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Epson Home Cinema 4010 vs. 5040UB

Rob Sabin, November 21, 2018
Review Contents

Epson HC4010 vs Epson HC5040UB:
HDR Tone-Mapping

The Epson 4010 and 5040UB are engineered to recognize content mastered for HDR10, the most common form of HDR that's found on UHD Blu-ray discs and some streamed content. HDR content is often mastered to deliver bright highlights of 1,000 nits or more, well beyond the capability of most projectors and barely within the capabilities of today's better flatpanel TVs. So all consumer displays have to remap the content to make it look best within their own usable dynamic range. This so-called "tone-mapping" inevitably leads to compromise. Sometimes, highlights are necessarily clipped in order to achieve maximum visceral impact and punch, but at the sacrifice of accepting blooming and a loss of detail in these bright sections of the image.

The 4010 and 5040 each offer the same manual settings for HDR, labeled HDR Mode 1, 2, 3, and 4. There are also two automatic settings that kick in when the projector sees an HDR10 flag in the conent: Auto (Bright) is equivalent to HDR Mode 1, and Auto is equivalent to selecting HDR Mode 2. As you progress in the settings from Mode 1 to Mode 4, the overall image gets progressively darker, and in doing so the the brightest highlights in the content are reduced in brightness to curtail or eliminate clipping and retain more detail. So, your HDR setting is by nature a trade-off. If you're watching in a dark theater and want super-bright, impactful highlights that render more emotional impact, set it for Mode 1 or Mode 2, but expect to lose, for example, the circular perimeter that defines the shape of a setting sun, and maybe some of the detail and contrast in the clouds or landscape surrounding it. If you want to see more of the detail in those areas, use Mode 3 or Mode 4, but you'll be sacrificing the bright highlights that give HDR its emotive effect.

I started my HDR comparison of the projectors by calling up the HDR grayscale test patterns that are hidden as an Easter Egg on many Sony-released UHD Blu-ray titles. You start at the Top Menu of any Sony UHD disc, call up the number entry function on your player or access the remote's numeric keypad, and type in 7-6-6-9. A variety of 100-nit color targets and 10-step grayscale patterns come up. The grayscale patterns cover the ranges from 0 nits through 100 nits, 100 nits through 1000 nits, 1000 through 2000 nits, and 2000 through 10,000 nits. (All displayed as 4K/24p, 12-bit, 4:2:2 HDR on the Epsons.)

HDR Grayscale Step Pattern
HDR grayscale step pattern with Epson HDR menu (pattern courtesy of Sony)

With the low-black step pattern, 0-100 nits, it was easy to see that when the projectors are in HDR Mode 1 or Mode 2 the 4010 slightly better handled the first very fine steps out of black, showing more distinction between the steps below 1 nit. In Mode 2, everything above 5 nits takes on less brightness and punch, and the 5040's lower black floor seems to come into play and further dulls things beyond what Mode 2 does to the image on the 4010, which retained a little more punch. Go to Mode 3, and everything below 1 nit on the 5040 is crushed into black, while the 4010 retains some modest delineation in the intermediate steps from black to that level. By the time you get to Mode 4, the 5 nit bar on both projectors takes a big hit in brightness along with all the higher steps, casting a kind of pall over the image on both projectors. But the 4010 still shows more even gradation below that 5 nit level compared with the 5040.

On the higher end of the scale, the 100-1000 nit steps showed that in Mode 1 or Mode 2, both projectors basically clip everything above 500 nits. The 4010 continued to show greater distinction between the steps below that point, however, with more natural gradation from 100 to 200 nits. Moving to Mode 3 or 4 allows display of all the steps in this pattern up to 1000 nits, though at much lower brightness. Mode 4 was also the only setting that doesn't fully clip every step on the 1000-2000 nit grayscale pattern. In that mode, both projectors showed all the steps, however they also both showed a lack of delineation in the steps from 1,300 to 1,500 nits.

Taken in total, the step patterns suggest that while there is not a huge difference in how the 4010 and 5040 render HDR, it would appear that Epson's tone mapping in the 4010 makes for somewhat better delineation of shadings coming out of black and less crushing of near black, and perhaps a bit more fineness in the handling of small differences in brightness up to perhaps 400 nits—near its peak output capabilties in HDR Mode 1 and Mode 2.

To check some real-world content, I dialed up a super-bright HDR torture clip from the movie Pan that I've seen used in manufacturer demos and as test fodder in the Value Electronics TV Shootout I recently helped judge. In Chapter 2, Peter gets kidnapped and taken aboard a flying pirate ship that makes its way toward Neverland. At 00:18:56, the ship navigates directly into a bright, setting sun in a sky punctuated by clouds and glassy-looking bubble spheres of water that contain swimming fish. The sun is so bright in this CGI-generated scene that most displays fully blow it out and turn the sun and everything around it into a giant, yellow blotch. If you turn the HDR setting on the Epsons down to Mode 4 on this scene you've dimmed the overall picture enough to tame it and make evident the sun's peripheral outline and the clouds in front of it. At that setting there was no clear advantage for either projector, but nor was the image quality really bright enough to provide any real visual impact.

However, in the brighter modes, despite losing the firm outline of the sun and seeing the surface textures blown out on the big bubble sphere at center screen, the 4010 delivered some subtle but noticeable improvements over the 5040. At HDR Mode 3 the 4010 showed more punch overall, and a bit more detail in the sun's outline in the clipped area. There was no doubt I was getting a little better contrast on this bright scene with the 4010—the wispy horizontal clouds that shroud the sun are in greater relief and the clouds can be seen reaching out further into the sun's halo. That contrast advantage became even clearer in HDR Mode 2, Epson's recommended mode, where the outline of the ship as it's heading into the sun appears darker and less washed out against the hyper-bright background. You can also see more of the darker shadings in some of the clouds, which gave them back some of their depth and dimensionality.

On HDR scenes that were darker overall or had a mix of dark and bright elements, the deeper native black level of the 5040 was sometimes visible, but not often in the brighter HDR Modes 1 and 2, which I always preferred for their punch and impact regardless of any loss of detail from the clipping. I mentioned earlier the scene from It, for example—an HDR scene that clearly benefitted from the 5040's contrast advantage. On mixed scenes that advantage was less pronounced. In the New York Library sequence in Oblivion (Chpter 3, 00:17:20), Tom Cruise's character is shown with backlighting behind him and the bright spot beam on his weapon facing toward the camera into the darkness. In HDR Mode 1, there was no difference between the projectors in the intensity of the spotlight when it's visible, but the 5040's deeper blacks brought out just a touch more shadow detail in the dimly lit debris visible in the darkness one floor below. Again, a subtle difference that would likely be missed in the absence of direct A/B comparison.

With all that said, we'll give this last round to the 4010 for its marginally better HDR performance on a range of material.

Epson HC4010 vs. Epson HC5040UB: Conclusion

To sum up the findings, there are three key takeaways from our shoot-out:

  • The HC5040 has better contrast and, especially, lower black levels that far exceed the capabilities of the HC4010, but which are really only brought to bear on very dark scenes, and in dark-room theater viewing. On most bright or mixed material, or in even moderate ambient light, both projectors are close in contrast performance.

  • The jury is still out on the added value of Epson's new updated 4K PRO-UHD pixel shifting technology. It did not appear in my testing to give the HC4010 any clearly discernible advantage over the 5040 in the rendering of detail, and in fact, the 5040's marginally better performance in this area on some types of scenes may have been the result of that projector's superior contrast overwhelming any modest benefit from the revised pixel-shifting. We'll wait for an opportunity to hopefully compare the 5040 with the 5040's successor before passing judgement on 4K PRO-UHD.

  • Epson appears to have made some small but noticeable improvements in the handling of HDR content in the 4010, though these are hardly significant enough to justify passing on the 5040's higher contrast and deeper blacks if one's inclinations and budget permits.

In the final analysis, then, I can't come to any conclusion that's radically different from what Evan arrived at when he faced off the 5040 with the 4000, the 4010's predecessor, other than to perhaps place higher value on the 5040's better blacks. My own opinion is that if you care about having a great picture for dark-room/dark-scene performance, it's worth seriously considering the 5040. Granted, it's a significant $500 premium over the 4010—about 28%—but $2,299 is still a fair price for such a solidly built, well-featured, high-performance projector. The passionate home theater enthusiast will come to appreciate what this projector does right with the toughest content.

On the other hand, if your budget is tighter, or your application calls mostly for viewing in ambient light, save the $500 or put it toward a UHD Blu-ray player or discs and buy the HC4010. It can't be described as the best overall performer among these two, a title still held by the HC5040 and one that will likely be inherited by the 5040's successor. But the HC4010 can be said to deliver most of the performance of the HC5040 on the vast majority of viewing material. And among these two, it most certainly remains the best value.

Previous 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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