Sony VPL-HW55ES Projector vs. Epson HC5030UB Projector

Epson’s HC5030UB – aka Home Cinema 5030UB takes on Sony’s VPL-HW55ES.  This is a battle of what I consider the two best projectors in terms of performance and value, in the $2000 – $3500 street price range.

Both projectors offer extensive feature sets, and a first rate picture.  We’ll start our comparison with a look at how the hardware stacks up.  Both of these projectors (and the almost identical Epson Pro Cinema 6030UB) received our Hot Product Award.  As I write this, I’m just a few weeks from most likely choosing one of them for our Best In Class award.  There were a couple of other serious contenders, but these two stand out.

From a pricing standpoint, subtracting out extras that might be included such as spare lamps, mounts, 3D glasses, we figure that typically the street price difference is around $800 – $1000.  I’ll discuss their value propositions later in this comparison.

Hardware Compared: VPL-HW55ES and Home Cinema 5030UB

Where to start?  How about the front, and that means the lens.   Both of these projectors offer manual zoom and focus, however the Epson offers more range to their zoom.  It can be placed slightly closer to your screen than the Sony, or if you are going for the “back of the room” such as placing the projector on a rear wall shelf, the Epson can be placed several feet further from the screen as well.  The slight difference in the closest placement isn’t likely to make a difference to 99%, however, the shorter maximum distance of the Sony may be enough difference that some of you planning on using a rear shelf mount, might find that the  Epson will work in your room, while the Sony may need to be placed too close to end up on that rear wall.  (You could opt for  larger screen!)

Note regarding the images.  In the US, the Home Cinema 5030 UB is finished in white with black trim in the front.  The Pro Cinema 6030UB is finished in black.   Sony also offers a choice of black, or white cased projectors in much of the world, but only offers the black version in the US.

Placement Flexibility

Placement Range Comparison with a 100″ 16:9 screen
Projector Closest placement distance Furthest
Sony VPL-HW55ES  9.7 feet  15.7 feet
Home Cinema 5030UB 9.8 feet  20.9 feet

As you can see from the chart above, if you are mounting or placing the projector close to the  screen, both projectors have almost identical minimum differences, but the much longer range 2.1:1 Epson zoom bests the Sony’s 1.6:1 zoom if placing further back.  Where that comes into play most often, is for those looking to place the projector on the rear wall of the room.  The Epson should have the range to work in most people’s setup, while the Sony may not be placeable far enough back on deeper rooms – for the same sized screen.

The Epson also has an advantage in terms of vertical lens shift range.  The Sony will let you place up to about 8 inches above or 8 below the screen surface top or bottom, or anywhere in between.  The Epson though gives you 22 inches on either end.  If you have a somewhat high ceiling, perhaps 12 feet, where the Sony might be mounted at the end of a 2 foot pole from the ceiling mount, the Epson could be mounted about 14 inches higher so only down about 8 inches from the ceiling.  Not a big difference for most folks although I can say in my last house, my wife was never thrilled by our old BenQ projector hanging down 5 feet, she would have preferred it “less visible”, that is, if it was a couple of feet higher.

Overall, the Epson has a definite advantage in placement flexibility.  Of course if they both work in your room…

Interfacing - Inputs and Connections

Not a whole lot of differences here.  Both have two HDMI’s both have a Component Video input (3 color coded RCA jacks) and an analog computer input.  Both have an RS232 serial port for “command and control.”  The Epson offers up a 12 volt trigger for motorized screen or other use.  The Sony has a Composite video port (RCA connector) that the Epson lacks, and it also has an RJ45 type connector for an outboard 3D RF transmitter (IR is built in).  Epson’s built in 3D transmitter is already RF.  Since it does relate to inputs, the Epson has picture in picture, which the Sony lacks.

Still, all considered, its very unlikely that the input selection will affect your decision.

For the most part, consider this a choice of brightness vs better color, as your decision process.  Most of you, I expect will treat other differences as far more important when choosing between these two projectors.

Comparing Brightness

Projector Brightness Compared, Lens at mid-point of zoom range
Projector Best Brightest
Epson HC5030UB 644 1622
Sony VPL-HW55ES 964 1185

When we turn to brightness, now things get very interesting, because in this area, the two projector differ significantly, but neither “wins” overall, but may win for your requirements.

Take a look at the table.  What you see is that for absolute best picture quality the Epson calibrates to the mid 600 lumen range while the Sony comes in a few percent shy of 1000 lumens.  Basically the Epson has only 2/3 the brightness calibrated.  Still, consider that the Epson has enough to handle a 130 inch diagonal 1.3 gain screen!

On the other hand, the Sony could therefore tackle something close 150″ diagonal with the same brightness using the same screen.  Win for Sony!

When you don’t need your projector’s most perfect color, let’s say that when watching sports or your favorite sitcom, the advantage goes to the Epson.  The Sony produces a very watchable image with 1044 lumens.  Photo mode, a bit contrasty, finds 1185 lumens, the max we measured.  By comparison, the Epson clocks in at beefier 1622 lumens in Dynamic, but Mike’s quick “cal” of Dynamic which still manages 1487, but noticeably better looking lumens.  That 1487 should look about as good, or better than the Sony at 1044 lumens.

There’s one more factor, due to the different zoom lenses.  We measure most things at mid-point in the zoom range, but because of the longer range zoom, the increase in brightness from mid to closest position is a whole lot greater with the Epson.  So, if we consider, for example, the 1622 (Epson) vs. the 1185 (Sony) lumens, both mounted with lens at full wide angle – just under 10 feet from a 100″ screen, the Epson now manages 2083 lumens, compared to the Sony’s 1218 lumens.  So, the Epson is far brighter when both are mounted at their closest and you need maximum brightness.  (That same factor applies to calibrated as well, but the Sony still remains almost 20% brighter calibrated.)

Bottom line, if you are a mostly movie oriented, lights out, and very large screen, the Sony has the distinct advantage.  If you also like having more than a little ambient light while entertaining friends (or yourself) for sports and TV, then the Epson has a slightly bigger advantage.  Ultimately, this will be a major factor in choosing between these two great projectors.

3D Performance

Both projectors suffer from minor crosstalk, and both have more than one “glasses” mode.  The trade-off here, is that when the image is on longer for each eye, there’s more overlap or crosstalk, so you have a trade-off of a brighter image with more crosstalk, or the other way around.

Although the Epson is LCD and the Sony, LCoS, there doesn’t seem to be much overall difference here, both at their best do have a little, and have more than a DLP projector would, but how much that matters is up to you.  I am not overly bothered by a little crosstalk, but for example, prefer the Epson in middle or low setting rather than high where there’s the most crosstalk.

Other than that there isn’t great, accurate color in any 3D modes on either.  We do not calibrate 3D modes, but for those of you who would have 3D calibrated, you should be able to get some very respectable color.

Epson offers 3 calibration modes:  3D THX, 3D Cinema, and 3D Dynamic.   Both the 3D THX and 3D Cinema have better color than the dynamic, but are significantly less bright.  With the Sony, almost any 2D preset color mode works in 3D.

As I see it, the Sony can put up the better color when you are comparing brightest 3D modes, but the Epson can put up a noticeably brighter image when both in brightest modes.  The Epson in 3D THX seems to be a little better than most of the Sony 3D modes, when comparing “best”, but 3D THX isn’t as bright as the Sony.

2D – 3D conversion – I really barely looked at either.  I have always found too many artifacts to worry about other aspects of 2D to 3D conversion, but the kids might like it, and it can be fun to view your 2D videos in 3D.

Because brightness is a key element for 3D viewing, I’d probably pick the Epson overall, but again, we’re not talking great color.  Rarely in 3D – these projectors and others – have I seen, for example, a really believable blue sky.  At this point I’m still treating 3D as a great thing to watch, but not judging the color accuracy critically, as in “I can live with it”  That is much as we can live with brightest modes in 2D, when needed.

3D Glasses – this is interesting.  The Epson comes with 2 pair of RF rechargeable glasses.  The Sony comes with IR ones, but you can buy an RF emitter (there’s a connector on the input panel), and pair it with RF glasses.  I didn’t have that rig with the HW55ES but got to use the glasses with the Sony VW600ES (the 4K projector).   My take is that 3D is better on the Sony if you go with the RF glasses.  But it’s been reported that the emitter, made by a 3rd party, are hard to find.  One reader has promised to send me some details on where to find.

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