You've got to give credit to projector manufacturers like Epson and JVC that try to follow the TV-manufacturer model and introduce completely new lineups each year. On the TV side, manufacturers have lots of bells and whistles at their disposal to add and then upgrade - like smart TV platforms, cameras, speakers, and design choices - to help distinguish this year's offerings from last year's. Projectors don't include as many bells and whistles, so the emphasis lies almost solely on performance improvements ... and that gets tough when you're talking about companies like Epson and JVC that already offer some excellent performers.
While JVC is moving toward 4K with its e-Shift D-ILA projectors, Epson remains firmly planted in 1080p territory for the time being. The company continues to release new offerings at a variety of price points, from the budget-oriented Home Cinema 2030 ($899) to the new Ultra-Bright Pro Cinema models with HDBaseT support aimed at large-venue and custom installations. In between is the new Home Cinema 5030UBe (and its Pro Cinema 6030UBe brother, which is essentially the same projector sold exclusively through dealers, with a longer warranty, extra lamp, and projector mount included). As with its predecessor, the Home Cinema 5020UB, the new 5030UBe is also available in a "wireless" form, designated by the addition of an "e" at the end of the model name, which includes a built-in WirelessHD receiver to receive HDMI signals from the supplied WirelessHD transmitter box. That's the model I received for review: the Home Cinema 5030UBe sells for $2,899, while the standard, non-wireless version retails for $2,599.
The 5030UBe is a THX-certified 3LCD projector that uses Epson's D9 three-chip 1080p LCD imaging engine and has a rated light output (color and white) of 2,400 lumens. Whereas the 5020UB had a rated dynamic contrast ratio of 320,000:1, Epson claims 600,000:1 for the new model, due to an improved auto iris designed to produce deeper blacks. Epson says that the new model also includes a "range of subtle improvements at the engineering level that have refined image processing, frame interpolation, and Super Resolution." We'll see how those upgrades play out in the Performance section.
In both design and connectivity, the 5030UBe is basically identical to the Home Cinema 5020UB that I previously reviewed. The projector measures 18.4 by 15.6 by 5.5 inches, weighs 18.9 pounds, and has a squarish cabinet design with slightly rounded edges and a combination black/brushed-white finish. The unit has a center-mounted lens with an automatic lens cover, and it uses a 230-watt E-TORL lamp with a rated lamp life of 5,000 hours in Eco mode and 4,000 hours in Normal mode. Dials for manual focus and zoom surround the lens, and on the top panel sit dials for horizontal and vertical lens shifting. On the left side panel, you'll find buttons for power, menu, enter, escape, and navigation. The only physical difference between the 5020 and 5030 is that the new model omits the hard power on/off switch, giving you only the power button to bring the projector in and out of standby mode. The supplied IR remote is also identical to last year's version - it's a large, fully backlit remote with dedicated buttons for virtually any picture control or adjustment that you would want.
Back-panel connections include two HDMI 1.4a inputs, a component video input, a composite video input and a PC RGB input, plus a trigger output, RS-232 port and USB port for service only. The connection panel can be covered by a black snap-on door that hides all of the video inputs; if you opt to use only a WirelessHD connection, then you'll have no need to run any video cables to the projector itself. The small, black WirelessHD transmitter features five HDMI inputs (giving the 5030UBe a total of seven possible HDMI inputs), plus an HDMI output to send the signal to a second display, a valuable tool if you use both a projector and TV in your theater room. One of the transmitter's HDMI inputs supports MHL in order to attach an MHL-compatible video source, like a smartphone, tablet, or Roku Stick. An optical digital audio output is available to pass audio to an older, non-HDMI-equipped AV receiver or preamp.
I did most of my evaluations using a wired connection, running HDMI output from my sources to the projector. Those sources included a Dish Network Hopper DVR, OPPO BDP-103 universal disc player. The 5030UBe's generous 2.1x zoom and 96 percent vertical/47 percent horizontal lens shifting made it quick and easy to align the projected image on my 100-inch VAPEX9100SE screen from a distance of about 14 feet away, where the projector sat atop a gear rack that measures 46 inches high. The 5030UBe has a throw ratio range of 1.34 to 2.87 and can project an image up to 300 inches diagonally.
Epson's usual complement of picture adjustments is available, starting with six 2D picture modes (Dynamic, Living Room, Natural, THX, Cinema, and the newly added B&W Cinema) and three 3D picture modes (3D Dynamic, 3D Cinema and 3D THX). Advanced options include multiple color-temperature presets with RGB offset and gain controls and skin tone adjustment, a color management system to adjust the hue, saturation, and brightness of all six color points, five gamma presets and a customized mode, basic and advanced sharpness controls, normal and eco lamp modes, and an auto iris with normal and high-speed options to automatically tailor the image brightness to suit the content being displayed. Epson has oddly chosen to rename some picture settings that were present in previous models, in some cases going with less precise terminology and sometimes using different nomenclature for different picture modes, which could lead to some confusion. For instance, gamma settings are now vague numbers (-2, -1, 0, 1, 2) instead of specific options like 2.2, 2.4, etc. Likewise, in some picture modes, color temperature presets are called 1 or 2, instead of being labeled as a specific Kelvin setting like 6500. The 5030UBe has a 240Hz refresh rate, and three frame-interpolation modes (low, normal, and high) are available to help reduce motion blur and film judder. Aspect-ratio options include auto, normal, zoom, and full; there is no anamorphic mode for mating the projector with an anamorphic lens to watch 2.35:1 movies without black bars.
The 5030UBe is a 3D-capable projector with an integrated 3D transmitter and two pairs of rechargeable RF 3D glasses. Epson's 480Hz Drive technology is designed to minimize the blackout time of the 3D glasses to allow for brighter 3D images and reduced crosstalk. 3D picture adjustments include the ability to enable 2D-to-3D conversion, to alter the 3D image depth and glasses brightness, and to set your screen size.
Click on over to Page 2 for the Performance, the Downside, Competition and Comparison and Conclusion . . .
The first step in my review process is to measure the display's various picture modes to see which one comes closest to reference standards (see "How We Measure and Evaluate HDTVs" for more information). Usually, when measuring a display device's picture modes right out of the box, I can rely on either the Cinema/Movie mode or THX mode (if there is one) to be the closest to reference standards. That wasn't the case here, with the Natural mode actually having the closest-to-accurate white balance and color points. The grayscale Delta Error in this mode was just 5.08, the average gamma was 2.18, and all six color points had a Delta Error well below three. This mode would make a good choice for the user who does not plan to have the projector calibrated and generally watches content in a dim, rather than completely dark, room. The THX mode came in a close second with a grayscale Delta Error of 6.0 and a darker average gamma of 2.39, closer to the ISF-recommended 2.4 standard for a completely dark theater room. For that reason, I opted to use the THX mode as my starting point for calibration. The pre-calibration color temperature was a bit too warm, or red. Using the RGB offset and gain controls, I was able to dial in a more neutral color temperature with better color balance across the spectrum from dark to light. I left the gamma setting as is and ended up with a grayscale Delta Error of just 2.67 and gamma of 2.39. The THX mode's color points also measured under the DE3 target out of the box, but by a slightly higher margin than the Natural mode. Using the advanced color management system, I was able to slightly improve the accuracy of several color points. However, it's worth noting that the primary colors of red, green, and blue were all a bit under-saturated in both the THX and Natural picture modes, and I could not correct this using the CMS. Red, green, and blue were spot-on in color brightness (luminance), which is important, but they simply fell a little short in saturation. The resulting image certainly wasn't lacking in color saturation for HDTV and Blu-ray sources, but still these modes didn't offer the precise adjustability and correction I have seen elsewhere. (The 5030UBe's Cinema picture mode has a wider color gamut, with points outside the Rec 709 triangle; so, even though this mode is less accurate to begin with, it might be the better starting point for calibration, provided the CMS can dial back the colors correctly.)
Once the calibration process was complete, I moved into my real-world demos. Much like its predecessor, the Home Cinema 5030UBe's performance receives high marks for its versatility - combining high light output with a good auto iris that allows you to use the projector in a variety of lighting conditions. Indeed, this guy can crank out a lot of light in its brighter picture modes. In the Dynamic picture mode, I measured 64 ft-L with a full white test pattern on my 1.1-gain, 100-inch screen. I could watch HDTV shows during the day even with the window blinds open at the back end of the room. Mind you, the Dynamic mode is quite inaccurate out of the box, with a very strong green emphasis at brighter signal levels. The Living Room mode measured about 41 ft-L and produces an out-of-the-box picture that looks more natural and measures a bit closer to reference standards. Of course, both modes offer the full complement of advanced calibration controls to dial in a more accurate picture, but you will likely lose a bit of real and perceived image brightness through the calibration process.
There are a lot of budget projectors out there that boast high light output. What you pay for when you step up to the 5030UBe is the ability to also get a good black level for better contrast with movies in a dark room. With the auto iris engaged, the 5030UBe served up a respectably deep black level with film sources while still maintaining solid light output to produce a well-saturated image. The Natural, Cinema, and THX modes all had similar light output, around 13.5 to 16.5 ft-L before calibration in the lowest (and quietest) lamp mode. The Natural mode was the brightest of the three, and the THX mode was the dimmest. After calibration, the THX mode measured about 13.1 ft-L, which is a little dimmer than the ISF minimum recommendation of 14 ft-L. You can improve light output a bit by moving to the brighter lamp mode (or starting with a brighter picture mode and calibrating it), but that adds fan noise, too. I found the calibrated THX image to offer just the right amount of brightness for my screen - enough to keep HDTV and Blu-ray sources looking rich and dimensional, but not too bright to hurt my eyes during abrupt transitions from dark to light.
Since I still had my review sample of the 5020UB, I was able to do some head-to-head comparisons of the calibrated projectors, using their THX modes. Epson claims that the new iris produces better blacks at the same rated light output, for better overall contrast. Unfortunately, my X-rite I1Pro 2 meter is not precise enough to measure small black-level differences, so I had to rely on what I could see. With my favorite black-level demos from The Bourne Supremacy (Universal) and Flags of Our Fathers (Paramount), the new 5030UBe did produce a slightly deeper shade of black, but it was not a significant difference. Both of the projectors did an equally good job rendering the finest black details in these scenes. More obvious (and something I could measure) was that the older 5020UBe review sample was a little bit brighter - it measured about 5 ft-L brighter in the THX mode, and I actually thought the 5020 did a better job of preserving light output in the scenes' brighter elements. The faces of Matt Damon and Franka Potente in chapter one of The Bourne Supremacy were a little dark and flat through the 5030 but still had nice brightness through the 5020, which gave a sense of better overall contrast. These were pretty subtle differences, though. All in all, performance between the two models was quite close.
On the processing side, the 5030UBe passed all of the basic film and video tests on the HQV Benchmark and Spears & Munsil test discs, although it didn't correctly handle the more complex cadences. It cleanly rendered my 480i demo scenes from Gladiator (DreamWorks) and The Bourne Identity (Universal), with no major instances of moiré or jaggies. Without employing frame interpolation, the 5030UBe showed the typical loss of motion resolution in my FPD Benchmark resolution pattern, blurring lines down to DVD480. The Frame Interpolation modes improved motion resolution up to about HD720 (the HD1080 lines were still blurry) and did a good job with the various motion-detail test clips. All three FI modes produce that smoother effect with film sources, but Epson continues to refine the choices. To my eyes, this year's Low mode seemed to be more subtle in its smoothing effect than in years past, to the point I would actually consider leaving it on to get the improved motion resolution. I also appreciate the fact that the 5030UBe serves up a very clean image without a lot of digital noise, even with the noise reduction control turned off.
Finally, the 5030UBe did a very good job with 3D sources. Its high light output and 480Hz Drive technology help compensate for the lose of image brightness caused by the active-shutter glasses, and I saw no crosstalk in my favorite crosstalk demo (the floating objects in chapter 13 of Monsters vs. Aliens/20th Century Fox) or in the other demos I watched from Life of Pi (20th Century Fox) and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Buena Vista). I did feel like 3D color saturation was just a hair less than I've seen elsewhere.
My quibbles with the 5030UBe are primarily ergonomic in nature. First off, the 3LCD panel does need a bit of alignment to properly balance red, green, and blue. Out of the box, you can see some red and green lines around objects, indicating the need to use the Panel Alignment tool in the setup menu - which is both easy to use and effective. I should note that the panel alignment on my 5030UBe review sample was much improved over the 5020UB, requiring less work to fix and producing better results.
At the brighter lamp setting, the 5030UBe's fan noise is not excessive but is certainly noticeable, whereas the lower lamp mode is pleasantly quiet. The fan noise averaged about 7 to 8 dB louder in the brighter mode, using a basic dB meter on my iPhone for comparison. The 3D picture modes are locked to the brighter lamp mode, so you have to accept the presence of the fan noise with 3D content. I'm happy to report that, even though I live at an elevation of about 5,000 feet, I did not need to use the 5030UBe's High Altitude mode, which adds even more fan noise.
The WirelessHD feature in the 5030UBe is certainly convenient in the setup process, and performance-wise I saw no meaningful degradation in the signal quality. However, the projector is very slow to switch between resolutions in WirelessHD mode. If your Blu-ray player or DVR is set to deliver each source or channel's native resolution, be prepared to look at a black screen for up to 10 seconds when you switch from, say, a 720p channel to a 1080i channel or, in my case, the Oppo's 1080p menu to a 480i DVD. The solution is to let a different AV component handle all the signal conversion and feed only one resolution to the projector. Also, WirelessHD requires line-of-sight, so you can lose the signal by simply walking between the path of the transmitter and receiver. Be mindful of this as you plan your installation.
Competition and Comparison
The Home Cinema 5030UBe's $2,599-$2,899 price tag positions it above the crowded budget category but below mid-level 1080p models like Sony's VPL-HW55ES ($3,999), JVC's DLA-X35 ($3,499), and Optoma's HD8300 ($3,300). Other projectors right around the same price point include the Panasonic PT-AE8000U and the Sony VPL-HW30ES. BenQ recently introduced a wireless DLP projector that uses 5GHz WHDI technology between the transmitter and receiver; the W1500 projector has an MSRP of $2,299.
Not at all surprising at this price point is the fact that the Home Cinema 5030UBe is not 4K-compatible, so it's not the right choice for the projector shopper who is thinking about making the move to 4K in the near future. The cheapest true 4K projector available right now is Sony's VPL-VW600ES at $15,000. JVC's new e-Shift projectors are not true 4K projectors; they manipulate the 1080p chips to reproduce a 4K resolution, but they at least accept a true 4K signal through their HDMI inputs and thus can serve as a bridge for the shopper to wants to ease into 4K at a lower price point - although the cheapest model is still $5,000.
Once again, Epson has delivered a very good performer for a very good price. The Home Cinema 5030UBe may not quite match up in black-level performance and precision with pricier LCoS models for the dedicated home theater room, but its great light output, good black level, and flexible setup features make it a wonderfully versatile projector for the shopper who wants to enjoy good performance in a variety of lighting conditions. Unless you really hate the idea of running an HDMI cable or simply can't do so in your situation, I recommend you save $300 and get the non-wireless 5030UBe version for $2,599. For the even more value-conscious shopper, you might want to look for a deal on the last year's 5020UB. In my opinion, the performance differences are not significant enough to mandate that you invest in the newer model. Whichever route you choose, I think you'll be more than satisfied with the results.
Check out our gallery of 7 Hot Projectors Below . . .