#1 in our 4-Way Comparison: Epson Home Cinema 5030UB Projector

The Epson 5030UB is a 3LCD projector with a street price (UMAP) of $2599 (Editor’s note: Epson has had a formal price reduction to $2499).  Unlike the other projectors in this comparison, it comes with 2 pair of 3D glasses in the box for its selling price (and the 3D emitter is built into the projector).  The 5030UB has an almost identical 6030UB (finished in black and coming with lots of extra bundled goodies), sold only by local dealers, but enough said about that one).  The Epson is finished on off white but the front is mostly black to prevent light from the screen hitting the projector and being reflected back onto the screen.  The Epson has a 2.1:1 manual zoom lens.  The 5030UB is about the average of the four in size.

One thing different than the competition is that Epson puts a color filter in the light path when in best modes.  The projector can be calibrated whether in one of those best modes (ie. Cinema, THX, etc.), or a bright mode like Living Room, but ultimately the brighter Living Room mode won’t calibrate quite as well. In other words very good color but not dead on.  The point is, that you can also calibrate Living Room mode, increases the overall flexibility of this Epson projector.

Because it’s close in price, I just want to mention the Pro Cinema 4030, which nets out to about $500 less, but isn’t as good at black levels (but up to doing battle with the other three projectors here), or as bright.  It is finished in black, for those who can’t live with the 5030UB’s white case.  The Pro Cinema 6030UB, is virtually identical to the 5030UB in performance and features, but black, longer warranty, more expensive and even more bundled goodies.  The 6030UB though is $3499 with the bundle.  Both Pro Cinema projectors are only sold through local dealers, while the 5030UB is available online and locally.

Editor’s note:  We were advised, mid-July, that the price of the Epson 5030UB las been officially lowered to $2499, from $2599. Factor that in to your calculations.  As usual, we simply just don’t have the resources to go through all mentions on many pages to update.

Read the full Epson Home Cinema 5030UB review here.

Click for the shootouts comparing this projector
Epson Home Cinema 5030UB vs. BenQ W7500
Epson Home Cinema 5030UB vs. Sony VPL-HW40ES
Coming Soon: Epson Home Cinema 5030UB vs. Optoma HD91

Home Cinema 5030UB - Relative Strengths

Black levels!  There’s only one area where the Epson easily stands apart compared to the other three projectors and that’s in handling those dark scenes. Even the closest of the other three – the Sony, is a step down (unlike the more expensive Sony HW55ES which definitely holds its own with the Epson).   Translation, on those dark scenes that tend to appear in most movies, the Epson has an advantage on the rest of the field, from modest to rather dramatic.

Warranty — Warranty is very good, but shorter than others at only 2 years parts and labor. Epson though does “make up for it” by providing a two year replacement program which really takes the hassle out of a warranty failure. Having a replacement ready to go in 2-3 business days sure beats sometimes waiting weeks for a repaired projector to be returned. I have always considered this 2/2 warranty to be about the same value as a 3/0 – three years warranty, no replacement. Also those without a replacement program normally charge for one way freight.

Picture and Color — Right out of the box color is very good, with two very good modes, although it’s not a match for the Sony’s truly excellent out of the box picture. Out of the box it is better than the BenQ and blows away the Optoma when it comes to color accuracy.  But the Epson calibrates at least as well as the others.  The numbers look great, and the picture makes you believe the numbers.  Great skin tones.

Placement Flexibility – The Epson also comes with easily the greatest placement flexibility, with not only more zoom range (2.1:1) than the others (1.9:1, 1.6:1, 1.5:1) and also more lens shift than the others!   If you can’t place this Epson in your room setup, none of the others will work either.  Note that all four projectors are at least pretty good in terms of this flexibility.

Calibrated brightness is more than enough in best mode to fill a 130” diagonal typical screen, with just over 700 lumens, so no problem there.  In brightest mode, though the Epson about ties the Sony, and isn’t far behind the BenQ.  In brightest mode though, it’s color is better than the BenQ’s and not as good as the Sony’s.  While “best” mode isn’t light canon strength, it should be noted that the calibrated living room mode should measure over 1200 lumens at mid-point on the zoom.

Please note, that Mike, our long time calibrator, changed his light meter and software early this year.  Of these four projectors only the Epson was measured with the old gear.  The old meter typically measured less lumens than other reviewers were reporting, the new one, now measures more.  Overall, the measured shift between old and new finds the new meter produces results just over 10% brighter than the old, so in this comparison we have added 10% to the old measurements of the Epson, for an apple to apple comparison.  Keep that in mind when reading other reviews written before February of this year, if comparing with newer reviews.

Maximum Brightness — At full wide angle on the zoom, the Epson is the second brightest overall, less than 10% below the BenQ, and more than 10% brighter than the Sony.

Gamma — The Epson offers several gamma settings, and a custom control.  A perfect gamma number to achieve is something debated, although most would say that 2.2 is where you want to be.  Some might suggest up to 2.4 for movies.  We see how close projectors can get to 2.2.  One of Epson’s settings hit it dead on the number.  The manual gamma which let’s you make settings roughly comparable to 10 to 100 IRE by steps of 10 allows you to tweak it any way you want.

Image Noise — Here’s a topic that I don’t often bring to the forefront:  Image noise.  Generally I report that DLP projectors display more mosquito type image noise visible on “large backgrounds”, such as the sky, walls, etc.  That holds true here as well.   But, the Sony, while better than the two DLP’s at image noise, still shows more than the 5030UB.  That’s the case with these projectors’ dynamic detail features turned off, or turned on with a moderate setting.  More simply stated the Epson exhibits less general image noise.  We’re not talking about some specialty noises, such as image noise around moving objects when CFI is engaged, just the type of noise most evident during normal viewing of a movie.

Click Image to Enlarge

Home Cinema 5030UB Relative Weaknesses

Calibrated Brightness — In “best” mode calibrated the Epson is the second least bright of the four, with just over 700 lumens at mid point, a touch less than half of the two brightest, but it has enough for a 130” diagonal screen in a darkened theater like room.  With the Epson, your ways of compensating include deciding to also calibrate the Living Room mode and using it as a “next best” should you want brighter, and still highly accurate, or of course, use our suggest adjusted Dynamic mode, with almost 1700 lumens at mid-point, which wouldn’t be as pretty.

Sharpness and Super-Resolution — The Epson starts off like the Sony, with an inherent disadvantage to the DLP projectors when it comes to sharpness.  3 chip designs like Epson’s 3LCD, or Sony’s LCoS (SXRD), are always going to have some minor alignment of the images coming from the three chips.  Both Epson and Sony have digital compensation for “panel alignment,” but it’s not the same as not having the issue to begin with.  Without electronic compensation, the Epson has the softest of the four projectors’ images.  But, these days everyone in this group has dynamic detail enhancement, which can change the game.

Well, as it turns out, Sony’s Reality Creation can be engaged and let most people think they are watching a sharp single chip DLP projector, but the Epson with it’s super-resolution comes up a bit short of what the Sony can do.   Optimizing all four projectors, for sharpness, including using such features, but keeping the effects of those dynamic features under control so the image doesn’t start appearing “over the top”, improves all four projectors, and it closes the gap between the Epson and the two DLP’s, but at the end of it all, with all implementing that feature modestly, the Epson still comes in last in perceived sharpness and detail.

The differences aren’t huge, for as I said, these dynamic features narrow the perceived differences.  Of everything Epson could do in creating the next gen replacement for the 5030UB, upping the native sharpness would be at the top of my list.

Audible Noise — The HC5030UB is not going to win awards for its audible noise levels.  At full power its in the 32-33db range which is on the high end.  It is about tied with the BenQ and louder than the Sony and Optoma.  In low power mode, though, it’s reasonably quiet.  The noise adverse among us will not be happy running the 5030UB at full power.  I don’t consider myself “noise adverse”, so I don’t have a problem when viewing the 5030UB, with the projector table 5-6 feet behind me, and the projector at sitting height.

One other aspect of audible noise in the case of the Epson, is its dynamic iris, which can make a low rumbling sound at times.  I’ve already factored that into my thoughts on the Epson, but should note that the amount of rumble seems to vary.  That is, sometimes the environment amplifies the sound.  On one of the tables I use for projectors that seems to be the case.  When the Epson is on my #2 table, the rumble is louder.

I found that by using the same type of acoustic insulators people use for audio gear, it reduces any excess.  Even putting a thin piece of cardboard between the feet and the table top will reduce the rumble in such cases.  And a similar type of space could be used when ceiling mounting.  Some readers have reported good success.  Again, if you are inherently one of the noise adverse among us, that still may not make you happy.  The point is, if the rumbling seems a bit loud try what I suggest, it may be just what you’re looking for.

Home Cinema 5030UB - The Bottom Line

I find the Epson the most practical and versatile of these four projectors, that is, by my take the best choice for the most people.  That’s important of course, but, all considered the Epson gets my vote based on picture quality.  The Home Cinema 5030UB’s distinct black level advantage sets it apart from the others, and it’s color, post calibration is at least as good as the best of the other three!

It has the inherent brightness to handle large screens in theater like rooms, and is capable of the best looking brightest measurement of them all, although the Sony and BenQ are right behind.

Without worrying about manufacturer promotions that come and go, it’s also the best value proposition.  Officially the Sony is $100 less, but comes without the two pair of RF 3D glasses that come with the Epson, and if you want RF (recommended), for the Sony the RF  emitter’s going to set you back an additional $200.

 

More importantly, the Epson offers the second longest light source life with 4000/5000 hours.  The Sony though, and BenQ only claim 2000 hours at full power.  And both charge a good bit more for replacement lamps than Epson does. Of course the LED light source Optoma is rated 20,000 hours, but just due to real life it’s unlikely any owners will still get near 20,000 life out of the Optoma before it is way obsolete, and beside’s it costs $1400 more than the Epson.

Warranty is a plus and a minus – The replacement program is great.  Because both years have a replacement program (US only), the hassle evaporates.  In almost all cases Epson simply takes your word about a problem.  That’s because they ship out your replacement before they ever see what’s wrong with yours.  In fairness though, the other three projectors have one more year of warranty.

$279, however, if you are concerned, will buy you an extra year of both warranty and an extra year of replacement program.  That should be tops if you want maximum piece of mind.

When it comes to overall picture, specifically:  The Epson beats out the Sony by virtue of its dynamic iris and resulting black levels. The two projectors calibrated offer gorgeous color, that I’m willing to call a tie, so it’s the black levels that set the Epson apart.

My only real complaint about this projector compared to the competition is that it’s not quite as sharp.  You can push Super-Resolution up, which will make it seem sharper, but you can do the same for the other projectors.  The Epson calibrates better than the BenQ or the Optoma.

Ultimately, the Home Cinema 5030UB, just works well, projects a great image, it fits well into almost any projector suitable environment.  It’s brightest modes and calibrated Living Room let you tackle non-theater rooms and ambient light, while it’s still reasonably bright “best” mode calibrated is second to none in picture quality.  Large screens aren’t a problem.  Plenty of juice for 3D which eats up lumens.

Enough said!

Back to beginning of our Four Home Theater Projector Comparison

 

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