The 1080p Home Theater Projector Comparison Report
This in-depth (and rather large) report compares 25 1080p home theater projectors under $10,000. Enjoy!
March 2009 - Art Feierman
1080p Projector Comparison - Overview
This comprehensive report follows the same writing process as individual reviews. Eight separate pages: Overview, Physical Tour, Image Quality, Performance, Screen Recommendations, Compare Projectors, 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 (different than last year's), the Compare Projectors section will not only feature our head to head comparisons, but also a few pages that break out the projectors by aspects such as those suitable for large screens, those best for movie watchers only, those best for watching a variety of content (movies, sports...), those capable of being shelf mounted, and so on. Not all of those will have been completed by the time the Report is posted. We also break out the projectors by those available only from local dealers (no online sales).
The number of home theater projectors considered this year is just slightly larger than last year's. True, there are more 1080p projectors now, with several companies who offered just one 1080p model last year, offering two, this year. Offsetting that, in part, is that we are still limited to considering the projectors we have reviewed, along with, in some cases, almost identical sibling projectors (such as the reviewed Epson Home Cinema 6500UB, and the almost identical, but not reviewed, Pro Cinema 7500UB). This year we were only able to review a few more 1080p home theater projectors than last year. One note: This year, a couple of 1080p projectors which we have not posted reviews of, but arrived in house while work on the report has begun, will be considered. They will have been calibrated and viewed, but the writing up of those reviews had to be delayed until this report published.
Considered in this report are 25 projectors, including 20 with full reviews posted. Only a handful of the 1080p projectors in this report, were included in last year's. The vast majority of last year's projectors have been replaced by newer models.
Note, all the screen images on this page are from the JVC DLA-RS20 unless otherwise noted.
1080p Projector Categories by price:
Home Theater Projectors: Street Price under $2100
Read the full review of the Epson Home Cinema 6100 3LCD projector or read the Home Cinema 6100 specifications here.
Read the full review of the InFocus X10 DLP projector or read the X10 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Mitsubishi HC5500 3LCD projector or read the HC5500 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Sanyo PLV-Z700 3LCD projector or read the PLV-Z700 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Optoma HD806 DLP projector or read the HD806 specifications here.
Projectors above, from top left: Epson Home Cinema 6100, InFocus X10, Mitsubishi HC5500, Sanyo PLV-Z700, Optoma HD806
Home Theater Projectors: Street Price $2100 - $3500
Read the full review of the BenQ W5000 DLP projector or read the W5000 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB 3LCD projector or read the Home Cinema 6500UB specifications here.
Read the Epson Pro Cinema 7100 specifications, or read the review of its almost identical twin, the Home Cinema 6100.
Read the Epson Pro Cinema 7500UB specifications, or read the review of its almost identical twin, the Home Cinema 6500UB.
Read the full review of the Optoma HD8200 DLP projector or read the HD8200 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Panasonic PT-AE3000 3LCD projector or read the PT-AE3000 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Mitsubishi HC6500 3LCD projector or read the HC6500 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Mitsubishi HC7000 3LCD projector or read the HC7000 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Sanyo PLV-Z3000 3LCD projector or read the PLV-Z3000 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Sony VPL-HW10 LCoS projector or read the HW10 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Viewsonic Pro8100 DLP projector or read the Pro8100 specifications here.
Projectors above, from top left: BenQ W5000, Epson Home Cinema 6500UB, Epson Pro Cinema 7100/7500UB, Panasonic PT-AE3000U, Mitsubishi HC6500/HC7000, Sanyo PLV-Z3000, Viewsonic Pro8100
Home Theater Projectors: Street price $3500-$10,000
Read the full review of the BenQ W20000 LCoS projector or read the W20000 specifications here.
Read the full review of the JVC DLA-RS10 LCoS projector or read the RS10 specifications here.
Read the full review of the JVC DLA-RS20 LCoS projector or read the RS20 specifications here.
Read the full review of the InFocus IN82 DLP projector or read the IN82 specifications here.
Read the full review of the InFocus IN83 DLP projector or read the IN83 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Optoma HD8000-LV DLP projector or read the HD8000-LV specifications here.
Read the full review of the Planar 8150 DLP or read the Planar 8150 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Sharp XV-Z20000 DLP projector or read the Z20000 specifications here.
Read the Sony VPL-VW70 specifications, or read the full review of its predecessor, the Sony VW60.
Projectors above, from top left: BenQ W20000, JVC DLA-RS10/RS20, InFocus IN82/IN83, Optoma HD8000-LV, Planar 8150, Sharp XV-Z20000, Sony VPL-VW70
Picking the Winners - the best projectors in each price range:
There really is no, one best projector for everyone, not even in a particular price range. There are so many variables that each buyer must consider, in choosing the right projector for their viewing requirements. Our goal this year, is to help you quickly eliminate projectors that may be excellent values overall, but just won't work for you, for one reason or another.
There are many such reasons - limited brightness, placement flexibility, rainbow effect susceptability, fan noise, etc. We'll list many of these issues in the Competitors section, in charts, so that, for example, you need a really quiet projector, you can find a list that only shows you the quieter ones (or if it's simpler, a list of the ones to avoid because they are noisier).
My point is, that while one projector may be excellent at many things, it may be disqualified by you because of a specific requirement you have. 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 9-11 rewards out of 25+ 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.
1080P Projector Highlights
Below is a short paragraph highlighting key aspects of each projector considered for this review. They are organized by the our three price categories (Classes).
$2100 and under 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Sanyo PLV-Z700 projector:
Sanyo's PLV-Z700 is the least expensive 1080p projector on the market (to our knowledge). It is currently selling for close to $1500 at a number of authorized dealers. This Sanyo projector is their entry level 1080p projector, and has respectable black level performance, but no match for most more expensive projectors including their own PLV-Z3000. Typical of 3LCD projectors, it offers exceptional placement flexibility. A three year warranty is longer than that provided by most, more expensive projectors.
Mitsubishi HC5500 projector:
The HC5500 is another entry level 3LCD 1080p projector (Mitsubishi has two more expensive models). The HC5500's black levels are better than the weaker performers in this group, and actually pretty good when compared to other non "ultra-high-contrast" projectors. In order to keep the costs down on this entry level model, Mitsubishi went to a limited range zoom lens, significantly reducing placement flexibility. Their HC6500 (listed in the next Class up), has similar performance, but more placement flexibility. The Mitsubishi is noteworthy for its almost silent operation, and for a very sharp image. Overall, it provides very good image quality.
Optoma HD806 projector:
The HD806 is almost a cross-over model - trying to work as a business or home theater projector. Black levels are, like the Sanyo PLV-Z700, very entry level, but the HD806's claim to fame is being very bright, even in "best mode". Still, in best mode, its black levels are barely a match for competing projectors in their brightest mode. Then there's the slow color wheel speed, so more people will notice the rainbow effect. Consider it more of a family room projector (always some light) than a good choice for a dedicated theater. A classic DLP projector, it has limited placement flexibility with its 1.2:1 zoom range and no lens shift. Fan noise is fairly loud. While it is good in a family room, I often think that it would be more at home in a sports bar.
Epson Home Cinema 6100 projector:
More lumens in best mode than the other entry level 3LCD projectors and more lumens than any of the others in this class, except for the Optoma HD806, and very close to the Optoma. The Epson offers the best black level performance of this group of lower cost projectors, in fact as good as, or better than, a few of the projectors in the next class up. The Epson offers lots of placement flexibility, and a two year warranty with exchange program.
InFocus X10 projector:
A solid, entry level DLP projector. Black levels are not particularly noteworthy, but the InFocus offers an especially sharp looking image. (It's a nicely styled unit too, for those who care.) It has limited placement flexibility, as is typical of most DLP projectors. On the downside, it's also fairly noisy, as is also typical of many DLP models. It is, however, very good at color accuracy, producing some excellent skin tones, and its brightness, in both best and brightest modes, provides plenty of punch. While it's true that black levels are its weakness overall, remember, InFocus makes three other, more expensive 1080p projectors, each with better black levels than the one below it. Of note, it is the only projector in this pricing group that is ISF certified.
$2100 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projectors
BenQ W5000 projector:
One of the "oldest" projectors in this comparison, it was excellent enough to earn our Best in Class - Runnerup award in this same class last year. The notable difference, is that last year it was one of the most expensive in the group. Thanks to a huge drop in street price, it is now just about the least expensive in this group. The BenQ W5000 offers an extremely sharp image, very good black levels (but not up to the "ultra-high-contrast" competition), and thanks to lens shift, better placement flexibility than most DLP projectors. Last year, it was in the running for the top award, but for some image noise issues, that have since been fixed. DLP projectors have strong supporters among enthusiasts for their film-like image quality. The BenQ provides especially rich colors, and a dynamic image overall. A short one year warranty is a negative.
Epson Home and Pro Cinema 6500UB, 7500UB projectors:
These two models replace the older 1080 UB projectors (also one Home, one Pro series). They offer the best black levels of any projectors in this price range, although some other "ultra-high-contrast" projectors come close. Last year the Home Cinema 1080 UB won our Best in Class Award. The differences between these two models are slight. The Pro Cinema 7500 offers ISF certification, internal support for an anamorphic lens, a black finish, an extra year (3 total) of warranty/replacement, and they are only sold by local dealers. The Home Cinema 6500UB costs less and is available on-line.
The Epson's are especially bright in their brightest mode, and also are the brightest of the 3LCD projectors in "best mode" although there are other projectors in this group that are a bit brighter in "best". Sharpness is good. These Epsons offer creative frame interpolation (two of only 4 projectors in this review), and also 4:4 for 24fps content. There are some issues with their creative frame interpolation on movies, so few use it except for sports. Too bad, but not a big deal - they've simply tried to do some things that no one else has even attempted. Placement flexibility is as good as it gets.
Epson Pro Cinema 7100 projector:
This is the Pro version of the Epson Home Cinema 6100 listed in the Entry level price group. You are paying more to buy this from a local dealer, but you do get a ceiling mount and spare lamp (but it still nets out to this price group). In addition, the Pro Cinema 7100 comes with an extra year of warranty and replacement (3 years total), and will support an anamorphic lens (few are likely to go that route - if you can afford an anamorphic lens, you'd buy the Pro Cinema 7500UB)! Overall, what you have here is an affordable projector with plenty of lumens. It can handle typical screens up to 110" or even a size larger, in its best mode, and has lumens to spare, even with some room lighting, on larger screens, including my 128", in brightest modes.
Black levels are not up to the "ultra-high-contrast" 3LCD projectors, but are comparable or better than the other 3LCD projectors and almost all of the DLP projectors in this price range. Strong performance for family rooms with ambient light, and a very good image overall.
Panasonic PT-AE3000 projector:
Most likely the best selling 1080p projector on the market, and for good reason. It is one of our favorites. It's well thought out, has some very nice features and benefits, such as creative frame interpolation, and a pseudo anamorphic lens capability that allows you to pair it with a Cinemascope screen (2.35:1) without a very expensive external lens. Brightness is average, placement flexibility is excellent, and the warranty is marginal (one year), although currently (2/09) Panasonic is giving away a 2nd year warranty. The Panasonic is one of the more "film-like" 1080p projectors using 3LCD technology. For those who like to tweak, it has excellent color controls and a built in signal generator. Have a blast!
Black level performance is very, very, good. While not the best of the "ultra-high contrast" 3LCD projectors (in terms of black levels), it's still a significant step up from the typical 1080p projector in this price range.
Optoma HD8200 projector:
We're still playing with this one, as I write this. The review will be posted in 3/09, after this report. It's a classy looking unit from Optoma. It seems Optoma has finally gotten the message: That with no lens shift, and limited zoom lens, a projector inherently misses out on the majority of buyers. With a 1.5:1 zoom and lens shift, the HD8200 has very good placement flexibility. It seems to be very bright (not measured or calibrated yet), one of the brightest, around, so suitable for larger screens. Black level performance of the DLP based projector, however is just typical of those that are not "ultra-high-contrast" projectors. It does sport a dynamic iris to help out with black levels, but its functionality is a bit noticeable. Very interesting, the verdict is still out.
Sanyo PLV-Z3000 projector:
The PLV-Z3000 is currently the least expensive of the "ultra-high-contrast" projectors out there, and that alone, should make it a very popular and successful projector. It currently sells (with rebate) for just a little more than the cut-off of $2100 for this category. That also makes it one of the least expensive projectors in the category. Black level performance is not quite as good as the other "ultra-high-contrast" projectors, but it is definitely much closer to those, than any of the more basic home theater projectors, such as the Epson 6100, or Sanyo's entry level PLV-Z700, and for that matter, better than vitually all of the DLP projectors anywhere near its price.
This compact home theater projector offers excellent placement flexibility. Its image is also very sharp. In best mode it's a little below average in brightness, so keep it to smaller screens. On the other hand, it has good brightness in brightest mode, so it can handle that same screen with a fair amount of ambient light when needed. Sanyo provides a 3 year warranty.
Sony VPL-HW10 projector:
The VPL-HW10 is the least expensive home theather projector sporting LCoS technology, and the only one to fall into this price category. Sony relies on a dynamic iris to get the best possible black levels, and it does a very good job, though not exceptional. Black level performance can't quite match the "ultra-high-contrast" 3LCD models, but is at least an equal to all the others in this price range, with the exception of the BenQ. The HW10 is a larger unit with plenty of placement flexibility. Brightness in best mode is definitely above average, great for movie watchers only even with larger screens. In brightest mode, however, it only gets a small extra boost (about 10%), so for those who also plan on watching things like sports with some ambient light, they'll find they need to keep the screen size small. This Sony comes with an industry standard 2 year warranty.
Mitsubishi HC6500, HC7000 projectors:
These two look the same, until you turn them on. They basically have all the same functions. The big differences between them, is that the HC7000 is one of those "ultra-high-contrast" projectors, with much better black levels than the HC6500, and that, as they say, is why you pay the big bucks for the HC7000. Both offer very sharp images, and very good placement flexibility. They are both almost silent when it comes to fan noise, in fact their high power mode is typically quieter than almost anyone elses low power modes.
Both projectors are intended for local dealer only distribution, so they tend to cost more than some of their direct competition that is available online. Still, they are priced very well, when compared to other "local dealer only" projectors. The HC6500's overall performance is similar to the lower cost HC5500, with the big difference being much better placement flexibility. The HC6500 is about average brightness in best mode, and also about average in brightest. That means 110" diagonal is a good larger size for both movie and HDTV/Sports viewing. The HC7000 is not quite as bright and will likely work best on 100" screens or less. Both sport a standard 2 year warranty.
Viewsonic Pro8100 projector:
Viewsonic's Pro8100 is above average in brightness, in both best, and brightest modes. This LCD projector is typical in terms of black level performance among the non "ultra-high-contrast" projectors. The unit itself is rather good looking, and they even have interchangeable covers, in case your room design calls for a dark red, a gray, black or white look. (Nice touch!) A three year warranty is better than most offer. The Pro8100 is officially sold only through local installing dealers, which makes it more expensive than comparable models sold online. It is nicely quiet, and overall a competitive projector. It sports a dynamic iris to help out with the black levels, but the iris action is more visible than on most others.
$3500 - $10,000 Home Theater Projectors
BenQ W20000 projector:
The W20000 is BenQ's flagship 1080p projector. It uses the Darkchip3 for better black levels than the lower cost W5000. The W20000 is one of the more flexible DLP projectors when it comes to placement flexibility, thanks to having lens shift. The W20000 is one of the brighter projectors in "best" mode, and is slightly brighter than average in its brightest mode. The W20000 produces a very sharp image, and once calibrated, very good color accuracy, though not the very best. The W20000 relies on two irises, one you can manually control to adjust overall brightness (and contrast), and also a dynamic iris to improve black level performance in darker scenes. The end result is the best black levels of any DLP projector in this review. A three year warranty, with first year replacement program is one of the best available.
InFocus IN82 projector:
The IN82 has been around for more than a year. It is a classic DLP projector, using a Darkchip3. Although lower cost than the newer IN83, the IN83's better black level performance tends to overshadow interest in the IN82. The sleek looking IN82 comes with a two year warranty. the IN82 lacks lens shift and has a limited range zoom, combining to yield the rather limited placement flexibility typical of most (not all) DLP home theater projectors. Overall color performance is extremely good after calibration. Black level performance is about average among the projectors in this price range that are not ones we refer to as "ultra-high-contrast".
InFocus IN83 projector:
Although the IN83, despite its Darkchip4 DLP processor, comes up short in terms of black levels, compared to the ultra-high-contrast projectors in this class, the IN83 makes up for that shortcoming with the best looking image, in terms of natural looking colors, of any projector in this report. The IN83 also provides an exceptionally sharp image, and is one of the brighter projectors in "best" mode, and is also rather bright in its brightest mode. For those interested in a razor sharp image with great color, and are willing to settle for less than great black level performance, the IN83 is hard to beat.
JVC DLA-RS10 projector:
The JVC DLA-RS10 offers exceptional black level performance, only surpassed by JVC's more expensive RS20. This full featured projector has excellent placement flexibility, 2 year warranty, and excellent post calibration color accuracy. In "best" mode, it is one of the brightest projectors, although it's only slightly brighter in its brightest mode, making it average in terms of maximum brightness. The RS10 is a first class projector for enthusiasts who can't quite afford the RS20. Sharpness is about average for projectors in this price range, and nothing to complain about. Focus, zoom and lens shift are all motorized, providing some extra flexibility. The RS10 replaces the older RS1 and RS1x projectors, with a number of improvements. I owned an RS1 until recently, and always found the viewing experience to be excellent.
JVC DLA-RS20 projector:
The RS20 replaces the JVC RS2, our Best in Class winner in 2008. While the improvements are evolutionary, not revolutionary, hey, it's not easy to improve upon the best. Black levels are unmatched, surpassing (slightly) the older RS2, and more so, compared to the lower cost RS10. Image sharpness is average, color performance (after a rather tricky calibration), is excellent. Warranty is two years. The RS20 is also a physically good looking projector with a black piano finish, and a touch of gold trim. The RS20 achieves its best in class black levels thanks to its JVC designed LCoS chips, and accomplishes this feat without needing a dynamic iris. The overall performance of the RS20 is exceptional, which is why I purchased one for my own theater just two weeks ago.
Planar PD8150 projector:
Planar is the relatively new company in the home theater projector space. They launched their own line a couple/three years ago, and more recently bought Runco (which includes Vidikron) as their ultra high end product line. The Planar 8150 is sold through authorized local dealers only. The PD8150 is a DLP projector, that has the best black levels of any DLP in this report. A most impressive projector.
Sharp XV-Z20000 projector:
The XV-Z20000 projector is one of the oldest in the review, it is also one of the most expensive. Picture quality is excellent, but the Z20000 is one of the least bright projectors in this comparison. The Z20000 has some impressive black levels for a single chip DLP, especially considering it lacks a dynamic iris. Last year we said it was good competition for the JVC RS1, but less bright and more expensive.
Sony VPL-VW70 projector:
Of the projectors we didn't get to, before this report, the Sony VW70 is the one I would have liked to have been able to review beforehand. Replacing the older VW60, an excellent performer in its own right, the VW70 should really impress. It is a step up, but looks just like the VPL-HW10, which we did review. For this report we make some assumptions based on the VW60 review. While I personally definately
First, that's a term of mine, nothing official. It represents the projectors that have contrast and black level performance that is at least a step up from the rest.
It gets old using this expression, but, for years, better black levels have been the "holy grail" for home theater projectors. Truth is, all of these 1080p projectors have at least good black level performance. In fact, so good, that only a few projectors just three years ago, could match the least of these. However, there have been two notable technology shifts. 3LCD projectors have improved in native contrast with new polarization techniques and other improvements, and one LCoS manufacturer has simply managed to redesign their LCoS panels allowing contrast and black levels that are magnitudes better than previous LCoS projectors. That would be JVC. Epson was first of the ultra-high-contast projectors when their 1080 UB launched over a year ago. Today, all four of the major 3LCD manufacturers in home theater space are using that technology on their top of the line units.
Of note, only JVC accomplishes great black level performance without resorting to using dynamic irises (a topic for another time), and yet they are the best.
The point of this non-feature, but rather, level of performance discussion, is that once you get up to these projectors, blacks are starting to get very black. What that means is that when choosing between these projectors, you may still focus on getting the best black level performance, but the incremental improvement is now less important to many, than other abilities, such as lots of brightness, especially good skin tones, easy placement, better warranty and support.
We consider the following projectors to fit the description of ultra-high-contrast:
Epson 6500UB and 7500UB
JVC DLA-RS10 and DLA-RS20
Sony VPL-WV70 (based on our review last year of the VW60 it replaces)
In addition, these projectors came close:
Of these three, the first two are DLP, the Sony an LCoS. All three, by the way, have a dynamic iris. In fact only the JVCs do not.
Lens shift is all about a projector's placement flexibility. Projectors with adjustable lens shift definitely provide more placement options. Since virtually everyone wants their projector setup, up high, rather than just putting it on a table, lens shift is needed to allow you to place a projector on a shelf (in the rear of your room), instead of restricting it to ceiling mounting. This is a huge plus for many owners. First, it puts the projector behind where most people sit (rather than overhead or just in from of the viewer), which helps in making the projector's fan noise less noticeable. The other advantage for most installations, is that running cabling is usually simpler, and less expensive than ceiling mounting. This is true for several reasons. In most homes, people are likely to have power readily accessible on most walls, on the other hand, most likely people will find that they don't have a power source in the ceiling. Running power to the ceiling to power the projector tends to be an additional, potentially significant expense. Further, if one has high ceilings getting cabling, as well as power, up there, becomes a lot more complicated than to a back wall.
Another disadvantage of not having adjustable lens shift, is that without it, the projector must be mounted at exactly the right height, instead of over a wide range. As it turns out, those projectors without adjustable lens shift, are designed to be mounted above the screen top. That offset is typically about 18 inches above the top of the screen surface for a 100" screen, and more or less, depending on the screen size. In more than a few cases, people with normal or low ceiling heights (8 foot or less) find they can't use a projector with that much offset. For those going with really large screens, say over 120 inch diagonal, you may need a ceiling height of 9 feet, or more. I receive more than a few emails from folks telling me they really had their heart set on this projector or that (without lens shift), but that they couldn't mount it high enough due to ceiling height.
All projectors with lens shift have vertical lens shift, while not all have horizontal lens shift. Vertical is the important one for most. Horizontal comes into play if you can't mount the projector with the lens centered relative to the center of the screen horizontally. Thus, horizontal lens shift can be important if there is a reason the projector must be mounted slightly to either side.
Adjustable vertical lens shift means you can mount the projector over a wide range of height relative to the top of the screen. Most typically, a projector with lens shift can be placed anywhere from a couple of feet above the top of the screen, all the way down to below the bottom (talk about flexible). A few projectors have less shift range, although all, to my knowledge, can at least be mounted as high as the top of the screen. I won't get into horizontal lens shift here (it's dealt with in the various reviews), but below is a short breakout of all the projectors as to whether they do, or do not have adjustable lens shift.
All of the projectors covered here, that lack lens shift, are DLP projectors (about half of them). All the 3LCD and LCoS projectors do have lens shift.
Projectors with no adjustable lens shift:
All InFocus projectors
All Optoma projectors, except for the HD8200
All other projectors have lens shift. Of those that do, I believe all have enough shift to be mounted above the top of the screen, except for the two BenQ projectors, which can only go as high as the top of the screen surface.
Creative Frame Interpolation
I've blogged a lot about Creative Frame Interpolation (CFI). This is something just coming to home theater projectors. The short of it, is that it is a process that is designed to elminate motion blur. Afterall, movies are shot at 24 frames per second. Even digital video (such as HDTV sports), at 60fps, will still have blurring when watching a fast paced sporting event, or a Transformer change shape. The concept is good to a point, but there are trade-offs. Only four projectors of the roughly two dozen in this report offer any sort of CFI. Those four are the Panasonic PT-AE3000, the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB and its almost identical sibling, the Pro Cinema 7500UB, and finally, the Sanyo PLV-Z3000.
This is no time for a lengthy discussion, and you will find plenty of blogs on it on our site, that really get into CFI and its trade-offs.
Each of the three companies has taken a slightly different approach to CFI, and with varying success. The Sanyo PLV-Z3000 has the most basic CFI, and it works well. The Panasonic does what the Sanyo does but has some extra modes. Most have very good results but some have more visible artifacts. Epson has gone much further than the other two companies, but their most advanced (if you will) attempts just don't cut it. Still, the Epson can do what the Sanyo does, effectively as well, and also most of what the Panasonic does, equally well. Of the three brands, let's say that the Panasonic has the advantage. How important, and what are the trade-offs?
While a few people are enamoured with the idea of CFI, my own take is that it's a nice extra feature when it works correctly, but I wouldn't base a purchase decision on it. At its best, it can very slightly improve some sports viewing, and improve slow panning slightly, but at its worst, it creates visible artifacts, typically, annoying ones. For you to consider: If a projector smooths out a fast action scene, the scene can become too tame. The director knows what the scene is going to look like without CFI, but if they saw the effect of CFI, they just might say "hmm, the action now seems muted." In other words, CFI may well damage the "director's intent." Only the Panasonic, of these projectors, can do anything with a normal movie shot at 24fps on film, and there are times when it is over the top. One tendency is to make film movies look more like "live digital video" or as some call it, "the soap opera effect."
On the other hand, if your projector offers CFI, no one says you have to use it for content where it isn't a plus.
Anamorphic Lens support and Anamorphic Lens Emulation
First, a brief on what is an anamorphic lens, and why people are interested in it.
An anamorphic lens is a second lens, placed right in front of the projector. Its sole purpose is to stretch the image horizontally (make it wider), while leaving the vertical untouched. All home theater projectors today have 16:9 aspect ratios. That's a perfect match for HDTV content, but it is not as wide an image (relative to height) as most movies. Most movies are shot in Cinemascope - a ratio of 2.35:1 - over twice as wide as tall. When you view them on a standard home theater projector, the movie fills the screen horizontally, but leaves you with a black (ok, near black) letterbox, at the top and bottom of the screen (about 10% of the screen height for each). I'd say everyone would rather not have the letterboxing, but 99% of us get along with it just fine. Because not everything you will be watching is in Cinemascope, you still need to be able to go back to standard viewing for HDTV, movies in 16:9, and even old 4:3 (standard TV). To accomplish that, you need to move the anamorphic lens out of the way. For that reason, almost everyone going anamorphic, buys not only the lens, but a motorized sled to remove the lens from the light path when not needed.
The cost of an anamorphic lens and sled is typically $3000 - $6000 for projectors in this price range, in other words, often costs more than the projector. It also means unless you are buying one with one of the better/more expensive projectors, you are going to get a lot more bang for your buck skipping the lens, and buying a much better projector.
Of the projectors covered in this report, most do have internal support an anamorphic lens. That means you can buy the lens, etc., and it will work. That internal support consists of the correct aspect ratio for it all to look right. Any projector without that internal support, can still work with an anamorphic lens, but you'll need to buy an outboard processor, typically from $800 on up. If you really must have an anamorphic lens, buy a projector that supports one.
Of all the projectors in this comparison, these are the ones that Do Not support an anamorphic lens:
Epson Home Cinema 6100
Epson Home Cinema 6500UB
Now, of those three, Epson offers near identical versions of these projectors; the Pro Cinema 7100, and the Pro Cinema 7500UB, which do support an anamorphic lens, but cost more, have a couple of other secondary differences, and are only sold through local authorized dealers, and not online.
Sony's VPL-HW10 does not support the lens, but their noticeably more expensive (and better) VPL-VW70 (which we haven't been able to get in yet, for review), does.
It's interesting that something like an anamorphic lens, which is probably not used by more than 1% of owners, is now supported in most projectors, but then, most of what is needed, is simply one more supported aspect ratio, and a 12 volt trigger to move the lens in and out of position.
Panasonic's PT-AE3000 does have support, but it also has something else, which is the ability to "emulate" an anamorphic lens. It doesn't need such a lens to put a Cinemascope image on a 2.35:1 screen and no letterboxing. This saves thousands, but has some trade-offs. Panasonic accomplishes this trick by allowing you (once set up) to touch a button to change the lens' zoom to fill that 2.35:1 screen. Press another button and it handles your 16:9 and 4:3 content. The trick to making this work, is that you can save the two different zoom settings in a lens memory area.
The downsides are: That letterbox is still there, it's just not hitting the screen, it's above and below it. That shouldn't be a problem if your wall is dark, but if not, you will see the faint light. Also different than a real anamorphic lens, is that the projector still isn't using all its resolution for the image itself. With a "real" anamorphic lens and stretch, every pixel is in use, not just the about 80% that get used for the movie in this case. As a result, you are giving up a fair amount of brightness.
All that considered, it's a really nice feature that allows you to go "Cinemascope" without the big expense. Look for more projectors to do the same next year.
Deep Color is a technology, (or rather a standard) that is supported by HDMI 1.3. However, having HDMI 1.3 does not guarantee that the projector supports Deep Color, (as was the case last year with Sony's VW40).
What's it all about? Although you read about things in projector brochures such as 10 bit processing or 12 bit gamma, the source material coming to you over HDTV and Blu-ray disc is only 8 bit per color (24 bits total), a palette of merely 16.7 million colors. You would think that to be enough, but, in truth, it's not. Look closely at a closeup of a face, and you will see there simply aren't enough shades of the skin tones to go around, so you get some "flat areas" and perhaps a tiniest bit of a mottled look. Oh, it looks fine when you are normally viewing, but a larger color palette make things better.
Deep Color comes in 10 bit, 12 bit, or 16 bit per channel. The real goal is to get to at least the 10 bit, which means 30 bits total, or about 2 billion colors. 12 bit, better still (over 100 billion color palette), 16 bit - over the top.
The bad news, is there still isn't any Deep Color content out there, but we're all hoping to see some late this year or next. Blu-ray disc has the ability.
For this year's projectors I believe only one lacks support for Deep Color, and that is the BenQ W5000. Still, that didn't stop it from picking up one of our awards.
ISF, THX Certification
OK, you've got a new home theater projector and you want to get the most out of it. Some of you are hard core enthusiasts, you'll tweak your projectors constantly trying to improve the picture. Many of you will do this with end user calibration discs, some of you even own light meters (the really hard-core), but many of us, to maximize the investment, will seek out a professional to calibrate their projector and often related other gear.
Today, you see many projectors now sporting an "ISF Certified" label. ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) is an organization of professional, certified calibrators. The projectors that bear that logo, have two things. 1. Sufficient color controls to allow a professional to do their job properly, and, 2. Two additional saved setting modes, password protected, for the calibrators (ISF Day, ISF Night).
THX is a name you are well familiar with from audio. Just over a year ago, they got into the certification game as well, with their own standards of performance. The first THX certified projectors were $30,000 and up. Today, in this report, we see the first under $10,000 THX certified projector, the JVC DLA-RS20. At least in the case of the RS20, there is a THX mode pre-calibrated picture mode (and while not perfect, in my opinion), that preset mode is comparable to the best examples of "out of the box" color accuracy.
Is it critical that a projector be ISF certified? No, not at all, there are fully excellent projectors that aren't. In fact, the lack of ISF certification is intentional with some manufacturers. Take Epson for example: Their Home Cinema projectors (6500UB and 6100) are not certified. Thos projectors are sold online. To provide "extra value" for their Pro series (7500UB, 7100) which are almost identical, the Pros have ISF certification, while the Home series do not. Considering even the Home Series has 10 presets What is important, is that you realize that there are things you can do to get the most out of your projector, and one of those is to hire a calibrator, or a dealer who has or works with one.
These are the ISF certfied projectors in this report, by brand:
BenQ: W5000, W20000
Epson: Pro Cinema 7100, Pro Cinema 7500UB
InFocus: X10, IN82, IN83
JVC: DLA-RS10, RS20
Mitsubishi: HC5500, HC6500, HC7000
Optoma: HD806-ISF (not reviewed, we reviewed the standard HD806), HD8200
Sanyo: PLV-Z700, PLV-Z3000
Only the JVC DLA-RS20 is THX certified and has a calibrated THX mode.