Affordable 4K Projectors Comparison - Picture Quality 4K Content

September 14, 2017 / By Art Feierman

On this page, we discuss our affordable 4K capable projectors' picture quality when projecting 4K content.

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Picture Quality – 4K Content with HDR, and BT.2020 color space

Photos (Left to Right): Epson HC5040UB, Epson PC4040, Epson HC4000, Optoma UHD65

Here’s where we get serious. This is where we ended up with three noticeably different pictures, between the Epson HC4000/PC4040, Optoma UHD65, and Epson HC5040UB.

The larger color space was not a problem. True, achieving full BT.2020 color space isn’t happening with lamp based projectors, so the goal is P3. I’ll let you read Ron’s explanations in his blogs if you want to get into the details and differences.

Per Eric, the Epsons get closer to P3 than the Optoma or the Vivitek, which is a plus, for sure, but the differences there are less significant, I think, than the effects of HDR. He reported that with the HC4000 calibration it achieved 90% of P3. When we worked on the new settings for the 5040UB, we didn’t take measurements of such things. And, when Eric first tried calibrating the 5040UB, we had a pre-production unit. He tried to setup HDR using Bright Cinema to get maximum lumens. That, however, limited color space. This time around, we used Digital Cinema but have no % of P3 to report. I would personally expect, knowing the differences, that the 5040UB would exceed the HC4000’s 90% of P3.

Eric’s notes did not include a percentage of P3 for the UHD65, but conversations with Optoma about the time we were expecting the review unit put it a little over 80%-82%, if my memory serves correctly. It’s possible that they were able to improve that slightly since.

The short version is we ended up with fairly similar looks when using HDR between the HC4000 and the Optoma, with the HC5040UB being quite different.

Even between the HC4000 and the UHD65, the Optoma seems brighter in the brighter IRE ranges than the Epson, which gives the Optoma an overall (slightly) brighter look to the picture. At the same time, it also gives it a bit less of the result we look to HDR for, stretching out the dynamic range between lighter and darker areas.

If these projectors were two, or better yet, three to four times as bright as they are, then they would have the “horsepower” to really accomplish that. But, by my take, without the massive brightness, there’s compromise. So, each projector ends up a bit different.

Because of these compromises with HDR, I would say between the UHD65 and the HC4000/PC4040, that they are more different than better or worse. If you were really doing what I do, you would find some movies where you like the HDR balance better on one projector. On a different movie, or even a different scene, you might favor the other projector.

Now, let’s talk about the 5040UB. Since it shipped, it’s been a great 1080p projector. For months, people more technical than I have “struggled” to get the HDR looking good. There are perhaps a hundred pages of comments on the AVSforum on people’s attempts to get the best results. Since I did not remove the earlier comments or calibrations from our 5040UB review, you can go back and see the frustration.

The chronic problem is that the HDR2 (which, in theory, aligns with the HDR10 standard) setting on the 5040UB resulted in a pretty dark picture. Too dark for most people’s tastes. But, Epson offered three more variations: HDR1, HDR3, and HDR4.  Forget 3 and 4 – they are way, way too dark to be of any use.

HDR1 offered some good potential. No longer was the overall image all that dark, but the setting was crushing anything near white, so bright clouds lost detail, etc. Still, the darker regions were very dark.

On our second full try at calibrating the 4K HDR, in July (less than 2 months ago), contrast adjustment solved the crushing-the-near-whites problem, but I was still saddled with darker areas being too dark.

The amount of punch that gave the overall picture is probably what our goal was, and that of HDR. To maintain the distance between bright and dark, however, we’d need far more lumens to have the darks being brighter, and the light areas much brighter.

So, what about gamma? I tried the Gamma setting of +1 instead of the default 0. That lightened up everything, but it was like going to a 2.0 or 1.8 gamma – not what you want for movies.

The final solution was to create a custom gamma using the option on the Epson menus. It provides a chart you can adjust just like an audio equalizer. I raised the second darkest range a good amount, the next higher one less, and some other minor adjustments.

Now, I’m no calibrator, so in trying to create the right balance, I simply used the Sony VZ1000ES I had here as a guide. I think with my gamma adjustments, the end result is pretty darn good, with more pop and wow factor than the UHD65. Although those near dark areas (IRE 20, 30), have been lightened on the Epson, they still aren’t as bright as on the Optoma.

Bottom line: I found the HC4000/PC4040 to be roughly comparable to the Optoma UHD65 in handling HDR. There are differences, scene by scene, but no real “wow” those look totally different moments.

With the 5040UB, I still find some scenes a bit too dark. For example, faces in Star Trek, often on board the ship because of the background’s really bright lighting.

On the other hand, the darker type scenes, such as on Passengers, Ghostbusters 2016, The Hunger Games, now all work for me. The pictures seem more dynamic with the 5040UB than the other two projectors. Although, overall, the Optoma is the brightest when it comes to bright areas, thanks to just being a brighter projector than either Epson using their Cinema filters.

The way things are now, the 5040UB is definitely my preference with our settings. I have them published in my review for anyone to try out. There are a couple of other popular settings on the AVSforum that seem to have hundreds, or thousands of users most pleased.

The thing is this: A 5040UB with its out of the box settings is, at best, only “okay” at handling HDR, using Digital Cinema mode and HDR1. It’s just plain too dark in HDR2.

So, plan to use someone’s settings. Try ours! You’ll need to figure on spending a 5-10 minutes to visit all picture settings menus and setting them as we have done. We show a screen shot of every screen that we adjusted. (10 screens in all for HDR BT.2020).

Bottom Line for the 5040UB: It can have the best looking HDR performance, but not without you investing a little extra time.

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