Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
Update: (11/16/16) At the time of this review we did not have sufficient information to comment on HDR related issues. We have just posted an HDR Compatibility Survey which includes data on all Epson 4K-enabled projectors.
The Epson Pro Cinema 6040UB is an all new 4K-enhanced home theater projector that replaces the earlier Pro Cinema 6030UB. Though there is only one digit difference in model numbers between the 6040UB and its predecessor, the 6040UB is a completely different projector, new from the ground up. Physically it is larger and six pounds heavier. It features a new light engine design, a new all-glass zoom lens, updated video processing capabilities, and of course its flagship feature -- 4K enhanced resolution achieved through pixel shift technology.
The Pro Cinema 6040UB, priced at a retail of $3,999, is one of a family of aggressively priced 4K-enhanced projectors being released by Epson this summer. The other models include the Home Cinema 5040UB ($2,999), its wireless version the 5040UBe ($3,299), and the Pro Cinema 4040 ($2,699). In short, the differences are these:
- The Pro Cinema 6040UB and 4040 are sold by CEDIA dealers, custom installers and specialty home theater retailers. The Home Cinema 5040UB and 5040UBe are sold in open distribution and are available through Internet resellers.
- The Pro 6040UB and 4040 models come with a ceiling mount, an extra replacement lamp, a cable cover, and a third year of warranty included in the price. The Home Cinema 5040UB and 5040UBe come with a two year warranty; replacement lamps, ceiling mounts and cable covers are not included.
- The Pro models are black, the Home models are white.
- There is a performance difference between the 6040UB and 4040. The 6040UB is rated at 2500 ANSI lumens while the 4040 is 2300 lumens, and the contrast rating on the 6040UB is 1,000,000:1 vs 160,000:1 for the 4040.
- There is no performance difference between the 6040UB and the 5040UB.
The 4K Controversy:
Native 4K vs. 4K-Enhanced 1080p
The Epson Pro Cinema 6040UB and 4040, as well as the Home Cinema 5040UB, are marketed as "4K enhanced" projectors. They accept native 4K video signals and are HDCP 2.2 compliant. However, rather than using native 4K resolution imaging devices, they use 1080p 3LCD panels with a pixel shift technology that enables them to approximate the resolution of a native 4K projector. The big advantage, at the moment anyway, is that 1080p chips are much less costly than 4K chips, so these projectors cost MUCH less than native 4K products. The downside is that the approximation of the 4K picture is not as precise in detail definition as it would be if native 4K resolution chips were used.
This approach to the display of 4K source material has been controversial. Many video purists maintain that the only "legitimate" 4K projection is that which uses native 4K resolution chips. They argue that projectors like these from Epson, as well as those from JVC which use a similar pixel shift approach, should be labeled as "4K simulation" as opposed to "genuine" or "real" 4K. (To be clear, Epson does not promote these products either as "native 4K," or the equivalent of native 4K, but rather "4K-enhanced." Epson publishes the native resolution of these projectors as 1920x1080.)
Though pixel shift technology does not produce a 4K picture with the same precision that a projector using native 4K imaging devices can, it does substantially boost the apparent resolution of the picture well beyond standard HD 1080p, and it does so for a fraction of the price of native 4K machines. So until native 4K projectors drop to the price level of standard 1080p, there will definitely be a place in the market for pixel shift technology.
How Does Pixel Shift Work?
Though there are technical differences in how vendors achieve the effect, the basic concept is simple. An image is projected onto the screen with an initial scan of the 3LCD chips in native 1920x1080 format. Then on the next refresh of the chips the light in the engine is refracted slightly to cause the projected image to be offset by half a pixel to the right and upward. The system alternates back and forth, scanning between its native position and its offset position so rapidly that the eye can't detect any sequencing or overlaying of one image on top of the other. The concept is not dissimilar to interlaced scanning on a CRT where even and odd lines are painted in alternating sequence to achieve the full image.
However, there is more going on than just overlaying two slightly offset discrete 1080p images, which by itself would just blur the image. The video processing blends and integrates the two images together, smoothing transitions and reducing or eliminating stairstepping and aliasing. The end result is a picture that looks much sharper than standard 1080p.
This pixel shift technique effectively doubles the number of addressable pixels that the projector can use to define the image, from about 2.1 million in standard HD 1080p to about 4.15 million. By comparison there are about 8.3 million addressable pixels on a native 4K chip. So if one were to interpret this just by the math alone, one might say that the pixel shifted image is double the resolution of native 1080p and half the resolution of native 4K. But this does not tell the whole story.
In actual practice, the eye does not perceive an 8 million pixel image to be double the resolution of a 4 million pixel image when viewed from the typical viewing distance in a home theater (usually somewhere between 1.0 and 1.5 times the screen width). Due to the limitations of the eye's ability to resolve fine detail, there are rapidly diminishing returns at this level of resolution. From a viewing distance of, say, ten feet from an eight-foot wide screen (1.25 times the image width), the eye can only see so much fine detail, whether it exists on the screen in close up or not. An eagle would be able to see it, but the human eye cannot. Once this practical threshold of image resolution has been achieved, one could boost the projector's resolution to infinity and all of the resulting incremental fine detail that you might see from a close examination of the screen would remain invisible when viewed from a distance of ten feet.
Viewing Distance is Everything
Think of it this way. If you are standing two feet from a 120" image, you can clearly see the difference between native 4K and 4K-enhanced 1080p. The pixel structure is smaller on the native 4K image and it more effectively resolves fine detail that is, by comparison, muddled in the 4K-enhanced picture. Now if you back up and increase your viewing distance, you lose your ability to see the fine detail in the native 4K picture, and you also lose the ability to see the pixel structure in the 4K-enhanced image.
You've probably already had this experience when viewing a 1080p picture. You can see pixel structure when examining a 1080p picture up close, but as you back away there is a point at which you can no longer see the pixel structure--you just see what looks like a very clean picture. At that point you've lost the ability to see some of the detail--the pixel structure itself--that is actually in the image.
Due to this phenomenon, there is some viewing distance at which you can no longer tell the difference between a native 4K and a 4K-enhanced 1080p picture. And in point of fact, if you continue to back up to say about 3 times the screen width, there is another point at which you would not even be able to distinguish between native 4K and standard 1080p. Back up further still, and you can't see any difference between native 4K and 1280x720. One's ability to perceive resolution and image detail is a function of viewing distance.
So the essential question is not how much absolute detail there is in the image. Rather, it is whether the projector is able to deliver enough image detail to meet or exceed your ability to see that detail from your preferred viewing distance. And this of course will vary. Some people have more acute vision than others. Some like to sit close to the screen, others prefer to sit farther back, just like everyone has different seating preferences in a movie theater. This will determine whether you can see any difference between native 4K and the 4K-enhance image from the 6040UB.
So with that said, in our testing so far we are struck most by the fact that there appears to be so little difference. The 6040UB produces a remarkably precise 4K simulation. The difference between this image and native 4K becomes somewhat more apparent when displaying very complex still graphics with fine detail. The native 4K products definitely have a resolution edge with this type of material. But with video/film subject matter the differences are not nearly that obvious. Moreover, we are not seeing any problematic digital noise or other artifacts that compromise the integrity of the video picture. Overall the picture is easy to visually interpret as being within the expected performance range of 4K resolution as compared to native 1080p.
High Res Graphics -- A Different Ballgame
The perceived difference in resolution between native 4K and 4K-enhancement is more pronounced with highly complex graphics as opposed to video. If you plan to present high res graphics or dense, complex spreadsheets the ability of the native 4K projector to render the finest detail could become a decisive factor for the display of this type of material. Native 4K projectors have a more obvious performance advantage with this subject matter than they do with video, so the price/performance calculus changes considerably based on application.
For this testing we used the Samsung UBD-K8500 4K Blu-ray player (see Amazon listing) as a 4K source. The test discs were the UltraHD 4K editions of Deadpool, X-Men, and Life of Pi. However, there is still a relatively small amount of native 4K material compared to the huge body of 1080p video on the market. So if you are like us, you'll probably be continuing to watching a lot of upscaled HD 1080p rather than UltraHD 4K. Both native 4K and 4K-enhanced 1080p have the ability to improve the apparent resolution of a 1080p source.
Brightness. The Pro Cinema 6040UB is rated at 2500 lumens. The Dynamic mode on our test unit far exceeds the rating, coming in at 3509 lumens with the lamp on full power and the zoom lens set to its widest angle position. As is typical, Dynamic is biased toward green and not suitable for optimal video reproduction. However, it is not typical for the Dynamic mode to surpass the projector's lumen rating to this degree. What this means is that the Bright Cinema mode which IS reasonably well calibrated for video/film display, measures a remarkable 2413 lumens, or almost the full lumen rating of the projector. All of our lumen readings are as follows:
Epson 6040UB: ANSI Lumens
Zoom Lens Effect on Brightness. The 2.1x zoom range on the 6040 gives you excellent placement flexibility, however the lumen output of the projector is 33% less when the zoom is set at the telephoto end compared to the wide angle end. To maximize lumen output, place the projector as close as possible to the screen.
Low Lamp Modes. The 6040UB has two reduced power modes, Medium and Eco. Medium reduces light output by 23% compared to the High lamp mode, and Eco reduces it by 25%.
Brightness Uniformity. The measured uniformity was an outstanding 93% -- anything 90% and better is practically speaking close to perfectly even illumination as far as the human eye's ability to perceive it is concerned.
Input Lag. Input lag measures differently depending on options set. If you are running with 4K enhancement activated, the frame interpolation (FI) system is not available. In this instance we measure 28 ms in both the Fine and Fast modes. If 4K enhancement is turned off, frame interpolation becomes an option, and you can select either Off, Low, Normal, or High. In Fine mode with FI off, the lag is 29 ms. With FI set to Low, lag is 68 ms, and when set to either Normal or High, the lag is 104 ms. With 4K enhancement off and the Fast mode selected, FI is not an option, and input lag measures 29 ms.
Bottom line, the fastest input lag achievable is with 4K enhancement on and the speed option set to either Fine or Fast, which yields 28 ms.
Fan noise. In High power mode the fan noise is audible enough to draw your attention during quiet interludes in a movie if the projector is mounted directly behind the audience on a rear shelf. It is not loud, but it is moderate in pitch, soft and constant, and not as quiet as you'd like in a small theater space. If you put the projector into Eco or Medium, fan noise drops in both pitch and volume to relatively quiet. In this mode it is not likely to be noticed during quiet interludes in a movie unless you are sitting without about 5 feet of it. It is not as silent as we've seen in other high performance home theater projectors.
High Altitude mode is required at or above about 5000 feet elevation. Fan noise increases in this mode. Many users would want to use the eco mode or take steps to isolate the projector from the viewing space to curtail noise if it needs to be operated in high power mode.
The 6040UB has a 2.1:1 zoom lens with powered zoom, focus, and lens shift. It is designed to accommodate a variety of ceiling and rear wall/shelf mounting installations.
The 6040UB comes with a ceiling mount. The projector's zoom and lens shift range makes it easy to target a pre-existing screen. And if you've already had a projector ceiling mounted, the time and effort to install the 6040UB may be reduced. But keep in mind that if your current HDMI cable is not 4K HDR compliant, you will want to replace it. Also note that if you are upgrading from the earlier Epson 6030UB, the 6040UB is larger and heavier (24 lbs vs. 18 lbs, and it is three inches deeper)
Combined with a retractable screen and in-built surround speakers, you can create a largely disappearing theater which may be an advantage if you are installing in a multi-purpose room. Note that the 6040UB is black. If you have a white ceiling and prefer white casework to minimize the projector's visibility on the ceiling, the 5040UB is white and may be the preferred option.
Rear shelf mounting is popular because it requires no special equipment or mounting hardware. Often the projector can be placed near the rest of your equipment, so you won't need long-run HDMI or power cables. It is a simple way to position your projector that requires minimal cash outlay and zero time spent on a ladder. The downside is that it often requires using the telephoto end of the zoom lens, which on this projector will reduce light output by up to 33% at the maximum telephoto position. This is a modest improvement over the previous 6030UB, which lost 44% of its light at that position.
Throw distance. The 6040UB's 2.1x zoom range will let you fill a 120" diagonal 16:9 screen from distance of anywhere from about 12 to 25 feet (screen to lens). To maximize brightness you will want to place it closer to 12 rather than 25 feet. Also bear in mind that the powered zoom and shift allow you to program the projector to fill a 2.4 CinemaScope format screen when you are viewing movies in this format, and then reset to 16:9 for standard 16:9 material. The 6040UB actually has a total of ten different lens memory settings to accommodate a variety of aspect ratios in a constant image height (CIH) set up. However, your throw distance options are restricted to the range needed to accommodate all of these formats.
Lens Shift Range. The 6040UB has both vertical and horizontal lens shift, and the range is interactive between the two. In the neutral position the centerline of the lens intersects the geometric center of the projected image. From this position, the image may be shifted up or down in a range totaling three picture heights. When in the neutral position vertically, the horizontal shift range is almost 50% of the image width in either direction. As you move the vertical shift up or down, the horizontal shift range is reduced. At the maximum vertical shift position, the horizontal shift range is reduced to 10% of the image width in either direction.
HDR Compatibility (Update: 11/16/16).
At the time of this review we did not have sufficient information to comment on HDR related issues. We have just posted an HDR Compatibility Survey which includes data on all Epson 4K-enabled projector including the Pro Cinema 6040UB.
HDR source signals vary in chroma sub-sampling and color bit depth for each frame rate. The 6040UB is compatible with some but not all HDR sources. It will accept a 24p HDR-10 signal in 4:2:2 but not in 4:4:4 or 4:2:0. The compatible signal formats are as follows:
Fine vs. Fast Mode. When running in Fine mode the overall picture quality is clearly superior to Fast mode--richer, smoother, higher in contrast and more refined. Normally Fast mode is used to achieve a shorter input lag for better gaming results or reduced lip synch errors. However, we see no evidence of improved lag time in Fast mode. Since input lag in both Fine and Fast modes is only 28 ms (with 4K enhancement activated) we find no reason to opt for Fast mode under any circumstances.
Auto Iris. The auto iris has three options, Off, Normal, and High Speed. The Normal mode works fine but in High Speed it stumbles when switching from a black screen or dark scene to an image with much higher average brightness. It often takes a full second for the iris to catch up, and the image brightens in two or three incremental steps until it is at full brightness. This is easy to avoid simply by selecting Off or Normal on the Auto Iris settings.
The Epson Pro Cinema 6040UB combines exceptional brightness, solid contrast, rich color, and 4K-enhancement technology for a highly competitive price. The $3,999 retail price includes a 3-year warranty, ceiling mount, and extra replacement lamp to make the deal even a bit sweeter.
The 4K HDR picture we get from the 6040UB using the Samsung4K HDR K8500 player is visually striking, as was Epson's demo of this projector using the Philips BPD7501 at CEDIA. The HDR 1 and HDR2 options in particular give the user good latitude to adjust the picture to accommodate room lighting variables. We are continuing to research the HDR issues and will add some comments to this review once that inquiry is complete. So there will be one more update to this review.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Epson Pro Cinema 6040UB projector page.