Ok! I've finally had over a week with the VPL-40 installed. I owned and used the Epson 5030 for 3 months from mid-Dec until I sold it in mid-March. So now I can provide a relatively unbiased opinion.
Some important info to consider when reading my comments:
- I owned a Pioneer Kuro for 5 years (still do, just not the main unit anymore) and a Panny 65ZT60 for a year after that (until it died)
- I sit 7'6" feet from the screen, and the projector is ceiling mounted, at a 7' height, at 11'6" from the screen
- The screen is a 92", DIY screen. 0.8 Gain due to my lighting conditions, which are the following:
Yes, that's 19' of windows in a double height space. Complete with white tile floors, and white walls. Basically, the worst possible projector environment you could think of. With the blinds closed and blackout curtains on the balcony door, it becomes very dark inside. I still have the reflective surfaces, however. I used "Reference" on low lamp for the VPL40, and THX on low lamp for the 5030 in my viewing.
In any case, on to my analysis:
I enjoyed the black levels on the 5030. Thanks to the detachable magnetic matting panels I designed for my screen, I could plug up the black bars on 2.35+ content and not be distracted by the black bars. Having come from a ZT60 and a Kuro, I was used to pitch-dark, inky blacks, so I wondered if the transition would be manageable. It was. Originally, I had a 1.1 gain screen, but that completely washed out my blacks due to the brightness increase. I had to go gray. My screen is Munsell N9 gray, using an exact color matching for paint from Sherwin-Williams. In any case, the black levels were acceptable, non-distracting, and overall I was satisfied with them.
The VPL40, to be clear, does not have the blacks of the 5030. It is noticeable, and whether its a product of my lighting environment (probably) I'll never know until I move out. It's not 100% distracting yet, but it is a little unnerving. Maybe I'll get used to it. I don't think it's for lack of the dynamic iris, as I rarely used the dynamic iris on the Epson. Without using the matting panels, the black bars are clearly dark gray. I feel like I need another two weeks of content to see if I can get used to it or not. I've only seen a few movies and Game of Thrones episodes.
The VPL40 has superior contrast to the 5030. Scenes with max white and max black in them appear far better in the VPL40, they got washed out on the 5030 - i.e., an interior room with a character talking while the full sun streams through the window. It's far clearer on the VPL40, with more detail in the shadow areas than the 5030 could. This is a welcome bonus, in my opinion.
Color Accuracy & Reproduction
Both projectors excel in these areas, and I loved the colors of the images. I have no complaints from either of these projectors.
This has been a great talking point on the Sony thread. Maybe it's my seating distance, but without the Reality Creation engine on, the Sony has a distinct soft look to the image. The Epson had, when properly focused, sharpness on par to my plasmas. The Sony does not. Activate the Reality Creation engine, and boom - it becomes far sharper, and brings out far more detail, at the expense of introducing a crapload (the scientific term, of course) of grain/noise to the image. It was offputting and distracting at first, giving the image a "processed" look that had me struggling to accept. Eventually, putting Noise Reduction at Low and MPEG NR at Low countered some of the effects of the noise while still keeping the sharp image. I need further time to study this. But I have to declare the 5030 a winner here for now, because it needed no such processing to provide a clear image. It kind of almost feels like the Sony engineers intentionally sabotaged a direct image from the source to force you to use Reality Creation. I hope I get used to it before the return period expires.
The reason I returned the 5030. In the first two months of use, I never noticed Screen Door Effect. Animation, sports, streaming, live-action films, nothing. Then, I saw The Simpsons Movie, which features simple color animation, and holy cow did it stand out like a sore thumb. And from that point, I was never able to un-see it, catching it all the animation movies I saw and in a lot of the live-action movies. My missus or my sister never saw it, but I couldn't deal with it. Again, this might be due to my seating distance as well, but since that can't be changed, I had to get rid of it. Downside of the LCD tech.
The Sony, thanks to DLP tech, doesn't have this issue. You have to press your face to the screen to see the pixels. You can see SDE from my seating distance if you really strain to see it and focus on trying to find it, but in regular viewing it's not noticeable. Phew.
Hands down a win for the Sony. Playing Destiny on my PS4 on this is incredible. The Epson was too slow. But we already knew this about the comparable lag.
Aesthetics & Ease of Use
I miss the automatic cover of the Epson. I refuse to manually cover and uncover the lens using the provided dust cap on the Sony, so off it'll stay, and I'll use my DSLR's air blower to blow dust off the lens every week. The VPL40 is a beauty to look at, while I considered the Epson a little more industrial, but this is a matter of personal preference. The side connections are also a little trickier to handle, but no big deal. I also wish that the mounting screws on the Sony were aligned with the unit's center of gravity. They are not, as they were on the Epson, so leveling it on two planes was a pain in the ass compared to the 5030.
It's hard for me to pick a clear winner. Both have their flaws and positives, but the 5030 had SDE which I just couldn't live with, while the VPL40 has the lesser blacks and noisy RC image.
It'll remain to be seen how I feel after a full month with the VPL40, since I'll decide by then whether to return it and keep questing, or live with it.
I believe owning a Kuro for 5 years spoiled me, since I was used to perfection, and now have to make compromises. But that's what this hobby is. I'll update in a week with more thoughts on the VPLs blacks and Reality Creation.