Home Theater Projector Comparison Report:
Best in Class Awards for 2012
4/4/2012 -Art Feierman
As you read about each award winner and runner-up, the images will be from the projector you are reading about.
This year, things have gotten more complicated, by virtue of a significant number of 2D and 3D capable projectors. The reason is that there are some projectors that are great at 2D, but either lack 3D, or perhaps have 3D, but their 3D is very disappointing (ex. if very dim, or too much crosstalk.) Based on the emails and blog comments I get, most of our readers seem to be at least very interested in 3D capability, many insist on it, but then, also I get a fair amount of: "3D is not of interest to me", "I don't care about 3D", and also: "I'm not worried about 3D for me, maybe for the kids".
For this reason, you will see certain of our Best In Class type awards that say 2D. That could include, specifically, great 2D only projectors, but also projectors great at 2D, but relatively weak at 3D, compared to the competition.
The Panasonic PT-AR100U and the JVC DLA-X70 would each be a good example of projectors we might highly recommend for 2D usage, one lacking 3D, and the other - where 2D performance is great, but 3D can't match most of the competition. This paragraph has been written prior to selection of the winners, so you never know how this will turn out, until you scroll down.
1080p Home Theater Projectors, Our Award Winners:
Entry Level Projectors: Under $2000 (street price)
Medium priced projectors: $2000 - $3500 (street price)
Higher End Projectors: $3500 - $10,000 (street price)
Outstanding Product of the Year (Not yet chosen, not necessarily Home Theater related)
Class: Entry Level Projectors: $2000 and under, Street Price
Best in Class Award 2D only: PT-AR100U
Panasonic's PT-AR100U would have been even more fun if it also had 3D, but then, it certainly wouldn't be selling for $1199 (a Panasonic promo had it down to $999 through the end of March). There may be plenty of excellent low cost projectors out there to consider, but the Panasonic PT-AR100U really shines - it is just brighter than all the rest, making Panasonic's PT-AR100U the king of the the family room / bonus room environment.
It is the official brightest "light canon" that's a true home projector, not some souped up biz projector crossing over. Cross over projectors are usually bright, but picture quality is definitely compromised compared to this Panasonic.
So, want a real home projector? One that can tackle some serious room lighting? And do a good picture at the same time? Whether $1199 or $999 street price, it seems to be a class of one. It's got, typically 25% to 60% more brightness than the competition when considering the various modes.
The Panny calibrates well, final skin tones look really good. Can you do better if you are a purist? Well, you could consider a competing DLP, a few do get somewhat close in brightness, but have that slightly different look and feel. That said, the Panasonic projector has better placement flexibility than every other projector we could think of within $200 of its selling price (higher or lower), except for Epson's 8350, which matches it in this regard, but cannot slug it out in brightness.
You can even put the PT-AR100U in a dedicated home theater, and it will do fine there. I prefer projectors with a bit better blacks: "ultra-high contrast" projectors, if you've got the cave, but then, only a couple costing up to a few hundred more dollars, can actually best the PT-AR100U, at black level performance.
The PT-AR100U projector is a gamer, too, with lag times in the 30ms range. It's not the fastest around (we do see some 0 lag projectors - those are always DLPs), but our gamer bloggers are hard core, and say a projector with lag times like this, works just fine.
At first I expected the projector to be selling for around $1500, and was definitely concerned about its value proposition. At the lower price points though, there's no question about the value.
Didn't take long, though for Panasonic to adjust their dealer costs, etc., to result in a list price $1999 projector that sold for just $999 until recently.
There are a couple of competing, and lower cost, DLP projectors we like, that also are 2D only. One of those may appeal to you. That said, for most first time buyers, (plus those buying their "next' projector in this budget range, those who are not purists, but are needing a projector in the low price ranges), this is the projector that should at least start at the top of your shopping list.
Best In Class - Runner-up (2D Only): BenQ W6000
Here we have another projector back for a second year. Last year though, the W6000 picked up an award in the mid-price tier, the $2000 - $3500 Projector Class.
This year, the W6000 seems to be selling around the $1500 price point, based on a quick online search. Last year we commended the W6000 as being an exceptionally bright single chip DLP projector, with a very sharp image, and very impressive (though not the best), black level performance in that price range. Black levels were comparable, perhaps a touch better, than the Panasonic PT-AE4000, not as good as the old Epson 8700UB, the reigning black level champ in the price range last year.
This year, you get the same projector, for about 60 cents on a dollar compared to last year's price. It was worth the $2000 plus price less than a year ago, and it is, by my take, easily worth the roughly $1500 today.
The only projector we considered this year, in the under $2,000 price range, that might be able to give the BenQ W6000 a run for the money in terms of black levels, is the Acer H9500BD.
Since the H9500BD is 3D capable, Acer had to make it fairly bright.
The BenQ W6000, though was the brightest canon around last year, so can pretty much match the Acer, lumen for lumen. With Brilliant Color on, this BenQ came in close to 1050 lumens, and their BC implementation is not as strong as most, meaning not as big a jump in brightness, and meaning not as "over the top" as Brilliant Color tends to be under close inspection. When you need all the lumens, the W6000 is slightly brighter than the Acer.
So, with this BenQ being just as bright, having slightly better blacks, and comparable placement flexibility, you may be asking why the Acer scored a top award, and the BenQ had to settle. That's easy: The Acer costs less, and offers 3D as well, so there's a real value component. That said, if I wasn't into 3D, and wanted to put one of these two in my home theater, I'd definitely choose this BenQ W6000. It calibrates better, for more accurate color (a weakness of the Acer), offers better blacks too. It's the one I'd definitely choose for a really good room - a home theater, cave, something along those lines. In the family room, where the extra blacks aren't going to be very noticeable, and if you aren't the type of person who has adjusted the color mode on your LCDTV, the Acer's color will be just fine, even if the BenQ's is better.
Ultimately the BenQ had to earn another signficant award. It is the DLP projector to own for the bucks, for your home theater (assuming no 3D), especially if you are intending a larger screen - 120" diagonal isn't even a challenge for it, in a good room. 150 inches could even work, if you've got the space. True, the Acer's just as bright, but in a really good room, the BenQ has the more critical image.
Both are great in a family room, but you get that 3D from Acer, and a lower price point as well.
Now if BenQ had only thrown in 3D for the same price, they might have taken that top award from the Acer... Wait a minute, BenQ did, they created the 3D version the W7000. Thing is, at around $2500 it's literally "in a different class".
2D, BenQ W6000 - definitely on your short list, especially for large screens, dedicated theaters, and in family rooms where you need to deal with more than the minimal ambient light.
Special Interest: Entry Level Value - 2D Only: Viewsonic Pro8200 Projector
In home theater space, overall, most projectors tend to have a shelf life of a year, and the rest, of two years. By that I mean, bring out a new projector, and 12 months later, its replacement has arrived. Now rarely does that mean an all new projector, but rather, some improvements, usually small ones. Mitsubishi's evolution from their HC3800 to the HC4000 is a good example, or Epson's Home Cinema 8500UB to the 8700UB. In other cases, though the manufacturer leaves a model on the market for 2 years. Panasonic's PT-AX200U was a example (now replaced by the PT-AR100U), and this Viewsonic Pro8200 is another good example.
Last year we considered the Pro8200 to be about as good a DLP projector for home as you could find at $1000 or less, and it sold right around that $999 price point.
This year, the Viewsonic Pro8200, however, is selling for right around $800, some dealers right at $799, others just slightly higher - the direct authorized dealers seem to be the ones just a few bucks higher.
Before I forget, this Viewsonic, has built in sound!
Of course, if you are planning to watch an action flick, it's not going to cut it, due to lack of any real bass. It does have a fairly warm (not tinny) sound. What I really like though is the provided audio output! This makes it easy for you to add a powered subwoofer to your system to round out the sound with some low end, so that Star Wars can begin properly. Low cost powered subwoofers start, I believe around $50 or so.
Black levels were not impressive, there's no dynamic iris. You get your basic DLP native blacks, whiich were the standard, until dynamic irises came along. While I could argue that it is perhaps the single notable weakness of the Pro8200, consider that none of the sub-$1000 projectors are really significantly better, and definitely not in a family room or bonus room with a decent amount of ambient light. Black levels are just not the a big priority on entry level projectors.
The Pro8200 does give you more placement flexibility than the others, thanks to a 1.5:1 zoom. That makes this projector more similar to the Acer H9500BD, or the Epson Home Cinema 3010, for front to back placement, but like the Epson, it lacks lens shift.
Finally, if you want to compete at the entry level end, price is important, and equally so, is cost of ownership. The Viewsonic may well be the best in the whole Under $2000 Class. It offers a three year warranty, one of only two in this class. Lamp life is another cost strength, with Viewsonic claiming 4000 hours at full power, and 6000 in eco mode. This is a great family room projector. You can drop it in a theater as well, but, I figure if you are going to the trouble of having a theater, you'll want a step up projector, at least.
Last year I said this: "Viewsonic Pro8200 just seems to combine the best elements found in most of the other sub-$1000 projectors, into one that comes out on top." Well, as it turns out, the field of under $1000 home entertainment projectors hasn't changed much, with the real action in new projectors this year around $1500 this year (and $2500+). This Viewsonic Pro8200 may be the same as last year, but at 20% less selling price, it reaffirms its overall value. A great first projector, and a very respectable one for those on limited budgets.
Like the Panasonic PT-AR100U, this is first and foremost a family room type projector, and thanks to its speaker it's also a somewhat portable projector (backyard, anyone?). Though brightness is a key strength, the more expensive Panasonic has it beat. On the other hand, many of you will appreciate the Pro8200 projector's DLP look and feel.
Also helping cement the Viewsonic Pro8200 projector as our Best In Class 2D Value, are the great warranty - 3 years, and the especially long life lamp, rated at 4000 hours at full power and 6000 hours in eco-mode!
Best In Class 3D and 2D Projector (Tie): Acer H9500BD
This Acer H9500BD was one of the biggest surprises in this year's Home Theater Report. Acer of course has been around a really long time on the business and education projector side, but never made a real impression on the home theater side. It's been a good 4 years since we reviewed a crossover Acer called the PH530, but let's not worry about long ago.
Acer's come a long way since then, with the H9500BD, offering 1080p resolution, 3D as well as 2D, lens shift, and impressive black levels.
The Acer H9500BD which sells for a street price of about $1300 or less, offers more bang for the buck than any of the other 3D capable DLP projectors near the price. This Acer projector gives you a zoom lens with good range: 1.5:1, which when combined with lens shift - (yes, both vertical and horizontal), makes it tie as placement flexibility champ - of the DLP projectors under $2000, (never mind only those under $1300) projectors. That other DLP projector is the 2D only BenQ W6000.
This Acer H9500BD, can, therefore be rear shelf mounted as well as ceiling, or placed on a table top. Just check the distances vs. screen size if you want to rear shelf mount.
Ultimately though, this award is more about the picture, and the feature set, than placement flexibility. And my enthusiasm when it comes to picture, starts with black level performance. OK, last year we had projectors like the Epson 8700UB, and the Panasonic PT-AE4000 (last year's Best In Class winner in this category), with what I refer to as "ultra high contrast" projectors. That Panasonic offered really impressive blacks (especially for around $2K), and the Epson, even better. This year, however, those two Best In Class projectors have been replaced in their respective line-ups, with 3D capable projectors and price tags in the upper $2K range, in a more expensive "class". Without them, this under $2K class has lost two of its black level champs.
The Acer H9500BD, offers the best black level performance of all the 2D / 3D projectors we considered in the under $2,000 price range for this year's report. It is probably close to last year's Panasonic PT-AE4000, at blacks, though I reviewed them about two years apart. It bests the blacks of the Epson Home Cinema 3010 (more on that later), without any visible difficulty. The difference isn't drastic but definitely enough to make a real difference to a "black level" fanatic like myself.
Our single real complaint about the Acer related to its incomplete set of color controls, resulting in less than a great calibration. Mike could not get a really good calibration right at 6500K, but rather at almost 7000. Now mind you, this Acer does have some pedigree from the business side, just like that old Acer 530 we reviewed. In this case, it has a wall color feature, for those projecting not on a screen, but on a wall that's not white. A reader suggested we try the Pink wall setting? Well, it did lower the color temp about half way. Mike said the individual colors (CIE chart) weren't as good, but ultimately we had two options, neither perfect, but with just a slight thinness on red compared to blue (a touch cool). Few but us hard core would even notice, and I suspect few of us would barely notice without another projector with a better color side by side. The other major 3D capable projector in the class, that we reviewed is the Optoma HD33, and it didn't calibrate any more precisely. Its whites were even a touch cooler than the H9500BD projecctor.
Certainly none of my family members had any problem with the skin tones, and for that matter, I might say, that DLP look and feel, could offset the slight color temp error, for myself and others demanding a great picture with a lot of "pop" to it.
This Acer H9500BD also has CFI - Creative Frame Interpolation - for smooth motion. Try that on your sports. If you like it on other things too, go for it. CFI is a feature that rarely has shown up in projectors selling for under $1500, which is another feature that helps separate the H9500 projector from the competition.
When it comes to 3D, - remembering that the Acer is very bright as a 2D projector, the H9500BD doesn't manage to seem near as bright in 3D. No matter, with the exception of the Epson Home Cinema 3010, it seems to be as bright as anything else we reviewed in 3D without looking at twice its price. That Epson though does have a significant advantage in brightness for 3D. On the other hand, the dynamic iris, and CFI of the Acer,, work in 3D mode, unlike the Epson.
In terms of 2D, that Epson also has more maximum lumens for your family room in 2D or 3D, but when you do want "best" color in 2D (although the Epson's "best" is a touch better), the Acer's "best" is almost 30% brighter! With Brilliant Color on, Mike's calibration worked out to just over 1100 lumens! The projector can put 1500 lumens on your screen or wall, at its brightest (zoom at mid-point).
As you will see below, the Acer H9500BD projector, is sharing the Best In Class Award for 2D / 3D home theater / home entertainment projectors with that Epson Home Cinema 3010.
On a personal note, while I'm seen as a big fan of Epson projectors (ok, true), in this case, if I have a choice of this Acer, or the Epson 3010 below, to go into a theater for my own personal use, I'd personally have to go with the H9500BD. The blacks, and the DLP look and feel, are the key. Both models, I should note, have a 2 year warranty, although Epson's comes with a replacement program.
On the other hand, if I'm dropping these two projectors in more of a family room environment, I'd probably have to sacrifice those better blacks for the extra brightness. The Acer has plenty of brightess for 2D viewing. Because I really enjoy watching 3D, I find the Acer, in a room that doesn't have good lighting control, to be at a disadvantage in terms of 3D brightness.
I mentioned in the review that 3D performance was imperfect, but fine for most of us. Not for the perfectionist who expects 3D to be virtually as good as 2D.
Overall, I was fully convinced when I reviewed the Acer (fairly recently), that it is a truly a great value compared to most of the competition, and a fine choice for most of the people choosing from the under $2000 home projectors. The Acer H9500BD provides a really impressive picture for the dollars spent! Congrats!
Best in Class Award, 3D and 2D Projector (Tie): Epson Home Cinema 3010
I've already discussed a number of aspects of this Epson Home Cinema 3010, in the Acer section immediately above.
The Epson 3010 impressed me with its brightness, first and foremost. Until we reviewed the 2D only Panasonic PT-AR100U, it was definitely the brightest projector around, under $2000. Its lumens measured actually 1972 (and over 1400 calibrated lumens are great numbers). We're talking a projector designed to tackle a family room. Sure, put this one in your cave if you want, but like the Panasonic, it has been been "built" to endure brighter rooms than almost all other home theater projectors can deal with, and still come out on top.
Black levels aren't quite up to the Acer H9500 above, but comparable to pretty much any of the other competition at or below its price. Shadow detail is very good. Image sharpness is also not quite as good as the Acer projector, but that's primarily attributable to the Epson's "3 chip" 3LCD design, vs. the single chip (DLP of the Acer). Another component of that might be the new lens Epson's sporting. It's a 1.6:1 zoom, not the usual 2.1:1 zoom of the previous, and more expensive Epson Home Cinema models. Overall sharpness is reasonably good for a 3 panel or chip device, but not as good as the more expensive Epson 5010, which comes across slightly sharper.
If you want 2D and 3D, and you have a family room environment, where you either can't fully control ambient light, or want enough on for socializing, say, when watching sports, you won't find a better projector than this Epson, without spending more. Which would get you to the Epson 5010 or the Panasonic PT-AE7000, both more than $1000 more expensive.
The color accuracy of the Epson is really good. Epson tends to have greens overdriven a bit, since we do not calibrate the individual colors, that is the case. Overall, color accuracy is not an issue, and I would say that the color is still a touch better, and definitely more accurate than the Acer. (Neither should disappoint, except the perfectionist, and those folks are going to have a real tough time in the under $2000 marketplace).
For sports viewing (room lighting notwithstanding), the Epson has the power to look great. Great color is available at over 1400 lumens, and there's more good looking (but not great image color) in the brighter modes should you need it. This Epson lacks the CFI, to smooth motion. That feature is rare, so far, on lower cost projectors - but that Acer does have it.
For 3D, the Epson does great. Blacks - which aren't great on the 3010, even with the iris off in 3D (it can't be turned on) isn't really an issue, as 3D is inherently darker... That said, I would have rather seen them offer us consumers the option of engaging the iris when viewing 3D.
Always helping out Epson in our opinion, is their 2 year warranty with replacement program for both years. Epson support is also just about legendary. (I'm going to be bloggin a story recently emailed to me by a reader, regarding his experience.) It seems to be the experience just about everyone gets with them.
This Epson gets a solid tie with the Acer, all things considered. Each definitely has its own advantages, with, in my humble opinion, the Acer having the slight advantage in a theater or cave environment, and the Epson the king, in a family room, living room, bonus room world where ambient light is a reality, at least some of the time. The significant difference in 3D brightess, also makes the Epson the favored projector for those who plan on 3D viewing as a small, but important part of their viewing pleasure.
The Epson does have built in sound, something I tend to forget to mention. It's no substitute for a real surround sound system, but will do in a pinch if you go mobile, or take the Epson outside to play a movie for the kids on the garage door on warm nights.
Right now I'm considering putting a projector in my house's great room. It's always "too bright" during the day (no window coverings, lots of glass), but with the right screen (a Screen Innovations Black Diamond), all those lumens should do the trick. No, I'm not considering the Epson Home Cinema 3010, but that's simply because, if I go with a projector in that room, it will be the very similar Home Cinema 5010. I've got the budget for the 5010, and, in my situation, I'll need the lens shift, that the 5010 has, but the 3010 lacks, since I may be mounting the projectr IN the ceiling and using a mirror. (If I do that you'll read about it as part of our forthcoming Home Automation section.)
Time to wrap this one up: The Home Cinema 3010 is an affordable, killer projector for your living room or family room or... Well balanced color, good blacks for the price, very good shadow detail, very good remote control, great warranty, and of course, outstanding brightness... make the the Home Cinema 3010 an example of an excellent value proposition. The HC3010 is not be perfect - nothing of course, is, at this price point. That said, the Home Cinema 3010 is at least good at just about everything, plus all that 2D brightness, and it's got the brightest 3D anywhere near the price. Translated: This Epson gives you a lot of performance for the price, a top choice for anyone spending under $2500 who wants bright 2D and 3D.
Special Interest Award: 3D / 2D: Optoma HD33
The Optoma HD33 may have suffered unfairly in this year's report. It had the misfortune of being the first under $2000 3D capable projector. We worked with it months before the Epson 3010 or the Acer H9500BD were even announced.
So, perhaps a little out of sight, out of mind. That said, upon reflection, we believe this is a very serious 3D capable projector for the money. It can't match the muscle of our two 3D / 2D projector winners, but it can produce a picture with more accurate looking color than the Acer H9500BD, and it does have that really nice "DLP look and feel" that the Epson lacks.
Out of the box color not bad at all, not great. After calibration the Optoma looks very good, but there are some minor anomalies. White (100 IRE) stays a bit cool, just over 7000K color temp, and the really darkest area we can measure - 20 IRE seem to be a touch warm - redish. Still, overall, it produces very nice skin tones, and more than once in the full review I described the HD33 picture as being a forgiving one.
Due to the lower lumens overall, and especially the lower brightness in 3D, it's not as capable a 3D projector from our perspective as our two winners in this Class, but it's not far from the Acer H9500BD in terms of 3D, though the Acer still has a visible advantage. With over 1100 lumens calibrated in "best" mode, however, the HD33 can handle (in 2D) a rather large screen in a dedicated theater or cave, or tackle a more "living room" type space, with a medium sized screen with some ambient light present. If you don't care about 3D, no problem filling a 130" diagonal screen in 2D!
In some ways the HD33 can best that Acer, but the Acer has a huge advantage in black level performance, and those extra lumens. From a color accuracy standpoint, though this HD33 will better please the fanatic.
Class: Medium Priced 1080p Home Theater Projectors: $2000 - $3500
Best In Class Award: Epson Home Cinema 5010, Pro Cinema 6010 Projectors
For fun, See Art's Video Summaries of the Epson Home Cinema 6010 and 5010
Twins! The Epson Home Cinema 5010 and Pro Cinema 6010 tie for the top honor in this category. This year the two Epsons are different enough to be treated separately despite having most things in common.
Story time: Choosing these winners! Ultimately, the decision making process had to first, interpret the usual battle between the Panasonic PT-AE7000, and its most direct competitor, the Epson Home Cinema 5010. I addressed that with a direct comparison article between these two, in many ways similar, 3LCD projectors. While I didn't have the PT-AE7000 for long, it was here while I had the Home Cinema 5010. In addition, I had the opportunity to do a second round of side-by-sides, in Las Vegas, during CES in January. No, not on the show floor, but instead, at Evan's place (Projector Central). We sat in his "testing room" and viewed both projectors side by side, on content provided by both Evan (and Bill), and I. Most enlightening. I can't speak for Evan as to his final choice, but the wine was good, and my decision clear.
By those things I value most, the Epson Home Cinema 5010 came out on top. More on that further down. I may even have swayed Evan - who tends to favor the Panasonic each year. Remember these two start out the same. In this case, they both use the same Epson 480hz LCD panels...
Let's talk the Home Cinema 5010, and its feature set, then move to the Pro Cinema 6010, which this year, for the first time, I've found the more expensive Pro Cinema, to match the Home version in pure value. More expensive - the Pro Cinema 6010 - but worth the difference for many.
Both Epson's share so many things: Placement flexibility is about as good as it gets, with the longest range zoom lens (2.1:1), and lots of lens shift, vertical and horizontal. The only thing missing, requires that the lens be motorized, and that's Lens Memory. (Lens Memory, is the biggest advantage of the Panasonic, compared to these two Epsons).
Brightness, is stellar, Epson built these projectors to be able to tackle 3D without the usual cries from me of "too dim, too dim", that I have lambasted any number of LCoS projectors with in the last two years (those are getting better but still...thin on 3D lumens). Even after taking Epson's brightest mode, and improving the color, we still measured over 2000 lumens! (Just!). In this regard, the Epson bests the Panasonic in both Best and Brightest modes, although that really didn't translate in terms of 3D viewing where the two seemed close enough to call a tie!
Of course, both the Home Cinema 5010 and the Pro Cinema 6010 are 3D capable. In fact, they both do an especially good job of 3D. Although not the cleanest 3D we've seen (usually that will be a DLP, since those are not prone to crosstalk), "clean-enough", to be much better at 3D than some projectors out there, such as the JVC DLA-RS45. There's no comparison betweeen the Epson and the JVC, by my judgement when it comes to 3D.
As 2D projectors, these two Epsons have that brightness advantage - both calibrated, and in brightest modes - over the Panasonic PT-AE7000. All three have CFI for smooth motion, dynamic iris for improved blacks, and various other dynamic controls for detail clarity, sharpness, etc.
When it comes to viewing movies, I'm sold on the two Epsons. Their black level performance is just plain better than the Panasonic. Darker scenes definitely have a good deal more "pop" to them. When watching with Evan, that was one of my key points favoring the Epson. Note that on the other hand, I recall pointing out the river on the left in the Bond train scene, and how the Panasonic does resolve the detail better, with definitely more texture in the river (ok stream).
Both Epson's have full CMS and calibrate easily. This year, however, the Pro Cinema 6010 differentiates itself in more ways from the 5010, than, the Pro Cinema 9700UB was able to compared to the 8700UB last year. One of those reasons is the THX mode. No question about it, if you don't calibrate your projector (and most don't), the THX mode of the Pro Cinema 6010 was great, out of the box, as expected. (That's not always the case, as will be discussed in the high end priced projector category.)
No question, that THX mode on the Pro 6010, offered not only the best "out of the box" color and picture of any projector we reviewed in the price range, but THX held its own with the 5010 after the Home Cinema 5010 was calibrtated! Well, that could save some of you a few hundred dollars. The 6010 also is ISF certified, assuring you of an inherently good design and ability to be easily professionally calibrated. The 5010 lacks this (the old 8700UB had it). We don't value ISF as much as THX, because THX is also a "pre-calibrated" mode, unlike ISF which guarantees certain control ability, but doesn't give you a finished mode. ISF does give you ISF Day, and ISF Night - two extra modes for the calibrators to save settings in, and those can be locked.
But let's get back to the Epson projectors. The bottom line: Calibrate really well, brighter than most in Best mode (630 lumens measured), extremely bright at Brightest, enough lumens overall for use in a family room / living room environment, as well as a dedicated home theater. Deep blacks, extremely good dark shadow detail, great warranties: The 5010 has 2 years, with a 2 year replacement program, while the Pro Cinema 6010 offers 3 year, with a 3 year replacement program - a definite extra value!
With an official $1300 price difference between the Home and Pro versions, at this point ,let's summarize the differences, and why I feel they are pretty much equal values, though they are mostly the same projector at different price points:
Here's what the Epson Pro Cinema 6010 brings to your party, that the 5010 can't:
In parens ( ) I've included a rough value you could assign each, and a random $150 - $200 for the black case (I'd pay that much for black, if I was putting a 5010 in my theater, and there was an extra charge for a black case).
- Black finish to the case (vs white and black), an advantage in a dedicated theater environment ($150)
- Extra year of warranty, and of replacement program ($200+)
- THX mode, and ISF Certification ($250)
- A ceiling mount ($100+)
- A spare lamp ($300+)
- Two pair of 3D Epson glasses ($150)
- Local dealer support ($200)
You may not agree with the amounts assigned, but they would seem to be at least fairly reasonable. Add them up and you get $1300 - the actual difference in selling price at this time. You might assign more (or less), to local dealer support, or the warranty. But the rest are pretty solid. THX can save you a calibration fee... and that extra warranty might save you far more, or get you a couple hundred more when you finally upgrade, and your 6010 buyer gets a projector that still has a warranty, vs. one that doesn't, if you sell in year 3...
Enough! Take your pick, the bottom line picture (calibrated) doesn't really change between these two projectors, but what they have in common, is slightly better performance where it counts, compared to the closest competitor, the Panasonic PT-AE7000.
When viewing with the P/C folks in Las Vegas, to me, no question, on those darker scenes, the Epson was definitely more dynamic looking, hd more "pop", simply a significantly more desireable image. When it came to everything else - daytime scenes, average scenes, I don't think there's a telling difference in picture quality, so it really came down to that Epson advantage on dark scenes vs. the Panasonic's Lens Memory. If Lens Memory is your thing - and you must own a 2.35:1 or 2.4:1 "Cinemascope" or "anamorphic" shaped screen, then ignore our favoring the Epsons, and pick the Panasonic. I have both (16:9, and 2.35:1) shaped screens, and I had a bigger 16:9 screen at the last place. I like having the larger movie size, although my 124" only provides me about a 96" image for sports, and I find that too small, coming from 128"... Doing it again, I'd be going back to 16:9. That most 3D is also 16:9, as is almost all animation, this is a definite shift, although real widescreen isn't going away, anytime soon.
Other than for those who must have one of those wide screens, I have to recommend the Epsons.
Best in Class, Runner-Up Award: Panasonic PT-AE7000
Twas a close thing. I could have rated this Panasonic PT-AE7000 a tie with the Epsons, (that happened a few years ago), but, I'm still the black level fanatic.
I like it too, that finally Panasonic has gotten its act together, and changed the warranty from one year to two years. True, no replacement program - (replacement programs are truly wonderful things - ask anyone who has had to use one), but at least the two years matches the Epson 5010 in duration, if not in terms of the "good hands" replacement support.
Ok, with that out of the way, what else does this Panasonic PT-AE7000 Projector have that makes it great?
Really good blacks. OK, they aren't quite up to the Epson projectors, and dark shadow detail, at best, is about a tie, but, the Panasonic resolves a touch more in the darker mid-ranges, on scenes like the night train scene.
The Panasonic PT-AE7000 also runs quieter in terms of fan noise. I like the Panasonic remote a great deal. It doesn't have as many buttons as some, but is very ergonomic. It's silver finish is a real plus, I hate trying to find my Sony PS3 remote in a dark theater, and the Epson remote (also a black case) isn't much better.
It calibrates great. It's reasonably bright. It is the brightest Panasonic "home theater" (as opposed to more family room like home entertainment) projector so far, beating the older PT-AE4000/3000/2000... In 3D it is pleasantly bright, during actual viewing, consider it equally bright as the Epson projectors, and that makes it tie for brightest in 3D of all projectors in this price tier.
For the tinkerer, there's the impressive Waveform generator that has been in the PT-AE series for several years. I rarely mess with it (I let Mike calibrate everything - I'm "retired" of that type of tweaking). And for the civilized, zoom and focus is motorized. Of course Panasonic's Lens Memory allows one to own a true "wide screen" 2.35:1 or 2.4:1 "Cinemascope" or anamorphic shape, as some call it. Truly a great feature.
Brightness for 3D is a tie with the Epson projectors, and that makes this Panasonic about as bright as you can get for 3D, a major strength compared to other excellent projectors considered for the Best In Class - Runner-up.
In 2D, the Epsons, and also the BenQ W7000 are brighter calibrated, with the BenQ being a great deal brighter calibrated (than Panasonic or Epson) with a truly dazzling 1571 lumens measured by Mike (wow!) In Brightest mode, the Panasonic measured just over 1500 lumens, but after Mike tweaked it to improve the color with minimal loss of lumens, this Panasonic dropped to 1355 lumens (mid-point on the zoom lens), still brighter than most projectors, and enough to put the PT-AE7000 projector in a decent family room / living room environment, if so needed. Still, the BenQ and Epsons are all at least 20% brighter.
Ultimately, the Panasonic PT-AE7000 is a very well balanced home theater projector, with excellent color, great (but definitely not the best), black level performance in the price range, and really good 3D. It's user friendly, with its motorized features and well designed menus.
If you have seen this Panasonic, and read our info, and think you are still leaning to the Panasonic PT-AE7000 over one of the Epsons, or the BenQ W7000, go for it! Those who don't have a real theater environment, are unlikely to fully appreciate the modest, but real difference in black levels that would be apparent on dark scenes in a home theater environment. If you aren't pushing for the largest possible screen, again, you won't need the modest extra advantage of those other projectors, and for 3D, for whatever reasons, the Epsons do not appear brighter, call it a tie, and the BenQ W7000 isn't as bright in 3D.
It's a great projector, and if not for the Epson Home and Pro Cinema projectors, this Panasonic likely would have squeaked by the W7000 for the top award in this price class.
The lastest from Panasonic is a really excellent projector for the money. I might favor the Epson, but, it's at least a part my bias - weighing dark scenes more than some others do, and the slight brightness differences that cause this. All else considered, the Panasonic is similar, and more feature laden than the Epson projectors, for a similar price. Your call! Don't agonize, you'll love this Panasonic if you choose it.
Best in Class, Runner-Up Award (tie): BenQ W7000
Somehow, BenQ almost always manages to pick up a key award each year. They seem to do this not by having the smoothest and slickest projectors, but by offering some real value that can't be found from the competition. In this case, the big advantage it has over everything else in the price range, is the unbelievable D65 brightness - over 1500 lumens with Brilliant Color on, and should you calibrate it with BC off, it should still be very close to 1400 lumens! That's over double the Epson's and approaching three times the Panasonic's calibrated brightness.
So, if big screens and accurate color are your thing, the W7000 is the hands down champion for 2D viewing in this $2000 to $3500 price tier. I had to give the W7000 one of the top awards. I zoomed the lens to fill my 124 inch 2.35:1 screen, put on X-Men First Class (the prequel), and the BenQ "rocked" the theater with the by far, the brightest Best color of the field. We're talking big time "pop and wow", when you combine DLP "look and feel" with massive lumens, and great color. Black levels might not match the Epson, but the W7000 seems to be a tie with the Panasonic, which is to say, still really good at blacks.
With almost 2000 lumens at the Brightest, it rivals the Epson projectors, and beats the Panasonic, though all are brighter than just about everything else that's not really inexpensive with limited quality (cross-over projectors), or super expensive (3 chip DLP projectors).
In 3D, this DLP is pretty darn clean in terms of crosstalk (what you see is probably mostly the 3D transfer, not the projector), besting the LCD projectors. It's just that DLP projectors don't seem to end up as bright as 3LCD projectors. Oh if you set the glasses feature to low on the Epson, the BenQ gets close, but I find that Epson medium setting to be just fine.
Fan noise is a bit high, but with all the lumens, and a not huge drop when you go to "economic" (as BenQ calls it), mode of about 25%. That also improves the lamp life. Better lamp life is good, since the BenQ, with its emphasis on brightness, has shorter than average lamp life.
All considered, here we have a very bright DLP projector, killer for family rooms, even better in a theater on a really large screen, and very good brightness in 3D (though not exceptionally bright in 3D).
Class: Premium Priced 1080p Home Theater Projectors: $3500 - $10,000
This price class has proven the toughest to select the award winners. In these higher price ranges, the projectors over all, have really good to excellent black level performance, they look great on dark scenes. 3D brightness is still an issue, but this year's crop, the projectors seem to be, overall, a bit brighter, and glasses in some cases have gotten a little brighter as well. Not everyone cares about 3D, and even those of us who do, the bulk of the content out there is 2D.
I mention 3D in particular, because more than anything else, 3D was a deciding factor for our tie for Best In Class.
I still don't think almost any 3D capable projectors in this price range can comfortably tackle a 120" diagonal screen with out seeming dim, assuming we're avoiding high gain screens (which bring their own trade-offs). I'm having trouble not feeling a little dim at 100" with most of them.
Best In Class Award (Tie): Sony VPL-VW95ES
OK, the tie decision in this Price Class is my "cowards" choice. I couldn't decide between this Sony VPL-VW95ES and the more expensive JVC DLA-X70R. When I reviewed the Sony VPL-VW95ES a while back, I figured it was really improved from last year's first generation 3D Sony, the VW90ES. It's got great blacks (uses a dynamic iris), that beat out the Epson (which we use for reference), and should be extremely close to the JVC DLA-X70R.
With all the other goodies I liked about the Sony, I figured it would win top honors. Alas, last projector to be included in this year's report is the JVC DLA-X70R. Each has advantages.
Truth is, not sure which one I like better. With the JVC here right now, I am favoring it, but I didn't have these two projectors at anywhere near the same time - I finished with this Sony about 3 months before the JVC arrived.
Let's start with blacks, since that's not the area where the Sony should be able to beat the JVC. It doesn't, but it does come close. I'm using the Epson 5010 as my black level reference, though it's not as good as either of these. From comparing this Sony, the JVC RS45 (X30) and the X70R all to the Epson, it plays out like this: That JVC RS45 is overall just a touch better at blacks (than the Epson), the Sony is significantly better than the Epson, and the JVC DLA-X70R is significantly better than the Epson as well, a touch better than the Sony. Mostly though in mid-bright scenes. In the darkest scenes, that Sony is going to be extremely close to the JVC.
The Sony VPL-VW95ES has blacks that just about anyone can live with, including me.
Color accuracy: The Sony 95ES, out of the box, is just a touch cool, but otherwise, color is excellent. Calibrated, it rivals the Runco LS5 - that is, not only is color on the money, but looks extremely natural. Unles you start pumping up those assorted dynamic features, this projector is the kind that seems invisible - doesn't color the content, but more importantly never interferes with your immersing yourself in the content. Essentially - it's invisible - not on your radar, only the picture is. Things like the color not quite looking right, or visible iris action, or dynamic sharpening can make you aware. This Sony doesn't, unless you push it to. And that folks, after all the fancy features, and incredible number of controls, may be its most impressive feature - "invisibility", not black levels, not Lens Memory, not brightness.
Overall, the picture seems near flawless. Not perfect, but, one more time: Nothing seems to call attention to the projector. Not when you are watching a movie, not when you are watching March Madness or a replay of the Superbowl, not when you are watching Discovery HD.
3D could definitely be brighter, (sound familiar), but overall, Sony's getting a brighter image out this year that last year's 90ES. VPL-VW95ES: 725 lumens calibrated, and just under 1000 lumens in Stage (1031 in Stage, lens at wide angle). That makes it about 20 lumens less bright at "best", and 80 lumens brighter, at "brightest" compared to the JVC.
Brightness for 3D, is adequate for a typical 100" screen, but hardly bright. While the Sony can tackle much larger screens than that in 2D, it's one of many 3D projectors that might benefit from a dual screen system. A great 2D screen, and screen for 3D viewing, that's optimized for brightness (high gain). Getting beyond the 3D brightness issues, I found the Sony 3D to look especially good. It's not as clean as a first class DLP, in terms of things like 3D crosstalk / ghosting, but it's pretty good. (Definitely better than the JVC in this regard.)
Best In Class Award (Tie): JVC DLA-X70R Projector
I'm a sucker for JVC projectors. I still own one, the RS20, but hardly get to use it, and the lamp is at the end of its life, and pretty dim. I love it for its black levels and dynamic range. Well, this X70R is the direct decendent three generations later.
The DLA-X70R starts off with the best blacks around. For five years running I haven't seen any projector beat this JVC series for black level performance. Below, from the beginning of Hugo (2D).
But, it's more than just the darkest blacks, or it wouldn't really matter with a couple of projectors like the Sony coming as close as they do. It's that JVC accomplishes it without a dynamic iris, so when you have scenes where, perhaps it's pretty bright in the upper right corner, but very dark everywhere else, on those others, the iris won't close because of too much brightness. Then the blacks won't be near as black. With this JVC X70, on those types of scenes, images are noticeably more dyanmic - more pop - less compressed, than what the competition puts on the screen.
There's JVC's e-Shift claiming 4K, to consider. It does provide a sharp looking image, but as I said in the review, calling what they are doing "4K", bothers me. I don't issue penalty points, though for marketing I don't like, I just don't want to get anyone's expectations up, that this projector can begin to do what the true 4K Sony VPL-VW1000ES does. Enough said.
The thing is, e-shift achieves its desired goal, and what I care about is a nice sharp image. As pointed out in the review, this is about as good as it gets from a 3 panel device.
Out-of-the-box color, was not as accurate as I expected, considering the X70 has a THX mode, probably in part the lamp in this particular projector, but the THX mode was definitely cool.
No matter, the projector calibrates very well, with Mike only finding one minor issue worth noting. (He's a man of few words.) Overall I was extremely pleased with the post calibration color. Combined with the lens, and e-shift, a very believeable picture. In a side by side, for things like close up images of faces, my experience would say excellent, but still say that the Sony is even more natural looking.
For 2D viewing, brightness is just fine - perfect for most home theaters (748 lumens). And then there's that Stage mode, while not a whole lot brighter (877 lumens) was the hands down favorite mode for everyone to pass through my theater during March Madness. That picture is a bit cooler, but really pops. 3D viewing brightness is better than last year's RS60, but still a problem for me, a little dim a 96" viewing in 3D. But, none of these other projectors in this group are dramatically better.
I'm doing a lot of kvetching, for a projector I really love watching.
Add it all up, and the JVC X70 is not just hard to beat, it's hard to come close to. Now if only they could do 3D the way I like it - brighter and cleaner. If it wasn't for the 3D, and that the Sony definitely does it better, the JVC X70 very well may have been sole winner of this Best In Class award. We'll never know.
Best In Class - Runner-up: Mitsubishi HC9000D
Ahh, the poor HC9000D. Last year it was the Best In Class winner, but it's a bit older now, and has to play second fiddle behind both the Sony and the JVC. (That would make it third fiddle?)
Nothing's changed, performance wise, as far as this last year's winner goes. I just feel the HC9000D has been surpassed by the newer Sony VPL-VW95ES, which is also a lot closer to the HC9000D's price than the old VW90ES was last year. The JVC X70R costs even more than the Sony, and is stronger at 2D than the Mitsubishi. Neither is bright enough to be a really great 3D performer, though the Mitsubishi has the better picture in 3D I believe.
All considered the HC9000D is a full featured LCoS projector using Sony panels. It offers typical, which is to say very good "best" mode brightness in 2D, that is on par with most of the LCoS and DLP projectors in this price Class.
Outstanding Product of the Year
We are still seeking out the 2012 Outstanding Product of the Year. We don't have one every year. And, for that matter, it's not always a stand alone projector. One year it was a fully integrated home theater system - Epson Ensemble HD, another year it was the first consumer Wireless HDMI device...
This year it looks like it might be a much higher end projector, I'm thinking of a couple in particular we still haven't reviewed yet. We have two major league, $20K+ projectors due in over the next three months, one of which very well could be the winner. Being one of the most expensive projectors isn't necessarily a qualifier. The choice doesn't have to be the "very best," it simply must be outstanding, and that could even be an entry level projector that's an outstanding value, or perhaps a 3D capable projector that might actually be bright, when watching 3D on a 110" screen, or it might just be something that doesn't even end up in a home theater. I've been pretty impressed with 3rd party ATT signal booster, which once installed, took my home from being a place where I dropped a lot of calls every day, to one where I rarely lose a call. (If I didn't have to replace it with one that's 4LTE when that service hits our neighborhood, I'd probably be seriously considering it). Still, it is most likely that this year's winner will be a projector, or at least something to do with projectors - for the home, or for business. This is definitely not an award restricted to the home side of life. One year, the award was an interactive projector for school.
So, stay tuned. You never can tell what will win this award.
When one is selected, it will be added here, as well as a feature listed on our site homepage of course.
NEXT: Physical Tours