Epson's UB line of home theater projectors have traditionally bridged the gap between budget and high-end. The Home Cinema 5050UB, priced at $2,999, continues this trend, offering performance and features normally reserved for projectors costing thousands of dollars more. Features such as high brightness, high contrast, a fully motorized lens, P3 color gamut support, a dynamic iris, and support for HDR10 and HLG HDR standards combine to create an extremely value-packed projector.
The 5050UB is an evolutionary jump in performance over last year's 5040UB. The vast majority of hardware and features carry over, but with a few notable improvements. One of the biggest gripes owners had with the 5040UB was the limited 10.2 Gbps HDMI 2.0 ports. The HDMI ports have been upgraded to meet the full 18Gbps throughput, which means the 5050UB is fully compliant with the entire HDMI 2.0b standard. Refinements to the light engine add an extra 100 lumens of light output from the same 250-watt lamp, upping the specified brightness to a whopping 2,600 lumens, all while retaining a claimed 1,000,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio. For HDR, Epson has also added a new 16-step real-time HDR tonemapping adjustment owners can use to alter the HDR10/HLG image to their liking, viewing environment, and/or content.
The 5050UB uses Epson's 3LCD technology, meaning it has separate LCD panels for each primary color. As such, the projector doesn't need to display color sequentially as a single-chip DLP projector does, thus removing the possibility for color separation artifacts, commonly referred to as the rainbow effect. Supplementing the native 1080p LCD panels is Epson's proprietary pixel-shifting technology, known as 4K PRO-UHD, which increases perceived on-screen resolution to near-4K. For those unfamiliar, Epson's 4K PRO-UHD system works by analyzing a 4K frame and flashes two overlapping 1080p sub-frames on screen, with one optically shifted up and over half a pixel to create a single pseudo-4K image. The entire process happens so quickly that the image appears as one seamless, high resolution image. While pixel-shifting can't quite match the single pixel performance of true native 4K panels, in my experience it gets you most of the way there, so I wouldn't let the technology scare you away, especially when you factor in the high-value proposition the 5050UB represents in other areas.
The 5050UB looks and feels the part of a high-end home theater projector. It measures in at 7.6 inches by 20.5 inches by 17.7 inches and weighs 24.7 pounds. The large, centrally mounted, 15-element, all-glass lens offers up 2.1x zoom with a generous throw ratio of 1.35:1 to 2.84:1. The lens is also fully motorized, which is something of a rarity in this price segment. The lens offers a huge ± 96 percent vertical and up to ± 47 percent horizontal lens shift. The 5050UB also gives owners the option to set lens settings to memory (up to ten different memories), making it easy to switch between 1.78:1, 1.85:1, and anamorphic aspect ratios on a scope screen without the need for a dedicated anamorphic lens.
For connections, the 5050UB features the two aforementioned full bandwidth HDMI 2.0b ports, with one of these ports featuring a dedicated 300 milliamp USB type-A port to power an optical HDMI cable. Additionally, you'll find a one-amp USB type-A port, which can power devices such as a Google Chromecast, Roku Stick, or Epson's proprietary wireless HDMI adapter. The remaining connections include a wired LAN port for system control, analog VGA port, RS-232C port, 12-volt trigger port, and a Kensington security lock port if the projector is being used in a public setting.
The included back-lit remote is ergonomic and well laid out, with dedicated buttons for pretty much every feature you'd want quick access to, such as the motorized lens functions, lens memories, inputs, picture preset modes, and image enhancing menus. Should you misplace your remote, you'll find a sliding door on the side of the projector that opens to reveal a set of physical buttons allowing you to control the projector.
Setting up the 5050UB in my theater was a breeze. Behind my theater is a utility room with a shelf installed against the shared wall, with projectors setup to throw an image through a porthole in the wall. As you can imagine, in this type of setup scenario, not having a fully motorized lens makes setup nearly impossible. The 5050UB's fully motorized lens allowed me to stand in my theater at the screen to dial in the image with incredible accuracy. There's even a test pattern available when using the motorized lens functionality that makes it easy to get proper image size, geometry, and focus on your screen. While I was at the screen setting up the projector, I found that the 5050UB's lens did an excellent job focusing down on individual pixels across the entire image.
If you're placing the projector on a shelf like I am, Epson has included a pair of adjustable feet to get the projector's image level with your screen. The 5050UB includes manual keystone adjustment to fix askew image geometry; however, if you want to achieve the best image quality, I suggest physically setting up the projector as close to ideal as possible.
As this projector has separate panels for each primary color, it's important to check for convergence errors. These errors happen when the images from each of the three panels don't line up perfectly before leaving the projector's lens. In my opinion, fixing convergence on the 5050UB is especially important because it's a native 1080p projector using pixel-shifting. I found that correcting convergence errors with the included software helped to aid in bridging the gap between it and native 4K projectors in apparent sharpness and resolution. On my review sample, only minor adjustments were needed to tidy things up.
Inside the menu system, you'll find a whole host of options allowing you to calibrate and adjust the image to your liking. There's greyscale adjustment, custom gamma adjustment, as well as a full color management system for primary and secondary colors should you want to calibrate the projector. I found the lens iris setting option useful when viewing SDR content. The lens iris allows you to cut back on superfluous light output to gain a desired on-screen image brightness. Alternatively, the 5050UB has three lamp modes, giving you an additional way to alter the amount of light leaving the projector. You'll also find other useful settings, such as the dynamic iris (which is separate from the lens iris), vertical scaling modes for use with an anamorphic lens, IP system control options, 12-volt trigger options, smooth motion frame interpolation options, as well as manual color gamut and dynamic range selection options. Additionally, there are several preset picture modes available, each meant to alter the image to benefit different setup scenarios, whether it be dedicated dark room viewing of SDR and HDR content or if the projector is setup in a room with ambient light. I chose Natural and Digital Cinema modes for SDR and HDR respectively.
The 5050UB also includes a suite of image enhancing software options meant to complement its 4K PRO-UHD technology. Most of these settings are meant to remove artifacts in the video and help extract more detail out of the native 4K video being sent to the projector. Epson has conveniently given owners five preset modes to commit custom settings to memory. I'd like to offer a word of caution when using software like this: try and go light with these settings, as they often have a deleterious effect on image quality the more you crank them up. That is, the image can take on a hard, overcooked appearance when set too high, so tread lightly.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
It's been a number of years since I've had an Epson projector in my theater to test out. I must say, since my last encounter with a UB series projector, Epson has really stepped up their game. Keeping the price of this projector in context, the 5050UB has no right to look as good as it does. No matter the video content I threw at it, be it broadcast television, streamed video, or Blu-ray discs, the image delivered to the screen continually impressed me. The image seemed to always possess excellent clarity, sharpness, contrast, and pop. If we look at the objective performance, it's easy to see why.
Out of the box, I found that the Natural preset picture mode tracked closest to the ideal D65 greyscale and REC709 color gamut needed to accurately reproduce SDR content, so I used this mode as a starting point for calibration. It didn't take long for me to dial in greyscale, color, and gamma with the built-in picture controls. After calibration, delta errors tracked well under 3, the detectable threshold for human vision.
I spent most of my time with the 5050UB watching HDR content sourced from a variety of places, including Amazon Prime, YouTube, and Ultra HD Blu-ray. I found the Digital Cinema picture mode was the most ideal mode out of the box for HDR10, as it allows for the use of the included P3 color filter, boosting color saturation beyond REC709. After calibration, my review sample was able to achieve 96 percent coverage of the P3 color gamut within the REC2020 triangle. This is excellent performance owners can benefit from when watching Ultra HD Blu-ray, as color saturation typically goes beyond REC709. However, with the P3 filter in place, I measured a 42 percent loss in lumen output. So, depending on the size and gain of your screen, you may want to choose a different picture mode for HDR content.
Lumen output on the 5050UB is very competitive with other current high-contrast home theater projectors. With the lamp mode in its medium setting (called Medium Power Consumption), I measured a maximum of 1,758 calibrated REC709 lumens. For HDR10 content, in Digital Cinema mode, I measured 1,019 calibrated lumens. However, if you're willing to sacrifice color accuracy, the 5050UB can output quite a bit more light, up to the specified 2600 lumens when using the Dynamic picture preset mode, but you'll have to live with a noticeable green tint to the image. If you don't mind playing around with the settings, you should be able to find a compromise to get more lumens with a slightly more accurate image without the obvious green tint. I didn't provide lumen figures for High Power Consumption mode, as it creates a lot of distracting fan noise. Even with the 5050UB set up in another room, I could hear the fan noise through the porthole. Switching to Medium or Low Power Consumption mode reduces fan noise considerably, to a near whisper level.
Contrast performance is another one of the 5050UB's major strengths, with most other projectors near or below its price point falling dramatically behind. With the dynamic iris turned off and the projector setup to give as much light output as it could muster (lens iris fully open and the lens at maximum zoom), I measured 5,020:1 native on/off contrast. Setting the projector up to give as much contrast as it could, sacrificing light output in the process (lens iris at its most closed position and the lens at minimum zoom), I measured 6,771:1 native on/off contrast. Enabling the dynamic iris, set to the High Speed setting, I measured 58,544:1 and 61,675:1 dynamic on/off contrast respectively. I found these dynamic contrast numbers to be a bit disingenuous though, as they don't reflect how much the dynamic iris helps contrast when normal video content is being sent to the projector, just when an all-black image is on screen. The dynamic contrast system doesn't appear to be particularly aggressive on the 5050UB, with the dynamic iris perhaps only doubling native contrast with normal video content. While this may be disappointing to some, I find this to be a positive attribute. It allows the iris to work less often, which leads to less instances of it being noticeable. When native contrast is this good, I don't see the point in creating an overly aggressive, noticeable dynamic contrast system. In fact, the only time I could tell this projector had a dynamic contrast system was when there was a sudden fade to black or if there was panning white text on an all-black background, like you'd see during opening and closing credits. You can see the level of black shift when this type of content occurs, but this is par for the course with most dynamic contrast systems, not just the one found on the 5050UB.
A recent addition to my set of demo material used to test displays for contrast performance is the opening scene of Avengers: Infinity War on Ultra HD Blu-ray. This can be a tough scene for a projector to render convincingly. It shows the blackness of space and low-light interior shots lit by high-brightness artificial lighting and flames. Despite all of this, the 5050UB did an excellent job portraying space without looking washed out, with the interior shots displaying a level of dynamic range that I've rarely seen from a projector at this price point. Yes, there are a handful of other projectors out there that offer better contrast performance, but expect to pay double the price or more to get it.
I was curious to see how the 5050UB would hold up with its 1080p native LCD panels augmented by pixel-shift. Test patterns revealed the obvious: No, it can't pass single-pixel 4K test patterns, but we don't watch test patterns, so it's the subjective impression of sharpness and resolution that I think matters more. Compared to my reference JVC DLA-RS2000, which is a true native 4K projector (reviewed here), I generally found only relatively small differences in apparent on-screen resolution between the two with most of the Ultra HD Blu-ray video content I used to compare.
However, some well-mastered titles I used in my comparison, such as the remastered version of The Mummy on Ultra HD Blu-ray, did show more noticable differences. For instance, the opening scene has some wide shots of the fictitious city of Hamunaptra. The stone facade on some of the ancient structures had a lot of intricate detail that my RS2000 rendered exquisitely. By comparison, the 5050UB slightly obscured some of this fine detail.
But here's the catch: if I didn't have my RS2000 here to compare directly against, I wouldn't have thought the image was lacking in fine detail. Instead, on its own, the 5050UB does a convincing job getting greater-than-1080p resolution on screen, with only a few instances with the right Ultra HD Blu-ray titles during my comparison making me wish the 5050UB was native 4K. At the moment, Epson seems to be using pixel-shifting to keep the cost of this projector down, and when the performance is this close to native 4K, I think it's a perfectly fine compromise until Epson can find a way to bring native 4K to the 5050UB's price point.
With projectors falling drastically behind current flat panel televisions in image brightness, HDR tonemapping performance is especially important because projectors need to lessen the amount of dynamic range present in the source far greater than today's flat panels. On a subjective level, tonemapping isn't an exact science and I find that what may look good for me, may not look good for others. This is why Epson has included both a global tonemap adjustment slider and a 16-point HDR adjustment that allows you to adjust specific portions of the image to get it to your liking. In my particular setup, with my unity gain 120-inch 2.35:1 screen, I found that lowering the tonemap slider from its default position made the image appear brighter and adjusting the gamma on the bottom end of the image helped to reveal more shadow detail. Despite lowering the tonemap past the default position for most of the HDR10 content I watched, I found the image on screen still had excellent dynamic range, natural looking color, and pop. On your screen, in your theater, you may find a different combination of settings that work better for you. Overall, the HDR experience on the 5050UB is impressive.
I tested the 5050UB's input lag performance, too, as I know some will want to game on this projector. The 5050UB features a video processing mode to help reduce input lag, called Fast Processing mode, which can be found in the Advanced picture menu. With my Leo Bodnar input lag tester, I measured 26 milliseconds of lag. This is fairly good performance, low enough for casual, non-competitive, games.
I was a little disappointed to find out that the 5050UB doesn't support smooth motion frame interpolation when a 4K video signal is being sent to it. For those who watch sports or play video games in 4K, this may be a deal-breaker, as this feature only works up to a 1080p video signal being sent to the projector.
I had difficulty deciding whether or not to include the non-native 4K aspect of this projector as a downside, so I'll let you decide. On the one hand, the cheapest native 4K projector currently sells for $5,000, so it's hard for me to criticize Epson selling a pixel-shifting model for $2,999. But, on the other hand, you can find 75-inch native 4K televisions for one-third the price of this projector. The projector market hasn't followed the same downward spiral in cost that the television market has, so the cost of native 4K still remains high. The saving grace is that pixel-shifting does, on a subjective level, get you close to 4K and I think it's a fine stopgap technology until Epson can deliver a native 4K projector at a similar price point to the 5050UB.
Lastly, I'd like to see Epson do something about fan noise in High Power Consumption mode. Compared to other projectors near its price, the 5050UB is unacceptably loud in its highest light output mode. Luckily, the projector still puts out a competitive level of lumens in Medium mode; however, it would be nice to use High mode without as much noise.
Comparisons and Competition
Matching the 5050UB in price is Sony's VPL-HW65ES. While both of these projectors are native 1080p, the 5050UB possesses the 4K PRO0UHD technology, with supplemental 4K-compliant HDMI ports and video processing that the HW65ES lacks. The 5050UB supports HDR, a wider P3 color gamut, and comes with a fully motorized all-glass lens. The HW65ES does not. Contrast performance between these two models is roughly the same, but the 5050UB can be quite a bit brighter depending on setup.
A fairer comparison to make against the 5050UB is BenQ's HT5550, priced at $2,499. Each projector has strengths and weaknesses compared to the other. Similar to the 5050UB, the HT5550 driven by a 1-chip DLP DMD; however, instead of flashing two frames onscreen for pixel-shift, the HT5550 flashes four. This allows the HT5550 to put up more perceptual on-screen resolution over the 5050UB. The 5050UB has the added bonus of a fully motorized lens, though, and while both projectors offer a P3 color filter to use when viewing HDR content, the 5050UB has a considerable lead over the HT5550 when it comes to lumen output and contrast performance.
I prefaced this review stating that Epson's UB line of projectors have traditionally offered high-end features and performance without the high-end price. After spending time with the 5050UB, I found this statement still holds true. The image it throws is sharp, color accurate, and has excellent dynamic range. And while the upgraded HDMI ports and video processing features are a welcome upgrade, I found the fully motorized lens to be this projector's most impressive feature given its cost.
When you factor in the features and overall image quality packed into this projector, I think it's fair to say Epson's Home Cinema 5050UB is the undisputed king of the sub-$3,000 home theater projector market, at least for now.
• Visit the Epson website for more product information.
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• Read Epson Intros Its Most Advanced Pro Cinema 4K PRO-UHD Projector Yet at HomeTheaterReview.com.