The Epson Home Cinema 4010 (along with its commercial-line twin, the Epson Home Cinema 4050) is Epson's first new projector of the 2018-2019 model year. Since its recent introduction, the HC 4010 has gotten a positive review from ProjectorCentral (where it was awarded our Editor's Choice designation) and also received good notices from other enthusiast websites. It currently sells for $1,999.
The popular Optoma UHD51A shares relatively similar specifications and, at this writing, a lower $1,699 street price. The Optoma UHD51ALV, a near-twin sister model that performed similarly to the UHD51A in our recent face-off while offering additional brightness for ambient light viewing, sells for $1,799. Both offer savings over the Epson HC 4010. So what are the real feature and performance differences between the HC 4010 and UHD51A?
Below are key specifications from both projectors:
Imaging Technology. The most obvious difference between these projectors is the type and native resolution of their imaging technology. Epson uses 1080p-resolution LCD imagers assisted by its latest 4K PRO-UHD pixel-shifting to approximate a full 4K image. This is a two-phase shifting process that delivers to the screen twice the number of pixels per frame that an unassisted 1080p chip could present—about 4.15 million in total. The Optoma UHD51A uses Texas Instrument's 0.47-inch 4K-resolution DLP chipset, which also relies on pixel-shifting from a native 1080p imager. However, a rapid four-phase shifting process of the DLP micromirror device allows it to deliver to the screen all of the pixels in a 3840x2160 UHD signal—some 8.3 million. Still, as we've said many times before, the stark math here belies the relatively inconsequential difference in on-screen detail with most content between the late-generation 1080p pixel-shifters from Epson and JVC and competitive full 4K-resolution projectors. Other factors, such as lens quality, video processing, and a projector's inherent contrast also play a role in perceived resolution.
Another difference here is that Epson's 3LCD technology uses separate imagers for the red, green, and blue primaries, and does not require the color wheel used by most single-chip DLP projectors. The HC 4010 is therefore immune to the rainbow artifacts that can affect DLP models. Nonetheless, our review of the Optoma UHD51A revealed that, like most Optoma DLP projectors we've tested lately, it suffers less from this anomaly than others. For most viewers, this shouldn't be a factor.
Finally, a characteristic of the 0.47-inch DLP chip used in this Optoma and many other projectors is the existence of a very subtle gray border surrounding the image. It is approximately 5% of the image width (I measured about 4 inches around a 100-inch diagonal, 16:9 aspect image) and is completely hidden by the black light-absorbing frame around most projection screens. If you're projecting on a wall or a retractable screen with modest borders, it might be detectable on the surrounding surfaces if you look for it, but this also shouldn't be a concern in most viewing conditions.
Lens Features. Key differentiators among projectors are the optics quality and features of the lens, which can be major contributors to image clarity and ease of set-up. Epson takes the cost savings afforded by using 1080p imagers to provide a variety of features not usually found in a $1,999 projector, including a high quality, 15-element glass lens that was designed for more expensive models.
Along with better optics than typically found at this price point, the motorized features on this lens and its zoom characteristics offer significant set-up advantages. The HC4010's 2.1x optical zoom affords a broader range of throw distances for a given screen size than the UHD51A's 1.3x optical zoom. Additionally, the HC4010 offers unusually wide-range +/-96% vertical and +/- 47% horizontal lens shift versus the UHD51A's 15% vertical shift. The Epson also features +/-30% vertical keystone correction (though it's always best to avoid its use to retain image quality).
Critically, the motorized lens functions in the HC 4010 (focus, zoom, lens shift) assist in initial setup, but also allow lens memory setings—desirable for those considering a wide, 2.4:1 screen. This feature allows the projector to re-zoom and re-position the image with a couple of button pushes in order to retain constant image height (CIH) with either 16:9 broadcast or theatrical movie content. You can view ProjectorCentral's throw distance calculators for the Optoma UHD51A and the Epson HC 4010 to establish placement options for your screen size.
Connectivity and Ergonomics. The UHD51A offers a key advantage with its two full-bandwidth, 18 Gbps, HDMI 2.0 input ports. This allows the projector to play back 4K HDR content at 60 frames-per-second, an important capability for some gamers. The HC 4010's HDMI 1.4 ports top out at 10.2 Gbps and can only play 4K/60 Hz in standard dynamic range (SDR) or 4K/24 Hz with HDR (the latter being fine for most movies). Additionally, the Optoma UHD51A has an integrated USB media player that can handle 4K content from a flash drive, a potentially helpful feature lacking in the HC 4010.
From an operational standpoint, the HC 4010 has a full-size, back-lit remote that provides direct access to many features and adjustments. The UHD51A's compact remote, although intuitive in use and also conveniently backlit, may be cumbersome for large hands and has a thin form factor that seeks shelter in the crevices of your couch. On the other hand, your need to reach for the remote may be curtailed by the UHD51A's unusual ability to be controlled by Alexa or Google Assistant voice commands (provided you have a mic-enabled smart speaker like an Amazon Echo Dot or Google Home Mini nearby). Along with power on/off and input selections, you can also control transport functions on an Alexa- or Google-compatible streaming media player.
Although part of what you pay extra for with the Epson HC 4010 is substantial build quality on a large, 24-pound chassis—better than what's usually found at this price—the UHD51A's more compact case and lighter weight may allow for an easier and less obtrusive install, and provides the option of portability. To that end, the Optoma UHD51A's built-in audio system (a stereo pair of 5-watt speakers)—another feature found only on the Optoma—may come in handy.
3D playback. Both projectors support playback of 1080p 3D content, something of a rarity among under-$2K UHD projectors.
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. [BAN2]
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.
Brightness. Both projectors share the same 2,400 lumen spec for maximum output in their brightest mode. Our standardized ANSI measurements revealed that the UHD51A topped out at 1,690 lumens in Bright color mode while the Epson hit 2,621 lumens in its Dynamic mode. Both of these presets have a noticeable green bias typical of the highest output mode of any projector, though the Epson's Dynamic mode is more usable if you need that kind of output for ambient light conditions, and its Bright Cinema mode, which has much better out-of-box color fidelity, will net you about the same output as the Bright mode on the Optoma. The HC 4010's Natural and Bright Cinema modes are also color-accurate choices for ambient light viewing, while the Digital Cinema or Cinema modes are well-tuned for dark theaters. The Epson has three lamp power settings for most presets against the Optoma's two, allowing additional options for optimizing lamp life and fan noise.
The UHD51A's Cinema mode, with 1,153 lumens in the Bright power setting or 769 lumens in Eco, is the preferred mode for watching movies and offers good color with modest tweaking. For high ambient light conditions, the Optoma UHD51ALV mentioned earlier is a better choice, as it offers up to 1,756 measured lumens in its Cinema mode, about equal to the HC 4010's Bright Cinema and Natural modes.
Following are our measurements for both projectors.
Zoom Lens Light Loss. Going from the widest to the full telephoto setting on the Epson's long 2.1x zoom lens results in a 26% loss of light in any given color mode. The Optoma's 1.3x zoom only drops brightness 12%, which is negligible in selecting throw distance. However, the Epson's considerably wider zoom range means you are less likely to use its full telephoto setting and suffer the full 26% loss. For example, our ProjectorCentral throw distance calculator suggests that if both of these projectors provide suitable throw distance for your 120-inch screen installation, you'll be using the Epson's zoom near its closest position and can calculate less light loss.
Color Brightness. The UHD51A performed well on color brightness measurements, with color output exceeding 85% of white output in the most desirable color modes. The HC 4010, as a 3LCD projector, by default emits equal color and white brightness.
Brightness Uniformity. Per our standalone product reviews, we measured 81% brightness uniformity for the HC 4010's lens at either end of its zoom range and a range of 63% to 68% for the UHD51A's lens. The former is very good for this price range; the latter is a little low. Light shift on the Epson was undetectable on the screen with either a 100% white test pattern or program material. Light shift on the Optoma was dectectable as minor fading on the left and rightmost 5% to 10% of the image when viewing a 100% white test pattern, although it was not obvious with program material. In direct comparisons with the Epson on real content, I never noticed any issues.
Frame Interpolation. The HC4010 provides three settings for frame interpolation (Off, Normal, and High) and the feature can only be activated for 1080p/24Hz input signals. The High setting is effective for smoothing judder and improving motion resolution at the expense of introducing the "soap opera" video effect to movie-based content; the Low setting reduces the video effect to near negligible levels but is less effective at smoothing motion and could introduce occasional choppiness to camera pans.
The UHD51A provides four settings for motion compensation (Off, High, Middle, Low) and, critically, will work with 4K signals and the 1080p/60Hz signals coming off most cable set-top boxes, where this feature is desirable for live sports events. However, Optoma's application, even in High mode, is modest, and imparts only minor digital video effect while sacrificing some degree of motion smoothing compared with the high settings on most other projectors.
3D Video.With no DLP-Link glasses on hand for the Optoma I was unable to do a direct comparison with the Epson this time around. In our earlier tests both projectors performed well with 3D content. My colleague David Stone described "a highly watchable picture" before any adjustments on the UHD51A, with less drop-off in brightness from 2D to 3D than he's typically seen and no crosstalk artifacts. My own experience with the HC 4010 was good, with excellent punch in the image when the highest lamp mode is selected and a few tweaks made to contrast and brightness. I experienced just a modicum of crosstalk interference on some challenging scenes.
Rainbow Artifacts. As discussed, the 3-chip projectors like the Epson suffer no rainbow artifacts, and David saw few during his testing of the Optoma. I'm not particularly sensitive to seeing rainbows (some viewers are), and didn't actually see any in my many hours with the UHD51A beyond a few spotted against white-on-black credits or menu characters.
Input Lag. The Epson's measured input lag was 28 ms, less than half the Optoma's 68 seconds (with FI turned off). Neither is close to the 16 ms lag time delivered by the fastest gaming projectors, but both are acceptable for casual gamers.
Fan Noise. Fan noise is not objectionable for either projector except when using High power mode combined with High Altitude mode. Both are barely perceptible in a quiet room on Eco (or the Mid mode for the Epson) from a 5 foot distance, and won't be a noticeable over most soundtracks.
Onboard Audio. As noted, the Epson HC4010 has no onboard audio and isn't well suited to portability due to its size and weight. The Optoma's built-in stereo speakers will provide sound in a pinch and is better than what's found in most projectors, but using the UHD51A's audio output to feed a standalone powered speaker (for example, a decent Bluetooth speaker with an analog input) is a better choice even for temporary installations.
Here are some key takeaways from our comparison of the Epson Home Cinema 4010 and Optoma UHD51A:
There's a $300 price differential today between the Optoma UHD51A ($1,699) and Epson Home Cinema 4010 ($1,999). That's about an 18% premium. If both of these are on your short list, your decision will likely come down to your installation needs, your intended usage, and your budget.
To begin, the Optoma's more limited zoom and vertical shift may automatically disqualify it in some rooms that the Epson's wide zoom and extensive lens shift capabilities would accommodate. On another note, if you want the ability to temporarily transport the projector for outdoor or vacation home movie nights, or to use it in business presentations, the Optoma would be the more obvious choice. And if budget is a concern, the $300 savings on the Optoma may come into play.
Ultimately, though, these are two surprisingly high-performing projectors that looked better than their price tags imply, and you'll likely be impressed with the image on either one. Both are superb values in the under-$2,000 4K price class.
Buy the Epson Home Cinema 4010 online here:
Buy the Epson Pro Cinema 4050 online here:
Buy the Optoma UHD51A online here:
Buy the Optoma UHD51ALV online here: