Epson HC4000 Projector Review
By Chris Heinonen on
The HC4000 from Epson is their follow-up to the successful 5040UB projector. It keeps almost everything that made the 5040UB a great pick: HDR and WCG support, electronic lens shift, zoom, and focus for easy and flexible installation, and pixel shift to provide the extra resolution from 4K sources. The main difference is the LCD panels don’t offer the same black levels or contrast ratios of the 5040UB, but for those without a completely darkened room, this won’t matter. Overall the HC4000 is a fantastic projector for the money, but those with light controlled rooms should step up to the 5040UB.
The Epson HC4000 packs more features into a sub-$2000 projector than anything we’ve ever seen. It has true wide color gamut support while everything else in this price range is locked into the HDTV color gamut, has HDR that works well, a motorized lens system that makes it easier to install and place the HC4000 compared to other projectors, and an optical shift to get the extra resolution out of 4K sources. If you have a control system like Control4, integrated Ethernet and RS232 makes it very easy to integrate the Epson into your AV system.
The HC4000 also has a lens system with a dynamic iris, allowing for better contrast ratios than projectors without. It isn’t completely invisible in operation, but it is more effective than previous Epson versions and when watching HDR content I didn’t notice it in action. The only flaw with the feature set on the Epson HC4000 is that only a single HDMI 2.0 input that accepts HDCP 2.2 signals. Even then it’s not a full 18.0 Gb/sec port, so watching the Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which is in 60Hz HDR, my UltraHD Blu-ray player had to send it as 1080p instead of 4K. That was the only title that suffered from this issue, though, and the single input fed by my receivers worked just fine.
It is remarkable how much Epson has managed to pack into this projector at this price point. The 5040UB was remarkable in offering motorized lens setup for $2500 last year when other companies want $4000 or more, and the HC4000 offering that for under $2000 is just another breakthrough. When it comes to feature sets, the HC4000 leads the class, but it only matters if the performance holds up.
Epson HC4000 Performance
So how does the HC4000 perform? To be honest, you could go back to our review of the 5040UB and it is almost identical, aside from a difference in black levels. It is immediately apparent that the HC4000 blacks are not what the 5040UB can produce. They’re well ahead of a DLP projector in this price range but behind the Epson 5040UB and the Sony 45ES. However that Sony also lacks almost all of the features that the HC4000 offers, so the more direct comparison is the 5040UB.
That said, the HC4000 performs very well. I did my viewing on a 92” Stewart Studiotek 100 screen and there was no issue filling it up. Even with my ceiling lights on, I was able to watch the NFL playoffs on it just fine without the screen looking too washed out. Motion for the players was quite good, and on-screen graphics were sharp. Turning off the lights brought out far more pop to the image with the neutral white screen, and watching the game was an even better experience. Since my screen is a microperf model, it loses a good amount of light but the HC4000 is bright enough to handle this. Paired with a screen with more gain, or one with some light rejection, the HC4000 could easily let you watch football at 120” with ambient light in the room.
More important is how the HC4000 handles 4K content and HDR. Epson released a new firmware in late 2017 that changed how it handles tone mapping with HDR content, so our testing is based on this more recent revision. Using the recommended settings from Epson, the HC4000 can cover the DCI/P3 color gamut and does a much better job of tone mapping than the earlier firmware revisions did. On our 92” screen with a gain of 1.0 and microperf, we got 100 nits of peak brightness, more than double the SMTPE SDR recommendation. With a higher gain screen without microperf, you can expect almost double that amount.
With this updated firmware, 4K Blu-ray titles had all the expanded colors you expect, and specular highlights could be 2-3x as bright in our setup. It doesn’t provide the full HDR experience like a TV can, but it is a much better experience than only having SDR content with fewer colors and dimmer highlights. Using the Bright Cinema preset, you lose some of the expanded color gamut, but you gain extra brightness for even more effective HDR. What I found worked best with Bright Cinema was to reduce the contrast from 50 down to 29, which cut off tone mapping at 1000 nits while the default is closer to 400-450 nits. It does reduce the overall brightness a bit, but the increased detail in brighter areas of the image (flames, for example) was worth it in viewing.
As you can see, with the HC4000 and most other projectors with HDR, you’re having to choose between better tone mapping or expanded color gamuts. All the shots above were taken with manual exposure, so you can see the relative change in brightness compared to detail. In most cases, I wound up picking the expanded color gamut instead of the improved tone mapping. I still see highlights out to 600-650 nits, well past the 100 nits of SDR, but also see better color no matter how bright the object is. For extremely bright content, I’d choose the Bright Cinema preset with the lowered contrast to bring out more details in the image. The vast majority of the content on 4K HDR material still is 100 nits or lower, so you only lose out on some highlights in certain scenes.
I watched a large variety of 4K HDR content on the Epson HC4000 and it always did a very good job. I certainly noticed the difference from the 5040UB at night when there was no ambient light, but during the day with some light creeping in it is harder to tell a difference. Comparing 4K to Blu-ray material the 4K content looks better, both with improved colors and highlights, but also more detail from the extra resolution and reduced compression.
The Epson HC4000 was viewed on a 92” Stewart Studiotek 100 screen with measurements and calibration performed by CalMAN. Hardware used includes a Murideo Six-G pattern generator, i1Pro, C6 HDR, and Klein K-10A.
In Cinema mode with SDR content, out of the box, the Epson HC4000 is pretty accurate. The gamma tracks the BT1886 curve well but the RGB balance moves towards blue as you get closer to 100% stimulus. Colors show errors with many above the visibility line of 3.0. The contrast ratio of 1558:1 is in line with what we see on screen as it is better than DLP but not up to the standards of other LCD or LCOS models. We did all this testing with the dynamic iris off to get baseline data. The HC4000 does cover the entire Rec.709 color gamut as well which some cheaper projectors cannot.
Using the controls in the Epson it is easy to get the grayscale in line with our targets. We adjusted 30% and 80% points so 100% is slightly off but the rest of the grayscale is close to an error level of 1.0. Color saturations improve here, and the color checker still has some readings above 3.0 but much fewer than before. Overall the Epson cleans up well with some tweaks to the grayscale and CMS and improves the image. It is good out of the box, but a calibration to the SDR mode can dial it in well.
Our HDR calibration uses the updated firmware from the end of 2017 as it changes how HDR is handled. The most noticeable thing about the HC4000 is that you can see the tone mapping starts later to preserve some more highlight details. This can lead to some content being dimmer than it technically should be, but this only applies to TVs. The actual brightness will be completely dependent on your screen size and gain.
Colors are very accurate when you remove the luminance error from them. As the HC4000 is tone mapping differently than an HDR TV to preserve highlights differently, the error levels with luminance included are much higher. Far more interesting is the HDR brightness over time graph. As you can see the brightness of a 10% window ramps up the longer it is on the screen. Given that the Epson has to open the iris and it is dynamic, it takes time to adjust and you can see that in these results.
In the Digital Cinema mode, the Epson covers 98% of the DCI/P3 color gamut, so it can show almost all colors in HDR content, just not at different brightnesses. The color checker is also good, provided you remove the luminance data from it. It might seem odd to remove the luminance information for HDR, but since there isn’t an HDR projection standard, each company is handling how they display the content differently. While a TV should hit those luminance targets, projectors are working differently giving the limitations on them.
Overall the HC4000 performs very well in the calibration testing. The main flaw is going to be that contrast ratio for SDR content which is all due to a higher black level than the 5040UB, but grayscale and colors are great.
Epson HC4000 Conclusions
After testing the Epson HC4000 extensively, it is easy to give it a recommendation to those after a projector for their home. It looks fantastic, it offers flexibility in setup and installation, and it stays nice and quiet while watching a movie. It is ready for the future with HDR and WCG support, even if you haven’t moved to that point yet but you likely will before you know it.
I only add two caveats to my recommendation. If you only watch 1080p content and never want to upgrade, the Sony VPL-HW45ES offers better blacks and slightly better motion quality for about the same price. It lacks all of the easy setup features like a motorized lens, it can’t accept 4K content and doesn’t do HDR or WCG, but it does look a little bit better with 1080p. Two years ago I’d have probably picked the Sony, but with more content coming out in HDR and WCG now, I would get the Epson.
If you have a dedicated theater room, you watch a lot at night with no ambient light or have a light rejecting screen, you should step up to the Epson 5040UB. The improved black levels are easy to see and it makes both SDR and HDR content watching a better experience. If you have ambient light, that is going to negate the benefits of this improved black level, so more casual viewing environments will do just great with the HC4000.
It’s great to see features like HDR and WCG support coming down into projectors that cost under $2,000 like the HC4000 and to see that it does a great job of showing that content. The Epson HC4000 comes highly recommended by me and is the best projector I’ve ever used at this price range.
Features not found on any projector in this price range, full WCG support with good HDR support, easy to install, content looks wonderful on it.
Those with light controlled rooms should spend extra for the 5040UB to get the improved contrast ratios.
The Epson 5040UB was a fantastic projector when we reviewed it last year, and the HC4000 is almost identical. The contrast ratios are lower, so if you have a completely dark room it is worth stepping up to the 5040UB, but those placing it in a living room or family room can save 20-25% while getting otherwise identical image quality.