Four Home Theater Projector Comparison

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.

Price

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.”

Brightness

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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