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Epson Home Cinema 4010 vs. 5040UB

Rob Sabin, November 21, 2018

Epson HC 4010 vs Epson HC5040UB: Resolution & Detail

Epson has referred in the past to its 1080p pixel-shifting technology as "4K Enhanced" and now calls its improved tech "4K PRO-UHD." Technically speaking, the company has made adjustments in this latest iteration that have the effect of shortening the transition time between the pixel shifts while also keeping the pixels on-screen for a marginally longer period, which is said to improve rendering of detail.

Additionally, this and previous generations of Epson's pixel-shifting solution utilize a degree of image processing to enhance contrast characteristics. Some of this processing may be handled differently in this new version, though both systems appear to behave similarly in use. If you look at a Sharpness test pattern and turn on the 4K Enhancement function, as you move up the range from Preset 1 (least enhancement) to Preset 5 (most enhancement), it has the effect of adding white halos to horizontal and vertical black lines—essentially the effect of classic edge enhancement. The first two 4K Enhancement settings add little halo to the lines on the pattern but do noticeably crisp up the image. (Epson uses Preset 2 as its default in most of the preferred color modes.) The step between Preset 2 and Preset 3 is the most dramatic, with a much larger boost in edge enhancement (and perceived detail), while those between Presets 3, 4, and 5 are fairly subtle.

Epson 4K PRO-UHD Pixel-Shifting
Epson's 4K PRO-UHD technology accelerates the pixel shifting to enhance performance.

What you'll find with real program material is that the edge enhancement processing can become more noticeable and occasionally egregious in some content on the higher presets, typically with higher frame rate video as opposed to movie-based 24 frame-per second material. Also, the higher presets may begin to create a mottling effect in some out-of-focus areas in the frame, or on coarse film grain when it is present—an effect that is eliminated or greatly curtailed by dialing down to Preset 2. This mottling is subtle but definitely visible at seating distance, though it is restricted to these areas of inherent digital noise caused by lack of focus or other factors. When I reviewed the HC4010 recently, I typically left the Enhancement turned up to Preset 4 or 5 to pick up the maximum level of detail the system could offer and rarely felt the need to dial it back.

I worked hard to try to delineate the differences in how each projector handled test patterns and video scenes at similar 4K Enhnancement settings. With a 4K spiral pattern (SDR, 8-bit; see below), raising the settings from Off through Preset 5 increasingly sharpened the finest lines surrounding the black center and along the curved edges of the pinwheels. That is, areas previously mashed together as white revealed more black between the converging lines to bring them into greater focus. Both projectors tracked virtually the same on this pattern in every area of the frame and at every setting but one. The exception was Preset 3, where the 4010 appeared to do an ever slightly better job of delineating the spokes coming off the curved lines on the pinwheels as they fanned off from the center. But this difference was difficult to see even at close range, and diminished at my 10 foot viewing distance. It was almost literally splitting hairs.

UHD Spiral Test Pattern
4K Spiral Resolution Test Pattern

With real program material, differences between the projectors in the rendering of detail were infrequent and hard to spot without very careful examination of paused video frames. But when there was an advantage it went to the 5040. Critically —and I must strongly emphasize this—we have no way of knowing how much of this can be attributed to differences in the pixel-shifting scheme. Epson reminded me during a meeting with their technical team that the 5040's contrast advantage positively affects the perception of detail—and suggested that a better test of their old pixel-shifting against their new pixel-shifting would come from a comparison of the 5040 and its soon-to-be-announced replacement. There's also the slim possibility that some sample-to-sample variation in the lenses came into play, though I tend to dismiss this because the 5040's advantage could be observed at different times in both the center and toward the outer edges of the screen, but not on every scene. Whatever the cause, some areas of some images definitely displayed a subtle but noticeable improvement in detail on the 5040 that was observable at viewing distance.

A not-for-sale UHD demo disc supplied to the press years ago by Panasonic (8-bit, Rec.709 SDR) provided a number of useful 4K video clips for testing image sharpness. On one of them, a train makes its way through autumn woods (screen shot below). There are tons of fine details in this scene, including thin branches that have already lost their leaves, sections of crisply photographed leaves bursting with bright color, small mechanical details and signage on the train, and a black-painted brick industrial building in the background. The two projectors started out largely identical in all areas of the image at most of the Enhancement settings. They looked very soft with Enhancement off, and got marginally sharper through Preset 2. At Preset 3 and above, however, there was a noticeable difference in the moss-covered fence at the center-foreground of the image, which on the 5040 had a bit of additional depth and dimensionality. The 5040 was better able to bring out the sublte dark areas between the vertical fence slats. The 5040 also exhibited a touch more definition in the red, yellow, and green leaves seen at center frame, left of the tracks. On close inspection, it appeared that the individual pixels were better defined. Other areas of the frame, whether in the foreground or background, retained similarly sharp and matching focus on both projectors.

UHD Train Demo Clip (Courtesy of Panasonic)
UHD train demo clip (Courtesy of Panasonic)

Interestingly, this subtle advantage for the 5040 was really only seen on very fine, distant details in long camera shots. That advantage was lost on sharp close-ups, even those with equally fine details, where both projectors performed beautifully and with almost breathtaking clarity. For example, in another clip from this demo disc showing a woman in a kimono enjoying a cup of tea outdoors, the projectors were equals in their ability to reproduce the sharpness of the sunlit hairs coming off her head and eyebrows, and the smoothness of her make-up. And on super tight close-ups of Tom Cruise's face in Oblivion (Chapter 1, 00:01:29) and of Scarlett Johannson's eyes in Lucy (Chapter 18, 01:12:28), the projectors also performed identically and generated striking images.

In the end, it's safe to say that the differences between the HC4010 and HC5040 on delivery of picture detail are very modest and restricted to small, fine details in certain types of scenes that the HC5040 handled better. I again have to put this in perspective, because the 4010, with an unusually fine lens for its price point, is exceptionally sharp. Furthermore, I have little doubt that the difference between the two would be nigh impossible to detect in the absence of a direct side-by-side comparison, and totally lost in the presence of any object motion or a camera pan or zoom. These differences are that tiny. Still, this is a shoot-out, so I'll have to declare that Round 2, for resolution and detail, goes to the HC5040.

Previous Page
Overview,Contrast and Black Level
Next Page
HDR Tone Mapping and Conclusion
Review Contents: Overview,Contrast and Black Level Resolution and Detail HDR Tone Mapping and Conclusion

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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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