Editor's Choice Award
Our Editor's Choice award goes to products that dramatically exceed expectations for performance, value, or cutting-edge design.
This year's CEDIA trade show in Denver saw Epson refresh its entire home theater projector line. The Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5030UB is this year's upgrade to the Home Cinema 5020UB, one of last year's hottest projectors. While the 5030UB is in many ways an incremental improvement over its predecessor, it is an impressive machine in its own right.
The Home Cinema 5030UB is one of three new home theater projectors released at this year's CEDIA show. The others, the Pro Cinema 4030 and Pro Cinema 6030UB, are restricted-distribution products sold through specialized dealers and custom installers. The Home Cinema 5030UB, on the other hand, is in open distribution -- meaning you can find it at a number of authorized resellers online. Currently priced at $2,599 from authorized sellers, the Home Cinema 5030UB is an excellent value in today's market.
While the projector is laden with features that make it easy to install and use, the primary draw of the Home Cinema 5030UB is image quality. The 5030UB's image in both 2D and 3D is the best we've ever seen from Epson, and the picture on screen makes it clear where every single dollar of the projector's purchase price went. In other words, it looks more expensive than it actually is.
The Home Cinema 5030UB is built primarily for use in a light-controlled home theater environment, and it is tailored to deliver maximum impact in such a situation. The "UB" in the projector's name stands for Ultra Black, a designation that does not disappoint once you have the projector properly configured. For part of this review we set up the 5030UB on one of Stewart's new screens, the Cima by Stewart Filmscreen using the 1.1-gain Neve white fabric. This screen is a superb complement to the 5030B for dedicated home theater, and it costs less than the Studiotek 130. The 5030UB already has very deep black levels and light output is highly adjustable, so this neutral white screen with low gain and a very wide 80-degree half-gain angle is ideal for dark theater installations.
The Epson Home Cinema 5030UB
In 2D, the 5030UB's image is smooth and life-like. Highlights are bright, but not blown out, while shadow detail is excellent and overall dynamic range makes the image appear three-dimensional. Black level, which has long been the strong point of Epson's home theater projectors, is as deep as it has ever been once the projector's automatic iris is turned on. The Home Cinema 5030UB shares the color performance of its predecessors, with good color saturation and comprehensive color adjustment controls. The projector's factory configurations need a little bit of fine-tuning, but this isn't unusual in home theater projectors.
The 5030UB produces a bright, engaging 3D image that makes large-screen 3D display attainable. The projector has three dedicated 3D color modes that can be fine-tuned independently of their 2D counterparts. Bright, well-saturated colors and good shadow detail make 3D viewing a pleasant experience, even for this jaded reviewer.
If you still watch a lot of standard-definition content, technologies like Frame Interpolation and Super Resolution improve image quality and give new life to your DVD collection. And while no amount of image processing can turn SD into HD, the Home Cinema 5030UB can clean up standard-definition material enough to make it easier on your eyes, now that you're used to high definition.
The Home Cinema 5030UB is one of the most flexible projectors on the market when it comes to installation and placement, featuring a 2.1:1 manual zoom lens with horizontal and vertical lens shift, both of which have extensive range. This opens up a variety of placement options.
For the do-it-yourselfer, the 5030UB's lens configuration screams "rear shelf mount." Rear shelf mounting is popular because it requires no special equipment or mounting hardware, except for a shelf. You can place the projector in an optimum location to minimize lens shift and achieve the best possible brightness uniformity. The projector can be placed near the rest of your equipment, so you won't need long-run HDMI cables. It is a simple, effective way to position your projector that requires minimal cash outlay and zero time spent on a ladder, though it often requires using the telephoto end of the zoom lens, which can reduce light output by up to 44%.
On the other hand, a ceiling mount can look more professional. In a white-ceilinged room, the 5030UB's white case blends in quite well. The projector's extensive 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 concerns about the cost of cabling and ceiling mounts are reduced or eliminated. Combined with a retractable screen, a ceiling mount can create a "disappearing theater" which may be an advantage if you are installing in a multi-purpose room.
Table placement is an option as well. The 5030UB can display a 100" diagonal 16:9 image from 9' 9", so even mid-sized rooms can accommodate large screen sizes. Placement on or below a table keeps the projector out of the way but accessible, while providing the same cable length benefits as a rear shelf mount.
The Home Cinema 5030UB's ideal operation mode for home theater is called THX. After calibration, with the lens at its widest angle setting, our test unit produced 645 lumens with the lamp set to full power and 479 lumens at low power. In a darkened theater room, this is enough light for a 120" diagonal 1.3-gain 16:9 screen at full power, or more than enough for a 100" diagonal screen at low power. Larger screen sizes are easily attainable using the 5030UB's Cinema, Natural, or Living Room image modes, or a color-adjusted Dynamic mode.
While the 5030UB is great for home theater on screens of 120" diagonal and above, there is a case to be made for a 100" diagonal screen of about 1.1 gain. In THX mode, even accounting for 20-30% light loss from using the center of the projector's zoom range, the picture is bright and enticing at 100 inches. Then, when switching to 3D, the 5030UB's 3D Dynamic mode is bright enough to give you a 3D picture that actually gets 16 foot-Lamberts to your eyes. This is something that few other home theater projectors can accomplish, and it means you get 2D and 3D pictures of almost equivalent brightness.
The following items are common to all three of Epson's new home theater projectors, and so represent the common core of Epson's projector technology. Unsurprisingly, these features are more or less a list of reasons why many people buy Epson home theater projectors.
Placement flexibility. Epson's projectors feature a 2.1:1 manual zoom/focus lens with horizontal and vertical lens shift, which is also manually controlled. The zoom lens can create a 120" diagonal 16:9 image from throw distances between 11'9" to 25' 1". The lens shift has a total range of 3 image heights and 2 image widths, with the middle position putting the center of the lens at the center of the screen. The range of the lens shift is roughly oval-shaped, so you cannot reach maximum horizontal and maximum vertical shift simultaneously.
Super Resolution. Epson's smart sharpening system, called Super Resolution, can increase the appearance of fine detail. The system identifies blurred portions of the source image and selectively applies sharpening to these areas, then compares the sharpened image to the original and attempts to minimize the differences in order to reduce artifacts. Super Resolution shows improvement compared to last year's implementation, leading to an increased perception of detail with fewer artifacts overall. When taken too far, it can still cause mild ringing or artificiality, but a setting of 2 or 3 (out of 5) is effective while still being subtle.
Full HD 3D. Epson's 3D system is as hassle-free as it gets. The system uses radio-frequency glasses synchronization to eliminate interference with remote control signals. The projectors have multiple dedicated 3D viewing presets which can be calibrated independently, allowing you to save more than one calibration for 3D viewing. This makes it easy to have a bright setting for television and animation and a more subtle, reserved setting for film.
The 3D Glasses (model ELP-GS03) are lightweight and comfortable, and their batteries are rechargeable over USB (a cable is included with each pair). Each projector comes with two pairs of 3D glasses, and additional eyewear costs $99 from Epson.
3D brightness can be adjusted to one of three levels, which allows the user to trade between image brightness and crosstalk elimination based on the content being viewed. The default setting is Medium, which allows 25% total light transmission. Medium brightness effectively eliminates crosstalk in all but the most difficult content, and was our preferred setting throughout testing. Low brightness, at 18.5% light transmission, removes any trace of crosstalk whatsoever, but also restricts screen size due to less light making it to your eyes. High brightness, at 29.5% transmission, is great for 3D content where crosstalk is less of a concern. While we did not switch away from Medium very often, we appreciated having the option available for those times when the content demanded a different approach.
B&W Cinema. Black and white movies look their best at around 5500K color temperature, which is close to the color temperature of the commercial projection systems in use back in the 1940's and 50's. When you try to watch them in a mode that has been optimized for color films, they end up looking cold and uninteresting. The Epson 4030, 5030UB, and 6030UB all include the "B&W Cinema" image preset which is intended to display classic black and white films as they were originally seen in theaters. It's a big help when you're a fan of the classics but don't want to adjust your Cinema calibration every time you watch a black and white film.
Picture in Picture. As the name implies, Picture in Picture (PIP) displays a small secondary image from a separate source in a corner of the larger main image. Epson's home theater projectors have had PIP capability for years, but this year the system is able to use HDMI inputs for both images. This is a big deal -- in the past, projectors typically had one set of HDMI circuitry, and could not use digital sources for both inputs. The use of two digital sources for PIP is a first for Epson home theater projectors and may in fact be unique in the market today.
Lamp. All three projectors use the same 230-watt E-TORL lamp, which is rated for 4,000 hours of use at full power and 5,000 hours in Eco-mode. Replacement lamps cost $299 each.
Low to moderate fan noise. Perhaps due to the use of a relatively low-wattage lamp in a large chassis, none of Epson's new home theater models creates much audible noise in eco-mode. Eco-mode is nearly silent, and sitting any farther than a foot away from the projector means you won't hear it running. In full lamp power mode the fan noise can be noticeable during quiet interludes in a film, but it is low in pitch and not overly distracting.
Warranty. Each projector has, at minimum, a two-year warranty which includes 90 days of lamp coverage. The Pro Cinema 6030 and 4030 extend this warranty to three years. Up to two years of additional warranty coverage is available for purchase on the 5030, if desired.
Automatic iris. Epson has perfected the automatic iris by creating a system that is both effective and unobtrusive. The iris deepens black levels in scenes with low illumination. It has two settings, Normal and High Speed, with High Speed being the more aggressive of the two -- the iris in High Speed appears to react more quickly than in Normal mode.
5030UB rear panel including connections
Connectivity. All three projectors have two HDMI ports, 3-RCA component input, a 12V trigger, and an RS-232C port for external command and control. The Home Cinema 5030 has a wireless model, the 5030UBe, which also include a WirelessHD transmitter with 5 additional HDMI inputs and MHL compatibility.
Calibration and customization. The menu system gives the user total control over color, contrast, and gamma. Each projector features full RGB Gain/Bias controls for grayscale adjustment as well as a full color management system for fine-tuning gamut. Each projector also has at least some amount of control over gamma. Ten user memory locations allow you to save different calibrations for the same image mode without overwriting your previous settings, and these memory slots can be renamed as well.
Panel alignment. The panel alignment system can correct for convergence errors, which are almost an inevitability in a three-chip light engine. As the projector is used and components age, there may be some tiny shifts in the positioning of the LCD panels used to create the image. Using the panel alignment system, you can correct for these shifts without sending the projector out for service, thereby reducing downtime and expense.
2D picture quality. The best reason to purchase the 5030UB, hands down, is image quality. The 2D picture from the 5030UB is high in contrast, impressively three-dimensional, and after calibration has spot-on accurate color. Thanks to an aggressive and effective automatic iris, the 5030UB offers the best black level performance found in any projector in its price range, period. Detail is sharp and clear even without the use of Super Resolution, though that technology can make detail pop even more than it already does. Frame interpolation is very effective at reducing judder in 24p material, and shows few artifacts.
3D picture quality. If you care about 3D theater, the 5030UB delivers a compelling experience. The 3D image from the 5030UB has no noticeable flicker, almost zero crosstalk, and is bright enough to display on large screens. That last point is crucial; insufficient brightness is a major cause of headaches and eye strain when watching 3D movies and video. The 5030UB's 3D Dynamic mode is bright enough to power a 100" diagonal 1.3 gain screen at 16 fL. That measurement was obtained using the Low 3D brightness setting and already accounts for light loss from the 3D glasses. Using those same settings, the Medium brightness setting is just about bright enough for a 120" diagonal screen. To top things off, Frame Interpolation is available in all 3D image modes.
Frame interpolation. Frame Interpolation is a technology that reduces the appearance of judder and motion blur by adding interstitial frames to a source video signal. Frame Interpolation has three settings as well as an Off switch (it starts out disabled). Low, the most conservative setting, does not eliminate judder but also has the least noticeable digital video effect. Normal, the next setting, drastically reduces judder but can increase the appearance of DVE in some content. We found the appearance of digital video effect to be highly content-specific. Some films show DVE on Low, while others do not show much DVE even with Frame Interpolation set to High. Low is a safe all-purpose setting for reducing judder in most film and video, though, so we left FI set to Low for the majority of our testing.
Light output. When it comes to light output, the Home Cinema 5030UB is exceptionally flexible. On the high end of the scale is Dynamic, which on our projector measured 2230 lumens with the lens at its widest angle setting. Before adjustments, Dynamic has a greenish cast, but is useful whenever maximum light output is needed. On our projector, we were able to reduce the green tint to a tolerable level using the RGB Gain/Bias controls for the cost of about 200 lumens, but the end result is a much more balanced picture that is useful in a greater number of situations.
Living Room mode, measuring 1735 lumens on our projector, has a bluish tint that pushes color temperature up to around 8000K. This cooler tone actually helps to fight ambient light, which is predominantly yellow, when the projector is used in a living room or other non-theater environment. However, Living Room is also a great mode to use if you want a bright, engaging picture that does not require a lot of fiddling with the controls. By taking the Color Temperature slider from +3 to +1, you'll end up with a picture that measures 6300K to 6500K across the grayscale with no effort on your part. Making this color temperature adjustment lowers light output slightly to 1550 lumens, an 11% decrease.
Natural and Cinema mode, at 871 and 805 lumens, are quite similar, with only some differences in gamma and color gamut separating them from each other. Both Natural and Cinema default to low power lamp mode, though the measurements above were taken with the lamp at full power.
The 5030UB includes a preset called B&W Cinema that is tailored for the display of black and white movies. Coming in at 740 lumens with the lamp at full power, B&W Cinema has a color temperature around 5500K, which is ideal for old black and white films.
When it comes to pure home theater image quality, THX mode is hard to beat. It has more accurate color than the 5030UB's other image modes, which calibration improves even further, and the best contrast performance as well. THX mode at its factory settings measures 690 lumens with the lamp at full power and 512 lumens at low power. Our calibration, which improved both white balance and color gamut, resulted in a final light output of 479 lumens.
Most projectors' low lamp modes reduce light output by a consistent percentage in all image modes, but this is not the case on the 5030UB. Switching from "Normal" to "ECO" lamp in Dynamic mode reduces output by 21%, but making the same adjustment in Living Room mode results in a 28.5% reduction. Cinema, Natural, and THX modes all lose 26% when dropping to low power lamp mode. Please note that in THX mode, the low power lamp setting is called "Normal" while full power is called "Extra Bright." In all other image modes, low power is "ECO" and full power is "Normal." That can get a touch confusing, and is why we've opted to use the terms "full power" and "low power" in this section.
The 5030UB's 2.1:1 zoom lens allows different amounts of light to pass depending on zoom position. The lens's wide angle position passes the maximum amount of light, which is reflected in our lumen readings above. But the maximum telephoto setting, which produces the smallest image size at a given throw distance, restricts light output by 44%. As an example, THX mode drops from 512 lumens to 287 lumens with the lamp at low power -- a significant reduction that could affect your choice of screen size. This is important to keep in mind when mounting your projector.
Contrast. The UB on the end of the 5030UB's name stands for Ultra Black, and if anything that's a modest assessment. The 5030UB has an automatic iris that effectively combines aggressive performance with unnoticeable operation, leading to the best black levels available in a home theater projector in this price range. When combined with the projector's sparkling highlights and well-defined shadow detail, the end result is a projector that can handle the most difficult Blu-ray content without breaking a sweat. The dynamic range of the 5030UB's image gives it a three-dimensional quality that makes it a real pleasure to watch.
If you want to fine-tune the 5030UB's handling of shadow detail, the projector has very good controls for gamma adjustment, allowing you to individually adjust ten points along the gamma curve. If you are more visually-minded or lack the required hardware to do a full calibration, the system will also allow you to pick a point in the image and then make adjustments from there. That can be especially helpful when you can see what's wrong in the image and want to fix it right away.
Color. When evaluating color on a home theater projector, we are looking for two things. The first is good, if not great, color performance straight out of the box. The second is the ability to fine-tune the projector until it looks even better. The Home Cinema 5030UB delivers both.
Straight out of the box, the 5030UB defaults to THX mode. On our test unit, factory-preset THX mode has a consistent grayscale that measures around 6000K. If you don't own the equipment needed to calibrate your projector and don't want to pay someone else to take a crack at it, you can adjust the color temperature slider upwards by a point or two and call it a day.
THX mode, factory settings
The only problem with this quick calibration is that it lacks green, so while the red/blue balance is almost right where it should be, the picture still looks wrong. On our projector, we corrected for this by adding green and then decreasing red by a few points. The result is a smooth, consistent grayscale that's right around 6500K across the board, aside from a tiny spike at 100% illumination.
THX mode, calibrated
The 5030UB has a full color management system, and while the gamut in THX mode wasn't far from the Rec. 709 color space to begin with, we found the system exceptionally easy to use. We ended up making a significant improvement to the 5030UB's color gamut with just a few minutes' work using our color meter.
Color gamut after calibration
Living Room, at its default settings, measures right around 8000K, but as stated earlier it can be corrected with a quick nudge to the Color Temperature slider. The end result isn't nearly as precise as the THX calibration above, but it is definitely serviceable.
Living Room mode with quick adjustments applied
Cinema mode can be every bit as accurate as THX mode, given a little bit of work. The factory settings of our projector give Cinema too much green and a color temperature that ranges between 5900K on the low end and 6400K on the high end.
Cinema mode, factory settings
After reducing red and increasing green a bit, our final Cinema calibration actually measured brighter than the factory setting thanks to the extra green, and grayscale tracking was much improved as well.
Cinema mode, calibrated
What's impressive about the 5030UB isn't that it can be calibrated, because all modern home theater projectors can be calibrated if you have enough time and patience. What is impressive is how easy it is to calibrate the projector, given a color meter and an hour's time. By the end of our adjustments, we were left with three accurately-calibrated image presets that wrung out every drop of the 5030UB's potential.
Input lag. If you're into gaming, you'll want the least input lag possible. That is achieved by switching from "Fine" Image Processing to "Fast." This setting is designed specifically to reduce input lag, and resulted in only 37 milliseconds of lag, a touch over two frames. While this isn't the fastest home theater projector on the market, it is certainly a marked improvement over last year's 5020UB at 50 milliseconds. Note that "Fast" processing has a softening effect on the picture that reduces the appearance of fine detail, and this reduction in apparent resolution is most visible when there is a lot of small text or other detail on the screen. Depending on what kind of game you're playing, that softness could be invisible, obvious, or anywhere in between.
If you use the standard default settings, which include "Fine" Image Processing, the 5030UB measures 91 milliseconds of input lag, equivalent to five and a half frames of a 60fps signal. That's slower than last year's Home Cinema 5020UB (67 ms) and equal to the Home Cinema 5010 (92ms).
Several features increase input lag even more when activated. Frame Interpolation is the worst offender at 183 milliseconds, or about 11 frames. It did not matter which level of Frame Interpolation was applied; all three settings result in the same increase. Super Resolution, on the other hand, only increases input lag to 102 milliseconds or six frames, a half-frame increase over the baseline.
The end result is that the 5030UB is faster in "Fast" mode but slower in other modes than the 5020UB was last year. Since gamers who care about input lag are unlikely to use anything but the fastest setting available, this comes out as a win for the new model.
No anamorphic stretch. An anamorphic stretch mode enables the projector to vertically scale a 2.4:1 movie to fill the projector's 16:9 pixel matrix, This signal can then be horizontally stretched using an anamorphic lens to create a 2.4:1 Cinemascope format picture. With this type of set up, all 2:4 movies as well as all16:9 and 4:3 content are displayed at the same picture height, so the rig is commonly referred to as Constant Image Height (CIH). Since the 5030UB lacks an anamorphic stretch mode, you cannot use it with an anamorphic lens without adding an external video processor. Another option is stepping up to the Pro Cinema 6030UB, which includes anamorphic stretch.
Manual lens controls. The 5030UB has some of the best placement flexibility of any projector thanks to its 2.1:1 zoom lens and H/V lens shift. However, all of the projector's lens adjustments are manually operated rather than powered. This can make it more difficult to initially adjust the projector's focus, since adjustments must be made from the projector itself. When a projector has powered focus, you can make your adjustments while standing near the screen, making it easier to see what you're doing.
Manual adjustments also make it more difficult to use the projector's zoom to simulate an anamorphic lens and CIH setup. You can do it if the unit is shelf or table mounted, and you want to reset the zoom position when you change the aspect ratio of your subject matter. But some projectors with powered zoom lenses incorporate a feature that automatically zooms the image to a number of pre-set positions, allowing you to use the projector on a 2.4:1 screen without the cost or bother of an anamorphic lens, and without the need to manually reset the zoom when switching from 2.4 to 16:9.
No ISF certification. Epson's new Pro Cinema projectors include ISF certification, but the Home Cinema 5030UB does not. Note that the ISF-certified models do not include any additional calibration controls, as is the case on some other manufacturers' home theater projectors.
Grayscale adjustments shared. The 5030UB has excellent color controls, but there is one limitation: the projector's RGB Gain/Bias adjustments are shared between image modes. In other words, if you adjust grayscale tracking in Cinema mode and then switch to Living Room mode, the RGB Gain/Bias controls will still be set to the values you added in Cinema. If you want to save independent calibrations for each mode, you'll have to use the projector's Memory settings. Luckily, there are ten of them.
The Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5030UB is, on its face, an incremental improvement to last year's 5020UB. The specifications are similar enough, despite a significant increase in contrast, and there are no groundbreaking new features to differentiate this model from last year's version.
However, the small, incremental changes made to the 5030UB come together to create an image that is smoother, more film-like, more three-dimensional, and overall more polished than the image created by last year's projector. And that is saying quite a bit, especially since last year's model was already a compelling, polished home theater projector.
The bottom line is this: the Epson Home Cinema 5030UB's strengths are its stellar picture quality and abundance of features that make the projector a pleasure to use. While it has some weaknesses, they tend to be related to anamorphic video or the finer points of calibration. If you're looking for a powerful home theater projector that is great for both 2D and 3D video, it's hard to go wrong with this one.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Epson Home Cinema 5030UB projector page.