Epson Home Cinema LS11000 4K Laser Projector Review: Big Tech Promises
Armed with a laser light source the LS11000 takes aim at our favorite high-end projectors and (mostly) hits.
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
The Epson Home Cinema LS11000 is a higher-end 4K projector powered by lasers rather than the traditional lamps used by most of its competitors. A lamp happens to power Epson's own Home Cinema 5050 too, a projector we loved and which stays in the company's lineup. The LS11000 costs $1,000 more and promises a significant leap forward, with more pixels on screen and the aforementioned lasers. Both delivered superb picture quality in my tests, with excellent color and bright, punchy images, but the performance of the next-gen LS11000 isn't the massive improvement implied by that new technology.
Don't get me wrong. The LS11000 is still a great projector, and all the new pieces and subtle changes -- plus the benefits of using lasers -- add up to an overall excellent image. Among projectors we've reviewed, it's second only to the more expensive Sony VPL-VW325ES. So perhaps I'm just nit-picking. But then, for $4,000 the nits deserve to be picked.
Like most other 4K projectors, the Epson uses lower-resolution chips to create 4K pixels on screen. In this case three 1080p LCDs and a pixel shifter that quadruples the visible resolution. The Epson 5050 used a similar technology, but only doubled the resolution.
Epson rates the LS11000's light output at 2,500 lumens. I measured approximately 1,400 lumens in Bright Cinema mode, which offers the best compromise between accuracy and brightness. That's slightly behind the 5050 in both rating and measured brightness, but it's still what I'd consider "bright" for a projector. In the less-accurate but brighter Dynamic mode I got around 1,900 lumens.
Like many other Epson projectors, and a few like-priced DLP projectors, the Epson has motorized lens shift and zoom. This is one of my favorite and most-used features. I have a 2.35:1 screen, so when I'm watching a movie or show that uses that aspect ratio, a few button presses can zoom the projector out to fill the wider screen. Not only that, but the zoom is large enough that you can place the LS11000 in the back of the room, something not possible with DLP projectors in this price range. The lens shift is generous enough that you can place it on a shelf and not have to ceiling mount it. Another plus over DLP projectors.
The big headline feature is the use of a laser instead of a UHP lamp like most projectors. In this case it's a blue laser and a yellow phosphor, an arrangement found in most new laser-lit projectors.
This means the light source will effectively last the lifespan of the projector. Rated at 20,000 hours, that's nearly 14 years at ~4 hours a night.
HDMI inputs: 2
PC input: No
USB port: 2 (2.0 amps and 0.3 amps power)
Audio input and output: No
Digital audio output: No
12v trigger: Yes
RS-232 remote port: yes
The LS11000 has the connections most people will need, with none of the fluff found in many projectors. There are no analog inputs, for instance. That's fine: You won't miss them.
The USB connection has a generous 2.0 amps of power, so you can easily power a streaming stick. I'd expect that anyone spending $4,000 on a projector will have enough left over in their budget to have a full home theater system. But if you do want to set it up this way, for some reason, one of the HDMI inputs also has eARC.
Expecting a more elaborate theater setup, the LS11000 also has a 12v trigger, RS-232 and Ethernet, in case you want to connect it to a home automation system.
The chunky remote is basically the same as many previous Epson projectors, but it's easy to use in the dark thanks to big buttons and backlighting.
Picture quality comparisons
For my side-by-side comparison I pitted the Epson LS11000 against Epson's own 5050 and the Optoma UHZ50. Both are less expensive than the LS11000 but they have a lot in common. The 5050 is a traditional lamp-lit projector, but it's close in price and performance. The UHZ50 is DLP and lit by a laser. I liked both of these projectors, so really, they're all winners. Perhaps one is more of a winner than the others? We shall see. I connected all three via a Monoprice 1x4 distribution amplifier, and viewed them on a 102-inch 1.0-gain screen.
Sharpness is not the most important aspect of a projector's performance in my book, but differences in detail between the three were noticeable right away. Ostensibly, all three of these projectors are 4K, but none have 3,840x2,160 pixel imaging chips (to get that you'll need to spend even more money). Instead, each pixel on the imager works double or quadruple duty, responsible for 2 or 4 pixels on screen. That's one of the biggest changes from the 5050 to the LS11000. Epson's new pixel shifter shifts pixels 4x instead of 2x. So between those two projectors the LS11000 is definitely sharper, which makes sense because it has twice the resolution.
The UHZ50, though, looked a little sharper still. In my experience DLP just inherently does a better job creating detail, not least because of its lack of motion blur. While the difference was noticeable side-by-side, it's unlikely most people will notice at home.
Contrast is a different story. This is DLP's Achilles' heel, and despite the UHZ50 doing well compared to other DLP projectors, it's well behind here. It doesn't look washed out, but the two Epsons clearly have more depth and better black levels. The UHZ50 just looks flatter, its black levels grayer.
Comparing the two Epsons, however, is rather interesting. As measured by me, the 5050 has a far better native contrast ratio at 5,200:1 vs. 1,808:1. I was so surprised by that result I kept remeasuring it. Even the LS11000's dynamic contrast is lower, where the laser power tracks the brightness of incoming video signal and adjusts accordingly. However, this mode is more useful on the LS11000, since this adjustment happens pretty much instantly, far faster than the mechanical iris on the 5050. The result is that the LS11000 looks far better, subjectively, than the numbers suggest. Enough so that they seem roughly comparable, even side-by-side.
With normal HD and 4K content, color is quite good on all three. The LS11000 looks the most natural, and its colors look a little richer. The difference isn't massive but the LS11000 is the best of the bunch. That lead extends with HDR, where it does a better job reproducing a wider color gamut than both the 5050 and the UHZ50.
Concluding coherent collimation
I'm not one to be swayed by specs and promises. I've been doing this for far too long and I've been a cynic ever since I learned I'd never own a flying gullwing sports car. (No, not that one, this one.) But I was surprised at the LS11000. I was expecting performance improvements across the board compared to the 5050, but that's not what I saw.
The LS11000 is more of a diagonal step from the 5050. Does it look better, subjectively? Yes, but not as much as the additional $1,000 would imply. The color and brightness are good, the contrast is decent and the added detail over the 5050 is welcome. So it does look better, sure, but the 25% better implied by the price? Sort of.
I guess I need to incorporate "total cost of ownership" into my overall conclusion, as boring as that sounds. Each new lamp for the 5050 currently costs $330. Lasting roughly 4,000 hours, that's a new lamp every 2.5 years or so if you watch 4 hours a night. If you're like me and you use the projector as a regular TV, that's an optimistic estimate. The LS11000, thanks to lasers, has no lamp costs. The laser will last over a dozen years by those same calculations.
Which is to say, the performance improvements, plus a lower(ish) cost to own over the life of the projector, means the LS11000 is definitely worth considering over the 5050, though it's not the clear improvement it first appears. What would I buy between these two? The LS11000 by a hair, due to that math and the fact it does look better. But if laying out $4,000 right now is too far out of your budget, the 5050 remains an excellent projector that looks even more like a bargain now.
You can get some serious performance differences with the different picture modes. I used Bright Cinema for most of my measurements as it seemed to offer the best combination of light output and accuracy.
In this mode, I got approximately 1,378 lumens. That's lower than most of the projectors we've reviewed recently, but still bright compared to the category as a whole. If you need a bit more, the Dynamic mode doesn't look quite as good overall, but can produce just under 1,900 lumens. You can decrease the laser's power to dim the image, producing a better black level as well as decreasing fan noise.
Regardless of mode or lamp power, native contrast averaged around 1,808:1. This is well behind the 5050 and especially the Sony VPL-VW325ES, but well above nearly all DLP projectors. This is only part of the story, however.
The Dynamic Contrast setting tracks the incoming video signal and dims the laser for darker scenes. This works quite well, and far better than the mechanical irises of yore. This dynamic contrast is roughly 5X better than the native contrast. While that's far lower than what the 5050 could achieve on paper, in practice it looks like a bigger improvement. Plus, it's nearly instant which the mechanical iris is most definitely not. Typically I focus on native contrast as a far more important metric than dynamic, but in this case the dynamic contrast is closer to how the projector "looks," which is rare.
Colors are exceptionally accurate across the board, with red, green and blue primaries as well as cyan, magenta and yellow secondaries all pretty much spot on. As a result the image looks natural overall.