Epson Home Cinema 4010 vs. 5040UB
Epson HC4010 vs Epson HC5040UB:
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.)
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.
|Review Contents:||Overview,Contrast and Black Level||Resolution and Detail||HDR Tone Mapping and Conclusion|
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