Epson Home Cinema 5050UBe 4K PRO-UHD 3LCD Projector Review
Epson HC 5050UB/UBe Performance
Color Modes. The 5050UB offers eight preset color modes including Dynamic (the brightest), Bright Cinema, Natural, Cinema, B&W Cinema, and Digital Cinema. Two 3D modes, 3D Dynamic and 3D Cinema, become available when the projector sees a 1080p 3D signal.
Among the non-3D modes, measurements with CalMan Ultimate software, a Murideo Six-G generator, and an X-Rite i1Pro2 photo spectrometer showed that Natural came the closest out of the box to hitting the desired D65 white point for grayscale and the Rec.709 color space targeted for standard dynamic range HDTV. However, it was too bright for dark-room viewing on my 92-inch, 1.3 gain screen, even when I switched its default Medium power mode down to Eco. Cinema and Digitial Cinema had more appropriate brightness, but I found that both target the projector's wider color space—even when the projector's color space menu is manually set to Rec.709. The extra colors in the wide space are visible on 1080p SDR content—particularly with saturated reds. But even with attempted calibration, I could not achieve perfect color accuracy with 1080p Blu-rays in these modes—that is, there was no way of assuring that what I was looking at precisely followed what the director and colorist intended when they signed off on the master. I chose to stick with the Natural mode and used the projector's manual iris control (which is independent of its auto iris) to reduce overall light output to match my screen and retain the deepest possible black. The end result was a final peak white reading of about 21 foot-Lamberts on screen with SDR content, along with excellent out-of-box grayscale and color points that I easily tuned in for an even better result.
For HDR content, Epson's Digital Cinema mode was a good choice. With HDR test signals its grayscale RGB balance and tracking across the brightness range was close enough to accurate, though with a little work needed to bring 100% white into the desired D65/6500K color temperature. The color primaries, with the measurement software targeting 50% of Rec.2020 color, were close to or under the desired Delta E error of 3 or under. After tuning, the final post-calibration result was excellent, with CalMan showing accurate color sweeps of DCI-P3 colors within the Rec.2020 envelope used for UHD. (To clarify further a point made earlier, today's UHD content is typically mastered for DCI-P3 color limits but placed into the larger Rec. 2020 envelope recognized by UHD displays, so it's desirable to know how well a display strikes the appropriate P3 targets within Rec. 2020.) Peak white off my screen after calibration was 30.5 ftL, or 104 nits, though with the ability to tune it higher or lower using the projector's HDR brightness control. CalMan reported that my sample was hitting 109% of the DCI-P3 color space with HDR signals, and 74% of Rec.2020.
With both SDR and HDR color modes calibrated, I was able to easily switch between them with either the remote's Color Mode or Memory button, with the latter recalling either of the two custom memories I'd saved and named for SDR and HDR.
1080p/SDR Viewing. I burned in the lamp for 100 hours before measuring and tuning the Epson, then sat down for some serious 1080p viewing. The movie Draft Day offers a compelling, if fictionalized, behind-the-scenes look at the wheeling-and-dealing among NFL general managers on the day of the NFL Draft. It's not a flashy film, but the production values are high, and it was made with the cooperation of the league. This resulted in the filmmakers shooting scenes during down-time at the real 2013 draft at New York's Radio City Music Hall, as well as in authentic-looking team offices decorated in team-themed colors that any football fan knows well. There are also well-photographed skin-tones throughtout, shots with natural and artificial grass on playing fields, a water-park scene with colorful slides, and a variety of lighting conditions. All of this makes the movie an excellent reference for familiar real-life colors. I'm still waiting for Lionsgate to release it in UHD with wide gamut.
It was immediately obvious that the 5050UB/UBe was firing on all cylinders. Draft Day opens with a voiceover and closeups of a few of the empty team desks in the auditorium at Radio City. A still shot of the San Francisco 49ers desk includes a spot-lit 49ers helmet that was rendered with startling impact on the Epson. The rich, 49ers gold color was dead-on, and the paint's subtle, pearlized finish was visible under the natural sheen of light cast upon the glossy surface. The red of the helmet's center stripe was vivid without being oversaturated or cartoonish, and the white bands on either side of it were delivered with no obvious tinting (suggesting good D65 color temperature at that particular brightness).
Detail was outstanding, with the projector easily bringing out the fine weave and ribbing of the white nylon chin straps. Indeed, in all my viewing on the HC 5050UB/UBe, I never had a reason to complain about its sharpness despite its native 1080p imagers. Cable TV broadcasts coming in at 1080i could look softer than other content, of course, but good 1080p Blu-ray and 4K UHD Blu-ray transfers were always crisp and most often on par (at full viewing distance) with a high-end, native 4K projector I had on hand. Epson's "4K Enhancement," adjusted via the projector's Image Enhancement menu, applies a combination of optical pixel-shifting combined with signal processing to improve the apparent resolution. This six-position control, with options for Off through Preset 5, adds increasing levels of detail as you step up. On most content, whether 1080p or 4K HDR, I preferred the Preset 2 and Preset 3 settings as the best compromise between achieving 4K-like detail and adding too much processing that could make edges look artificial and surfaces pasty and noisy.
As Draft Day unfolds, actor Kevin Kostner, playing the GM of the Cleveland Browns, is in his bedroom buttoning his crisp white business shirt while sunlight streams in from the window. Kostner sports a robust brown tan in this movie, and his complexion and light brown hair all looked natural in this scene—or unnatural, as it were; a close look at his sideburns revealed his dye job. The white of his shirt again displayed the neutrality I like to see, leaning neither too red nor blue. Setting Image Enhancement to Preset 3 brought out the rugged skin texture of his jutting chin and fine detail in his faint post-shave stubble without creating obvious artifacts. I left it there for the rest of the movie.
The 5050UB/UBe continued to do an awesome job with colors and detail, depicting the close-up of a pancakes-and-bacon breakfast with mouth-watering accuracy, and delivering the punchy Seattle Seahawks blue-and-neon green right on target. The projector also did well delineating the varying skin tones on the Brown's office staff, and passed a critical test in one particular scene in which Costner is talking by phone with the head football coach at the University of Wisconsin. A split screen shows Costner in the lobby of the Brown's offices alongside padded benches in the familiar Cleveland Brown's orange, while on the other side of the screen is the coach is on his home practice field wearing a cap in his own deep red team color. The Epson displayed both colors distinctly, neither pushing the benches too red nor the cap and players' jerseys too orange.
Nothing in Draft Day places much demand on a projector's black level and contrast capabilities, so I popped in the 1080p Blu-ray of BladeRunner 2049, a movie with some very dark passages. Around four minutes in, for example, the replicant hunter played by Ryan Gosling enters the dark cabin of one of the rogue replicants, a room that's lit entirely by gray daylight from a couple of small windows. The camera eventually stops with a single window at the center of the image, casting the rest of the room around it in dark shadow. In this scene, the Epson delivered what I'd rank as very good-to-excellent black level and shadow detail, allowing me to make out details of a black upright piano with sheet music on its easel and a couple of chairs. I did eventually notice a bit of haze over the image that was evident only after direct comparison with a JVC DLA-X790 reference projector, a more expensive ($4,000) LCoS model that offers something closer to current state-of-the-art blacks and low-level detail. The JVC showed blacker letterbox bars that gave more definition to the upper and lower edges of the image, and I could better delineate the outline of the black piano against the dark walls.
But I was really impressed at how well the Epson compared on this very difficult scene as well as a few others I threw at it, and the projectors were nearly identical on most mixed scenes with higher average light level. Critically, at no time in my viewing of the 5050UB/UBe did a lack of contrast ever distract me or pull me out of the story, as can happen with less capable projectors.
UHD/HDR Viewing. The UHD Blu-ray of La La Land makes a superb case for wide color gamut. The filmmakers deliberately repeated the same bright, saturated colors throughout the production design and wardrobe—similar tones of yellow, blue, green, and an especially pure red that seems to reach out to the edge of the DCI-P3 limits. There's also tons of light-play going on, everything from brightly lit outdoor sequences to dimly lit nightclubs and moody dream sequences. It's real eye-candy from start to finish.
After a little tweaking of the 5050UB/UBe's HDR brightness control to add some extra punch beyond my calibrated settings, I sat back and was just knocked out scene after scene. The movie starts with a musical number shot on a sun-soaked LA freeway with traffic at a standstill and a couple dozen dancers playing the role of show-biz hopefuls. Along with the gorgeous rendering of their dresses, T-shirts, and other attire, mostly in the fundamental colors described above, the projector in its tuned Digital Cinema mode displayed a nice neutral white on the business shirt of one of the dancers and some white cars. At one point, as the camera tracked a dancer moving down the road through the parked cars, it picked up a series of specular highlights from the sun hitting the windshield of each vehicle she danced past. It was proof that even in a bright scene like this, HDR highlights can still be effective and engaging.
Some moments later, the dancers form a circle and the camera captures perhaps 15 of them facing the lens. It's a beautiful collage of color, with one dancer at center screen wearing a punchy orange dress, and the others surrounding her in shades of yellow, brown, mustard, sky blue, a deeper blue, and green. The actors varied ethnicities were borne out by the projector's ability to delineate all their different (some subtly different) skin tones, as well as their hair colors, which ranged from black to brown to blonde to red.
The Digital Cinema mode's default Image Enhancement setting of 2 struck me as a little soft with this movie, but turning it up one notch to Preset 3 again provided 4K-like resolution without unnaturally pulling out the film grain (the movie was shot on film rather than digital, in a 2:55:1 CinemaScope aspect ratio, as an homage to classic 1950s musicals). After that, details in the many close-ups of female lead Emma Stone, such as the texture of her pink skin, the fine lines on her face and forehead, and her small freckles, sharpened up and provided that 4K "wow" factor seen on the best UHD-BD transfers. Focus uniformity across the image was also subjectively excellent, and there was no evidence at any point in any of my viewing of noticeable banding artifacts. (As an aside, the 5050UBe displayed an appropriately smooth image on the spinning wheels of our ProjectorCentral 10-bit HDR Grayscale animation test pattern, which confirmed its handling of UHD-HDR signals at minimum 10-bit resolution from input to screen.)
Here again, this time with HDR content, contrast and black levels were excellent on most mixed-brightness scenes and, even in the darkest scenes, never called attention to the projector's limits. In one challenging shot, the film's aspiring jazz pianist, also played by Ryan Gosling, sits in near darkness at a nightclub piano as a spotlight fades up around him at center screen. The 5050UB/UBe, assisted by its dynamic iris, delivered a nice dark black in the surrounding area. Once again, only direct comparison with the JVC revealed a bit of haze I'd not noticed and exposed the Epson's limits.
The new 16-step control for HDR brightness is an excellent improvement over Epson's prior scheme, which involved entering a menu and selecting one of four different HDR brightness levels to tune the best compromise between brighter highlights (for more visceral punch) or taming those highlights (and lowering overall image brightness somewhat) to retain more detail in and around them. Along with having access to this new control directly from the remote, its continuously adjustable scale provided a nice wide range of fine adjustment that easily accommodated dark movies like Blade Runner 2049 (best viewed near the low end of the scale for punching up highlights, perhaps a setting of 3 or 4) and Pan, an awful but exceptionally bright movie with some of the boldest HDR highlights I've yet to see from any disc (setting of 10-12 on the brightest scenes). I was pleased to see that the projector generally did a good job of retaining contrast in the darker areas of the image even when called upon to boost up the highlights. Some projectors with poorly executed tone-mapping raise the overall brightness of the image too aggressively when you bump up the HDR control and wash out the blacks.
I was less excited about some obvious and repeatable pumping of the auto iris—something I don't recall seeing in either the earlier HC 5040 or the new-generation HC 4010. Specifically, whether viewing HDR or SDR, the projector dropped into or out of slower, full black transitions in a noticeable, two-step fashion. This was most often seen as the image came up from black out of a disc or player menu, or in long transitional pauses between scenes, and it was more apparent in the High Speed Auto Iris setting than the Normal setting. Thankfully, I never noticed any of these iris artifacts following abrupt scene edits—for example, where the program might cut from a bright daytime scene to a dark night scene and potentially expose an unnatural shift in black level as the iris catches up. So this didn't usually disturb any on-screen action. But this two-phase transition was particularly evident in the opening sequence of the movie Gravity (1080p SDR version), which begins with a series of title screens consisting of white characters on a black screen. Each time the words faded down and disappeared, the iris abruptly took the black to a very dark level, then jumped it back up (a little less abruptly) as the next characters faded up. With the auto iris turned off in the menu, these transitions were perfectly smooth. I'm guessing this is the result of some inadvertently aggressive tuning in this new projector, and the kind of thing that might be fixable in a firmware update. In any event, it's helpful to know that on most scenes of mixed brightness the iris provides no effect, and only a mild effect on all but the very darkest of scenes. So you could defeat it and still enjoy excellent blacks and contrast overall if you find these interscene transitions bothersome. It wasn't a dealbreaker for me, and certainly for any overall dark movie the benefit of the iris outweighed this minor annoyance. With any luck, Epson will deliver some refinements in a future update.
3D Viewing. I'm not a huge 3D guy, but came away very impressed with the HC 5050UB/UBe's 3D playback. The projector's two 3D modes provide exemplary brightness for dark-room viewing, though neither looked great out of the box color-wise, with both leaning a little too red. Some on-the-fly adjustment of the Color Temperature and Skin Tone controls got the 3D Cinema mode looking fairly good. An episode of the BBC series Dr. No on 3D Blu-ray showed nice skin tones and natural-looking foliage, with not a hint of crosstalk and only modest panning artifacts. (Frame interpolation was available up to its High setting, but leaving it on its Low setting provided some relief without introducing soap opera sheen.) I had a similar experience with that old stand-by, Avatar, which looked great in the modern lab settings as well as in the many rainforest/jungle scenes.
At this writing Epson is the only home theater projector manufacturer to not offer a model with full UHD resolution. Even JVC, which till this year had similarly offered only 1080p pixel-shifters, now has a trio of native 4K consumer projectors and has carried only a single 1080p offering from its prior line-up. Several other manufacturers have long opted for Texas Instrument's 4K DLP solutions, which also rely on pixel-shifting but deliver full UHD pixel count to the screen at the required frame rates.
I know from mail we get at ProjectorCentral that some enthusiasts believe Epson has gone too far with this 1080p pixel-shifting approach; that the company is overdue to deliver full 4K models and that using this technology means asking viewers to accept inherent flaws in picture quality. But then, I do wonder if these critics have seen how effective the company's pixel-shift technology really is. It's hard to argue with the result that the HC 5050UB/UBe splashes all over the screen. Image detail, with judicious use of the Image Enhancement control, is about as sharp as anyone could want.
Beyond resolution, color accuracy in the HC 5050UB/UBe with a tuned image is as good as the best out there, and better out of the box than most. Finally, the last remaining key differentiator between the HC 5050UB/5050UBe and other, more expensive projectors is black level and contrast. Here, it's my judgement that you get way better performance in this area than you should normally expect at a $2,999 price point. I'd place it in the upper range among affordable under-$5,000 projectors, though short of the best—primarily the well-regarded LCoS-based models from JVC and Sony that start with deeper native blacks by virture of their imaging technology.
In the end, these things might also have been said about the previous model HC 5040UB. But the HC 5050UB/UBe steps up with some modest yet worthwhile updates and features, including long-awaited HDMI 2.0 inputs that makes the projector fully compatible with most currently available entertainment and gaming content. These changes, taken together, make it a truly worthy successor to the HC 5040 and places it prominently among the very best values today in home theater projection. It easily earns our highest honor Editor's Choice designation.
|Review Contents:||Introduction, Features||Performance, Conclusion||Connections, Measurements|
You support ProjectorCentral when you buy
the Epson Home Cinema 5050UBe from these
by email direct from Epson dealers
Get an E-Z Quote