1080p Projector Review 2008 - Image Quality03/14/2008 -Art Feierman
Home Theater Projector Image Quality
Please remember, you'll find far more details relating to each home theater projector's actual performance, within the individual reviews.
Image Quality is what it's all about. The goal of just about all home theater projector buyers is to put an image up on the screen that pleases and impresses:
Above, HDTV music video, from JVC DLA-RS1
For image quality, our primary concerns will be:
Out of the box color (without adjustment)
Naturalness of flesh tones
Black levels and shadow detail
Overall image quality ( "feel" of the projector). My partially subjective opinions on "film-like performance" ease of watching, and for lack of a better term, "wow factor" (some projectors just look good, and others make you think "awesome", even though they may technically be very, very similar).
Let's get started!
1080p Home Theater Projectors: Out of the Box Color
$2000 and under 1080p Home Theater Projectors
There are only three projectors currently in this group: Sanyo PLV-Z2000 (typically the least expensive of the three), the Mitsubishi HC4900 (very close in price to the Sanyo), and the more expensive Panasonic PT-AE2000U, which barely made this category.
Our focus here, is on "best" mode - usually the least bright, but designed to be the most perfect for viewing movies.
Sanyo PLV-Z2000 projector:
Pure Cinema mode is the "best" mode of the Z2000. Out of the box performance is definitely very good, not only compared to the other two, but to all of the projectors considered in this report. The measurements confirmed this. Except for white (100IRE), being a touch cool - around 7000K (ideal is 6500K), the other measurements (30, 50, and 80 IRE) were all within 100K of 6500K. This is definitely a projector you can fully enjoy using the out of the box settings for Pure Cinema. In all Cinema modes, there was anywhere from a touch to modest emphasis on green, but never enough to produce less than good color balance.
Mitsubishi HC4900 projector:
Not quite as good as the Sanyo Z2000. My review unit was, overall, just a little cooler (more blue). The highest measurement of the color temperatures I measure was around 7200K. Overall, like the Sanyo, the HC4900 is very respectable without adjustment, and it has good color controls to make adjustments pretty easy. This is another projector that will satisfy the average owner, without tweaking, but just a little will further improve the color balance. The projector itself is also just a touch oversaturated, so you'll want to turn down the color by a value of 1 or 2, unless you favor the extra punch (but loss of naturalness), of a slightly oversaturated image.
Panasonic PT-AE2000U projector:
Our first (pre-production) PT-AE2000U had some issues, but a subsequent PT-AE2000U sent to us, worked perfectly and provided for a better assessment of the out of the box color performance you could expect. With the full production version, out of the box color was also very good, also a very slight shift to blue (operative word here is "very"). Of the three projectors (I'm going on impressions at this point), I would give the Panasonic the edge over the other two, out of the box.
Bottom Line: Between these three projectors, the level of out of the box color accuracy is actually more consistent than many more expensive projectors. None requires any real adjustment to put up an very good image on the screen. As such, out of the box color accuracy is not a defining issue in this class.
There is far more variation in the brightest modes in terms of color accuracy. However, in that regard, both the Panasonic and the Sanyo are significantly inaccurate in brightest mode to require some real adjustment to get both a very bright image, and one that is also very watchable. The Mitsubishi, if I recall correctly needs far less "work" to optimize its bright modes.
$2000 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Things now get more interesting. Projectors in this group vary widely in how they perform out of the box. Some are dramatically worse than the three less expensive projectors above, while a couple are really excellent!
BenQ W5000 projector:
The W5000 is definitely one of the better projectors in terms of out of the box performance. In fact the W5000 was about as close to dead on in color temperature (to 6500K), as about any projector measured, in best mode. It is, however, a little strong on greens, and it should be adjusted for that.
Optoma HD803, HD80*, HD8000 projector:
Out of the box performance seems to be a weak spot for most Optoma home theater projectors. The HD803, which is similar to the HD80 and HD8000 (the last two being basically the same projector except for the extra ISF programmable color modes on the HD8000), exhibits a significant shift to green, right out of the box. Also, the whites (100 IRE) tend to be cooler - more blue, than the various gray points I measure, which are closer to each other in color temp.
The HD8000 was very similar, also with the heavy shift to green. We did not review the HD80, but, as noted above, it is essentially identical to the HD8000, and we have no reason to believe that its out of the box color is any better.
The Optomas out of the box color performance can be properly corrected by a professional calibrator, and I'm sure a good job can be done by consumers using one of the calibration discs, such as AVIA, or DVE.
Epson Home and Pro Cinema 1080 UB projectors:
These two projectors are also essentially identical in performance. However, the Pro version does have the ISF Day and Night modes, (not accessable, until calibration is done by an ISF professional calibrator). We did not test the Pro version.
Overall, the Epsons rate a "very good" out of the box. That's with one note: For some reason, Epson chose to use the 7500K color temp setting for the default in their "best mode" - Theater Black 1. Just change that to 6500K, and you are all set. Since that's pretty much a no-brainer adjustment, and since the end result is almost dead on, they deserve the "very good". That's still not to say it can't be improved, since when set at 6500K, the overall image is just a tad warm. That too, is a snap to fix.
Where the Epson has issues is primarily in the Living Room mode, which I found needed a lot of work. Dynamic mode was actually just about what was expected - great color temp, except for heavy green, which is often occurs in a projector's brightest modes, to better cut through ambient light. I recommend bringing down the green in Dynamic mode, and was able to get a much more enjoyable image after adjustment, while only giving up about 300 lumens out of over 1800 lumens to do so.
Sony VPL-VW40 projector:
The pre-production unit I tested definitely had issues out of the box, with some background blue hotspots in the corner. While I never received a 2nd one, I do expect that this would be a non-issue in post-production units. Even so, the Sony's out of the box performance definitely needs work. It is noticeably strong on greens in Best mode. In addition, the darker the image, the more shift towards blue. All of these problems were calibrated out without too much difficulty. Strangely, Dynamic mode was better balanced, but not significantly brighter.
Mitsubishi HC6000 projector:
Not bad, but also not great. While the color balance in Best mode doesn't suffer from any significant green shift, the default setup, overall, is too warm (red) when the Warm color temp setting is selected, and about equally too cool (bluish), when set for Medium. Green is just a little too strong (but correctable), and not anywhere as great a green shift as some others, notably the Optoma projectors as a group.
$3500 - $10,000 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Sony VPL-VW60 LCoS projector:
The VPL-VW60 was most disappointing out of the box. The color temperature was significantly too cool (bluish), but the projector calibrated very nicely with some work. Even so, as seems to be the case with all the Sony SXRD (LCoS) projectors that I've reviewed, once you get into the "black" and "near black" areas (below where I measure), the background decidely shifts toward blue. Even so, this is rarely detectable.
JVC DLA-RS1 LCoS projector:
The JVC RS1 is about as good as it gets, out of the box. I've had mine for almost a year, and for movie watching in Cinema mode, I basically use the default settings with no color adjustments. I lower color saturation by -2, and adjusted brightness and contrast settings. The colors aren't perfect (the red, for example is slightly off what a pure red should be, and greens tend to be a touch oversaturated), but put on a movie, and it always looks great.
JVC DLA-RS1x LCoS projector*:
Well, I haven't reviewed this upgrade to the RS1, that is just starting to ship. More color controls, including more control of gamma, should make the JVC DLA-RS1x, even better "out of the box" but we'll ultimately determine that once we review it.
JVC DLA-RS2 LCoS projector:
Like the JVC RS1, JVC's DLA-RS2 also has superb color out of the box. It is just a tiny bit warm (red), but so close, it really doesn't need any adjustment, even though I published some settings that make it a tiny bit better. Not much else I can say, in this section, when your only options are - leave it as is (and enjoy great performance), or adjust it for that extra few percent of improvement.
Optoma HD81 DLP projector:
The Optoma HD81 is the projector that's been around the longest of all the ones in this report. In looking back, I note that the HD81 produces better color out of the box than most of the newer Optoma projectors. Overall, the HD81 is fairly good in this regard. It lacks the heavy shift to green that most Optomas offer, although green is still just a little strong. The major weakness is that with the goal of 6500K for movie watching, the Optoma's modes were all over 7000K average, making them slighly cool (bluish).
Optoma HD81-LV DLP projector:
The HD81-LV was very typical of Optoma projectors, which means not very good color accuracy out of the box. The heavy shift to green is sure to disappoint. Since this is a great projector overall, you better plan to do something about the color accuracy. At this price, I strongly recommend a professional calibrator for the $300 - $600+. You're spending over $5,000, so you might as well have the colors look great. The difference - to quote my review - "is dramatic".
InFocus IN82 DLP projector:
The IN82 is better than most projectors in terms of out of the box performance. Overall, I found best mode to be somewhat warm (reddish), but the color balance is extremely tight across the grayscale range. Adjusting the InFocus IN82 is basically just a matter of "cooling things down" about 350K, a very small error.
Sharp XV-Z20000 DLP projector:
The Sharp XV-Z20000 provides really good colors out of the box (one of the best), just a little cool (shift towards blue), but with grayscale measuring right around 6900K, it is extremely watchable out of the box. Whites tend to be about 250K cooler than the various gray points I measure. That's not enough to impact overall color balance with any significance.
BenQ W20000 DLP projector*:
Sorry, no idea, I was supposed to receive a W20000 the week before I started on the report, but BenQ ran out of product! That said, from past experience, including my owning two BenQ projectors at different times, and having reviewed the original BenQ 1080p W10000, and the recent W5000 review, my best take on the W20000, is that it should offer similar performance to the W5000. In a nutshell, than means very good out of the box performance, just a little strong on greens (less so than the typical Optoma projector). While I definitely recommend correcting for the green, if it behaves the same as the W5000, the projector should be most impressive even without adjustment.
OK, this section took up way to much space and time, but, since some/many of you really won't have your projector professionally calibrated, or even tackle it yourself with a calibration disc designed for end users, I consider out of the box performance to be an important one for many.
1080p Home Theater Projectors: Natural Skin Tones
This obviously ties closely to color balance, and is based on performance after grayscale adjustment.
Each review is loaded with images, however I ask you to remember there are many compromises in how they look on your computer - your monitor is different than mine. Monitors in general lack the contrast of the projectors, and the digital camera inherently loses a lot of dynamic range. In addition, I find variations from projector to projector in how accurately my camera is in recording those colors. My camera tends to exaggerate color differences in extremely dark areas, and overall, tends to provide a slightly oversaturated image compared to what is on the screen. Also about half of the projectors (the pre Q4-07 reviews) were photographed with a different camera.
I'll refer you back to the image quality pages for photos of the individual projectors.
Truth is, if you have your projector properly calibrated, or it is one of the few projectors with really excellent out of the box color balance, you are going to get excellent, natural looking skin tones. That said, the various projectors, when you are looking at skin tones, will still look slightly different, with slight differences in color balance, contrast, and film-like appearance. After adjustment, my personal favorites in each class are:
$2000 and under 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Tough call between the three projectors, all produce really excellent, and, I should note, film-like qualities, especially considering that the HC4900, PT-AE2000U, and PLV-Z2000, are the three lowest priced 1080p projectors around.
Above, from the Sanyo PLV-Z2000, from Casino Royale - Blu-ray disc
Of the three, I'd say that the HC4900 perhaps appears a little less film-like than the other two, just a touch of hardness. If some like the Panasonic over the Sanyo on skin tones, it is probably going to be due to the slight softness of the PT-AE2000U's overall image, which might make you feel it is more "film-like". Personally, too close to call. Between these three, there isn't even remotely enough difference, for "the naturalness of skin tones" to be a factor in your decision. Almost any other category of difference will be far, far more significant. Officially, these three are a tie.
$2000 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projectors
To a large degree, great skin tones are about having the proper grayscale balance, but even then, there are some differences, in other aspects. One example, I mentioned in the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB review, was that the Epson, while having an excellent color balance to skin tones, appears to have a slightly more dynamic looking image (giving its skin tones a just slightly harder than perfectly natural look), than say, the Sony VW40. Some may well describe the difference as the Sony VW40 being a touch more "film-like". I would have to agree.
Without properly adjusting the grayscale, there wil be huge differences in skin tones, with the three Optomas in this price range probably being the weakest. The BenQ W5000, as easy as it turns out to be to adjust, without adjustment, has just a bit too much green to look really great on skin tones. Without adjusting the Sony VW40 first, it also does not do well.
Of all the projectors in this group, I have to give a very slight edge to a properly calibrated Sony VW40 (even though it is particularly weak, out of the box). The three Optomas after adjustment, in my opinion, do very well on skin tones on most scenes, but in darker scenes, and especially on darker scenes that are supposed to be lit by incandescent lighting, the general Optoma tendency is to oversaturate a bit. This is a trade-off, as I often complement the Optoma projectors as having especially rich darker colors.
The Mitsubishi HC6000, for a 3LCD projector, is particularly natural looking on skin tones, lacking that slight hardness I mention about the Epson.
Once again, only subtle differences once each projector is properly grayscale balanced.
$3500 - $10,000 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Well, we have a class of one here, (despite how good almost all of these projectors are), and that one, is the JVC DLA-RS2. The RS1 (and I assume, the RS1x) come in right behind it, along with the InFocus IN82, and the Sharp XV-Z2000. Note please, there are issues with the RS1's images, I was dealing with camera issues back then (that was before I got my dSLR), and the images are dark and oversaturated, as well as too strong on Red, and are not representative of the projector's performance.
Above, JVC DLA-RS2, scene from House of the Flying Daggers - Blu-ray
When it comes to skin tones, my RS1 never disappoints on any kind of setting, be it sunlight, incandescent lighting, night scenes, etc. The RS2 is much the same, but better, by virtue of its even greater dynamic range thanks to the better black levels.
Once again, the Optomas come up just a tad short, having that oversaturated look on skin tones in dark lighting. The BenQ W20000, is an unknown, since it hasn't been reviewed yet, but should be very, very good, based on my long experience with BenQ home theater projectors.
1080P Home Theater Projectors: Black Levels and Shadow Detail
In terms of black levels, the fact that most of these projectors use a dynamic iris, means that depending on the scene, one projector might be slightly better on one scene, than on another one, depending on the algorithms used.
When it comes to shadow details, the better the black levels, the better the ultimate shadow detail you should expect. In reality, there are some "cheats" when it comes to shadow detail, and even increasing your brightness setting by the smallest amount will make the darkest shadow details stand out more. The differences in the gamma tables and other aspects of a projector's setup will also impact shadow detail performance.
Above, JVC DLA-RS2 on a scene from Aeon Flux - Blu-ray disc
Put it all together, and what we are really looking for is the projector that can combine the blackest blacks, with excellent dark shadow detail. Projectors with average black level performance, may still have great shadow detail, but it becomes a case of the final image having more of a less dynamic look, and appear a bit washed out on dark scenes.
Of all these projectors, only the JVC projectors lack a dynamic iris. JVC has managed to redesign their LCoS panels to simply produce better true contrast ratios, and therefore blacker blacks, than any other projectors, regardless of technology. Even the Sony VW60, with rather excellent black level performance, at its best (the right scene balance) can barely match the older JVC RS1, and most of the time is not quite as wonderful as the RS1, but still excellent.
The JVC RS1x, for purposes of this report, since I haven't yet received one for review, I will assume to be the same as the older JVC RS1.
So, as I see it, the JVC RS2 has exceptional black levels, and comes out on top - easily, with the JVC RS1 (and RS1x) not quite as good, but still excellent, as the next best.
After that, my money is on the Sony VW60.
And then it gets interesting. My next picks are definitely the Epson's, both less expensive than the others mentioned so far, with the Home version less than half the price of the RS2, and about a third less in price than the least expensive of the "over $3500" projectors. - the Pro Cinema 1080 UB, and the Home Cinema 1080 UB. At their best, they should be able to match the Sony VW60, and I imagine, in some cases perhaps slightly outperform the Sony. But overall, I'll give the Sony the slight advantage, even if the slight Sony shift to blue is still there in the near black levels.
The rankings below are based on both black levels and shadow detail, but since not one of these projectors does less than a very good job on shadow detail, it is weighted heavily toward these home theater projectors' black level performance.
Almost Perfect: JVC DLA-RS2 - Nothing comes close! It truly is a class of one when it comes to black level performance, and right along with it, comes excellent shadow detail
Excellent: JVC DLA-RS1, DLA-RS1x* (assumed), Sony VW60
Almost as Excellent: Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB, Pro Cinema 1080 UB*, Sharp XV-Z20000
Above, side by side, on black screen: Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB left, Sony VPL-VW40 right. Even considering the problems with the Sony review unit's blue hot spots, the Epson produces the blacker blacks, even in the center of the image.
Extremely Good: InFocus IN82, BenQ W20000* (my best guess), Optoma HD81-LV, Mitsubishi HC6000
Very Good: Panasonic PT-AE2000U, Optoma HD81, HD80, HD8000, BenQ W5000
OK, here's the Optoma HD803 (left), against that same Sony VPL-VW40 right. Can you imagine the difference between the Optoma and the Epson, in terms of black levels? With the much shorter exposure needed to bring up the HD803's black levels, you can barely even make out the blue corner problems with the Sony, as it is that much darker! Note, the HD803, is still better than the Mitsubishi HC4900, but it is one of the poorer overall, in black level performance.
Good: Optoma HD80, Sanyo PLV-Z2000 (note, I was torn between putting this one here, or under Very Good. It may well belong above, as its performance is very close, but not quite as good as the Panasonic, or the HD8000).
So, So: A class of one, here as well - the Mitsubishi HC4900. Mind you the HC4900 isn't bad by any means, easily matching many of the 720p projectors, but, someone has to be at the bottom of the list, and the HC4900, despite very good shadow detail, falls short on black level performance.
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1080p Home Theater Projectors: Brightness
Once we get past achieving an image that looks really good (color balance, black levels, and shadow detail), to me, brightness is by far the most important attribute. It's simple. Only a few projectors can really handle larger screens (over 110" diagonal) very well, in Best mode. Only two are really exceptionally bright, bright enough to effortlessly handle my 128" Firehawk screen, and even larger ones (even my JVC RS1, which in best mode is brighter than most has "just enough" for my screen).
There are several projectors that really don't have the muscle to really go above 100" diagonal, or maybe 106", others are comfortable at 110".
Consider that a 130" screen requires a projector with 69% more lumens, than the same screen surface in a 100" format - and that is the difference between, say 350 lumens, and 591 lumens. The first number is fairly typical of the least bright projectors, while 591 is brighter than the average projector in this group (average is somewhere around 450 lumens).
Unmatched in lumens, is the Optoma HD81-LV, image above some football, I've never been able to open that left blind (the shades on the doors - not in the picture, are also open), with any other projector, and still be able to watch. That's 2500+ lumens at work!
A bit of techie talk:
A good guideline is to use the foot-lambert measure. The SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) recommends a minimum of 12 foot-lamberts, and recommends 16. (Remember - due to safety laws, today's theaters are not allowed to be as dark as a really good home theater can get.) To calculate ft-lamberts, the formula is:
Foot-Lamberts = lumens / sq foot of screen (assuming a screen gain of 1.0).
If your screen has a positive or negative gain, multiply that gain times the lumens, before dividing by the screen size. For an example, I'll use the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB, with my 128" Stewart Firehawk (relative gain of 1.25) numbers are rounded.
Ft-lamberts = 1.25 x 468 (measured lumens in best mode) / 9.3 (width) x 5.25 (height): which is:
Ft-lamberts = (1.25x468) / 48.8
Ft-lamberts = 11.98.
So consider, by this measure, the Epson has just barely enough brightness, in Best mode, for my setup. (I concur with that from watching it extensively). However, with 1500 hours on the lamp, the ft-lamberts will probably drop below 10. As a result, let's say that the Epson, in my setup, has enough muscle to fill the screen, with respectable brightness, when new, but not with an old lamp.
What about HDTV, TV and Sports Viewing with your home theater projector?
There is another issue, which is how bright the projector can get when you aren't seeking perfection - when you have some ambient light to deal with, and especially for HDTV/TV/Sports, since most have no desire to watch normal TV programming and sports in an almost pitch black room (can you say "cave"?). In Brightest mode, by comparison, that same Epson, in my room, when new, actually is very close to 40 ft lamberts.
Above, the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB, in Dynamic mode, with moderate ambient light. Not bad. Shutting all the shades down, no sunlight pouring in, yields this (as you can see, still significant ambient light, but no problem for the Epson):
Also, don't forget, that as your lamp ages, it will dim. If you expect to get the full rated life out of the lamp (that's 2000 hours in full power for most home theater projectors), you can expect a drop of 30% or more over its life.
This poses a dilemma for some buyers. Some will pick a screen size/type in combination with projector, that is bright enough with the lamp in low power mode, and use low power mode until the lamp dims enough to kick it into high power mode, which will make up a good chunk of the lost lumens.
Because of the differences in the technologies, as well as the use of dynamic irises, etc., a projector that is particularly bright in Best mode may actually turn out to be one of the least bright in Bright modes.
As such, in some cases, those who are only interested in movie viewing in an extremely dark room, may find a particular projector perfectably acceptable, while the next person, who also watches a lot of sports, rejects that same projector out of hand, because it lacks the muscle when needed.
If your room has good lighting control, with little ambient, even average brightness projectors like this shot from the Mitsubishi HC6000, look great.
For this reason, this year, I've decided to organize into two categories: Dark room - Best Mode, those who only watch movies, or are so into the movie aspect that they don't really care if they are a bit underpowered for other uses. I'll call the other Bright room. (Sounds a lot like the ISF's ISF Night, and ISF Day settings).
1080p Projectors: Dark Room - Best Mode
Note, all dynamic irises are turned off for measurements, and those with manual irises are normally wide open, as well.
Excellent: Larger screens not a problem: Optoma HD81-LV. In reality, it stands alone, noticeably brighter than any other 1080p projector reviewed. The InFocus IN82 (300 lumens) is not too far behind, with about 1200 lumens in Best mode.
Very Good : JVC RS1 (over 750 lumens), and the RS1x (assumed)
BenQ W5000 (and likely the W20000) with their non-dynamic iris all, or most of the way open.
Mitsubishi HC4900 - for one of the lowest cost 1080p projectors, this one has some serious punch, with more than 650 lumens.
Optoma HD81 - plenty of horsepower here, in Best mode, outputting a most impressive 674 lumens, although that dropped by more than 100 lumens after calibration - making it the least bright of this group, but still a bit brighter than any of the next group.
JVC DLA-RS2 - like the HD81, it was almost 550 lumens, but, as an added bonus, thanks to the stellar black level performance, the JVC RS2 always seemed brighter (or rather, perhaps, more dynamic) when viewing, than the lumen measurement would account for.
Good: From about 400 to 500 lumens - this is where most projectors live.
Epson Home and Pro Cinema 1080 UB (the Home version measured 468 lumens).
Sony VW40 and VW60 for all practical purposes, the same as the Epson. The VW40 measured 8 lumens less than the Epson, and the Sony VPL-VW60, 25 lumens more (that's too small to notice).
Mitsubishi HC6000 - more of the same, at 449 lumens
Panasonic PT-AE2000U - lowest in this group, at 388 lumens
Fair: Sharp XV-Z20000 - definitely a smaller screen projector measuring only 258 lumens. But it manages about an extra 130 lumens if you switch the Iris into medium mode. You'll give up a little bit in terms of black levels, but the Sharp is still very good, in that regard, with this setting
Sanyo PLV-Z2000 - with 363 measured lumens it comes up short of making the "Good" group. I should note, though, that Sanyo has devised an extremely watchable Brilliant Cinema mode, which isn't as perfect, but still a very good Cinema mode. Those willing not to use the very "best" mode, will find they can choose from larger screens.
1080p Projectors: Brightest Modes
Light Cannons: Optoma's HD81-LV is the champ, with a dazzling 2900 lumens once a Bright mode was created (it really doesn't have an especially bright mode defined).
Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB (and assumed, the Pro version) at just over 1800 lumens (but some awful colors), with some calibration though, it managed a far better image, and still cranked out just over 1500 lumens.
InFocus IN82 (no surprise) also trips the light fantastic, with about 1500 lumens (over 1700 maximum, but like the Epson at brightest, it gains noticeable picture quality, by giving up a couple hundred lumens).
Very Bright Projectors (basically from around 1000 lumens to 1300 lumens): The BenQ W5000 (and likely the W20000) is the brightest of these. With Brilliant Color engaged, the W5000 recorded 1270 lumens. Brilliant Color takes it over the top a bit in image quality, but it's just what you need to cut through some ambient light.
The Panasonic PT-AE2000U (noticeably brighter than its predecessor), just barely makes this group by just breaking the 1000 lumen mark, and doing so has one of the better color balances of these projectors in their Dynamic mode.
The Optoma HD81, another projector without a really defined bright mode, can muster out about 1000 lumens if you tweak it, and still have some respectable color balance (for a bright mode).
Optoma's HD8000 (and therefore also the HD80), managed a very respectable 1006 lumens, and there is room to push that up a bit further. I still don't understand why Optoma really doesn't provide a mode really optimized for maximum lumens (with reasonable color).
Optoma's HD803 did even better, with a measurement of almost 1200 lumens!
Projectors with Average Brightness: Let's start with the Sharp XV-Z20000, while this projector is one of the least bright in Best mode, it is rather respectable in Brightest mode with almost 900 lumens.
Brighter, is the entry level Mitsubishi HC4900, which puts out 962 lumens.
Mitsubishi's HC6000 ranks toward the middle of this group with about 750 lumens.
The JVC DLA-RS2, comes in on the low side of the group, with its Dynamic mode at just 591 lumens, but its color accuracy is much better than most projectors in its brightest mode. Figure an extra 100 lumens is easily available if you push the green up, and do a few other things that most manufacturers have already done in their Dynamic modes. If you need the extra lumens, definitely take this approach.
Sony VPL-VW60 isn't as good (color balance) in Brightest mode as the default JVC RS2, but manages a few more lumens, even after you up the JVC's output. Score 723 lumens for the Sony.
JVC's DLA-RS1 (and we assume the DLA-RS1x), clocks in at about 900 lumens, and produces particularly good color balance. You can push it for a few more lumens, but I don't think I ever got it over 1000.
Sony VPL-VW40: Measuring their Dynamic mode at different color temps, mostly the Sony stayed around 500 lumens (actually 568, but when I "improved" the color, it dropped just below 500 lumens). Thus, the provided modes are not noticeably brighter than Best mode. With some playing around, though, I was able to create a custom Dynamic mode, with a definite strong green push, of almost 900 lumens.
Movie Watchers, Only: One projector stands out as being the least bright, in its brightest mode:
Sanyo PLV-Z2000 - Surprisingly, the Sanyo is dim compared to all the competition. I say surprising, because "usually" 3LCD projectors have a big jump in lumens from best to brightest. The Sanyo, however only jumps by a little more than 50%, just barely reaching 600 lumens. Worse, its brightest mode, Vivid, produces fairly ugly colors. Better is their Dynamic mode at 487 lumens, which is just average for all of these projectors in "best mode".
1080p Home Theater Projector Image Sharpness
This is just commentary on some of the aspects of sharpness and setup. Don't let it make you paranoid, these projectors all produce images that look nice and sharp, just some appear to be a small bit sharper than others. It's not a deal breaker for any one of these projectors. Sharpness, probably isn't the accurate term to use, as it implies more resolution. Some projectors have an image than seems soft, others seem crisper or more "razor sharp", but in reality, probably some of the difference isn't caused by the lens, but rather, whether sharpness algorithms are in play. They all pretty much resolve the same amount of detail, because the smallest details are still one pixel each and the lenses should be better than that. All these projectors have sharpness controls, which can give you the feel of more sharpness, but more likely, boosting the sharpness controls will oversharpen, and you'll actually lose detail.
A couple of things before we get started. The laws of physics pretty much dictate that the image in terms of focus, cannot have the same sharpness, over the entire screen. The reason is simple, the distance from the lens, to the center of the screen, is going to be different than the distance from lens to the outer edges. While better optics can minimize the loss in sharpness, figure that if you focus based on the dead center of the screen, than the edges are going to be visually softer, especially upon close inspection. At normal seating, I don't think any of these projectors, however, have enough loss that you are likely to notice it, unless you are looking for it, if at all, at normal seating distances.
Of particular interest is that focus will be a little more off, if your projector is in full wide angle zoom. That would be with the lens projecting its largest image, so the projector is closer to the screen, than when using telephoto zoom. Its one of the many tradeoffs in positioning. (The projector will put a brighter image on the screen, when its closest).
The more lens shift you are using, also probably means a touch more optical distortion.
Quicktip: My best recommendation is to go for the sharpest focus to be about 1/3 out from the center. That will insure that the focus is near its absolute best for a much larger area, than if you focus at the center.
Since this report is based on individual reviews, the oldest going back to almost a year and a half (Optoma HD81), it makes it difficult to split hairs. I'm just going to put these projectors into two groups. The projectors are listed in no particular order.
The Slightly Sharper Projectors: BenQ W5000 (and presumed, the W20000), InFocus IN82, All Optoma Projectors, the Mitsubishi projectors, the Sharp XV-Z0000, Sanyo PLV-Z2000.
The Rest: Both Epson's (I almost put them in the category above, as they are visibly sharper than my JVC RS1), The Sony VPL-VW40 and VPL-VW60, The Panasonic PT-AE2000U, and the JVC DLA-RS1, DLA-RS1x and DLA-RS2.
Home Theater Projectors: Best Overall Image Quality
As with judging skin tone quality, determining the best image - or should I say, Picture Quality, is very subjective.
It's sort of which projectors have the strengths you like the most, and the faults that bother you the least. That will differ from person to person. That said, there are real differences.
While I consider brightness to be a key factor in everyone's final decision when choosing a projector, for purposes of recommending projectors based on overall image quality, I have excluded brightness. It's up to you to reject projectors that don't have enough brightness for your screen size, room setup, and type of viewing (movies only, sports with a fair amount of ambient light, etc.)
Projectors in each category, are in no particular order. Price is not a factor, either.
Best of the Best: JVC DLA-RS2 - A no brainer. In my opinion, nothing else comes close, when you factor out brightness. By far, the best black levels, superb shadow detail, and it looks better, color wise, right out of the box, than most do after a basic calibration!
Next Best - still awesome, and a cut above everything else: JVC DLA-RS1, DLA-RS1x, Sony VPL-VW60. Of these three (two really, since the RS1x is an updated RS1), black levels are not quite as good as the DLA-RS2. The JVC's will give you excellent colors out of the box, while the Sony will require some effort to get them right.
Note, all the projectors above are LCoS - my how things change in a couple of years. Also, all of the projectors above, have one thing in common - none of them would be classified among the sharper projectors (sharpness is a factor). Still, they produce a picture, that is "a cut above".
Still Pretty Excellent: Sharp XV-Z2000, Epson Pro Cinema 1080 UB, Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB, InFocus IN82, Optoma HD81-LV, Sony VPL-VW40. All of these have better than average black level performance, with the Epson's being the best of the group. The Sharp, by the way, is also extremely impressive, but very, very pricy. Sharpness varies a lot in this group, as does black level performance - some of the trade-offs.
Merely very good: Panasonic PT-AE2000U, Sanyo PLV-Z2000, Optoma HD81, HD80, HD8000, Mitsubishi HC6000, BenQ W5000. These are all very respectable projectors, but typically weaker on black level performance than those above. Again, sharpness varies all over the place.
Still very respectable (there are no 1080p projectors that offer anything short of a most impressive image, when set up properly): Mitsubishi HC4900, Optoma HD803. It just goes to show you, for example, the Mitsubishi HC4900, while very sharp, has the worst black level performance, still when you consider its price, and brightness, this is going to be a top choice for many, especially those more focused on sports/HDTV, and TV, rather than movies.
That leaves one unknown, of the four projectors not actually reviewed (out of 20). The other three were easily put into one of these groups, since two were essentially identical to tested units (Epson Pro, and Optoma HD80, and the JVC DLA-RS1x, is simply an improved version of teh tested DLA-RS1.
The last projector is the BenQ W20000, which should have better black levels than the W5000, and should (hopefully) have less image noise. Assuming both of these are true, to some degree, the W20000 should end up in either the "Still Pretty Excellent" grouping , or even possibly in the "Next Best" grouping. If it is not a significant improvement over the W5000, then it ends up in the same group as the W5000 (logically), but that means BenQ is going to have a real problem selling it, since it is much more expensive than the W5000.
Had enough yet?
Next comes the usual General Performance section. It will, however lack much of what appears in the same section in individual reviews. For example, I won't go into menus at all, nor calibration or screen recommendations, as those are well documented in individual reviews.