Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5020 review:

Great picture, value goes beyond the dark

Connectivity: The 5020 offers a decent selection of inputs including twin HDMI ports, component and AV jacks, and a VGA adapter. A USB port is also included, designed mainly for charging the 3D glasses.

Pay an extra $300 for the 5020e 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
The Epson 5020 offers a dark-room picture nearly as good as those of the JVC DLA-X35 and Sony VPL-HW50 for significantly less money. The only major advantage exhibited by those two is a slightly darker overall black level.

While I was a little underwhelmed by the Epson 3020 for the price -- its colors were good enough but its black levels were fairly ordinary -- there are no such troubles with the 5020. Yes, you are paying an extra $1,000, but the results are tangible. Colors are excellent -- very close to our reference JVC X35 -- and black levels are much improved on the cheaper Epson, but with a better degree of pop than the JVC. Yes, the JVC has better black level and overall contrast, but there isn't the same jump in dark-room picture quality again that there is between the two Epsons. Turn on the lights, meanwhile, and the light output potential of the 5020 outdoes any of the others.

Comparison models (details)
Epson PowerLite 3020 3LCD projector
BenQ W1070 DLP projector
JVC DLA-X35 D-ILA projector (LCoS)

Black and white level: While was relatively I enthused about the black levels of the BenQ W1070, they are nothing compared to this Epson projector. It's like upgrading from a fixed-gear bicycle to a motorbike (which makes the JVC, in turn, a Ducati).

To get the best black levels, you'll have to use the Epson's auto iris feature. I complained loudly about the sound of the iris opening and closing on the 3020, but the 5020's was much quieter, although it would still be audible during quiet passages of a movie (the Sony's HW50's auto iris was totally silent, in comparison). My colleague David Katzmaier and I looked hard for overt "iris effects," where parts of the image darkened or lightened in an abrupt or otherwise unnatural way, but didn't see any.

In the opening shots of the "creation" section of "The Tree of Life," the 5020's black levels were able to capture most of the starkness of the images that the 3020 missed. Of course the JVC looked fantastic as well, and visibly darker than either Epson.

Switching to "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II" (57:29), a room full of furniture looks inconsequential on the 3020 while on the 5020 it really pops. Compared to the JVC, the Epson's iris helps it muster up more light and shade while the JVC looks a tad less "exciting," but more natural and pleasing to some viewers. The darker black of the JVC did make its image appear less washed-out than the 5020's, although the Epson was still very good.

Switching to an earlier scene in the same movie, as Voldemort's army amasses on a hill (45:55) the differences between the Epson 5020 and the JVC were more apparent. The JVC has a much darker background, while the Epson is able to pick out faces a bit better and illuminates some more of the gloom around them. While the JVC is more accurate -- from a technical standpoint our equipment has told us so -- the Epson's picture had a bit more impact in this extremely dark scene.

The Epson delivered excellent light output. At full bore, in the Dynamic mode showing an full-white screen, it was capable of 80 footLambert (fL), which is almost twice what the JVC and Sony were capable of. In lumens, a measurement that eliminates the variable of my screen, that works out to 2,628 (thanks to Chris Heinonen for the lumens calculator).

Color accuracy: While the 3020 had very good color, the 5020 ups the descriptor to "excellent." Black levels aside, there was very little to tell the JVC and 5020 apart in a direct A/B comparison. In "The Tree of Life" (Chapter 5, 37:18), the mother lies down on the grass and the combination of her pale skin tone, blue clothing, and the surrounding green make a great test of color. The two projectors looked almost identical in this fashion, and any differences were more easily attributable to black level and its effect on color perception, than actual color accuracy differences.

Moving to the "resurrection" scene from "Harry Potter" (Chapter 22, 1:31:38), as he awakes in a cavernous white room to see Dumbledore, the two projectors again showed they could reject the overt green of the 3020 and present more of the gradations of the opening shot. The 5020 also lacked any overt blue tinges in its black areas, another distinct advantage over the 3020.

Video processing: Like the 3020 before it, the 5020 wears its cinema prowess on its sleeve with excellent performance in our video tests. The aircraft carrier test from "I Am Legend" was rendered with with the smooth but buttery motion of correct 1080p/24 cadence.

When I engaged the projector's frame interpolation feature, its motion resolution test came out quite well, with a score of 650 lines. While that's twice as good a result as when I turned interpolation off, leaving it on means you'll also have to live with the smoothing Soap Opera Effect. I recommend leaving the feature off unless you're watching sports or other material that originates on video.

Lastly, though it's not an official test, the Epson was able to translate the smooth gradations of the sunrise over the alien planet in "The Tree of Life" (Ch. 4, 24:28). At times it revealed a bit too much detail in some shadows, however, as meant-to-be-hidden contours sometimes came to the surface.

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 which I would consider comfortable to watch watching 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 in the projectors' default brightest picture modes and there was no contest; the brighter Epson looked punchier and better in nearly every way. Compared against the cheaper (albeit brighter than the JVC) Epson 3020 and the BenQ, the differences weren't as stark, but the 5020 was still superior.

To be clear, any projector will look much better in a completely dark room than one with any light at all, and the 5020 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: From "Hugo" to "The Green Hornet," the Epson 3020 showed that it was capable of excellent 3D images. We saw almost zero crosstalk with the Epson glasses, and no discernible flicker. We also tested other glasses and found that the YOUniversals worked just as well while the Samsung's showed a little bit of crosstalk. But at only $20, they're still a great option for the kids.

GEEK BOX: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.003 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.17 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 1.8292 Good
Near-black error (5%) 0.273 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 1.168 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 1.004 Good
Avg. color error 1.2602 Good
Red error 0.931 Good
Green error 0.914 Good
Blue error 1.085 Good
Cyan error 1.741 Good
Magenta error 2.04 Good
Yellow error 0.85 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 650 Average
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 330 Poor
Input lag (Calibrated mode) 95.1 Poor

Epson PowerLite 5020 calibration files by ty_at_cnet

What you'll pay

    Visit manufacturer site for details.

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