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Epson Home Cinema 4010 vs. 5040UB

Rob Sabin, November 21, 2018
Review Contents

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.

Epson HC4010 and HC5040
The Epson HC4010 and HC5040 share the same housing and look identical from the outside.

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:

Home Cinema
4010
Home Cinema
5040UB
-------
-------
Lumens
2400
2500
Contrast
200,000:1
1,000,000:1
Price
$1,799 (street price)
$2,299 (street price)

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.

Next Page
Resolution and Detail
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:




Reader Comments(11 comments)

Posted Nov 22, 2018 7:38 AM PST

By David Rivera

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Great to be reaffirmed on my choice to hold on to my 5040UB until the direct incoming replacement. I am hopeful that the 5040 replacement will follow JVC's lead with a native 4k projector. Whether you choose the 4010 or 5040,you will know that Epson delivers the most quality bang for your dollar. Thanks Rob for much appreciated comparison review.

drny

Posted Nov 22, 2018 10:24 AM PST

By William L Carman

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Hi Rob,

I was very pleased to have your comparison review of these two fine projectors as an unexpected Thanksgiving present! Since I have had the use of the 5040's predecessor for the last five years using it in a completely blacked out room, it is obvious from your careful comparisons that as much as I might like the 4010, (or even perhaps the 4000) in the end I would probably be unhappy with the black level of either one. Yes, I would like all of the improvements, but in the end, black matters in video projection.

Thanks again for a very thorough comparison. I appreciate it.

Posted Nov 22, 2018 12:20 PM PST

By DavidK

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The announcement of Epson's 4050/4010 seemed to be accompanied by a great deal of fanfare, not just from Epson but from some members of the AV Press. Your comparison confirms my thoughts; without contrast its just a bunch of marketing hyperbole. Glad to read your confirmation that the 5040UB upgrade is on its way, evolutionary as it may be.

Posted Nov 22, 2018 4:02 PM PST

By Toby

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And I can assume that 3D viewing will be the same on both projectors?

Posted Nov 22, 2018 7:12 PM PST

By Rob Sabin, Editor

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Toby, I didn't actually look at 3D on the 5040UB for this evaluation, but I would expect it to be similar since both projectors are tuned essentially alike and have about the same lumen output. I found 3D on the 4010 excellent when I reviewed that projector but thought it really benefited from the extra punch I got with the high power lamp mode, which also drives up fan noise.

Posted Nov 23, 2018 6:04 AM PST

By Tom Roseman

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Great review. I am thinking of upgrading my Epson Home Cinema 6100. And I am not sure if I want the Epson 4010 or the Optoma UHD51A. Or even a little step up to the 5040 or the UHD60. What are your thoughts on those?

Posted Nov 23, 2018 6:15 PM PST

By Rob Sabin, Editor

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Tom, I've not spent any time with the UHD51A but I have it in house and hope to have a look at it alongside the 4010 and pass along comments at a later date. One thing I can say is that the 4010 is much more fully featured projector given its powered lens functions,and that the usual differences between DLP and 3LCD or 3-chip LCoS models applies: no chance of rainbows on a 3-chip projector, though color-wheel rainbows are not usually an issue with the UHD51A...or most Optoma projectors, from what I understand.

Posted Nov 25, 2018 12:13 AM PST

By Michael B.

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Hi Rob, Thanks for this detailed comparison. It's one that I've been looking for. I have to ask if the 5040 had the latest firmware installed? I understand there was a fairly recent update that made some changes to the HDR modes and Tone mapping. From your description of the subtle differences in 4k pixel shifting and mapping of the presets this is a change that might be accomplished via a firmware update to the 4000 and 5040. I've seen the spec sheets for the 5040's replacement on European and UK sites, and the primary (and significant) difference is the HDMI interface. The new replacement will finally have an 18Gbs HDMI port. This is especially good news for those with game consoles that utilize the high framerate, as well as for HDR content. It's listed as supporting HDR10, HLG and 4k/60fps HDR at 18GPS. I haven't seen the specifics. Will the interface support 4k/60 at 4:4:4, or what are wireless TW9400W limits? In any case, if Epson carries the high bitrate processing through, it should also impact the HDR tests, which I can't help but think are limited by the current 10Gbs 4k/24 4:2:2 interface of an otherwise outstanding and amazing projector. In your conversations with Epson, did they mention this or the projected US release date? (Pun intended). I'd love to test one (as would many I'm sure) as I'm in the midst of updating my entertainment system, and have held off the decision until this comes out. It's a bit off track for the comparison you did, but certainly relevant to the conversation, particularly about the firmware changes to the 5040.

Posted Nov 25, 2018 1:00 AM PST

By Rob Sabin, Editor

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Michael, I'm glad you brought up the 5040UB firmware, because it's a key point that was left out of the review. It now reflects that I was in fact using the most recent firmware. Just prior to my evaluation, I updated our 5040UB sample myself to current firmware, which directly addressed HDR tone-mapping and controls in the 5040UB and the HC4000. I didn't spend a lot of time looking at the pre-update projector, but along with whatever other differences might have been applied, this firmware added an "Auto (Bright)" option to the 5040UB's Dynamic Range HDR settings. Previously it had only an "Auto" setting along with the four manual HDR modes. I did observe that before the upgrade, the 5040's HDR Mode 1 was considerably less bright than the 4010's HDR Mode 1, and was about equivalent to the 4010's HDR Mode 2 in direct comparisons. After the firmware update, each setting was essentially equivalent on both models, minus whatever subtle differences I detected and reported on in the review.

As for the 5040UB's pending replacement, I have no further information beyond what others have noted about the European version, which is all very encouraging. I would not assume, however, that the new 18Gbps ports will have any direct effect on HDR tone-mapping. What it should allow is the ability to play 4K/60 HDR content, vs topping out at 4K/24 HDR the way the current 4010 and 5040UB do. So other than adding the ability to do HDR with 60 Hz videogames, I doubt the extra bandwidth will affect the tone-mapping algorithm on other HDR content played at the slower frame rate. I am anxious to review the new model when it comes out and hope we'll get to do a side-by-side with the 5040UB it replaces.

Posted Nov 25, 2018 12:29 PM PST

By Rob Sabin, Editor

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CMR, when we're talking about three very capable projectors like the 4000, 4010, and 5040, it's probably true that most differences between them would be hard to ascertain in the absence of direct A/B comparison or prior experience with one or the other. But this doesn't mean there aren't meaningful differences, which is why we do these A/B's in the first place. We weren't able to do a direct A/B between the 4000 and 4010, but I'd guess those differences (primarily more light output and a little better rated contrast) would not be meaningful even in direct comparison in a dark room. The results of our 4010/5040UB comparison, which you've read here, is in the contrast and black level on those dark scenes, and that's a very visible difference. That said, if you're looking to do high ambient light viewing, then yes -- it might actually make more sense to get the least expensive of these three and invest the balance in a good ALR screen, which by nature boosts contrast in ambient light. The 5040UB advantage on dark scenes would likely be lost anyway with ambient light.

Regarding A/B comparisons, there are different ways to do this but in my case only one of the projectors is actively omitting light into the room and on to a shared screen at any given time. A video splitter is used to send the same signal to both projectors, and I use a pair of cardboard light barriers and block the projector that's not in use. The arrangement allows for very quick switching between the images and the detection of small differences.

Posted Nov 25, 2018 5:51 PM PST

By CMR

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Thanks for this comparison. I imagine there are many people like me unsure when it's worth pulling the trigger on a 4K projector with prices plummeting and upgrades coming so fast. It's exciting, but I feel like it's almost inevitable that whenever I buy, a month or 2 later I'll have reason to wish I'd waited another month or two!

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the impression I get from these reviews is that if I'm not actually scrutinizing them side-by-side, I'm probably not going to notice much difference between the 4000, 4010, and 5040UB. Even greater than the $500 difference between the street price of the 4010 and 5040UB is the $800 between the 4000 and 5040UB. I'm wondering if all these differences wouldn't be overshadowed by buying the 4000 and putting investing the extra $800 in a screen. Especially since in three years, Epson will probably have something that runs circles around all three of these projectors, while a good screen will take a lot longer to become obsolete.

A question, by the way: how can you do a side-by-side comparison without the light from each projector affecting the picture quality of the other? Obviously ambient light is going to affect black levels significantly; how do we know this test proves anything other than that the 5040UB is better than the 4010 at maintaining its black levels when there's another ~2500 lumen light source in the room?

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