1080p Projector Comparison Report
April 2010 - Art Feierman, Editor
This in-depth (and rather large) report compares 30 1080p home projectors - that's both home theater projectors and home entertainment projectors under $10,000. Home Entertainment projectors I should note, generally refers to some of the entry level projectors that are bright and more designed for a family room not a rather dedicated theater. It's that easy. Enjoy!
1080p Projector Overview
It's 2010, and this year's comprehensive Home Projector Comparison 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, (click on the graphic above), 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, as usual, a number of direct comparisons between two or more competing projectors. For this report (like 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 mention which projectors are available online as well as locally, and those sold only by "local installing dealers".
The number of home projectors considered this year is just slightly larger than last year's. It's been an interesting year. We have a couple of essentially new players, staking out their market share, most notably LG and Vivitek (Vivitek's been around forever, but below most people's radar). Also of note, InFocus, now a private company, under new management has released it's first completely redesigned home theater projector, at the $5K price point. They have, at least for now, dropped out of the lower cost, and online sales projector market.
The recession scared the "heck" out of many manufacturers. This fall, a number of home projector manufacturers, fearing unsold units, did not build enough to meet demand. Epson and others can be accused of product shortages. As it turns out, the fall quarter, turned out to be better than almost any of them expected. The recession, and/or the global purchase of Sanyo by Matsushita (Panasonic), had a real impact on those two companies. Panasonic launched their new 1080p, the PT-AE4000, but decided to leave their PT-AX200U as their only current 720p projector. That AX200U is now in its third year of sales. Sanyo introduced no new projectors, keeping the same three on the market for another year. On a typical year, those two companies normally release a total of 4 or 5 new home theater projectors, but only one, between them this past fall season.
As is normal, this report is concerned primarily with the projectors we've reviewed. That said, we can't review them all, and some manufacturers (particularly high end brands that only sell locally) just won't send review units to "us" online reviewers (especially those who do big 1080p comparison reports), for fear that those units may be excellent, and have better support in most cases, but are otherwise just not price competitive with higher volume products.
Of the 30 home theater projectors covered, we reviewed 27 plus a couple of nearly identical siblings and included, as usual. I will comment on two projectors that lack existing published reviews at the time of this report's publication: The Samsung SP-A900: I couldn't talk Samsung out of a review unit, and the Mitsubishi HC6800, a home projector that is in house, has been calibrated, measured and viewed. Getting this report out, though is the priority, so the HC6800's review will post late in April.
Note, all the screen images on this page are from the JVC DLA-RS35 unless otherwise noted. As usual a lot of images are scattered through the report for your amusement and education. You will find many stand alone images, sometimes two or three images together, from different projectors, and more than a few side-by-side photos.
1080p Projector Categories by price:
Home Theater Projectors: Street Price under $2000
Read the full review of the BenQ W1000 DLP projector or read the W1000 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Epson Home Cinema 8100 3LCD projector or read the Home Cinema 8100 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Mitsubishi HC3800 DLP projector or read the HC3800 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 HD20 DLP projector or read the HD20 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Panasonic PT-AE4000 LCD projector or read the PT-AE4000U specifications here.
Read the full review of the Samsung SP-A600 DLP projector or read the SP-A600 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Sharp XV-Z15000 DLP projector or read the XV-Z15000 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Viewsonic Pro8100 DLP projector or read the Pro8100 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Vivitek H1080FD DLP projector or read the H1080FD specifications here.
Projectors above, from top left: BenQ W1000, Epson Home Cinema 8100, Mitsubishi HC3800, Sanyo PLV-Z700, Optoma HD20, Panasonic PT-AE4000U, Samsung SP-A600, Sharp XV-Z15000, Viewsonic Pro8100, Vivitek H10180FD
Home Theater Projectors: Street Price $2100 - $3500
Read the full review of the BenQ W6000 DLP projector or read the W6000 specifications here.
Read the Epson Pro Cinema 9100 specifications, as the Pro Cinema 9100 is actually nearly identical to the Home Cinema 8100 projector.
Read the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB review which also covers its almost identical twin, the Pro Cinema 9500UB.
Read the full review of the Optoma HD8200 DLP projector or read the HD8200 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Mitsubishi HC6800 projector or read the HC6800 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-HW15 LCoS projector or read the HW15 specifications here.
Projectors above, from top left: BenQ W6000, Epson Pro Cinema 9100, Epson Home Cinema 8500UB, Optoma HD8200, Mitsubishi HC6800, Mitsubishi HC7000, Sanyo PLV-Z3000, Sony VPL-HW15
Home Theater Projectors: Street price $3500-$10,000
Read the full review of the InFocus SP8602 DLP projector or read the SP8602 specifications here.
Read the full review of the JVC DLA-RS15 LCoS projector or read the RS15 specifications here.
Read the full review of the JVC DLA-RS25 LCoS projector or read the RS25 specifications here.
Read the full review of the JVC DLA-RS35 LCoS projector or read the RS35 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Optoma HD8600 DLP projector or read the Optoma HD8600 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Planar 8150 DLP or read the Planar 8150 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Sony VPL-VW85 LCoS projector or read the VPL-VW85 specifications here.
Read the full review of the Vivitek H9080FD DLP projector or read the H9080FD specifications here.
Projectors above, from top left: InFocus SP8602, JVC DLA-RS15, JVC DLA-RS25, JVC DLA-RS35, Optoma HD8600, Planar 8150, Sony VPL-VW85, Vivitek H9080FD
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.
Due to the concept of "no one 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 roughly 30 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. Your life will much simpler that way. Otherwise, you might find yourself really wanting a particular projector, get all exited about it, and then remember - oops it won't work for this reason or that..
1080P Home 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:
It is interesting that last year, the same Sanyo's PLV-Z700 was the least expensive 1080p projector on the market (to our knowledge). This time around, it seems to be selling somewhere below $1500, but there are at least 3 under $1000 DLP competitors that can definitely be had for less. The PLV-Z700 has respectable black levels for an entry level class projector, better than those lower cost DLPs. It also has great placement flexibility, and a longest in class three year warranty. One thing I like is the full set of color management. The Sanyo has at least as many preset modes as any other projector. It is a bit below average in brightness, so having some brighter "intermediate" modes that look pretty good, when you need some brightness, but don't want to sacrifice a lot of color quality that most "brightest modes" tend to display.Because this projector isw in it's second year, it tends to get forgotten by me, from time to time. It should be considered one of the better lower brightness projectors in this class.
Mitsubishi HC3800 projector:
What a change. Mitsubishi's new DLP driven HC3800 home theater projector is actually replacing last year's LCD driven HC5500. It's not often we see a transition like this is a product line. Mitsubishi still has two LCD projectors in it's home theater projector line-up. Both are more expensive, and discussed in the Mid-Priced class.
The HC3800 has proved to be one of the strongest projectors in this class. The older Mitsubishi it replaced, had limited placement flexibiliy, so this classic (basic flexibility) DLP projector didn't make things any worse in that regard. The HC3800 has a number of strengths. First it has very good black levels for this entry level class. Only the ultra-high contrast projectors in the group (most are more expensive) do better, and the HC3800 projector accomplishes those pretty impressive blacks without using a dynamic iris!
Color is really good. It was very good on the original pre-production unit, and even better on the full production one they sent to replace it.
Even better, the HC3800 is bright, with almost 1000 lumens in "best" mode, with Brilliant Color on. Even with Brilliant Color off, and turning the lamp to low power, and you still have over 500 lumens. This actually means the projector might be too bright for some folks with small screens (typically 92" diagonal or less). The 800+ lumens in best mode with Brilliant Color off make it one of the brightest best mode projectors in this report, irregardless of price.
The Mitsubishi HC3800 certainly isn't a fancy projector, it's definitely thin on features, but boy does it crank out a great looking, and bright, picture for the bucks.
Optoma HD20 projector:
Optoma's HD20 projector created a lot of fanfare when it shipped 2nd half of last year. Why not, considering it was the first 1080p resolution projector to be launched with an under $1000 price. ($999, of course!). For the couple to three hundred dollars more than generally, basic and similar 720p projectors, people can now play in the "big leagues" of 1080p native resolution. The value of the HD20 primarily comes from its price. Black level performance is very entry level. There's a dynamic AI, but it's behavior's a bit too noticeable, so we recommended this projector with the assumption that you don't use the AI. If it's action doesn't bother you, leave it on, it's that simple. The Optoma HD20 projector, like its two close under $1000 competitors, has both strengths and weaknesses, as do the other two. Of particular note, the HD20 has the fastest color wheel, to minimize the rainbow effect for those who are sensitive. The faster color wheel is no doubt part of why the HD20 is not quite as bright as the other two (Vivitek and BenQ).
Epson Home Cinema 8100 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 may have slugged it out with the Mitsubishi HC3800 for best black levels in the class, but this year there's one ultra-high contrast projector in the group, so that takes care of that. Still for the class, the black levels are very good. With almost 1400 lumens in brightest mode, the Epson Home Cinema 8100 should be a favorite for sports fans, most of us not wanting to watch our sporting events in a fully darkened cave. Epson comes with one of the best warranties in the class, and a good color management system. A key strength is the Epson Home Cinema 8100's lamp, which is rated to last 4000 hours at full power, about double most of the competition. And they sell if for less than most others ($295). As a result, over the long haul this projector that typically sells for around $1500 as of this writing, could well cost less overall, than any of the $999 projectors, and any of the other lower cost projectors as well.
Panasonic PT-AE4000 Projector
The PT-AE4000, also known in the US as the PT-AE4000U, is the first "ultra-high contrast" projector to be reviewed in the entry level class. Truth is, though, that most of its most direct competition is more expensive and covered in the mid-price class. This is a change over last year, when the older PT-AE3000U was the least expensive mid-price class projector. What does this mean, besides that the Panasonic should have an easy time with most of the competition this year? For starters, no question that the PT-AE4000 has the blackest blacks of any projector in the entry-level class. Brightness is pretty average. Placement flexibility about as good as it gets.
The PT-AE4000, however, may also be the most feature laden projector anywhere near its price. Gizmo loving folks are drawn to the PT-AE4000, like moths to an open fire. Perhaps for it's signal generator, its split screen viewing so you can compare your settings changes to what you had before, or its full CMS - color management system. The PT-AE4000 is also the only projector in this class to offer CFI - creative frame interpolation. Then there's Lens Memory, allowing the projector to work with 2.35:1 screens (instead of the usual 16:9 screens), without an anamorphic lens. And more! I should note the Panasonic projector does excellent skin tones too. The warranty is good but far, far, from the best.
Samsung SP-A600 Home Theater Projector
Until recently Samsung has offered up some interesting, but rather expensive home theater projectors. The SP-A600 is the first to really sell in the lower cost range, and is more of a mass market product than the old SP-A710 I reviewed a few years ago, or the newer SP-A900. The SP-A900 is a projector I wanted to review and include, but I couldn't manage to talk Samsung into loaning me one for the review. (They sent me the A600 instead.)
The SP-A600 DLP projector is classic DLP - with limited placement flexibility, not a whole lot more lumens in brightest mode than best mode. Its two year warranty is overall, average, but definitely better than average in this entry level group of projectors, where there are a number of projectors sporting only a basic one year warranty.
The black level performance is not overly impressive, definitely entry level. The Samsung projector does not use a dynamic iris to enhance black performance. That said, blacks are definitely more like the $999 projectors than the DLP Mitsubishi HC3800, which still costs less. The Samsung's strength is very good color fidelity. It is a bit brighter than average in "best" picture mode (with 700 lumens), although strictly average in terms of its brightest mode - a bit over 1000 lumens.
I thought coming into this report, that the the XV-Z15000 projector would be classified (as it was last year) as an over $2000 projector. When I went online, just about everyone was offering it up for under $2000, and some under $2000 by more than a few bucks. I really liked this projector when first reviewed. Another DLP, it's very different from the Mitsubishi, in many ways. This Sharp projector has the best black level performance of any DLP in the sub-$2K class.
I described this projector as very Dr. Jekyl / Mr. Hyde, with the actual picture performance - blacks, color accuracy, shadow detail all a nice Dr. Hyde, while the rough Mr Hyde is more symbolic of the very limited placement flexibility, the less than sharpest lens (still does a sharper image overall, than most LCD projectors), and the basic 1 year warranty. Brightness is pretty average - neither Jekyl or Hyde.
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 when launched in 2008 was priced above $3500 and sold through local dealers only. Viewsonic apparently figure out that wasn't working for them, and decided to go the volume route. Now the same projector seems to sell for under $1500, and figures to be a very good value.
As I write this, the final award selections have yet to be finalized. I wonder how the addition of this Sharp XV-Z15000 and the Panasonic PT-AE4000U, (two pretty formidable ultra-high contrast projectors) to the lower price class, will affect our final awards this year.
$2100 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projectors
BenQ W6000 projector:
The BenQ W6000 is an impressive DLP projector selling in the under $2500 space. It's available online, and locally. The W6000 is one of a very few lower cost DLP projectors with lens shift. Overall, it offers pretty respectable placement flexiblity. The biggest strengths, however of the W6000 projector include its really impressive brightness, and some really good black level performance for a DLP projector in this price class. I consider the W6000 to be an ultra-high contrast projector. Mind you, it just makes the grade, but, that's a nice grade to have.
Last year, the W5000 wasn't as bright, and didn't have the black level performance of the W6000, but still managed a Best-In-Class Runner-Up award. The W6000 is, by comparison a much better projector, but also faces tougher competition this year.
Epson Home Cinema 8500UB:
Welcome to the third generation of Epson ultra-high contrast projectors. The Home Cinema 8500UB offers up a lot of features and capability. Last year's 6500UB picked up the Best In Class award in this Mid-Priced class. The new 8500UB builds on the older model, with slightly better black level performance, a few more best mode lumens (about 500), improved creative frame interpolation and a dynamic sharpening mode that really does seem to take the Epson up a notch without any significant downside. All dynamic features may "enhance" the image, but they also extract a cost, relative to a more natural image. This year's 8500UB is just a better, slightly lower cost, replacement for what was my own personal favorite projector in this class last year.
The Epson is also very bright in brightest mode. It's definitely a well balanced projector for the "more than just movies" crowd. Works great for sports.
Epson Pro Cinema 9500UB projector:
This Pro Cinema 9500UB is the almost identical projector from Epson, but part of the Pro series. Being a Pro, "UB" projector only means the following: Epson Pro Cinema projectors are sold only through local authorized installing dealers. They come finished in black (not white), they have three year warranties instead of two, and they offer support for an anamorphic lens, which the Home Cinema 8500UB does not.
Epson Pro Cinema 9100 projector:
This is the Pro version of the Epson Home Cinema 8100 covered in the Entry level price group. You are paying more to buy this from a local dealer, but you do extra value for your extra dollars: You get a ceiling mount and spare lamp (but it still nets out to this price group). In addition, the Pro Cinema 9100 comes with an extra year of warranty and replacement (3 years total), 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.
Mitsubishi HC6800, HC7000 projectors:
The Mitsubishi HC6800 is last fall's replacement for the older HC6500, Mitsubishi's middle of three home theater projectors. The HC6800 is a very suitable replacement. It remains, however, the middle unit in the lineup, costing less than the older HC7000 which has far superior blacks. We have not yet published the HC6800 review as of this writing, even though it's been measured, calibrated and viewed. The review will be written after this Report. The HC6800 sells for under $2500, and can be found online, and in big box houses like Best Buy. The HC7000, by comparison, costs more, and is sold primarily through local installing dealers. The HC7000 is definitely one of the less bright home projectors in its class, but the HC6800 does offer a lot more lumens.
Panasonic PT-AE4000 projector:
The PT-AE4000 projector just squeezes into the top of our Entry Level class. Last year, the older PT-AE3000U had to compete in the Mid-Priced class. The older Panasonic managed a tie for Best In Class last year, and this year, the even better PT-AE4000 gets to go up against a group of much less expensive projectors. The PT-AE4000 is pretty loaded in features compared to just about everything else. That's a large part of its appeal: Excellent placement flexibility, CFI (creative frame interpolation), dynamic iris and other dynamic features, and Panasonic's Lens memory feature that allows you to "emulate" using an anamorphic lens for viewing Cinemascope movies. There's more goodies too, like a built in signal analyzer, and split screen function for comparing CFI modes.
The Panasonic projector is about average in brightness, has natural color, and definitely offers black level performance as good as any other in this class, and far better than most.
Optoma HD8200 projector:
The HD8200 is a mid-priced DLP projector from Optoma. The HD8200 is primarily sold through local installing dealers, so does cost a bit more than a lot of direct, online competition. Typically it appears to sell for near the $3500 top end of the Mid-Priced class. Unlike many lower cost DLP projectors the placement flexibility is pretty respectable. That's thanks to a 1.5:1 zoom lens, and lens shift. Unfortunately, the Optoma, like another newer projector, the InFocus SP8602, isn't designed to be used on a high rear shelf. It must be inverted if mounted high.
Brightness is average in "best" mode, but the HD8200's 660 measured lumens in its brightest mode puts it very close to being the least bright projector in this report. That tends to make it a better choice for "movie only" or "movie primarily" people, that for those who also like things like lots of sports.
Color out of the box was not impressive, but the HD8200 cleans up nicely with calibration. Where I do have an issue with the HD8200 is it's dynamic iris. One mode I really did not like. The other wasn't bad, but a lot of projectors today, with dynamic irises, have iris action that's a lot less noticeable.
Sanyo PLV-Z3000 projector:
The PLV-Z3000 is one of the least expensive ultra-high contrast projectors out there. This 3LCD projector was first shipped in fall of 2008, so it's into its second year. What I said about the Z3000 last year is still fairly accurate today. Even the selling price hasn't fallen enough to put it in the entry level class:
"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 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 (now the 8100), or Sanyo's entry level PLV-Z700, and for that matter, better than vitually all of the DLP projectors anywhere near its price.
The PLV-Z3000 offers excellent placement flexibility. Its image is 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."
Back to real time: Even in early 2010, the Z3000 seems to remain popular, especially among the enthusiasts. It offers great placement flexibility, a sharp image, and a lot of different and pretty respectable, color modes to choose from.
Actually, the Z3000, would be more interesting if it was just a few hundred less, so it could be in the entry level class. It would be back slugging it out with the Panasonic PT-AE4000 but have a fairly easy time against many of the other lower cost projectors.
Sony VPL-HW15 projector:
The VPL-HW15 is Sony's least expensive 1080p home theater projector. Like the more expensive Sony projectors, the VPL-HW15 sports three LCoS panels. Last year, it's predecessor, the HW10, was the only LCoS projector affordable enough to make this Mid-Priced class. Not so this year. Even with a lower price, $2799 MAP, two other LCoS projectors came in under its price (but both right around $2500). Like all the other LCoS projectors the Sony is a fairly large home theater projector. Color handling is very, very, good. Skin tones are excellent!
Brightness, as is usual for Sony home theater projectors, is not a strong suit of the VPL-HW15 projector. Certainly the post calibration 538 lumens is average, or even a touch brighter, for a "best" mode, but the maximum we could find for a "brightest" mode was 837 rather blue lumens (color temp over 10K). All alternate modes that improve on the color of that brightest mode, measure 664 lumens or less. Like the Optoma HD8200, the Sony typically doesn't have any lumens to spare to deal with any ambient light, for sports or TV viewing. That makes this another projector for the "movies only, or mostly" crowd.
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 best "ultra-high-contrast" 3LCD models, but is fine for those less concerned about having great dark scenes. The provided 2 year parts and labor warranty does not include any loaner or replacement program. It is a typical warranty for projectors in this price range. A few have shorter warranties, a few have longer ones. Overall, it's a really good projector for the money, but there's strong competition from other LCoS, 3LCD and DLP projectors in this class.
$3500 - $10,000 Home Theater Projectors
InFocus SP8602 projector:
The SP8602 from InFocus, is a major departure from recent InFocus home theater projectors. Last year InFocus, an Oregon based company was taken private. This is their first new home theater effort. Gone are the cool flying saucer shaped projectors. The SP8602 (SP short for ScreenPlay, InFocus' old designator for home theater projectors), is a large, commercial looking unit. Oh, it's not that bad, but, let me put it this way. It's the same physical box as their 7000 lumen commercial projector.
One thing InFocus has always done well, and that's color accuracy. For whatever reason, most InFocus home theater projectors, over the years, seemed to start out with pretty good color, out of the box. Better still, they have calibrated beautifully. The absolute best color I've seen from any projector I've reviewed was from last year's InFocus IN83, so I expected great things of the SP8602.
The color is excellent, not as perfect as the IN83's but about as good as anything else I've seen recently. Brightness - a hallmark of the old IN83, isn't as impressive, but the SP8602 puts out about 800 lumens in "best" mode with Brilliant Color off, and 1059 with it on. The brightest mode delivers over 1100 lumens.
Physical placement is good, not exceptional. While the projector does have lens shift, it isn't designed to be rear shelf mounted. Lens shift is different than most projectors but let's you place the projector between the top of the screen surface and a respectable distance above (varies depending on screen size).
Black level performance is very good, not great. Like most of the best DLP projectors with dynamic irises, it is competitive with some of the "ultra-high" contrast. Put it all together, and you have a really bright projector for movie viewing, more "brightest" mode lumens than most, and great color with good blacks and excellent shadow detail. The dynamic iris, however is a little rough. Not as bad as some, it works well enough most of the time, but sometimes it is a little too noticeable. InFocus has advised they are working on improving the firmware. I'm looking forward to it!
JVC DLA-RS15 projector:
The JVC DLA-RS15 is JVC's "entry level" home theater projector, if you buy into "entry level" being about $5000. Extremely similar to the more expensive RS25 and RS35, the DLA RS15 projector is just a touch less sophisticated. It's a medium large home projector, finished in shiny black with a little gold trim. Rather tasteful (remember, I'm biased, I own the identical looking RS20). It's fancy, with power everything: Zoom, focus, and lens shift. It will support 3rd party anamorphic lenses. It has a particularly nice remote control Placement flexiblity is also excellent, built around the 2:1 zoom and a healthy amount of both vertical and horizontal lens shift.
Black levels are excellent, and although a step down from the more expensive JVCs, the RS15's blacks are still better than virtually every other projector out there. Color accuracy is very good, but the controls aren't as complete as the other JVC's. As a result of that, the RS15 can't quite match the really superb color accuracy of the other two JVCs.
The RS15 is bright in best mode, with about 700 lumens but can't quite stretch it to 900 lumens in brightest mode, so, (like the other JVCs) it's not quite average brightness in its brightest mode.
JVC DLA-RS25 projector:
The DLA-RS25 projector replaces the JVC RS20, our Best in Class winner in 2009. The two are very similar, with the major difference between them being the RS25's addition of creative frame interpolation. I know of no other projectors capable of matching the RS25's black levels (other than the RS35). Color handling is excellent. The provided THX mode produces excellent color accuracy, although a professional calibration can improve on it slightly. Like the other JVC projectors it has power everything, a good selection of inputs, user savable memories, a physically attractive (if a bit large) appearance, an excellent remote control, and a two year warranty. The RS25's $8000 sticker, isn't for the feint of heart, but it produces the kind of quality image that we are willing to pay for.
Ultimately the RS25 is about the picture. Consider: I can think of almost a dozen projectors that can look every bit as good on a bright scene, including projectors from Sony, Epson, LG, Panasonic, and InFocus... In fact some times the JVC might look better, some times the other projector.
That's great, but it's the dark scenes that "separate the men from the boys." (I hate to think of how politically incorrect that phrase probably is now.) Fairly dark scenes where the darkest areas are washing out on most of those other projectors, are still dynamic on the RS25. On a wide array of extremely dark, very dark, and dark with small amounts of bright area scenes, the JVC will still look great overall, and look dynamic while the others turn dull and flat by comparison.
Now if most movies didn't have some dark and very dark scenes, people wouldn't be so concerned about black level performance. The reality is, that dark scenes exist in almost all movies, and folks, that's the tie breaker, the reason why the RS25 is considered a great projector.
JVC DLA-RS35 projector:
The JVC DLA-RS35 is an RS25 surgically created out of the best of the individual components. For your extra $2000, you are getting the RS35 - the projector with the best of the optics, light engine, power, fans, etc. Basically, the best projector their highest possible quality control can build. The small improvements everywhere, especially in sharpness, (but also black level performance, etc.), add up to result in a projector that puts a visually superior image on the screen than the normal RS25, which is described in detail above.
Planar PD8150 projector:
Planar is still a 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 PD8150 is sold through authorized local dealers only. The PD8150 is a DLP projector, that has perhaps the best black levels of any DLP in this report. That's thanks to a dynamic iris that happens to be less noticeable than most.
The projector overall is above average in best mode brightness, but one of the least bright bright modes. That makes it a good choice for people who are very movie focused, and not planning on a large screen.
I was very impressed when I reviewed Planar's PD8150 projector, although it's been quite a long time since I've seen it in action. It offered a sharper, though dimmer alternative, to the LCoS projectors with their still better blacks.
Sony VPL-VW85 projector:
Sony's VPL-VW85 projector replaces last year's VW70. Last year we weren't able to obtain the VW70 in time for the report, but this time around we reviewed the VW85 with time to spare. The Sony VW85 projector is a larger LCoS projector - Sony calls their LCoS by the SXRD name.
The VW85 is extremely impressive. Black level performance is excellent, one of the best out there. It relies on a dynamic iris, for the great blacks, and on the darkest of scenes it comes very close to the JVC DLA-RS25, which nothing else I know of can do. Color is really very good, although we could never quite get it as good as we hoped, there always remained a touch too much red in skin tones.
Brightness improved over last year, with a huge jump to 598 lumens in best, but still a way below average 725 maximum lumens.
Placement flexibility is very good. The projector can be shelf mounted, however, since their zoom lens' is a little more wide-angle than most, the projector can't be placed very far back. That means you won't be able to shelf mount in most deep rooms. Well, there's always ceiling mounting, and you get the advantage of mounting with the lens in wide angle, producing a brighter image.
Pricey as it is the VW85 is a particularly fine product. It's best in rooms with smaller screens and good lighting control, and should provide a truly excellent viewing experience in such a setting.
The phrase is ours, here at ProjectorReviews.com. I started using it three years ago, to describe the projectors that, one way or another, end up with black level performance meeting a subjective standard that I define. It represents the projectors that have contrast and black level performance that is at least a step up from the rest, but most importantly, it describes those projectors whose black level performance is so good, that very dark scenes (and some mixed scenes) are still sufficiently good, that other factors become increasingly important. That is, you reach a point, and might say something like: "The blacks are pretty darn good. I'd like them better still (of course), but, ya know what? I would rather have a slightly sharper projector with these blacks, than a projector this sharp, but with better blacks. Or the trade-off might be color accuracy, brightness, etc. The point is, these projectors all have impressive black level performance, even if there is a good deal of difference between the best and least of them.
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 decent black level performance. In fact, so good, that only a few projectors just three years ago, could match the worst of today's 1080p projectors. 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. For them, they are shipping 3rd generation "ultra-high contrast" projectors. Today, all four of the major 3LCD manufacturers in home theater space are using dynamic irises, polarization, and inorganic LCD panels 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). Despite the lack of a dynamic iris, their two top of the line models are unmatched at black level performance.
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 8500UB and 9500UB
JVC DLA-RS15, DLA-RS25 and DLA-RS35
In addition, these projectors come close enough that I often think of them as ultra-high contrast. Since my measure is subjective, that means that there are times I'm satisfied with their black performance, and other times I wonder if perhaps I should have raised the bar a bit more:
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.
Most projectors today, except for the more entry level DLP projectors have at least vertical lens shift. All projectors in our mid and top classes have lens shift.
Creative Frame Interpolation
I've blogged a lot about Creative Frame Interpolation (CFI). This is something fairly recent to home theater projectors. Some manufacturers are on their second generation, but only about half the projectors in this report have CFI. 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.
Last year only four projectors in the report offered CFI. Now just about all of the new top of the line models offer it, and some lower priced ones as well. The least expensive CFI equipped projector this year, is the Panasonic PT-AE4000 at $1999.
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.
While a few people are really enamoured with the idea of CFI, I like it to a point. I think it's great for most sports, and for some other content. With most CFI implementations, I don't like the effect on standard 24 fps film based movies. 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 when you don't like the effect.
The magic of dynamic irises have dramatically improved the overall quality of home theater projectors. We've reached the point where most of the under $10,000 home theater projectors now have a dynamic iris to affect black level performance. Only some of the least expensive projectors and a few of the most expensive, now lack a dynamic iris. In other words, it's a pretty standard feature at this point.
Let's explore the purpose and the effect of a dynamic iris, on the projected image, and your viewing experience.
Since projectors cannot actually produce black, only very dark grays (varying based on the projector's quality), intended blacks on the screen are actually that dark gray. A problem occurs when you are looking at a very dark scene. Without bright areas to cause your iris to close a bit, those blacks start looking mighty gray. When you have a dynamic iris working, on those very dark scenes it shuts down, blocking most of the light. That makes the blacks a lot darker, but slightly brighter areas still remain pretty bright. It's a real plus. If however, your dark scene has some very bright areas, if the iris is to close down a good bit, those whites and near whites are going to get darker too. That means a bright white in an otherwise dark scene, won't be as bright as white on a normal or bright scene. The point is, you are changing the way things are supposed to be.
That's all just fine. The best thing about dynamic irises, is that they are the most effective on those really dark scenes, when you most need blacks to be blacker. On other, mostly dark scenes that have some very bright areas, the eye is drawn to the light, so the blacker blacks are less critical.
The other aspect of dynamic irises that I discuss is the visibility of their action. If you are looking, it's not hard to spot their action. Of course they are idle - wide open, on bright and mostly bright scenes. When you get scene changes, though, from dark to light, or the other way around, the iris has to react to that - opening or closing. If they wait too long, they can be visible. In the case of one projector, after a change in scene brightness such as that, the iris takes seconds to react, then snaps open, or mostly closed very quickly. Very annoying. Some irises are relatively slow - they average out the change and can take a while perhaps even a second to complete an adjustment. That can cause a yo-yo type effect when scene brightness fades in and out every few seconds (happens a lot on movie credits like Superman, Star Wars, but in real content too.) One thing I look for in particular is when a scene consists of a conversation in a fairly dark room, say one with paneled walls. A person in a conversation, say wearing a bright shirt, who moves around while talking, may cause the iris to open and close slightly as the amount of brightness varies. That can make the scene come off looking like: you, watching a guy in a bright shirt talk - while someone off camera is playing with the light dimmer on the wall.
The viewing experience: Please keep in mind, it's my job to look into these things for you. So, while you realize that dynamic iris action can be visible, try to remember that with most of the irises on these projectors you will rarely notice their action - unless you are looking for it. I'll let you know which ones are those more likely to be bothersome. There are only a few with issues sufficient that I recommend turning the dynamic iris off.
I spend a lot of time watching movies with dynamic irises engaged. The bottom line: While there might be a occasional noticing of iris action, with most projectors that's a small price to pay for a significant improvement in black levels.
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 8100, 8500UB
Epson Pro Cinema 9100
For you Epson fans, note that of the four Epson projectors considered in this report, only the Pro Cinema 9500UB supports an anamorphic lens. Epson saves such extra capabilities for the Pro series over the Home series, but, they also don't offer the anamorphic support for Pro Cinema 9100. I believe the logic behind that decision, is that anyone wanting anamorphic support, who can afford it, would definitely pay the extra to go from the 9100 to the 9500UB for the better performance, since that difference is far less expensive than the cost of an anamorphic lens and sled.
Sony's VPL-HW15 does not support the lens, but their noticeably more expensive (and better) VPL-VW85 does.
None of the three new sub-$1000 projectors supports an anamorphic, and again, that makes sense. This year, we have our first two affordable entries from S. Korea, the LG CF181D, and the Samsung SP-A600B. Neither supports an anamorphic lens.
Finally, there's also the Sharp XV-Z15000 another projector that was also included in last year's report. It too lacks anamorphic lens support, something noted in its review, but last year, we failed to point out the lack of support in this same section of the 2009 report. Sorry about that!
It should be noted that only a few percent of home theater projector owners go with the anamorphic lens solution, and many of those folk are high end people buying expensive 3 chip DLPs where the cost of an anamorphic lens doesn't seem very significant, compared to the projectors' price. Still, according to the screen manufacturers I talk to, they are selling a higher percentage of anamorphic shaped screens, than in the past. And one reason just might be Panasonic's solution:
Panasonic's PT-AE4000, like the PT-AE3000 last year, does offer support for an anamorphic lens, but it also has something else, which is the ability to "emulate" an anamorphic lens.
The PT-AE4000 doesn't need an anamorphic lens to put a Cinemascope image on a 2.35:1 screen with no letterboxing! This saves thousands of dollars, 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 - grays, above and below the screen. Also different from using a real anamorphic lens, is that the Panasonic 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. I had expected to see a couple more projectors this year, offering a similar solution to the Panasonic "Lens Memory". Of course you can do the same trick with any 1080p projector with a lot of zoom range, but it is the combination of the ability to save the settings (thus "Lens memory") that makes it convenient. I'd hate to have to get up on a ladder to change the manual zoom lens on, perhaps an Epson, or LG projector, each time I want to go from a Cinemascope movie to HDTV, or other none 2.35:1 aspect ratio content.
With the Panasonic, remember, you need the projector's zoom to stop in two different positions. That effectively cuts down the distance range you can mount the projector, by about 50%. You need to see if you can work with the more limited placement flexibility required for Lens Memory.
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, another year goes by and there still isn't any Deep Color content out there, but we're all hoping to see some sooner, rather than later. Meantime almost all projectors take the 8 bit/color data and process at 10 or 12 bit, to improve the color smoothness somewhat. It's a good trick but starting with the greater color depth is the the right way to do things, and it will make a visible difference.
All projectors in this year's report, should support Deep Color. Last year all but one did.
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 calibrator 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 under $10,000 THX certified projectors, the JVC DLA-RS25 and RS35. For even less money, the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB, and the Pro 9500UB also are THX certified. 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:
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
JVC DLA-RS25, DLA-RS35
Epson Home Cinema 8500UB
Epson Pro Cinema 9500UB
Note that the list for THX is pretty short - just two manufacturers. In the more expensive space, though, Runco (and their Vidikron brand) have a number of THX certified models, all way over $10,000 and a couple 10x that amount.
To me, having the THX certification is most important for their THX mode. Basically you are getting THX's idea of correct calibration. It's just that they are creating just one set of settings for all projectors of one model. We all know there's slight variation in color from lamp to lamp, etc. (even a lamp changes it's color temp characteristics over its life). As such, a professional calibrator should be able to come up with even better results, but you will rarely, if ever, find any preset mode on any non-THX certified projectors, that looks as good as the THX mode on these Epsons and JVCs.