Hands On: Epson 5020UBe Home Theater Projector
Excellent picture at an affordable price
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.
All my Blu-ray and DVD evaluation on the Epson was done with Oppo’s amazing BDP-105 player, which has impressive image processing built in. Among the more conventional parameters: color, black level, sharpness… the Epson 5020UBe looked great. The model is THX certified and so includes a THX video mode, which I used (and always recommend as it’s never disappointed in other products). While you shouldn’t look at THX as a set-it-and-forget-it feature, it’s pretty close. Depending on your screen and viewing conditions, you may need some fine tuning. After sending the unit a variety of text patterns I ended up doing only a small amount of additional adjustments before I thought the image was right.
Black level in particular is excellent in this projector. If you get deep blacks, you’ll get a punchier, more vibrant picture. Activating the auto iris will deepen the blacks. The iris has a normal and a high-speed setting. The iris function was most noticeable when viewing the black bars on a 2.35:1 movie (my test screen is 16:9). While switching the iris on and off I could see the black bars get a little blacker—not much, but enough that it was a welcome improvement.
The black level was further evident in movies, such as the most recent Amazing Spiderman. In the scene where Spidey is crawling over a web stretched out across sewer tunnels, the darkness, contrasted with the brighter lines of web and his red costume looked fantastic.
The Life of Pi Blu-ray arrived just in time for me to finish my review, so I popped it in right away. While colors, such as the yellow in the tiger and the green in the mysterious island looked great, the most stunning scenes were the night and underwater moments. The black night sky peppered with stars was mesmerizing, especially in 3D. The underwater 3D was so good I thought I needed a snorkel.
Speaking of 3D, this year the 5020UBe comes with two RF active shutter glasses. These glasses require no external emitter, charge via USB and are a bit less bulky than last year’s glasses. They charged and synced up to the projector easily. Epson says you get 40 hours on a charge. 3D images showed minimal cross talk, and thanks to the high light output of the projector, didn’t suffer much from the darkening effect that 3D glasses produce. The projector offers three 3D modes: Dynamic, Cinema and THX. The latter two were a darker, so I preferred Dynamic, because you need the extra brightness when looking through 3D glasses.
Overall, the Epson 5020UBe is an excellent performer, easily affordable and includes installation-friendly features that won’t leave you standing on a ladder cursing into a cell phone with tech support. At this price, you can’t get a 3-chip DLP or LCoS projector, but the Epson blows away any single-chip DLP in the same range. If you don’t need the wireless HDMI function, and most users won’t, then you can save a couple hundred bucks by getting the model without it (5020UB) For the typical modest basement theater or spare media room, the 5020UB is an easy product to recommend.
1080p 3D LCD projector
• Color Brightness: 2400 lumens
• White Brightness: 2400 lumens
• Wireless HDMI; 5 HDMI inputs, 1 out
• Wireless: 1 optical port
• 2 pairs of rechargeable RF 3D glasses included
• THX display certification
• Widest horizontal lens shift in its
• Contrast ratio of up to 320,000:1
• Fujinon lens with a 2.1x zoom ratio
• 2D-to-3D conversion
• Split Screen (now available in wireless mode
Check out these home theaters featuring Epson projectors: Metropolis Theater, Clovis Theater, LED Theater.
Additional Review: SIM2 Nero DLP projector.
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