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Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema LS10000 review: Laser projector shoots a frickin' fabulous image

Laser projector shoots a frickin' fabulous image

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David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg

David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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15 min read

The Epson LS10000 is a technological tour de force that, on paper, can make other projectors seem like shark bait. Its crowning feature is a laser light engine that lets it start up faster than other projectors in its class, never needs to be replaced, and can deliver a picture that rivals the best projectors we've tested.

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7.6

Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema LS10000

The Good

The Epson LS10000 utilizes a laser light engine instead of traditional replaceable lamps. Its outstanding picture quality exhibited deep black levels, superb color accuracy and versatile video processing options. It starts up faster than other projectors, and its feature set is top-notch. Setup options are comprehensive, operation is whisper-quiet, and its styling is sleek and modern.

The Bad

The 4K Enhancement feature doesn't offer a significant improvement. Its black levels are lighter, for worse overall contrast, than JVC's comparable less-expensive D-ILA projectors.

The Bottom Line

A unique laser light engine helps the Epson LS10000 achieve picture quality that rivals the best projectors we've tested.

All that technology comes at a steep price, however, and at the end of the day, the $8,000 LS10000, falls a bit short of other high-end projectors we've tested recently. The less-expensive JVC DLA-X700R beats it in black levels and overall contrast -- the most important aspect of picture quality -- while the more-expensive Sony VPL-VW350ES offers true 4K resolution that can actually be worthwhile on a huge screen.

Both do it with old-fashioned lamps that burn out every 3,000 hours or so, and over the lifespan of the projectors those $300-$500 lamps can add up. But not enough to make a difference to the audience these projectors are aimed at. The LS10000's main draws are superb, balanced picture quality, industry-leading startup time, and high-tech chops. If that's enough for you, it makes perfect sense.

Editors' note: This projector is known as the "EH-LS10000" in the UK, where it retails for £5,999.

Sarah Tew/CNET


Design

Lasers might obviate the bulb, but the LS10000's body is plenty bulbous anyway. The massive, rounded unit measures 22 inches square and weighs 40 pounds. Its shape puts me in mind of a sci-fi vision: the head of a streamlined combat robot, with a single eye in the center that can retreat behind its motorized cover when powered down.

Matching rounded vents (railgun ports?) appear to either side, and a detachable cover (armor plating?) can conceal the connections around back. Manual overrides are available via a flip-out panel on the side (if you can make it past the exterior defenses).

Sarah Tew/CNET

David Katzmaier/CNET

Epson's remote is decidedly less futuristic but presents a formidable face of its own. A big backlit button exists for direct access to seemingly every function. The menu system is nothing fancy either, filled with esoteric adjustments and nested options that are, unfortunately, par for the projector course. I challenge anyone to find Game mode on the first try.

David Katzmaier/CNET

Epson touts the quiet operation of the laser system, and indeed, during operation the LS10000 was basically silent on my ceiling mount in all settings. Fan noise is not an issue with this projector. Then again, the JVC and Sony were also exceedingly quiet in their home-theater settings, so I don't consider this a significant advantage for the Epson.

Startup time was another story. The LS10000 leapt to life, not quite as quickly as a regular TV, but faster than any lamp-based projector I can remember. It took 26 seconds from pressing the power button to projecting a fully bright, watchable image. The Sony took about that long for any image to appear at all, while the JVC took 45 seconds. In both cases, the picture started out dim and discolored and took around 1:20 to achieve full brightness and color. The Epson also restarted (from on to off to on again) in about 20 seconds, while the others had to go through cool-down periods as long as a minute and a half before being ready to turn on again.

Key projector features
Projection technology: 3LCD Reflective Native resolution: 1,920 x 1,080
Lumens rating 1,500 Iris control Static (manual)
3D technology Active 3D glasses included Two pair
Lens shift Horizontal and vertical Zoom and focus Power (remote)
Lamp lifespan 30,000 hours Replacement lamp cost N/A (lasers)

Features

The three main projector types are DLP, LCD, and LCoS, but this Epson is none of the above. Its chips are composed of Liquid Crystal on Quartz, which Epson calls 3LCD Reflective. Of the three ,it comes closest to LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon), and according to Epson offers improved pixel density and improved aperture performance compared to LCD.

Also: frickin' lasers. Most projectors use replaceable bulbs, er, "lamps," that last around 3,000 hours before needing to be replaced. The LS10000 uses two blue lasers that last between 17,000 (in Power Consumption: High mode) and 30,000 hours (in ECO mode) and cannot be replaced. One blue laser creates the blue light, while the other blue laser hits a yellow phosphor, which is then split to create red and green. Hence RGB, the foundation of all color in video.

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Epson

In addition to improved lifespan, lasers allow the LS10000 to start up and achieve full brightness faster than lamp-based projectors, stay quieter, and respond faster to changes in brightness than a typical iris. The LS10000 isn't as bright as some lamp-based units but still plenty bright for darkened home theaters.

Epson says the combination of 3LCD Reflective and lasers delivers "unprecedented black levels, displaying zero lumens during full-black scenes." Check out the Picture Quality section for what we say. Ditto for Epson's "4K Enhancement," which shifts each pixel diagonally, and adds various levels of edge enhancement, detail enhancement, interpolation and marketing magic to approximate 4K.

For more in-depth info on all the LS10000's newfangled technology, check out Geoff Morrison's report from its introduction at CEDIA 2014.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Unlike Sony and JVC, Epson actually includes 3D glasses (and has a built-in RF emitter) on its ridiculously expensive projector. The unit complies with the full-HD 3D standard, so you can pair it with any glasses that also comply, down to the $20 Samsungs.

The LS10000 supports expanded color gamuts, namely Adobe RGB and P3, which are absent from the Sony and JVC projectors. I didn't test either mode for this review, mainly because I don't normally test for photography-specific color spaces (like Adobe RGB), and no because P3 content is available for home video. Epson told me that whether the LS10000 will be able to support future P3 content depends on the (as yet to be determined) characteristics of the content itself, including whether it's backward compatible. That's not very reassuring, but it does make sense.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Epson sells the similarly laser-powered LS9600e for $5,999 in the US. (It's not available in the UK.) It has a slightly lower lumens specification (1,500 vs. 1,300 lumens) and lacks the 4K Enhancement technology of the LS10000, as well as its wider color gamut modes. It does offer something the step-up model lacks, however: A wireless HDMI input box with five HDMI inputs, which obviates the long cable run from source(s) to projector.

David Katzmaier/CNET

Setup:The LS10000 has everything I expect from a projector at this level. Thanks to the four independently adjustable legs, and power zoom, focus and lens shift, setup was easy. Focus was sharp everywhere on the screen (once I disabled the 4K upscaling feature; see below).

The Epson can work with anamorphic lenses and includes a powered lens memory function that can maintain constant height for up to five different aspect ratios -- a boon for people with ultrawide (2.35:1) screens. As I expect from a three-chip projector in this range, there is a panel alignment control, which I didn't need to use since there were no panel alignment issues on my sample.

David Katzmaier/CNET

Picture settings: Epson offers a cornucopia of adjustments. There are seven picture presets (including a THX mode) for 2D and three more for 3D, as well as the ability to save your settings to any of 10 custom memories. There's a custom gamma setting in addition to five presets, a two-point grayscale control and a full color management system. You can also choose from 12 iris levels (static only) as well as three brightness modes to manage overall light output.

Video processing is mostly controlled from the "Signal" menu, where the settings are as thick as a neutron star. "Frame Interpolation" controls smoothing (or Soap Opera Effect), de-interlacing and motion detection settings handle progressive conversion, and the Detail Enhancement slider lets you do just that if you want. Then there are five levels of Super-resolution (for enhancing 1080p sources) and five more of 4K Enhancement (for approximating the detail of 4K). Gamers will appreciate an input lag reduction mode called Image Processing that's buried in the Advanced menu; itr allows you to choose between Fine (standard lag) and Fast (reduced lag).

Sarah Tew/CNET

Connectivity: Once you remove the back cover, you'll find plenty of jacks. The standard pair of HDMI inputs are available, one of which is compatible with HDCP 2.2. I'd prefer both to be 2.2 compatible, but since the typical high-end projector installation involves a ceiling mount and a long, single umbilical between the projector and the source devices, one is probably sufficient (as long as the switch used to select sources is itself 2.2-compatible).

The LS10000 does a better job supporting analog video than most high-end projectors, with a component port, a standard AV port, and an RGB PC input. It also includes a USB port (for software updates only), an Ethernet/LAN port (for control only), two remote triggers, an IR remote port and an RS-232 serial remote port.

Picture quality

The LS10000 delivers a better picture than any LCD projector I've tested and challenges the best D-ILA units have to offer. Its black levels and contrast outclass those of the Sony VPL-VW350ES, although it doesn't reach the inky depths of the JVC DLA-X700A. In most other areas, including color accuracy, video processing and 3D picture quality, it's top-notch, albeit a half-step behind the more expensive, true 4K Sony.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

As always with my projector tests, I used a 120-inch diagonal Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 130 G3 screen. For comparisons, I used my lab's custom two-shelf ceiling mount in conjunction with a floor stand that allowed me to compare all three projectors calibrated to 22fL on the same screen by sending the same source (for 1080p testing) or different sources (for 4K testing) and alternately block light from each. This method has disadvantages compared with the side-by-side testing I do for TVs, but it's as effective as I can get without getting CNET to spring for three screens (and the space to set them up).

Black level and white level: The Epson can get exceedingly deep, the hallmark of a good home-theater projector, and its black-level performance splits the difference between the Sony and the JVC. Watching some of the deep space scenes from "Gravity," for example Chapter 2 as Ryan tumbles against the void of space, the Epson looked admirably inky and visibly superior to the Sony. The JVC, as usual, was deepest of all, with a satisfying lack of cloudiness that made the star fields and space suit look even brighter by comparison.

Details in shadows were excellent. The instruments, debris and corpses in the derelict Space Shuttle, for example, looked realistic and true, about as good as the Sony in terms of detail but more natural because of the deeper black levels. The JVC obscured some of the deepest shadows slightly compared to the other two.

In terms of light output, the LS10000 was decent, but nothing like its exceedingly bright stablemate the 5030UB . Of course, that unit can't match the LS10000 for black level and overall contrast, and the laser-packin' Epson has plenty of light for the dedicated, light-controlled theaters for which it's designed.

With a full-screen white pattern in the brightest default picture mode (Dynamic) the LS10000 measured 52.5 fL (footLambert). That's seems like a big jump over the JVC (32.7 in Stage) and the Sony (36.5 in Bright TV/Bright Cinema), but it comes at a price: Dynamic mode is exceedingly, sickeningly green, a trick many projector makers use to increase brightness. The Epson's brightest mode with decent color is Living Room at 28 fL. The JVC's Stage mode is also quite green, so between the three, I'd pick the Sony if I was worried about light output and wanted to get good color.

In lumens, a measurement that eliminates the variable of my screen, those measurements work out to 1,725 for the Epson in Dynamic mode (920 in Living Room), 1,199 for the Sony and 1,074 for the JVC. Thanks to Chris Heinonen for the lumens calculator.

By the way, when we asked Epson to elaborate on the claim that the LS10000 can achieve "Absolute Black," here's what the company told us: "When movie content calls for full black, the LS10000 is able to cut off all power to the laser light source, thus producing a true no light output condition. Unlike traditional UHE lamp-based projectors where the light source remains on constantly and the light output is then blocked with 3 LCD panels (the LCDs are often referred to as Light valves)."

I attempted to verify this claim by feeding the LS10000 black test patterns, but there was always a small amount of light on the screen -- it was obvious the projector was on, as opposed to with some LCD TVs, which (annoyingly, in my book) turn off their backlights completely when fed black-enough signals. Regardless, this performance parameter is irrelevant to real-world picture quality because actual program material is almost never completely black.

Color accuracy: According to my measurements, the Epson was excellent after calibration, more accurate overall than the JVC albeit not quite as spot-on as the Sony. Before I adjusted anything, however, the most accurate mode for color, THX, was off by quite a bit, with a minus-blue grayscale and less-accurate blue and cyan. The available controls mostly cleaned everything up, with all color measurements (save blue) coming in below the nominal threshold of perception (DeltaE 2000 < 3).

In program material, however, the Epson lagged a bit behind the others. Watching the "Samsara" Blu-ray, the Epson's skin tones looked just a bit ruddy compared to those of the Sony, in areas like the prison guard's face as she looks over the yard (Chapter 20). It also lacked a bit of the saturation and richness of the JVC in areas like the fruit and bright shirts in the outdoor market (Chapter 22), perhaps because of its slightly worse black levels. That said, its color was still excellent, and not a major liability by any means.

Video processing: Under the Signal menu, there's a section called Super Resolution/4K Enhancement. The former, judging from test patterns, seems to introduce progressively more obvious edge enhancement and artificial-looking (to my eye) "extra" detail as you step through its five levels -- it might be worthwhile for lower-quality sources or for viewers who like the extra-sharp look, but videophiles interested in preserving the director's intent will likely leave it disabled.

4K Enhancement, on the other hand, is a big selling point on this projector in that it actually shifts the pixels physically. The main benefit I could see was that it basically eliminated the screen door effect of visible 1080p pixels. On the other hand, that grid is visible only if you're sitting exceedingly close anyway, and even from my 9-foot seating distance with a 120-inch diagonal screen, I couldn't make it out.

Epson claims the 4K Enhancement also improves visible detail, so I put up a 1080p sharpness pattern to test it. All of the five levels aside from "4K-1" again introduced edge enhancement, and all of them looked softer along edges than with the enhancement turned off. I first encountered the issue when trying to focus the projector -- everything looked a little blurry no matter how finely I tried to dial it in. I suspected a bum lens at first, but then I realized that the Super Resolution/4K setting was engaged. I disabled it and immediately my focus pattern leapt into the sharpness.

I checked out program material and, while the effect varied quite a bit and sometimes did seem to make the image sharper, I still preferred to leave it off. The weave of a surgical mask from close-up in Chapter 16 of "Samsara" showed a harshness in the higher three settings that looked slightly artificial. The first setting was almost impossible to differentiate from "Off" (aside from the lack of a pixel grid). The second, "4K-2," provided the best balance of added detail and a somewhat natural look, but it still introduced too much extra grittiness and noise, especially in areas like skies and the mists on the snows in Chapter 8.

All told, the 4K Enhancement processing seems less heavy-handed and artifact-prone in general than JVC's eShift, but unless you're sitting close enough to see the pixel grid, it's best left turned off for the most faithful reproduction of the original source. That said, you may also want to use it (or Super Resolution, or any of Epson's myriad other enhancements) for lower-quality source material.

Turning to more mundane processing matters, the LS10000 is capable of delivering true 1080p/24 cadence as long as you leave its Frame Interpolation setting turned off. Engaging Low introduces a slight, but still noticeable level of smoothing ( Soap Opera Effect), while Medium and High make butter look rough. You can't turn on Frame Interpolation if you're using one of the 4K Enhancement modes.

Motion resolution is similar to other projectors in its class. The only way to get to 600 lines is to turn on Frame Interpolation, and any of the three settings will hit that mark. With Interpolation turned off ,the LS10000 hit between 300 and 400 lines.

There's some good and some bad news for gamers who want to use the LS10000. The good news is that its input lag score was pretty good for a projector, at 58.4ms. The bad news is you have to use Fast mode to get that result, and I noticed a soft image at times in that mode. In the default Fine mode, the LS10000 achieved a typically terrible lag time of 109.2. In short, you should only select Fast if you notice lag while gaming, and when you do, prepare for potentially worse picture.

It's worth noting that the Sony's input lag reduction mode got to a superb 36ms, with no major hits to picture quality, while the JVC is the laggiest of the three at 125ms with no mode to improve it.

4K sources: While it's technically a 1080p projector, the LS10000 can accept 4K sources too, so I figured I'd give them a quick whirl. I didn't feel compelled to test 4K as thoroughly as I did with the Sony projector, but it's still worth checking out.

"No Good Deed" from the Sony FMP-X10 media player is among the best-looking 4K sources available, so to test the Epson's 4K rendition, I connected it to the X10 and fed the Sony and JVC projectors 1080p from the Blu-ray version of the movie. Although the differences were subtle, details on the Epson indeed looked best among the three in this scenario, with more life and sharpness in certain scenes, for example in the pattern on Jeffrey's tie during the kitchen conversation.

When I looked at the same scenes from the FMP-X10 with the native 4K Sony projector, it did look better than the Epson as far as I could tell, although the difference wasn't as dramatic as the difference between 4K and 1080p on either projector. In other words, the 4K version of the movie from the X10 looked more detailed than the Blu-ray regardless of which projector I used, proving again that source quality is what matters most.

It's worth noting that the 4K Enhancement options are grayed out with 4K sources, but the effect appears to be active judging from the nearly invisible pixel grid. 4K test patterns showed the Epson does introduce a very light level of edge enhancement, and the lines aren't as fine as they looked on the native 4K Sony.

Bright lighting: With cheaper projectors we test how the image looks with some light in the room (usually pretty bad), but in this projector's case that's a waste of time. If you can't control ambient light in your viewing room, skip the LS10000 and get something brighter (and cheaper) like the 5030UB.

3D: The LS10000 is a very good 3D performer, better than the JVC overall but not quite as competent as the Sony. On the Epson, most scenes from "Hugo," my go-to 3D test, were clean of crosstalk (that ghostly double image that plagues active 3D systems) but it still popped up at times. The worst was with high-contrast adjacent areas, like the bright edges of the railing (2:06) or the black lines of the drawing on the white pages of the sketchbook (at 6:18).

In those areas and in most other difficult scenes -- like the stomach-churning extreme 3D of the Inspector leaning in toward Hugo (44:27) -- the Sony wasn't as obvious with its crosstalk. The Epson did look better in other spots, like the edge of Méliès head and hand as he dozes in Chapter 1, however, and generally held its own throughout. The JVC fell a good deal behind the other two in its crosstalk reduction.

I don't calibrate for 3D, but it's worth noting that in their best default picture settings -- THX 3D for the Epson and JVC, and Reference 3D for the Sony -- the image on the Sony was the most pleasing to my eye. The Epson looked flatter, less saturated and dimmer by comparison, while the JVC was dimmer still, with crushed blacks and inaccurate colors. Of course, a good 3D calibration would likely put them all on a much more even plane, but I suspect the Sony (as it did with 2D) would still manage to deliver the most light (with accurate color), which is much more important in 3D because the glasses attenuate light so much.

I also found Sony's TDG-BT500A specs to be the best of the three. They're the lightest and most comfortable, followed by the medium-weight Epsons and the relatively chunky JVCs. Of course, Epson has the cost advantage in that it's the only one of the three to include glasses in the box.

Geek Box

Test ResultScore
Black luminance (0%) 0.002Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.39Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 1.576Good
Dark gray error (20%) 2.099Good
Bright gray error (70%) 1.88Good
Avg. color error 1.829Good
Red error 0.190 Good
Green error 0.824Good
Blue error 5.418Poor
Cyan error 0.446Good
Magenta error 1.712Good
Yellow error 0.747Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) PassGood
1080i De-interlacing (film) PassGood
Motion resolution (max) 600Average
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 58.4Average

Epson LS10000 CNET Review calibration results

How We Test TVs

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7.6

Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema LS10000

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 10Performance 9Value 5