Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5020UBe 3D LCD Projector Page 2

The 5020UBe is one seriously bright projector. In its bright Dynamic Color Mode, on the 96-inch-wide, 1.3-gain Stewart StudioTek 130 G3 screen used throughout this review, I measured a peak white level of 62 foot-lamberts! This was before I performed any color calibration, with the lamp on Normal (high) and the contrast on –10. The latter provided a 3 percent overload margin above peak video white, though it produced a slight pink cast to extreme whites.

Of course, you won’t likely go to that extreme except perhaps at next year’s Super Bowl party. In the more sensible THX color mode, with a totally darkened room, the auto iris in Normal, and the lamp on Eco, I had to turn the contrast control to –10 to reduce the brightness to 21 ft-L on the same screen.

The convergence of the Epson’s red, green, and blue picture elements was mediocre out of the box. Even at center screen, there was nearly a full pixel of horizontal and vertical error in both red and blue. While the deviation wasn’t clearly visible from a normal viewing distance, the images were just a hair shy of fully satisfying sharpness. After I attacked the projector’s LCD alignment controls, the picture was clearly improved. It wasn’t a night-and-day difference, but the effort put into a color alignment moved the projector’s resolution into easy parity with the best of its competition. Yes, some experts argue that electronic manipulation of convergence (all such convergence controls are electronic) can affect resolution. They are probably correct, but the benefits achieved here outweighed any possible theoretical losses.

The Epson’s blacks weren’t quite as compelling as the best I’ve seen from projectors costing at least $1,000 more, but they were still impressive. The first act of The Avengers is loaded with dark scenes: Loki plotting with his alien conspirators, the main operations center at the Dark Energy headquarters (a mix of dark backgrounds set off against bright highlights), the night car chase as the headquarters are destroyed (low internal contrast and few bright highlights), the interrogation of Natasha/Black Widow in a Russian warehouse, and Black Widow finding and recruiting Bruce Banner/the Hulk to the Avenger team. A few of these difficult images looked slightly grayish here and there but were nevertheless largely impressive and satisfyingly rich.

The Epson also made the most of brighter material with its colorful, punchy picture. Titanic looked gorgeous in its new 2D Blu-ray transfer, with natural detail and near perfect color, including natural fleshtones. The drop-dead color and resolution on Kung Fu Panda 2 looked even more breathtaking. This is the most detailed computer-animated feature I know of, and from its lightest to darkest scenes, the Epson was jaw dropping.

The HDMI RF wireless feature was something of a mixed bag. It locked on even when the transmitter was positioned nearly 90 degrees to the side of the projector (the projector’s built-in receiver is located on the front), though it’s not specified to work through walls (which I didn’t test). At first, I saw nothing obviously wrong in wireless mode—the same solid black levels, the same superb resolution and color, and no video artifacts. But the picture seemed to lack a little punch compared with the wired connection. When I re-checked the calibration, comparing wired versus wireless with the same picture settings, the readings were similar at most points. But at 40 percent brightness, the wired gamma was 2.24 and the wireless 2.72! This was so odd that I repeated it again, with the same result. A clever calibrator might be able to correct this with the projector’s custom gamma feature, but it could be tricky to do without degrading the results at other points: The gamma at 30 percent and 50 percent, both wired and wireless, was virtually the same at around 2.14. I recommend using a wired connection if at all possible. And if you can live without the wireless feature altogether, the wired-only model will save you $300. (At press time, Epson, upon learning of my findings, declared it unusual and vowed to look into the issue.)

On Screen: 3D
I ultimately ended up using the 3D Dynamic mode for my 3D watching, a decision I arrived at after considerable testing and agonizing. I managed a decent calibration in the THX 3D mode, but it wasn’t bright enough for prime-time 3D—at least not for me on a 1.3-gain screen. The lack of image pop was particularly evident on dark films like Prometheus.

At first I resisted the 3D Dynamic mode. It was certainly brighter but overall wasn’t an ideal solution. It defeated my attempts at a good color calibration by clipping peak white at the settings needed for the most satisfying brightness levels. And yes, that annoying video purist who lives deep inside my head kept poking the back of my eyeballs with a sharp stick, complaining that this mode kept the colors far from spot on, and that if I looked in just the right places on the right scenes, I’d see those crushed whites and 3D ghosting—the latter fortunately subtle on most of the 3D material I sampled apart from A Christmas Carol, one of my ghosting torture tests, where this artifact was annoying.

But imperfect as it was from a strict technical standpoint, 3D Dynamic on the Epson made watching 3D fun, as it should be. The dark caves in Prometheus were foreboding but never so dim that I couldn’t see clearly what was going on. Despicable Me looked bright and punchy. Avatar was 3D done right. And Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs may be a dumb looney tune, but in 3D on the Epson, it’s catnip for those of us unable to resist a movie featuring 100-foot lizards.

The Epson’s all-star trophy is clearly earned by its 2D performance. But for those who enjoy an occasional 3D night, free of the murky dimness that can make 3D a mixed bag, the Epson’s 3D chops are likely to please almost everyone but your cranky neighborhood video calibrator.

Properly calibrated in 2D, the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5020UBe can light up a big screen with a bright, sharp picture and at the same time keep blacks dark enough to satisfy all but the most Kuro-obsessed. It can also do 3D that’s bright enough to please most everyone. That all this can be yours on a projector selling for less than $3,000 in its wired-only model is stunning to those of us who recall the days of trying to make SD look good on a CRT projector and line quadrupler with a combined price tag that could run to six figures. This Epson is a genuine bargain and highly recommended.

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lensshift's picture

Can Thomas please post the calibrated settings on this page like they did for the Epson 8350 review? I used those settings in my theater for the 8350 and they were spot on. I now have the 5020UBe and would like to know what he changed the settings to.



Bob Ankosko's picture
Settings for the Epson PowerLite 5020UB3 3D LCD projector have been posted.
Arnold_Layne's picture

your new 5020UB to your 8350. I'm considering the same upgrade. I have a VAPEX 106" 1.1 gain screen and may move up to the 120" at the same time.
I do like the 8350, but yes, the black levels are not great. OTOH, I don't have a comparison.

Jarod's picture

Don't even bother. Every time I ask Tom something he rarely, rarely will reply.

Rob Sabin's picture
Guys, we'll get these up shortly. Check back in a day or two!
lensshift's picture

To Mr. Sabin and Mr. Ankosko, thank you for taking the time to post the setting used in the review. Can't wait to try them out today. All the best.


DBDALY's picture

Purchased this unit 3 years ago, both temp and bulb light flash now. Took it to an authorized repair center. Epson says to send it in, cost about 900.00 to possible fix it. What a disappointment after spending good money on a unit that lasts 3 years. They tell me average life span on the unit is 3 to 5 years max. Anyone have similar? Maybe Epson units are not worth buying??