For years Epson and Sony have battled it out in the $2,000 projector space. This year Epson moved up to a higher price point with the $2,699.005040UB. In doing so they’ve added an impressive amount of value to their offering. Compared to the prior 5030UB the new model has motorized zoom, focus, and lens shift with memory positions, optical shift for enhanced resolution with 4K sources, support for HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2, the ability to display HDR and WCG content, and LAN control. All these updates put the Epson 5040UB into a value proposition that no other projector currently occupies. After proper setup and a calibration, the Epson 5040UB puts out a fantastic image and offers a great value.
No Incremental Improvement
|Inputs:||1x HDMI 2.0, 1x HDMI 1.4, 1x DSub, 1x Ethernet, 1x USB, 1x RS232|
|Projector Size:||20.5" x 17.7" x 7.6"|
|Projector Weight:||24.3 lbs.|
|Review Date:||January 13, 2017|
Many of these features are ones that have trickled down from the LS10000 projector. That was the first Epson to have an expanded color gamut, motorized lens control, and 4K enhancement. It also sells for almost 3x the price of the 5040UB. Of course it does use a laser light engine that lasts for over 20,000 hours and powers up much faster, but that is a lot of advanced technology to migrate down to a $3,000 projector in just over a year.
Setting up the 5040UB is much easier with the lens control. Paired with a 92” Stewart Studiotek 100 screen, doing alignment, zoom and focus is easy. Being so close to the screen did reveal some noticeable color fringing but that was correctable in the menus of the Epson. Since the Studiotek 100 is very neutral, the 5040UB was ready to go with a basic calibration from the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray disc.
HDTV, Blu-ray, and SDR Performance
For standard HDTV content on the Epson 5040UB, the Natural preset was the ideal choice. Cinema and Digital Cinema are best utilized with HDR and WCG material which we will discuss later. I chose to run the Epson 5040UB in Normal lamp mode instead of Eco as my acoustically transparent screen lets some light though and the projector was still quiet in that mode. Eco will likely be fine for those with 100-120” screens that aren’t perforated or woven.
Watching Blu-ray content on the Epson 5040UB is a wonderful experience. Colors are rich and bold, yet remain completely accurate. It doesn’t do the darkest blacks that the JVC projectors can do, but it has a contrast ratio ahead of anything else we’ve used in the price range. The recent remake of The Magnificent Seven is as good as a Blu-ray disc can look and it shines here. From the stubble on Denzel Washington’s face to the dark shadows and textures on his black jacket, it all comes across on the Epson. Shadows are better than the Epson 5020 I use, and far better than the BenQ DLP projectors that are the best you can find for $1,000 or less.
Now that Amazon Instant Video added The Night Manager I was finally able to cruise through it on the Epson 5040UB. It only streams in 1080p, no UHD or HDR here, but again looks wonderful. There is nothing flashy about the image but skin tones and textures are rendered well. With the nighttime torture test of Harry Potter, it is easy to see details of Voldemort and his minions on the hillside. The Epson doesn’t do the pure inky blacks that a JVC projector does, but it does as well or better than any projector in its price class. Keeping the dynamic iris on medium brings out some extra dark details and it doesn’t move so quickly as to be distracting in most cases.
UltraHD WCG and HDR Content
What sets the Epson apart in this price range is that it can also handle HDMI 2.0 content that 4K resolution and display the expanded color gamut offered in UltraHD content. Using the Cinema preset, you can hear a color filter being placed inside the light path, which expands the color gamut beyond HDTV. You get almost full coverage of the DCI/P3 gamut that current UltraHD content uses.
Queueing up the Ghostbusters reboot from last year, it is easy to see a distinction. Moving between Blu-ray and UltraHD Blu-ray the colors of the streams from their proton packs is much improved on UHD. You can see far more detail here with the expanded gamut, even if you aren’t seeing all of the boost in resolution. The Epson does have an optical shift to enhance the image with a UHD source, but it can’t pull out all the fine detail present in UHD content. It presents an image that improves upon what you get with a standard Blu-ray.
The improvements from HDR are much less noticeable, if present at all. Displaying bright highlights in part of an image while keeping the rest at pure black is possible for a TV, but not for most projectors. The contrast ratio of the Epson is limited by how well the LCD panel can prevent light from passing through, and it can’t do better with HDR than with SDR. Watching my usual HDR streaming demos from Netflix or Amazon, I see improvements in the image with the enhanced resolution and wider color gamut, but the HDR doesn’t stand out.
You’ll also find that to get this wider color gamut, the filter in the light path causes a significant drop-off in output. While a calibrated High lamp Natural mode does 2100+ lumens in SDR mode, that drops down to 919 lumens in HDR mode. On my 92” Studiotek 100 that is still over 36 foot lamberts, but it can’t drive the huge screens as well. Getting around this requires LEDs or lasers with a phosphor instead of a filter, and projectors with those are $8,000 and up.
The main problem with support for UltraHD on the Epson 5040UB is that the color mode doesn’t adjust when it sees an HDR signal. Since Natural is ideal for HDTV and Cinema for UltraHD, I’d prefer the projector shift between those when it sees a signal with HDR metadata. The projector knows when this is there, but doesn’t change. A firmware update can fix this, as otherwise people are unlikely to take advantage of this, or worse have incorrect colors half the time.
For the Epson 5040UB, we used Natural mode for SDR content and Bright Cinema mode for HDR content. We had to make a good bit of adjustments to the HDR gamma to get it to match the correct spec, but once we did that it came into close alignment with the targets. Natural mode is very accurate, with very little needing to be done to make the image perfect. How much you will have to do depends on how color accurate your screen is. For most people you can place it in Natural mode, set the Brightness and Contrast, and be happy.
Epson 5040UB Flaws
As good as the Epson 5040UB is there are a few flaws in it. There is the inability to shift between SDR and HDR modes I mentioned, but that is something they can address. My unit had a good bit of misalignment when I set it up, but I could correct that through the menu system. Most 3 LCD or 3 LCOS projectors suffer from this, it is a matter of how much with the individual unit. Mine might have been worse than normal, but I still didn’t see it with regular content.
Sometimes with panning shots I can see some stuttering to motion. It almost appears as through the projector is trying to extract a 24p signal from a 60p one, which it might be, and that is leading to juddery movement for those shots. It doesn’t happen all the time, and it doesn’t even happen on every horizontal or vertical pan, but it is present sometimes. Some people might not see this, I know some people are not sensitive to judder artifacts, but videophiles might spot it when it does occur. It was rare enough that it doesn’t bother me and would not stop me from using the 5040UB.
The remote signal for the 5040UB is also much smaller than some other projectors. You have to be far more conscious to aim it at the projector than bounce it off walls in the room. It’s not a big deal, but is annoying while trying to calibrate it.
A Fantastic Projector
I came into the Epson 5040UB expecting great things. At first I was disappointed as the pixel alignment and small IR window for the remote were bothersome. Once I fixed those and started to watch content, my mind was changed. Both Blu-ray and UltraHD Blu-ray look fantastic on the Epson, and out-perform any projector I’ve seen in the price range. There are plenty of lumens to spare, and the image is accurate and detailed. Adding the motorized lens setup makes it a much easier projector to set up than before, and allows it to work with non-16:9 screens far more easily.
The only thing I wish Epson would fix is the automatic colorspace changes between SDR and HDR content. Many people will not realize when they’re watching HDR over SDR and will leave their projector in a mode that robs them of the expanded gamut in UltraHD. If you do remember this, the Epson provides a better viewing experience for SDR and HDR content than any other projector in the price range and comes highly recommended.
|Pros:||Bright, accurate image after calibration, WCG and UltraHD support, fully motorized lens makes installation easy.|
|Cons:||Doesn't automatically switch to appropriate picture mode for SDR and HDR content.|
|Summary:||The Epson 5040UB is the best projector we've used at this price range. The fully powered lens makes it easy to setup and use in a large variety of situations. Support for UHD with HDR and WCG make you well prepared for the future and provides an improvement to the image. Blu-ray movies and UHD content both look fantastic on the Epson 5040UB, but you will be best served by having a calibration performed on it.|
Calibration Bench Tests
All our calibrations are done using CalMAN software. We target the Rec.709 color gamut and the BT.1886 gamma target for SDR, and for HDR we target the DCI/P3 color gamut and the ST.2084 EOTF. Measurements are done with a combination of an i1Pro2 and C6, and patterns are generated with a DVDO AVLab TPG with an HDFury Integral for HDR injection.
HDR was measured using the Natural color mode, which provided the most accurate image right out of the box on our screen. The grayscale has a push towards blue and green causing the grayscale dE2000 to be very visible past 30%. Color and tint are off as well but not by huge amounts. Gamma is relatively well controlled but both luminances and saturations show some errors.
Post-calibration the grayscale is brought into line using the two-point grayscale control. The gamma shows a bit of a dip but that improved RGB balance still brings that error level down to be close to a dE2000 of 1.0. Using the color and tint controls we find the colors have been brought into line as well. The color checker still shows some errors, but they are almost all below 3.0 and won’t be visible. Luminances are better but still not perfect and gamut coverage remains between 95-97% depending on if you measure with CIExy or CIEuv. Overall very good SDR performance from the Epson 5040UB.
With HDR, our pre-calibration numbers are not that good. You can see the EOTF is coming up well short of the 50% mark on the curve. This causes the resulting error levels to be very high, as you can see in the charts. I’ve added a chart to show the color checker errors and saturation errors without luminance included, and they look good. With the filter in place the Epson covers right around 96% of the CIExy and CIEuv color spaces.
Post-calibration we are able to get the EOTF in line. We manage this by adjusting the HDR mode inside the Epson menu systems away from Auto, which improves the EOTF. We also adjust the gamma to get this more in line. Doing this drops our gamut coverage down to 92%, but it is well worth it for the improvement in image quality. Now our errors are very low for both grayscale and color checker, and the saturations are almost all under a dE2000 of 3.0 as well. The Epson 5040UB can look very good with HDR and WCG content, but you’ll need to have it calibrated to really have it shine with it.
Input lag for 1080p gaming was measured at 46ms with the image processing set to fine. This is OK for gaming, but DLP projectors from BenQ are much faster for serious gamers.
We also squeezed out plenty of lumens from the Epson 5040UB. Calibrated in Natural mode, high lamp was over 2100 lumens while Normal was 1665 and Eco was 1567. When using our calibrated HDR mode, this dropped down to 1000 lumens. That is more than enough on my screen but not enough for some larger ones. Overall the Epson 5040UB has very good measured performance but can use a calibration to get the best out of it.
|Average Grayscale dE2000:||4.13||1.76|
|Average Saturations dE2000:||4.11||1.34|
|Average Color Checker dE2000:||4.96||3.02|
|Summary:||The Epson 5040UB really improves with a calibration. The image you can get at the end is fantastic, but you will need to do some adjustments to get it there. The Natural preset is a good starting point for SDR, while HDR should start with Cinema.|