The Epson Home Cinema 5040UB is a stunning value in today's market with its recent drop to $2,699. Built around three 1080p LCD chips and Epson's 4K-Enhancement pixel-shifting technology, its image looks a lot closer to true 4K than 1080p. Compared with standard 1080p models like the Sony HW45ES and the Epson Home Cinema 3900, it offers visibly superior resolution and image quality for not a lot more money, as well as compatibility with all of the new 4K video content coming onto the market. And when compared with current native 4K projectors, it delivers nearly as high quality an image at a far lower price. That puts it in a sweet spot virtually by itself at this writing.
Beyond its 4K advantage, the 5040UB has other features that by themselves justify most of the difference in price between it and conventional 1080p models. At the top of the list is the all-glass, 16-piece 2.1x zoom lens that is designed for 4K performance. The lens system has motorized zoom, lens shift, and focus, with a lens shift range that no other projector exceeds. And conveniently, the powered Lens Memory feature lets you save 10 lens positions and adjust all three settings with a single command for Constant Image Height (CIH) operation with a Cinemascope 2.4:1 screen without the bother or cost of an anamorphic lens.
The 5040UB boasts HDR-compatibility as well as the ability to display the entire sRGB and DCI color spaces. And when it comes to lumen power the 5040UB delivers more than it promises. Epson rates it at 2,500 lumens for both white and color brightness. But that is pretty much what it gives you in Video Optimized calibration. In its brightest mode we measured it at roughly 3,500 lumens, which makes it suitable for an even wider range of lighting conditions. The high brightness will let it stand up to ambient light, while the HDR support is best reserved for dark theater viewing.
In addition to running our usual tests for this review, we did side-by-side comparisons of the 5040UB with the Epson 3900 and Sony HW45ES, two highly capable 1080p models priced about $700 below the 5040UB. The results are discussed in detail in the Epson 3900 review and the Sony HW45ES review. The conclusion, however, is that the 5040UB is in a wholly different league, with wider color gamut and more refined color, deeper blacks, noticeably higher contrast, and a sharper, more detailed image even before turning on 4K enhancement.
That's worth underlining. A lot of what makes the 5040UB's image stand out has nothing to do with the 4K enhancement or the HDR support. It comes from the basic fundamentals of rich color, deep blacks, and obviously high contrast that adds a sense of three-dimensionality.
The color accuracy is good enough in almost every predefined color mode so you wouldn't know if it's technically off at all without measurements or at least comparing it to something you know is properly calibrated. The exceptions are Dynamic mode, which has the usual slight green bias most projectors have in their brightest color modes, and B&W Cinema mode, which is designed to give you a warmer 5500 degree color temperature to mimic the original appearance of B&W film in a 1940's movie theater.
The sense of extra sharpness with plain vanilla 1080p comes partly from the high contrast ratio and partly from sophisticated video processing features, like Epson's Super Resolution. At its default setting, it works nicely, along with the defaults for sharpness and detail enhancement, to make the image a little crisper.
Also adding to the sharpness and detail is the high quality, 16-piece glass lens. By virtue of being designed to hold the higher level of detail the 4K-enhancement feature delivers, it also holds detail better even with 4K Enhancement turned off.
4K Enhancement. The key to understanding why the 4K Enhancement looks so impressive is realizing that there's only so much detail the human eye can actually resolve. The 5040UB's pixel-shifting technology increases the apparent resolution of the picture by enough to come close to that limit. Of course it depends on how close you like to sit to the screen. And it also depends on the type of subject matter -- it is easier to see resolution differences between the 5040UB and native 4K projectors when viewing high resolution graphics and text documents than it is with video.
Depending on the input signal, some menu options aren't available. Using a 4K input signal, Frame Interpolation (FI) and the noise reduction features are not available. With 1080p input, you can choose either one without the other, or turn off both. Since you can't have 4K enhancement and FI at the same time, you may never use FI, which a lot of people don't like anyway because of the digital video effect. If you use it, you can choose between Low, Medium, and High. The Low setting delivers a slight smoothing of motion artifacts with hardly any digital video effect. Medium increases both, and High increases them even more, which makes the two highest settings best reserved for live or recorded video.
Editor's Comment: On a personal note, I watch a lot of live performance video on the exquisite Blu-ray discs produced by Opus Arte such as Einstein on the Beach and many of their Royal Ballet productions. With this premium live performance material the digital video effect from an aggressive use of Frame Interpolation is beneficial--you want it to look as real as possible. To my eye, the 5040UB's combination of FI set on High, plus its Super Resolution booster actually produces a more stable and crystal clear picture than even its 4K enhancement option. FI and resolution enhancement artifacts are remarkably scarce. Videophiles will enjoy experimenting with these options. This is one of many reasons to give the Epson 5040UB our rare Editor's Choice Award. EP
3D Video. The 5040UB's 3D support is limited to 1080p and RF glasses. Image quality is similar to 1080p 2D for image characteristics that both 2D and 3D share. Beyond that, I didn't see any 3D-related motion artifacts in most clips that tend to show them and only a hint of them in the few where they did show. I also saw some exceedingly minor crosstalk in one clip where it tends to show, but nowhere near enough to consider bothersome. Brightness is necessarily lower than in any of the 2D modes, but you have a choice of both a 3D Cinema mode with a typical drop in brightness and a somewhat brighter 3D Dynamic mode.
HDR. Projectors have inherent limitations for HDR, including the fact that ambient light will wash out darker shades on screen and most of the benefit of HDR along with it. Within that context, however, the 5040UB does a credible job. For testing HDR, I used a Samsung UBD-K8500 player and a Batman v Superman 4K HDR disc.
The 5040UB's four HDR modes all darken the average image brightness overall compared with SDR mode, with HDR 1 being the brightest and HDR 4 the darkest. HDR 1 is the default for HDR input, since Epson feels that most people will find it the best compromise between overall brightness vs. color accuracy and shadow detail. Be aware that the 5040UB doesn't change any other settings when it switches to HDR mode. You need to adjust Brightness and Contrast separately for HDR, save the settings to memory, and then manually load them for HDR input. When it comes to HDR the right settings make all the difference between a compelling picture and an almost unwatchable one.
Brightness. Recently we've seen a number of Epson projectors coming in with lumen performance that exceeds their published specs. The 5040UB outdoes expectations even for Epson. It is rated at 2500 lumens, but we measured it in Dynamic mode at 3527 lumens, a whopping 41% above spec. As a welcome surprise, that leaves Bright Cinema, with its better color fidelity, close to the published rating, at 2401 lumens.
ANSI Lumens for High, Medium, and Eco power, were measured with the zoom lens at its widest angle setting.
Note that the factory default settings for lamp power vary from one color mode to the next. Bright Cinema, for example, is set to Medium power by default and Cinema is set to Eco.
Video Optimized Lumens. Our pick for Video Optimized mode is a slightly tweaked Bright Cinema. At 2400 lumens, it's bright enough for a 225" diagonal 16:9 image in a dark theater room by the usual rules for SDR. With HDR content, and its lower overall image brightness, you will likely want to go with a smaller image. The ideal image size will depend on factors such as which HDR mode you use and screen gain.
Presentation Optimized Lumens. Should you need to use the 5040UB for presentations, it delivers vibrant, saturated color for data and graphics even at top brightness in Dynamic mode. The 3527 lumens is bright enough for a 150" 16:9 image in moderate ambient light.
Low Lamp Modes. The 5040UB offers two reduced power modes: Medium, which is 23% lower than High lamp mode, and Eco, which is 25% lower than High mode.
Zoom Lens Effect. The 2.1x zoom lens offers excellent flexibility for positioning the 5040UB. At the full telephoto setting, however, the lens curtails light by about 33% compared with the wide-angle setting. In most cases you'll want to put the projector as close to the screen as possible to maximize brightness.
Brightness uniformity. At a measured 93%, the brightness uniformity is close to perfect as far as the human eye is concerned. The subjective impression is that there's no visible difference.
Input Lag. Input lag varies, depending on the settings for 4K enhancement and FI. Surprisingly, the setting for Fine and Fast mode makes no difference. With 4K enhancement on, FI is not available, and the lag is 28 ms. With 4K enhancement off, the lag varies with the FI setting, from 29 ms with FI Off, to 68 ms for Low, to 104 ms for Normal or High.
Fan noise. Epson rates High power mode at 31 db, which is enough to be noticeable in most home theater-size rooms during quiet moments. It helps that it is a constant medium-pitch white noise rather than varying in volume or pitch, but it's not as quiet as you'd ideally like for a home theater, particularly if you're sensitive to fan noise. In Eco mode, the rating is an extremely low 20 dB. Medium isn't noticeably higher. Either one is hard to hear in a quiet room even you're listening for it.
Epson recommends High Altitude mode for 4920 feet and above. Fan noise is louder for each power setting in this mode, but both Eco and Medium with High Altitude Mode on are quieter than High mode with it off. Most users will likely want to stay with Eco or Medium modes with High Altitude operation.
Lamp life. Epson rates the 5040UB's lamp at 3500 hours in High mode, 4000 in Medium, and 5000 hours in Eco. Replacements are $299.99.
Warranty. The price includes a two-year warranty for the projector and a 90-day warranty for the lamp.
The 5040UB offers impressive placement flexibility. Both the intake and exhaust vents are on the front, making it amenable for placement on a rear shelf. However, a large shelf would be required since this is a large projector -- far too large for a typical bookcase. In general, the 2.1x zoom and extensive vertical and horizontal lens shift allow a wide variety of placement options either on the ceiling or behind the seating area. They also make it easy to replace an older projector in a mount, for example, and adjust the image position to fit on an already existing screen. The powered zoom, focus, and lens shift make the adjustment step as easy as it could be.
Keep in mind that if your current HDMI cable isn't 4K HDR compliant, you'll need to replace it. And if you're upgrading from the Epson 5030UB, note that the 5040UB is more than 6 pounds heavier, at 24.7 pounds, and larger in all three dimensions, at 6.7" by 20.5" x 17.7" (HWD) not including feet.
Throw Distance. The 5040UB's throw distance for a 150" 16:9 diagonal image is roughly 14.75 to 31 feet. At the long end of the range, however, the lens will curtail the projector's potential lumen output by 33%. So for maximum brightness, you'll want the projector closer to rather than farther from the screen.
If you want to use the 5040UB's Lens Memory to set up a Constant Image Height (CIH) rig without bothering with an anamorphic lens, the 5040UB makes it easy to adjust image size when switching between material in 2.4 format, 16:9 format, and other aspect ratios. Simply store the appropriate lens settings for each format in one of the 10 memory entries for lens position, pick a setting, and let the powered zoom, lens shift, and focus do the rest. Keep in mind that you'll need to chose a distance that will accommodate the CIH for all the aspect ratios you need. The Epson 5040UB Projection Calculator will let you find an appropriate range for the screen size you want to use.
Lens Shift Range. The 5040UB offers a substantial lens shift for both vertical and horizontal directions. In the neutral position, the centerline of the lens is at the geometric center of the projected image. From this position, the image can shift up enough for the bottom line of the image to be 50% of the image height above the centerline, or shift down by the same amount.
The vertical and horizontal shift ranges are interrelated, so the position for either affects the other. From the neutral position for both, for example, the horizontal shift is nearly 50% of the image width left or right, but from the extreme top or bottom vertical position it's only 10% left or right. If you need to tilt the unit beyond the range that the lens shift allows, you can adjust vertical keystone by up to +/- 30 degrees. There is no horizontal keystone.
For additional details and restrictions on installation, consult the Epson 5040UB User Manual.
4K Enhancement vs. Frame Interpolation and Noise Reduction. The 5040UB doesn't let you use 4K enhancement and FI at the same time. With a 2160p input signal, which turns on 4K Enhancement automatically, you can't use noise reduction either. However, you can use both Noise Reduction features if the signal is 1080p and you turn on 4K-Enhancement manually.
No Point in Fast Mode. The usual reason for having Fine and Fast mode is that Fine mode offer better picture quality, while Fast mode cuts down on input lag. With the 5040UB, Fine mode will give you better quality but Fast mode doesn't change the input lag. We see no reason to use it.
HDR Compatibility. HDR signals differ in frame rate, bit depth, and chroma sub-sampling. The 5040UB isn't compatible with all combinations, which means it's compatible with some, but not all, HDR sources. We discuss these issues in more detail in our HDR compatibility survey.
Auto Iris. The Normal mode for the Auto Iris works fine, but High Speed has problems switching from a black screen or dark scene to an image with much higher average brightness. The iris can often take a full second to adjust and does the adjustment in two or three increments. You can avoid this issue by setting the Auto Iris to Off or Normal.
At $2,699, the Epson Home Cinema 5040UB occupies a unique position in today's market, delivering image quality that rivals far more expensive native 4K models for not much more than the price of a top quality, standard 1080p model. Beyond the image quality and 4K compatibility, it is far brighter than expected based on the 2500 ANSI lumen rating, which gives it some additional versatility for use in ambient light (think Super Bowl parties) that most home theater projectors don't have.
Though it gets much of its attention from its 4K compatibility, pixel-shift technology, HDR, and wide color gamut, its performance on conventional parameters such as contrast and a stellar 93% brightness uniformity make it outstanding even among conventional 1080p projectors. Beyond this, one of the most compelling features is its automated Lens Memory -- essential for CIH installation without an A-lens if you are interested in that option.
In the end this is a highly unique set of features that exists nowhere else in this price range. The only other models under $3,000 that have both 4K-enhancement and powered Lens Memory are the Epson 5040UBe, which is a wireless version of the 5040UB, and the Epson Pro 4040. Due to outstanding performance and an impressive array of features, ProjectorCentral is pleased to give the Epson Home Cinema 5040UB our top honor, the Editor's Choice Award.
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