The Best 1080p Resolution Home Theater Projectors of 2007
1080p Home Theater Projectors - General Performance:
For purposes of this comparison, I have trimmed the list of topics to those most significant. Of course more info on all topics are available on the individual reviews.
User Memory Settings
Lens Throw and Lens Shift
SDE and Rainbow Effect
Audible Noise Levels
Lamp Life and Replacement
Projector Screen Recommendations
For the most part, menu design varies significantly, but none of these projectors have poor menu layouts that are illogical when navigating. Occasionally, though, a projector doesn't provide access to a capability that it should. I won't attempt to compare menu layouts. I don't believe anyone will buy one 1080p projector over another, just because it has prettier menus, or can reposition the menus, or is better organized.
Sometimes though, a projector is missing a pretty standard, and useful function, and some have some added bonuses. Here are some things I felt worth mentioning.
Of particular note are the BenQ W10000 and W9000 projectors, which lack (without entering the password protected service menu), control of overscan. Overscan, which slightly crops the image, to eliminate edge noise, is normally an option on projectors. Ideally, you don't use overscan, unless needed. With the BenQ projectors, overscan is set to on, which means that you lose some picture around the edges. There is a work-around, for some of this. If your sources are 1080i or 1080p, you can choose the Real aspect ratio (from menu or remote). This does a 1:1 pixel mapping - thus it does not crop, and solves the problem. If however you have standard TV, overscan is usually needed, so again, not an issue. On the other hand, if you have 480 (standard DVD), or 720p (some HD cable channels), normally overscan is not needed. The only solutions I can come up with are to use a DVD player that can up-convert to 1080i or 1080p, which solves the problem. Of course I would simply advise buying one of the inexpensive hi-def DVD players, rather than run out and buy a conventional DVD player with 1080p up-converting, that way you get hi-def as well. Some cable/satellite boxes may allow you to take a 720p signal and output it at 1080. Or in a pinch, your dealer may access the service menu and turn overscan off. No matter how you slice it, this is a mistake by BenQ, but hardly a serious one. Few people would ever notice. (BenQ did the same with the older 8720, and I was happy with mine, using a DVD player that up-converted to 720p.)
At the same time, the BenQ projectors offer a bonus on their menus. They are the only projectors in the group that offer PIP (picture in picture) and POP (two images side by side). (Note, one of the sources has to be low res - NTSC/PAL, or S-video. Still nice touch for those who will take advantage of it. Very cool.
Epson: On the plus side, the Epson Home and Pro Cinema 1080's are the only projectors in this group that allows the end user to easily custom modify the gamma curve. This is definitely a plus, for those who like to fiddle around with their image.
Panasonic has it's built in waveform generator, a great tool for doing some of your own calibration. It allows you to analyse and adjust various image related options. Excellent, had I had the projector longer, I would have liked to see how much can really be done with it. Regardless, it's a nice bonus.
Several of the projectors offer one or more built in test patterns. Always handy. The JVC has the most comprehensive selection with full color bars, a sharpness grid, and gradation patterns for gray, red, green, and blue.
I'm sure there are a few other foibles and strengths among this group of projectors, in terms of their menus, but those are the only projector/feature issues that really come to mind. Nothing else I can think of is worth mentioning here, although you'll find more in the individual reviews, of course.
Projector User Savable Settings
There is a lot of variation between projectors here, but all offer at least 3 user savable settings. JVC and Sony each have three, most have more, with the Epson's setting the record with 10. Of the remaining projectors, I should note, that the Epson Pro Cinema 1080 (not actually reviewed), the BenQs, and Optoma HD81 are ISF Certified, and also offer ISF Day, and ISF Night settings in addition to any other user memory settings. ISF settings are password protected, for use by ISF professional calibrators.
Now that I own the JVC RS1, I will say, from past experience, that I think for those that want multiple settings for different sources and ambient light conditions, may find only 3 savables to be a bit limiting, but, I don't really consider it an issue. If I had my druthers, I'd recommend manufacturers provide 4 minimum, and probably 6, which should satisfy everyone.
Home Theater Projector Remote Controls
I don't consider this to be a great issue, despite significant variation in how good the ergonomics are among the different remotes, so just a few comments. If, the remote is only so-so, you always have the option of a universal programmable remote, or a room control system.
From a practical standpoint, a great remote has a good backlight, but even more important, is the ability to hold in your hand and operate with that hand, including not having to slide one's hand around a lot, to access frequently used buttons. Good spacing, a logical layout, and different sized and shaped keys make working in the dark, by feel, a more successful experience. For example, I found that after just a day or two I had learned my remote, and it fits well in my hand, and is easy to operate with the hand I'm holding it with.
Of the remotes, my two favorites are the BenQ and JVC (lucky me - I had a BenQ with the same remote, and now I have the JVC).
Although not quite as easy to feel your way around, and find what you are looking for, these also have good remotes: Panasonic PT-AE1000U (which is the only one with an LCD display) and is a learning remote that can control other devices.
The Mitsubishi and Epson remotes are also very good.
The Sony remote, is perhaps the most sparse in terms of buttons, but is well laid out, and I also consider it very good. I would rank it above the three listed right above, but for the lack of a lot of controls, that the other remotes offer.
I consider the weakest remote to be the Optoma HD81's, primarily because of its limited range. When using the projector (positioned behind me, it didn't seem strong enough to get a bounce off the screen, so I had to point the projector behind me at the projector.
Lens Throw and Lens Shift
Consult the individual reviews for specific info for each projector, but here are some of the relavant distinctions.
Zoom lens range
All but the two DLP projectors have zoom lenses with lots of range.
Excellent: (with zoom ratios of 2:1 to 2.1:1) this group has tons of placement flexibility: Panasonic PT-AE1000U, both Epson Cinema 1080s, and JVC DLA-RS1
Very good: Mitsubishi HC5000 - it's 1.6:1 zoom still provides plenty flexibility, and Sony VW50 Pearl, with a 1.8:1 ratio. I considered putting the Sony in the Excellent range, since 1.8 is still very impressive, but the Sony starts with a little shorter throw (closer) distance than most of the others, as a result, it can't be placed quite so far back, and that may limit it for some wanting to shelf mount on their back wall.
Fair: (in this case that means they at least have zoom lenses) BenQ W9000 and W10000, have an absolutely minimal range of 1.15:1. The Optoma HD81 fairs only slightly better, with 1.20:1. The BenQ is fairly long throw, and may work on a shelf in the back of your room, if the room specs and screen size match up right.
All the projectors offer vertical lens shift, but the Optoma HD81.
Excellent (both vertical and horizontal) : JVC RS1, Panasonic PT-AE1000U, Mitsubishi HC5000, Epson Cinema 1080 projectors
Very Good: Sony VW50 Pearl, BenQ W10000 and W9000. The BenQ's have the least vertical range, with placement anywhere from even with the top of the screen to even with the bottom, still that's very respectable, and the only disadvantage is for those with really high ceilings, where the others could typically be mounted up to a couple of feet higher (thus not having to hang down so far). Neither of these offer horizontal lens shift (which is not a big deal at all, although convenient for final setup adjustments).
Poor: Optoma HD81 - No lens shift. This basically means ceiling or table top, no shelf mounting (you could mount on a low shelf, but why?)
Combining both Lens Shift and Lens Throw here is how I rank them:
Excellent: (no particular order) JVC RS1, Epson Home (and Pro) Cinema 1080, Panasonic PT-AE1000U,
Very Good: Sony VW50 Pearl, Mitsubishi HC5000
Good: BenQ W9000 and W10000
Poor: Optoma HD81
Rainbow Effect and ScreenDoor Effect
Only the DLP projectors use spinning color wheels and can cause a very small percentage of people to see rainbows. It's simple, if you can't see rainbows, no problem.
Screen Door Effect is caused by the fixed pixel structure creating mild distortion problems on fine textures (such as the grass on a football field), but is not really an issue with any of these projectors, since the pixels of a 1080p projector are so small. Still, the less visible the pixel structure, the less likely of ever encountering the screendoor effect. It is possible to detect it on the Epsons and the Mitsubishi, the two LCD projectors with their normally more visible pixel structures, if you sit pretty close. Still, this also should not be an issue for anyone.
On the other hand, those Epsons, and the Mitsubishi do have slightly visible pixel structures for those sitting close, which you might barely notice on movie credits, large stationary white (or near white) areas, and titling in general. I doubt however, that it will be a deal breaker for anyone but those most extremely pixel adverse.
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No real issue with any of these projectors
Audible Noise Levels
Now here's an area where the difference from one projector to another could be an issue for a significant number of folks. I should note that the noise levels on all of these projectors is more than acceptable for everyone when in low power lamp mode, but in high power mode, some get noisy enough to bother some folks, especially if the projector is mounted close to the viewer.
Excellent: Mitsubishi HC5000 - even in full power lamp mode (fan on high), this projector is about as quiet as any other projector in low lamp/fan mode. The Sony VW50 Pearl is also very quiet in both modes, although not as quiet as the Mitsubishi.
Very Good: Panasonic PT-AE1000U, not quite as good as the two above, but quiet enough to satisfy just about everyone.
Good: The BenQ W10000 and W9000, JVC RS1 Definitely a bit quieter than those below, and quiet enough to only be an issue for the most noise adverse when in high fan/lamp mode. Very quiet in low power mode.
Fair: The Optoma and Epson's churn out significant noise in full power mode. Don't panic, you'll hear their fans running softly on those very quiet scenes, if you are listening for it. Most won't mind, some, however take great offense, and even modest fan noise. We're talking 33-34 db here, that's typically going to be below the noise you hear from your heater's fans in your house, or your refrigerator, and even those noises most people don't notice except at startup, and then those noises tend to become part of the unnoticed background.
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Home Theater Projector Brightness (what, again?)
In the image quality section we considered brightness in "best" image quality modes. Now it's time to consider brightness in "brightest" (cut through some ambient light) mode, where you inherently sacrifice some image quality for sheer horsepower.
Epson Home and Pro Cinema 1080. With their ability to push out almost 1700 lumens, it is a magnitude brighter than the competition, but remember, with all these projectors that have wide range zooms, that a projector can put out as little as about half the brightness when the zoom is set to full telephoto. At brightest output the color handling is definitely pretty far off, with very strong greens. A good adjustment can markedly improve the color balance, while sacrificing a couple hundred lumens.
The BenQs can produce over 900 lumens in brightest, but color balance is very good (Family room mode). By sacrificing a bit of color accuracy, you can get a BenQ to push 1119 lumens (see the review).
Optoma also doesn't really have a "sheer horsepower" mode for the HD81. In fact the brightest we measured was only 693 lumens. Based on its slightly brighter than the BenQ output in best modes, I would guess that you could tweak it to also output in the 1100 to 1200 lumen range, with much lower color accuracy, but since I failed (for some reason) to experiment, when reviewing the HD81 (sorry!), it's just a guess.
JVC's RS1 also really doesn't have a great high brightness mode. In its brightest it managed about 900 lumens - a small increase over best mode. Now that I just got mine, I'm going to see what I can get, using the user savable area. I suspect I can at least get it to exceed 1000 lumens, with a small amount of color accuracy sacrifice.
Sony VW50 Pearl - Another projector without a great "bright" mode, but tweaking discussed in the review shows that with the right settings, you can get 925 lumens out of it, without the color balance being too bad). At those settings, though the color accuracy is well below the similarly bright JVC, thus the lower classification here.
The Panasonic PT-AE1000U is the dimmest of the field, trailing the HC5000 by a few lumens, with a measured 844 lumens in its Dynamic mode. However, the Panasonic is less accurate than the Mitsubishi (pushed harder), so realize that the Mitsubishi can probably find another 100 lumens and still match the Panasonic in terms of color accuracy in brightest modes.
Home Theater Brightness summary
As you can see here, there really isn't a significant amount of difference between these projectors except for the Epsons. Ignoring the Epson's for the moment, from dimmest to brightest is from 844 to 1119 lumens. Of course, from a practical standpoint the BenQ's 1119 is roughly 32% brighter. Translating that to screen size, in brightest setting, the BenQ would be able to handle a screen about 15% larger. (It would do as well on a 115" diagonal screen as the Panasonic would on a 100" diagonal).
Lamp Life and Replacement
I will only note that almost all of these projectors rate lamp life around 2000 hours in full power (Epson the lowest at 1700, but also the most conservative company in terms of how they rate their products - ie, the only manufacturer to far exceed their brightness claim).
Sony, however, doesn't provide a rating for their lamp. Right or wrong, I'll assume 2000 hours in full power, that should be close. If you are worried, call Sony. I tried, but they just don't quote lamp life.
If you can run the Mitsubishi HC5000 in low power, it claims a whopping 5000 hour lamp life, despite the typical 2000 hour rating at full power. None of the others come close.
The lowest lamp life rating goes to JVC which claims only 2000 hours whether in low or full power.
When it comes to replacing the lamp, many of these projectors can do it without unmounting (if you are ceiling mounted).
Those that can change the lamp without unmounting:
Mitsubishi HC5000, Panasonic PT-AE1000U, BenQ W10000 and W9000, JVC RS1
Those that do have to be unmounted: Epson Home (and Pro) Cinema 1080, Optoma HD81
Sony's VW50 has a bottom lamp door, it is slightly away from the mounting threads for a ceiling mount. Best I can say is that with the right mount, you may not have to unmount the projector to change the lamp. Consult with your dealer about the mounts.
Projector Screen Recommendations and Projector Calibration
For projector screen recommendations and calibration, visit the individual reviews.
As you would suspect, all of these projectors are very good. At the closest reasonable seating distance, you can probably spot a slight bit of noise if you are looking real hard. I don't consider it an issue. Same for jaggies. Motion artifacts are also very good across the board, with some variation. I just don't see any of these projectors as having an issue here that would affect a purchase decision.
In terms of the processing, most companies use 3rd party solutions, so for example, Optoma and JVC use Gennum processing, while Silicon Optix and Faroudja are found in others. It's hard to keep them all straight, as some manufacturers don't actually promote who they use.
Home Theater Projectors: Summary of General Performance Issues
In considering how to summarize, I quickly realized that ranking them doesn't really accomplish much. For example the Optoma would score rather low due to Lens Shift and Zoom lens, as well as remote, etc. But for those ceiling mounting Lens Shift and Zoom lens issues are probably not important - either it will work in your room or not. Or consider the Panasonic PT-AE1000U, the least bright projector, an issue for many, but probably not an issue for those looking at screen sizes of 100" diagonal or less (larger with the right screen).
For that reason, I'll make no attempt to rank general performance. Instead, I leave it to you, to intelligently figure out which of these performance items are deal breakers, for example, if you want to shelf mount in the back of your room, with a large screen (110" or more), you can eliminate several of these projectors - The Panasonic PT-AE1000U (because of brightness), the Optoma HD81 (placement issues), the Sony and Mitsubishi (maybe - if so, because of brightness), and so on. If you are sensitive to the Rainbow Effect, then also scratch the BenQ from your list.
Then, of course there is price. So for most of you, it becomes a process of elimination. Figure out which projectors just won't work for you, and then choose from what's left.
That's it. Now to my favorite section - Warranties. I kid you that it's my favorite, because it only takes me 10 minutes to write up that section up.