Epson Home Cinema 4010 vs. 5040UB
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.
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.
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.
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.
|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: