Four Great Home Theater Projectors Compared

The Epson Home Cinema 5030UB vs. the Sony VPL-HW40ES compares my two top choices of the four projectors in our comparison.  Both are 3 panel (or chip) projectors which means they both have the potential at least some amount of optical pixel mis-convergence (compared to single chip DLP projectors), however both have pixel alignment features to help out.

We’ll compare a number of different aspects of these projectors picking winners at different types of performance where we can.

We have included some side by side still images, and a video clip demonstration with its own narrative.  There are additional side by side images and three more videos for our subscribers.


When it comes to price, we try to ignore any short term promotions etc., but try to keep the formal selling prices straight.  The Sony has a list price of $2499.  It comes with an internal IR 3D emitter, and no 3D glasses.  An RF emitter is optional.  The Epson recently had a $100 permanent price reduction, so it too is now $2499.  It has an internal RF emitter and comes with two pair of 3D glasses.

Primary Use

Both projectors are suitable for not just dedicated home theaters, but many suitable media living, bonus, family, rooms, when there’s some reasonable control of light (perhaps only in the evenings), and a screen suitable for the situation.

Click Image to Enlarge

Color Accuracy

NOTE: In the above images, the Epson image comes first, followed by the Sony.

What both projectors excel at, first and foremost, is color accuracy.

The Sony we received, was so good color wise, right out of the box in its best mode, that it really needs no calibration at all, although we did calibrate it.  (We calibrate the Epson, while not quite as perfect, also has pretty good color right out of the box.  The THX and Cinema modes though (similar if not the same), run on the cool side, just a touch in the low IRE ranges (dark grays), but more so up in the brighter ranges, showing a bit too much blue.  Still very watchable.

Regarding calibration note that the Sony’s color is not as accurate in low power mode.  That’s because lamps always exhibit slightly different color temperature and balance when switching from full power to an eco-mode.  Also worth noting, no too lamps are identical.  We get our projectors from the manufacturers, so we expect we’re getting “good ones”.  The point is, our calibration settings are never “perfect” for a projector other than the one Mike calibrated.  Thus, try our calibration settings for either projector, but they won’t provide as excellent results as having a professional calibrator properly calibrate your projector.

When you calibrate both projectors, the result is that they are very, very, close, as you can see in the side by side photos!  On paper (or on calibration software, rather), the Epson actually produces a tighter set of numbers across the IRE range relative to the 6500K target than the Sony, but neither has an advantage on calibrated color accuracy.

That would change however, if you decided to compare the VPL-HW40ES’s best calibrated mode to a calibrated brightest mode (Living Room) for the Epson.  Epson uses a color filter in its best modes, that helps produce an awesome calibration.  Living Room mode just won’t calibrate that well, but still do a very good job.  Why bother when you have THX or Cinema to calibrate?  Easy.  Calibrating Living Room mode buys you a whole lot more brightness, but even Epson’s living room mode calibrated will be a couple hundred lumens less bright than the Sony’s “best.”


Now let’s look at how they compare in terms of brightness.  Normally we compare calibrated modes, and most conversations using measurements with the zoom lens at mid-point of its range.  We reserve using wide-angle for only reporting a projector’s brightest possible output.

When comparing these two, we need to provide some additional information because their lenses have dramatically different affects on brightness.

If you compare the Epson and Sony at best calibrated mode, you end up with (rounded) 1500 lumens vs. 710 lumens, at mid-point on the zoom.  But, moving to closest placement position (wide angle on the zoom), the Sony simply doesn’t get any brighter. (Mike measured it as increasing in brightness by less than 1%.  With the Epson though, brightness going from mid-zoom to wide angle jumps a significant almost 29%!

So it plays out this way, comparing best calibrated, and also looking at Epson LivingRoom:

Calibrated “best” Calibrated “brightest”
For a 100″ screen Sony Epson Epson (LivRm, est*)
Closest lumens/dist 1510/9.7 feet 915/9.8 feet 1650/9.8 feet
Mid-zoom lumens/dist 1500/12.7 feet 710/15.3 feet 1270/15.3 feet
Furthest lumens/dist 1385/15.7 feet 500/20.9 feet 890/20.9 feet

We did not calibrate Living Room mode. Estimate is based on previous results (including “quick-cal”) using Living Room mode on older Epson UB’s.  Also based on relative brightness between Epson modes.

We could have done a Calibrated Sony “brightest” but there would have been no significant difference in brightness, because only Game is even moderately brighter (15%) , and per Mike, it would give back almost all of the lumen advantage if it were calibrated.

If you look at the chart, you can see, that, “best” calibrated against best, the Sony always wins, and by some significant amounts.

Interestingly a calibrated Living Room mode based on estimates actually has the Epson about 15% brighter at wide angle vs Sony’s calibrated “best.”

Then it gets interesting, due to the Epson’s longer zoom range.  If both projectors need to be about 15.5 feet from a 100” screen, then they are very close when comparing Sony’s “best” vs Epson’s Livingroom.  With the Sony at 1385 to the Epson’s 1270.

Now if you need to mount on a rear wall, where you might sacrifice even more lumens from the Epson, it’s Living Room drops to 890 lumens (or calibrated at 500), but the Sony can’t be placed that far back so it’s not a real comparison.   If that’s your distance to screen requirement, the Sony won’t work for you.

OK too much time spent on that.  It’s just that if you want every last good looking lumen with the Epson, then not only calibrate best mode, but calibrate Living Room.  Normally I just reduce the color temp setting to get back down around the 6500K target, and after that, I eyeball some color adjustments for further improvement.   That’s what you’ll see, in my images comparing the Sony’s calibrated best against my “eyeballed” Living Room.

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News And Comments

  • 4qpayme

    Sounds like a advertising piece for Epson… Sony for me.

    • Dr. MKhalil

      40ES more sharp and color accurate than 5030


        Post calibration, both should be equally accurate. Any variations beyond that are likely to be due to inconsistent color from one bulb to the next. Also, there’s measurable color shift even after a couple hundred hours of use on a bulb, that’s going to be much greater than freshly calibrated differences. -art

        • Dr. MKhalil

          I fully agree with you ,, but sony come with perfect accurate even out of box .

          • Aaron Canales

            Now sounds like advertising for Sony, if you’re throwing down $2, then spend the extra 2 bills for the perfect calibration…


            Hi Aaron, Everyone has an opinion, of course. I would agree with one of the responses that the Sony is inherently a touch sharper, even after you do panel alignment on both. but then, Epson’s Super-Resolution, I find to be better than Sony’s Reality Creation, certainly after the big Epson firmware upgrade earlier this year (relatively easy for end users to do). Of course, Sony, at CEDIA just announced improvements in their Reality Creation for their new models, but the HW40ES is the only Sony that’s staying in the lineup from 2014. As I have said, I slightly favor the HW55ES over the Epson, (I would choose it if it costs the same as the Epson) but it’s definitely more expensive. The HW40ES doesn’t match up, because I find the black level difference significant between it, and the Epson or higher end Sony. As to perfect color out of the box, never seen it yet. The HW40ES we had here was one of the best, (better than the HW55ES), but I would not use the term “perfect” as the good doctor did. -art

  • djarchow

    I am considering both of these projectors as a replacement for my aging Mitsubishi HC3800. I run the Mitsubishi in the Cinema mode on a 100″ screen about 11 feet from the projector in a room with moderate light control and am happy with the light output. Obviously the Sony is very bright in any mode. Given the HC3800 review is from 7 years ago, I wasn’t sure if brightness numbers from that review are directly comparable to newer reviews. How will the Epson brightness in eco cinema mode compare to my HC3800 in cinema? Thanks for any help!


      Hi djarchow. OK, let’s see, first you’ve got around 725 or 950 lumens in Cinema depending on whether you have Brilliant Color off or on. But, that of course, is with a new lamp. If your lamp has 1500 hours on it, running in full power, ou are probably down at least 25%.

      Methods of measure haven’t changed, in fact Mike would have used the same equipment in both reviews. Now, in our annual comparison reports, we have upped the numbers of projectors done before Mike got is newer gear, for apples to apples, so we now show something like 800+ lumens at full power on the 5030UB but about 10% less in the original review (working from memory here). So, from a practical standpoint, the Mitsubishi with BC on is a bit brighter (with both having a new lamp. If BC off, they might as well be about identical in brightness).

      Consider this, however, if brightness is a concern, Epson uses a color filter in place in best modes (ie, THX, Cinema/Theater), that isn’t used in Living Room or Dynamic. That filter eats up about half of the brightness available. For those needing really good, but not as perfect color as the Epson calibrated in a “best” mode, simply use an adjusted living room mode, and you can have (if I recall correctly) over 1500 lumens with some reasonably accurate color, even if not quite as good. -art

      • djarchow

        Art, Thanks for the reply. I appreciate it! My bulb in my Mitsubishi is new and I have always ran in it in low power mode with brilliant color off. So based on your old review it looks like I am getting about 565 lumens currently. You mentioned that the Epson brightness drops about 30% in eco mode. So does that mean the best calibrated output of 644 lumens drops to 450 in eco mode?

        FYI, I just signed up for the premium content so I look forward to getting access. Thanks again for all your help and this great site.
        Regards, Dennis


          Yes, you got all that right. So, in theory, your HC3800 will be slightly brighter than the 5030 with both in eco. The HC3800 in full power if I recall correctly (it’s been a long time) is probably a bit noisier than the HC5030 in full. But then we’re talking, in theory, a difference of less than 15%. That’s pretty close.

          And of course, when you do need horsepower, switch to that Living Room mode, tune it a bit, and you have about 1500 lumens at your disposal with color that’s not quite as good, but rather respectable.

          When Mike did the 5030UB, he did his “quick cal” using Dynamic rather than Living Room (quick cal is our nickname for a minor tune of a bright mode, so that you get the best color improvement possible – Without giving up a lot of lumens.

          (Had I been instructing him today, and he was doing it, I would have asked him instead to do a full calibration of Living Room instead (along with the best mode calibration he did). Enjoy. I will be very interested in your feedback. And I can tell you now, the massive improvement in black level performance will blow you away!

          As for the subscriber access–great! Let us know if you have any trouble. -art

          • djarchow

            Art, thanks for all your help!

  • yessirr

    So I wouldn’t be able to mount the Sony 16.5′ away from my screen? I have a 135″ screen and the calculated throw distance was 16.5′. Can I move it to 8ft away from screen and still be able to utilize a 135″ screen? Thank you for the help!


      You can certainly do 16.5 feet, but you can’t do 8 feet no. For a 100″ diagonal screen, the closest is 9.7 ft, so a 135″ screen would be over 13 ft. away at the closest. To accomplish what you want, you would need a projector with a fairly wide angle lense; those are very rare except with home theater projectors that are very expensive and offer interchangeable lenses. And in such a case, the lens alone will cost a lot more than a complete Sony HW40ES. However, there are lower cost shorter throw projectors that are more ‘home entertainment’ – I haven’t checked yet, but the ViewSonic PJD7835 for example might work. -art