Home Theater Projector Comparison Report - Best in Class Awards for 201004/17/2010 -Art Feierman
1080p Home Theater Projectors Our Award Winners:
Entry Level Projectors: Under $2000 (street price)
Medium priced projectors: $2000 - $3500 (street price)
Higher End Projectors: $3500 - $10,000 (street price)
Class: Entry Level Projectors: $2000 and under, Street Price
Best in Class Award: PT-AE4000
This was almost too easy. The older PT-AE3000 managed to get a tie for Best In Class, in the more expensive category last year. The $1999 MAP price of the PT-AE4000 this year, puts it at the top of the Entry Level price class, where it faced some formidable competition.
The problem is, the PT-AE4000 is anything but "entry level" when it comes to many aspects of its performance, and especially when it comes to features. I'm not sure if any other projector in this report, regardless of price, has a more varied, and powerful set of features.
The key reasons for picking up the Best In Class award:
- Best black level performance in the class
- Excellent post calibration color, with an extremely natural "film-like" look to movies
- Creative Frame Interpolation (only projector in the Entry Level class to offer it)
- Great placement flexibility
- Lens Memory "anamorphic lens emulation" ability for working with 2.35:1 Cinemascope screens
- A whole host of additional features including dynamic ones
The Panasonic PT-AE4000 projector has a very natural look to the image. This Panasonic projectors is one of the more film-like 3LCD projectors. Skin tone handling is extremely good.
The Panasonic PT-AE4000 got a nice increase in "best" mode lumens compared to last year's model. Now it's almost average in brightness, a real improvement over last year. Unfortunately, "brightest" mode on the PT-AE4000 isn't any brighter than last year's projector, and just barely average. Panasonic closed the gap a bit in"best" mode, compared to its most direct competitor, the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB, which competes in the Mid-Price class.
The PT-AE4000 has as smooth an implementation of Creative Frame Interpolation (CFI) to eliminate motion blur, as I've seen so far. Last year, Panasonic's first effort, on the PT-AE3000 was well done, and this year's version, is at least as good.
Cinemascope fans: If you want to go with a Cinemascope aspect ratio screen to eliminate letterboxing, the PT-AE4000's Lens Memory feature (improved since last year), lets you emulate having an anamorphic lens. While that's not quite the same thing as a real anamorphic lens and sled, it does a good job, and saves you about $4000 compared to the typical price of the better known lens and sled combinations (from names like Panamorph, Schneider...) The tradeoffs are discussed elsewhere in this report, and in much greater detail in the full PT-AE4000 review.
An impressive color management system is complemented by some excellent tools including an oscilloscope type analyzer and split screen (before/after) views of the same scene as you make changes.
Placement flexibility is about as good as it gets. A 2:1 zoom is hard to beat (only Epson does, with a 2.1:1 zoom ratio - barely any difference). Panasonic's lens shift range may well be the greatest of any projector in this report.
The Panasonic beat out these other award winners for the following reasons:
The PT-AE4000 bested the Epson Home Cinema 8100. The Epson is brighter, and costs less (by about $500), and costs even less still, to operate, but the Epson is no match in black level performance, and its skin tones aren't as natural looking. Then the Panny has Lens Memory, power zoom and focus, and CFI, all things not found on the Epson projector.
The Mitsubishi HC3800, does have a lot more lumens, but this DLP projector lacks a dynamic iris, and is no match for the Panasonic, in terms of black level performance.
As to the $999 projectors, none of them come close in picture quality or features, although two of those are drastically brighter than the Panny. All three have slow to very slow color wheels, so the rainbow effect also may come into play with these bargain projectors.
It would have been more fun if the Panasonic was more expensive. It would face a far more challenging class of projectors.
Best in Class Award Runner-Up : Epson Home Cinema 8100
The Epson Home Cinema 8100 prices out right in the middle of the Entry Level class. As of this writing, the least expensive 1080p projector is now $899, and the most expensive in this class is $1999.
Since I started talking about relative pricing, there's one more key factor in cost, and that is cost of operation. The biggest aspect of that, of course, is the life, and price of lamps. Epson rates their lamp at 4000 hours at full power. That's the longest of any projector in this report (most are 2000 hours at full power). Epson lamps are also relatively low priced, at $299. Most of the competition is $350 - $400. The combination of the low cost lamp, and long life, actually makes the Epson one of the least expensive projectors in the class, in terms of total cost. That despite the average selling price. If you wanted to have enough lamp life to go 8000 hours, the Epson can save up to $900 in lamp costs, compared to the competition.
Let's talk brightness. In "best" mode, the Epson is in the middle of the pack, one of those projectors with about 500 lumens, (mid-point on the zoom lens). True there are much brighter projectors in "best" mode, such as the Mitsubishi HC3800 (a DLP), but it is the brightest of the LCD projectors in the group, including the PT-AE4000, the most expensive projector in this class.
The Epson "really shines" when it comes to "brightest" mode lumens, with over 1300. This makes it one of the very brightest projectors under $2000, and particularly suitable for dealing with ambient light when you need to.
It comes down to this. Although the Epson doesn't have enough lumens in its "best" mode to fill a much larger than 110" screen (normal screen surfaces, not high gain). For those that do want to go larger, Epson has multiple preset modes, and can still produce a good image capable of handling a larger screen. LivingRoom mode won't end up as good as, say TheaterBlack 1, but it's not bad considering it's got double the lumens.
In "brightest" mode, the Epson Home Cinema 8100 is a "light cannon", able to handle my own 128" Firehawk G3 screen, with moderate amounts of controlled ambient light. For this past year's Superbowl, my far more expensive JVC was pulled off the shelf, and an Epson (actually the similarly bright 9500UB), replaced it so we could party while watching the game, without the room being too dark for 30 people.
The Home Cinema 8100 projector offers some of the best black level performance in the price range, but hardly the best. The best is reserved for the ultra-high contrast projectors like the PT-AE4000. That said, only a couple of projectors in this class can beat the Epson. Most of the others fall somewhere between a "little short of the Epson's black level performance" to "not even close to the Epson".
Warranty is another strength of the Home Cinema 8100 projector. Epson delivers a two year warranty, with their overnight replacement program for both years. Although one of the projectors in this class offers 3 years, (Sanyo PLV-Z700) that Sanyo lacks a replacement program, and also, of note, Sanyo does not replace DOA units, they repair them (quickly, I must note, in all fairness - normally you'll have it back in a week.) Although shorter than the Sanyo's three years, we consider the Epson warranty to be about the equal to the Sanyo due to the other trade-offs, especially, the replacement program.
Placement flexibility has always been an Epson strength. It may be the key reason many of you buy the Epson over the Mitsubishi HC3800 that tied it for this award. It's 2.1:1 zoom lens range offers the widest placement range of the field (even if only a hair better than the Sanyo PLV-Z700 or the Panasonic PT-AE4000). A lot of lens shift, along with the zoom lens range, makes it the most flexible in terms of placement, with only the Sanyo and Panasonic coming close (the Panny has a touch more lens shift, but a little less zoom range).
Of the remaining projectors in the Entry Level projector class, all the rest are DLP, and none of them has more than a 1.2:1 zoom ratio, and none have lens shift. In other words, the rest have very limited placement flexibility, and among other things, cannot be shelf mounted in the rear. The Epson is just as at home whether you ceiling mount, shelf mount, or put it on a table top. As an added bonus, with this Epson, should you ceiling mount, you can change out the lamp without unmounting the projector. That's a nice feature found in perhaps half of the home theater projectors out there.
If you are a black level fanatic (as many say I am), you can definitely do better, with the Panasonic, a key reason why the PT-AE4000 took top honors in this entry level class of projectors.
The Sharp XV-Z15000, a DLP, should come pretty close to the Epson in terms of black level performance. Most likely the two, are more different, than better/worse, overall.
The Epson does not support an external anamorphic lens, but that is not a significant factor. If you really want to spring $3000 - $4000+ for an anamorphic lens and sled, you almost certainly would spend the many hundreds more for one of the ultra-high-contrast projectors. That said, that Panasonic can "emulate" using an anamorphic lens, for no additional cost. A consideration.
Bottom Line: Had not the Panasonic slid down into the Entry level category this year, the Epson Home Cinema 8100 may well have picked up the Best In Class award, like its predecessor, the 6100, did last year. Certainly, it would be fighting it out with the Mitsubishi HC3800 for the honor.
The sheer brilliance of the Home Cinema 8100 really sets it apart from most of the competition in this class. When you need the lumens it can deliver far more than all but one or two of the competion. That, along with a rich dynamic image, with lots of "pop and wow" should keep all but the black level fanatics thoroughly happy, and for a lower cost projector, its blacks are very respectable.
Best in Class Award Runner-Up : Mitsubishi HC3800 Projector
The HC3800 home theater projector from Mitsubishi may be considered very short on features, but it is well endowed when it comes to putting a bright, quality picture on the screen.
The HC3800 starts with tons of brightness, but it also manages to have the best black level performance of any DLP projector lacking a dynamic iris. That is to say, it bests all the lower cost and some higher cost DLP projectors, when it comes to blacks. The only DLP that can beat it in this entry level class is the Sharp XV-Z15000, which is no match at all, in terms of "best mode" brightness, as the HC3800 is almost 3 times as bright (with brilliant color on, and 2x as bright, with Brilliant color off). OK, true, the HC3800 projector is not much brighter than the Sharp, when comparing brightest modes.
No lens shift, and a basic, 1.2:1 zoom lens, make for limited placement flexibility. Most of you will ceiling mount, the rest, will place on a table top.
While you can find better blacks for not much more in price (the Panasonic easily beats the HC3800 at blacks), these blacks are particularly friendly ones. That is, the HC3800 accomplishes them without a dynamic iris, so there's none of the associated minor issues typical of using a dynamic iris, such as a bit of "yo-yoing" changing to slow after a major scene change. In other words, good, clean blacks. Not "ultra-high contrast" blacks but not too far short, in terms of good blacks, than the least good of the ultra-high contrast projectors.
The remote is ok, but it's an old style business projector clunker. Its backlight could be brighter, and its range longer, but it will do.
For a lower cost projector, the HC3800, within the limits of its black handling, just wowed me, filling my 128" Firehawk G3 screen, effortlessly in "best" mode. Add to that a very sharp image, and you hae a projector that provides a rich, dynamic, and sharp image for movie watching. For HDTV and sports, its 1100+ lumens are better than average, and again, the sharpness, really sets the HC3800 apart.
The HC3800 projector ended up in a tie with the Epson as both have their own strengths compared to the other. I know a lot of shoppers agonizing between these two projectors, as I get a lot of questions about which one of the two, to buy.
The Mitsubishi will have the advantage (compared to the Epson 8100) for large screen users, as the Epson has just 500 "best mode" lumens (a little thin when trying to fill my 128" screen). It will also provide a sharper image for HDTV sports and high quality digital HDTV content. The Epson, on occasion, will best the Mitsubishi in black level performance, by just a little, on those darkest scenes, but the HC3800 should at least hold its own in terms of black level performance in all other circumstances, as the Epson relies on a dynamic iris. Epson's iris action is one of the smoother ones, but, hey, if you can get just as good blacks without resorting to a dynamic iris, that's the path you want to take. (It would make for an inteesting product if Mitsubishi also came out with, say an "HC4800" that is roughly the same, but with the addition of a dynamic iris). Based on HC3800 performance, a "HC4800" would almost certainly qualify as an "ultra-high contrast" projector.
OK, never mind that, since that product doesn't exist. Maybe next year?
One of the things that really impressed me when watching the HC3800 is the "pop and wow" factor. The HC3800 wow's you. In a side by side with the Epson (tough to do due to the brightness differences), the HC3800 projects a dynamic image. The Epson, which is no slouch when it comes to making scenes pop off the screen, just can't stay even with the Mitsubshi in this regard, in part due to the lumens, in part due to the Mitsubishi looking particularly good, and with dark colors, looking particularly rich.
Trading off against the strength and power of the HC3800's picture, are its very limited placement flexibility and merely a good 2 year warranty, compared to the Epson's 2 years, with replacement program both years. And don't forget, the Epson does have an extra couple hundred lumens available in its "bright mode". It really is a tough call, between these two, but, if the HC3800 places in your room, it will likely be the better choice for more than half of the folks considering it, vs. the Epson. It's a tough call. I like both projectors. In my case, I follow my own advice, start with placement issues. In my main theater, I could use the HC3800 but it would have to be ceiling mounted hanging down about 8 feet on a pole. Before switching to my rear shelf mounted JVCs, I had BenQ projectors hanging from poles. My wife hated it. Therefore, no HC3800 for me, she'd never let me go back to using long poles, as our main theater, is also the house's great room, and is used a lot, even when the projector is turned off.
On the other hand, the Epson just isn't bright enough in "best mode" to fill my screen, except maybe when the lamp is brand new. So, for me to own one of these, and have it work properly in my main theater, it would have to be the Mitsubishi HC3800 projector. That said, I'd have to trade in the wife... (Hmm, I could use all new, ultra high end audio electronics, anyone interested in a cute redhead?)
Special Interest Award: BenQ W1000
I felt morally obligated to provide at least one of the Entry Level class awards to one of the three, under $1000 projectors. To tell you the truth, it may have been the toughest award decision to make in this report. Each of the three - the BenQ W1000, Vivitek C1080FD, and Optoma HD20 has advantages over the other two. To make matters even more complicated, the BenQ W1000 and the Vivitek are mostly identical. The biggest practical difference being brightness, and color wheel. The Vivitek has the faster wheel, and therefore, noticeably less brightness. The W1000, though will have more people seeing rainbows than the Vivitek or Optoma (the Optoma has the fastest wheel of the three).
The final decision to give the Special Interest award to BenQ was the result of weighing the projectors as to how they fit, compared to all the best projectors in this class. My logic worked this way:
The extra brightness is a big plus. For those who are rainbow sensitive, they will notice less rainbows on the Vivitek, than the BenQ W1000, and less still with the HD20.
The thing is, we did award the higher Best In Class - Runner-up award to the Mitsubishi HC3800, a DLP projector with a faster wheel. As a result we see those who pass over the W1000, due to the rainbow effect, have a more expensive, but overall better "award winning" projector to choose from.
Being the brightest of the lowest cost units, is something that makes the BenQ preferred by those on tight budgets, who want large screens or plan to tackle some real ambient light from time to time.
If you know you are rainbow sensitive, you should give up some lumens for the faster color wheel on the Vivitek. And if rainbows bother you more than a little, or you can give up a lot of lumens to go with the HD20 which would have even less rainbows. The W1000's blacks also are the least good of the three low cost projectors, but that's a trade-off for the extra brightness too. Thus, if you are rainbow sensitive, spend a bit more for the blacks and the faster color wheel, or spend about the same, for one of the other two.
The BenQ W1000 is a very nice projector. If you want a more expensive projector that "cures" some of the W1000's weaknesses (black levels, rainbows), all you have to do, is find a few hundred more dollars, and step up to one of our Runner-up winners, the Mitsubishi HC3800, (a very logical move up), or consider the LCD (completely rainbow free) Epson Home Cinema 8100.
Class: Medium Priced 1080p Home Theater Projectors: $2000 - $3500
Best In Class Award: Epson Home Cinema 8500UB Projector
This is starting to get old. In hockey, they call it a hat-trick. Yes, Epson's Home Cinema 8500UB wins our Mid-Priced class Best In Class award! That's three years in a row for Epson. This 8500UB is Epson's third generation "UB" (ultra-black) projector, and the 8500UB is the third "UB" to win the top award in this price range. Last year, the 8500UB's predecessor, the 6500UB won the award, and the 1080 UB, won the year before that! Note, last year it did share the title with the Panasonic PT-AE3000, but this year, the replacement Panasonic is under $2,000 and is considered in the Entry-Level class.
Epson keeps coming back for more awards in this Class because the "UB" projectors have a number of strengths.
First and foremost, three years in a row, no other projector near the price can match the Epson's "best in class" black level performance. There are a number of other "ultra-high contrast" projectors in this group, but the Epson's blacks are the blackest!
Black levels alone however, won't win a Best In Class award. This Epson gets the award despite only a modest improvement in blacks from the previous year. It's all the rest of the things the Epson does that also make it award worthy, that push the Epson to the top:
Brightness is much better than average. Actually the Home Cinema 8500UB with about 500 calibrated lumens in "best" mode is about average brightness for a "best" mode. Still, that's well below the brightest, yet a lot brighter than the dimmest. The thing is, when you need maximum lumens, then the Epson is one of the brightest projectors anywhere near its price. Only the BenQ W6000 musters up a noticeably brighter image when in "brightest" mode. (And the BenQ's color, at maximum brightness isn't as good as Epson's).
Brightness and black level performance isn't everything. Shadow detail of the Epson is only OK, it's definitely not one of the stronger performers when it comes to revealing dark shadow detail. That said, Epson more than makes up for that, with a very dynamic image with lots of "Pop and Wow" factor!
The Epson calibrates very well, and the final measurements are very good. Colors look really good, although the Epson is a touch less natural looking than some competition. As such, while it may be a favorite of many enthusiasts, it's possible that the true "purist" will look elsewhere.
Placement flexibility is about as good as it gets, with the longest range zoom lens, and lots of lens shift.
Warranty - the Epson comes with what has to be the best 2 year warranty in the business - if it fails under warranty (two years), Epson will ship out a replacement unit, next day, and pay all freight. While there are a few longer warranties only Epson's Pro series - with the same warranty but one extra year (of warranty, and replacement program), really can be considered a truly better warranty overall.
The Home Cinema 8500UB is pretty feature laden. That said, Epson keeps the mechanics simple with manual zoom, focus and lens shift, while a number of competitors have motorized some or all of those features. Getting beyond the placement flexibility, other strengths that weighed in our award decision process, included long term cost of operation (the 8500UB has a very low cost lamp ($299), and it lasts twice as long as most (rated 4000 hours at full power). The Epson definitely could be quieter, but it is by today's standards about average for home theater projectors. That's not to say a few aren't a lot quieter (a few are)!
Key dynamic features, in addition, of course, to the dynamic iris, include CFI (creative frame interpolation) for smoothing out fast moving objects, and pans. Their CFI is actually very good (though not the best). It is nicely improved over last year's 6500UB. In addition there's Super-Res, a dynamic sharpening tool that really does seem to give the 8500UB a feel of being a sharper projector. Just remember, dynamic features, while improving some things, often create minor artifacts in related areas, such as making faces appear a bit too contrasty. Using these dyanmic controls in moderation, however, works out very well.
In summary, the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB picks up the big WIN, for this combination of abilities: The 8500UB offers the best black level performance of any projector near its price. It produces very accurate color, is just about average brightness in "best mode" and is one of the very brightest when you are willing to sacrifice some image quality for a lot more lumens. It will work in most rooms, comes with a far better than most warranty, a company reputation for good support, a lower cost of operation, and most importantly, is a well balanced projector. It looks good, and has no major shortcomings.
Best in Class, Runner-Up Award (tie): LG CF181D
A breath of fresh air. The LG CF181D was a true challenge to lay my hands on for review. It finally happened, which was great, as I was very curious to see what LG would come up with. The CF181D is technically the least expensive of the LCoS projectors on the market, yet, it's also easily the brightest.
In many ways it is very different from the top award winning Epson Home Cinema 8500UB, and in a sense, that makes it a good fit for the Runner-Up award. It may work very well for the few people for whom the Epson isn't a great choice.
What's so good about the CF181D? There are a number of strengths, and a couple of weaknesses, but if I had to define, in one short phrase, "what makes the LG so good?", the answer would have to be extremely bright, with excellent, natural color.
Let's take a closer look at the LG's brightness. It's one of the two true "light canons" in this Mid-Priced class. The other, by the way, is the projector the LG is sharing the Runner-Up award with, the BenQ W6000.
In "best" mode, like most LCoS projectors, the LG is brighter than average. As it turns out a whole lot brighter than average. Calibrated, the LG puts out over 900 lumens in "best" mode, almost double the brightness of 500 lumens which we consider average (and which happens to be what the Epson 8500UB produces).
Switch to "brightest" mode, and we measured almost 1400 lumens, second best, only trailing the BenQ W6000, and quite honestly, the LG's color doing those 1380 lumens is a lot better than the BenQ in it's brightest mode. The BenQ can put out just over 1700 lumens but with way too much green. The BenQ's next brightest mode, is pretty good, but dimmer than the LGs. See, nothing is truly simple!
So, we've got lumens, big screen lumens, ambient light lumens, "sports with some lights intentionally on" lumens.
It's the color, though, in combination with all those lumens, that really makes the LG projector exceptional. That's a great thing, because when it comes to our "holy grail" of great black levels, the LG isn't quite as impresssive.
Like its partner in crime (that is, sharing the award), the W6000, the LG's black level performance is borderline "ultra-high contrast". It is not a match for the top award winning Epson 8500UB, but still pretty respectable. Like the W6000, I give the LG the benefit of the doubt, so we can call it an "ultra-high contrast" projector, still a step up from most projectors at its price or less.
That makes the LG a great projector for a wide variety of source material. The blacks are sufficiently good, that many will consider the truly excellent color a reasonable trade-off against a projector with slightly better blacks.
The LG is typical in sharpness for an LCD or LCoS projector (3 panels to converge), and that's just fine. I do like the extra perceived sharpness of DLP projectors, but the LG's sharpness is comparable to most 1080p projectors.
Bottom Line: Great color, lots of lumens, reasonable sharpness, and a competitive feature set. Add good placement flexibility, and a reasonable price. All considered, I'm pleased to say: LG, congrats on a strong projector, and, welcome to the party!
Best in Class, Runner-Up: BenQ W6000 Projector
When the W6000 was first shown at Infocomm 2009, I was truly excited. Here was BenQ offering up a new projector that seemed to be answering my long running request for some reasonably bright home theater projectors. Hooray for BenQ. They designed the W6000 projector around a big fat 280 watt lamp, whereas only a few under $10,000 projectors use any lamps brighter than 240 watt, and most offer about 200 watts, some less.
That did the trick. No question at all, the W6000 is bright. The only projector in this report that is visibly brighter in "brightest" mode is BenQ's own entry level W1000 projector!
No projector being perfect, I do have one complaint about the W6000 in "brightest" mode, and that's the lack of the ability to seriously adjust the color. As a result, in "brightest" mode, the projector is heavy green (and yellow), but get the maximum lumens on the screen. It is, however, too green, (way too green). It's definitely watchable when you are fighting serious ambient light, but better color would be nice. Fortunately, there is an alternative mode, which has good colors, but the brightness drops down to about 500 lumens to 1250 lumens. By comparison, consider our Best In Class, winner, the 8500UB. It too has too much green in "brightest" mode, but not to the extent of the BenQ. It's about 1750 lumens for the BenQ to high 1300's for the Epson in comparable "brightest" modes. Drop both projectors down one level, though, and the BenQ color is comparable to Epson's in its 2nd brightest - Livingroom mode. In comparing "2nd brightest" modes, the BenQ is (with 1250 lumens) still brighter than Epson's roughly 1100 lumens. Comparing each projectors "brightest", to the other, then doing the same for "2nd brightest", keeps things "apples to apples."
In Best mode, though, it's a different world. The Epson's got 500 really good looking lumens, but the BenQ measured 866 lumens with Brilliant Color off (preferred). Note though, the BenQ still looks pretty good with Brilliant Color on (many projectors tend to be "over the top", and can deliver 1060 lumens in "best" mode with BC on). By comparison, the Epson's color (at 500 lumens) is still more accurate. On the other hand, the W6000, with "best" mode and BC on produces about the same lumens as the Epson in Livingroom mode. That's an important consideration as, in that case, I'd say the BenQ has the slightly better picture when it comes to color and contrast.
The BenQ W6000 does very respectable black levels. Like several others, it just makes my subjective determination to be an "ultra-high" contrast projector. That puts it in the league with the LG, the Sony VPL-HW15, and several others, while still being a step down from those with really great black levels such as the Epson 8500UB, or better still, one of the JVC projectors.
Placement flexibility is "pretty good." The 1.5:1 zoom, combined with a moderate amount of lens shift, is a big improvement from most less expensive DLP's, none of which have lens shift, and most, with a lot less zoom range. Speaking of zoom lenses, the BenQ, for a 1.5:1 zoom, sits a little further from the screen than most others. This makes rear shelf mounting practical in some rooms, but not particularly deep ones, or rooms where you are going with a fairly small screen relative to room size.
I really did enjoy working with the W6000. The first one I received, was pre-production. I took BenQ over the coals, complaining about their very visible dynamic iris action. Most impressively, they took my criticism (and perhaps others) to heart. By the time the product started shipping more than a month later, they had improved the iris. They sent me an updated unit, and while it's still far from the best I've seen, it is now a "good one". Anyone looking for it should always be able spot the iris action. The trick is for a dynamic iris to accomplish its primary goal - to significantly drop the black level down on medium to very dark scenes, without being to visible/annoying. The pre-production unit fit into the "annoying" category. The final version W6000, is definitely in the "watchable" category. Had they not improved the iris, there is no way this projector could have received this award.
If you are one of those that likes the look and feel of DLP projectors, the W6000 is just that, a classic DLP when it comes to color handling and dynamics. Lots of "pop", yet it looks pretty natural. And don't forget, compared to any of the competing LCD and LCoS projectors, the single chip DLP W6000 is especially sharp looking, something you can appreciate slightly on film based movies, but really appreciate the sharpness advantage on full digital content, such as HDTV sports, really high quality HD programming like Discovery HD, Travel HD, etc. As I commented in the full review. Thanks to the brightness, this is the kind of projector I'd consider for my main theater if I had to give up my JVC. With my large screen, etc., the Epson just isn't bright enough, so the W6000 would do except I'd have to ceiling mount, which in my cathederal ceilinged room I'd prefer to avoid having to hang down at the bottom of an 8 foot pole.
Definitely the W6000 is a top contender in the price range, and thanks to the lumens, can boldly go in some peoples theaters, (and family rooms), where other, dimmer projectors dare not go. "Bright, Pop! Wow!," good color, very good (not exceptional) blacks, and pretty good placement flexibility. It would be nice though if BenQ beefed up the warranty from one year to two.
Special Interest Awards
I ended up very pleased with my award choices for this Mid-Priced class. That said, like last year, in this class, I thought I'd look at some "local dealer only" projectors to see if any qualified for an award, despite the higher prices. Last year there were two, this year, pretty much, the same two. Interestingly, this year's Special Interest award winner from Epson, is the replacement projector for the one that won, last year. The other winner last year was the Mitsubishi HC7000, which remains in the Mitsubishi line-up this year. It's still just as good a projector, but, it is less competitive than last year. Nonetheless, the HC7000 has a quality picture, and is sufficiently different from our other winners as to still be one of the very best projectors at its price, for people requiring its particular strengths.
Special Interest Award: Epson Pro Cinema 9500UB
Epson continues to manufacture two versions of their "UB" projector (for the US market) The Home Cinema 8500UB, which received our Best In Class award, has already been discussed. Our Special Interest award winner from Epson is their Pro Cinema 9500UB. For the most part, they are the same projector, with a handful of differences, to, quite honestly "differentiate" them, so that local dealers won't necessarily lose a projector sale to an online retailer.
Epson's Pro Cinema 8500UB offers these "extras", in exchange for pricing that is about $1200 higher.
Internal support for an anamorphic lens and sled. If you want to go with a Cinemascope screen (2.35:1) to eliminate letterboxing on Cinemascope (most) movies, the 8500UB makes more sense than the lower cost 8500UB (which lacks built in support). The lower cost 8500UB would need an external scaler (figure about $800 - $2000, depending on the brand, features). The Pro Cinema 9500UB, by comparison, is "ready to go", just add anamorphic lens, and set up.
Black finish instead of white. For those doing fancier theaters - with darkened ceilings, that's a plus, aesthetically, when the lights are on, and the projector is off.
The Pro Cinema 9500UB is ISF certified - which means two extra memory modes (the Epson already has plenty), but reserved (by password) for a professional calibrator to use. Nice, but not a really big deal!
An extra year of warranty (three total) and Epson's replacement program for all three years (instead of two). That should be worth a few hundred extra for most buyers.
Spare lamp and mount: The 9500UB comes with a spare lamp (we value that at $299), and a ceiling mount (figure worth $100 for those planning to ceiling mount, or worth nothing to those planning to place on a shelf.)
Subtract out the value of the warranty, lamp and mount, and the 9500UB likely costs only about $700 more than a 8500UB. For that extra, you should be getting a healthy amount of local dealer support that should really be appreciated by those who are of the "I want to enjoy my theater, not build it" crowd.
The things we like most, however about the Epson Home Cinema 9500UB remain unchanged for the Pro Cinema 7500UB:
- Superb black level performance - best in class in this price range.
- Brightness - the 9500UB is brighter than any other 3LCD projector, in both "best" and "brightest" modes, and while some non-3LCD projectors are brighter in their best modes, only two in this class can beat the Epson's brightest mode output
- A dynamic looking image - lots of "wow factor"
- Long life lamp - rated 4000 hours (full and low power), which can save some real dollars compared to most projectors claiming 2000/3000 (or less).
Bottom line: Working with your local dealer to put a really nice "theater" setup in your home? The Epson Pro Cinema 9500UB is about as good as you will find for its price, with local support from an installing dealer. It is also one of the brightest, a real plus for those who just need to watch some content with significant ambient light present.
Special Interest Award: Mitsubishi HC7000
The HC7000 projector performs extremely well, but in several ways is very different from the other award winners in this class. What the Mitsubishi is, is a home theater projector with especially good color, and the second best black level performance (trailing the Epson 8500UB/9500UB), of the class. It's also extremely quiet, compared to almost everything else. It does lack the CFI newer projectors offer, but it does take 24fps to higher frame rates.
It's got power everything! It's real strength though is the overall picture quality.
On the downside, from a performance standpoint, it's below average in brightness. Of course that's not a problem for all you people whose rooms call for smaller screens - 100's 96's 92' inch diagonal or even smaller. If you are looking for a great image on a smaller screen, that's almost the dictionary definition of this HC7000.
Pricing. The HC7000 when launched, was only sold through local installing dealers but it can now be found online as well, with a price around $3000.
The HC7000 is another "ultra-high-contrast" projector, and delivers on that promise with excellent black levels. The HC7000 can't quite match the Epson's black levels, but it is sufficiently close, as to be of little consequence. This Mitsubishi did have a slight advantage in black level performance over the Panasonic PT-AE3000, and might still, over the the newer PT-AE4000.
The HC7000 comes with an "industry standard" two year parts and labor warranty.
Perhaps the only potential shortcoming of this projector is that the HC7000 is not one of the brighter projectors in this class. In this regard, it is best when used with typical screens of about 100" diagonal. You can push it a little larger, but not by that much.
On the other hand, there is a great deal to like about the HC7000. It's quiet, almost silent, and is actually quieter in its high power lamp mode, than most projectors can accomplish with their lamps running on low power, and the matching slower fan speeds. It is one of perhaps 3 or 4 projectors that you simply will not hear in your theater, even if running the lamp and fan at full power.
And it's automated - power zoom, focus and lens shift, all very nice touches. Styling is pretty impressive as well, the HC7000 scores very high in terms of "wife approval factor." I should note that it has a little bit less placement flexibility than some others, but enough that shelf mounting should work in the vast majority of rooms.
I described the Mitsubishi HC7000 this way, in last year's Awards page:
The real strong point of the HC7000 though is the overall picture quality. Properly set up, the HC7000 is more than the sum of its parts. The excellent black levels, very good dark shadow detail, and very natural color accuracy (post calibration), combine with a lot of "pop and wow" (for a projector without an abundance of lumens), to provide what I described in the full review, as "one of the most enjoyable projectors to watch." In fact this concluding line in the Overall Picture Quality section of the review, says it all:
"The point here, is that the HC7000 has no significant weaknesses in any areas directly dealing with color and overall picture."
Class: Premium Priced 1080p Home Theater Projectors: $3500 - $10,000
Best In Class Award: JVC DLA-RS35
The JVC DLA-RS35 is the best 1080p projector we've ever reviewed. There may well be much better projectors out there. After all, you can buy a "home theater" projector for $50K (quite a few different ones, actually) or even $150K if you've got the budget, and determination. Since we don't review those "high end" 3 chip DLPs, we'll stay focused on those we have reviewed.
Most important to the conversation is "what is an RS35"?
JVC DLA-RS35 in a nutshell:
- Excellent color, natural, "film-like"
- Best black level performance - stunning on dark scenes that look pretty poor on many good projectors
- Very bright in "best" mode
- Built from the best RS25 components
- Fancy feature set - dynamic features including CFI, and contrast
- Sharp image rivaling a lot of sharp DLP projectors
- An overall level of performance that justifies its $10,000 sticker!
JVC created the DLA-RS35 projector as a "hand picked" version of the RS25. Best I can tell, JVC took the best power supplies, best light engines, best optics, and from the best guts, built a limited number of RS35's with the idea that they would be visibly superior to the "average" RS25 out there. For the priviledge of owning the "best of the best" you get to pay $2000 more for the RS35 over the RS25. The JVC DLA-RS25 is $8000 and the JVC DLA-RS35 is $10,000.
Right about there, a big question lurks: "Is the RS35 worth an extra $2000 over the standard RS25"?
My answer is "Yes"! If it was "No", then the RS35 could not receive the Best In Class Award. I will continue this section with just the briefest description of the RS35, and focus on why the RS35 got this award, and not, the RS25.
For those not familiar, all JVC projectors come in essentially the same box, give or take some cosmetics. All have power everything - zoom, focus and lens shift. All are LCoS, all are moderately large home projectors, and all have clean lines and curves and look attractive (for when the significant other is concerned about how it looks with the lights on).
But, the DLA-RS35 and its genetically identical, but physically inferior twin, the RS25, share the same light engine, including the same LCoS panels (which, BTW, JVC refers to as D-iLA, just like Sony calls their panels SXRD). They also share the same menus and the same color management system. The lowest cost JVC, the RS15, doesn't have as good a color management system, or as excellent black level performance.
I did not have an RS25 here at the same time as the RS35, but I was able to compare the RS25 review unit to my older RS20. I later got to compare my RS20 to the RS35. I believe I have a very good understanding of how much difference it can make. Remember, ultimately they are using the same parts. Theoretically, the best of the RS25's should be extremely close to the worst of the RS35s. Still, I've worked with quite a few JVCs over the last 3 years, and they are all very similar, making it easy to see the small differences. I think I can safely assume the RS25 I reviewed was a typical one, since it was a hair better than my older RS20. The difference between my RS20 and the RS25 was very slight. The difference between the RS20 and the RS35, however, in some areas could be described as dramatic.
This JVC RS35 has the best blacks to ever set foot in my theaters. Although not "dramatically" better than the RS20 here, it is a definite, rather visible improvement. By comparison, the difference between my RS20 and the RS25 would be "slight".
The review RS25 I had received was typically sharp for a good LCD or LCoS projector. If anything, the perceived sharpness of my own RS20 is a hair better, which is probably due to the pixel convergence being a touch better on my projector.
But the JVC RS35 just looks sharper than either. It's not that close. It has the kind of sharpness that is more typical of those "razor sharp" single chip DLP projectors. How can that be? First, I've never seen a 3 chip projector - LCoS or LCD with a pixel alignment this good. It's not perfect but it's close. I've got one vertical color off by no more than 1/3 a pixel and everything else is effectively dead on. That's probably responsible for a good deal of the difference. The rest is no doubt due to the RS35s having the best of the lenses as well. A small improvement there, plus the excellent convergence, and you have what I call, a "sharper still" projector, rivaling all but the very sharpest. Note, I do use a minimal amount of dynamic sharpening tools to get that razor sharp look. I try to keep them set low enough to not visibly damage the natural look of the image.
I'm very happy with my RS20, but if there was one thing I always wished for, it was that extra sharpness. Yes, for movie watching but especially for all that gorgeous all digital content like sports and Discovery HD. The RS35 would give me nothing to complain about.
That's not quite true. My other complaint with my own RS20 is the limited brightness in "brightest" mode. That hasn't changed, in fact the RS35 measured less than my RS20, though not by any significant amount. The RS35 and RS25 are still two of the brightest projectors out there in "best" mode, no worries there at all, but both offer only about an extra 150+ lumens in "brightest" mode, for when you want some lights on. That's ok, I have missed that last bit of sharpness more than the extra lumens. The Olympics looked stellar in terms of sharpness and color.
When it comes to watching movies, you are going to be hard pressed to find anything close to JVC's RS35 projector. Not even the RS25. That's right - the extra sharpness and slight extra black levels, actually do manage to combine to make a dramatic difference. Sort of "THAT'S WHAT'S BEEN MISSING!"
Best In Class Award, Runner-Up: JVC DLA-RS25
It's getting to be a bad habit - giving both Best In Class, and the Best In Class Runner-Up awards in this premium class, to JVC.
This year it's even stranger, since the JVC DLA-RS25 is identical to the Best In Class winner, the RS35! Again, the only difference is that JVC picks out the best components and modules to make a limited number of "superior" RS35s.
It really comes down to this, in my opinion, only the RS35 bests the RS25. And nothing comes overly close to the RS25, for that matter. True, there were other projectors considered, and one actually picked up a tie with the RS25. Even pointing that out, I have to say, overall, the RS25 would be my choice over the SP8602 below, but I'm not sure that the majority would agree with me. It's going to be more about what you consider most important, and the trade-offs between the two.
Best In Class - Runner-up: InFocus SP8602
This projector is the only one to have its award changed after the report was published. Prior to the report, InFocus advised that they were working on an dynamic iris action improvement. The Dynamic iris was my only major issue with the InFocus SP8602 projector. While the InFocus projector delivers some very fine, dark blacks, even at its best it can't match the JVC RS25 (which gets great, consistant blacks without a dynamic iris.
That said, there is compelling reasons to consider the InFocus SP8602 on par with the JVC RS25. Consider please - the JVC does provide the sharper image, and it is noticeable on all digital content such as sports. It's not a huge difference, but many, including JVC owners such as myself, do wish our JVC's were that much sharper overall.
Sharpness differences alone wouldn't offset the JVC's black level advantages, but the InFocus SP8602 has more going for it, and one of those things is that it is dramatically brighter than the JVC. Oh how I would love those extra lumens when it's HDTV sports or Discovery HD time.
The InFocus offers rather good though not the best placement flexibility. Of course, any time we encounter a single chip DLP projector with good placement flexibility, we get excited. The InFocus'es unusual lens shift setup, is unequal, and has some unusual aspects, but, it should work in most rooms, ceiling mounted, and it can be shelf mounted. Interestingly the lens setup is such that the projector is noticeably brighter when it is near maximum lens shift than say normal 0 offset (lens even with top of screen). The projector actually puts more lumens on the screen as the angle (amount of lens shift) increases as you mount the projector higher than the top of the screen.
If ceiling mounting, and you want to mount fairly close (wide angle), and can mount about a foot and a half above the screen then the InFocus SP8602 ideally mounted is capable of just over 1400 best mode lumens (by far the best in the report), and roughly 2000 lumens in brightest, with Brilliant Color on. And, as I pointed out in the review, their Brilliant Color implementation is pretty tame, compared to most which can make the image a bit over the top. Not so here, so you really can put a great looking roughly 1400 best mode lumens on the screen, if you need to and have the flexibility.
Finally, "it's the color, stupid" to paraphrase a lot of cliche's. InFocus has always seemed to stay focused on great skin tones on their home theater projectors. Even back to the ancient InFocus 4805 home theater projector many years ago, InFocus delivered believable, natural skin tones. In this regard, I give it the slightest edge on my JVC!.
So, that's the story... I'm not ready to trade my projector for the InFocus, but, in a different room if I needed more lumens, the InFocus SP8602 would have to be my next choice, of what's out there in this price range.
Special Interest Award : Planar PD8150
Here's another excellent DLP projector. The Planar PD8150 offers the best black levels of any of the DLP projectors, and its "out of the box" color accuracy is one of the best we've seen. I haven't seen a PD8150 in about 18 months. Even so, it still has to be one of the best performing DLP projectors out there.
A bit of background. Planar is relatively new to home theater projectors - just a couple of years and change. One of their first actions as part of their entry, was to buy Runco, getting them the two top US brands of high end home theater projectors: Runco, and Vidikron. Those two lines are sold primarily though very high end home theater dealers. This allowed Planar the entry into that market, and the Planar branded projectors nicely serve as "entry level" products for those dealers. The PD8150 is the flagship of the Planar line.
Keeping in mind that projectors sold through local dealers will cost you more, but you get more support. With higher end dealers, that support tends to be better still. Thus, the Planar is not a projector for hobbyists, but for those who want a real quality picture, no hassle support, and are wiling to write the check.
With a price of $7999, the PD8150 is anything but cheap. In fact that puts it right there with the JVC RS25.
Placement flexibility - normally a real weakness of DLP projectors - is pretty good. The Planar has a good amount of lens shift, and it offers a 1.3:1 zoom lens - a bit more range than the 1.2:1 found on most DLP projectors. The two combine to allow a significant number of users who prefer to rear shelf mount, to use this projector. Those with a 100" diagonal screen can typically make it work in a room as much as 19 feet deep.
Brightness is a weakness of the PD8150, compared to most of the competition in this class. It's just above average brightness in its "best" mode, but is not much brighter at its "brightest". This makes it stronger as a projector for primarily movie watching, than one for those planning to watch a lot of everything including sports. Still, it has more than sufficient lumens for smaller screens, handling a 110" screen for movie watching, without breaking a sweat.
As is typical of good DLP projectors, the image sharpness is excellent.
Post calibration, the Planar is excellent overall in terms of color accuracy, and a well balanced looking image.
It's got very impressive black levels for a DLP, thanks to use of a dynamic iris. That gives it a significant advantage over the old InFocus IN83, my favorite DLP projector from last year's report, but it still comes up short of the JVC RS15, and much more so compared to the RS25 or RS35. Blacks are pretty good, I'll say it again, but for perspective, I'd say they still aren't even quite up to the Epson UB projectors which are far less money.
Bottom line: As I stated in the review: "I've now managed over 50 hours viewing on the Planar - and I never put in that many hours on a review projector, unless I'm impressed." The Planar is an excellent projector over all, although not a very bright one. It has all the positive attributes that many people like about DLP projectors, and black levels that come close to the best. This is a projector that will have a lot of appeal to those not intimidated by its price, and who seek a quality local installing dealer, not only for a great viewing experience, but also want to set up a home theater with the mimimum of hassle.
NEXT: Physical Tours