1080p Projector Comparison Report - Performance
March 2009 - Art Feierman
1080p Projectors - Brightness
Before we get started in our discussion of how each projector does in terms of brightness, first a note about our measurements. A couple of months ago, we switched to new test equipment. We were aware that our old gear tended to consistently measure higher lumens than the results by other reviewers. The last few reviews we have done, have been with the new gear, which measures about 28% less. The lumen measurements listed in this section, and elsewhere in this article have been adjusted for consistency. As a result, the lumen numbers here, for all of the older reviews show lower measurements than appeared in their original reviews. This way, we are working with "apples to apples".
Since in many reviews we publish a large number of measurements - pre and post calibration, and often, multiple modes, if you want to take any lumen measurement in any of the reviews (the exceptions are the two most recent - the JVC RS10 and RS20 which have the "new" numbers in their reviews), just take the published numbers in those reviews and multiply by 0.72 to get the properly adjusted lumens.
All the lumen measurements posted in the charts below (and commentary) reflect the new, more accurate numbers!
There are two key aspects worth considering when considering a home theater projector's brightness. The first is how bright the projector is, in its "best" mode. Best mode, (typically that mode bares a name such as Theater, Cinema 1, Movie, etc.).
In "best" mode, a projector typically works at its dimmest, but provides its best color and black levels.
The other consideration is how bright a projector can get. Not everyone only wants to watch movies in a fully darkened environment. Many of us also watch TV/HDTV, and especially sports viewing. For most of that, we prefer to have some lights on. For this type of viewing, we are willing to compromise best picture quality a bit in exchange for enough lumens to make the picture nice, bright, and dynamic looking.
For that reason, we measure, for each projector, its "best" and "brightest" modes.
Keep this in mind. Some projectors may have all the lumens you need for your movie watching in "best" mode, but not enough to view sports and TV with some room lighting on. Other projectors may have lots of lumens in their brightest mode, perfect for that sports and TV on a large screen, but not enough lumens for that same screen, to fill it adequately in "best" mode.
Consider - some projectors have very little brightness difference between "best" and "brightest" - as little as, say, 10-20%. Others may have a bright mode with as much as three times the brightness of that projector's "best" mode.
It is therefore important to consider both the type of viewing you'll be doing, and your screen size, screen type, and room lighting.
$2100 and under 1080p Home Theater Projectors
OK here are our brightness measurements for the Entry Level class. All :
|Epson 6100||InFocus X10||Mitsubishi HC5500||Optoma HD806||Sanyo PLV-Z700*|
Sanyo PLV-Z700 projector:
In its "best" mode, the PLV-Z700 is one of the least bright projectors out there. The good news is that it has three Cinema modes - Pure, which is the least bright, and very basic. Creative, which does more with iris, and dynamic controls that may affect contrast, etc., and deliver more lumens, and finally Brilliant Cinema, which pulls out all the stops. Brilliant Cinema isn't as good an image as Pure or many of the Creative Cinema options, but can still produce an impressive looking image, while delivering more than twice the lumens of Pure Cinema. This is covered in some detail in the PLV-Z700's review.
Still, anyway you look at it, the PLV-Z700 is a better fit for small and medium sized screens.
Mitsubishi HC5500 projector:
The Mitsubishi HC5500 is one of those projectors that happens to be on the bright side, in "best" mode, but not dramatically brighter at its brightest. That makes it a good choice for those that are primarily focused on movie watching in the dark. It still manages, however, 764 lumens at its brightest, so can do a good job on those smaller screens with low ambient light levels for sports and general TV/HDTV type viewing.
Optoma HD806 projector:
The HD06 is a light canon, in its "best" mode, far brighter than the other 4 projectors, with 1183 lumens and while it doesn't have many extra lumens (12557) in its brightest mode, it still comes in a solid second in brightness in brightest mode. Brightness is not the HD806's issue, it scores great here.
The Optoma has the brightness to be a good projector for HDTV and sports, but picture quality (not brightness), make it less desirable for serious movie viewing.
Epson Home Cinema 6100 projector:
As is consistent for Epson projectors, the Home Cinema 6100 is the brightest of the 3LCD projectors in both "best", and "brightest" modes. It is the one best suited for larger screens for this reason. While it is brighter than average for a home theater projector in its TheaterBlack1 mode, it still could use a little more if you are looking for a really large screen (say 123" diagonal). Still, if walls are dark, it can do it, and as the lamp ages and dims, in a pinch there are some intermediate modes that can increase brightness by 50% or more. TheaterBlack1 produces an extremely good image post calibration.
Where the Home Cinema especially shines (pun intended) is in its Dynamic and Livingroom modes. There are color issues in Dynamic with very strong yellows and greens, but it just slices right through ambient light that would damage the picture with any of the other projectors in this group. Better still is the Epson's Livingroom mode - while it is a "mess" right out of the box, a nice calibration, yields about 20% less lumens than its Dynamic mode. That still keeps it about as bright as the Optoma HD806 but with better picture quality.
InFocus X10 projector:
The InFocus X10 is the second brightest of these five projectors in "best" mode, and has enough to handle a large screen without problem. And it delivers very accurate color doing so.
While the X10 comes in third of the five in terms of maximum lumen output, with almost 950 lumens after our "quick-calibration", it still has a good amount of punch. It will still handle a large screen, but with slightly lower room ambient light levels than the brightest of this group. The X10 was able to deal nicely with my own 128" screen, and had lumens to spare - in all modes on my 106 inch diagonal Carada Brilliant White screen.
The Optoma scores highest overall, for brightness, but to keep some perspective, its "best" mode isn't a match in quality for the other projectors "best" modes, and often, not as good as their brightest, and that creates a situation where I think of the HD806 as a projector that only has a "brightest" mode (or several).
For overall balance and brightness, the Epson Home Cinema 6100 and the InFocus X10, with their markedly different balance of brightness between "best" and brightest. The Sanyo and Mitsubishi are best saved for medium to smaller screens with the Mitsubishi less desireable if you plan to do a lot of viewing with some ambient light present (intentional or otherwise). Of those two, The Sanyo is more versatile thanks to brighter "brightest" mode, and a couple of rather interesting, good quality, (but not "best"), Cinema modes that still do a very good job!
Relative to brightness, your screen size/type, your walls/ceiling/floor darkness, what type of content you watch, and how much ambient light you will need to deal with should help you determine which of these will work best for you. If you are just starting to "assemble" your viewing room, you may have some control of several of those factors, so think things through. The ability to put blackout shades on any windows, as one example may change which of these projectors is best for you.
$2100 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projectors
|Best Mode||Other mode||Brightest Mode|
Lumens - Other mode: While we focus on the "best", and "brightest" modes, on occasion, we find an intermediate mode, or "almost best" mode, with slightly compromised quality, but still good, that non-enthusiasts should still find satisfying, and may solve brightness problems. We only have listed two here, as both are lower brightness projectors and those modes are still pretty good. Other projectors like the Epsons have such modes, but, since they are inherently brighter in "best" mode, we didn't feel the need to list them in the chart.
* We have not yet tested the Epson Pro Cinema 7500UB. We expect it would measure almost identically to the 6500UB
** We have not yet tested the Epson Pro Cinema 7100. We expect it would measure almost identically to the 6100.
*** The Panasonic PT-AE3000 we received was definitely a pre-production sample. Typically, we find that such units test 10-15% less than full production units. You may want to add an extra 10% to each number.
BenQ W5000 projector:
Solid, above average brightness in "best" mode, and respectable, brightness in "brightest" mode, make the W5000 acceptable for larger screens, but not with much to spare.
Epson Home and Pro Cinema 6500UB, 7500UB projectors:
We assume that the Pro Cinema 7500UB will test out the same as the 6500UB, give or take the usual variation between units, as they are inherently the same projector.
The Epson combines a just slightly better than average "best" mode, with by far the brightest "bright" mode of this group, to be one of the best projectors for larger screens, or handling more than minimal ambient light. If that wasn't impressive enough (and a huge plus in our book), if you need an only slightly compromised intermediate mode, the Epson has a good one there too (Natural), where it still looks really good on movies, but can put out almost 200 more lumens while you still enjoy impressive picture qualty. Thus the 6500UB, and the 7500UB are our brightness stars in this group (along with the Epson Home Cinema 7100).
Epson Pro Cinema 7100 projector:
Everything I just said about the two Epson UB's holds for the Pro Cinema 7100. The key difference between projectors relate to the LCD panels, and ultimately, black level performance, not brightness!
Mitsubishi HC6500 projector:
The HC6500 is pretty bright in its "best" mode, with only the Sony having significantly (about 25%) more lumens. For movie watching, that should mean its pretty comfortable with a 110" screen, but not much more.
When you want to tackle ambient light for that football game, though, the Mitsubishi's "bright" mode, only adds about 50% more lumens. With 752 measured (post calibration), that still puts it below average. With that same 110" screen, you are going to have to limit any ambient light to not much more than the absolute minimum to enjoy sports and general TV viewing without being washed out. Drop to a 100" screen and you'll find a more acceptable solution.
Mitsubishi HC7000 projector:
Where have all the lumens gone? The HC7000 may physically look like the HC6500, but there may be a hole on the bottom where the lumens fall out - my attempt at humor. Seems that to get the HC7000's very impressive black levels, it took more than the newer LCD panels, as the "best" mode brightness drops to the second lowest in this group (278 calibrated lumens). Going to "brightest" mode, not much to write home about there, either. Although the lumens almost double, we're still talking less than 550 lumens, and that makes the HC7000 the least bright projector in "brightest" mode, of this collection.
Bottom line: The HC7000, while an excellent performer in other areas, is the dim bulb of these mid-priced projector. The simple solution, consider the HC7000 if you are a small screen user. With a good room situation, the HC7000 should be fine on typical 100 inch diagonal screens, and great on smaller ones.
Optoma HD8200 projector:
Although definitely brighter than average in "best" mode, the HD8200 doesn't do much better in "brightest", making it one of the least bright in the group, for when you need the lumens. You can point the HD8200 at a pretty large screen for viewing movies, but if you want to switch to HDTV, TV and sports, you are still going to have to keep the ambient light to a minimum. The brightest projectors (in bright mode) in this group are roughly 2.5x as bright, and that's a huge difference.
The HD8200, therefore, is a projector that will be best enjoyed (from a brightness standpoint) by those who are primarily movie watchers, and not overly concerned about other source material, or are willing to watch other material in a very darkened room.
Panasonic PT-AE3000 projector:
As noted below the chart, the PT-AE3000 we worked with was a pre-production sample, so, we anticipated it wouldn't be as bright as a full production one. Though we haven't looked at another since, we have checked our measurements against that of a couple of other reviews, and expect that a production version would be a good 10% brighter, perhaps a bit more.
All that said, the Panasonic isn't a match for the Epson projectors in brightness, either "best" or "brightest", but also has a good intermediate mode. As a general rule of thumb, let's say that the Panasonic should be limited to small to medium screens, I'd say at least 10% smaller than what you could point the Epson at.
Sanyo PLV-Z3000 projector:
Oh, if the PLV-Z3000 only had more lumens. In "best" mode, it measured the lowest of any of these projectors. That said, check out the brightness section in the Sanyo review. The PLV-Z3000 has three Cinema modes, and even the brightest - Brilliant Cinema is pretty good. That helps a lot, with about a 50% boost in lumen output, but that still leaves the Sanyo PLV-Z3000 below average in brightness.
The Sanyo, however, does better in brightest mode. Still not dazzling, but it's 1000 lumens is about average.
Our best recommendation is to limit the Sanyo PLV-Z3000 to smaller screens, 100" diagonal or below, although you can get respectable results up to 110 inch diagonal if your room conditions are very good (dark walls, etc.). Another way to help is to ceiling mount fairly close to the screen to get the extra lumens the lens passes when set up that way.
When you are sticking to those smaller screens, the PLV-Z3000 is capable of handling as much ambient light as, say, the Epsons can, with larger screens. (Figure the Sanyo on a 100" screen will have similar brightness to the Epson on a 123" screen, when both are at their brightest!)
Sony VPL-HW10 projector:
For movie watchers, the Sony has the muscle, in fact, it measured the brightest of the group, in "best" mode. That means you can watch movies on a large screen without complaint. On the downside, though, the Sony is basically the same brightness in its "brightest" mode, so forget tackling ambient light if you choose a large screen. Overall, that makes the VPL-HW10 an excellent choice for those whose only real interest is movie watching, and want a medium to large screen size.
Viewsonic Pro8100 projector:
The Pro8100 is right smack in the middle of the pack in terms of brightness, its 453 lumens in "best" mode is perfectly average, and with 922 lumens measured in its brightest mode, again, it's right in the middle. Interestingly, from a brightness standpoint, the Viewsonic Pro8100 projector is closest overall, to the BenQ W5000 even though the BenQ is DLP and the Viewsonic is 3LCD. It's an excellent choice for medium sized screens, and if you are not dealing with very much ambient light, it should be very comfortable with a 110 inch diagonal screen.
$3500 - $10,000 Home Theater Projectors
It's interesting that in this category, the "best" mode brightness as a group, is much brighter than the mid-priced group. At the same time, collectively, these are not quite as bright in brightest mode. These differences are primarily due to there being no 3LCD projectors in this group, instead, a balance of DLP (6) and LCoS (3) projectors.
|Best Mode||Brightest Mode|
|Optoma HD8000-LV||not tested||not tested|
|Sony VPL-VW70||not tested||not tested|
The Optoma and Sony have not been tested, but we will manage to conjecture about them below.
* The BenQ W2000 "best" mode measurement is with the manual iris closed down to default position. Opening the iris increases the brightness to 557 lumens, with only a slight loss of black level performance.
** The Sharp XV-Z20000's "best" mode is shown at 264 lumens, but that's with the manual iris in its middle position. In its low position, it loses almost 30% in brightness. We consider the performance at 264 lumens to be almost as good in black levels as the low iris setting.
BenQ W20000 projector:
One of my favorite DLP projectors, the BenQ is average in terms of best mode brightness, with the manual iris stopped down. Open it up, though, and there's an extra 82 lumens available (557). The W20000 had no trouble at all with filling my large Firehawk G3 screen, in "best" mode, even when my walls were off-white (iris open). When you need maximum lumens for sports and HDTV, the BenQ again performs very well, with the second brightest measurements (we presume the Optoma will also be brighter, however).
Anyway you slice it, the BenQ W20000 is well balanced for larger screens, regardless of your mix of content.
InFocus IN82 projector:
The IN82 measured the brightest of all of this group's projectors (again, we don't know about the Optoma) in its "best" mode, and for movie watching, it effortlessly handled my large screen. With above average brightness in "brightest" mode, no problem there at all.
All considered, the IN82 is one of the "light canons" of these more expensive projectors.
InFocus IN83 projector:
This newer InFocus IN83 measured (787 lumens) almost as bright in "best" mode as the IN82. I have watched it extensively in my room, both before and after the walls and ceiling were darkened, filling my 128 inch screen, and it always had enough brightness that I routinely closed the manual iris part way down. I'm not sure why, but the IN83 measured even brighter in "brightest" mode, than the IN82, and finished with the highest lumens measured in this group.
It is truly a light canon. And as an added bonus, even at its brightest, its color accuracy rivals many projectors in their "best mode". No wonder it's one of my all time favorites.
JVC DLA-RS10 projector:
Ah, the successor to my old RS1, it exhibits similar brightness. the JVC DLA-RS10 is a powerhouse in "best" mode, even if it still comes up a little shy of the two InFocus models. It too, like the IN83, has enough best lumen horsepower that I actually close down the manual iris to its middle setting when watching movies on my 128 inch Firehawk screen.
Need more lumens for ambient light? You won't find much help, as "brightest" mode is less than 10% brighter. That said, it can handle that same screen with modest amounts of ambient light, and the iris wide open. That makes it stronger for movies, than HDTV/sports, but it's got enough juice to tackle both on larger screens.
JVC DLA-RS20 projector:
Surprisingly, the JVC RS20 actually tested slightly brighter than the RS10. I say "surprisingly" because the older RS2 it replaces was significantly less bright than the RS1 that the RS10 replaced. JVC promised more lumens with the RS20 (compared to the RS2), but I was skeptical. Thankfully, they delivered, and that allowed me to buy an RS20 for my main theater.
With a measured 775 lumens in "best" mode, the RS20 when watching movies, cruises on my screen. That's not an easy feat. I now run it consistently with the manual iris partially closed (not quite to the mid-point).
In my hoping and waiting for JVC to deliver the lumens I needed, when the RS20 was announced, I was more concerned with brightest mode. As expected, the JVC RS20 is not much brighter in "brightest", in fact just about 10%.
No worries, though, it's doing just fine in my theater for my sports and HDTV viewing. Oh, I'd like more lumens, but I have my recessed lighting dimmed to fairly low when watching HDTV, and it still looks great.
Still there are limits to how much ambient light the JVC DLA-RS20 can handle on a large screen, and thus, for my superbowl party, I did move it aside, and used the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB, which has almost twice the lumens.
Optoma HD8000-LV projector:
Pure guesswork time. The older HD81-LV was the light canon of the higher priced projectors, no, of all the projectors in last year's report. Nothing could beat it, nothing came particularly close. I don't know if the HD8000-LV has been changed enough to compromise that brightness, so you'll have to look elsewhere for the answer. Meantime, these are the adjusted lumen measurements from the HD81-LV review: "Best" mode 1061 lumens (iris open), and in "brightest" mode, an astounding 2092 lumens, by far the brightest of any 1080p projector we have tested. Let's put it this way, even if the HD8000-LV is 20% less bright than the older "LV" it would still be the brightest projector in the group! Large screens - not even a challenge!
Planar PD8150 projector:
The Planar PD8150 is average in brightness for 1080p home theater projectors although it is well lower than average for this group. Still, for movie watching, it's got enough to handle some of the larger screens. The problem is that if you want some lights on - even at pretty low levels, the PD8150 projector is not going to cut it, with a measured 606 lumens. That makes it the dimmest of this group of projectors, in its "brightest" mode. Bottom line, The PD8150 is best as a small screen projector, and in most situations, you'll want to limit your screen to a maximum of 100 inches diagonal, unless you are only interested in movie viewing.
Sharp XV-Z20000 projector:
Well, the XV-Z20000 wins the "dim bulb" prize for this collection of higher priced projectors. In its "best" mode, with the iris closed down it just makes it to 200 lumens! I found the mid setting of the iris, though, to still provide almost as good black levels, as compared to closing the iris, so I've put that number - 264 lumens, in the chart above. Switch to "brightest" mode, and the Sharp jumps to 638 lumens, still the second lowest of the group.
Bottom line: The Sharp projector is a very good choice for small screens, but probably should not even try to tackle a typical screen larger than 100" diagonal. It's probably happiest with 82 to 96 inch screens.
Sony VPL-VW70 projector:
Well, I'm still waiting for a VPL-VW70 to show up. Too bad, as its predecessor was one of the most impressive projectors in last year's comparison. Best I can do here, is conjecture about brightness. I'll assume it is about the same as the VW60 it replaces. That, however, is a big "if". JVC managed to significantly jump the lumens of their competing RS20, (another LCoS projector) so it's quite possible that the VW70 is also brighter than its predecessor, despite being rated as 100 lumens less bright (800 instead of 900).
The older VPL-VW60 tested out this way: In "best" mode, it measured 355 lumens, a far cry from the JVCs, the other LCoS projectors in this review. In its "brightest" mode, the VW60, however only cranked out only 521 lumens, which, if the VPL-VW70 doesn't improve on that, puts it dead last in this group.
Assuming the VW60's numbers for the VPL-VW70, the projector is best on smaller screens, with 100 inch diagonal probably being the largest it can effectively handle, and like the Sharp, is probably best off with at least one size smaller screen. Let's cross our fingers that the real VW70, when it shows up, turns out to be at least one notch brighter than the VW60.
OK, that finishes our section on brightness. But there's still a lot more to cover. Image sharpness is next!
Projector sharpness is very good on all these 1080p projectors, but there are still differences. Not one of the projectors covered has an image that appears sufficiently soft or lacking in detail, to be a serious issue. That said, some folks will consider sharpness differences between some of these projectors to be enough to consider it in their final decisions.
A few thoughts before we get started. It seems that these days, the sharpest projectors tend to be the DLP projectors. While there are some very sharp 3LCD projectors, I'd say the best of the 3LCD crowd still doesn't appear quite as sharp as most of the DLP models. As a rule of thumb, the LCoS projectors we've tested (Sony and JVC), seem a touch softer than the DLP models.
The question is why? The answer, however, is: "not sure". Still, this is a good place to speculate.
Of the three projector technologies, only DLP is a single chip. LCoS and 3LCD both use three panels (red, green, blue) and recombine the light using a dichroic prism.
In many reviews you see mention about pixel alignment with those 3LCD and LCoS projectors. Basically, it's essentially impossible to perfectly align the three panels. With an extremely well aligned projector, you are still probably looking at at least one color panel to be off as much as 1/4 pixel, either horizontally or vertically. This gives you that fine color fringe (typically red on one side, green on the other), on fine lines or a severe change from white to dark. Keep in mind, that you won't normally see that from your typical seating distance, only if you get much closer.
More typically, those projectors might be off a half pixel one way, and perhaps a quarter pixel the other way (talking vertical and horiztonal). We've even seen projectors where one panel is off by more than a pixel, but that seems to be rare, and would normally be considered a defect by the manufacturers.
At this point, I attribute the typically slightly softer look of 3LCD and LCoS projectors (compared to DLP) to pixel alignment. It doesn't even matter why, only the final result, of course, matters.
One more thing: A few projectors are now featuring digital compensation to allow better pixel alignment. Most notably, JVC has offered it in the older RS1 and RS2, as well as their new RS10 and RS20. The weakness of digitally aligning them is that you can only move a panel's image over in increments of one pixel. That means if you have a panel about 1/3 off, you can't improve on it. But, if a panel is off by 3/4 of a pixel, moving 1 pixel in the right direction, and now you are only off by 1/4 pixel. Better!
My next point relates to sharpness controls. Every projector has them. Most projectors, out of the box, have default settings that tend to be slightly oversharpened. While that can give you a very crisp looking image, it doesn't improve, actually it can decrease true detail sharpness. So, be careful out there. When you adjust your sharpness, don't get carried away. As soon as you start seeing shadows separating dark and bright areas that should be cleanly separated, your sharpness setting is too high. Then there are dynamic sharpening tools typically with names like edge sharpness, dynamic sharpening, etc. They too can give you that sharper look, and, if you prefer that, go for it. Keep in mind though, that from a purist standpoint, you want to avoid technology that provides the illusion, but no substance, for the illusion is usually accompanied by some loss.
The last point I would like to make is film vs. digital. We have been in love with movies for about 100 years, and, with the few exceptions, movies are shot with film. The film used has lots of resolution, but has its own artifacts that it adds to the overall picture. Obviously film grain is one of those things. For this reason, watch a film movie (on Blu-ray) and a similar scene shot and delivered digitally, and you will have a sharper looking image with the all digital scene. For this reason, my take is that sharpness differences are going to be more noticeable when watching Discovery HD, or a live sporting event, than on a movie.
Finally, I do tend to notice the differences, and for two reasons. Both of these reasons lead me to believe that for the vast majority of folks looking for projectors, there really is no issue. First, I have a large screen, and I like to sit close. My eyeballs are only about 11.5 feet (2.92 meters) from my 128" screen. That gives me a much larger picture (and relative pixel size), then, say, a person with a 110" screen sitting 14 or 15 feet back!
The other reason is vision. I've never had the guts to give up glasses for laser surgery, for fear that my vision would not be quite as good as it is with my glasses. Just a few months ago, visiting the opthamologist, I still measured 20/15 (corrected) in each eye. So, I'm "cursed" with two problems: I like a really large image, and my vision is extremely good. (Where are those "4K" projectors and matching content?)
For this article I am describing projectors with just two terms, average, and sharper still. Below I will simply list the projectors as one or the other, organized by our price categories.
$2100 and under 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Average sharpness: Epson Home Cinema 6100, Mitsubishi HC5500, Sanyo PLV-Z700
Sharper still: InFocus X10, Optoma HD806
$2100 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Average sharpness: All Epson projectors, Panasonic PT-AE3000, Sanyo PLV-Z3000, Sony VPL-HW10
Sharper still: BenQ W5000, Optoma HD8200, Mitsubishi HC6500, Mitsubishi HC7000, Viewsonic Pro8100
$3500 - $10,000 Home Theater Projectors
Average sharpness: JVC DLA-RS10, JVC DLA-RS20, Optoma HD8000-LV, Sony VPL-VW70 (assumed based on the VW60)
Sharper still: BenQ W20000, InFocus IN82, InFocus IN83, Planar PD8150, Sharp XV-Z20000
Projector Sharpness, The Bottom Line:
It's hard to imagine anyone watching any of these projectors with good 1080p content thinking - this projector isn't sharp. True, side by side, you can see differences, and knowing that, you may long for that touch of extra sharpness that separates the sharper ones from the average. I have always said that I wished my JVC was as sharp as the IN83 (that's true for both my older and new JVC). That's not because I find the sharpness lacking when watching even the best digital content. I wish for better, simply because I know it can be a little better, just like those folks with projectors that have very good black levels but still wish for even better. The thing is, the differences between even the ultra high contrast projectors in black levels would have to be considered dramatic, compared to the subtle differences in sharpness between the best and worst of these.
This is another topic that is pretty straightforward. The deciding factors when considering audible noise are four-fold:
First, how much audible noise each projector makes.
Second, where your projector is placed, relative to your seat. Obviously audible noise will be more of a factor if you've ceiling mounted your projector 4.5 feet directly above your head, as compared to, say, on a shelf in the back of your room, 6 feet up from your head and 6 feet behind you.
Third, whether you are running on a projector's low, or high lamp modes. Low lamp mode is normally dramatically quieter. Many of the noisiest projectors are still quieter in low lamp mode, than many of the quieter ones are, in high lamp mode. I should mention high altitude settings. If you are living in Vail Colorado, or even in Denver, and maybe Albuquerque, you may have to run your projector in high altitude mode to properly cool it. High altitude modes tend to be very noisy. I can't help you there, however, as I do not observe projectors in that mode. Sorry, if you are up high, you'll have to sort that one out for yourselves.
Fourth, and finally, your tolerance for even the slightest fan noise. This is perhaps the biggest factor. There are those who are unhappy with any noise that can be heard during a quiet scene, no matter how low. Nevermind that their hot air heating (or air conditioning) may be several times louder when it kicks on, they hate noise. Most of us are just not going to have a problem with projectors that claim 30db or less, as most do, today. (The loudest tend to claim 33 - 34 db). The vast majority of us are more than willing to live with a 30 db sound level (claims, not measured), and would be thrilled with 25 db or less.
The quietest of today's projectors run a virtually silent 19 - 23 db with their lamp power on high, and lower still in low power mode. Others are more in the 21/28 (low/high power) range, others with a range of 23/30 and the nosiest, roughly 26/33.
For this section projectors are ranked as:
Ultra-Quiet projectors (still very quiet at full power)
Quiet projectors (still reasonably quiet at full power)
Moderate noise level projectors (borderline at high power those who are very audible noise adverse)
Significant noise level projectors (those over 30db at full power)
I am not going by the claims of the manufacturers, but my general experience with each of these, so it doesn't really matter what the specs are.
When I watch projectors in my large room the projector sits about four feet behind my captain's chair. In the testing room, I'm moving around a lot but am typically 2-4 feet from the projectors and can hear all but the most silent.
Other types of audible projector noise
One last thought before the listings: Not all noise is fan based. DLP projectors have the noise of their spinning color wheels, but at least I'm happy to report that the higher pitched whine of the wheels in older projectors are essentially absent with today's projectors. There is one other factor, which relates to projectors with dynamic irises (most of the projectors in this review). Only in a few cases is the iris action audible. Be warned however, that when it is... The older Optoma designs (includes the HD806 and HD8000-LV) have dynamic irises so noisy, that I don't consider those projectors to be usable with the dynamic iris engaged, we're talking a LOUD clicking sound. Epson has a much lessor problem. Some report their iris to be loud enough to be noticeable/annoying. I've factored that iris into the Epson rankings. One thing that may help with the Epson - if you are shelf mounting, put some sound absorbing material between the feet and the shelf, as I find that the shelf (or tabletop?) may amplify that sound by resonating with it. I don't personally find the Epson iris to be noticeable enough to be an issue, but if you are particularly audible noise critical, it may be.
$2100 and under 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Ultra-Quiet: Mitsubishi HC5500 Sanyo PLV-Z700
Moderate: Epson Home Cinema 6100
Significant: InFocus X10, Optoma HD806
$2100 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Ultra-Quiet: Mitsubishi HC6500, HC7500,
Quiet: BenQ W5000, Panasonic PT-AE3000, Sanyo PLV-Z3000, Sony VPL-HW10, Viewsonic Pro8100
Moderate: Epson Home Cinema 6100, 6500UB, Epson Pro Cinema 7500UB
Significant: Optoma HD8200
$3500 - $10,000 Home Theater Projectors
Quiet: JVC DLA-RS10, JVC DLA-RS20
Moderate: BenQ W20000, InFocus IN82, InFocus IN83, Sony VPL-VW70 (untested - it may belong in the Quiet grouping, but "better safe than sorry")
Significant: Optoma HD8000-LV (assumed but almost certainly, its predecesor was downright loud), Planar PD8150, Sharp XV-Z20000
Bottom line: If you think you are particularly noise adverse, this can be a real deal breaker for a number of projectors. Remember to take into your consideration, where the projector will be relative to your seating (for example, your ears themselves are directional devices), and will notice more noise above you, than behind you.
Also consider that a projector on a shelf will allow the shelf to deflect some noise.
NEXT: Projectors - Calibration