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Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5030UB review:

Projector's pretty picture hits high and low notes

Connectivity: The 5030 offers a decent selection of inputs including twin HDMI ports, component and AV jacks, and a VGA input. A USB port is also included, designed mainly for charging the 3D glasses.

Pay an extra $300 for the 5030UBe and you'll receive the WirelessHD system, designed to transmit 1080p signals in lieu of an HDMI cable. It consists of a wireless receiver onboard the projector and a transmitter hub, which includes five HDMI inputs, one HDMI output, and an optical audio jack. While I didn't test the Wireless HDMI system on this projector, I expect it would perform identically to the one shipped with the 3020e; that is, works great, but it needs line of sight.

Picture quality
There's not much the Epson 5030UB does wrong. Its black level is superb, lending the image more pop and contrast than just about any projector at or below its price range. It also blasts out more light than any decent, somewhat affordable home theater projector we've seen--not presentation-worthy, but plenty to combat normal room lighting and deliver a watchable image. Its main weakness is the inability to match the contrast and punch of D-ILA rivals like the JVC DLA-X35. But for the 5030's price, that flaw is easy to overlook.

Comparison models (details)
Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5020UB LCD projector
JVC DLA-X35 D-ILA (LCoS) projector

Black and white level: The 5030UB is capable of delivering a deep, impressive shade of black. Compared to the two projectors above, it sat in the middle, albeit closer to the lighter 5020UB than the suberbly dark JVC.

First off, Epson's claim of improved blacks over the 5020UB holds water in program material, but the difference was not drastic. Watching my favorite black level test, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," the 5030UB was a bit darker in the letterbox bars and darkest parts, such as the massing of the army overlooking Hogwart's, while the 5020 looked just a bit more washed out. In mixes dark and light, high-contrast scenes, such as the Room of Requirement, the difference was easier to spot but still subtle.

The 5030UB's inability to match the JVC's depth of black was more obvious. Yes, the two measured nearly the same in the chart below, but that's with a full black screen. With program content, invariably more varied, the JVC's superior contrast was clear. I watched selections from Chapter 12 and 13 of the very dark "Potter," for example, and even in the dimmest scenes the black of the JVC's letterbox bars and dark areas was much truer and more lightless than on the Epson.

The same went for brighter mixed scenes, such as when Hermione and Ron cause the flood in the hidden chamber (52:00). Again the JVC won with its deeper blacks. Highlights between the two were similarly bright, and the Epson revealed very slightly more detail in shadows. The JVC's shadow detail was still excellent, and it didn't crush or obscure any information near black -- the Epson just revealed a bit more. That said, the JVC clearly won at producing a pleasing dark-room image, and suffered no major tradeoffs.

Like its predecessor, the Epson 5030UB delivered excellent light output. At full bore, in the Dynamic mode showing a full-white screen, it was capable of 82 footLambert (fL), which is almost twice what the JVC and Sony VPL-HW50ES were capable of, and a near-match for the 5020UB. In lumens, a measurement that eliminates the variable of my screen, that works out to 2,696 (thanks to Chris Heinonen for the lumens calculator).

Color accuracy: No problems here. The 5030UB delivered the same color accuracy as its predecessor in both dark scenes and light, and a bit more pop and saturation due to its deeper blacks. It also managed to avoid the 5020's slight bluish tinge to black areas, like the letterbox.

One of the most colorful scenes of "Potter," Snape's dream sequence in Chapter 19, showed accurate skin tones, lush greens in the grass and leaves, and realistic blue in the sky. I'd give the slight edge to the Epson over the JVC for accuracy here, but the latter was still very accurate, and its color more pleasing overall due to its better blacks, again.

Video processing: The Epson performed well in this category too, and offers a surprisingly flexible array of processing modes for a projector. The Frame Interpolation setting controls the dejudder processing, which as usual introduces various levels of smoothing -- known as the Soap Opera Effect -- and with it the reduction of image blurring/better motion resolution.

In the Off setting, the Epson delivered proper 1080p/24 cadence in our test from "I Am Legend," handling the pan over the aircraft carrier as well as I'd expect from any high-end display. On the other hand that mode scored the worst motion resolution with just 300 lines, the equivalent to a 60Hz LCD TV. On the other hand, the Medium and High settings scored a more respectable 600 lines -- what I'd expect from a 120Hz LCD TV -- and introduced significant smoothing/S.O.E.

The Low setting may appeal to motion resolution hawks who also detest smoothing. Yes, cadence was a bit smoother and less choppy/film-like than Off, but it was pretty close and took me a pass or two to distinguish between the two settings. Low also manages the same motion resolution score as the others. I'm more of a film purist so I'd probably stick with Off, but if blurring really bothers you, Low is a great alternative.

Like many projectors the 5030UB lacks a Game mode, and its input lag measured poorly at 117 milliseconds in the calibrated (THX) mode.

Bright lighting: The Epson is a very bright projector, which makes it better able to compete against ambient light when filling a screen. In fact, it's the only one I've tested so far (along with the 5020UB) which I would consider comfortable to watch in a moderately lit room. By "moderately," think a lamp or two, mild overhead lights, or an indirect window during the day -- the cloudier the better.

We compared it directly to the JVC under just that kind of ambient lighting, and in the projectors' default brightest picture modes and there was no contest; the brighter Epson looked punchier and better in nearly every way.

To be clear, any projector will look much better in a completely dark room than one with any light at all, and the 5030 is no exception. When we opened a window enough so light struck the screen directly, for example, the Epson's image washed out terribly to the point where it started to disappear. Certain screens can help address this issue, but no amount of light output or screen magic will make for a high-quality projected image in a bright room. If you can't control ambient light, you're still better off with a TV instead of a projector.

Like most projectors, the Epson's Dynamic mode suffered from an overly green cast. We don't calibrate for a bright room, but switching to the slightly dimmer Living Room preset helped color quite a bit. A bit of tweaking could probably assist even further.

3D: The Epson delivered a very good 3D performance, a real plus since 3D on a projector is so much more impressive than on a small screen. I checked out "Hugo" (still one of the most demanding 3D Blu-rays with its complex shots and extreme depth), and that bugaboo of active 3D, crosstalk, was comfortably minimized by the 5030UB.

As Hugo's gaze falls on Georges Méliès from his perch behind the clock, for example, the tinker's sleeve and collar show only the barest hint of the double image. A bit later, as Hugo reaches for the toy, his popped-out hand again showed only minimal ghosting. Same for the tuning pegs on the guitar (7:49) and the head of the inspector as he threatened Hugo (44:27). The JVC, for its part, also handled these scenes extremely well, but its ghosting was a bit more visible in general, and thus slightly more distracting. All told, the Epson was one of the best displays I've seen at reducing crosstalk.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Color and black levels were very good in the default THX 3D setting (we don't calibrate for 3D sources). Of course, one big advantage of having plenty of light output is the ability to overcome the inherently darker 3D image when viewed through glasses. Epson's secs themselves were comfortable enough, but someone like me who wears prescription lenses underneath might be more comfortable removing the nose support -- a simple process.

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.002 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.42 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 1.414 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 1.327 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 1.174 Good
Avg. color error 2.048 Good
Red error 1.015 Good
Green error 0.522 Good
Blue error 0.986 Good
Cyan error 6.047 Poor
Magenta error 1.934 Good
Yellow error 1.783 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 600 Average
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300 Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 117 Poor

Epson 5030UB CNET review calibration results

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