Over the past couple of years we’ve seen a proliferation of Epson projectors in professionally installed home theaters. Many of the installers I talk to tell me that in that price range, Epson’s current projectors are about the best they can get their hands on. With endorsements like that I had to ask Epson to let me try out their latest, the 5020UBe.
The 5020UBe, a three-chip 1080p LCD projector, is not all that different from last year’s 5010, which is good, because that was a hot product. The new model maintains its predecessor’s high quality and improves in a few welcome places.
The 5020 (available in UB for ultra black or UBe ultra black with wireless—I don’t know why wireless is identified with an “e,” go figure) falls into the pretty-damn-bright category, boasting 2,400 lumens, which means that with the right screen, you can have a picture that looks quite nice in a room with low-to-moderate light levels (read more about light issues in home theaters here). That’s important because many people are opting to put projectors in placements that aren’t caves. Personally, I prefer the dedicated cave experience of a home theater, but maybe that’s because my wife won’t let me put a 100 inch screen in the living room.
In any case, the high light output of this unit means that it’s going to be pretty flexible, and pretty forgiving of less-than-perfect conditions. For this review, I placed it in my basement theater, aimed at a 120-inch Seymour Screen Excellence 4K screen with a .95 gain. This screen is perfect for a light-controlled theater like mine (in a windowless basement) and the Epson projector didn’t require a lot of tweaking to look great.
Among the budget, high-performance projectors, this is kind of a big one at 19 pounds, so have a helper when you hang it. Sure, you can hang it by yourself, but you’ll feel really bad about dropping a $2,800 projector on the floor.
Alignment and focus of the Epson is mostly a manual task. This model includes ample lens shift adjustment in both the horizontal and vertical planes, which is not common in other like-priced models. Those adjustments, done with dials on the top (or bottom if you’re hanging it upside down) are a little touchy and stiff, so take your time. The zoom and focus controls also seem stiff, which means they won’t go out of focus by an accidental nudge, but you need make sure don’t knock the lens shift off center as you focus the image.
One thing about lens shift—it’s a nice convenience, but like keystone correction, you don’t want to rely on it too much because it can introduce problems. Extreme lens shift can introduce chromatic aberrations in the image as the rectangular picture is projected through the curved lens. This Epson 5020UB has a big lens so a big sweet spot, but the rather generous lens shift may cause problems that will be noticeable on a large screen. So use it only when you need it.
Chromatic aberrations, by the way, can look similar to convergence errors in LCD panels. Convergence errors, similar to the old CRT days, occur in most 3-chip LCD projectors, and in most cases they’re minor. In the case of this Epson, the problem was apparent in white text (on a black background) and in some test patterns as a little line of color along the white edge. The projector offers an LCD alignment adjustment in the advanced video menu, which took it from barely-noticeable to have-to-really-try-hard-to-find-it level. Even after some adjusting, I could still see color fringes along fine white lines in test patterns, but this didn’t affect actual video image quality. In this price range, you have a choice—buy a single-chip DLP and tempt rainbow artifacts or buy a 3-chip LCD and face possible convergence errors. Home theaters are always full of compromises.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.