One of the brightest projectors you can buy. And that’s awesome.
+ Did I mention it’s bright?
+ Comes with 3D glasses
– Loud fan noise in Dynamic mode
+ 3-chip LCD
+ Inputs: (2) HDMI, component, composite, RGB-PC; 12v, RS-232
+ Dimensions + Weight: 18.4 x 15.6 x 6.2 in; 18.9 lb
Real Genius is one of my favorite movies. I won’t lie, I expected college life to be exactly what was presented in this movie. (Incidentally, I wasn’t disappointed much on that front. Fewer dry ice parties, though.) There is a scene, midway through, were Chris Knight (Val Kilmer) tests his 5-megawatt laser. The “hotter than the sun” beam burns through the target, a concrete wall, and out across the quad, leaving holes in trees, a statue, and more. This is the Epson 5020e. Not the movie, the laser. Sixty footlamberts. Sixty. Six. Zero. This is an astounding amount of light. I fear I will dip into hyperbole, but even when beaming a 102-inch image, this projector is brighter than any plasma TV. Newton’s ghost, it’s brighter than the 55-inch Samsung 55EH6000 LCD TV I recently tested. And if these numbers seem hard to wrap your head around, how about this: If you configured the Epson to project a 50-inch diagonal image, it would be brighter than any TV on the market. Somewhere north of 160 footlamberts. I haven’t tried using the 5020e to pop popcorn, but this doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility.
Like the Sony, the Epson has manual lens shift, zoom, and focus. The controls feel a little cheap compared with the Sony, though the price difference between the two likely justifies this. A full color management system can be found in the setup menu, and unlike the Sony and JVC, the Epson needs it, but more on that later.
What makes this version the 5020e is wireless HD. A small box wirelessly transmits five HDMI sources, meaning you don’t have to run a long HDMI cable from your gear stack to the projector. Like most other wireless HD systems, it doesn’t transmit well through solid objects like cabinet doors, walls, or people. With an unobstructed line of sight, though, it works great. There’s even a trick picture-in-picture feature. Unfortunately, you only get optical digital audio output, so unless you have a Blu-ray player with dual HDMI outputs, you may not be able to pass high-resolution soundtracks to your receiver if you go the wireless route. (There is an HDMI output on the transmitter, but it only works when the hub isn’t transmitting wirelessly.) The Home Cinema 5020 (sans the “e”) is the same projector, just without the wireless.
I started off my eval with the Epson in Dynamic mode. If you read my review of the 5020’s predecessor, the 5010, you’ll see that I finished the review and then, on a lark, checked the Dynamic mode for any subtle changes it might make to the image. “Subtle” turned out to be a doubling of the light output and greater color accuracy. So, you know, that. This time, no fooling me, I went right for the Dynamic mode. In Dynamic, you get the full-bore 60 ftL, but the cost is slightly weird grayscale tracking and somewhat inaccurate color. With this amount of light, though, you could have a screen bigger than any wall in a normal house and it would still be brighter than what projectors could do on 100-inch screens just a few years ago. That’s quite an accomplishment.
In Dynamic mode, there isn’t enough adjustment range in the projector’s color management system to get the color as accurate as it is in the THX mode. The color doesn’t look bad, mind you, but it’s not as natural as on the Sony or JVC. As far as color temperature is concerned, there’s a plus-green hump in the midtones that you just can’t calibrate out.
THX mode gives you much better color accuracy and grayscale tracking but forces you to make do with “only” 28 ftL. In this mode, after calibration, the 5020e’s colors look a little better than the JVC but not quite as good as the Sony.
When the Epson is in Dynamic mode (Power Consumption set to Normal), there are also a few issues caused by harnessing something presumably hotter than the sun. For one, it’s loud — easily the loudest component in your room, even if you have an HTPC. Compare this with the nearly silent Sony. If you drop the lamp into Eco mode, you lose about 25% of the light output, but the sound drops to a far more reasonable level, about that of the JVC. Frustratingly, if you want accuracy (THX mode) and quiet operation (Power Consumption set to Eco), light output drops to the low 20s. Not bad, but lower than the other projectors tested here.
Motion resolution is a little worse than the JVC and Sony, a little below 600 lines per picture height. This improves somewhat as you increase the Frame Interpolation settings, but of course this adds motion interpolation effects. With regular video, however, all three appeared to have about the same level of detail.
Like the Sony, the Epson has some detail-enhancing processing, called Super-resolution. It does add a little bit of detail, and does so without adding significant artifacts. Everything becomes a little crisper. It’s worth checking out to see if you like it, although settings 4 and 5 should be avoided as they add obvious noise to edges.
Placed into my Triple Stack of Awesome ™, the Epson’s main strength was obviously its light output. If that’s what you’re going for, there’s no competition, and the tradeoffs (accuracy, noise level) are something we’ve discussed. Sometimes, though, you don’t need 60 ftL, or don’t want to deal with the added decibels. Selecting the THX mode allows it to be compared more directly with the JVC and Sony, and in that mode, it offers roughly the same accuracy and brightness.
With Brave, the JVC’s added contrast clearly won out, but the Epson was pretty close to the Sony. The night scenes looked a little murkier with the Epson and Sony than with the JVC. Colors also looked a little more exaggerated on the Epson than with the Sony, but again, it was fairly close.
Switching over to Ulysses S. Grant: Zombie Pursuer, I donned Epson’s ELPGS03 RF 3D glasses ($99; 2 included). They were light, though not quite as waif-like as JVC’s. They eat more of the available light than JVC’s or Sony’s, but of course that doesn’t really matter with the 5020e, as you can’t even enable the Eco mode while watching 3D. A little crosstalk was visible, but far less than on the JVC and a little less than on the Sony. The Epson also had a slightly better illusion of depth than the others. The climactic train scene, where Abe and his cohort try not to get bitten by vampires and/or fall to their deaths, looked great, though it lacked the deep blacks seen on the JVC. Mostly because it’s so bright, the Epson’s 3D image was definitely the best of this triumvirate. (With 3D, brightness wins out over contrast.)
The light output of the 5020e is so much greater than anything else in its price category that it’s hard to judge it past that point. Yes, the color isn’t as good as on the Sony. Yes, the contrast isn’t as good as on the JVC. But ... that light. The fact that in Dynamic mode its contrast is good and its color acceptable makes the Epson a remarkable projector. There are no bad choices in this trio, but if the Sony is a BMW M3 and the JVC a Porsche 911, then the 5020e is a Corvette ZR-1. Not as well rounded as the Sony or as precise as the JVC, but 638 horsepower (i.e., 60 ftL brightness) makes you forget and forgive a lot.