1080p Projector Review - Best in Class Awards for 200803/14/2008 -Art Feierman
1080p Home Theater Projectors Our Award Winners:
Entry Level Projectors: $2000 and under (street price)
Medium priced projectors: $2000 - $3500 (street price)
Higher End Projectors: $3500 - $10,000 (street price)
Category: Entry Level Projectors: $2000 and under, Street Price
Best in Class Award: Panasonic PT-AE2000U Projector
Panasonic recently increased their combined promo on the PT-AE2000U home theater projector, to $650 (a $400 Blockbuster Rental card, and a $250 1 year extended warranty). Based on a $2699 MAP price, and figuring dealers are usually knocking off a few dollars or throwing something else in, that puts the PT-AE2000 right around that $2000 mark, if you value the rental card. Let's just say, that the Panasonic could have been put in either category. From a street price standpoint, it's definitely a bit more expensive, than, say, the Sanyo PLV-Z2000 or the Mitsubishi HC4900, which can be found selling for a few hundred dollars or so less. Of course, this is all based on pricing in the US, and in that regard may be rather meaningless in other parts of the world.
The Panasonic is a bit strange in one regard. It's great out of the box, yet has perhaps the most sophisticated color management system around. In other words, the controls will be loved by the hobbyist crowd, but largely not needed by the average buyer.
Overall, the PT-AE2000U is brighter than its predecessor, making it about average in that regard and bright enough to satisfy most buyers. It is also especially film-like. Not the sharpest seeming image around, but sharper than the older version, and overall, it provides a very pleasing viewing experience.
The Panasonic projector is a great choice for the typical consumer. It is one of the few that just looks great and impresses you and your friends, without any effort on your part. After all, probably less than 1 or 2% of people buying TVs or plasmas, over the years, actually ever play with the color balance, multiple modes (like "Vivid" "Movie" "Sports") found on most TVs, etc. Most people just want something they can turn on, that looks great that they can kick back and watch, and not become a hobbyist to get the most out of it.
And really, for that reason - " great no-fuss performance" for most users, is why the PT-AE2000U home theater projector takes the top honor in the Entry level price range.
Best in Class, Runner-up Award: Sanyo PLV-Z2000 Projector
The Sanyo PLV-Z2000, too is an excellent low cost projector, but unlike the Panasonic, will appeal more to hobbyists and those with specific requirements. The Sanyo has a three year warranty (none out there longer), and I believe I described it as "a pleasure to watch", in the original review, but, if you really want to get the most out of your PLV-Z2000, you need to do more than buy it and have someone hang it. It definitely needs some (not many) adjustments to begin to realize its full potential. Although the color "out of the box" is still good, it isn't as good as the PT-AE2000U, or as good as it could be!
This Sanyo, like many Sanyos before tends to be less bright than the typical competition. As such, I believe in most common setups, the maximum screen size is 106" to 110" diagonal, and the projector is probably best for those with 100" diagonal or less.
Another thing I like about the Sanyo is their effort to tackle the potential problem with dust blobs that can get in the lightpath. Sanyo provides an easy end user solution, whereas with most 3LCD projectors it has to go to service for a cleaning. Fortunately, either way, few are ever bothered by (by that I mean notice) dust blobs at all, although a "huge nasty one" can be very noticeable.
The Z2000 has a definitely strong following among those who like to tweak, or, better expressed, those who are "really into it." It's well designed and laid out, has great placement flexibility, and considering its price, is an excellent value proposition.
Best in Class Special, Interest Award: Mitsubishi HC4900
OK, I agree with you all, in that it seems silly to have three awards when there are only three projectors in the group. Still, the Mitsubishi HC4900 is a very popular projector for some pretty good reasons. As a result it is going to be the best low cost choice for a number of buyers.
The HC4900 is strongest in the areas of brightness, where it easily outpowers the other two projectors above, and in sharpness, where it is comparable to the Sanyo, and better than the Panasonic. It is also one of the very quietest projectors, being quieter in full power lamp mode than most of the other projectors even when in their quieter "low lamp" modes. Like the other two, it is very versatile, although its zoom lens has slightly less range. It too can be ceiling or shelf mounted.
That's a lot of strengths, but offsetting them is the weakest black level performance. Let's just say, that if the black levels of the HC4900 were as good as the other two projectors, it just might have taken top honors in this group.
Mind you, while the black levels were disappointing for a 1080p projector, they are comparable, and often better than most of the 720p projectors out there.
Then consider that it is priced just a few hundred dollars more than many of the 720p projectors, and you have to start thinking "It's bright, and it's 1080p, and I can afford it, as its not that much more than the 720p projectors I've been looking at..."
I think that about says it all.
Category: Medium Priced 1080p Home Theater Projectors: $2000 - $3500
Best In Class Award: Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB Projector
Tough sledding here, none of the three award winners is, overall better in most ways than the other two, but in my opinion, the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB stands out as the most impressive of the three to watch. Its superior black level capabilities, plus very good shadow detail (not the best), good sharpness and a very dynamic looking image combine to make for an extraordinary viewing experience, especially considering the mid-$2000 price. While I don't find the Epson to be the most "film-like" projector around, it is certainly close enough. Color performance with some adjustment, is excellent. And, of course, the projector is about as versatile as they come in terms of placement flexibility. In addition, it has the best warranty in the class, except for its own more expensive sibling, the Pro Cinema 1080 UB.
In finally determining that the Epson would take top honors, the single most significant reason was this: I own the JVC RS1, last year's best "under $10K" projector (almost all reviewers agree). The JVC is still a better overall projector than any of these. In spending far too much of my life comparing the Epson and the other projectors mentioned below, to the RS1, when just watching movies, the Epson was the only one, that I enjoyed about as much as the JVC. It was more different, than not as good. By comparison, the Sony, was, in some ways, more similar to the RS1, but to me, definitely not as good as the JVC.
Bottom line: If someone told me I had to give up my JVC for 6 months and could use any of the under $3500 projectors instead, the Epson is my choice overall, despite any flaws, etc.
From a practical standpoint, the Epson does have some downsides - its fan is noiser than the other two, when all are in full power mode, but not significantly more. It's still quieter than the typical DLP projector, and just a bit noisier than my RS1. Some also report that they occasionally notice the sound of the dynamic iris, but this should only "annoy" a very small percentage of potential buyers.
All considered, this is a projector that the vast majority can live happily ever after with. For most folks, those who don't buy a projector planning to replace it every year or two with the next better thing, this is truly a keeper!
Best in Class Runner-Up (a tie): BenQ W5000 Projector
I've been agonizing more over the choice for the Runner-Up award in this category, than any other. I offer for your consideration, two projectors, as a tie. Each has significant differences. Here goes:
The BenQ W5000 is a classic DLP, and an exceptionally good one. Were it not for a couple of flaws, the BenQ well may have had a serious shot at the Best In Class top honors. There seems to be something about the image produced by DLP projectors that many people prefer, and that's true today, even as 3LCD and LCoS projectors are considered to have the ability to beat DLP in the one area they dominated for years - black level and shadow detail performance.
The BenQ W5000 provides rich dynamic colors. It is especially impressive in dark areas where colors seem to be visibly richer than most other projectors. Generally this seems to be an attribute of DLP projectors overall.
The W5000 is also the brightest of the projectors in this group, when in Best Mode, cranking out well over 600 lumens (with Brilliant Color engaged) while the Sony and Epson are down around 460. This really helps on larger screens, or with some ambient light.
And for those of you bothered by "motion blur" (which personally I do not see as a big issue), DLP projectors are essentially immune. Of course, some of us (a very small percentage) are sensitive to the rainbow effect, so the BenQ W5000 isn't for everyone.
What limits the W5000 compared to the other winners are the following. More limited placement flexibility. The W5000 has lens shift with pretty good range, but is still hampered by a 1.2:1 zoom while the other award winners offer zooms with much more range.
From a technical side, the BenQ offers better black levels than any of the other DLP projectors in this price group, although not quite up to the Epson.
The achilles heel is image noise. The W5000 in this regard is below average overall. There are some scenes where you can't help but notice, although most of the time, most people will not have that on their radar. Image noise gets worse as does color handling if you kick in Brilliant Color. On some content I really found that to be a problem, however Brilliant Color ups saturation, changes the color dynamics, and can sometimes be over the top. I have recommended to BenQ that they add two additional Brilliant Color settings between the current one, and Brilliant Color off. Whether they do such a thing, only time will tell.
Also, the BenQ only has HDMI 1.2.1 so it doesn't support 1.3 or Deep Color. Deep Color has potential, even though the content isn't out there yet. The W5000 comes with only a 1 year warranty, like the Sony it ties with.
Once tuned, though, the BenQ overall is a bright projector in Best Mode, that has more "wow factor" than the other two, especially if you are pushing upward of a 110" screen. It's just that some times, it's a little, "over the top", if you use Brilliant Color to get the brightest image. I don't expect the BenQ will have as strong a following as the Epson or Sony, but, it should have definite appeal to a significant number of folks. (Note: I owned two previous BenQ's the PE-8700+ and the PE-8720, both of which I was very satisfied with at the time). The W5000 is very much like my old PE8720, but 1080p.
To wrap it up, let me put it this way, the BenQ when it looks good, it truly looks great, but other times its rough edges can be bothersome.
Best in Class, Runner-Up (a tie):Sony VPL-VW40 Projector
Actually the Sony VW40 was a no brainer as runner-up to the Epson, and elsewhere, there is much debate as to which is the better projector overall. I'll stick by my guns regarding the Epson.
Still, the Sony is a truly excellent projector. To me, it's more of a "poor man's" JVC RS1. And therein lies the "rub". it can't match the JVC (or the Epson) in overall black level performance, although after calibrating both projectors, I was getting a touch more shadow detail out of the Sony, than the Epson. Fan noise is reasonable, the iris noise is not an issue, and placement flexibility is very good (a 1.8:1 zoom and vertical lens shift, plus a tiny amount of horizontal lens shift).
Out of the box, the Sony I used needed work on getting the colors right, and the unit I had, had a definite, but minor background problem with blue hot spots in the corners. When finally tuned, the Sony looks great and natural, is average in brightness in both Best and Brightest modes. Its other strengths include, being fairly "transparent" (you can watch watch the content and not have the projector intrude). At times the Sony's colors can appear especially rich, which is a good thing.
On the downside, the Sony comes with a basic one year warranty, and even though it has HDMI 1.3, it doesn't support Deep Color. The VW40, an LCoS projector (Sony calls that SXRD), like LCD projectors, is susceptable to motion blur, but I don't see that as significant issue, although like fan noise, it is the kind of thing that will really bother a few folks. The VW40 is one fine projector, with no significant flaws. Between the Sony and the BenQ, I'd say the Sony is the "safe choice".
Special Interest Award: Epson Pro Cinema 1080 UB
Some of you must now be wondering how the Pro version of the Epson UB, didn't get the top award, instead of the Home Cinema 1080 UB. The answer is easy. The Home version is almost identical, but less expensive. The Pro version, normally only sold by local installing dealers is identical in performance to the Home version, except that it is also ISF Certified. In this case that means two savable modes, password protected so that ISF Certified professional calibrators have their ISF Day, and ISF Night modes. Since the Home version has 10 savable settings, though, there's plenty of modes for those calibrators to choose from on the Home, negating any real advantage of the Pro.
Basically the Epson Pro Cinema 1080 UB, sells for about $1000 more than the Home, but also comes with a 3 year warranty (with 3 years of replacement warranty), compared to 2 years (and 2 years replacement) for the home version. The Pro is also finished in a shiny black case instead of the off white of the Home version. To partially offset the price difference between the two models, the Pro also comes with a spare lamp (which would normally set you back about $350), and a ceiling mount. Still, by any measure, the Pro nets out to about $500 more than the Home Cinema 1080 UB.
Simply stated, the Pro is the best game around for the bucks if you want to buy from a local installing dealer, as they normally sell more expensive projectors, and more expensive (often ISF certified), versions of projectors available for less, online.
Category: Higher End Priced 1080p Home Theater Projectors: $3500 - $10,000
Best In Class Award: JVC DLA-RS2
Wow! As an RS1 owner (last year's Best In Class winner), I certainly expected the DLA-RS2 to be a better projector, especially since JVC charges more for the RS2, than they did, even originally for the RS1. JVC delivers on my expectations, in fact, they don't see the RS2 as a replacement for the RS1, but rather as a higher end model. Not only did the release of the RS2 not replace the RS1, but JVC has announced an RS1x, with some improvements over the RS1. Most notably, the RS2's improvement in black level performance, is very evident. Consider that nothing else tested can even rival the RS1, and what we have here is breakthrough performance. In fact the JVC DLA-RS2 is improved in many areas.
The DLA-RS2, has improved color controls (the RS1 was very basic, good thing it was so good "out of the box"). In addition, it fully supports HDMI 1.3 and Deep Color, which the RS1 did not (the RS1x does). Despite the significant price difference, the DLA-RS2 isn't better in all ways, most notably, it isn't as bright as the RS1 projector. Still, it's measured brightness in Best Mode - Cinema - (after calibration), is still brighter than almost all of the competition, (measured at 537 lumens - average for 1080p projectors is about 400-450 lumens) even if it can't match the RS1.
While the JVC DLA-RS2 may blow away all the competition at black level performance and offer excellent shadow detail, it does produce an image that appears slightly softer than many 1080p home theater projectors. Others might also note that the RS2 (using 3 panel LCoS technology - as opposed to 3LCD, or single chip DLP), is susceptible to motion blur. For those that notice motion blur (few, best I can tell) during normal viewing, they would see it in LCoS and 3LCD projectors. DLP projectors react much faster and are free of motion blur. Myself, I really have to be hunting around for motion blur to spot it. It really doesn't show up on my radar during normal viewing. Personally, I consider motion blur to be a much smaller issue, than 3:2 pulldown (which is eliminated on projectors that support 1080p 24fps (frames per second). 24fps is the standard for movies, whereas video - is 30fps.
A two year warranty - which is typical, is reasonable.
Other strengths - the JVC is relatively quiet. By no means the quietest, but quieter than most of the competition in terms of fan noise. And there's no iris noise, since there is no dyamic iris (or manual iris, for that matter).
The bottom line on the JVC RS2, is that if you are really into the best image overall, I think it has a huge advantage in black level performance, combined with very good (not perfect) color, and a very film-like quality, make it the highest performance projector tested under $10,000 street price. About the only reason I haven't upgraded from my RS1 to the RS2, is that I am loathe to give up those extra couple hundred lumens, because I use a very large HC gray surface screen (a 128" diagonal Firehawk G3). Honestly, if I was running the same screen but only 110" diagonal, I would have made the move by now.
If I had to pick one term to describe the JVC DLA-RS2, I think it would have to be "stunning visual performance".
Best In Class Award, Runner-Up: JVC DLA-RS1x
OK, it feels a little weird giving the "2nd place" award to a projector I've never seen, but the choice is logical. The RS1x, replaces the RS1, with only minor changes, notably, HDMI 1.3 with Deep Color support. Like the RS1, it still doesn't support an anamorphic lens with the appropriate vertical stretch aspect ratio. Those with the bucks could buy an outboard processor for the RS1 or RS1x, but if you really want to go 2.35:1, the RS2 does support anamorphic internally, so it may make more sense to just buy the RS2.
As with the RS2, the JVC enjoys tremendous placement flexibility, with a 2:1 zoom lens and plenty of both vertical, and horizontal lens shift. It should work out fine from a placement standpoint, in almost any room.
Overall, the DLA-RS1x is otherwise pretty much identical to the RS1, a projector I know too well (now over 1300 hours on my lamp). Rich, saturated colors, black level performance second only to the RS2, and, I assume, based on what JVC tells me, the RS1x brightness and sharpness should be the same as the RS1's.
In addition, I should mention that the JVC RS1 last year, offered users the least amount of color and image quality controls. Fortunately the projector did just fine without. The RS1x now offers more gamma control, and, I believe some other controls, that the RS1 lacked. Myself, I wished all along, that my RS1 had more customizable gamma settings.
That's enough to convince me. There were a couple of other serious contenders for the Runner-Up spot, most notably the Optoma HD81-LV, and the Sony VW60. I got to watch the Sony against my older RS1 (even with all those lamp hours on mine), and I found the JVC to be the better of the two, and it still definitely won the battle for black level performance.
Best In Class, Special Interest Award: Optoma HD81-LV
The Optoma stands out in a completely different way, than the two JVC's above. Overall, it's rather unique, compared to the competition. For this reason, it comes with a much longer explanation than the other winners.
By far the most noticeable feature of the Optoma HD81-LV is its breathtaking brightness. Nothing else under $10,000 even comes close. Consider, not one of the other 1080p projectors tested even achieved 800 lumens in "best mode", and most were in the 350 - 450 lumen range. Then comes the Optoma, which, in Best Mode, tested out to almost 1500 lumens! Can you say "sunglasses"?
And, there is nothing wrong with the HD81-LV in terms of black level and shadow detail performance. The HD81-LV may not be able to match the JVC projectors, or the Sony VW60 for that matter, but it does do very well in this regard. Further, the Optoma image is very sharp, and there is a lot of depth to it. Dark colors seem to be particularly rich - a regular Optoma projector trait.
This isn't a projector for a 100" or smaller screen, unless you are trying to try to pretend it's just a large plasma or LCDTV, and open the window shades. This can be a projector for folks with serious lighting issues. More likely, though, it will appeal to those looking to get plenty of lumens to fill a 120 - 160" screen. In fact, at trade shows, I believe it is a 160" screen that Optoma usually uses (note, they display it with an anamorphic lens at shows).
The Optoma HD81-LV is the only sub-$10,000 "light canon", in the 1080p home theater projector space. (OK, the InFocus IN82 comes somewhat close).
By the way, there are any number of projectors slightly, to significantly brighter, but they are all 3 chip DLP projectors, and typically price from more than $20,000 to over $100,000, and it is the more expensive ones, mostly that are the dramatically brighter ones. (Can you say $50,000 Runco projectors?)
This DLP projector, from an optical hardware standpoint, is classic DLP, in that it has a very limited zoom lens (1.2:1) and no lens shift. From an input standpoint, it's the opposite. It comes with a separate processor that sits with the rest of your equipment, and a single cable runs from the processor to the projector (saves installation cost - less cabling to run). Along with that come a huge number of inputs, including 4 HDMI inputs! When it comes to hooking this projector up, there's nothing that can best it, short of some 3 chip 1080p DLP's (can you say $20,000+).
The short range zoom and lack of lens shift means it almost certainly has to be ceiling mounted, shelf mounting just isn't an option. Also, because of the significant lens offset, the projector will mount well above the top of the screen. Since this projector will be sought after by those loooking for the largest screens, that offset can be signficant, making the projector impractical in rooms with average or less ceiling height, if you want a large screen.
Consider - for a 140 inch 16:9 screen (that's about 70" vertically), if you have an 8 foot ceiling, and mount the projector so the center of the lens is about 8" below the ceiling (that's about as close as a normal mount can get it), then the top of the screen would be about 21 inches below, that (29" total), and bottom of the screen surface would need to be below the floor! (8 foot ceiling = 96" - 29" - 70" = -3"). hat puts the screen surface bottom roughly 3 inches below the floor!
Not exactly practical. For a screen that size, let's say a 10 foot ceiling would be about the absolute minimum (bottom of the screen surface 21" off the floor, not counting the frame).
Note those measurements are based on a 140" 16:9 screen. With an anamorphic lens and the same 140" diagonal size, you need about 15 inches less height, but that still puts the bottom of your screen surface at 12 inches from the floor, and the frame, slightly below that. Doable, but a bitch, if you have a second row of seats.
Editor's note: To figure out the dimensions of a a Cinemascope ratio screen (2.35:1), which is what you use with an anamorphic lens, the screen height as approximately 39% of the diagonal size, and the width is about 92% of the diagonal size. By comparison, for a 16:9 screen, height is about 49.5% and width about 87%.
If you buy this projector, expect to have to work to get the image quality right, most notably because the "out of the box" color is not good. Skin tones tend to definitely sport a greenish caste. At the least, get a calibration disc, and learn how to use it. If though, you are spending the big bucks for this projector, I would definitely recommend finding a local ISF professional calibrator, invest the $300-$600+ for a proper calibration. It will be worth every penny, to get the maximum out of this projector.
Still, the bottom line, is the HD81-LV is for larger screen users. Although it comes up very short in placement flexibility, it combines (once properly calibrated), an excellent image with unmatched brightness.
A three year warranty with 1st year replacement program, makes for a seriously good warranty.
I had seriously considered the HD81-LV as one of only two other projectors on my short list when buying the JVC RS1 last year. In fact, it was placement difficulties, primarily, combined with the fact that I am one of the unlucky few, who is sensitive to the rainbow effect, that caused me to cross it off my list when making my purchase last spring. Even though my RS1 is a particularly bright projector in Best Mode, the extra horsepower of the HD81-LV is something special.
Overall, the Optoma HD81-LV is a killer projector for those with demands for a excellent overall image, and a really large screen.
Ok, that covers the award winners in terms of a brief overview. In the many pages of this projector report, you will find detailed information, about how these projectors compare with one another, and how rank generally, topic by topic.