The Best 1080p Resolution Home Theater Projectors of 200704/25/2007 -Art Feierman
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This comparison "report" is based on the individual reviews of 1080p home theater projectors that we have completed to date. The Report is organized similarly to our individual reviews - with the five pages you can link to above. In addition, we have done ten head to head comparisons and one three way comparison. To access any of these comparisons, click here.
To date, we have had the opportunity to physically review seven of the new 1080p projectors, since the first ones shipped back in October 2006. Each of these has a full, in-depth review on our site, and 6 of the seven were considered in the March Hot Projector Comparison, for the two 1080 catagories (over and under $5000).
Shown here - JVC DLA-RS1:
Since that time much has changed (yes, in just 6 weeks). First, we completed our review of the Epson Home Cinema 1080 projector, and by association their almost identical Pro Cinema 1080 projector.
This are some ways the dynamics are changing: In the last report, three of the six projectors - the Panasonic PT-AE1000U, Mitsubishi HC5000 and Sony VPL-VW50 Pearl, were in the under $5000 grouping, with the Panasonic being the least expensive - typically selling online for under $4000 before a $400 rebate. The other three projectors - the Optoma HD81, BenQ W10000, and JVC RS1, were over $5000. Now, just a few weeks later the Epson Home Cinema 1080 is the low cost leader, starting at under $3000. Even the Epson Pro Cinema 1080 (whose main difference is the ISF calibration related capabilities, is $4999 (including spare lamp, mount, and, at the moment, I'm told, a $300 credit toward the purchase of a screen).
In addition Optoma dramatically lowered the price of their HD81 (left) from $7999 to $4299, and launched a $300 mail in rebate. Lastly, BenQ is also shipping their W9000, almost identical to the W10000, but it uses a Darkchip2 DLP instead of the Darkchip3, so can't quite match the black levels and contrast, but is otherwise the same (although the W9000 has a shorter warranty, I believe).
So as of this writing, the actual counts (including counting both versions of the Epson, and the two BenQ's, means that this article will consider 9 separate projectors, although we only physically worked with 7 of them.
Shown to the right: Sony Pearl VW50
Let's get started.
Home Theater Projectors: Physical Comparison
There are three major areas of consideration: Two concern how and where you can place the projector in your room - Zoom lens throw, and variable lens shift. The third area is the "input" panel, which we will refer to as "Projector Interfacing"; what you can actually hook up to the projector, as well as things like screen triggers, command and control interfacing, etc.
Shown above: Epson Home Cinema 1080 (the Pro version is black)
Home Theater Projectors: Zoom Lens Attributes:
The projectors very neatly separate into two groups here. There are the DLP projectors - Optoma HD81, BenQ W10000 and W9000, with very limited range - only 1.2:1 (20% placement range) on the Optoma, and only 15% on the two BenQ projectors.
This means that for a typical 100" diagonal screen, where you can place the projector in terms of distance on the above mentioned Optoma and BenQ projectors varies by only about 2 feet front to back. For almost all people therefore, these three projectors are going to be ceiling mounted.
Shown above: Panasonic PT-AE1000U
The other six projectors all have zoom lens ratios around 2:1, except for the Mitsubishi at 1.6:1. Even 1.6:1 offers far more placement flexibility, which will give the vast majority of buyers, the option of shelf mounting in the back of their room.
Home Theater Projectors: Lens Shift Attributes
Of the nine projectors, all offer vertical lens shift, except for the Optoma HD81. With lens shift, you have more flexibility as to where you can place a projector vertically, relative to the screen. All of the projectors with lens shift, can allow the projector to be placed anywhere between the bottom of the screen surface, and the top, and most (except for the BenQ's) also allow the projector (for a 100" screen) to be mounted above the screen top, or below the screen bottom - typically by 13 to about 30 inches. The greater the lens shift range, the more suitable for those ceiling mounting, with higher ceilings as the projector won't have to hang down as far from the ceiling.
Shown above: BenQ W10000 (the W9000 looks exactly the same)
The difference in range, however between all of the projectors with lens shift, is probably not going to be a serious issue for most purchasers. For example, if someone comparing the Mitsubishi and Panasonic (13" above and 24.5" above respectively as the upper range), and will be ceiling mounting in a room with a higher ceiling 10 feet or more) , probably will choose to still buy the Mitsubishi (and let it hang down that extra foot), rather than buy the Panasonic, if they have determined in other critical areas, that the Mitsubishi is the better choice for them.
Horizontal lens shift. This is not an issue except for a very small segment of buyers. Most people have no problem setting up their projector so the lens is centered between the left and right side of the screen. For most, it's simply a convenience to have a little horizontal lens shift. This allows you to mount the projector a few inches off center, if there are reasons to do so. However, if your room calls for the projector being a foot or two off center, then it's time to look closely at the range of the horizontal lens shift. Shown above: Mitsubishi HC5000
Lens zoom and lens are best considered together, for the overall placement flexibility, and the field stacks up this way:
Excellent: Panasonic PT-AE1000U, Epson Home Cinema 1080, Epson Pro Cinema 1080, JVC RS-1, Sony Pearl.
Very good: Mitsubishi HC5000: A little less lens shift than most of those above, and also less zoom, but still extremely flexible. I'm almost ashamed to separate it out from the units above.
Good: BenQ W10000 and W90000: Having the lens shift is great, but the 1.15:1 zoom is limiting, and that narrow distance range will discourage shelf mounting for many people.
Fair: Optoma HD81. The Optoma is in a class by itself in terms of very limited flexibility. Still, if you are ceiling mounting, it probably will work in your room about as well as any of the others. Shown below: Optoma HD81 sitting on it's outboard processor box.
Note: I have not weighted horizontal lens shift into my listings, so if you do need to mount the projector offset to the left or right of center, you'll have to figure that back in.
Home Theater Projector Interfacing
How quickly things change. Above the Optoma HD81 was the most limited in physical positioning. In the area of interfacing, however, it is the king. None of the other projectors can match it.
Thanks to the outboard processor box, the HD81 is dripping with inputs. For openers, it is the only projector with 3 HDMI inputs - a huge plus for those not using an AV receiver with HDMI switching (and even then, most receivers have only had two in, one out. Below is a photo of the panel for the Optoma HD81's outboard processor:
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By comparison, the BenQ W9000 and W10000 have the least controls (the only projector with only one HDMI input):
Of particular note, the JVC RS1 is the only one of the projectors that lacks a direct way of hooking up a typical analog computer interface. There are workarounds, however, an external processor can convert it, or you could equip your computer with a digital graphics card that outputs HDMI. I recently purchased the RS1 for my own home theater, and will be sorting that out in the next few weeks, as I plan to end up with the ability to interface my laptop.
The Misubishi (shown immediately below) has an HDMI and a DVI-D input (the DVI-D is compatible with HDMI, you only need an adapter plug - you lose the audio that HDMI can carry, but that's a moot point, as the projector has no speakers.
Panasonic PT-AE1000U input panel:
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For those planning on a motorized screen, some of these projectors have the 12v (volt) trigger for screen control. That means, however that you need a motorized screen with the 12v control option. There is another way of controlling the screen if you don't have a trigger. Instead, buy a screen with an infra-red or RF control, and use a programmable "universal" remote (that would control all your gear), to also control the screen. I should note, that the 12 volt trigger method adds one additional expense element: running cable from the screen to the projector. All of the rest of your wiring is from your equipment to the projector, so here is one wire coming from a different place, and therefore more wiring expense. Still, it is nice to know that a 12 volt trigger is there, but you can plan around not having one. Obviously, for those with fixed wall screens, or pulldown screens, a 12 volt trigger is a non-issue, and for those reasons, a screen trigger barely figures into my ratings.
Above is the Sony WV50 (Pearl), and to the immediate right, the input panel of, the Epson Home Cinema 1080:
Home Theater Projector Interfacing Ratings:
Excellent: Optoma HD81
Very Good: Everyone else, except:
Good: JVC RS1 (for lack of a computer input), BenQ W9000 and W10000 (for only having a single HDMI)
OK, that pretty much covers the info about placement, and what input capabilities. For some of you, it has allowed you to eliminate one or more of these projectors. Afterall, no matter how good the image quality of a particular projector, if you can't place it in your room configuration, you have to cross it off the list. Of course that simplifies your final choice a bit.
One other thing worth mentioning - the physical size of the projectors. Of the nine, four are fairly small projectors, while five are definitely significantly. The small ones: Both Epson Cinema 1080s, the Mitsubishi HC5000, and the Optoma HD81. The large projectors: JVC DLA-RS1, Sony VW50 Pearl and the BenQ W9000 and W10000. The Panasonic PT-AE1000U is also fairly large, but not quite as large as the others.
Time to consider image quality of these 1080p projectors.