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Epson Home Cinema 5040UB / Pro Cinema 6040UB Picture Quality 2

Posted on August 11, 2016 by Art Feierman
HOME CINEMA 5040UB / PRO CINEMA 6040UB PICTURE QUALITY 2:  Black Level Performance, Dark Shadow Detail, Overall Picture Quality

5040UB / 6040UB Black Level Performance

Epson upped their contrast claim to 1,000,000:1 on the Home Cinema 5040UB and Pro Cinema 6040UB, from a mere 600,000:1.

These contrast numbers are based on using the dynamic iris, so that, while that is one impressive number, we generally ignore contrast claims, and favor a subjective approach, since contrast numbers can be very misleading. As an example, consider that while Epson is known for the easily best black level performance at or below the price of the 5040UB, and the 5030UB before it, the reigning champs for years have been the JVC projectors.  True the least of those is $1000 more than the 5040UB, but my point is, the $4000 entry level JVC definitely has blacker blacks but a not as good contrast number.

In the player above, first an assortment of dark scenes, from 4K, 1080p and 1080i content. Then comes the Bond night train scene on the 6040UB/5040UB, followed immediately by the 5030UB.  The next image is the Epson LS10000, Epson's flagship laser HT projector ($7999).  That is followed by the competing Sony VPL-HW65ES discussed below, and then the reigning under $6500 black level champ, the JVC RS400U, which is definitely a step up in performance, thanks to much higher native contrast (and a dynamic iris).

Finally, the last night train photo is from the $14,999 true 4K Sony VPL-VW665ES, which is, interestingly, just in the same league as the $2999 Epson when it comes to black levels, except, of course it's a true 4K projector, that is 5X the price.

So, what do we have here in terms of performance? Overall black level performance is improved over the 5030UB/6030UB, but the improvement is not huge by any means.  Epson will still have to settle for 2nd place, so to speak, in this area.

But the black level performance of these Epsons is also a bit different than the older Epsons.  This is my take on why:

First, there's the redesigned dynamic iris.  (BTW, it still rumbles a bit.)  This new iris can close down a lot further, so when encountering multiple black frames, the new Epson's will go blacker, by more than just a little.

On more traditional very dark scenes, though, such as our Bond night train scene from Casino Royale, the improvements in the blacks is modest.  On brighter, "dark scenes" such as night cityscapes, it seems the improvement is greater than on the really dark scenes. Now this I don't attribute to the dynamic iris, but rather to the new optics and light engine.

As I mentioned previously, there is definitely less blooming (sort of a lighter halo around white areas on very dark backgrounds).   Blooming is caused by light bouncing around within a lens, or around the walls of the light path, so that some of the bright light ends up "polluting" the dark areas.  There is always some blooming, but the less, of course the better.

Epson seems to have made significant strides in reducing the blooming whether that is mostly the lens, the light engine, or a combination of both and other things.  As a result, that night city scape appears to have a richer dark sky than the 5030UB I have here is capable of. Night and day difference?  Of course not.  A huge difference, no, not that either.  But a real improvement?  Yes!

This Epson UB beats not just the older UB, but the the Epson Laser projector overall as well, because while the laser projector has higher native contrast, it has no iris, and does not use the laser light engine as a dimmable substitute (except on black frames).  The laser rules on black frames but not otherwise (despite higher native contrast).

Overall, I believe that the Epsons have pulled away a bit, in terms of outperforming the Sony HW65ES in overall black level performance.  I had considered the HW65ES and the 5030UB pretty much on par with each other, with the Epson a touch better on the really dark scenes. I don't have the HW65ES here for comparison, but do have the same 5030UB I ran side by side with the Sony.

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Bottom Line on Black Level Performance:  To the best of my knowledge, these new Epsons are the best around at or below their price point.  Only the JVC models at $4K, $7K, and $10K, are capable of deeper black level performance.  While I would have loved to see even deeper blacks, enough to challenge JVC, I'll settle for the modest improvements, and overall rather excellent black level performance!

These new Epsons, of course, are what I call "ultra high contrast" projectors.  Translation:  Black level performance is at least really very good, so good, that while further improvements will always be appreciated, other factors now become more important to most of us (perhaps brightness, sharpness, 4K handling, etc., even price.)

Dark Shadow Detail

Surprise!  I wasn't expecting an real improvement here, so it really is nice to be "pleasantly surprised."

The dark shadow detail seems excellent.  About as good, I think as I've seen.  Still looking at the Bond night train scene in the first player: The shrubs behind the tracks (on the right) are more defined than I can remember on any projector, and I'm especially impressed that it seems every little non black pixel  in the woods behind the tracks seems to be easily visible.  Even the tracks (although not that dark) stand out better.

I primarily attribute the improvement to improved optics and light engine, so that blooming is not diluting the contrast, resulting in losing the almost darkest data.

Now to a point, I think, I'm cheating a bit. In the past I've used Super-Resolution on, with the older 5030UB. With the 5040UB/6040UB, I took this image with the Image Preset on either 2 or 3 (3 I think).  What this is doing, I suspect is the usual upping of contrast on fine lines, as happens with sharpening/detail algorithms.  That would result in some of that detail is being raised up a bit more out of the dark areas than normal.  Still, Epson's firmware and processing, is finding that data, and making it visible.

The image here - Katniss and Rue sleeping, in The Hunger Games, is also extremely dark, and intentionally overexposed.  Again, lots of darkest "shadow" detail is easily visible!


Epson 5040UB/6040UB on darkest scene from The Hunger Games. subtle detail is found in the darkest areas.

The Bond night train scene, and the "sleep" scene above pop by comparison to the 5030UB doing the same scene. Not so much because of the slightly blacker blacks but because it's easier to resolve the darkest details.  (Note, the "sleep" image above, like the night train, should have been a little more overexposed, which would have revealed even more detail to you.)  I plan to reshoot these images, and a number of others, when the full production 5040UB arrives.

The Bottom Line on dark shadow detail, is that the Epson is doing a great job of revealing it, and that prevents large areas of black, near black from looking gray and flat. About as good as I can recall seeing.

Overall Picture Quality

OK, all you regulars know I've been a huge fan of the UB series since first launched perhaps 7-8 years ago.  The UB series has always offered the best black level performance around, without spending a good deal more.  In addition to that Epson's have always had some pretty good color, right out of the box, and calibrate beautifully (if not quite as natural on skin tones overall, as the Sony projectors, but too close for most to care).

The 5040UB and 6040UB go way beyond just the black levels, shadow detail, and basic color accuracy.  The acceptance of 4K content, and working with the higher dynamic range and larger color gamuts associated with 4K content (HDR, BT.2020, etc.), makes sharpness and detail advantages a critical component in the overall picture quality.  After all, there's only one other projector under $6500 that can even accept commercial 4K content such as Blu-ray UHD, and like these Epsons, that too is a 1080p resolution pixel shifter.

Bottom line on Picture Quality.  On 1080i and 1080p content, there are some real, but never massive, improvements in the picture quality even with the improved contrast, and reduced blooming, etc.

But what really sets the Home Cinema 5040UB and Pro Cinema 6040UB from the pack is the ability to project 4K content, with more dynamic range and a larger, better color gamut.  More pop, more realistic, sharper, more detailed.

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Other than the already mentioned JVC, I don't see where these two Epson's have any really serious competitor that compares, because no matter how good on the 1080p stuff none of that other competition out there can play with 4K content, nor reap the benefits of the higher quality content.

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