Common Core - Epson's Home Theater Projectors
Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema 4030
Home Theater Projector Review
December 5, 2013
The following items are common to all three of Epson's new home theater projectors, and so represent the common core of Epson's projector technology. Unsurprisingly, these features are more or less a list of reasons why many people buy Epson home theater projectors.
Placement flexibility. Epson's projectors feature a 2.1:1 manual zoom/focus lens with horizontal and vertical lens shift, which is also manually controlled. The zoom lens can create a 120" diagonal 16:9 image from throw distances between 11'9" to 25' 1". The lens shift has a total range of 3 image heights and 2 image widths, with the middle position putting the center of the lens at the center of the screen. The range of the lens shift is roughly oval-shaped, so you cannot reach maximum horizontal and maximum vertical shift simultaneously.
Super Resolution. Epson's smart sharpening system, called Super Resolution, can increase the appearance of fine detail. The system identifies blurred portions of the source image and selectively applies sharpening to these areas, then compares the sharpened image to the original and attempts to minimize the differences in order to reduce artifacts. Super Resolution shows improvement compared to last year's implementation, leading to an increased perception of detail with fewer artifacts overall. When taken too far, it can still cause mild ringing or artificiality, but a setting of 2 or 3 (out of 5) is effective while still being subtle.
Full HD 3D. Epson's 3D system is as hassle-free as it gets. The system uses radio-frequency glasses synchronization to eliminate interference with remote control signals. The projectors have multiple dedicated 3D viewing presets which can be calibrated independently, allowing you to save more than one calibration for 3D viewing. This makes it easy to have a bright setting for television and animation and a more subtle, reserved setting for film.
The 3D Glasses (model ELP-GS03) are lightweight and comfortable, and their batteries are rechargeable over USB (a cable is included with each pair). Each projector comes with two pairs of 3D glasses, and additional eyewear costs $99 from Epson.
3D brightness can be adjusted to one of three levels, which allows the user to trade between image brightness and crosstalk elimination based on the content being viewed. The default setting is Medium, which allows 25% total light transmission. Medium brightness effectively eliminates crosstalk in all but the most difficult content, and was our preferred setting throughout testing. Low brightness, at 18.5% light transmission, removes any trace of crosstalk whatsoever, but also restricts screen size due to less light making it to your eyes. High brightness, at 29.5% transmission, is great for 3D content where crosstalk is less of a concern. While we did not switch away from Medium very often, we appreciated having the option available for those times when the content demanded a different approach.
B&W Cinema. Black and white movies look their best at around 5500K color temperature, which is close to the color temperature of the commercial projection systems in use back in the 1940's and 50's. When you try to watch them in a mode that has been optimized for color films, they end up looking cold and uninteresting. The Epson 4030, 5030UB, and 6030UB all include the "B&W Cinema" image preset which is intended to display classic black and white films as they were originally seen in theaters. It's a big help when you're a fan of the classics but don't want to adjust your Cinema calibration every time you watch a black and white film.
Picture in Picture. As the name implies, Picture in Picture (PIP) displays a small secondary image from a separate source in a corner of the larger main image. Epson's home theater projectors have had PIP capability for years, but this year the system is able to use HDMI inputs for both images. This is a big deal -- in the past, projectors typically had one set of HDMI circuitry, and could not use digital sources for both inputs. The use of two digital sources for PIP is a first for Epson home theater projectors and may in fact be unique in the market today.
Lamp. All three projectors use the same 230-watt E-TORL lamp, which is rated for 4,000 hours of use at full power and 5,000 hours in Eco-mode. Replacement lamps cost $299 each.
Low to moderate fan noise. Perhaps due to the use of a relatively low-wattage lamp in a large chassis, none of Epson's new home theater models creates much audible noise in eco-mode. Eco-mode is nearly silent, and sitting any farther than a foot away from the projector means you won't hear it running. In full lamp power mode the fan noise can be noticeable during quiet interludes in a film, but it is low in pitch and not overly distracting.
Warranty. Each projector has, at minimum, a two-year warranty which includes 90 days of lamp coverage. The Pro Cinema 6030 and 4030 extend this warranty to three years. Up to two years of additional warranty coverage is available for purchase on the 5030, if desired.
Automatic iris. Epson has perfected the automatic iris by creating a system that is both effective and unobtrusive. The iris deepens black levels in scenes with low illumination. It has two settings, Normal and High Speed, with High Speed being the more aggressive of the two -- the iris in High Speed appears to react more quickly than in Normal mode.
Connectivity. All three projectors have two HDMI ports, 3-RCA component input, a 12V trigger, and an RS-232C port for external command and control. The Home Cinema 5030 has a wireless model, the 5030UBe, which also include a WirelessHD transmitter with 5 additional HDMI inputs and MHL compatibility.
Calibration and customization. The menu system gives the user total control over color, contrast, and gamma. Each projector features full RGB Gain/Bias controls for grayscale adjustment as well as a full color management system for fine-tuning gamut. Each projector also has at least some amount of control over gamma. Ten user memory locations allow you to save different calibrations for the same image mode without overwriting your previous settings, and these memory slots can be renamed as well.
Panel alignment. The panel alignment system can correct for convergence errors, which are almost an inevitability in a three-chip light engine. As the projector is used and components age, there may be some tiny shifts in the positioning of the LCD panels used to create the image. Using the panel alignment system, you can correct for these shifts without sending the projector out for service, thereby reducing downtime and expense.
Key Features of the Pro Cinema 4030
2D picture quality. The 4030's main attraction is definitely image quality. The projector's 2D picture is high in contrast, giving it a three-dimensional quality, and color is quite accurate after some fine-tuning. The projector's auto iris improves black level when it is most needed. The picture has plenty of detail, and Super Resolution only increases that perception when it is used.
3D picture quality. The 4030's 3D picture has no noticeable flicker, almost zero crosstalk, and is bright enough to display on large screens. 3D brightness is a big deal, and a lack thereof can contribute to eyestrain and headaches. 3D Dynamic mode is bright enough to power a 100" diagonal 1.3 gain screen at 14 fL using the Low 3D brightness setting, and that measurement already accounts for light loss from the 3D glasses. Using those same settings, the Medium brightness setting is just about bright enough for a 120" diagonal screen.
The "Pro Cinema" package. The Pro Cinema 4030 includes a number of extras not included with Epson's Home Cinema models. Collectively, we've taken to calling this the "Pro Cinema" package. These include a Chief ceiling mount, a spare lamp, a cable cover, and a three-year warranty instead of the standard two.
As it happens, Epson does sell all of those accessories separately. If you were to purchase a spare lamp ($299), Chief RPA Elite ceiling mount kit ($296.99), cable cover ($50), and an additional one year repair/exchange extended service plan ($279.99), you'd end up spending $925.98. As the 4030 sells for $2,499 total, that puts the cost for the actual projector right around fifteen hundred bucks. For a projector with this image quality and feature set, that's a steal.
There is also the additional benefit of working with a local projector professional. Since the 4030 is sold through custom installation professionals and specialized dealers rather than Internet vendors, you get the benefit of a local point of contact in the event that something goes wrong or you have a question about the product that isn't answered in the manual. In other words, you get customer service from a real person you've met before.
ISF Certified. The Pro Cinema 4030 is ISF certified. ISF Certification guarantees that the projector's controls are independent, meaning they do not affect one another -- so when you adjust white balance, for example, you will not see a shift in brightness or color saturation. The projector does not include any additional menu options or image controls as a result of this certification.