Following a career in music instruction and performing, Michael Hamilton has been an Imaging Science Foundation-trained video calibration specialist and consultant since 1994. He has also served as an ISF instructor since 2005.
I've always had a particular affinity for Epson projectors, and by Vegas standards I may be tipping my hand at the outset of this review. Their ongoing evolution continues to produce video projectors that--novices take note--are straightforward to set up and easy to use, yet offer so-inclined enthusiasts under-the-hood color science with a logical menu structure. In other words: highly accurate calibration results that can get you to the Nth degree of video performance at a very fair price.
The recently introduced 3LCD design Epson Home Cinema 4010 marches forward with these traits intact, while the 4K PRO-UHD moniker points to improved 1080p pixel-shifting Epson suggests performs perceptibly on par with native 4K projectors (more on that in a moment). A reworked algorithm for HDR10 tone-mapping with up to 10-bit color depth accompanies 2,400 lumens (700 nits) specified light output from the 250-watt UHE lamp, with a lifespan from 3,500 to 5,000 hours (dependent upon settings). Rated contrast of 200,000:1, with 3LCD's equal white and color brightness, lights up screens via a dynamic iris coupled with a 15-element, all-glass lens for uniform edge-to-edge brightness. Ten lens-memory locations store aspect ratio presets, including constant height when paired to a Scope (2.39:1) screen, eliminating the need for a secondary lens.
In Digital Cinema mode, ideal for UHD Blu-ray, Epson claims 100 percent reproduction of the extended DCI-P3 wider color gamut. Including 3D capability, the Home Cinema 4010 hosts a feature package that belies the $1,999.99 asking price. Despite vastly improved pixel-shifting refinement, it's fair to pose the question whether native 1080p in an ever-increasing native 4K projector landscape implies dated technology. Let's find out.
For years, as the race to UHD 4K video unfolded in the consumer front projection marketplace, Sony enjoyed pole position, with no other qualifiers for quite a while. Competing manufacturers have slowly introduced 4K technology while some still employ signal processing algorithms utilizing pixel-shifting, an attempt at creating the impression of a 4K fill factor from 1920 x 1080 HD imaging panels. Said more simply, pixels are asked to do double duty with the signal in a "hand is quicker than the eye" manner to seemingly portray more of them on the screen than possible by inherent design. Early implementation of this technique left much to be desired, as image detail softened due to the pixels shifting. In almost every instance, improvement was rendered by defeating this feature on earlier projectors that offered it.
But pixels, shifted or not, are not the whole story. At CEDIA Expo 2018, Epson strove to demonstrate the proposition that resolution, while keenly important, is less the key element to image clarity and overall fidelity in a 4K universe than three other major picture components: dynamic range, color saturation, and color accuracy. Attending their CEDIA demo, I sensed Epson's posture as being that UHD does not propel a product past HD designs based singularly upon resolution, though perception in the marketplace perhaps leads projector shoppers to draw such conclusions.
So... is there something to this conjecture? Can Epson's latest wizardry woo the naysayers? Let the testing begin.
Epson recommends screen sizes from a tiny 50 inches to a highly ambitious 300 inches for the Home Cinema 4010, with 1.35 to 2.84 as the stated throw ratio range. I positioned the Home Cinema 4010 atop a tall-ish audio cabinet against the back wall in my studio, ideally positioning the lens 21 feet from, and at the vertical center of, my 123-inch diagonal Stewart FireHawk G3 screen. As a result of previous experience with Epson projectors, I had the Home Cinema 4010 out of the box and delivering a perfectly sized, active image in a mere ten minutes. The 2.1X motorized lens is accompanied by ample lens shift, up to +/- 96 percent vertical and up to +/-47 percent horizontal. Delicate, jump-free feathering of image sizing and, more importantly, focus adjustment was quick and precise, governed by a three-axis precision motor that also adeptly maintains screen memory locations with repeatable accuracy. All functions are easily called up from the Home Cinema 4010's comfortable, backlit, full-sized remote control.
While the Cinema 4010 is equipped with keystone correction, any need for keystone adjustment indicates that physical placement of the projector is somehow amiss. Digital keystone correction alters proper pixel mapping to the imaging panels, producing artifacts affecting picture fidelity. This is a nice feature to know that you have, but it's not one you should use if it can be avoided. Take the time and energy to get your projector installed/positioned correctly so you don't need to use keystone adjustments. It is just a good practice for all video enthusiasts.
The chassis-centered (meaning not offset) lens on the Home Cinema 4010 enables even the timidest DIYer to align the lens with the screen center, ideally close as possible to the top (or bottom) of the reflective material. Making certain the projector is horizontally level front/back and left/right ensures a professional result. With footprint dimensions of 20.5 inches wide, 6.7 inches high, and 17.7 inches deep, the Home Cinema 4010's stature combined with 24.7 pounds of heft conveys solid construction, while a two-year warranty backs up anticipated product durability.
The 3LCD imaging technology employed by the Home Cinema 4010 incorporates individual red, green, and blue liquid crystal panels that compose the image while producing the projector's range of colors. At 100 operational hours of casual viewing prior to calibration and critical evaluation, a check of panel convergence found it to be perfect at every point on the screen. With R/G/B selected for comparison, the internal crosshatch pattern was perfectly free from any hint of color fringing, especially around the challenging extreme perimeter. This is testament to the superior lens, Epson assembly line precision, and careful parts selection during the design process. Color fringing when display such patterns is often mistaken as convergence error, overlooking the possibility of chromatic aberration introduced by poor lens quality. Epson's lens choice for the Home Cinema 4010 might have easily surpassed the price of the entire projector only a few short years ago.
Rear terminal inputs consist of two USB Type A (one designed to provide power to optical HDMI cables and one for wireless and firmware); one mini USB (service only); one LAN port (RJ-45); one Computer/D-sub 15 pin; one RS-232c (D-sub 9-pin); and one Trigger out (3.5 mm mini-jack)12 V DC, 200 mA maximum. There are two HDMI 1.4 inputs, one with HDCP 2.2 to manage UHD content, with a maximum bandwidth of 10.2 Gbps.
With the popularity of streaming services, inability to handle 4K/60Hz HDR and lack of an 18 Gbps chip set hampers the Home Cinema 4010 from inclusively being fully-future forward, though such signals would be viewable in SDR. Where this may loom as a larger demerit is for ATSC 3.0 sports broadcasts and their promise of smoother, more fluid motion at 4K/60Hz. And as 4K/60Hz HDR games become commonplace, such considerations should be factored in for multi-use employment.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, Calibration Results, Measurement Data, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
Six selectable color modes for regular viewing include: Dynamic, Bright Cinema, Natural, Cinema, B&W Cinema, and Digital Cinema. Two additional are for 3D, although Epson does not supply glasses nor did I have a pair on hand for evaluation. Ostensibly a dormant format, inclusion of 3D by product managers at this stage is puzzling.
From past experience with Epson projectors, I selected the Natural color mode for interim viewing during lamp wear-in prior to calibration. Notes from my initial impressions cited Natural as looking quite good, with casual observers likely to declare the picture as being accurate, particularly with flesh tones. At various times while streaming network TV content from Hulu, selecting the other modes yielded the expected results. Bright Cinema crept toward looking washed out, with pasty flesh tones. Cinema represented a dramatic drop in luminosity and imparted a red-leaning hint to skin tones.
Black & White mode, during a brief stint with A Streetcar Named Desire, conveyed the appropriate period look. Digital Cinema mode, using my Oppo UDP-205 and playing clips from Rocky Mountain Express in HDR, splendidly highlighted the forbidding terrain of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
Out-of-box settings portrayed the color balance of the sweeping landscape as extremely natural. Yet, as the initial hours accumulated on the lamp, the red spectrum dropped from its peak output and color balance evolved into blue dominance as happens with UHE lamps. Revisiting Rocky Mountain Express at 100 hours elapsed lamp time, prior to calibration, revealed a markedly altered color palette. Snow in wintry scenes and the previously solid, iron black of the locomotive had adopted a distinctly bluish hue, with mid-tones similarly skewed.
The Home Cinema 4010 uses a dynamic, also called automatic, iris with three settings: Off, Normal, and High Speed. Upon experimentation, I found Normal best suited my viewing preference. On some scene transitions with the iris set at High Speed, for example in the UHD HDR version of Rocky Mountain Express, as restored Hudson locomotive number 2816 emerges from a tunnel into the cloudless British Columbia sky, some pumping was discernable until the aperture locked in. The High Speed setting also appeared conflicted with a variety of sports broadcasts. Camera pans in which overhead shots of an NHL ice surface abruptly switched to ice level angles where a larger portion of the background featured the darker crowd, had the iris hunting for common ground. The Normal setting quelled this skittishness while still rendering a pleasing, detail-laden black level that was otherwise pale and lackluster when the iris was set to Off. Epson offers several models incrementally priced above the Home Cinema 4010, and one would expect with their higher rated contrast ratios would follow associated commensurate performance.
I never found my opinion of the Home Cinema 4010's performance weakened in this regard, mostly due to the fact that even in slightly elevated ambient light (again with the FireHawk G3 screen material) the black threshold held up nicely. Sans the benefit of direct comparison, casual observers likely would not find the projector lacking in this crucial area.
I used Epson's recommendation of Digital Cinema color mode with HDR in Auto mode to evaluate HDR material and felt no need to additionally experiment. Epson also recommends Image Enhancement Preset 5, which. while accenting fine detail in the image, I found to also create some very minor edge haloing while introducing a modicum of grain and a sense of shimmer to otherwise stationary objects in slow camera pans (such as with stationary tree leaves).
For me, Preset 3 was a satisfactory appeasement. BBC's Planet Earth II is one of my mainstays representing judicial application of the color grading and color correction craft for the nascent HDR era. Specular highlights appear natural as they would in the observable world, with colors dimensionally deep yet properly saturated. The "Mountains" episode, depicting changing seasons, highlights this extremely well. Vista shots, such as the rising sun slicing through thin clouds hugging jagged peaks in the Rockies, illustrates the toolset HDR makes available to content creators. Rather than peg lumens overly high for effect, restraint is shown and the powerful majesty of the natural world is presented in layered balance, compared to the seeming one-dimensional portrayal in SDR.
Video projectors priced just slightly less than Ferrari's 488 GTB even have difficulty displaying HDR with the same panache as flat panels. Overall, correctly calibrated consumer projector light output is a fraction of the mastering level mainly used in Hollywood for HDR. Attempting to isolate a small group of pixels for a specular highlight in a projector using a global light source, especially a powerful lamp, is a thankless endeavor. Tone mapping attempts to account for this discrepancy.
LCD flat panels with local dimming better control light modulation for this purpose, and OLED displays control light emission down to an individual pixel. Despite what can be considered technical limitations, the Epson Home Cinema 4010 effectively conveys the artistic expression HDR makes available. Planet Earth II exemplifies this from comparison of the SDR version to the UHD HDR cut, and it is likely most viewers will not find themselves wanting for anything more of the Home Cinema 4010 than it delivers in this department.
Noticeable in HDR with Power Consumption (aka, lamp power) set to High is an elevated level of fan noise that, depending on placement, some may find objectionable. In Medium, the slight whir is barely perceptible, and absent with any level of accompanying audio.
In SDR Natural mode, calibration yielded a highly accurate end result. Live broadcasts were rendered with very natural skin tones, especially evident on opinion news shows with multiple panelists. Detail and distinction abounded as the Home Cinema 4010 revealed itself to be very analytical and highly capable of discerning subtle color shading characteristics, textures, and facial characteristics minus any softening or hardened edge transitions.
Blacks were perhaps not as deep as desired, but it merits saying once more: without a means of comparison, casual and even careful observers would be hard pressed to draw up complaints. 3LCD's design for equal white and color brightness invigorated broadcasts with verve and sass without syrupy oversaturation. At more than 400 hours lamp time when this review was submitted, colors remained stable and aligned with the calibration.
HDR calibration, or more to the point, attempting to calibrate HDR, proved incredibly frustrating. No combination of adjustments would produce correct EOTF tracking. Only the grayscale made any pretense to settle in accordingly, with just a few ticks here and there in the high range necessary to measure reasonably well. In the end, I restored the Digital Cinema mode to default settings for brightness and contrast, leaving color saturation at Epson's recommended 55 but retaining the color temperature adjustments I made. As callous as it sounds, perhaps the reworked HDR10 tone mapping was entirely a subjective, by eye process, math be damned. Yet, returning to Planet Earth II, nothing appeared untoward and in the snowy portion of the "Mountains" episode.
Below is measurement data for the Epson Home Cinema 4010 4K Pro-UHD projector acquired from a Minolta CS-200 (NIST certified) and signals generated by a Murideo 6G using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software. SDR Pre-calibration measurements were made using the Epson factory default settings in the out-of-the-box Bright Cinema mode on Stewart FireHawk G3 screen material at an elapsed lamp run time of 100 hours.
SDR Post-calibration was taken in the Natural color mode, with a target gamma of 2.2 and peak light output of 48 nits (14 fL), which are the BT.709 settings for Hollywood post-production screening rooms.
My calibrated white point was 48.199 nits while nearly matching the BT.709 x-y coordinates with my results at 0.313 and 0.328. To achieve a relatively flat gamma curve, I used the nine-point custom gamma option, finding the pre-set to not track as well through the middle tones. Post-calibration grayscale tracking was flat, the largest error being at the lowest end of the scale.
DCI-P3 yielded a calibration report that is incongruent with image quality the projector displays. Color balance tracked reasonably well, but as mentioned above, EOTF and Luminance tracking were considerably off their targets.
HDR10 is the sole high dynamic range format the Home Cinema 4010 can display. If your aspirations are for Dolby Vision or HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma, slated for upcoming use in ATSC 3.0 live broadcasts) the source may be the arbiter of what flavor can be viewed. Apple TV will send an HDR10 "conversion" of a Dolby Vision movie when so directed through the EDID information exchange; however, other devices may vary. Readers should verify anticipated source combinations so expectations are properly fulfilled. HDR10 is standard to the UHD Blu-ray format, yet some movies may possibly only be in Dolby Vision. No HLG provision may prove to be a demerit a year or so from now for devout enthusiasts.
There are four selectable HDR modes and toggling through each darkens the image in a proportionate manner that I do not see linked in any tangible way to tone mapping, except for HDR1. Tone mapping is applied to an HDR capable display by calculating the peak white the display can handle without masking information and measuring down to the pedestal level of black. It is between both those points where metadata in the signal computes a compression curve of contrast reduction while retaining detail, maintaining the relationship of light intensity among colors, and preserving the artistic intent of the content creator. I can't fathom why Epson might provide the end user with an ability to alter what at content creation and throughout the playback chain is an orchestrated process intended to faithfully preserve it.
It's also worth noting that if your setup requires extra oomph provided by the High Power fan mode, you may find the elevation to the noise floor a bit of an irritation.
Black level and contrast ratio are quite sufficient, but a few more dollars extracted from your piggy back might propel you into the next product tier where improvements to those parameters might be welcomed, but perhaps the only uptick compared to the Home Cinema 4010's relatively feature rich package.
Competition and Comparison
Although a lot more expensive, the pending JVC DLA-NX5 at $5,999.95 delivers true 4K (4096x2160) performance instead of the pixel-shifting tech that this $1,995 Epson relies on to achieve 4K. The JVC looked good at CEDIA 2018 but is delayed to consumers at the time of writing (post CES 2019) but is expected to ship soon.
As mentioned earlier, but also a much more expensive projector, the Sony VPLVW295ES is a native 4K SXRD video projector for $4,999 that delivers a pretty rock-solid picture for those in need of a really big 4K image that also includes HDR. The video gaming community seems to have a bit of an affinity for this projector.
Epson has a few projectors above the 4010 that would absolutely be considered competition in the same product line, such as the Home Cinema 5040UB, which is a 3LCD projector priced at $2,299. This is an older model, with older pixel-shifting technology, but it does deliver better black levels and contrasts than the 4010.
Those researching new projectors may be reticent seeing 1920 x 1080 imaging panels on the Home Cinema 4010. That is understandable, and likely a message Epson's marketing department has clearly received. However, the "don't judge a book by its cover" rule wholly applies here. The 4K PRO-UHD pixel-shift engineering is solidly refined and deftly implemented to a degree that entry level true 4K machines should look over their shoulders. Pedigree inclusions such as automatic iris, constant height, Scope screen memory, and a top-tier motor driven precision lens are rare at the $1,999 asking price, and if found, likely not as well executed.
True 4K (by pixel count) is a minimum of 2.5 times the Home Cinema 4010's dollar outlay, but may trade pixels for other penalties. DLP 4K pixel-shifting pricing hovers in the same orbit as the Home Cinema 4010; however, other factors impact direct comparisons (lens quality with memory positioning, placement options). Paired with a screen capable of addressing your viewing environment, the Epson Home Cinema 4010 will provide a huge, pristine image on an empty wall where a similarly priced 75- to 85-inch flat panel is hoping to find a home.
My take is that consumers considering what may be designated a "budget" projector in a world of five- and six-figure projector are looking to check the boxes for broadcast/streaming viewing, occasionally watching a shiny disc, placement flexibility, and what I've referred to as casual viewer image fidelity and not screening room-level analytics. They're searching for big picture and big fun, at a perceived reasonable price. As delivered, the Home Cinema 4010 handily covers the near future its 4K input, DCI-P3 wide color gamut capabilities, while accommodating HDR 10 (although not Dolby Vision). Positioned at a crowded price point where specifications tend to drive (or is it confuse?) the marketplace, Epson delivers a clear winner when overall image fidelity governs the selection criteria. The highly recommended Home Cinema 4010 is a carefully designed package aimed at serious home theater techies that any self-described novice can confidently live assuredly with for years to come.