Last year, the Epson Home Cinema 5010 was among the best home theater projectors in its price range. This year's follow-up model, the Home Cinema 5020UB, builds on the success of the previous model while improving on its most significant drawbacks. The 5020UB retains the high light output, inky black levels, accurate color, and razor-sharp detail of the 5010. It adds radio-frequency 3D glasses which don't interfere with remote control operation and includes two pairs in the box. It still has best-in-class zoom and lens shift, making it one of the easiest projectors to set up in your home regardless of the size or shape of your room. While competition this year is fierce, the Epson Home Cinema 5020UB is a great projector for home theater.
The Epson Home Cinema 5020UB comes in two flavors: the base model and the 5020UBe, which includes a WirelessHD transmitter. The two are otherwise identical. Our review centers on the "e" model, but comments can be equally applied to the base model unless specifically noted.
The 5020UBe is, like its predecessor, a projector primarily intended for use with film and video in a darkened home theater environment. That means you should have a room with windows blacked out (or at least covered) and other sources of ambient light controlled as best as possible. Some folks paint their walls black, while others hang curtains to cut down on reflectivity. Doing any or all of these things will make stray light bounce around less and increase contrast on the screen.
While all of those things are desirable, they are no longer absolutely required the way they used to be. The Home Cinema 5020UBe is bright enough that it can stand up to some ambient light and still produce a large, vibrant, high-contrast picture.
We set up our 5020UBe on a rear shelf a few feet behind our seating area. The projector has a 2.1:1 zoom lens and extensive horizontal and vertical lens shift, so it only took a moment to place the projected image onto our 120" diagonal Stewart Studiotek 100 test screen.
Immediately, you can tell that the 5020UBe is a bright projector. In the darkened theater environment described above, it can actually be far too bright. Luckily, the 5020UBe has a variety of image modes with a range of light outputs, allowing the projector to be used just as easily in the living room as in the theater.
But only in the theater is the projector's deep, dark black level really evident. Use one of the less-bright image modes like THX or Cinema in Low lamp mode and you'll still have plenty of light -- the 5020UBe puts out almost 400 lumens even in its least-bright mode. That's perfect for a 100" diagonal image in a darkened theater. That 400 lumens is using the maximum telephoto end of the lens, too; most users will see something closer to 680 lumens, which is what that same mode puts out with the lens in its maximum wide angle position.
In 3D, the projector defaults to its 3D image modes, which are wholly separate from the 2D modes we spent most of our time fine-tuning. The 5020UBe has three 3D modes, and they are clearly labeled: 3D Dynamic, 3D Cinema, and 3D THX. We did not find 3D THX very appealing since it puts out the least light, and the number one concern of most 3D buyers is putting enough light on the screen. 3D Cinema produces a more accurate picture than 3D Dynamic, but the sheer amount of light that 3D Dynamic mode pumps out makes it a very appealing option.
Ultimately, our preferred setup looks like this: the 5020UBe sits on a rear shelf, as close to the center of the screen as possible. Using a 120" diagonal 1.3 gain 16:9 screen, Cinema Eco mode provides enough light for 2D viewing while 3D Dynamic or 3D Cinema both adequately light the screen for 3D. The 5020UBe is a projector that can handle large-screen 3D viewing without much trouble.
2D image quality. The 5020UBe has a smooth, refined 2D image that reflects Epson's long history in home theater projectors. The projected image is bright and vibrant. Colors pop, highlights sparkle, and black levels closely resemble interstellar space. Frame Interpolation helps to smooth out ugly judder in camera pans and fast action, while Super Resolution boosts the appearance of fine detail in both SD and HD content. This is not just a projector that looks good watching Blu-ray movies -- to a certain extent, every HD projector looks good watching Blu-ray movies. This is a projector that gives new life to your old DVD collection that I know you still have on a shelf or in a box somewhere.
3D image quality. Whereas we saw minor ghosting and crosstalk on the 5010, the 5020UBe reduces instances of these artifacts significantly. Brightness is still quite high, allowing for screen size parity with 2D images within reason. In addition, the new 3D glasses are thinner, lighter, and much more comfortable than last year's models. The use of radio frequency sync as opposed to infrared will also reduce interference with remote controls, most of which use IR.
RF glasses included. The 5010 did not include 3D glasses, but the 5020UB includes two pairs of glasses in the box. Each pair of glasses also includes a storage bag and a charging cable (the glasses charge over USB). These glasses fit well and do not cause any discomfort over the course of a two-hour movie. The lenses are fairly large as well.
Frame interpolation. Epson has been putting frame interpolation onto their home theater projectors for years now, and it has improved every year. Frame interpolation removes judder normally seen in fast camera pans and action sequences, allowing for a smoother, more artifact-free viewing experience. Frame Interpolation has three levels. Low offers the least amount of judder reduction but also appears the most "natural," while High eliminates all traces of judder but makes film look more like video. This "digital video effect" is something that many people don't enjoy, but the 5020UBe's FI settings help you avoid it if it bothers you. On the other hand, if you are viewing live-performance video rather than an original film source, the high FI setting tends to enhance the reality of the visual experience.
Split screen. Like last year, the 5020UB includes a split screen system. This allows for the simultaneous display of two signal sources, provided that both of those sources are not HDMI or Wireless. In other words, HDMI and Component works, HDMI and HDMI does not.
WirelessHD. The only difference between the 5020UB and the 5020UBe is the latter's inclusion of a WirelessHD transmitter box. WirelessHD is a relatively new technology that we saw on Epson's home theater models last year. While modular systems that can be added to any projector are available, the Epson Home Cinema models are unique in that the receiver is built-in to the projector itself. This means, should you opt for the wireless model, you only need to run power to the projector.
The transmitter box is identical to the one included with the 3020e, the home video projector Epson just released. The transmitter is about the size of a thick hardcover book and has its own power supply. The top panel features a trio of buttons - Input, Output, and Power. These same functions can also be accessed from the 5020UBe's remote control. The Input button cycles through the transmitter's five (!) HDMI inputs, while the output button switches between wireless display and wired HDMI out. This feature allows you to run the same set of equipment to both your television and your projector. Transmission range tops out at ten meters, but line-of-sight is not strictly required. We used the transmitter through a fairly thick interior wall without any issues, but try to test this functionality before drilling any holes or making anything permanent.
Video quality over WirelessHD is indistinguishable from HDMI. Moreover, we saw no increase in input lag over WirelessHD when compared to conventional HDMI, so gamers are no worse off using the wireless function than if they'd used a direct cable link.
Placement flexibility. Epson often makes home theater projectors with best-in-class lens shift and zoom range. The 5020UBe is no exception. The projector sports a 2.1:1 manual zoom lens that can put a 120" diagonal 16:9 image on the wall anywhere from 11' 8" to 25' of throw. There is a trade-off: using the telephoto end of the zoom lens reduces light output by up to 32%. It is important to keep that in mind while planning your projector installation.
In addition, the manual horizontal and vertical lens shift can help place the image exactly where you want it. From dead center, the projector can shift the image up or down by 150% of the image height in each direction or shift it left or right by 50% of the image width in either direction. With regards to placement flexibility, this is about as good as it gets.
Light output. Normally we list light output under Performance, but it is also a key feature of the 5020UB. It's not just that the projector is bright; there are lots of bright projectors. More important is that the 5020UB's light output can be adjusted over a wide range, allowing for settings between 2432 lumens on the high end (slightly over the projector's specified maximum) and 391 lumens at the low end. That allows for a variety of installation options and image sizes without being too dim for the living room or too bright for the theater.
Color. Recently, there has been a trend towards home theater projectors with accurate color out of the box. The 5020UBe has a number of presets that fall very near the 6500K color temperature standard, and gamut is close enough to the desired values that adjustment isn't necessary. For those folks at home who don't want to get mixed up in extensive calibration, this is a feature of immeasurable value.
Light output. The "UB" in the 5020UBe's name stands for Ultra Black, but it could just as easily mean Ultra Bright. The projector's specifications state a maximum brightness of 2400 lumens, and our test sample met this easily.
Dynamic is the brightest preset image mode available on the projector. On our test sample, Dynamic mode measured 2432 lumens with the lamp set to Normal, the full-power setting. Dynamic mode emphasizes light output above all other considerations, and as such black level is not as impressive nor is color as accurate as in the 5020UBe's other image modes.
The same is not true for Living Room mode. Living Room mode is, as the name might suggest, an image mode designed for use in a non-traditional theater space with significant ambient light -- i.e. a living room, family room, or other such gathering area. Contrast is much improved compared to Dynamic mode, and color has an intentional blue tint. Why? Well, most folks' indoor lighting tends towards the warm side, especially if that lighting is from incandescent bulbs. In the additive color system, if you want to cancel out an excess of yellow, you add blue. Living room mode measures 1820 lumens.
However, let's say you just want a very bright picture because you want to use a large screen, and you don't need to cancel out any yellow. In that case, you can still use Living Room mode -- just change the "Abs. Color Temp" control from 7500K to 6500K. The result is a bright, perfectly color-balanced picture at 1725 lumens.
The remaining three modes can get a little confusing: they are THX, Natural, and Cinema. THX mode is best suited for traditional dark-room home theater use in a room with zero ambient light and blacked-out walls. It measures 766 lumens with the lamp set to Normal, but it has a very subdued, natural appearance with regards to color and contrast. This is the mode the projector defaults to upon startup, and after viewing the Natural and Cinema modes it didn't get a lot of use.
Which brings us to Natural and Cinema modes. Natural and Cinema are nearly identical. They both have excellent color balance, only needing a small amount of adjustment. They both offer the best contrast available on the 5020UBe. They even have similar light output, at 908 lumens for Natural and 914 lumens for Cinema. The only significant difference we can find is that Natural mode's color gamut closely adheres to the Rec. 709 standard, while Cinema offers an expanded gamut which gives the image a bit more pop.
Most of our testing occurred in Cinema mode because it creates a bright, colorful, high-contrast picture that is nonetheless easy to calibrate and easy to watch. Some folks will be drawn to THX mode either due to its subdued appearance or because of those three magic letters that add some kind of mystic legitimacy to the picture on the screen. We would urge owners of the 5020UBe to cycle through the three modes using a variety of content and decide for themselves which they like the best.
One thing you may have noticed is that none of the preset modes drop much below 800 lumens, which can be far too bright on a smaller-sized screen. Even a 120" diagonal screen at a modest 1.3 gain doesn't need that much light. In these instances, the best choice is to switch to Eco lamp mode, which drops light output by 25% in each of the above modes. That brings Cinema mode to a much more reasonable 685 lumens. If you need further light output reduction, consider moving the projector back for a longer throw distance; using the telephoto end of the lens will decrease light output by up to 32%.
Contrast. Last year, the 5010 had the best black levels in its price range. This year, while we haven't yet seen all of the home theater projectors under $5,000, indications are strong that Epson is coming back for a repeat performance. The 5020UBe features the same deep black levels that the 5010 had, especially in dark scenes. The projector's auto iris has two settings, Normal and High Speed, and while they differ in terms of response time and sensitivity the net effect is the same -- dark scenes receive a significant black level boost.
In terms of shadow detail, the 5020UBe's gamma settings are good even before calibration. The default setting of 2.4 preserves deep shadow detail without blowing out highlights or crushing blacks. If you plan to use the 5020UBe in areas with ambient light, a milder gamma setting like 2.2 will lighten some shadow detail, making it more visible in that environment.
Color. The 5020UBe has excellent, comprehensive color controls for both white balance and gamut. However, we ended up not using the gamut controls, because our instruments indicate that the differences between the 5020UBe's gamut and the Rec. 709 gamut should not be visible to the human eye. There are some differences between the various image modes, as illustrated below.
Note that THX and Natural have nearly identical gamut plots, and indeed the measurements are very similar. The difference is that Natural has quite a bit more "pop" behind it, and is overall quite similar to Cinema in terms of white balance, contrast, and overall appearance on screen. Some folks will prefer Natural over Cinema for this reason. The expanded gamut present in Cinema mode is a preferential thing; some people will enjoy it while others will not. Other than this gamut shift, Cinema and Natural are largely identical.
Dynamic mode, as mentioned earlier, pushes green in order to enhance light output. As a result, its RGB levels look a little wonky, especially as you move towards pure white.
In Cinema mode, the projector measured about 6000K out of the box, but it was easy to bring the projector up to 6500K with a bit of fine-tuning. Below are pre-calibration and post-calibration graphs of Cinema mode's RGB levels, along with the settings we used to get there.
On our test sample, the RGB settings looked like this:
The real surprise of the 5020UBe's color performance, though, was Living Room. With not a single stitch of adjustment save for a quick change of the Abs. Color Temp control from 7500K to 6500K, we obtained a white balance that looked like this:
The long and short of it is that the 5020UBe has solid color out of the box, but a touch of adjustment -- in some cases a very small touch -- can make it really shine.
Sharpness and clarity. The 5020UBe looks great when you feed it native resolution 1080p material, but the same is true for most 1080p projectors. The days of worrying about de-interlacing and scaling are long since over. However, the 5020UBe does have a leg-up on the competition when it comes to standard definition material, such as that pile of DVDs you haven't watched in years. It's called Super Resolution.
Super Resolution is a smart sharpening algorithm that picks up the latent detail in standard definition material and makes it stand out more. I don't know if you've looked at an average DVD lately, but they tend to look kind of muddy and ill-defined at all but the best of times. Super Resolution takes those scenes and makes them look almost high-definition. It's not as good as buying the Blu-ray version, but DVDs look better on the 5020UBe than they do on most other home theater projectors.
Manual focus. The 5020UBe has manual lens adjustments. It's not uncommon for projectors to have manual lens shift, and it's even fairly common for projectors to have manual zoom and focus. But on a projector like the 5020UBe, with its extensive zoom range, it becomes difficult to nail perfect focus as the distance between projector and screen increases. You end up walking up to the screen to check focus, then walking back to the projector to make a small adjustment, et cetera. It helps to have a friend around to check your adjustments.
3D Limitations. Unfortunately, some things don't change. The 5020UBe's 3D modes still force the projector into high lamp mode with its own preset color calibrations. Frame Interpolation does not work while watching 3D content. These limitations were also present on the 5010. On the upside, iris control has now been returned to the user.
No Anamorphic. High-end theaters may opt for anamorphic lenses to create an ultra-wide 2.4:1 constant image height setup. However, for that to work, the projector needs to be able to take 2.4:1 content and vertically stretch it to fit the 16:9 native frame. The 5020UBe cannot do this. If you like the 5020UBe and want this capability, you'll need to step up to the 6020UBe, which is nearly identical in terms of capabilities but comes with an extra year of warranty, a ceiling mount, an extra lamp, and anamorphic capability.
Input Lag. Last year, we measured 92ms of lag on the Epson 5010, which was about the worst performance we saw that year. On a 60Hz signal (what you get from most PCs and gaming systems), that is 5.5 frames of delay.
This year, a series of input lag measurements reveals that the 5020UBe is faster than its predecessor in several areas. If you are serious about games, you can get a 50 millisecond delay out of the 5020UBe by changing the amount of processing the projector does to the signal. Go to Signal>Advanced>Image Processing and switch from "Fine" to "Fast." Using Cinema mode with Frame Interpolation off, that gets you 50ms (3 frames) of input lag, the fastest time the 5020UBe is capable of.
The 5020UBe's other modes are not quite as responsive, so gamers should probably skip them. In a typical mode of operation for home theater -- Cinema mode, iris enabled, Frame Interpolation Low -- the 5020UBe had a whopping 118 milliseconds (7 frames) of input lag. Frame Interpolation almost always slows down a projector's response time, so gamers are going to turn it off. In this case (Cinema, iris on, FI off) our test unit measured 67ms (4 frames) of delay.
One interesting quirk found during testing is that the 5020UBe has less input lag with its iris enabled than with its iris disabled. For example, if you use Dynamic mode, Fine processing, and no Frame Interpolation, the projector measures 83 milliseconds of delay with the iris off and 67 milliseconds of delay with the iris on. Note that this does not have any further improvement once Fast processing has been turned on; 50ms appears to be the fastest time the 5020UBe can muster.
The short version: if you are going to play games on the 5020UBe, use Fast processing and no Frame Interpolation. Super Resolution, lamp power, and image mode have zero effect on input lag, so feel free to use whatever you like. Also note that using WirelessHD does not add to input lag, as far as we can tell. Tests of the same modes over HDMI and WirelessHD link returned results within a few milliseconds of one another.
The Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5020UBe is the newest addition to the Epson home theater line, and it continues their tradition of fully-featured, high-value home theater projectors. Its bright picture combines deep contrast and vibrant color to create a picture that pops off of the screen, while its 3D performance has received a significant boost thanks to new RF-sync glasses.
Great color, high contrast, and excellent placement flexibility make the Epson 5020 series easy to like. Street prices are currently $2599 for the 5020UB and $2899 for the 5020UBe model which includes a WirelessHD transmitter for an additional five HDMI inputs.
Despite the stiff competition from other projectors this year, the 5020UBe is a strong value in the home theater market and an excellent choice for home theater in just about any situation.