Home Projector Comparison Report - Performance
April 2010 - Art Feierman
1080p Home Projectors - Brightness
Before we get started in our discussion of how each projector does in terms of brightness, first a note about our measurements. More than a year ago, we switched to new test equipment. We were aware that our old gear (that was before a year and a half ago). tended to consistently measure higher lumens than the results by other reviewers. The new gear measures about 28% less than the old gear. There are, included in this report, 4 projectors that date back to the old equipment. For those projectors, the lumen measurements listed in this section and elsewhere in this article, have been adjusted for consistency. As a result, the lumen numbers here, for those older reviews show lower measurements than appeared in their original reviews. This way, we are working with "apples to apples".
Since in many reviews we publish a large number of measurements - pre and post calibration, and often, multiple modes, if you want to take any lumen measurement in any of the old reviews just take the published numbers in those reviews and multiply by 0.72 to get the properly adjusted lumens.
Let me repeat, for emphasis: The lumen measurements posted in the charts below (and commentary) reflect the new, more accurate numbers!
There are two key aspects worth considering when considering a home theater projector's brightness:
The first is how bright the projector is, in its "best" mode. Best mode, (typically that mode bares a name such as Theater, Cinema 1, Movie, etc.)
In "best" mode, a projector typically works at its least bright, but provides its best color and black levels. (Note: when I refer to least bright, I'm talking "modes" and not whether a lamp is on full power or eco-mode.)
The other consideration is how bright a projector can get, at it's brightest. Not everyone wants only to watch movies, and only in a fully darkened environment. Many of us also watch TV/HDTV, and especially sports viewing. For most of that, we prefer to have some lights on. For this type of viewing, we are willing to compromise best picture quality a bit in exchange for enough lumens to make the picture nice, bright, and dynamic looking.
For that reason, we measure, for each projector, its "best" and "brightest" modes.
Keep this in mind. Some projectors may have all the lumens you need for your movie watching in "best" mode, but not enough to view sports and TV with some room lighting on. Other projectors may have lots of lumens in their brightest mode, perfect for that sports and TV on a large screen, but not enough lumens for that same screen, to fill it adequately in "best" mode.
Consider - some projectors have very little brightness difference between "best" and "brightest" - as little as, say, 10-20%. Others may have a bright mode with as much as three times the brightness of that projector's "best" mode. All of that tends to make things interesting, in choosing a projector that works for your type of viewing.
It is therefore important to consider both the type of viewing you'll be doing, and your screen size, screen type, and room lighting.
$2000 and under 1080p Home Theater Projectors
OK here are our brightness measurements for the Entry Level class. All :
|Best Mode||Brightest Mode||Other mode|
|Epson Home Cinema 8100||461||1288|
Lumens - Other mode: While we focus on the "best", and "brightest" modes, there are cases where it is useful to point out an additional mode. In some cases it's a somewhat less bright "brightest mode" but with a lot better color, sometimes it's an intermediate or almost "best" mode, that is noteworthy because of having a lot more lumens, yet still is competitive with some other best modes, when it comes to color... We describe each of the Other modes listed, when discussing that projector.
BenQ W1000 projector:
The BenQ W1000 is definitely the brightest projector in this report. That's not surprising, as the brightest projectors each year, are often ones that are "cross-over" products. That is, projectors often primarily designed as business projectors but with some extra thought to also make them good home entertainment projectors. That the W1000 has a 2x color wheel, is pretty small, and has a built in speaker, are good indications that it has roots in the business projector. In fact it's the brightest by about 20%, compared to the next brightest, the Vivitek H1080FD, which is essentially the same projector but with a faster, but still slow, 3x color wheel.
The BenQ W1000 is aimed at the home entertainment, not the dedicated home theater crowd. It's about having good color, and great brightness to handle family rooms, watching sports with some lights on, etc.
I's 644 lumens in best mode are enough to handle a pretty large screen (say as big as my 128" screen), with very good color. And you can get 1200 lumens out of the BenQ by engaging best mode with Brilliant Color on. The BenQ W1000 with Brilliant Color turned on, can be a little over the top, as it can be for other DLP projectors as well. Still, that's a lot of lumens, and color is still rather good. The almost 2200 lumens in brightest mode, definitely qualifies the BenQ W1000 as a light canon among home theater projectors.
Epson Home Cinema 8100 projector:
Strangely, the Home Cinema 8100 measured slightly less than its "UB" siblings found in the mid-priced class. I say strangely, as the 8100 is rated at 1800 lumens and the others are 1600 lumens. Each year, though the "standard" and the "UB" projectors are very close when measured.
Where the Home Cinema especially shines (pun intended) is in its Dynamic and Livingroom modes. There are color issues in Dynamic with very strong yellows and greens, but it just slices right through ambient light that would damage the picture with any of the other projectors in this group. Better still is the Epson's Livingroom mode - while it is a "mess" right out of the box, a nice calibration, yields about 20% less lumens than its Dynamic mode.
Mitsubishi HC3800 projector:
The Mitsubishi HC3800 is a scorcher even in Best mode with 950 lumens. Go for maximum brightness, and it measures 1142 lumens. That makes the HC3800 the brightest projector in the class, in terms of Best mode, and is slightly above average brightness in Brightest mode, although no match for the two DLP projectors with the slow color wheels. Those projectors manage maximum brightness around 2000 lumens, a substantial improvement. But, neither the Vivitek or Optoma HD20 come close to the HC3800's picture quality and black level performance. They are more geared for family room use with some lighting, while the Mitsubishi HC3800 is also perfectly at home in a dedicated home theater, where it will put one of the very best images in this class, up on your screen.
Optoma HD20 projector:
At $999, the Optoma HD20 offers very good brightness in best mode, measuring post calibration, at 710 lumens. As is typical of a lot of DLP projectors, the HD20 does not get a huge boost, going to brightest mode, with it's measured 996 lumens being the third lowest. That said, this lowest price class has the brightest "bright" mode projectors. In the more expensive categories, the HD20's brightest mode would be at least average. The Optoma HD20 unlike the other $999 projectors, uses a 4x color wheel (compared to the BenQ's 2x and the Vivitek's 3x). For those sensitive to the Rainbow Effect, that makes the HD20 a far better projector to view than the BenQ, and merely a better projector than the Vivitek.
Panasonic PT-AE4000 projector:
This year's Panasonic seems to have a new "warmer" lamp that last year's PT-AE3000. At any rate, there is a nice improvement in best mode brightness for the PT-AE4000, which now measures 430 lumens post calibration. Brightest mode, at 930 lumens makes it the dimmest projector in the entry level group. Keep in mind that Panasonic set their price at $1999. Generally we consider most of the PT-AE4000s real competition to be slightly more money, and hanging out in the more expensive tier of projectors. The Panasonic, when it comes to brightness is a little below average in both best and brightest, and is best served up to work with medium to small screens. For most people (avoiding high gain screens), about 110" diagonal should be about the largest screen size to pair with the PT-AE4000 projector.
Samsung SP-A600 projector:
The Samsung SP-A600 specs out the lumens similar to the Optoma HD20 - with just over 700 lumens in best mode, and just over 1000 lumens in brightest mode. That makes the SP-A600 very bright in "best" mode, and able to tacking some really nice sized screens for watching movies. For example, the Samsung's brightness is just a tad less than my JVC that I find is rather comfortable with my 128" high contrast gray Firehawk G3 screen. Brightest mode lumens are average, overall, and below average among the under $2000 projectors. You've got at least 40% more lumens for your sports viewing with "brightest" mode engaged.
Sanyo PLV-Z700 projector:
In its true "best" mode, the PLV-Z700 is one of the least bright projectors out there. But, Sanyo does something different, and for that reason we don't even consider it's true "best" mode, in our chart. All the nice features the Sanyo has, that enhance performance, are turned off. Considering the low lumens, it's unlikely that any siginificant percentage of ownwers will use it's Pure mode. When you buy this projector you are paying for features like a dynamic iris, and dynamic controls, so it's unlikely anyone would buy a Z700 and not use those capabilities. Therefore we dismissed Pure Cinema as best mode and chose the far more practical (and better performing, if less "pure") Creative Cinema. Our measurements:
Consider: The good news is that it has two other Cinema modes, in addition to Pure, which is the least bright, and most basic. Creative, which does more with iris, and dynamic controls that may affect contrast, etc., and deliver more lumens, and finally Brilliant Cinema, which pulls out all the stops. Brilliant Cinema isn't as good an image as Pure or many of the Creative Cinema options, but can still produce an impressive looking image, while delivering more than twice the lumens of Pure Cinema. This is covered in some detail in the PLV-Z700's review.
Creative Cinema: 675 lumens, Brilliant Cinema: 887 lumens, Brightest mode: 1157 lumens.
In the chart above, we considered Creative Cinema to be Best mode. Note that we list an Other mode for the Z700, and that's Brilliant Cinema. Brilliant Cinema tends to push things a bit, sort of like having Brilliant Color on, with many DLP projectors. Still, it's a very useful mode when you want a good mix of lumens and picture quality.
While I don't think of the PLV-Z700 as a bright projector, it has enough lumens (given you treat Creative Cinema as best mode), to handle medium and even larger screens.
This year the Sharp XV-Z15000, which also appeared in last year's report, has dropped just enough in price to make the cut for our Entry Level projector class. While I really like the picture of the XV-Z15000, it is the least bright of the whole group. With only 312 lumens in Best mode, and no particularly brighter other modes that would be close to a "best" mode in piture quality, the Sharp will pair best with smaller screens, probably 100" diagonal at the largest, unless you go with a high gain screen. The 1099 lumens in brightest mode, will give you a serious boost when you want some lights on, so the best mode lumens are the limiting factor, when considering this Sharp projector.
Viewsonic Pro8100 projector:
The Viewsonic is another projector best suited for movie watching, or smaller screens, say up to 100" diagonal, maybe a bit larger. With a below average 453 lumens in "best" mode, it's still pretty respectable, as many projectors are right around 500 lumens. In brightest mode though, it's 922 lumens are on the low side as well. In other words, not a lot to spare if you want say a popular 110" diagonal screen size. You might have to supplement with a higher than normal gain screen.
The Viewsonic Pro8100 projector, when it comes to brightness characteristics, most closely resembles another LCD projector, the Panasonic PT-AE4000, whos comparable measurements are within 25 lumens of the Pro8100. Note I have always considered the popular PT-AE series from Panasonic to be definitely below average when it comes to brightness, perhaps my biggest complaint about an otherwise excellent projector.
Vivitek H1080FD projector:
Like it's almost identical twin, the BenQ, the Vivitek H1080FD is a cross-over projector. It has a slow (3x) color wheel (not as slow as the 2x in the BenQ W1000), which will help with the Rainbow Effect, but cause the Vivitek H1080FD to have about 20% less lumens than the W1000. It's a straight trade-off for everyone - go with the faster color wheel, and the still very bright lumens of the Vivitek, or go all out for lumens, with the BenQ.
$2100 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projectors
|Best Mode||Brightest Mode||Other mode|
|Epson Home Cinema 8500UB||498||1309||1168|
|Epson Pro Cinema 9500UB||498||1309||1168|
|Epson Pro Cinema 9100||461||1288|
Lumens - Other mode: While we focus on the "best", and "brightest" modes, there are cases where it is useful to point out an additional mode. In some cases it's a somewhat less bright "brightest mode" but with a lot better color, sometimes it's an intermediate or almost "best" mode, that is noteworthy because of having a lot more lumens. We describe each of the Other modes listed, when discussing that projector.
BenQ W6000 projector:
Designed from the ground up to be both bright, and have a high quality picture, the W6000 has the brightest lamp of any projector in this report. The W6000 succeeds at being bright, with a measured "best mode" performance of 866 lumens with Brilliant Color turned off. Turn it on, and things get even better (brighter) with 1039 lumens! We list Brilliant Color On best mode as the "Other" mode in our table above. It is worthy of listing because the BenQ does a very good job in terms of picture quality with BC turned on. Many DLP's with Brilliant Color engaged are a bit over the top. With the W6000 projector, having Brilliant Color off is still the more natural look but there's an extra 20% more lumens waiting, if you need them, without a major compromise in image quality.
When it comes to brightest mode, the BenQ kicks out 1750 lumens after we adjusted it. That makes it the brightest overall projector in the report, over $999. (The two bright $999 projectors are "crossover" (aka; also double as business portable) projectors, with fast color wheels. The BenQ's color wheel is much faster, minimizing the rainbow effect. In fact the W6000 is far superior overall, but those two rock bottom projectors are every bit as bright. BenQ's brightest mode does exhibit a heavy green shift, which is most unfortunately since it really can't be adjusted away. That will work fine if you need every last lumen to deal with ambient light. If not, the BenQ's Standard mode with BC on, after calibration can produce just over 1250 lumens, still very impressive, and with very good color.
Epson Home and Pro Cinema 8500UB, 9500UB projectors:
We assume, of course that the Home Cinema 8500UB would test out exactly the same as the 9500UB, give or take the usual variation between units, as they are inherently the same projector.
The Epson combines a just slightly better than average "best" mode of 498 lumens, with the second brightest "bright mode" in this price class. It's 1309 lumens have a bit too much green, but it's not as serious as the BenQ. In doing battle with the W6000, let's say that the Epson's 1309 lumens are still not as pretty (due to the excess green) as the 1250 Standard mode lumens of the W6000.
But, as we all know, a healthy amount of lumens is a bonus for the Epson. Afterall these Epsons' ultimate strength, is having the best black level performance of any projector near their price. The Epson's got the juice to handle medium sized screens. It should prove comfortable with typical 110" screens, and can be pushed a bit larger with the right setup. That said, the 9500UB has marginal brightness in "best mode" trying to fill my 128" Firehawk, and that's with the Epson having a shiny new lamp. That lamp will dim over time. Those of you thinking 120" or larger to pair with one of these Epson projectors, should definitely be planning on a high gain screen, if you want to watch movies in "best" mode. No problem with smaller sizes, assuming the appropriate light control.
The brightest mode lumens are really nice. I pulled down my JVC projector and put up the Epson 9500UB for my annual Superbowl party. My JVC, with it's lamp at around 1000 hours, is only doing outputting maybe 600 lumens in brightest mode at the time of Superbowl. I didn't even need brightest mode on the 9500UB. I used an adjusted CinemaDay (that would be Living Room mode on the Home Cinema 8500UB), with 1168 lumens and it worked out just great, with a fair amount of ambient light in the room!
Epson Pro Cinema 9100 projector:
Everything I just said about the two Epson UB's holds for the Pro Cinema 7100. The key difference between projectors relate to the LCD panels, and ultimately, black level performance, not brightness! We actually worked with the virtually identical Home Cinema 8100. As it turned out, that particular Epson measured about
Mitsubishi HC6800 projector:
The HC6800 is a little brighter than average in its "best" mode, which post calibration, measured 578 lumens , with only the Sony having significantly (about 25%) more lumens. For movie watching, that should mean its pretty comfortable with a 110" screen, and maybe up to 120" diagonal
When you want to tackle ambient light for that football game, though, the Mitsubishi's "bright" mode, only measures 946 lumens, a bit below average, and if you go with a larger screen, that means not many lumens at all if you want any ambient lights on. The High Brightness mode of the HC6800 (where we recorded the 946 lumens) isn't very pretty. And you cannot adjust the color. The next brightest mode, has good color, but a rather pathetic 687 lumens.
Mitsubishi HC7000 projector:
Where have all the lumens gone? The HC7000 may physically look like the less expensive HC6800, but there may be a hole in the bottom of the HC7000, where most of the lumens have fallen out.
Seems that to get the HC7000's very impressive black levels "best" mode brightness the HC7000 can't muster more than to the second lowest in this group (278 calibrated lumens). Going to "brightest" mode, not much to write home about there, either. Although the lumens almost double, we're still talking less than 550 lumens, and that makes the HC7000 the least bright projector in "brightest" mode, of this collection.
Bottom line: The HC7000, while an excellent performer in other areas, is the dim bulb of these mid-priced projector. The simple solution, consider the HC7000 if you are a small screen user. With a good room situation, the HC7000 should be fine on typical 100 inch diagonal screens, and great on smaller ones.
Optoma HD8200 projector:
Although definitely brighter than average in "best" mode, the HD8200 doesn't do much better in "brightest", making it one of the least bright in the group, for when you need the lumens. You can point the HD8200 at a pretty large screen for viewing movies, but if you want to switch to HDTV, TV and sports, you are still going to have to keep the ambient light to a minimum. The brightest projectors (in bright mode) in this group are roughly 2x to 2.5x as bright, and that's a huge difference.
The HD8200, therefore, is a projector that will be best enjoyed (from a brightness standpoint) by those who are primarily movie watchers, and not overly concerned about other source material, or are willing to watch other material in a very darkened room.
Sanyo PLV-Z3000 projector:
Oh, if the PLV-Z3000 only had more lumens. In "best" mode, it measured the lowest of any of these projectors. That said, check out the brightness section in the Sanyo review. The PLV-Z3000 has three Cinema modes, and even the brightest - Brilliant Cinema is pretty good. That helps a lot, with about a 50% boost in lumen output, but that still leaves the Sanyo PLV-Z3000 below average in brightness.
The Sanyo, however, does better in brightest mode. Still not dazzling, but it's 1000 lumens is about average.
Our best recommendation is to limit the Sanyo PLV-Z3000 to smaller screens, 100" diagonal or below, although you can get respectable results up to 110 inch diagonal if your room conditions are very good (dark walls, etc.). Another way to help is to ceiling mount fairly close to the screen to get the extra lumens the lens passes when set up that way.
When you are sticking to those smaller screens, the PLV-Z3000 is capable of handling as much ambient light as, say, the Epsons can, with larger screens. (Figure the Sanyo on a 100" screen will have similar brightness to the Epson on a 123" screen, when both are at their brightest!)
Sony VPL-HW15 projector:
For movie watchers, the Sony has some reasonble best mode brightness, measuring 536 lumens post calibration. That puts it about in the middle of the pack, and perhaps just on the high side of average in lumen output. Switch to brightest mode, and the SXRD VPL-HW15 projector, only jumps to 771 lumens making it the third dimmest in the class, and that translates into not a whole lot of lumens for dealing with ambient light. All considered, that makes the VPL-HW15 as a better projector for those almost exclusively focused on movies, than for those wanting an all around projector for lots of HDTV and Sports as well as films.
$3500 - $10,000 Home Theater Projectors
It's interesting that in this category, the "best" mode brightness as a group, is much brighter than the mid-priced group. At the same time, collectively, these are not quite as bright in brightest mode. These differences are primarily due to there being no 3LCD projectors in this group, instead, a balance of DLP (6) and LCoS (3) projectors.
|Best Mode||Brightest Mode|
InFocus SP8602 projector:
The InFocus SP8602 projector really has some curious performance when it comes to brightness. Don't get me wrong, overall, it's the brightest projector in our $3500 - $10,000 class.
What's weird about the SP8602 is the significant affect lens shift has on brightness, and also the unusually large amount of affect the zoom lens position has on brightness. For the measurements shown in the chart, the SP8602 was measured with the zoom at mid-point (as is the case with all reviews), but, of note, the lens shift was set to 0 offset. That means the projector is mounted with the center of the lens even with the top of the screen (when ceiling mounting). The thing is, if you mount the projector higher, compared to the screen top, the SP8602 measures brighter and brighter. In fact, by the time you get to the maximum offset (about 14.9 inches above the top of a 100" diagonal screen), the projector brightens by 18.5%. That would take our 785 lumens up to about 930 lumens.
As I stated above, the lens zoom positioning has a lot more effect on brightness than I normally expect for a 1.5:1 zoom. In fact, it's more like the typical 2:1 zoom. The InFocus gets a healthy 16% boost in brightness as you move from center position on the zoom to wide angle.
Finally InFocus'es Brilliant Color implementation adds still another 35%.
What you end up with is a projector who's overall brightness varies more on how you place it in your room, than any other projector in this report. In almost all situations, this ScreenPlay 8602 is the brightest projector in its class.
Let's add in the boost for turning Brilliant Color on, and the 930 lumens jumps 35% to 1255 best mode lumens, and that's still at the mid-point of the zoom. If you are ceiling mounting (almost certainly with this projector), and can mount it up high (not a chance with low ceilings), above the screen by that almost 15 inches, and go with Brilliant Color on, and mount it with the lens at wide-angle, and all of a sudden, you have 1456 "best mode lumens". OK, few will be able to position it perfectly to get every last lumen out, but still consider that the 1255 mid-point zoom lumens make this projector capable of a "best" mode that's brighter than any other projector in the group's "brightest" mode.
It took a lot of work, and help from InFocus engineers to sort all this out. Our intial measurements were disappointing compared to claims, until we sorted through everything. At first I complained to them that it wasn't as bright as last year's IN83. As it turns out, depending on your setup, it's typically going to be brighter than the IN83.
As is typical for these higher end projectors, none, not even the InFocus, have as many bright mode lumens as some of the lower priced projectors.
In reality "bright" mode lumens aren't significantly brighter than "best mode".
Remember, the numbers in the chart assume mounting at 0 offset, not at the brighter maximum offset, and with the lens at mid-point. In the review itself we reported at "best mode" of 1059, but that was with Brilliant Color set to On.
JVC DLA-RS15 projector:
There hasn't been much change in the brightness of JVC projectors since they launched the RS1 over two years ago. Only the RS2 which followed later, varied, having only about 2/3 of the lumens of the RS1 and all future JVCs.
Other than that RS2, all JVC projectors have had best mode measurements of between about 650 and high 700s and brightest modes typically about 100 to 150 lumens brighter.
The JVC DLA-RS15 is typical. In "best" mode, 657 lumens, and 746 in brightest mode. That actually makes it the least bright of the three JVCs reviewed for this report, though not by much. This may be, in part, just due to the variation in lamps?
Like all JVC's brightest mode is somewhat limited. That makes it tough to own a larger screen and still want to be able to handle some ambient light for sports and HDTV. I get by with my RS20 (similar brightness), for sports viewing, but with my large 128" screen, I'm always wishing the projector had an extra 300 - 500 lumens (and I'd settle for an extra 150 - 200 lumens if I knew where to find them.
JVC DLA-RS25 projector:
The picture quality of the RS25 may be better than the RS15's, but when it comes to brightness they should measure just about the same. As it turns out, the JVC RS25 was the brightest of the three JVCs, but not by much. Post calibration we recorded 727 lumens in "best" and 853 in "brightest" modes. Of note, that's still a little bit less than average, so, while the projector has lots of muscle for movies on large screens, it has little to spare for ambient light.
JVC DLA-RS35 projector:
It's the same story with the RS35 as with the other two JVCs. Plenty of "best" mode lumens with 656, and a not so great 781 lumens in brightest mode.
The RS35 - which as you know by now, is built from the best components that go into the standard RS25. Apparently best components doesn't necessarily make for a brighter projector, as the RS35 actually measured about 8% less bright (a small amount, surely), than the RS25 we reviewed.
Even so, the RS35 still has plenty of muscle for movies and nice sized screens with a "best" of 656 lumens, with really only the InFocus being significantly brighter. When it comes to brightest, though, again, the JVC doesn't pick up a lot of extra lumens, weighing in with only about 20% brighter at 781 lumens. It's the price you have to pay for the picture quality of this projector - not a whole lot of lumens for sports with ambient light. Life would be finer if this projector was 30% - 40% brighter in its brightest mode, but I "get by" with a similar JVC on a 128" screen. It's definitely doable.
Optoma HD8600 projector:
This Optoma projector is one of the brightest in "best" mode, with almost 700 measured lumens. The HD8600's 1166 lumens in "brightest" officially makes it the brightest projector in the group. That said, with optimal room placement, the InFocus (because of its unique characteristics, can blow past it in lumens.
Planar PD8150 projector:
The Planar PD8150 is average in brightness for 1080p home theater projectors although it is well lower than average for this group. Still, for movie watching, it's got enough to handle some of the larger screens. The problem is that if you want some lights on - even at pretty low levels, the PD8150 projector is not going to cut it, with a measured 606 lumens. That makes it the dimmest of this group of projectors, in its "brightest" mode. Bottom line, The PD8150 is best as a small screen projector, and in most situations, you'll want to limit your screen to a maximum of 100 inches diagonal, unless you are only interested in movie viewing.
Sony VPL-VW85 projector:
I've been beating on Sony for quite some time about the limited brightness of their home theater projectors. This year's Sony VPL-VW85 is an improvement in this area. There's now a healthy 598 measured lumens in "best" mode. Once again, there's only a modest increase in brightness in the brightest mode we could find. That ended up measuring 725 lumens. That's still the third lowest, and really no lumens to spare for intentional ambient light.
If you are only interested in movies, in the dark, the Sony can handle a pretty large screen. It's real thin, though, on lumens, for sports viewing - with any ambient light, unless you keep the screen size pretty small. Movies were reasonably bright when watching on my 128" Firehawk screen.
Vivitek H9080FD projector:
Now, remember, this projector uses an LED light source. Although LED light sources also dim over time, dimming is limited over most of the life of the projector. Even at 10,000 hours - that's 20 hours a week for a decade, it will still have most of it's brightness, while projectors with lamps will drop down a full 50% by the end of each lamp's life.
That said, in the long run you don't need quite as many lumens, which is a good thing since the Vivitek H9080FD's 367 best mode lumens are the lowest in this class, and one of the very lowest in this report. Brightest mode is over 40% brighter, but its still a paltry 526 lumens, dimmest in the class. Even if you factor in the advantage of the LED light source, the H9080FD is probably still the least bright, overall (in this class).
Projector sharpness is very good on all these 1080p projectors, but there are still differences. Not one of the projectors covered has an image that appears sufficiently soft or lacking in detail, to be a serious issue. That said, some folks will consider sharpness differences between some of these projectors to be enough to consider it in their final decisions.
A few thoughts before we get started. It seems that these days, the sharpest projectors tend to be the DLP projectors. While there are some very sharp 3LCD projectors, I'd say the best of the 3LCD crowd still doesn't appear quite as sharp as most of the DLP models. As a rule of thumb, the LCoS projectors we've tested (LG, Sony, and JVC), seem a touch softer than the DLP models.
The question is why? The answer, however, is: "not sure". Still, this is a good place to speculate.
Of the three projector technologies, only DLP is a single chip. LCoS and 3LCD both use three panels (red, green, blue) and recombine the light using a dichroic prism.
In many reviews you see mention about pixel alignment with those 3LCD and LCoS projectors. Basically, it's essentially impossible to perfectly align the three panels. With an extremely well aligned projector, you are still probably looking at at least one color panel to be off as much as 1/4 pixel, either horizontally or vertically. This gives you that fine color fringe (typically red on one side, green on the other), on fine lines or a severe change from white to dark. Keep in mind, that you won't normally see that from your typical seating distance, only if you get much closer.
More typically, those projectors might be off a half pixel one way, and perhaps a quarter pixel the other way (talking vertical and horiztonal). We've even seen projectors where one panel is off by more than a pixel, but that seems to be rare, and would normally be considered a defect by the manufacturers.
At this point, I attribute the typically slightly softer look of 3LCD and LCoS projectors (compared to DLP) to pixel alignment. It doesn't even matter why, only the final result, of course, matters.
One more thing: A few projectors are now featuring digital compensation to allow better pixel alignment. Most notably, JVC has offered it in the older RS1 and RS2, and all the newer projectors. The weakness of digitally aligning them is that you can only move a panel's image over in increments of one pixel. That means if you have a panel about 1/3 off, you can't improve on it. But, if a panel is off by 3/4 of a pixel, moving 1 pixel in the right direction, and now you are only off by 1/4 pixel. Better!
My next point relates to sharpness controls. Every projector has them. Most projectors, out of the box, have default settings that tend to be slightly oversharpened. While that can give you a very crisp looking image, it doesn't improve, actually it can decrease true detail sharpness. So, be careful out there. When you adjust your sharpness, don't get carried away. As soon as you start seeing shadows separating dark and bright areas that should be cleanly separated, your sharpness setting is too high. Then there are dynamic sharpening tools typically with names like edge sharpness, dynamic sharpening, etc. They too can give you that sharper look, and, if you prefer that, go for it. Keep in mind though, that from a purist standpoint, you want to avoid technology that provides the illusion, but no substance, for the illusion is usually accompanied by some loss.
The last point I would like to make is film vs. digital. We have been in love with movies for about 100 years, and, with the few exceptions, movies are shot with film. The film used has lots of resolution, but has its own artifacts that it adds to the overall picture. Obviously film grain is one of those things. For this reason, watch a film movie (on Blu-ray) and a similar scene shot and delivered digitally, and you will have a sharper looking image with the all digital scene. For this reason, my take is that sharpness differences are going to be more noticeable when watching Discovery HD, or a live sporting event, than on a movie.
Finally, I do tend to notice the differences, and for two reasons. Both of these reasons lead me to believe that for the vast majority of folks looking for projectors, there really is no issue. First, I have a large screen, and I like to sit close. My eyeballs are only about 11.5 feet (2.92 meters) from my 128" screen. That gives me a much larger picture (and relative pixel size), then, say, a person with a 110" screen sitting 14 or 15 feet back!
The other reason is vision. I've never had the guts to give up glasses for laser surgery, for fear that my vision would not be quite as good as it is with my glasses. I'm still capable of reading the 20/15 line, at least with both eyes open. So, I'm "cursed" with two problems: I like a really large image, and my vision is extremely good. (Where are those "4K" projectors and matching content?)
For this article I am describing projectors with just two terms, average, and sharper still. Below I will simply list the projectors as one or the other, organized by our price categories.
$2100 and under 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Average sharpness: Epson Home Cinema 8100, Panasonic PT-AE4000, Sanyo PLV-Z700, Sharp XV-Z15000, Viewsonic Pro8100
Sharper still: BenQ W1000, Mitsubishi HC3800, Optoma HD20, Samsung SP-A600, Vivitek H1080FD
$2100 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Average sharpness: Cinetron HD700, All Epson projectors, LG CF181D, Sanyo PLV-Z3000, Sony VPL-HW15
Sharper still: BenQ W6000, Optoma HD8200, Mitsubishi HC6800, Mitsubishi HC7000
$3500 - $10,000 Home Theater Projectors
Average sharpness: JVC DLA-RS15, JVC DLA-RS25, Sony VPL-VW85, Vivitek H9080FD
Sharper still: InFocus SP8602, JVC DLA-RS35, Optoma HD8600, Planar PD8150
This is another topic that is pretty straightforward. The deciding factors when considering audible noise are four-fold:
First, how much audible noise each projector makes.
Second, where your projector is placed, relative to your seat. Obviously audible noise will be more of a factor if you've ceiling mounted your projector 4.5 feet directly above your head, as compared to, say, on a shelf in the back of your room, 6 feet up from your head and 6 feet behind you.
Third, whether you are running on a projector's low, or high lamp modes. Low lamp mode is normally dramatically quieter. Many of the noisiest projectors are still quieter in low lamp mode, than many of the quieter ones are, in high lamp mode. I should mention high altitude settings. If you are living in Vail Colorado, or even in Denver, and maybe Albuquerque, you may have to run your projector in high altitude mode to properly cool it. High altitude modes tend to be very noisy. I can't help you there, however, as I do not observe projectors in that mode. Sorry, if you are up high, you'll have to sort that one out for yourselves.
Fourth, and finally, your tolerance for even the slightest fan noise. This is perhaps the biggest factor. There are those who are unhappy with any noise that can be heard during a quiet scene, no matter how low. Nevermind that their hot air heating (or air conditioning) may be several times louder when it kicks on, they hate noise. Most of us are just not going to have a problem with projectors that claim 30db or less, as most do, today. (The loudest tend to claim 33 - 34 db). The vast majority of us are more than willing to live with a 30 db sound level (claims, not measured), and would be thrilled with 25 db or less.
The quietest of today's projectors run a virtually silent 19 - 23 db with their lamp power on high, and lower still in low power mode. Others are more in the 21/28 (low/high power) range, others with a range of 23/30 and the nosiest, roughly 26/33.
For this section projectors are ranked as:
Ultra-Quiet projectors (still very quiet at full power)
Quiet projectors (still reasonably quiet at full power)
Moderate noise level projectors (borderline at high power those who are very audible noise adverse)
Significant noise level projectors (those over 30db at full power)
I am not going by the claims of the manufacturers, but my general experience with each of these, so it doesn't really matter what the specs are.
When I watch projectors in my large room the projector sits about four feet behind my captain's chair. In the testing room, I'm moving around a lot but am typically 2-4 feet from the projectors and can hear all but the most silent.
Other types of audible projector noise
One last thought before the listings: Not all noise is fan based. DLP projectors have the noise of their spinning color wheels, but at least I'm happy to report that the higher pitched whine of the wheels in older projectors are essentially absent with today's projectors. There is one other factor, which relates to projectors with dynamic irises (most of the projectors in this review). Only in a few cases is the iris action audible. Be warned however, that when it is... The older Optoma designs (includes the HD806 and HD8000-LV) have dynamic irises so noisy, that I don't consider those projectors to be usable with the dynamic iris engaged, we're talking a LOUD clicking sound. Epson has a much lessor problem. Some report their iris to be loud enough to be noticeable/annoying. I've factored that iris into the Epson rankings. One thing that may help with the Epson - if you are shelf mounting, put some sound absorbing material between the feet and the shelf, as I find that the shelf (or tabletop?) may amplify that sound by resonating with it. I don't personally find the Epson iris to be noticeable enough to be an issue, but if you are particularly audible noise critical, it may be.
$2000 and under 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Ultra-Quiet: Panasonic PT-AE4000, Sanyo PLV-Z700
Moderate: Epson Home Cinema 8100, Samsung SP-A600
Significant: BenQ W1000, Optoma HD20, Vivitek H1080FD
$2000 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Ultra-Quiet: Mitsubishi HC6800, HC7000,
Quiet: Epson Home Cinema 9100, 8500UB, Epson Pro Cinema 9500UB, Sanyo PLV-Z3000, Sony VPL-HW15, Viewsonic Pro8100
Moderate: BenQ W6000
Significant: Optoma HD8200
$3500 - $10,000 Home Theater Projectors
Ultra-Quiet: Vivitek H9080FD
Quiet: JVC DLA-RS15, JVC DLA-RS25, JVC DLA-RS35, Sony VPL-VW85
Moderate: InFocus SP8602,
Significant: Optoma HD8600, Planar PD8150
Bottom line: If you think you are particularly noise adverse, this can be a real deal breaker for a number of projectors. Remember to take into your consideration, where the projector will be relative to your seating (for example, your ears themselves are directional devices), and will notice more noise above you, than behind you.
Also consider that a projector on a shelf will allow the shelf to deflect some noise. By using a larger shelf and maybe some sound absorbing materials to cover it, and that may help quite a bit.
NEXT: Projectors - Calibration