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Epson Home Cinema 4010
vs.
Optoma UHD51A

Rob Sabin, December 11, 2018

Epson HC 4010 vs. Optoma UHD51A:
Picture Quality

Resolution and Detail. This was my first chance to directly compare Epson's late-generation 1080p pixel-shifting against a full-4K DLP projector. The HC 4010 has five Image Enhancement settings that turn on the pixel-shift function and apply increasingly higher degrees of sharpening. With Image Enhancement turned off, the Epson displays native 1080p and looked obviously soft next to the Optoma. Otherwise, the results varied with the type of content and the degree of enhancement applied. On good 1080p Blu-ray transfers, the Optoma had a slight advantage in sharpness that was visible in close-ups and medium camera shots from my 10-foot viewing distance. This was true even after turning the Epson's enhancement control to Preset 3, where it starts to have a more dramatic effect. At Presets 4 and 5 the level of perceived detail grew more equal, but some edge-enhancement artifacts also became detectable. I saw similar results with less-than-stellar 1080p signals —think cable TV—where the Optoma always seemed to provide subtly more detail. The HC 4010 still looked extremely sharp, but in close-ups the UHD51A offered more fineness in the area around an actor's eyes, for example.

I found, though, that the Epson's pixel-shifting and lens combination was more competitive when viewing high quality 4K material. By the time I worked up to Preset 3 on the HC 4010, most 4K Blu-rays viewed on the Epson looked equally sharp against the UHD51A at viewing distance, and with no serious artifacts to speak of. There was essentially no meaningful penalty in resolution, distortion or noise. Turning the Epson up to Preset 5 put the level of detail into hyper-drive that went beyond the Optoma's native capabilities, but it could introduce obvious edge artifacts and generally delivered an etched look that may not be every viewer's cup of tea.

Color fidelity. For my evaluation I used the Cinema color mode on the Optoma UHD51A and the Digital Cinema mode on the Epson HC 4010, each with minor modifications to the default settings to optimize for different content. Both modes were plenty bright for dark room viewing on my 93-inch diagonal, 1.3 gain screen, though neither is perfectly natural out of the box. The UHD51A's Cinema mode, even with its default D65 color temperature setting, has a subtle green bias, while the Epson's white balance in Digital Cinema mode leans a touch toward red. The Optoma, on both its 1080p SDR and 4K HDR default settings, also exhibited some red push that made skin tones look too ruddy and too much alike. Notching down the Color control helped as a quick fix. The Epson's skin tones were more neutral to begin with if not a bit pale in comparison; for my testing I availed myself of the Skin Tone slider in the menu and moved it a couple of clicks toward red to make them a touch more rosy and closer to the Optoma.

Still, as noted in our reviews, both projectors were within the range of acceptable color without requiring serious calibration, and they each have controls for grayscale and color points should you want to teak further.

SDR Contrast. With good 1080p Blu-ray transfers, the projectors were extremely close in perceived contrast. The Epson exhibited a slightly lower black floor and a bit more brightness in highlights on mixed scenes with both dark and bright areas. For example, there's the moment in Gravity when Sandra Bullock's astronaut character goes hurtling end-over-end through space, her outline diminishing as she tumbles into the horizon (chapter 1, 00:13:04). Although her white space suit was equally bright on both projectors, the black of space was deeper on the HC 4010, which gave the stars more pop than on the UHD51A. But we're talking about a very minor difference here, and absent of the direct comparison no one viewing the Optoma would be anything less than wowed by its rendering of the rich blackness of outer space and the brightness of the stars and spacesuit.

With scenes that are very dark overall, such as the opening of Chapter 12 in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 where Voldemort assembles his followers for a nighttime attack, the Optoma actually did a better job of pulling out the moonlit faces of the Death Eaters from the dark background, and it matched the Epson's black level in the darkest parts of the image and the letterbox bars.

HDR Contrast. The Optoma's HDR mode is automatically triggered when the projector detects an HDR10 flag in content, and it reverts to one of four optional HDR settings that get progressively darker: Bright, Standard, Film, and Detail. Standard is the default for the Cinema color mode, but I found this lacking in contrast and looking somewhat washed out with all but the darkest material, so I selected Film as the best option to enjoy some punch in the highlights while delivering reasonable contrast.

The Epson also has four HDR modes labeled HDR 1 through 4, each getting progressively darker, and the projector can be set to automatically select either of the two brightest when it recognizes HDR10 content. Although HDR 1 and 2 (the latter is Epson's default) will push the brightest highlights at the expense of detail in those areas, I prefer HDR 1 on most movies because of the greater visceral impact.

On most scenes with no serious highlights or those of average brightness, the two projectors looked very close, with a similar level of punch and detail in the bright areas and good contrast in other sections of the frame. Even renderings of fire were delivered with equal intensity. But when scenes came along that offered exceptionally bright HDR-encoded highlights—sunsets or intense explosions, for example—the differences in each projector's tone-mapping became obvious.

In particular, Optoma seems to have made the choice in the UHD51A to roll off the intensity of the brightest highlights found in today's HDR content to more fully reproduce them. To be clear, all projectors lack the ability to display current HDR masters with full intensity. The question for projector makers is how to handle these highlights. By rolling off the highlights before they clip, they can preserve detail and the subtle color and light gradations that surround the highlight. The trade-off is that, by definition, you're dulling the highlights and limiting their emotional impact. Each manufacturer makes a judgement call about where on this scale they want to fall.

With Optoma's tone-mapping, at any HDR setting, bright highlights were reproduced on the UHD51A with more of their detail preserved. So, sunsets displayed more of the outline of the sun rather than becoming amorphous, orange/yellow blobs that bloom out into the surrounding part of the image and obliterate details in clouds or other objects.

By comparison, the Epson was generally tuned to hit much brighter highlights in most of its HDR modes, but at the expense of blowing out the detail around those areas. With scenes that feature insanely bright HDR highlights, such as the shot in Pan where the flying pirate ship sails straight into the sunset (chapter 2, 00:18:56), the Epson in its HDR 1 and 2 settings blew the sun out severely while the Optoma practiced more restraint and displayed gobs of detail that the HC 4010 did not, including more of the shadowy outline of the ship as it heads into the sun. But it did so with some sacrifice in contrast compared to the Epson, which typically delivered a marginally darker black floor that resulted in a bit of extra depth and dimensionality to subtle shadings, as you might see in the texture of clouds. Even while pumping up the highlights to ungodly brightness, it retained that contrast advantage across other parts of the image.

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Performance and Conclusion
Review Contents: Overview, Specs and Features Picture Quality Performance and Conclusion

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Reader Comments(2 comments)

Posted Dec 18, 2018 11:40 AM PST

By Kurt

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
Nice article. FYI For about the last month the Optoma has been below $1500, at times below $1350 on Amazon. Very close to pulling the trigger on one to replace my 5 year old (but going strong) Optoma HD131Xe.

Posted Dec 20, 2018 12:08 AM PST

By Manfred Wise

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
I had considered this Optoma, and the BenQ's as they're nice for the money. Rainbows, lag and installation versatility were key for me in my main projector. I move every 2/4yrs. The HDMI 1.4 is the only major down side to the 4010. Fortunately I have a workaround and HDR isn't that important to me as I find it very artificial. I do have an ultra-portable DLP LED projector that I love for on the go. I would like to see Optoma put out a model without the speakers or Alexa support and put that into other features. My previous Optoma was creaky. They could definitely improve the structure of the projector.

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