Epson Home Cinema 5020 - Competitors
How does the Epson Home Cinema 5020 compare to other 1080p home theater projectors on the market, including the Panasonic PT-AE8000, Sony VPL-HW50ES, last year's HC5010 that it replaces, Optoma HD8300, and the Sharp XV-Z30000?
Epson Home Cinema 5020 vs. Panasonic PT-AE8000
Here is a link to the separate comparison including side-by-side images for the duel between the Panasonic PT-AE8000 and the Epson Home Cinema 5020 UB. Here's a short version:
Two inherently similar projectors - they share the same LCD panels, similar in size, similar in zoom lens, and lens shift as far as placement flexibility goes. Both are ultra high contrast projectors, but on the opposite ends of the that spectrum. Warranties and support are very different. Brightness this year is very similar, a major change from last year when the Epson was clearly the brighter by a very significant margin.
Pricing is also rather different. Panasonic likes to launch with a promotion, and this year that promotion is two free pair of 3D glasses (the lightest active glasses I've ever worn). That ends on 12/31/12. Of course there's always the possibility they will extend, but, you have about a $200 incentive to buy a Panny before 1/1/13 should the promo simply expire.
As long as the Panasonic has the offer, the Panasonic is inherently $400 more than the Epson: $2999 with 2 pair of 3D, vs. $2599 with 2 pair of 3D glasses. Should the promotion just end, then the price difference increases to $600. Until that happens the Panasonic is 15% more expensive, but post expiration, that will turn into the Panasonic costing 23% more. Any way you slice it the Epson is the lower cost proposition.
More cost related info: Both claim the same lamp life, but Panasonic charges $379 compared to $299.
Warranty: The hidden cost. We know most folks don't give warranty differences much thought, even though we do. (We know that the warranty page is always the one least read, in every home projector review.) In this case, the Warranty differences have the potential to affect long term cost and convenience.
Both have two years, but Panasonic limits their two year warranty to 2000 hours. That means anyone who remotely sees theirself as a heavy user (let's say more than 20 hours a week), such as those who use their projectors as a primary "TV", is going to run out of warranty before the two years are up. A very heavy user like (when I'm not reviewing) - my usage is similar to the national average for TV viewing - upward of 40 hours a week. That means that for folks with usage like mine (and there are a lot of us), the warranty won't even make it one full year.
Further, Epson will immediately replace any projector that is suffering from a warranty problem, by shipping right out (within 1 business day) a replacement which you keep), they pay the freight, including to get your busted one back. Basically a great waranty and minimal hassle.
Warranty is a clear and important advantage for Epson. It means nothing if you never have a problem, but we all can't be that lucky!
Next: Picture Quality
I'd call these two a toss-up, post calibration, in terms of color in best mode, and also similar after slightly improving both of their brightest modes. Skin tones are excellent on both post calibration. The Panasonic PT-AE8000 tends to have a softer, a touch lest contrasty (pop) look than the Epson, but that tends to be personal choice. It's the black levels and dark shadow detail where the Epson proved superior. The Epson does better dark shadow (not by much). I should note that Panasonic does sometimes reveal a little more detail in the lighter ranges. (For example compare the detail of the river water, in the night train scene.)
But, while those are close, not so black level performance. The Epson is still great at blacks, and unmatched for the price. The Panasonic falls far short, although it's very competitive compared to many other projectors in the general price range. These intentionally overexposed comparison images of the starship from The Fifth Element, and Casino Royale night train scene clearly show the differences. Panasonic claims better blacks this year, and I saw them when Panasonic demo'd both for me, before the PT-AE8000 was shipping. Apparently (not just because of a boost in contrast ratio claim), the HC5020UB is also improved this year, as best I can tell, the Epson has only very slightly actually improved it's black level advantage over Panasonic this year. In both companies' cases, though, this year's projectors are slightly better than last.
Panasonic is on the left for all the images. Click to enlarge:
The Epson simply looks visibly better on dark scenes, thanks primarily to the black level advantage, which will give you the feel of a lot more pop to the image. While that may not mean much on a typical bright scene, as we all know, other than sporting events, there are usually plenty of dark scenes in most other content, especially movies, and plenty of HDTV. (How many vampire shows are out there?)
Lens Memory and Split Screen: Lens memory let's you use a 2.35:1 screen instead of the usual 16:9. That's great for folks who primarily watch movies. As I've learned, I like the wide screen, but hate that my sports are so much smaller, with my wide screen.
If you don't care about that, want to not have to see letter boxing on those widescreen movies, and therefore plan to get a 2.35:1 screen, then the Panasonic is your clear choice. The Epson with it's manual zoom lens simply can't have a way to use a widescreen short of an anamorphic lens and outboard processor (buy the Pro Cinema 6020 in that case, it supports anamorphic lenses so no outboard needed).
Thus for those wanting 2.35:1, the Panasonic is the practical and affordable choice.
Split screen. Two side by side images is a really fun idea. As I've said, works for me. Footbball game on one side, my MacBook feeding the other window to show my fantasy football info.
If you can't live without Split Screen, then the Epson is for you.
Other than those two special features, you have a real choice.
Brightness: Once a big Epson advantage, it's now a small one - in 2D. At their brightest, these two are close enough to be considered equal. In calibrated best mode, however, the Epson is still over 12% brighter (602 vs. 678 calibrated lumens). Not a huge amount, but enough to be factored into a decision. Think this way - the extra lumens enough to have the same brightness with the Epson Home Cinema 5020 UB on a screen that's 5 or 6 inches larger than the screen for the Panasonic PT-AE8000.
3D: Last year I considered the Panasonic to be the clear winner in terms of 3D. True, it wasn't as bright, but that Epson would not allow their dynamic features to work in 3D - the dynamic iris, CFI, -resolution... put it at a distinct disadvantage for 3D. This year, the most important by far, of those dynamic features - the Dynamic Iris is available in 3D The Epson for example goes from seriously inferior blacks last year (in 3D) to superior blacks this year in 3D...
The Panasonic's 3D may actually be a touch more precise than the Epson's due to some extra parallex correction, but what they are doing is hard to spot. The real difference is 3D brightness. While the PT-AE8000 pretty much closed the gap on 2D brightness, it's no contest, the Epson is very visibly brighter in 3D. Whether its the glasses, the processing... no matter, they are not close in brightness when viewing 3D comparing both in their brightest modes, which is where you probably want to be unless you have a really smaller screen.
There's more, but then that's why I do a 4 page comparison. This is the short version. Let's forget about price for moment.
Bottom line: I give the Epson the overall advantage picture wise, the blacks are the key reason for that. They also have real wins in 3D (due to brightness), warranty and support. Plus there's the cool split screen feature.
The Panasonic is the winner if you want an anamorphic shaped screen, thanks to lens memory. It's also got cool features - the Waveform monitor and side by side image analysis. Regarding that, ultimately, it's estimated that less than 10% of people use wide screens, and most of those are owners of some very expensive projectors, equipped with anamorphic lenses and sleds, and they are probably viewing in some very classy home theaters where the owners have spent far more for seating than both of these projectors cost combined. (I'm talking about projectors from Runco, SIM2, and throw in Sony's $24,999 VW1000ES.)
Other than lens memory, placement flexibility is essentially a tie.
From a personal note, I would pick the Epson for my personal use, but once again, I can fully understand why many choose the Panasonic.
Like Brightness, Size matters. In this case, I'm talking the size of the price tag. Even at the same price, everyone's going to line up with a favorite of the two, but keep that wallet in mind. The Epson is currently $400 less, and that can jump to $600 if the Panny glasses promo goes away.
In years past - really until last year, it was usually the Epson that cost a few hundred more. With the Epson being a serious chunk of change less expensive, and still a bit brighter calibrated, and in 3D, it would seem that if you can live without lens memory that the Home Cinema 5020 is the better value proposition of the two.
Epson Home Cinema 5020 vs. Optoma HD8300
This comparison, has only had minor changes from last year's comparison of the Optoma against the older Epson.
Once again, the Optoma higher price (sold only though local dealers) is probably the hugest difference between these two projectors. The Optoma, though is a good example of a good single chip DLP. The Optoma has a really good looking image, although technically, the Epson has a modest advantage in black levels.
With the HD8300 you get that DLP look, which I've always tried to define an image that offers particularly rich darker colors, that pop, but aren't over the top... (that at least should be a distinguishing feature of a good DLP projector).
The Epson wins in all the usual areas - far lower price, longer/better warranty, brighter by far in brightest mode, greater placement flexibility, smoother iris action, and especially far brighter 3D.
Both calibrate well enough, to produce a great "best picture"
The Optoma HD8300 is on the left on all of the images below.
Above, the Optoma HD8300 offers blacks very close to those of the Epson in our usual incredibly overexposed night train image from Casino Royale
The Optoma HD8300, by comparison is a bit brighter in "best mode" (the Optoma offers about 750 lumens at best, vs about 630). That DLP "look and feel", and it has support for an anamorphic lens.
The images below and above are from the 3D and 2D disc Legends of Flight, one of the discs I rely on heavily for viewing a projector's 3D abilities.
All considered, the Optoma is a very nice projector, but ultimately, it's hard do justify the roughly 40+% price premium over the Epson.
If you love DLP projectors and the Optoma works in your environment, this is a very good one. It is perhaps not as natural as say the entry level Runco DLP, and its dynamic iris could still be a touch smoother, but overall, it produces a really impressive picture.
Epson Home Cinema 5020 vs. Sony VPL-HW50ES
All new for 2012, this time the Epson has to take on what I consider to be the most improved "evolutionary" projector of the year, Sony's HW50ES. I talk about it's Reality Creation engine - for dynamic, and in this case, super-smart, detail enhancement. Sony with this projector has gone where no 2K projector has gone before. Not even their excellent $5995 VW95ES can touch the apparent detail of the HW50ES.
True, Epson has Super-Resolution - it's in the game, but Sony is far more effective. Sony's raised the bar If you use Reality creation in modest doses (20-35 is about all I'll use out of 100), it does produce what seems to be a sharper, crisper image.
Sony has also closed the black level gap. If the Sony isn't quite as good as the Epson, it's so close that on some scenes it's actually a bit better. They are close enough to call a tie.
The Epson wins at placement flexibility, thanks to the 2.1:1 zoom vs. 1.6:1.
Out of the box the Sony's very good, the Epson slightly better. The Epson "shines" when it comes to brightness - in both 2D and 3D, but there is a critical exception:
Calibrated the Sony's 992 measured lumens leaves the Epson's 678 in the rear view mirror. It's when you need the most lumens - say for sports or TV with some lights on... that Epson's a good 50% brighter, and that's signfiicant.
I could go on, but let me say it's a very tough call between these two. Epson's two year warranty has that 2 year replacement program I see as such a consumer friendly thing, but Sony offers a basic 3 years without "the frills".
What's the Bottom line? I think it comes down to price. The Sony is technically $3999 compared to the Epson's $2599, but the Sony does come with two pair of glasses and a spare lamp. To me that works out to about a $3400 value for the projector alone, $3600 with the glasses.
That makes it exactly $1000 more expensive than the Epson. Is it worth it to you? Tough call. I could live with either. If I was counting my change to buy my next projector in this price range, I'd almost certainly pick the Epson due to the far lower price up front, and the far lower long term lamp costs (2000/3000 hours for Sony vs. 4000/5000 for the Epson).
But, if someone was saying - Pick your next projector - you can have either one for the same price and we'll keep you in free lamps, then I do believe I would have to pick the Sony VPL-HW50ES. Mind you, that's the first time I've encountered another projector in the under $3500 range, in five plus years that I could say that about.
In other words, by my take, the Sony costs more, and seems to be worth the extra $1000. Is it worth the extra $1000 - to some, yes, to others no, but both are excellent value propositions. You get your money's worth with either.
Epson Home Cinema 5020 vs. Sharp XV-Z30000
Another DLP projector, This XV-Z30000 launched earlier this year, and was a major improvement from the older Z17000 (which was the first 1080p 3D projector on the market in the US).
Truth is, the old and the new are very different, and the Z30000 is far more competitive. So, what's the story vs. the HC5020?
First is price. Start by forgetting the list price (MSRP) which is $4999. A quick look online shows pricing is mostly at or below $3499. Prices vary a lot, the question is, which ones are authorized dealers? I always recommend buying from authorized dealers. I'm just not familiar with how Sharp handles their channels. With Epson pricing tends to be very consistent, and Epson is fanatical about post sales support, so you really don't have to be concerned. Online it seems there's a smattering of many types of dealers, from camera shops, to the we carry everything PC type dealers. Choose your dealer as wisely as you choose your projector.
By any measure, the Epson will cost less, the question is - $400-$500 less, or closer to $1000 less.
The Sharp is one of your alternatives to consider if you want a wide screen, as it offers Lens Memory, similar to the Panasonic's. And to do so, the Sharp offers a 2:1 zoom, that's almost as much range as the Epson's 2.1:1.
Sharp's 3D glasses are IR, and battery powered, the Epson's are RF and rechargeable. The Epson glasses are also significantly lighter.
Black levels are very good with the Sharp, but not up to the Epson. I'd put them somewhere in the middle between the Epson and the Panasonic.
Native sharpness - (forget dynamic detail enhancement for now) - the Sharp has the advantage. It's that single chip aspect - no panels to converge. The difference is slight, but real. You aren't likely to notice or care on film based movies, but switch to all digital content, and then, without digital enhancmeent, the Sharp has the advantage
Brightness: No contest here. The XV-Z30000 would be considered an average projector in terms of brightness before 3D hit, and a number of new projectors out these days are about twice as bright the old average. The Epson HC5020 is obviously one of those. While calibrated, the Epson is only about 20% brighter than the Sharp projector, it's when you need every last lumen - including 3D - that the Epson is close to twice as bright, and that folks is significant.
Think this way. If you have a 100" screen for the Sharp XV-Z30000, then you would get a similarly bright image with the Epson, on about a 140" diagonal screen. But only when comparing brightest modes.
The Sharp therefore is an overall excellent projector, but best on screens 110" and smaller, especially if 3D is going to be a signficant part of your world. It has a lot of appeal in that case, especially to those folks who, from experience know they prefer DLP.
Epson Home Cinema 5020 UB vs. Epson Home Cinema 3020
What does the extra $1000 buy you (both come with 2 pair of 3D glasses), when comparing the Home Cinema 5020 with the Home Cinema 3020?
First and foremost, you are getting a higher performance projector in terms of picture quality. The HC5020's black level performance is not only far superior, but it's also better than anything near its price (above or below). Even if you were to turn off the Epson HC5020UB's dynamic iris and leave the dynamic iris on with the 3020, the 5020 would still produce the blacker blacks. Of course that's all expected since UB stands for Ultra Black.
The HC5020 UB lacks the more portable friendly Home Cinema 3020 projector's pair of 10 watt speakers, but adds a good deal more placement flexibility thanks to variable lens shift and a zoom lens with more range. 2.1:1 vs. 1.6:1 Neither projector is particularly quiet in terms of audible noise. Both have the same excellent warranty. And same long lamp life.
The Home Cinema 5020 has dynamic features the HC3010 lacks. While the more expensive 5020 has full CFI for smooth motion, the Epson 3010 offers only the more basic FI - simple frame doubling. Both offer Super-Resolution this year.
If you aren't a home theater fanatic, don't demand those really dark blacks, and just want a great projector for the family, with good color and a good feature set, go with the Home Cinema 3020. If you have the budget, tend to be "into" the equipment - an enthusiast, then it's rather easy to rationalize the extra expense. As I basically said above, comparing the 5020 to the Sony: Both offer similar price/performance - with the HC5020 projector, you will be getting your money's worth. You only need to decide what it is about the 5020 that you want, that makes you spend the difference.
Epson Home Cinema 5020 vs. Epson Home Cinema 5010
Usually when a new projector comes out, such as this Home Cinema 5020, there's a period of a month or more where it competes against dwindling supplies of "last year's projector.
So, is it worth paying more? Generally I would say yes. If you can still find HC5010s (there are some around now, mid Nov. 2012), then I offer this advice. I find the improvements to be a number of small things that add up to a much better projector, especially in 3D. That said, if anyone's into 3D, they probably should be willing to pay hundreds more for the HC5020.
My initial thoughts were that the HC5020UB despite the 320,000:1 contrast (up from 200,000:1 on the 5010UB), did not seem to have blacker blacks. Mind you, at some point I forgot that they had raised the contrast ratio (they didn't raise the HC3020 compared to the HC3010).
I had both projectors here for a couple of weeks, but never really took a close look, or photographed my favorite "dark scenes".
But two things now say "Yes" the Epson does better blacks. First, I saw the Panasonic PT-AE8000 vs PT-AE7000 here, when Panasonic brought both a few months ago. The Panasonic PT-AE8000 had slightly improved blacks. But, when I looked at my photos of the PT-AE8000 vs. Epson 5020, it seemed that the black level difference was greater (favoring the Epson) than in the images of the older HC5010 vs the older PT-AE7000.
Further "subjective proof" When I reviewed the HW50ES, my initial comments included that the HW50ES slightly outperformed in most cases, the HC5010 (that was well before the HC5020 shipped). Yet when I ran my comparisions and side by side images, the two were virtually a tie, but the Epson was slightly better at blacks most of the time, the Sony only occasionally.
From that as well, I would have to say, yes, you are getting better blacks with the HC5020UB. However, it's not going to be much of an improvement. The difference between the blacks of the HC5020 and the PT-AE8000 is probably 5-10 times greater than between the HC5020 and the HC5010. In other words, score a slight improvement in black levels for both Epson and the new Panasonic compared to their last year's versions.
If, there really turns out to be a price spread of say $500 give or take, I would say that the 5010's greatest value are to the folks shopping for under $2,000 projectors who simply can't rationalize spending $2600 for the new version.
If the price spread is more like a couple hundred dollars, and you really don't care about 3D, then the HC5010 again should be considered, especially if the budget it tight. It comes down to this: There isn't one thing (other than possible price), that the HC5010 and do better than the HC5020 so it needs to be at a discount that makes sense to you.