In the world of 4K, if you want a native 4K projector, the options are limited, and the price tag is high. Add in desirable features like High Dynamic Range and DCI-P3 color support, and the price tag gets even higher. For instance, Sony's least expensive HDR- and P3-capable native 4K projector costs $15,000.
If you're willing to compromise on that whole native thing, you can save a lot of money by going with a "4K Enhanced" projector--which is technically a 1080p projector that uses pixel shifting to create a more dense pixel structure and simulate a 4K image. Until recently, the lowest priced pixel-shifting model to offer both HDR and DCI-P3 color support was JVC's DLA-X750R that we reviewed here, which carries an asking price of $6,999.95.
With that in mind, you can see why Epson turned a lot of heads with its recent introduction of the Pro Cinema 6040UB, Pro Cinema 4040, and Home Cinema 5040UB LCD projectors. All models use Epson's 4K Enhancement pixel-shifting technology and support 4K signal input with HDR and DCI-P3 color. The asking price is $3,999 for the 6040UB, $2,999 for the 5040UB, and $2,699 for the 4040. These projectors don't have the laser light source that you get in the top-shelf LS10000, and they're traditional LCD designs, as opposed to the LS10000's LCD Reflective technology that's closer to LCoS in functionality. But then again, the LS10000 model doesn't support HDR.
Epson sent me the Pro Cinema 6040UB for review, which boasts 2,500 lumens of light output, a 1,000,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, improved optics compared with its predecessors, ISF certification, 3D playback, and powered zoom, focus, and lens memory. (The lower-priced 4040 is rated at 2,300 lumens and a 140,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, lacks the Ultra Black designation, and omits the ISF certification.) All Pro models are sold exclusively through Epson dealers and come with a three-year limited warranty, a ceiling mount, a cable cover, and an extra lamp. The Home Cinema 5040UB is essentially the same projector as the 6040UB, sold through direct retail channels like VisualApex.com without the extras (and it has a two-year warranty).
The Pro Cinema 6040UB is a bit more substantial than its predecessors, in both size and weight. It measures 17.7 inches high by 20.5 wide by 6.7 deep and weighs 24.3 pounds. The rounded cabinet has a simple matte black finish, and it features a center-mounted lens (with an automatic lens cover) flanked by fan vents on both sides. The 6040UB uses a 250-watt UHE lamp, rated at 3,500 to 5,000 hours depending on which lamp mode you use. A control panel is located on one side, with buttons for power, source, menu, lens control, escape, and navigation.
Around back you'll find dual HDMI inputs; only HDMI 1 is 2.0a with HDCP 2.2 copy projection for use with Ultra HD sources, while HDMI 2 offers MHL support to connect compatible tablets, phones, and streaming sticks. The connection panel also includes a PC input, but there's no analog component or composite video inputs. Two USB ports are available: one allows for firmware updates and is powered to connect a wireless HD dongle, while the other is designed for use alongside an HDMI cable that needs a 300mA power supply (a third USB port is for service only). None of the USB ports support media playback. There's also an Ethernet port to allow for IP control, and RS-232 and a 12-volt trigger are also included.
As is usually the case with Epson's higher-tier projectors, setting up the 6040UB was a piece of cake, thanks to its generous 2.1x zoom and +/-96.3 percent vertical and +/-47.1 percent horizontal lens shift. The throw ratio is 1.35 to 2.84. I set the projector atop my usual stand in the back of the room, which is 46 inches tall and located 12 feet away from my drop-down, 100-inch Visual Apex screen--and I got the image positioned and focused in about one minute's time (the motorized focus control and easy-to-access Pattern button on the remote control helped, too).
The 6040UB has six aspect-ratio options, including an anamorphic mode to mate the projector with an anamorphic lens to view 2.35:1 images without bars on the top and button. A new addition this year is the powered lens memory, with the ability to store up to 10 different configurations.
Epson offers a wide variety of picture adjustments, beginning with six color modes: Dynamic, Bright Cinema, Natural, Cinema, B&W Cinema, and Digital Cinema. (As I mentioned, this is an ISF-certified projector, so installers can configure ISF Day and ISF Night modes and lock in the settings). Advanced picture adjustments include: multiple color-temperature presets, skin tone adjustment, and RGB gain/bias controls; a six-point color management system; five gamma presets and the ability to customize gamma; three Power Consumption modes (Eco, Medium, and High) and an Auto Iris with Normal and High Speed options; and a 4K Enhancement menu that allows you to enable/disable the pixel-shifting function. The 4K menu also includes controls for Noise Reduction, Super-resolution, and Detail Enhancement functions. Frame interpolation is available to help improve motion resolution and reduce film judder; there are settings for off, low, medium, and high (we'll talk performance later).
Beyond those basics, there are some noteworthy new additions to the Settings menu. Epson has added a 20-step manual lens iris to fine-tune the projector's light output to suit your viewing environment. I love this addition because anyone who uses the 6040UB in a dedicated theater environment may not need all the brightness this thing is capable of all the time, and a manual iris gives you a much finer degree of control than the auto iris and the lamp modes.
Explore the advanced options in the Signal menu, and you'll find controls for Color Space and Dynamic Range. This is where you can adjust the setup for the 6040UB's Wide Color Gamut and High Dynamic Range features. Thankfully, Epson has included Auto options for both, allowing the projector to automatically detect when it receives an HDR signal and Rec 2020 color from a UHD source and tailor its output accordingly. However, you can also manually set the projector for either BT.709 or BT.2020 color and choose between four HDR modes. The difference between the four modes is primarily in the brightness department (as best I can tell), with HDR1 being the brightest and HDR4 being the darkest. When you leave the projector in Auto mode, you get the HDR2 output by default. Be warned, if you switch out of the Auto modes, the projector won't revert back to the correct output settings for SDR content. You'll have to do that manually.
Finally, since this is a 3D projector, there are also two 3D color modes (3D Dynamic and 3D Cinema), as well as the ability to adjust the 3D depth and brightness, invert the glasses, set your screen size, and enable 2D-to-3D conversion.
I always begin my official evaluation process by measuring each of a display's picture modes to see which is the closest to reference standards right out of the box. It's often a safe bet that the mode called Cinema or Theater will be the most accurate; however, in the case of the Pro Cinema 6040UB, the Natural mode was the closest to HD reference standards...very close, in fact.
Using my Xrite I1Pro 2 meter, Spectracal CalMAN software, and DVDO Duo pattern generator, I measured the Natural mode's maximum grayscale Delta Error at just 4.04 (anything under five is considered good, anything under three is considered imperceptible). The RGB color balance was fairly even, with just a slight push toward blue at the brighter end, and the gamma average was 2.17. The Natural mode's color accuracy was especially impressive; all six color points had a Delta Error well under three (the least accurate was green at just 1.35). If you don't wish to pay for a professional calibration, the Natural mode will get you most of the way there right out of the box.
For those who might consider calibration, I ran through a standard calibration and obtained even better results. I tightened up the RGB color balance, adjusted gamma to a more theater-worthy 2.33 (our target for projectors is 2.4), and lowered the maximum Delta Error to 3.66. I didn't adjust the six color points because they were excellent as is. But for the record, I also tried calibrating the Cinema picture mode, which had highly oversaturated color points, and the CMS really couldn't do much to fix that.
The Natural mode is also very bright out of the box, measuring about 52 foot-lamberts with a full-white field on my 100-inch-diagonal, 1.1-gain screen. That's great if you plan to watch a lot of content during the day or with the room lights on, but it's probably too bright if you're going to primarily watch content in a fully darkened room. The good news is, I was able to easily dial that down to about 20 to 25 ft-L during calibration by switching to the Eco lamp mode and then manually fine-tuning the lens iris to get right where I wanted.
The Bright Cinema mode is another solid choice for daytime or bright-room viewing. It's a little less accurate than the Natural mode in both color and grayscale, but it measured equally bright, at 53 ftL. The Dynamic mode is really bright, measuring a whopping 95 ft-L, but it's also highly inaccurate.
Given the high brightness capabilities of this projector, one might assume that it would struggle to render a true theater-worthy black level. One would be mistaken. I did a head-to-head comparison between the 6040UB and the BenQ HT6050, which also boasts good image brightness (although it's not as bright as the Epson), and there was really no comparison. The 6040UB produced a notably darker black level in every demo scene I used, including Gravity, Flags of Our Fathers, The Bourne Supremacy, and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. For movie-watching in a dark room, the better black level added that extra degree of richness and image saturation, and the 6040UB also did a great job rendering the finest black details in intricate scenes. Yet it also had the light output to make the brighter scenes pop, so the picture looked just as saturated with HDTV as it did with Blu-ray.
When I reviewed the BenQ HT6050, I commented on how crisp and detailed the BenQ picture looked compared with the older Epson 5020UB. Now, pitting it against the new 6040UB with 4K Enhancement enabled, I found the Epson's picture to look a bit sharper and more detailed. I saw greater clarity in fine background details. The 4K Enhancement function includes five presets; the higher you go in number, the more "enhancement" you'll see, and that includes seeing artificial edge enhancement. I preferred Preset 1 or 2, which provided a great sense of added detail without making the image look too artificially processed.
With the 6040UB's Frame Interpolation function turned off, the projector's motion resolution on par with other LCD projectors I've tested. With my FPD Benchmark test pattern, the 6040UB produced clean lines to DVD 480 during motion sequences, but the lines for HD 720 and above were blurry. Again, this is average. Enabling Frame Interpolation will improve motion resolution, but you really need to go with the High mode to see a significant improvement, and that mode adds a ton of artificial smoothing and smearing. The Low mode provides only minor improvement. This point is somewhat moot, though, since you can't turn on Frame Interpolation when the 4K Enhancement function is enabled. Since I don't like frame interpolation anyhow, I'm gonna choose 4K Enhancement every time.
Next up were a few 3D demos. The Pro Cinema 6040UB does not come with any 3D glasses; I grabbed an older pair of Epson ELPGS03 RF glasses ($99) I still had from a previous review. Not surprisingly given the projector's strong performance with 2D content, my 3D demos from Life of Pi, Ice Age 3, and Monsters vs. Aliens looked great. The high light output helped 3D images retain great saturation and pop through the glasses, the color was rich, the detail was great, and I saw no blatant instances of ghosting or crosstalk.
Now, let's move on to Ultra HD Blu-ray content and discuss the projector's handling of HDR and Wide Color Gamut. On the plus side, the 6040UB had no trouble accepting 4K/24 and 4K/60 signal output from both the Samsung UBD-K8500 and the Philips BDP7501 UHD players. At first, the Epson did not properly detect HDR signals from the Samsung; even though the player passed a 4K resolution, it only passed Rec 709 color and Standard Dynamic Range signals. However, after I performed the latest firmware update to the Samsung player, it worked just fine with the Epson to pass Rec 2020 color and HDR signals. The Philips worked fine from the get-go. Epson told me that the Xbox One does not pass HDR correctly to the 6040UB at this time.
The last HDR-capable projector I reviewed was the JVC DLA-X750R, and it was hardly plug-and-play. I had to make all kinds of manual picture adjustments to the projector to view HDR content correctly. In that respect, this Epson was much better. Thanks to those Auto modes in the Color Space and Dynamic Range menus, the projector automatically detected the HDR content and adjusted itself accordingly.
The one thing it doesn't do automatically is switch into a suitable picture mode, and this is where we run into a dilemma with the 6040UB. Epson recommends the Bright Cinema mode for HDR because it's so, well, bright. No, it doesn't get anywhere close to the current 1,000-nit target that you'll see on the TV end. I measured a max brightness of 65 ftL (223 nits) with a full-white field (unfortunately my meter isn't precise enough to do a 10 percent window with a projector). Still, that is good for a projector, and it's much brighter than the JVC model (which measured a max of around 45 ftL or 154 nits).
The problem is, the Bright Cinema mode can't reproduce the larger DCI-P3 color gamut. The only mode that can is the 6040UB's Digital Cinema mode, which only has a maximum light output of about 30 ftL. To the right are two color charts: the top chart shows how close the Digital Cinema mode gets to the DCI-P3 color gamut, and the bottom chart shows how close the Bright Cinema mode gets to it. So, you have to decide which you value more in watching UHD content: higher brightness for HDR or the wider color gamut. You can't have both, and that's unfortunate.
Going on the huge assumption that lots of people will choose the brighter image (hey, at least the color seems to pop more), I watched UHD Blu-ray content primarily in the Bright Cinema mode, and I manually switched to the HDR1 dynamic range mode because it's clearly the brightest and looks more engaging than the default HDR2 mode. (Epson says that it will soon offer a firmware update that gives you the option to use HDR 1 as the default Auto mode.)
I know that's a whole lotta tech mumbo-jumbo you just had to read. So let me wrap it all up by saying this: Ultra HD Blu-ray content looked fantastic. All the strengths that lead to a great HD image--the great light output, the deep black level, the excellent detail, and the natural color--also produced gorgeous images with The Revenant, Insurgent, The Martian, and Sicario in Ultra HD. In chapters 12 and 13 of Sicario, when the agents go through the underground tunnel, the Epson handled the complex interplay between light and shadows very well, and the level of detail and clarity was exceptional.
Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...