but I left it disabled for everything else. There is also a built-in speaker if you want to use the 2040 on the go. It provides passable sound, and unlike the one on the BenQ HT3050 it doesn’t quickly distort at high volume.

Movie Performance

I tested the Epson 2040 using the recent release Sicario. Set in the deserts of Arizona and Mexico, it has a very bland color palette for much of the time. A lot of it is set during the day, but there are some very dark nighttime scenes that are a challenge for any projector. During the daytime scenes the Epson performs well, with decent quality motion and nice, accurate color. The image is very bright on my 100” 1.0 gain screen and you can’t use an iris to reduce it below the Eco setting. The downside is that the black levels on the Epson leave a bit to be desired. Contrast ratios come in close to 700:1 while the BenQ HT3050 measures close to 1400:1. During dark scenes this difference is apparent with lighter blacks and a slight flatter look. The Epson looks good for the price, but the darker blacks on the BenQ models make them stand out more.

Football looks much better on the Epson. With the lamp set to normal so I can have some light in the room, the bright image looks great. Motion interpolation makes everything a bit more fluid and the lighter black levels aren’t an issue as much. DLP projectors can still offer some benefits in motion, as they don’t blur as an LCD can, but the fast motion of football also makes rainbows more apparent. The line markings are especially problematic and the edges cause transitions during panning shots that really reveal the issue.

The opening scene of the final Harry Potter will remain my black level test for a long time, and the Epson can’t hang with the BenQ models here. Especially noticeable is the difference in ANSI contrast ratios. The windows of Hogwarts are much brighter on the BenQ relative to the Epson, even when you account for the higher black levels. The Epson just can’t create the bright highlights there that a DLP can while still keeping black levels under control.

Animated films wind up doing better on the Epson than Harry Potter or Sicario. The bright, vivid colors of Despicable Me look great. The extra brightness that the Epson provides makes for a really immersive image. The Epson also stands apart on 3D when compared to the BenQ models. The DLPs can offer less ghosting but they have a much dimmer image in comparison. I am not a 3D fan, but I’d much prefer to watch it on the Epson than on the BenQ.

When directly compared to the BenQ models, those are noticeably sharper. The Epson image looks very good, and some might say a bit more natural, but an LCD will never have the same sharpness as a single chip DLP. If you don’t compare them side-by-side you may never notice, but the BenQ has a slight edge here as well. Fine textures on fabric and skin during Samsara look that much more detailed on the BenQ

Calibration Notes

The Epson has all the calibration controls available to you, but they don’t work as well as they do on more expensive Epson models. Using the Superwhite mode kills the gamma curve, and setting contrast above 50 kills the gamma as well. With no gamma presets, you really need to leave the contrast at 50 for decent performance. The only controls that really work well are the cuts and gains in the CMS and the brightness control. Aside from this you should just choose the Cinema preset and leave it there.

Full details on the calibration, with charts and analysis, can be found by following this link.

Improvements

The Epson 2040 is a decent little projector, but some things on it could be improved. I’d like to see lens shift to make placement easier. The zoom range could also be larger than the 1.2x that it includes. The remote also really needs to be backlit, as it is virtually impossible to use in the darkness. Finally I wish it was quieter in Normal lamp mode as it is pretty noisy. Eco mode is fairly quiet and probably bright enough for most people.

Conclusions

For people that aren’t affected by rainbows, the BenQ HT3050 and HT2050 offer better performance for the money. The contrast ratios are better, the image has more pop, and the calibration controls perform better. Aside from the motion interpolation for football and the brighter 3D, there isn’t much reason to pick the Epson 2040 over the BenQ for those people.

However if you do see rainbows, then the Epson 2040 and 2045 will provide a good image for the price. You’ll have to step up to the Epson 3500 or another LCD model that costs almost twice as much to get contrast ratios that are BenQ quality. Stepping down will lead to an even worse image and lower resolution with less install flexibility. If you need an LCD, I’d try to save up to get the 3500 if I could, but the 2040 offers a better solution than other models on the market.

Review Summary
Product: Epson 2040 LCD Projector
Reviewer:
Pros: Bright Image, long bulb life, good motion with sports
Cons: Lower contrast ratios than competing DLP models, less accurate colors, no lens shift, limited zoom range
Summary: If you suffer issues with DLP rainbows, the Epson 2040 is your best LCD bet in the $800 price range. However if you don’t have issues with them a DLP from BenQ will offer better performance for the same price.
Value: 3.5/5
Performance: 3/5
Overall: 3/5

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Calibration Details

Calibration of the Epson 2040 was done directly off the lens using an i1Pro spectrometer and a C6 colorimeter. Reading directly off the lens means the screen doesn’t impact the measurements and gives the best example of the projectors performance. CalMAN 5.6 software was used for all the measurements with a DVDO AVLabTPG pattern generator or Mobile Forge on an Amazon FireTV. We target the Rec.709 HDTV colorspace with the BT.1886 gamma curve for all our displays. There is no target luminance level we set for projectors because it varies based on screen size and gain for the room.

Using the built-in cinema mode, we have some noticeable issues on the Epson out of the box. The grayscale has a shift towards blue at the top end, and the gamma curve is not flat. We also see that green isn’t fully saturated which causes cyan and other similar shades to be incorrect as well. The single biggest issue with the Epson 2040 on the bench is the contrast ratio, as 730:1 on the pre-calibration measurement is very low and leads to an image that is flatter without the pop that other projectors offer.

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Using the calibration system of the Epson 2040, correcting these issues is impossible. The RGB Gains and Cuts work well, but enabling Superwhite and adjusting the contrast leads to gamma curve issues. With no gamma control, it is impossible to adjust this without causing issues. Similarly using the 3D CMS controls to adjust the primary and secondary colors causes flaws to show up except at the points you are directly controlling. This leads to worse measurements and visual results than just leaving them alone. The only item in the CMS I adjusted was the luminance levels for the colors, as that made an improvement without causing bad results.

By just adjusting the white balance controls we wind up with a grayscale that is more accurate than before and manage to reduce some of the color errors that we had seen. However we can’t get everything below the target of 3.0 or below so there will be visible issues on the screen you can see. Higher-end Epson models don’t have these issues in our past experience, so the CMS in the 2040 just doesn’t live up to what they can do.

If I owned the 2040 I likely wouldn’t pay to have it calibrated because of these issues. You can get a better image by fixing the white balance, but it isn’t a massive improvement. You’d be better off taking the money for a calibration and upgrading to the Epson 3500 that offers better contrast ratios and more install flexibility.

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Measuring the light output on the screen, I managed to get 1013 lumens in my calibrated settings with the lamp on Eco mode. Bumping that up to Normal got me 1586 lumens, which is bright enough for a very large 120”-130” screen. Going with the brightest image preset you can get 2236 lumens out of it, but the image looks much worse than using the Cinema mode and I highly recommend against it.

You can enable Game Mode by digging into the menu system and setting Image Processing to Fast instead of Fine. This gives you a very low input lag of 27.8ms, which is good enough for almost anyone. I do wish Epson would just add a Game Mode with this turned off instead of making you dig through the menu system, but you can use the Natural preset for gaming and Cinema for movies with Fine Processing and get good results.

Calibration Summary
Measurement Pre-Calibration Post-Calibration
Contrast Ratio: 738:1 726:1
Gamma Point: 2.35 2.36
Average Grayscale dE2000: 4.10 1.32
Average Saturations dE2000: 3.55 1.76
Average Color Checker dE2000: 4.82 3.75
Post-Calibration Lumens: 1586
Maximum Lumens: 2236
Summary: The Epson provides OK pre-calibration numbers but they can't improve much because of issues with the CMS. The image is relatively accurate, but other projectors in the same price range are both more accurate and offer better controls to dial in the image for your screen and room.

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  • ken

    I purchased the 2040 last March so have had it for about a year, it is an excellent picture with great color and very bright, I love sci-fi and horror movies so the Black levels are a problem for me, making some movies unwatchable unless at night with all the lights out, great first major purchase for home theater projector, lamps as low as $79

    • Projector bulbs are something people should try to buy direct from the company. There are too many fakes out there and those can be dimmer than the one you are replacing, or even run too hot or break easily inside the projector, causing damage to the unit.

      • $79 is the price direct from Epson