Affordable 4K Projectors Comparison - Sharpness, Black Level Performance

September 14, 2017

In this section, we will discuss the sharpness and black level performance of these affordable 4K capable projectors.


Photos (Left to Right): Epson HC5040UB, Optoma UHD65, Epson PC4040, Epson HC4000

Score one for the 4K UHD projectors. The Optoma models and Vivitek are inherently sharper. Their 2716x1528 x 2 DLP chip simply has smaller pixels than the 1920x1080 LCD panels in the Epsons. Optoma uses the same 1:6:1 manual zoom optics and light path (except for the color wheel), in both models, while Epson uses the same 2.1:1 motorized zoom and light path, but the 5040UB uses 3LCD panels with higher native contrast than the HC4000 or PC4040.

The Optoma and the Vivitek, also have the sharpness advantage of being single chip devices, so there’s no inherent misalignment that’s found with a three-chip system like the Epsons. They pay a price for that – needing to have a color wheel trips up those of us who are rainbow sensitive, but most people aren’t. Are you, or your family?

Image Processing as it Relates to Sharpness

I don’t think any company puts as many controls and types of processing to make the image sharper than Epson. Anyone could go crazy experimenting with the near infinite choices, but they do provide a simple solution called Image Enhancement with 5 settings (and off). They are most impressive. For normal every day use, settings one and two are just fine and definitely improve perceived sharpness and detail, but for some content, when I want things razor sharp (especially for sports) I dial up setting 4 (Preset 2 is my Go-To).

Using heavy advanced processing basically is adding noise, but noise that makes the picture look sharper and more detailed. There are always some additional artifacts. Epson does a great job, though. When set for 4, you will think it’s as sharp as the Optomas or even a 4K projector, but, if you look closely, you can spot the effects of edge sharpening and other techniques, especially when paused, for my photo shoots.

My point is, the Optomas are inherently sharper, but you can make the Epson look about as sharp and detailed without significant noise, that most would notice.

That helps level the difference, but still count the Optoma (and Vivitek) 4K UHDs as sharper, and a touch more detailed.

Black Level Performance

Neither the Optomas nor the Vivitek have black level performance worth writing home about. One could also say that of the Epson HC4000 and PC4040. Slugging it out, the Optoma and Vivitek have a higher native contrast, but these two Epsons have what is probably the best dynamic iris in the business.

What that means, in comparison: Well, if you compare black areas in a medium bright or bright scene, the DLPs will have a slight edge, but if you are comparing on very dark scenes, where a dynamic iris is most effective and where better black levels is far more important, those two Epsons will take the day.

Now I haven’t seen the UHD60 Optoma close enough up to determine if the different color wheel lowers overall contrast and makes black levels a bit worse, but I will speculate that it's possible that it would. Still, I would not expect any significant difference, and since I can’t, let’s expect the UHD60 and UHD65 to be the same at black levels with a footnote that the UHD60 might not be quite as good.

That leaves the Epson Home Cinema 5040UB, which, when taking on the “lesser” Epsons, both Optomas, and the Vivitek, leaves them all in the proverbial dust.

Top Image: Epson Home Cinema 5040UB, Bottom Image: Optoma UHD65
Top Image: Epson Home Cinema 5040UB, Bottom Image: Optoma UHD65

Here’s an image where the Epson is projecting on the top, and the Optoma UHD65 on the bottom. It’s intentionally overexposed, but look at the background: the Optoma is medium dark gray due to the overexposure, but with the same amount of overexposure on the Epson 5040UB, you still can’t see the letterbox as being anything but black.

In other words, the 5040UB truly crushes all of the other competition, including the other Epsons, when it comes to black level performance. The difference on dark scenes is barely short of “night and day” – more like night, vs early dusk, or dark overcast!

Bottom line on Black Level Performance: When considering the under $2000 4K capables, count the black level performance as pretty much a tie – comparable, but different strengths.

But, if you consider the Epson HC5040UB vs the UHD65 or the Vivitek HK2288/2299, it’s strictly a no contest. The Epson is at least a magnitude superior.

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