Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5030UB
Home Theater Projector Review
November 6, 2013
Light output. When it comes to light output, the Home Cinema 5030UB is exceptionally flexible. On the high end of the scale is Dynamic, which on our projector measured 2230 lumens with the lens at its widest angle setting. Before adjustments, Dynamic has a greenish cast, but is useful whenever maximum light output is needed. On our projector, we were able to reduce the green tint to a tolerable level using the RGB Gain/Bias controls for the cost of about 200 lumens, but the end result is a much more balanced picture that is useful in a greater number of situations.
Living Room mode, measuring 1735 lumens on our projector, has a bluish tint that pushes color temperature up to around 8000K. This cooler tone actually helps to fight ambient light, which is predominantly yellow, when the projector is used in a living room or other non-theater environment. However, Living Room is also a great mode to use if you want a bright, engaging picture that does not require a lot of fiddling with the controls. By taking the Color Temperature slider from +3 to +1, you'll end up with a picture that measures 6300K to 6500K across the grayscale with no effort on your part. Making this color temperature adjustment lowers light output slightly to 1550 lumens, an 11% decrease.
Natural and Cinema mode, at 871 and 805 lumens, are quite similar, with only some differences in gamma and color gamut separating them from each other. Both Natural and Cinema default to low power lamp mode, though the measurements above were taken with the lamp at full power.
The 5030UB includes a preset called B&W Cinema that is tailored for the display of black and white movies. Coming in at 740 lumens with the lamp at full power, B&W Cinema has a color temperature around 5500K, which is ideal for old black and white films.
When it comes to pure home theater image quality, THX mode is hard to beat. It has more accurate color than the 5030UB's other image modes, which calibration improves even further, and the best contrast performance as well. THX mode at its factory settings measures 690 lumens with the lamp at full power and 512 lumens at low power. Our calibration, which improved both white balance and color gamut, resulted in a final light output of 479 lumens.
Most projectors' low lamp modes reduce light output by a consistent percentage in all image modes, but this is not the case on the 5030UB. Switching from "Normal" to "ECO" lamp in Dynamic mode reduces output by 21%, but making the same adjustment in Living Room mode results in a 28.5% reduction. Cinema, Natural, and THX modes all lose 26% when dropping to low power lamp mode. Please note that in THX mode, the low power lamp setting is called "Normal" while full power is called "Extra Bright." In all other image modes, low power is "ECO" and full power is "Normal." That can get a touch confusing, and is why we've opted to use the terms "full power" and "low power" in this section.
The 5030UB's 2.1:1 zoom lens allows different amounts of light to pass depending on zoom position. The lens's wide angle position passes the maximum amount of light, which is reflected in our lumen readings above. But the maximum telephoto setting, which produces the smallest image size at a given throw distance, restricts light output by 44%. As an example, THX mode drops from 512 lumens to 287 lumens with the lamp at low power -- a significant reduction that could affect your choice of screen size. This is important to keep in mind when mounting your projector.
Contrast. The UB on the end of the 5030UB's name stands for Ultra Black, and if anything that's a modest assessment. The 5030UB has an automatic iris that effectively combines aggressive performance with unnoticeable operation, leading to the best black levels available in a home theater projector in this price range. When combined with the projector's sparkling highlights and well-defined shadow detail, the end result is a projector that can handle the most difficult Blu-ray content without breaking a sweat. The dynamic range of the 5030UB's image gives it a three-dimensional quality that makes it a real pleasure to watch.
If you want to fine-tune the 5030UB's handling of shadow detail, the projector has very good controls for gamma adjustment, allowing you to individually adjust ten points along the gamma curve. If you are more visually-minded or lack the required hardware to do a full calibration, the system will also allow you to pick a point in the image and then make adjustments from there. That can be especially helpful when you can see what's wrong in the image and want to fix it right away.
Color. When evaluating color on a home theater projector, we are looking for two things. The first is good, if not great, color performance straight out of the box. The second is the ability to fine-tune the projector until it looks even better. The Home Cinema 5030UB delivers both.
Straight out of the box, the 5030UB defaults to THX mode. On our test unit, factory-preset THX mode has a consistent grayscale that measures around 6000K. If you don't own the equipment needed to calibrate your projector and don't want to pay someone else to take a crack at it, you can adjust the color temperature slider upwards by a point or two and call it a day.
THX mode, factory settings
The only problem with this quick calibration is that it lacks green, so while the red/blue balance is almost right where it should be, the picture still looks wrong. On our projector, we corrected for this by adding green and then decreasing red by a few points. The result is a smooth, consistent grayscale that's right around 6500K across the board, aside from a tiny spike at 100% illumination.
|Epson 5030UB, THX mode
|Color Temperature: 7500K
THX mode, calibrated
The 5030UB has a full color management system, and while the gamut in THX mode wasn't far from the Rec. 709 color space to begin with, we found the system exceptionally easy to use. We ended up making a significant improvement to the 5030UB's color gamut with just a few minutes' work using our color meter.
Color gamut after calibration
Living Room, at its default settings, measures right around 8000K, but as stated earlier it can be corrected with a quick nudge to the Color Temperature slider. The end result isn't nearly as precise as the THX calibration above, but it is definitely serviceable.
Living Room mode with quick adjustments applied
Cinema mode can be every bit as accurate as THX mode, given a little bit of work. The factory settings of our projector give Cinema too much green and a color temperature that ranges between 5900K on the low end and 6400K on the high end.
Cinema mode, factory settings
After reducing red and increasing green a bit, our final Cinema calibration actually measured brighter than the factory setting thanks to the extra green, and grayscale tracking was much improved as well.
Cinema mode, calibrated
What's impressive about the 5030UB isn't that it can be calibrated, because all modern home theater projectors can be calibrated if you have enough time and patience. What is impressive is how easy it is to calibrate the projector, given a color meter and an hour's time. By the end of our adjustments, we were left with three accurately-calibrated image presets that wrung out every drop of the 5030UB's potential.
Input lag. If you're into gaming, you'll want the least input lag possible. That is achieved by switching from "Fine" Image Processing to "Fast." This setting is designed specifically to reduce input lag, and resulted in only 37 milliseconds of lag, a touch over two frames. While this isn't the fastest home theater projector on the market, it is certainly a marked improvement over last year's 5020UB at 50 milliseconds. Note that "Fast" processing has a softening effect on the picture that reduces the appearance of fine detail, and this reduction in apparent resolution is most visible when there is a lot of small text or other detail on the screen. Depending on what kind of game you're playing, that softness could be invisible, obvious, or anywhere in between.
If you use the standard default settings, which include "Fine" Image Processing, the 5030UB measures 91 milliseconds of input lag, equivalent to five and a half frames of a 60fps signal. That's slower than last year's Home Cinema 5020UB (67 ms) and equal to the Home Cinema 5010 (92ms).
Several features increase input lag even more when activated. Frame Interpolation is the worst offender at 183 milliseconds, or about 11 frames. It did not matter which level of Frame Interpolation was applied; all three settings result in the same increase. Super Resolution, on the other hand, only increases input lag to 102 milliseconds or six frames, a half-frame increase over the baseline.
The end result is that the 5030UB is faster in "Fast" mode but slower in other modes than the 5020UB was last year. Since gamers who care about input lag are unlikely to use anything but the fastest setting available, this comes out as a win for the new model.