Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema LS10000 3D LCD Projector Review

2D Performance
3D Performance
PRICE $8,000

Laser light engine
HDCP 2.2 compliance
Excellent contrast and accuracy
UHD color support
Not true 4K
Contrast not quite up to lofty claims

Few projectors can compete with Epson’s first salvo in the reflective LCD market, and the company’s laser engine delivers bright images with flagship-level contrast and accuracy.

Last year’s CEDIA Expo was a bit of a buzzkill for projectors. We continued to see a dropoff in the number of manufacturers, and two of the biggest names in consumer projectors, Sony and JVC, both decided to forgo new models altogether. But that didn’t stop Epson from unveiling one of the most exciting projectors I’ve seen in years, the PowerLite Pro Cinema LS10000. Not only is it unlike any previous Epson model, but it’s also the first laser-driven home theater projector I’ve seen—and at a sub-$10,000 price point. But can it compete with the juggernauts from Sony and JVC at these higher price levels? Let’s find out.

New Kid on the Block
The first thing I noticed about the LS10000 was its massive chassis. I’ve reviewed quite a few Epsons over the years, and they typically have been more modest in size. The LS10000 is more like the bigger Sony projectors, with a case that approaches 2 feet in width and depth and a weight of nearly 40 pounds! This is also the best-looking projector I’ve seen from Epson over the years—very sleek, with large ventilation grilles flanking the lens, a flaked paint job, and a slick pop-out keypad to control the projector locally.

The back panel bucks the trend toward omitting analog inputs, as it features both component and composite varieties. Two HDMI inputs are provided, one HDMI 1.4 and the other HDMI 2.0 with the latest HDCP 2.2 copyright management protocol. Epson also includes a PC RGB input, an RS-232 port, a LAN port, and a pair of triggers for automation.

Still, it’s not what’s on the outside that sets this projector apart from previous Epson offerings; it’s what’s inside. The LS10000 will accept a 4K source, displaying it in a pseudo 4K form using its 1080p imaging chips (more on this below). (An Epson sister laser projector, the LS9600e, deletes the faux 4K feature, offers marginally less specified brightness, but adds wireless Full HD capability up to 1080p/60.) Other features, apart from the usual suspects, include powered lens adjustments, lens memory, frame interpolation, customizable gamma (which proved to be so quirky I abandoned using it), and panel alignment by zones (our sample was well aligned out of the box, so I didn’t use this). Three gamut settings, HDTV (Rec. 709), EBU, and SMPTE-C, are selectable in the Advanced picture menu.

But perhaps most significant, Epson dipped their toe into two new (for them) technologies this time around, delivering not only the cutting-edge laser light engine but also a new reflective LCD panel device somewhat akin to the LCOS/SXRD-based technologies we’ve been enjoying from JVC and Sony.

Epson has long been the market leader in LCD-based projectors and actually supplies the LCD panels used in many other projector brands. LCD is a transmissive technology, with light passing through pixels that act like gates to control the brightness. But LCOS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) is a so-called reflective technology. While it also uses LCD imaging chips to gate the brightness of each pixel, in an LCOS design the light passes through an LCD panel, bounces off a reflective, silicon-based surface, then passes back through the LCD. This reflective configuration puts the electrical connections driving the pixels behind that reflective layer. This results in a higher “fill factor,” which is the amount of space on the chip dedicated to the actual pixels relative to the spaces separating them. In a transmissive LCD design, the electrical connections can only be routed through larger gaps between the pixels. This results in the “screen door” effect that has almost become LCD’s calling card. While it must be said that the fill factor of LCDs has improved significantly in recent years, reflective LCD designs still offer significant advantages in this regard. In addition, they typically offer higher contrast than LCD designs.

While similar in the above respects to LCOS, Epson describes the technology they’ve developed for the LS10000 as 3LCD reflective. They have leveraged their background working with quartz to use that material for the reflective substrate, rather than the silicon chips we’ve grown accustomed to from JVC and Sony (in its SXRD designs). These new 3LCD reflective devices are said to offer higher fill factor and superior native contrast performance as those established LCOS designs. While they don’t quite provide the industry-leading native contrast performance that JVC has managed to deliver in recent years, they are more in line with the performance we’ve seen from Sony’s SXRD panels.

To increase contrast performance, Epson’s Dynamic Contrast feature dynamically modulates the laser to produce changes in brightness, much like the dynamic aperture we typically see in the best modern projector designs. This allows the Epson to deliver a true black by turning off the laser completely when required by the image. This control has three modes: Off, Normal, and High Speed.

While this feature works great for enabling an infinite full-on/full-off (sometimes called sequential) contrast, it doesn’t really represent the native contrast capabilities of the projector. To check for this, I first measured the Epson’s contrast ratio without any help from its Dynamic Contrast modes. This gave me an idea of the native contrast potential of the reflective panels. I tried a variety of different zooms and laser brightness modes (more on that later) and got full-on/full-off contrast results that ranged from about 14,000:1 to 21,000:1. That puts it in the same range as what I typically measure from Sony’s flagship designs.

The Epson also features a manual aperture that has a limited amount of range but bumps the contrast up a little bit without engaging a dynamic system. This aperture looks to be more for adjusting the amount of light you see on the screen than for fixing contrast, but it offered a modest improvement and brought this result up to almost 29,000:1.

Epson’s Dynamic Contrast is one of the more transparent dynamic light-control systems I’ve ever seen. The Normal mode is less aggressive than what I’ve experienced with dynamic aperture designs, despite having about a 5-6x multiplier for its contrast performance. It is slower to fade to an absolute black, so image pumping is nearly nonexistent. But the best part is its lack of gamma pumping. Almost every dynamic system I’ve used displays occasional hiccups with transitions from dark to bright images or those in the middle range. My JVC DLA-X700 shows some obvious detail clipping and color smearing with some material, though it is pretty infrequent. Sony is a bit less aggressive, but I’ve seen pumping and clipping in some of my testing. The Epson, however, delivered a nearly artifact-free image in every test I conducted.

But the Dynamic Contrast isn’t flawless. My friend Darin summed it up nicely when he compared the Dynamic Contrast feature to a staircase. With the laser off, the projector is fully capable of delivering the bottom step with a true absolute black. But once you turn the laser on to deliver the next step up, you find you’ve skipped a lot of stairs; the darkest native black of the reflective panels with the light source active remains quite a bit higher than true black. That leaves out a lot of gradation in between. Still, this is the case with most dynamic contrast systems. They do a great job of providing deep, deep blacks, but without high native contrast capability from the device itself, you end up with holes between their black floor and the next step up.

Despite this gap in how it handles the lowest reaches of dark gray to black, the Epson’s Dynamic Contrast feature measured quite well. While I wouldn’t say it’s the king of contrast (that still belongs to JVC), this projector is punching like a heavyweight compared with most of what’s out there today. I just hope projector manufacturers continue to improve the native contrast performance of their chips so that they fill these gaps over time. This will become even more important as we ride into the new world of High Dynamic Range (HDR) content.

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