Epson Home Cinema 5040UB vs. JVC DLA-RS400U – A Comparison Review

Epson Home Cinema HC5040UB vs. JVC DLA-RS400U comparisonHere, we will compare two home theater projectors: the Epson Home Cinema 5040UB and JVC DLA-RS400U.I consider these two projectors and their variations – the Home Cinema 5040Ube and Pro Cinema 6040UB on one hand and the DLA-X550R on the other – to be the two best choices out there if your budget is between $2000 and $4000 US.You’ll note that I gave the JVCs the honor of Best Performance award in the “class” and the Epsons the Best Value Proposition in our annual Home Theater Projector Comparison Report. My alternative was to drop the specifics (Performance and Value) and make them co-owners of Best In Class.  But, each has its strengths.
Best in Class: Performance Award for Projectors $2000-4000 Best Value Proposition Award for $2000-4000 Projectors

OK, the basics – the Epsons are brighter at maximum, but calibrated the JVCs are at least as bright (brighter than an Cinema calibration on the Epson about the same on a Bright Cinema calibration.

I’m going to use the Home Cinema 5040UB as our example, rather than the 6040UB, because the 6040UB is bundled with enough extras (longer warranty, cable cover, spare lamp, and ceiling mount) to make the price slightly murky, depending on what you value those accessories as worth to you.

That technically makes the JVC the more expensive at $3999 vs $2999 – it does have a longer warranty (by one year) than the HC5040UB, but lacks the two years of (virtually) overnight replacement program for warranty issues.

Update:  April 2017:  Epson just announced a price drop on the Home Cinema 5040UB to $2699.  That further separates the two in price, and for some, will make the decision between these two great projectors, a little easier (and for some, a little harder).

Epson HC5040UB and JVC DLA-RS400U: The Basics

Both have motorized lenses with similar zoom range, lens shift, and lens memory.  I would have loved to try to compare the optical quality of the lenses, but not having the projectors at the same time makes that impractical for us.  I can say that the JVC optics (same as previous JVCs) was a bit better than the previous Epsons, but most likely the significantly improved Epson optics are probably on par with JVC (or maybe a touch better).  The point is, they should be comparable.  Lens memory works fine on both although the Epsons have the advantage of being faster, a very nice touch, but hardly a game changer.

One smaller part of the Epson value story is the significantly lower cost replacement lamps.

Comparing Picture

Ultimately, though, if budget isn’t a problem at all, then it comes down to picture.

And that, folks is where I also see trade-offs. No question, the JVC has the superior black levels, noticeably better. That’s a key performance advantage, even if the Epsons are the next best out there anywhere near this price range. Count that as an advantage for movie viewing.

Pixel shifting allows some extra detail enhancement. I won’t discuss how it works, that’s been convered in full reviews. Suffice to say, that the goal is more perceived detail and sharpness. That means we’re talking about advanced image processing, not native 4K resolution, to accomplish this goal.

Any time you start doing a lot of image processing, there are trade-offs, you get more of what you want, and also, hopefully only minimal visible artifacts.

As one ups the perceived sharpness with the various controls, I believe the Epson’s have the advantage here. Yes there is some typical edge sharpening (lighting edge lines) on both, but the Epson controls (especially the Image Presets) seem to allow more perceived sharpness and ability to resolve more fine detail, with less noticeable artifacts.

Here are some real techie thoughts:  Strangely, in conversations at the CEDIA show, I was involved in a discussion as to why I find that the Epson tends to appear sharper.  Turns out to possibly be a case of “unintended consequences”.  You see, LCoS chips (JVC) have a higher fill ratio than 3LCD.  That is, the black mask around each pixel (which you can see if you walk up close to any projector), is bigger, and more pronounced.  Normally that’s a disadvantage, but with pixel shifting, it can be a real advantage.  when mixing the data across the two firings of a pixel, the larger mask of the Epson, creates a sort of additional “state” that can be addressed:

There’s the part of the the area hit only by the first pixel, then there’s the part upward to the right that is only hit with the 2nd pass.  And there’s the area where they overlap.  But, within that overlap area, the JVC has some masking on each pixel.  With the Epson, same thing, but a much bigger mask area.  Those mask areas could be taken into consideration with the image processing, to further break out the area and to better control blended colors and also sharpness.  I’m thinking sort of like having related smaller pixels that can be partially addressed.   How well they may be doing that, I don’t know, but the end result is that I do find the Epson can look sharper/more detailed than the JVC, without being any more “over the top.”

For me, in this case, since I’m a “big screen – all about being immersed in the content” kind of guy, I weigh the Epson’s advantage here, to slightly outweigh the superior black levels.

But each of us will have to decide.  Personally, I love my movies, have a huge collection of Blu-ray, and already have more than a dozen Blu-ray UHD movies and comparable (such as Journey to Space, and Rocky Mountain Express).

The other thing though, is I’m a big on watching sports and some other HDTV.  On sports, where dark scenes are virtually non-existent the pixel shifting and image processing give the Epson the big advantage.

(Note: As usual, take the images with a “grain of salt.”  Too many factors prevent truly accurate representations here.  In the images above, the first four are Epson 5040UB,  they are followed by the same four images produced by the JVC, for comparison purposes.  From a how they come out compared to what’s on the screen basis the Epson images tend to being warmer than on screen, while the JVC tends to be less saturated than on screen.  (Same camera, same camera settings – Go figure!)  The last two images are from 4K content, and are heavily cropped (the Epson one, more so).  The first of the two, is the Epson from Ender’s Game,  while the last is from The Martian, with the JVC.

Let me put it this way:  If budget is important, I would definitely recommend the Epson to myself.

However, if money was no object, I really would be torn between these two, knowing the superior picture on the darkest scenes (and a very slight advantage in terms of blacks on normal and bright ones) that the JVC possesses I would wish I had, if I chose the Epson.   That’s despite that the big advantage is only minutes in most movies (really dark scenes not night cityscapes, etc.)  But if I chose the JVC I would definitely not be as happy watching my sports, etc.  Also factor in that the cost of operation of the JVC is a bit higher – more expensive replacement lamps.

I mean this is a tough choice.  Remember, I normally have an Epson UB to use as a reference projector, and I own a JVC.

4K Formats and HDR

Here’s where the technical folks are way ahead of me.  As per a comment below, I’ve added this section relating to 4K issues.

There are many formats supported by the new 4K UHD standards, and projectors are differing.  Of course this discussion right now is limited to Epson and JVC with their pixel shifters and HDR, and Sony’s true 4K projectors which, it seems support more formats than Epson or JVC.

But JVC does support more standards than Epson, so that needs to be addressed here.  In a perfect world a projector doing 4K should be able to handle 12 bit, with 4:4:4, at 60fps.  Not that there is any content out there right now, or if there is, it’s probably professional, not your favorite action movie.

So, do you buy the projector with the most compatibility, or what you need?  For example, the Blu-ray 4K discs are recorded, I’m told, at 4:2:0, and at 24fps.   Great, that’s something the Epson can do.  The Epson (per Ron) is limited to mere 8 bit at 60fps, no HDR (at 60fps), therefore.

The JVC can do better – it can handle at least 10 bit 4:2:0, up to 60fps.  Will we see content in that format?  and when?  I am not sure. We waited a decade for studios to put more than 8 bit on Blu-ray discs, few did.   What I am trying to confirm, is what I was recently told, which is a device that can output 60fps 4K when it handshakes with a display (like the Epson), it would understand, and send 24fps instead of 60.  That could be considered a disadvantage, but in a world ruled by 24fps movies, I don’t suspect that will matter to most.

That brings us to HDR.  Best I can tell, it’s not all that great for us projector fans.  I got almost no time on the JVC with HDR content (maybe 2-3 hours of watching, etc.), but boatloads on Sony 4K projectors and a fair amount on the Epson 5040UB.

HDR demands brightness, and they use a NITS brightness number – typically 1000 as what is called for – that is, how the discs are encoded.  (It’s sort of like different gamma curves.).  Some, I’m told, are foolishly set to 4000 NITS, and there are no displays, projector, LCD TV or OLED, that come close to 4000 NITS.  (I think the very brightest LCD TVs are around 1400 NITS now, and most around 600 or less.  OLED’s are even lower.

A JVC or Epson on a 100″ 1.3 gain screen, I don’t believe will even equal 200 NITS.  So what happens to the picture:

That translates to my eye, as images capable of stunningly bright flashes of white and near white, but mid brightness scenes seeming too dark.  Normally lit rooms look like someone needs to turn on another light or two – gloomy.  Now remember, this is my take on HDR on these projectors.  Epson and Sony approach how they handle HDR (taking into consideration the limited dynamic range of the projectors) very differently.  I’m still learning those differences.

But brightness on HDR is a real issue for me – I found this to be the case on the Epson, the JVC (however brief), and the Sony VW365ES (which I have here now), as well as the Sony VW665ES which I had about the same time as the JVC, but longer.

Then about four weeks ago, Sony provided me with their flagship home theater projector, the VW5000ES, with it’s 5000 lumens using a dual laser light engine.

Guess what, those too dark mid brightness scenes, still could be a touch brighter, but there is a really dramatic difference between how the VW5000ES handles that content, compared to all those other, 2000 lumen or less projectors.  And it isn’t because of black levels, or some other performance difference, other than the big Sony has enough lumens and NITS) under the hood to let you really appreciate HDR. Those others – I’m not convinced.

Maybe you’ll prefer, it, maybe you’ll prefer your viewing to be of a brighter world with HDR off.  Love to hear feedback on that from anyone comparing watching a movie in HDR, and then with HDR off.  BTW, Epson provides one HDR mode to keep things bright, but in doing so, it’s also reducing the dynamic pop to the image, that HDR promises.  I have no clue what options JVC provides, but I’ll check in with Ron, who owns an RS600 in his theater.

3D

Into 3D, for years Epson had a big advantage, as it seemed JVC struggled with 3D, but the latest JVCs are much better than before. Ron, who reviewed the top of the line JVC (and comes from having an Epson before), says the 3D on the JVC is now at least as clean as the Epson, so both are likely fine for all of us.

Gaming

Gaming:  These Epsons are a good bit faster than previous UBs and are now  pretty good for gaming in terms of input lag, instead of merely acceptable.  The JVC measures (if I recall correctly, only slightly slower than the Epson, close enough as to not matter.  As to other aspects of gaming – that’s not something I explored since I don’t play big time games like Legends, COD, Warcraft, sports or auto racing.

HDR

That leaves only HDR – High Dynamic Range, which most of us are still tying to get a handle on.  Technically none of these traditional home theater projectors, or for that matter almost no LCDTVs are bright enough, to do HDR properly.  That said, the Epson running in Bright Cinema (calibrated) vs the JVC calibrated are similarly bright, so neither has an inherent advantage. Best I can figure.  We’ve been trying to calibrate HDR on the past couple of projectors – Sony true 4K and the Epson, but between the issues with the only Blu-ray UHD player shipping – the Samsung – until the first Philips and Panasonics are available, I’m not willing to weigh in if either has an advantage with HDR content, and that’s even after attending a calibration class on HDR.  When I was reviewing the RS400, just as I got my Samsung player, the Color and gamma were a mess on HDR.  (Samsung put out several updates.)  The trick though, was JVC posted on their site, some recommended settings, which I plugged in.  The picture still wasn’t perfect, I didn’t feel like I had calibrated color, but what a massive improvement in the picture overall.  Eric (our new calibrator), didn’t really succeed in “calibrating” HDR content, so I settled for adjusting color slightly by eye, and also the saturation, and gamma.  I can’t say that at the end of the day, which one had a more accurate or better balanced picture.  I figure in a couple/few months, we’ll have that all sorted out (hopefully).

The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line:  Two standout projectors that can reproduce both 1080 and 4K content. The Epson will know doubt handily outsell the JVC, because I believe it will appeal more, to sports and TV lovers, and even for some/many? big time movie fans. For the hard core fanatics, demanding great black levels, of course the JVC has a real advantage.  Those folks (which certainly includes me when it comes to movie watching), will have to trade off between the JVC’s blacks and the advantage in perceived sharpness of the Epson.  No matter which of these two you pick, you will almost certainly be thrilled, especially when you consider how great these two are for their price.

That, folks, is my story, and I’m sticking to it!

A few more thoughts

Post Script: Be aware, Epson also offers a Home Cinema 5040Ube – that version adds wireless features for an extra $300 over the standard UB). With it there are 4 HDMI inputs (up on the transmitter, including MHL for streaming sticks. All of which might be a game changer for some of you. We did not review the new transmitter, but were very pleased in the past with previous Ube’s abilities to transmit wirelessly, especially since there’s virtually no additional input lag.

Post, Post Script: Some of you are probably wondering how the Sony VPL-HW65ES didn’t pick up an award. I like Sony’s color handling, at the very least – right out of the box and un-calibrated, slightly etter than either of these projectors however, the Sony doesn’t handle 4K content at all, and has less placement flexibility and no lens memory thanks to having a 1.6:1 zoom that is manual. Nice projector, but not as capable. And many of us want to be starting to buy Blu-ray UHD sooner, rather than waiting for the “next” projector upgrade after the Sony. Of course Sony is the only game in town with true 4K projectors for the moment, but they start at $9999 list.