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Epson Pro Cinema 4030 Home Theater Projector Review

Performance
4
Features
Ease of Use
Value
Intended Use:
Home Theater
Epson Pro 4030 Projector Epson Pro 4030
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Street Price: n/a
MSRP:$2,499
3D: Full HD 3D
Contrast:120,000:1
Lumens:2000
Weight: 18.4 lbs
Resolution:1920x1080
Aspect Ratio:16:9
Technology:3 LCD
Lens:2.1x manual
Lens Shift:H + V
Lamp Life:4,000 Hrs
5,000 (eco)
Lamp Cost:$299.00
Warranty:3 year
Connectors:  Composite, Component, VGA In, HDMI (x2), RS232, 12-Volt Trigger
Video Formats:  480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p/60, 576p

Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema 4030
Home Theater Projector Review

Bill Livolsi, December 5, 2013
ProjectorCentral.com

The Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema 4030 is a brand new projector in Epson's home theater line-up that does not replace or upgrade any existing projectors. Instead, it is in many ways a spiritual successor to 2010's Pro Cinema 9350. The Pro Cinema 4030 is a low-cost projector in a Pro-level package for those who want the professional installation experience but cannot afford the step up to the 6030UB.

The 4030 is a capable projector for both 2D and 3D home theater. At $2,499, the Pro Cinema 4030 includes both the projector and what we're calling Epson's "Pro package," a collection of extras such as a spare lamp, Chief ceiling mount, three-year warranty, and cable cover that add considerable value to the package. While the 4030 faces stiff competition from projectors both near and below its asking price, it is a solid choice for entry-level home theater.

The Viewing Experience

Like the Pro Cinema 6030UB, the Pro Cinema 4030 is a matte black projector with a centrally-mounted 2.1:1 zoom lens. In a blacked-out theater room, the 4030 practically disappears. Such a room is where the 4030 will look its best; its deep black level benefits from any steps you can take to reduce both ambient and reflected light in your viewing space.

In such a space, the ideal screen material for the 4030 is white with a mild positive gain. We performed our testing using the Cima Neve 1.1 from Stewart Filmscreen, which fits these criteria and proved to be a very good match for the projector.

Watching 2D high definition content, the 4030 produces a polished picture that has plenty of pop. The projector's factory settings are not as impressive as those of the 6030UB, but the 4030 shares the 6030UB's excellent calibration controls and is relatively easy to tune up. After calibration, the Pro Cinema 4030 has crisp highlights that are not clipped and deep shadows that nevertheless do not smudge together. The projector's auto iris is quiet and highly effective, reducing illumination in darker scenes and improving black level when it is most needed. The gamut is very near to the Rec. 709 standard for high-definition content, and white balance is quite close to 6500K across the entire grayscale.

3D on the 4030 shows no signs of crosstalk or instability, and the picture has a strong 3D effect through the included RF 3D glasses. Two dedicated 3D color modes (3D Dynamic and 3D Cinema) allow you to maintain separate calibrations for different types of 3D content. In general, the 4030's 3D modes feature well-saturated color and excellent brightness, making bright, large-screen 3D a possibility.

Watching standard-definition content on HD displays can be painful at times due to a lack of resolution and detail. While there's no true fix for this, the 4030 does include Super Resolution. Super Resolution enhances fine image detail and makes SD content appear sharper and cleaner. If you have a large DVD collection that you haven't upgraded to Blu-ray, give Super Resolution a try and see if it helps to perk up some of those old movies.

Setup and Configuration

Flexibility is the name of the game when it comes to installing the Pro Cinema 4030. The projector's extensive horizontal and vertical lens shift and 2.1:1 zoom lens make the 4030 easy to install in just about any room. What's more, the projector comes with a Chief ceiling mount and a cable cover included in the purchase price, so ceiling mounting the projector becomes a matter of picking a location and running some cables.

Since the 4030 is a limited distribution product, chances are that you'll be purchasing it from a vendor who also offers installation services. If you do want to put the 4030 in a ceiling mount, a professional installer can align your projector properly and even run video cables through your ceiling or wall to an equipment rack in the front of the room. This kind of thing is much more difficult to do by yourself unless you're both handy and comfortable crawling around in your attic.

Do-it-yourselfers who do not want a ceiling mount can simply place the 4030 on a rear shelf and use the projector's zoom and lens shift to place the image on the screen. A rear shelf mount does not require any special equipment, and if you decide to place the other equipment on the same shelf you can even use inexpensive short-run cables to connect everything. On the other hand, a rear shelf mount means you're paying for a ceiling mount that you're not going to use, and there's no way to purchase the 4030 without the added equipment.

One thing to keep in mind is that the 4030's 2.1:1 zoom lens loses some light when used at anything other than the maximum wide angle setting (the largest image size for a given throw distance). At maximum telephoto (smallest image at a given distance), light output is 18% less than at maximum wide angle. If you are mounting the 4030 at the back of a long room, be sure to consider how light loss will affect your installation and then pick an appropriate screen size.

Common Core - Epson's Home Theater Projectors

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.

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.

Key Features of the Pro Cinema 4030

2D picture quality. The 4030's main attraction is definitely image quality. The projector's 2D picture is high in contrast, giving it a three-dimensional quality, and color is quite accurate after some fine-tuning. The projector's auto iris improves black level when it is most needed. The picture has plenty of detail, and Super Resolution only increases that perception when it is used.

3D picture quality. The 4030's 3D picture has no noticeable flicker, almost zero crosstalk, and is bright enough to display on large screens. 3D brightness is a big deal, and a lack thereof can contribute to eyestrain and headaches. 3D Dynamic mode is bright enough to power a 100" diagonal 1.3 gain screen at 14 fL using the Low 3D brightness setting, and that measurement 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.

The "Pro Cinema" package. The Pro Cinema 4030 includes a number of extras not included with Epson's Home Cinema models. Collectively, we've taken to calling this the "Pro Cinema" package. These include a Chief ceiling mount, a spare lamp, a cable cover, and a three-year warranty instead of the standard two.

As it happens, Epson does sell all of those accessories separately. If you were to purchase a spare lamp ($299), Chief RPA Elite ceiling mount kit ($296.99), cable cover ($50), and an additional one year repair/exchange extended service plan ($279.99), you'd end up spending $925.98. As the 4030 sells for $2,499 total, that puts the cost for the actual projector right around fifteen hundred bucks. For a projector with this image quality and feature set, that's a steal.

There is also the additional benefit of working with a local projector professional. Since the 4030 is sold through custom installation professionals and specialized dealers rather than Internet vendors, you get the benefit of a local point of contact in the event that something goes wrong or you have a question about the product that isn't answered in the manual. In other words, you get customer service from a real person you've met before.

ISF Certified. The Pro Cinema 4030 is ISF certified. ISF Certification guarantees that the projector's controls are independent, meaning they do not affect one another -- so when you adjust white balance, for example, you will not see a shift in brightness or color saturation. The projector does not include any additional menu options or image controls as a result of this certification.

Performance

Light output. The Pro Cinema 4030's brightest mode is Dynamic, which on our test sample measured 1625 lumens with the lens at its widest angle setting. Dynamic's default settings give it a green tinge, but it is useful whenever you need the maximum possible light output and don't mind sacrificing color accuracy to get it. On our projector, we were able to reduce the green tint to a more reasonable level using the RGB Gain/Bias controls. We ended up with a better balanced image that measured around 1400 lumens.

Living Room mode measured 1203 lumens on our projector. Living Room mode is biased towards blue with an average color temperature around 8000K. If you have significant ambient light, the blue bias can help to correct the typically yellow bias of ambient light contamination.

The 4030's Natural and Cinema modes clock in at 655 and 650 lumens and are quite similar, with only some minor 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.

When it came time to calibrate the 4030, we used Cinema mode as our baseline. Our calibrations led to a 12% reduction in brightness, leaving Cinema at 573 lumens with the lamp at full power.

If you need to reduce light output, switching the 4030 from Normal to ECO lamp mode reduces light output in any mode by 28% while increasing lamp life from 4,000 to 5,000 hours.

The projector'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 18%. This is a much smaller reduction than other projectors with a 2.1:1 lens like the 5030UB and 6030UB, but those projectors also have higher light output overall.

Contrast. An automatic iris cannot improve dynamic range in any single frame of video, but it can improve black levels in dark scenes and highlight brightness in brighter scenes. The 4030's iris system is quiet, nearly unnoticeable, and very effective at controlling light output. When combined with the projector's sparkling highlights and well-defined shadow detail, the result is a projector that can handle the most difficult Blu-ray content without breaking a sweat. The image's impressive dynamic range gives it a three-dimensional quality that makes it a real pleasure to watch.

Color. The Pro Cinema 4030 does not have THX mode, so it instead defaults to Cinema. On our test unit, Cinema has a consistent grayscale that measures around 7200K, which is visibly bluish.

epson 4030 cinema mode rgb levels pre-calibration

Pre-calibration grayscale tracking

The easy fix for this is to reduce the color temperature slider by a point or two; one point brings the grayscale to 6700K average while two points overshoots and lands around 6100K. A more accurate 6500K average was obtained by taking the color temperature control to -1 and then reducing blue offset by 2, reducing blue gain by 3, and increasing green gain by 1. The final result is smooth, consistent, and dead-on accurate.

epson 4030 cinema mode rgb levels post-calibration

Post-calibration grayscale tracking

The 4030 has a full color management system, allowing you to adjust the projector's primary and secondary colors directly. The adjustment system was a touch more fidgety than that of the 5030UB or 6030UB, and the default color gamut was less accurate, but we still obtained a great calibration after a half hour or so of tweaking until everything looked good.

epson 4030 cinema mode CIE diagram
Color gamut, cinema mode, calibrated

Input lag. The key setting for controlling input lag on the Pro Cinema 4030 is called Image Processing. When response time matters, switch the control from the default "Fine" to "Fast." The Fast setting is designed specifically to reduce input lag, and resulted in only 56.5 milliseconds of lag. 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 "Fine" setting, the 4030 measures 100.9 milliseconds of input lag, equivalent to six frames of a 60fps signal. In other words, if you're gaming on the 4030, Fast processing is the way to go.

Limitations

Brightness. Compared to the Epson 5030UB and 6030UB, the Pro Cinema 4030 is a little anemic when it comes to light output. With the lens at wide angle, the 4030 averages 23% less light than its siblings using equivalent settings. Interestingly enough, this difference disappears when using the telephoto end of the zoom lens.

Calibration required. The Pro Cinema 4030 lacks THX mode, and the factory settings for Cinema mode are not terribly accurate. As a result, the projector really does require calibration before it's ready for primetime. Luckily, since the projector is in restricted distribution, the person you're buying it from will very likely offer installation and calibration services for your projector.

No custom gamma. Whereas the 5030UB and 6030UB have fully customizable gamma curves, the 4030 has only a simple slider control that ranges between -2 and +2 with a default of 0. On our projector, the factory settings put average gamma around 1.7, and bumping the control to -2 only got us to 2.0 instead of the desired 2.2-2.4.

No Frame Interpolation. While not everyone likes frame interpolation, it is now a more or less standard feature of home theater projectors above $1500. Given that the Pro Cinema 4030 fits into this price category even if you discount the cost of the additional accessories, it is disappointing that the projector lacks any form of frame interpolation.

Conclusion

By objective standards, the Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema 4030 is an excellent projector. It performs exactly as advertised. Its major features work wonderfully. We did not encounter a single glitch or hiccup in the projector's operation. If you are looking for a home theater projector being sold by professionals who can help you plan your theater and install your system, the 4030 is a solid choice for a modest price. People who sell the Epson 4030 provide a variety of services including matching the best screens, installing and ceiling mounting your components, and making sure the entire system is well-integrated and working to your satisfaction.

If you are a do-it-yourself type, the Pro Cinema 4030 is not your best choice for $2500. Rather, the higher performance Epson Home Cinema 5030UB for about the same price will give you more refined picture quality. What you don't get for the base price is the extra lamp, the ceiling mount, the cable cover, the third year of warranty, and someone to help you install it. But if you need or want one or more of these items, they can be purchased individually.

Essentially, the 4030's basic value proposition is this: it is the least expensive home theater projector on the market that is offered by professional custom home theater installers who can design and install your entire system, soup to nuts. If you want that level of design and installation assistance and a solid performing home theater projector to boot, the Pro Cinema 4030 is it.

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