1080p Projector Review - Best Home Theater Projectors of 200803/14/2008 -Art Feierman
Update: 3/15/09: The 2009 1080p projector report is now posted. To read the newer report, click here.
The organization of this home theater projector report:
For the most part this report follows the same writing process as individual reviews. Five separate pages: Overview, Image Quality, General Performance, Warranty and Summary. There is also the "Best In Class" Awards page, which lists each award category, the projectors that won the various awards, and multiple paragraphs on each of those, with my thoughts on why they were selected. Finally there are a number of direct comparisons, between two or more competing projectors. For this report, as was the case last year, the Summary Page will primarily serve as to list the various direct comparison pages.
This year there have been far more 1080p home theater projectors to review, and far more reviews were completed, than for last year's report.
While we were unable to review all the major projectors, (especially in the $4000 plus range), I count a total of 20 projectors considered in three categories. Of that amount, full reviews were done on 16 of these 1080p projectors.
Click here for the 1080p Home Theater Projector award winners
Here are the projectors that have been reviewed, as well as sibling projectors that are almost identical, that I have considered, despite not personally reviewing them. Those with an * after the model, are those "sibling" projectors that were not phyically reviewed, but are very similar to reviewed projectors. They are listed, roughly by selling price, lowest to highest:
Home Theater Projectors: Street Price at or under $2000
Read the full review of the Mitsubishi HC4900 3LCD projector or read the HC4900 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Sanyo PLV-Z2000 3LCD projector or read the PLV-Z2000 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Panasonic PT-AE2000U 3LCD projector or read the PT-AE2000U specifications here.
Some of you may be asking why the Panasonic is in the $2000 and under (street price) group. Due to an error on my part, I misunderstood the new Panasonic promo, which I had believed was a $400 mail-in rebate, and $250 Blockbuster card. It turns out to be a $400 Blockbuster card, and a 1 year extended warranty (for a total of 2 years), that Panasonic normally sells for $250. Too late to change the report, but it will be compensated for in the individual comparisons. -art
Above, left to right: Mitsubishi HC4900, Sanyo PLV-Z2000, Panasonic PT-AE2000U (not to scale).
Home Theater Projectors: Street Price $2000 - $3500
Read the full review of the BenQ W5000 DLP projector or read the W5000 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Optoma HD803 DLP projector or read the HD803 specifications here.
Read the Optoma HD80 specifications here. Read review of the virtually identical HD8000 DLP projector here.
Read the full review of the Optoma HD8000 DLP projector or read the HD8000 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB 3LCD projector or read the Home Cinema 1080UB specifications here.
Read the full review of the Sony VPL-VW40 LCoS projector or read the VW40 specifications here.
Read the Epson Pro Cinema 1080 UB specifications here. Read review of the virtually identical Home Cinema 1080 UB 3LCD projector here.
Read the full review of the Mitsubishi HC6000 3LCD projector or read the HC6000 specifications here.
Projectors above: From top left: BenQ W5000, Optoma (one image representing the identical looking HD80, HD8000, and HD803), Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB. 2nd row: Sony VPL-VW40, Epson Pro Cinema 1080 UB, Mitsubishi HC6000.
Home Theater Projectors: Street price $3500-$10,000
Read the full review of the Sony VPL-VW60 LCoS projector or read the VW60 specifications here.
Read the full review of the JVC DLA-RS1 LCoS projector or read the RS1 specifications here.
Read the JVC DLA-RS1x LCoS specifications here. Improved version of the RS1.
Read the full review of the JVC DLA-RS2 LCoS projector or read the RS2 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Optoma HD81 DLP projector or read the HD81 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Optoma HD81-LV DLP projector or read the HD81-LV specifications here.
Read the full review of the InFocus IN82 DLP projector or read the IN82 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Sharp XV-Z20000 DLP projector or read the Z20000 specifications here.
Read the BenQ W20000 DLP specifications here. Higher-end version of the W5000.
Above: 1st row: Sony VW60, JVC DLA-RS1, (and RS1x, RS2), Optoma HD81.
2nd row: Optoma HD81-LV (sitting on its included outboard processor), InFocus IN82, Sharp XV-Z20000.
3rd row:BenQ W20000.
Picking the Winners - the best projectors in each price range:
As I point out over and over again, in reviews, rarely (can you say never), does a projector come along, that is simply best at everything, even within these somewhat narrow pricing tiers. As an excellent example, consider the JVC DLA-RS1, which last year took top honors in the over $5000 category, (I own the JVC.) It truly was a breakthrough product when it hit the market in Q2-07, but still not the best at everything. For example, offsetting its unmatched black level performance, excellent out of the box color accuracy, placement flexibility, and extremely bright "best" mode, is its softer than average sharpness, lack of a standard computer input, and for that matter, one projector was substantially brighter (the Optoma HD81-LV - although this Optoma didn't start shipping for a couple more months). Other minor issues come into play, as well, but no time for that here.
Above, Nia, from House of the Flying Daggers, Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB.
The other aspect of primary importance, is meeting core needs of buyers. For example, no single chip DLP projector can be the best for everyone, due to some folks suffering from Rainbow Effect (RBE), and others who need to shelf mount, which most DLP projectors aren't designed to do. Conversely, some folks are bothered by motion blur, which doesn't affect DLP projectors, but some see in 3LCD and LCoS projectors, whose LC (liquid crystal) panels are slower than the DLP chips. Then too, some are driven crazy by projector audible noise. In this group the quietest are typically 3LCD, but not all of them are quiet, whereas DLP tend to be the noisiest. But, again, there are exceptions.
My point is, that while one projector may be excellent at many things, it may be disqualified by some buyers because of their specific requirements. As a result, there needs to be a choice of "best projectors" in this report, so people still have a usable recommendation even if one of our favorites won't work for them.
As a result of "no perfect projector", we will be giving out "Best In Class", and "Runner-Up" awards in each price category, and an occasional "Special Interest" Award. This means, perhaps 9 rewards out of 20 projectors considered. Click here for a list of the winners!
Bottom line - it's still your job as the potential buyer, to consider some of the disqualifying attributes, immediately toss out those projectors from your consideration, and choose the best choice from the remaining ones. Life is much simpler that way.
Above, Panasonic PT-AE2000U, displaying a scene from Casino Royale.
Normally each review starts with an overview of the projector, then our "Physical Tour" of the unit. For the Comparison Report, we'll skip the overview (you can visit each projector's individual review), and look at the hardware attributes.
1080p 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 UB (the Pro version is black)
Home Theater Projectors: Zoom Lens Attributes
Once again, the projectors separate clearly into two groups here. There are the DLP projectors - all the Optomas and BenQs, the lone InFocus, with very limited range - only 1.2:1 zoom ratios. Then there are the LCoS and 3LCD projectors, of which the Mitsubishis offer 1.6:1 and the Sonys 1.8:1, while all the rest offer 2:1 or 2.1:1. Even the Mitsubishi's 1.6:1 is a very respectable amount of range, that likely will not limit their sales.
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. That means that DLP projectors are mostly limited to ceiling mounting, not shelf mounting. More on this topic, as well as Lens Shift will be found on the General Performance Page
Shown above: Panasonic PT-AE2000U
Home Theater Projector Interfacing
For the most part, these projectors are pretty similar in terms of interfacing, but there are differences.
All the projectors have at least two digital inputs (HDMI and/or DVI), and some with three. All have the standard "low res" inputs - Composite, and S-video, and all have at least one component video input. The projectors with more than two digital inputs are:
The three Optomas in the HD80 series (HD80, HD803, HD8000), each have two HDMI inputs and a DVI input for a total of three usable digital inputs. The Optoma HD81 and HD81-LV, which have outboard processor boxes, have four HDMI inputs each. Panasonic's PT-AE2000U has three HDMI inputs.
All those with DVI inputs are HDCP compatible so count as the same as HDMI, for most purposes.
HDMI 1.3 Compatibility, Deep Color
At this point, all the projectors now support HDMI 1.3, which offers some future capabilities (mostly audio), but also Deep Color, which provides an improved color palette. Unfortunately not all projectors with 1.3 HDMI support Deep Color. I've been trying to get a handle on which don't. Of the 20 projectors, the two Sony projectors (both 1.3 compatible) do not support Deep Color, nor do the BenQ W5000 and W20000 which only have HDMI 1.2.1.
All of the projectors (with one brand excepted) have an analog computer input (although the BenQs do that with BNC connectors instead of the traditional HD15 "VGA" connector). The exceptions are the JVC projectors which have no analog inputs. This doesn't prevent them from displaying a computer source, but does complicate things a bit. For the JVC projectors, the computer signal can be displayed if it is DVI/HDMI, in which case it uses one of the HDMI inputs. This requires that your computer support DVI/HDMI. Most do not, but almost any desktop can be fitted with a HDMI output card, for the display. The same should be true for laptops. (My MacBook Pro, like most Macs , has a DVI output, so no problem with them.) Another solution is to buy an outboard box that will convert the standard analog computer output to either HDMI or to component video. Outboard boxes that do one or the other tend to start around $100 but are typically twice that price, or more. Let's just say, that if one of the JVC projectors is your top choice overall, then the relatively small extra cost for an external converter is negligible. I say small, since the JVC projectors, are some of the most expensive.
Anamorphic Lens Support
For those of you not familiar with anamorphic lenses, here's the scoop: Todays home theater projectors are all 16:9 aspect ratio. That is, of course, a perfect match for HDTV, where the image will use all of the projector's pixels, to fill a 16:9 screen (which is what the vast majority of home theater owners buy). Movies however, primarily use the Cinemascope format: 2.35:1. Because of this, we are all used to seeing black "bars" referred to as a letter box, at the top and bottom of the screen, with the movie in the middle. The letterbox area at top and bottom eats up about 20% of the screen's total area (roughly 10% above, 10% below the movie).
With the addition of an anamorphic lens placed in front of the projector's lens (an anamorphic lens stretches the image in terms of width, but not height), you can instead buy a Cinemascope wide screen, and fill it all with the movie, without letter boxing. For a projector to be able to use an anamorphic lens, it needs a special aspect ratio often referred to as vertical stretch.
Today, a very small percent of home theater projector setups are anamorphic, and most of those are high end buyers spending $30,000, $50,000 even $250,000 for their complete home theaters. My best guess, is that of those with under $10,000 projectors, probably no more than 2% have anamorphic lenses. I do believe that the trend is growing slowly. The high cost of anamorphic lenses is still a major deal breaker. The most popular lens, (with the motorized sled to move it in and out of the way when you want to watch HDTV and regular TV, movies in 16:9, and 4:3) tends to sell for around $3000, which is more expensive than more than half of the projectors discussed here. The high cost of the lenses changes the value proposition, of course.
Not all projectors support vertical stretch. That doesn't mean you can't add an anamorphic lens, but it means further expense, requiring the purchase of an outboard processor (they start at around $1000, but most are around $2000).
The projectors that do not support an anamorphic lens (having no on-board aspect ratio support), include: Both Epson projectors, the Sanyo PLV-Z2000, the JVC DLA-RS1, and the DLA-RS1x. Few projectors have a "trigger" to control the anamorphic lens sled. In an ideal world, the projector would recognize the cinemascope aspect of the movie, and automatically select vertical stretch and move the lens in place. In reality though, most projectors don't even automatically adjust for different aspect ratios. (Off hand, the Epsons and JVCs are two lines that do automatically, and there are some others). In most cases, you would use a remote provided with the lens' sled, or program that into your room controller (if you have one).
For those already owning a projector, switching to a setup with an anamorphic lens isn't cheap. Not only the big bucks for the lens and sled, but also replacing your 16:9 screen with a 2.35:1 screen. Most screen manufacturers, including of course, Stewart, Da-Lite, Carada, Draper, among others, offer 2.35:1 screens.
12 Volt Screen Triggers
With three different basic types of screens out there (fixed wall, pull-down, and motorized), only those buying a motorized screen need to concern themselves with the 12 volt trigger issue. A 12 volt trigger allows the projector, upon power up and power down, to automatically drop and raise a motorized screen. The key points though are: Most motorized screens do not come with the matching 12 volt trigger interfacing except as an option, which can cost an extra couple hundred dollars or more. Further, there are other options, as some motorized screens offer infra-red or radio frequency remotes (often optional, although, of note, Elite Screens motorized screens all come with both IR and RF remotes). The bottom line is, even if your projector lacks a 12 volt trigger, you can still at least have the option of selecting a screen that will allow you some form of remote ability to open and close, so lack of a 12 volt trigger isn't a deal breaker. Lastly, for many, a remote makes more sense than using a 12 volt trigger, in that for the 12 volt trigger you need to run a cable from the projector to the screen, increasing your installation effort and costs.
Of the 20 projectors considered, these do not have 12 volt triggers, (the rest do): All JVC projectors, Panasonic PT-AE2000U, Sanyo PLV-Z2000,
Home Theater Projector Interfacing Ratings:
Excellent: Optoma HD81, HD81-LV - maximum
Very Good: Everyone else, except:
Good: JVC DLA-RS1, DLA-RS1x, DLA-RS2 (for lack of a standard computer input)
Above, the Sanyo PLV-Z2000 projector input panel.
Above, the Panasonic PT-AE2000U projector input panel (sorry, slightly out of focus!)
Above, the input panels of the Mitsubishi HC6000 and HC4900 projectors (same for both).
Above, the input panel for the BenQ W5000 and W20000 projectors (same for both).
Above, the input panel for the Optoma HD80, HD8000, and HD803 projectors (same for all three).
Above, the Sony VPL-VW40 projector input panel.
Above, the Sony VPL-VW60 projector input panel.
Above, the input panel for the JVC RS1, RS1x and RS2 projectors (same for all three).
Above, the input panels of the Optoma HD81 and HD81-LV projectors. (same for both).
Above, the InFocus IN82 projector input panel.
OK, that pretty much covers the info about placement, and input capabilities. For some of you, it has allowed you to eliminate one or more of these projectors. After all, 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. Since those who will consider buying an anamorphic lens are a very tiny portion of the buying public, at this time, I did not factor anamorphic lens support into the ratings.
One other thing worth mentioning - the physical size of the projectors. Of the twenty, three are small or medium size home theater projectors, while five are definitely significantly larger. 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 somewhere in the middle, size wise.
Time to consider image quality of these 1080p projectors.