Epson Home Cinema 4010 vs. 5040UB
When the Epson Home Cinema 4050 4K PRO-UHD projector was introduced at September's CEDIA Expo, Epson touted some improvements over earlier models. Among these was an update to its 1080p pixel-shifting technology that came with the claim of delivering equal detail to even some native 4K projectors. Alongside this, Epson also cited revised tone-mapping to benefit the rendering of HDR (high dynamic range) content found on UHD Blu-rays and some streamed content.
The release just a few weeks later of the Epson Home Cinema 4010, the consumer version of this projector, set off a bit of stir among projector enthusiasts. Along with the above-mentioned improvements, the 4010 came with a couple hundred more lumens of output than its predecessor, the Epson Home Cinema 4000, and with a marginally boosted contrast ratio. With its $2199 list price and $1799 street price, the 4010 was also starting out $200 below the initial price of the HC4000. ProjectorCentral's readers began asking how the Home Cinema 4010 compares with the Home Cinema 5040UB, which at this writing remains the direct step-up model to the HC4010. It offers similar features coupled with significantly higher rated contrast and deeper black levels, the result of Epson's Ultra Black "UB" 3LCD imagers. What is the value of the improved pixel shifting and HDR in the 4010—are these monumental or just evolutionary changes? And how about the impact of the additional contrast and light output? Would these two projectors now be so close in performance that one could more easily justify skipping the $500 premium for the HC5040? Let's try to get those answers.
What is the Difference Between the Epson HC4010 and HC5040UB?
As with the Epson HC4000 vs. the HC5040UB, which my colleague Evan Powell faced off in July 2017, the new HC4010 and HC5040UB have much more in common than they do differences. Both offer a number of higher-end projector features not typically found at their price points, including robust and heavy build quality; the same outstanding 2.1x zoom, 15 glass-element lens that Epson "over-engineered" a couple of years ago to insure its longevity into future model years; compatibility with 4K/UHD HDR content, resolution enhancement via 1080p pixel-shifting; powered lens functions including long-range lens shift and 10 lens position memories for use with constant image height (CIH) widescreen installs; a dynamic iris to help boost contrast performance on dark scenes; and 1080p 3D playback. Both projectors use exactly the same white housing, which is why one photo is used here to illustrate them. The obvious differences in specifications between the models are limited to the following:
Along with these measurable differences in rated brightness/contrast and the $500 price gap, are the previously mentioned updated pixel-shifting, which Epson calls 4K PRO-UHD, and the improved HDR tone-mapping, which are both found in the newer and less expensive model. Both of these new advances are expected to turn up in future Epson models, including a still unannounced but imminently pending update to the HC5040.
Except as otherwise noted, I had both projectors set to the Digital Cinema color mode in its default settings for all of my evaluations. Also, readers should note that my 5040UB sample was updated just prior to my evaluation to the latest firmware, which directly addresses HDR tone-mapping for older Home Cinema HDR models. Those with a HC5040UB or HC4000 can find the update instructions here and the firmware here.
Epson HC4010 vs Epson HC5040UB: Contrast & Black Level
Let's start with the elephant in the room: contrast and black level. These are, more than anything, how Epson delineates these two models, which are otherwise so close in max lumen output as to be virtually the same.
When Evan compared the HC5040UB with the HC4000, the gist of his findings were that the HC5040 had about the same perceived contrast on most content and noticeably deeper blacks that were visible only under certain conditions. Specifically, dark room viewing on scenes with low average picture level (APL) allowed the 5040UB to show off obviously deeper blacks in dark areas of the image and letterbox bars, as well as marginally better contrast in some areas of some images on more mixed scenes with a combination of bright and dark sections. These differences, particularly in the black level, could be detected in direct comparisons, but any contrast/black level deficiencies in the HC4000 were never egregious and it basically looked very good in this regard for projectors in this price range. Turn up the lights for ambient light viewing, and any contrast/black level advantages of the 5040UB were largely eliminated.
Well, after some hours of evaluation, I'm here to tell you that even with its modest bump in rated contrast, the new 4010 compares about the same with the 5040UB as the HC4000 did. In dark room theater viewing of many typical bright and mixed APL scenes, I was hard-pressed to find any differences at all between the two projectors. In that regard, I came away even more impressed with how the less-pricey 4010 over-delivers on the vast majority of program material.
But introduce really dark, challenging scenes, and the 5040 absolutely outclasses the 4010, with or without its dynamic iris turned on. On these dark scenes, which cause the viewer's own iris's to open wider and therefore delineate finer differences between gray and black, the 5040's advantage was not only noticeable but staggering at times.
Take for example an early scene from the Stephen King horror movie It, when the main character Bill sends his six-year old brother Georgie to the creepy basement of their home to fetch some wax for the paper sailboat he's making for him (chapter 1, 00:02:58). The whole scene is drenched in darkness and shadows to evoke the ominous and horrifying events yet to come. I used the UHD Blu-ray for this, with HDR Dynamic Range in Auto mode (Epson's recommended setting and equivalent to the manual HDR 2 mode). As Georgie stands atop the stairs and peers down, the black of the darkness behind him, as well as in the letterbox bars, is distinctly deeper and more solid on the 5040. In fact, the entire image on the 4010 appears to have a haze over it by comparison. At the same time, even in such a dim scene, the good contrast between the darkness and the highlights on Georgie's barely lit face adds greater depth to the image on the 5040, and there's a noticeable difference in color saturation in the boy's skin and hair that also makes the 5040 look more natural.
A quick look at everybody's favorite black-level torture test, the opening of Chapter 12 in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (00:46:05), revealed similar results. In this scene, Voldemort's army of Death Eaters is assembled in the moonlight on a rock outcropping overlooking Hogwarts, readying for their attack. Their faces are highlighted by the moonlight, while their black robes and the surrounding mountain landscape in the distance are drenched in dark shadows. On this scene from the Blu-ray (1080p SDR), the 5040 crushed some of the details in their robes and faces that the 4010 initially revealed, but a couple of clicks up on the 5040's Brightness control brought these out without any meaningful sacrifice in black level. Meanwhile, the depth of black on the 5040 gave its image a punchy solidity, while the 4010 exhibited the same shade of gray seen earlier.
I should put this in perspective: These are very difficult scenes for any projector—indeed, for any type of display—and while neither of these projectors should be considered state-of-the-art for contrast, these clips were not by any means unwatchable on the 4010. But if black level and dark-scene contrast are the holy grail that separates the good, better, and best home theater projectors, the 5040 was clearly the alpha here—and not by a little bit.
Round 1 for contrast and blacks goes to the Home Cinema 5040UB, hands down.
|Review Contents:||Overview,Contrast and Black Level||Resolution and Detail||HDR Tone Mapping and Conclusion|
Buy the Epson Home Cinema 4010 online here:
Buy the Epson Home Cinema 5040UB online here: