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Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5020 review: Great picture, value goes beyond the dark

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The Good The Epson 5020 projector can deliver great dark-room images yet has enough light output for moderately lit rooms, too; excellent color accuracy; deep black levels with ample shadow detail; plenty of features including motorized lens cover, horizontal and vertical lens shift, and two pairs of 3D glasses.

The Bad Black levels not quite as deep as some competitors; auto iris required for peak performance; iris still makes some noise; WirelessHD option (5020UBe) not as good a value.

The Bottom Line The Epson 5020UB projector offers excellent picture quality for the money, and is versatile enough for both dark and moderately lit rooms.

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8.2 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Value 9

Editor's note: Epson has two versions of this projector on the market: the 5020UB and the 5020UBe. The differences between the two are the inclusion of a WirelessHD module on the 5020UBe and a $300 premium.

First impressions count, and in the case of the Epson 5020 they're dead-on. This projector's design initially struck me with its kidney-grille facial resemblance to a certain luxury car, and it performs like one.

The image quality of the 5020 is characterized by excellent color, prodigious light output, and very good black levels. You can pay thousands more than the $2,500 or so the 5020 will set you back, but you will be able to get only incremental improvements in the most important area: black levels.

When compared to the cheaper Epson 3020 and BenQ W1070, the 5020 represents a big jump in picture quality. But from the 5020 to the next tier, occupied by the likes of the significantly more expensive Sony VPL-HW50ES and JVC DLA-X35S, there isn't as large a leap. It's also better than any of them in a room with some ambient light, making it the most versatile projector we've tested. Bang for buck, the Epson represents the best balance we've reviewed yet between price and image quality.

Epson ups the value proposition further by including a number of useful extras, namely two pairs of 3D glasses and in the case of the 5020UBe a wireless HDMI hub. But while WirelessHD is fun, it's not a significant upgrade. Spend the $300 saved on something nice instead.

If you're looking for a versatile projector at a great price and don't demand the ultimate in dark-room picture quality, the Epson 5020UB is our go-to recommendation. Unless you want wireless connectivity, we don't recommend the 5020UBe as highly.

If the Epson 3020 had a touch of the Eve from "Wall-E" about it, then imagine Eve crossed with Darth Vader. That's the 5020. One of our readers commented that the 3020 looked like a BMW with its "kidney grilles", and the 5020 makes the comparisons more obvious, with its black fins evoking the front grill of something like a BMW M3. The 5020 has a better design in other areas, too. The 3020 leaks a lot of light out to the side while the 5020 leaks almost none -- great if it's sitting next to you as it's less distracting, not to mention the better fidelity in a dark room.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Aside from the fins, the next most prominent feature is the Fujinon lens, which is impressively large and equipped with a motorized lens cover (a rarity at this price). The projector is roughly the same size as the 3020, at 18.4 inches wide, 15.6 inches deep, and 6.2 high.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote that ships with the Epson is identical on both units. It's large, fully backlit, and festooned with buttons -- though you'll probably only use the inputs section at the top and the Menu button most of the time.

Key TV features
Projection technology LCD Native resolution 1,920x1,080 (1080p)
Lumens rating 2,400 Iris control Yes
3D technology Active 3D glasses included Two pairs
Lens shift Horizontal and vertical Zoom and focus Manual
Lamp lifespan Up to 5,000 hours Replacement lamp cost $299
Other: Additional 3D glasses (model ELPGS03, $99 list)

Among the three different projection technologies -- DLP, LCD, and LCoS -- Epson is firmly in the LCD camp. The 5020 features a 3LCD system, which as the name suggests uses separate RGB panels to generate an image. It comes with an improved iris that's significantly less noisy than the one on the 3020.

The Epson 5020 includes two pairs of RF active shutter glasses in the box. And if you need to get additional glasses, you'll be happy to hear that the projector (unlike most others) adheres to the Full HD 3D standard, making it compatible not only with Epson's own glasses ($99, above), but also with glasses from other makers that comply with the standard. We tested it with the three we had in-house and all worked fine, including the $19 Samsung SSG-4100GBs, the excellent $60 Panasonic TY-ER3D4MUs, and the universal XpanD X104s ($70 with RF dongle. Epson's RF (radio frequency) is also a better technology for 3D because IR (infrared) requires line-of-sight that can be broken and has a shorter range. Check out our 3D glasses shootout for more information.

The projector offers a couple of step-ups from the 3020, beginning with a much higher contrast ratio. Epson calls its system UltraBlack, and which is denoted by the "UB" in the product name. You also get a Frame Interpolation mode (aka Soap Opera Effect) and a slightly higher lumens specification. Despite the small difference in the two projectors lumens specs (2,300 vs. 2,400), we found the 5020 significantly brighter in our testing.

Meanwhile, the Epson 5020 is missing the onboard speakers of the lesser model. You could read that as an indication that the more expensive projector is for "serious home theater," rather than a "movie machine you wheel out on weekends."

Sarah Tew/CNET

Setup: The Epson comes with a number of setup options that rival the more expensive Sony, if not the JVC. While only the front feet are adjustable, the 5020 has a vertical and horizontal lens shift which makes it as simple as the Sony is to set up. You naturally also get zoom and focus rings built in. Unlike the JVC, it's all manual as opposed to power-controlled. The product has a slightly higher throw ratio than the step-down 3020 model, from between 1.34 and 2.87 times while also being able to display a maximum 300-inch screen size. With the 5020's spectacular light output, it should have no trouble filling very large screens with a punchy image.

The projector includes memory presets Sarah Tew/CNET

Picture settings: Another feature that the Epson 5020 has, which the 3020 lacks, is THX certification. That set-it-and-forget-it picture mode, which we found exceedingly accurate out of the box, joins modes Natural, Cinema, and Dynamic. When activating 3D content the projector offers three more options: 3D Dynamic, 3D Cinema, and 3D THX. For advanced setups, the projector offers an extensive number of controls, including tweakable Gamma settings and a Color Management System.

Need more flexibility? The 5020 has 10 memory presets in case you accidentally reset your settings, or want to experiment with a "bright room" mode, for example.

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