Projector Reviews

Epson Home Cinema 4010/Pro Cinema 4050 4K Capable Home Theater Projector Review – Picture Quality 1

Epson HC4010 and PC4050 Projector Review – Picture Quality: Out of the Box Picture Quality, Skin Tones, Black Levels/Shadow Detail, 4K Movies (with HDR)

Out-of-the-Box Picture Quality

The Epson Home Cinema 4010 and Pro Cinema 4050 are typical Epson home theater projectors, and when I say that, I’m talking really good color, right out of the box. True, the brightest mode – Dynamic – is strong on greens, but not as bad as most.

More significantly several modes are fairly close to Dynamic, (i.e. Bright Cinema), aren’t that much less bright, but have really good color.   This series, along with the slightly more expensive UB series, also have a cinema filter built in. That filter when engaged (Digital Cinema mode), further improves color, allowing these lamp based projectors to get very, very close to achieving P3 color – rivaling a quality movie theater.  That does cost some brightness (almost half), but there’s plenty of good color to go around without using that filter.

This time around, we calibrated Digital Cinema with P3 for our “Best” 4K with HDR/P3 content handling.  We also calibrated Natural mode – which is almost twice as bright, because of no cinema filter.   That calibrated mode can do REC709, but not close to P3. So you get to choose, a mode that’s brighter – for HDR handling, or one not as bright, with the richer colors.  Your choice!

The images in the player above demonstrate the “right out of the box” color capabilities of the projector, before any calibration.  We only calibrated two modes, as noted:  Natural for our non-4K including our Victoria Secret model image (labeled in the caption).  All the others shown, except Digital Cinema (which we only use for 4K with HDR/P3), since that won’t work on 1080i/1080p satellite content.  

In the player above, the first five images are from 1080i HDTV. (the two Vic Secret model images are respectively: Bright Cinema (2nd brightest mode – good color, and Dynamic (the worst color this Epson is capable of).  Not bad!  That’s followed by one 4K (no HDR – Blacklist off of Netflix), and two 4K movies with HDR/P3.

Overall, no surprise, the HC4010 / PC4050, have many modes that look good. Some are cooler and might be preferred for sports etc, others are close to 6500K – the color temp standard and ideal for movies.  (When viewing things like sports with ambient light, most folks I know favor the slightly cooler color range of 7000K to 7500K.

Skin Tones

Other than Dynamic mode – every mode looks at least good to very good, unadjusted, when looking a wide variety of skin tones and “different lighting.”

Included are our usual four 1080p images of Daniel Craig as Bond in Casino Royale.  The purpose there is to demonstrate to you that there is no one skin tone.  Every person’s skin tones look very different with different lighting such as full sunlight vs fluorescent lighting, cloudy days, and night lighting.

There are both 4K with HDR/P3 color, 4K HDR/REC 709 (our “bright” 4K HDR mode) images as well as 4K without HDR (Blacklist – from Netflix), and color from 1080i/1080p from HDTV and sports.

Black Level Performance/Shadow Detail

Not bad, not bad at all.  Being a black level fanatic – looking for the projector that really shines when handling really dark scenes (not brightly lit city nightscapes) – I knew going in that the black level performance of both the HC4010 and PC4050 projectors, is inherently a compromise.

For example, we expect the now (Nov ’18) aging HC5040UB, to be replaced shortly, since it makes no sense for these new models – HC4010 and PC4050, to be more advanced than Epson’s two UB (Ultra-Black) projectors which have superior 3LCD panels, that offer dramatically higher native contrast.

With that in mind, I will always personally favor the “UB” series, which in this case of the HC 4010 compared to the existing HC 5040UB, is street pricing for only a few hundred dollars less at this time.

It’s true that when there’s more than very little ambient light present, that the differences when viewing two projectors with different contrast and black level performance, that the differences are noticeably diminished by the ambient light.

So, to simplify:  If you are going for a living room, media room, family room type of setup with less than perfect lighting control, the Home Cinema 4010 is likely the better value of the two. But, if you are putting together the classic home theater/man cave (ok, in this day and age, let me amend that to “person cave”), with dark surfaces and great lighting control, I’ll always recommend spending the extra for the better black level performer, in this case because prices are reasonably close, and you should get a number of years enjoyment out of your new projector!

The images in the first player are the usual black level / dark scene images.  I’ve included several, but then we have the intentionally overexposed (and greyscaled) “Bond night train scene” image from Casino Royale.  You’ll find the first one of those is labeled the HC4010, followed by Epson’s better black levels 5040UB.  After that, a number of assorted projectors doing the same image, from lower cost 4K UHD DLP projectors to well more expensive projectors from Sony (native 4K) and JVC (4K capable pixel shifter like these Epsons).  In general, exposures do vary, but you are looking for the image with the most pop – where the lightest parts of the image are extremely bright while the darkest parts are still very dark.  The letter box below and above give you an indication of how black those blacks are – relative to the whitest parts of the image (i.e., the train’s front light).

These two new Epson’s thanks to their dynamic iris do a rather good job, despite many of the 4K UHD DLPs having more native contrast. That’s because the native contrast differences aren’t really huge, and because the Epson has a dynamic iris to help lower black levels on those dark scenes.  We need to see more DLP projectors use dynamic irises, to improve their black levels.

I have mentioned the Acer VL7860 in other reviews, as the only DLP that’s 4K capable of the more than a dozen we’ve reviewed, that offers a dynamic iris (or rather has their laser light engine emulate one (something Sony does on their $39,999.99 native 4K laser projector).  That Acer, which sells for about $2000 more has the best black levels of any of the DLPs we’re talking about, because of that “dynamic iris.”  Unfortunately lamp based projectors can’t really dim their lamps like an iris (many have tried – Dynamic Black), because they can’t lower blacks significantly because lamps dim and brighten too slowly.

When one tries to get the same range of a mechanical dynamic iris, by using lamp dimming, you’ll normally see very visible pumping of the image – as he image slowly brightens or dims to match the scene, but is usually playing catch-up, and is therefore very noticeable and distracting.  As a result, we typically don’t even recommend using the Dynamic Black feature found on most home DLP projectors be they 4K UHD or lower end.

Dark Shadow Detail

These Epsons, like other Epsons, are especially good. With the Brightness setting correct, these Epson projectors will reveal virtually every bit of dark detail that exists in the content.  Any loss is likely due to the Brightness control not being fine enough (but very close.)

Look at the same Bond night train scene, for details in the shrubs on the far side of the train tracks in the lower left, and look for faint details in the large almost fully black area of the forest on the upper right side.    BTW we don’t normally focus o white levels and crushing white detail, but this Epson is also very good. And these days, that’s noteworthy, because Eric, our calibrator has been reporting (and we can see it), that a lot of the lower cost 4K capable projectors are crushing near white detail. They just can’t get there.

Bottom line on dark shadow detail: Excellent!  On crushing near whites – very, very, good, but more to the point, a lot better than most of the similarly priced competition!

4K Movies (with HDR) BT.2020/P3 - DCI-P3 Color

Most aspects of the picture of the HC4010 (and Pro Cinema 4050) are exceptionally good, when working highest quality content out there – 4K content with HDR, and DCI-P3 color (same as movie theaters),

I will give the slight edge to the more expensive Sony 4K projectors for naturalness of the picture.  These Epsons when doing their sharpest 4K tend to be just a touch hard looking compared to Sony’s native 4K projectors.  Now I’m really getting picky here. Most folks won’t notice, especially since you don’t get to compare.  Other than that one aspect, the black levels could of course, be better (thus the Epson UB series).

The choice for you is more brightness or P3 color.  Keep in mind if you opt for the roughly 2000 calibrated lumens without P3 color, that’s more than any of the competition.  And most of the competition can’t do color as well as this Epson, even when you aren’t using the Cinema filter.

The bottom line is that you will have a well balanced picture with more pop and power, or with a touch better color.  As always, I recommend the UB series however for the few hundred more, if you have a dedicated theater… If a family room, you will be hard pressed to find anything that can compete at this price or less, on 4K HDR content.