Editor's Choice Award
Our Editor's Choice award goes to products that dramatically exceed expectations for performance, value, or cutting-edge design.
The Epson LS10000 is the company's newest high performance flagship home theater projector, and compared to what Epson has produced in the past it is in a whole new league.
The LS10000 combines four high-demand features that everyone has been clamoring for in a home theater projector:
(1) 4K enhancement of 1080p source/display of native 4K sources
(2) 100% laser light engine with up to 30,000 hour lifespan
(3) Super high contrast reflective imaging devices
(4) 3-way Automated Lens Memory for Constant Image Height installation.
These four features in combination make for a highly competitive new product in the premium home theater projector market. The price has not been finally determined as of this writing, but Epson says it will be under $8,000.
The LS10000 is a revolutionary product, unlike anything that Epson has produced to date. It combines extreme contrast and extreme resolution to produce a picture capable of extraordinary realism and presence. Though it uses 1920x1080 resolution chips, it has the ability to enhance standard 1080p sources to make them look as if they were filmed or captured in 4K resolution. Once the unit was set up, the first disc I wanted to see was the Eagles Farewell I Tour. Projected onto an eight foot wide Stewart Studiotek 130 with the 4K enhancement active, this picture virtually exploded off the screen with detail and a sense of immediate presence that I'd never seen from this disc before. If you want to compare it to standard 1080p, you can simply turn off the 4K enhancement. What you end up with is a picture that looks remarkably soft--almost more like really good standard definition. In actuality, the standard 1080p picture is just as sharp as it always has been. It is just that by comparison to the 4K enhanced version it is surprisingly soft.
The LS10000 has five levels of 4K enhancement, labeled 4K-1 through 4K-5, with 5 being the most aggressive processing. There is no correct or optimal setting. The level of enhancement you select will depend in equal parts on the type of content being viewed, the viewing distance, and your personal taste. When viewing the Eagles concert from a distance of 16 feet (2x the screen width), I set the enhancement to 4K-5 with excellent results. The picture was pristine, clear, and perfectly natural with no hint of any type of processing artifacts. Moving much closer to a viewing distance of 10 feet caused the picture to look slightly oversharpened. At this viewing distance I backed it off to 4K-3, and once again the picture was perfectly satisfying.
When viewing video of a live concert, maximum realism is desired. When viewing a movie it isn't. I found 4K-2 to be a preferred setting for movie material--it gives the image an obviously enhanced clarity and detail but without imparting any digital video effect. And the same thing happens when watching movies as with live video--once you get used to watching with 4K enhancement activated, you can't go back; standard 1080p looks by comparison to be low resolution; it just doesn't cut it anymore.
The other major advance in the LS10000 picture is the contrast. Epson does not bother to quote a numeric contrast spec on this projector; rather they just call it Absolute Black (Our database does not accept alpha characters for contrast specs, so it will be designated as ">1,000,000:1" on this site). The black levels are indeed very solid, as good as it gets on a projector, but black levels are already quite good on most premium home theater projectors. Where the LS10000 truly shines is in its extraordinary shadow detail. In the Blu-ray of the Eagles concert, the camera periodically pans to the audience to show viewer reactions, and of course the audience is in the dark. On most projectors audience pans like this look muddy and ill-defined. But the LS10000 is capable of separating shadow details to a degree rarely seen on a projector, so the audience pans are crisp, clear, with excellent detail, depth and three-dimensionality. You can actually see what's going on, even better than you could if you were there in person. On the LS10000 the audience pans actually become an engaging and exciting part of the video presentation because they make you feel like you are there.
Ultimately, the word that kept popping into my mind as I watched was how natural the image looks. It gives the impression of being a perfectly seamless analog picture--no hint of digital processing anywhere. One might say filmlike, but it is better than film. When viewing live performance material, the LS10000 delivers the video equivalent of the experience audiophiles seek when they go for the vinyl--a clarity and realism that imparts a sense of being in the presence of the performers.
Studiotek 130 and Studiotek 100 screens used in this review.
4K Enhancement / 4K Compatibility. The LS10000 uses three 1920x1080 reflective panels, so it is native 1080p. However, the 4K enhancement splits out the signal into two 1080p panels, off-shifts one diagonally by 0.5 pixel and then displays them in rapid sequence. The associated processing algorithms refine detail, eliminate aliasing and diagonal stair-stepping, and end up producing a picture that looks much higher in resolution than the 1080p signal the system started with. Epson has not published any technical detail on the process other than it relies upon a 0.5 pixel diagonal shift. In this regard it appears similar in approach to JVC's e-Shift technology for upconversion to 4K. However, the video processing algorithms that drive the systems are different and proprietary to the two vendors. So it would be a mistake to think of them as equivalent implementations of a common technology.
Extreme Dynamic Range. As impressive as the LS10000's 4K enhancement is, the dynamic range and exceptional shadow detail is just as important in the dramatic final result on the screen. This has already been discussed in the Viewing Experience section.
3-way Automatic Lens Memory. Do you want to set up a 2.4:1 Cinemascope widescreen with Constant Image Height display? The LS10000's power zoom and lens shift allows you to automatically switch the lens to accommodate the format of the material you are watching. As you would expect it gives you full frame 2.4 Cinemascope projection as well as standard 1.78 format (16:9), as previous systems have done. But in addition it gives you a third setting for 1.85 format movies, a nice feature enhancement. Not only do you get a three-way system, but the lens reset action moving from one aspect ratio to another is quite rapid compared to anything else on the market.
Long Life Laser Light Source. [NOTE: This section updated Jan 25, 2015 to reflect Epson's updated lifespan spec.] Epson's spec calls for long life operation up to 30,000 hours. However this is an eco-mode spec. When the system is run constantly in high power mode the anticipated life of the light engine is 17,000 hours, which is still enough to give you a 2-hour movie every day for about 20 years. Realistically, people who will buy the LS10000 are folks who take home theater quality very seriously. The large majority of users will upgrade to a next generation projector long before the light source becomes an issue on this one.
Keep in mind that the industry convention is to quote lamp life specs based on the time it will take the lamp or light source to degrade to 50% of its original lumen output. One advantage of lasers is that they degrade on a straight line basis, which is much better than high pressure lamps which degrade more rapidly in the early part of their lives. Nevertheless, with the LS10000 as with any projector, installers will want to keep long term lumen degradation in mind as a factor in planning the optimum screen size, screen gain, and throw distance.
Frame Interpolation. Epson's frame interpolation system on the 5030 and 6030 models has been carried forward in the LS10000, and it behaves in much the same way. It has Low, Medium, and High settings. The Low or Medium settings are best for film-based movies in which you may not want to see the hyper-real digital video (or soap opera) effect. The Medium and High settings are better for live performance and animated films where the highest stability and clarity are desired, and the digital video effect is irrelevant. The Frame Interpolation has some limitations when it comes to interactivity with the 4K enhancement system (see Limitations section for details).
Outstanding Noise Reduction. In theory, you don't want to use noise reduction filters unless you have to because they will soften the image. But one of Epson's strengths of late has been that its noise reduction technology works like a champ while compromising the picture's integrity not much at all. After the passing of Robin Williams I wanted to see Dead Poet's Society again. I ordered up the Blu-ray, and come to find out, though the movie is great, the transfer is a noise-infested mess. BUT...I popped it into the trusty OPPO BDP-103 Blu-ray player, set the LS10000's 4K enhancement to 4K-2, bumped its noise reduction up to +2, and voila, a gorgeous, almost noise-free picture that is still sharp as a tack.
3LCD Reflective Technology. This is the first projector brought to market by Epson using reflective technology. "3LCD Reflective" is Epson's marketing term, corresponding to JVC's "D-ILA" or Sony's "SXRD." They are all implementations of LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon). Epson says that their version is actually Liquid Crystal on Quartz, but it is unclear to us if there is a material difference in that distinction. In the end it doesn't really matter--the combination of the 3LCD Reflective imaging devices and the laser light source makes a perfectly beautiful picture whatever it is.
HDCP 2.2 Compatible. For any native 4K source material that you might stumble across that is not restricted to display on the video products of the vendor that produced it, the LS10000 is compliant with the HDCP 2.2 copy projection algorithms required to support it. It receives and displays native 4K signals. With the Red Ray 4K player and 4K demo clips, the LS10000 looks phenomenal--just as you would expect from watching a 4K demo clip designed specifically to look phenomenal when demonstrating a 4K projector. The better news is that upscaled 1080p material looks just about as phenomenal--certainly a lot closer to native 4K than it does native 1080p. So the current limited availability of 4K content is largely beside the point; the primary value to be gained from the LS10000 is its extraordinary high resolution display of 1080p sources.
Is Native 4K Resolution Necessary?
The use of 1920x1080 chips combined with 0.5 diagonal pixel shift to produce 4K enhancement is a source of spirited controversy. Just how good can the picture be? Don't you need native 4K resolution chips to get the full effect? Those who sell the higher priced native 4K projectors will certainly argue that native 4K resolution is mandatory. They are quick to point out that these 4K enhancement products by JVC, and now Epson, are not REAL 4K! The implication is that 4K interpolation is in some sense deficient or even fake. Is this valid, informed criticism or good salesmanship? Let's wander into this controversial territory for a moment and examine it more closely.
We spent a lot of time last winter with the Sony VPL-VW600ES, a native 4K projector. We loved that projector (still do), and gave it one of our rare Editor's Choice Awards (see the review). In that review, Bill pointed out that due to the limited availability of 4K source material, the most practical benefit of the VW600ES was its excellent upscaling of 1080p. The same is true today of the LS10000. On both of these projectors you get an interpolated approximation of what the 1080p source would have looked like had it been captured in native 4K resolution. It is just that Sony and Epson take two different technological paths to get there.
Which one is better? The natural assumption would be that the projector with the native 4K chips would have the advantage. But I'm not sure that it does. I wish I could see them side by side--all I am working with is the memory of what I saw on the VW600ES. But while I remember the 4K enhanced version of 1080p on the VW600ES to be obviously better and much preferred to native 1080p projection, I do not recall it being any better than what I see on the LS10000. In fact, though I hesitate to say it since it will sound like heresy, my impression is that the LS10000 may actually have an advantage. I am anxious to see these two projectors side by side for a more critical assessment.
Now, when it comes to the display of a native 4K source, the Sony VW600ES should have an obvious advantage over any projector that is interpolating the signal. However, the RedRay 4K source material we are using right now shows extreme high resolution on the LS10000--it looks like native 4K, a noticeable step beyond the 4K enhancement of a 1080p source. The same difference is visible on the VW600ES when you switch back and forth between 1080p and native 4K material. But the LS10000 looks so much like pure 4K that it leaves the impression that any difference in detail resolution between it and a native 4K projector would be extremely subtle at best. If the eye cannot tell much difference between the two (or any difference at all between the two), then it does not matter much whether the projector is native 4K or not; resolution becomes a minor issue compared to other factors that contribute to overall image quality.
Once again, these are just impressions based on viewing the VW600ES last winter and the LS10000 over the last few weeks, and with different source material. So there is no way to make any definitive statement. All I can say is that from what I have seen so far, I would love to do a side by side evaluation of these two projectors with both 1080p and native 4K source material to see what the differences might actually be--not only in terms of detail resolution, but contrast, black levels, shadow separation, and noise levels. Based on what I've seen so far I would be hesitant to predict the outcome of this shootout. If any of you have the chance to set these two projectors up side by side, we would be very happy to hear your impressions of them.
Brightness. The LS10000 is rated at 1500 lumens. Our pre-production test unit measured 1662 lumens in its brightest color mode (Dynamic), with the light source on High power and the zoom lens set to maximum wide angle. The LS10000 has eight pre-programmed color modes that measured as follows, again with lamp power on high and lens at wide angle:
Living Room 1216
B&W Cinema 1197
Digital Cinema 1038
Adobe RGB 988
These readings are unusual in that Cinema comes in higher than Living Room, which is an interesting anomaly. Epson says the new light engine enables a wider color gamut and better contrast than previous designs, thus enabling a brighter Cinema mode. We measured the Cinema mode color gamut as being dead on target:
The Digital Cinema mode engages a cinema color filter, thus cutting light a bit, but deepening blacks and expanding color gamut further. In most viewing, my personal preference was to run the projector in Digital Cinema mode. This is what the CIE chart looks like in Digital Cinema mode:
Brightness Stability: Lumen output on the LS10000 is extremely stable from start up, unlike some laser/LED hybrid that dim by 10 to 15% after they have warmed up, or high pressure lamps that take 10 to 15 minutes to reach peak lumen output. The LS10000 turns on instantly at almost full lumen output, and increases in brightness by about 3% over a ten minute warmup period, then stabilizes at that level.
Lamp Power Options: The projector has three lamp power options, High, Medium and ECO. High is the brightest option for all color modes; switching to Medium reduces lumen output by 24% in all modes, and selecting ECO reduces lumen output by 45% in all color modes.
Manual Iris: If the adjustment of lamp power is not sufficient flexibility for dialing in the screen luminance you want, you can also use a manual iris to dial it back in smaller increments. It has a default setting of 0, which is wide open, and it can be closed down in increments on a scale down to -13. This scale is not a straight line effect; closing the iris to -5 curtails lumen output by a miniscule 2.5%, by the time you get to -8 you've lost 15%, and at -13 you've lost 50%.
Brightness Uniformity: In a word, outstanding. The picture is virtually uniform in brightness from top to bottom throughout the center two-thirds of the screen. It fades slightly at the edges, about 5% on the left side and 8% on the right side. The dimmest area of the image is the lower right corner which measures 90% of the maximum center value. So technically the brightness uniformity figure is 90%, but the picture overall is about as evenly illuminated as any projector we've ever seen.
Zoom lens effect: The LS10000 has a long 2.1x zoom range. As with all long zooms, the projector's light output is curtailed when the lens is set to the telephoto end of the range. Normally a 2x zoom will cut light as much as 46% between the maximum wide angle position and maximum telephoto. However, the LS10000's zoom loses only 31%.
Lens shift range: The lens shift range is about as good as it gets on home theater projectors. It allows a vertical shift of a total of 2 2/3 image heights, and a horizontal shift of two full image widths. As you are operating the powered lens shift, it has an auto-stop feature that momentarily pauses the shift motor to tell you when the image is in neutral (no shift) position.
Audible noise. The LS10000 is rated at 19 dB. Practically speaking, noise is a non-issue. It produces a soft whirring sound that is noticeable if it is close by and you listen for it. But for the most part you forget that it is there.
3D Performance. Overall, 3D clarity is quite good on this unit, and the very high contrast helps give the image extra snap. We see a tiny bit of ghosting on occasion, but we've never seen a projector that was perfectly free of it. The best way to describe it would be to say that crosstalk is minimal, and among the best we've seen.
As is true of all 3D systems, the light that reaches your eyes is cut substantially compared to 2D. But it doesn't cut light quite as much as most projectors. Let's assume you have the LS10000 set up using the middle of the zoom on a 120" diagonal screen with 1.0 gain, you can use 3D Cinema (the dimmest 3D mode) and still get 6.2 fL actually reaching your eyes. Switching back to 2D, you can run Cinema mode at ECO power and come out at 13 fL (within the THX recommended range) or switch to Medium laser power at 18 fL for a brighter, punchier picture.
Bottom line, if 3D viewing is an interest of yours, there is nothing about the 3D performance on this projector to object to.
4K Enhancement, Frame Interpolation, and 3D: When displaying a 1080p source at 24 fps, the LS10000 offers the full range of options in both 4K enhancement and frame interpolation because the system has the time to engage both. So you can set 4K-5 and Frame Interpolation to High at the same time. However, if you have a source with frame rate faster than 24 fps, the projector will allow you to use one of these two processing technologies, but not both. With a 1080p/60 or 1080i/60 signal, if you activate frame interpolation, the menu option for 4K will be grayed out, and vice versa. Due to the same frame rate limitations, 4K enhancement is not an available option when viewing 3D.
Color temperature uniformity: Any long zoom lens will tend to introduce shifts in color temperature depending on the position of the zoom. As is typical with zoom lenses, the mid-point of the zoom range on the LS10000 yields the best performance, producing a white field that is consistent in color temperature from side to side and top to bottom. As one moves the zoom to its maximum wide angle position, color temperature in various portions of the image will shift slightly. So if the color mode you are using is calibrated to 6500K at the lens' neutral mid-point position, when you move the zoom to maximum wide angle, the projected white field will drop to about 6300K on the left side of the screen, remain at 6500K in the middle of the screen, and rise slightly to about 6700K on the right side of the screen. The opposite shift occurs when moving the zoom from its mid-point to maximum telephoto; the image becomes slightly cooler on the left and warmer on the right.
This color temperature shift is normal in long zoom lenses. It is typically imperceptible when viewing normal video content, so the only time you'd ever see it is when viewing a 100% white field. However, if your application calls for maximum uniformity of color temperature, there are two ways to guarantee it. The first is to install the projector at the throw distance needed to use the midpoint of the zoom range. The second is to close down the manual iris a bit. Its wide open default setting is 0. Setting the iris to -8 curtails light output by 15%, but it will give you a constant color temperature across the screen. If you need to use the zoom lens at its maximum wide angle setting and uniform color temp is mandatory for your application, this is one option to compensate for the effect.
Input lag: If you happen to be into serious video gaming you will regard the relatively long input lag as the weakest of the LS10000 performance features. Several Epson home theater projectors including the LS10000 come with a FAST or FINE option for operating mode; FAST minimizes input lag and is intended specifically for gaming use. FINE gives you much better image quality in exchange for greater buffer delay. On our test sample, the input lag in FAST mode was 56 ms, which is really not very fast at all by current gaming projector standards, some of which can get down to 16 ms. So if you take gaming seriously and the speed of your video display is critical, the LS10000 is not your best choice.
In FINE mode (better pic quality mode) the input lag was 100 ms. However, that is with all optional video processing features turned off (no 4K enhancement, no Frame Interpolation, no Dynamic Contrast, no Noise reduction, etc.). Once you activate the processing goodies that make the picture outstanding, the input lag can slow to about 230 ms.
Is this a big deal? Unless you're into gaming, not at all. Any sophisticated video display system will have input lag. To get the picture into perfect synch with the audio, you must use an audio delay circuit. Most A/V receivers have them onboard, variously called Audio Synch, or A/V Synch or Lip Synch. If your receiver does not have such a feature, or if you run your video signal directly from your source to the projector and bypass the AV receiver, you can buy inexpensive free-standing audio delays that work just fine. We use a little box called the Felston DD740 Audio Delay; it is simple and works beautifully. Once you have an audio delay circuit in your system, it makes no difference what the input lag is on your projector, you just set the delay for the right number of milliseconds to compensate for the lag and you're done.
Until now Epson has been manufacturing projectors for the higher volume consumer home theater market and pricing them at $3500 and down. The release of the LS10000 at a yet to be finalized price below $8,000 is a dramatic new step up into the specialty home theater market where professional theater design and custom installation is the norm. The under $10,000 niche in this market has been dominated by JVC in recent years, but the LS10000 represents a very strong competitive move that strikes at the heart of the JVC product line.
The LS10000 is a uniquely formidable home theater projector because it combines all the hot-button stuff...a long-life laser light source, automated lens memory, cutting-edge dynamic range, superb 4K enhancement, and just downright spectacular image quality. We suspect that the Epson LS10000 will be a dramatic game-changer as it takes Epson into a major new market segment it has never been in before.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Epson Pro LS10000 projector page.