Epson Home Cinema 8500UB vs Sanyo PLV-Z3000
The Epson Home Cinema 8500UB is one of our Best In Class winners. The Sanyo costs a bit less, isn't as bright, but is another ultra-high contrast projector. The PLV-Z3000 is in its second year, and has been particularly popular with a lot of enthusiasts. This particular comparison is a rewrite, based on the 6500UB vs. PLV-Z3000 piece last year. Since there aren't great differences between the 6500UB and 8500UB, not a whole lot has changed.
4/23/2010 - Art Feierman
8500UB vs. PLV-Z3000 - An Overview
These two projectors have much in common. Both use 3LCD technology - 3 separate LCD "chips" or panels (call them what you wish), one each for red, green and blue, and then are recombined using a dichroic prism. With the exception of Sony (which still produces some LCDs for their own use), Epson is pretty much the only supplier of this type of LCD technology. You'll find their panels inside all the 3LCD projectors except those from Sony. In fact both projectors are using the same LCD panels, and that has a lot to do with their relatively similar performance.
Both projector offer extensive placement flexibility, both are dramatically brighter in their brightest modes, compared to their "best" modes. Both offer one of the new "gimmicks" - creative frame interpolation, now found on only a very few projectors.
Getting the idea? These are two very direct competitors, and both have to be counted in the top three of 1080p projectors in terms of sales.
Significant differences include overall brightness, black level performance, and warranty, and of course there are a host of minor differences. Let's break them down by category.
The Epson Home Cinema 8500UB and the Sanyo PLVZ3000 both have zoom lenses with a lot of range. 2.1:1 for the Epson, and only the slightest less from the PLV-Z3000 - 2.0:1. Generally speaking, both projectors can be placed as close as about 10 feet from a 100" 16:9 diagonal screen, and as far back as about 20 feet (Sanyo) or 21 feet (Epson). The differences are slight enough that if one works in your room, so will the other, except for, perhaps a tiny percentage of folks, maybe 1% or 2% less folks can use the Sanyo. When it comes to lens shift, the situation is similar, although reversed. The Sanyo's lens shift has just a touch more range. For that same 100" screen, the Sanyo, if high shelf or ceiling mounted can be as much as 24.5" above the top of the screen surface, while the Epson is "only" good to 22.7 inches - a whopping 1.8 inch difference.
Bottom line, in terms of placement flexibility, it's a dead tie!
Other similarities include the inherent physical design. Both have manual zoom, manual focus, and manual lens shift. (That's unlike, for example, another direct competitor, the Panasonic PT-AE3000, which has motorized zoom and focus).
The Sanyo does have a motorized door in front of its lens (which is recessed). The door closes when the power is off, to keep dust and those pesky cobwebs away from the projector lens. The Home Cinema 6500UB, on the other hand, has a zoom lens which is not recessed, and remains exposed. The Sanyo lens door is a nice touch, and was worth mentioning, but it's hardly a significant feature in terms of comparing the two projectors.
Comparing the Projectors' Picture Quality
For most of us, the picture quality (assuming a projector will physically work in our rooms) and price are the two key deciding points. There are some distinct differences between the PLV-Z3000 and the Home Cinema 8500UB.
When I wrote the 6500UB vs. Z3000 last year, I said this, but it's no longer true: "Out of the box" performance wasn't stellar for either of these projectors (it isn't for most projectors), but the advantage goes to the Epson. Still to get your money's worth out of either projector, you will want to improve on their default settings. This year however, the Sanyo PLV-Z3000 has the same old out of the box performance, but the Epson now has great out of the box performance.
That's due to the new THX mode that is part of the projector being THX certified. We can improve with an indivisual calibration, but it's pretty darn good!
The Sanyo PLV-Z3000 is thin on reds out of the box and exhibits a noticeable shift to yellow-green, seen on skin tones. I referred to the Sanyo as "watchable" out of the box, pointing out that "watchable" wasn't exactly a compliment.
Black level performance:
I describe both projectors as ultra high contrast 3LCD projectors, and as such, they have the latest in 3LCD panels, and polarization techniques. The end result is black level performance superior to the more typical 3LCD and DLP projectors out there. Still the 8500UB is a year newer, and has a further improved iris and some tweaks to the polarization, to make it's black levels still better than before, and they were already a bit better than the Sanyo projector.
For your consideration of black level performance, below you will find several side by side images of the two projectors in action. These are 6500UB vs. PLV-Z3000 images, not the 8500UB!!!
I haven't seen a Z3000 here in over a year and a half, so no chance to shoot it side-by-side with any of the newer projectors.
Keep in mind, that because the Epson is significantly brighter in "best" mode than the Sanyo, the Epson images below are brighter. You can see that eaily in the first image - the light blue Legendary Pictures logo appears more overexposed on the left (Epson), and you can also see it in how blurred (by overexposure) the pause symbol in the lower left corner is on the Epson. Even so, the background on the Epson image is still not quite as bright as the Sanyo.
Note: Don't worry about color shifts - at these long exposures (typically 10+ seconds) subtle differences in color are greatly exaggerated. For all side-by-side images, the Epson is on the left.
In the city night image above from The Dark Knight, you can again see that the Epson is brighter. Try to take that into consideration, then compare some of the dark rooftops in the frame. Despite the Epson being brighter (look at the lights in any building), the dark rooftops are still blacker with the Epson.
Unlike the two images above, the starship image (below) from The Fifth Element, was taken during a different photo shoot, and the PLV-Z3000 is on the left, this time.
Bottom line: The PLV-Z3000 has rather excellent black levels, certainly the best at its price or below, but the Epson is definitely noticeably better. We're not talking a huge difference, but big enough to make the difference in black level performance a serious consideration in your final decision between these two. Remember it's the scenes that are pretty much dark overall, with no really bright areas, where the black level difference is most important. The overexposed Starship image above is a great example.
The PLV-Z3000 and Home Cinema 8500UB are fairly comparable in terms of revealing dark shadow details. Of the two, the Sanyo has a slight advantage, that was equally true against the 6500UB last year. It is particularly good, though not the best. The Epson just won't quite reveal as much dark shadow detail as the Sanyo with casual viewing.
Post calibration, we found the Epson to continue its advantage in color accuracy. With our calibration of the Sanyo PLV-Z3000, we still ended up with a slightly yellow-green caste. It is just noticeable in skin tones. I am fairly confident that a second, different shot at calibrating the Z3000 might have eliminated much of that, but those were the results we ended up with. The Epson's skin tones should definitely be a bit better (interpolating from the 6500UB to the 8500UB's performance). On paper, measured results of the grayscale balance were very good with both projectors. We normally don't calibrate the individual primary (or secondary) colors, and the tendency of oversaturated greens with most 3LCD home theater projectors is likely the culprit with the PLV-Z3000. In other words, a more complete calibration should cure that problem.
Overall Look and Feel of the Picture:
In the images below, the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB is on the left.
Relative to our settings, you can see in the images above, that with the settings we used, the Sanyo's image is a little more saturated. For our testing purposes, Mike (who does the calibrations), does make recommendations for the color saturation settings, although I find his a bit too saturated, at least in conjunction with viewing on my high contrast gray screen. As such, I tend to further adjust color saturation by eye, at the time of the primary review. In the case of doing side-by-side comparison photos, I stick with the settings for the reviews, as opposed to trying to get both to have the same saturation for the photo shoot.
Bottom Line - Image Quality
I favor the deeper black level performance of the Epson, and the slightly more accurate skin tones. Both projectors, however, do exhibit a similar look and feel to the image, relative, for example, compared to competing DLP projectors. Neither is exceptionally film-like, but both do a pretty impressive job. The Sanyo seems to produce a slightly more dynamic looking image on bright scenes, while the Epson definitely has a very distinct advantage on very dark scenes, with noticeably more "pop and wow" factor.
Sanyo's "best" mode - Pure Cinema, isn't so much its best performance, as it is the Sanyo's least tinkered with image. Various dynamic controls that the PLV-Z3000 offers (as do most), are turned off in Pure Cinema mode. Most users will run in Creative Cinema, with the dynamic iris turned on, etc. From a practical standpoint, I believe Sanyo's Creative Cinema setting is the one to use for comparing with other projectors, and will do so here.
Even in the brighter Creative Cinema, the PLV-Z3000 doesn't come particularly close to the Home Cinema 6500UB in brightness. Our measurements show the Sanyo at 373 lumens (Pure Cinema was only 235 lumens), compared to the Epson's 498 measured lumens.
Of course both projectors have many modes, and Sanyo also has a third Cinema mode - Brilliant Cinema - that one pulls out all the stops, but is less film-like, and better suited for cutting through lumens. The Epson's LivingRoom and other modes can also provide big brightness increases for that projector.
Ultimately though, we consider the Epson to be about 25-30% brighter than the Sanyo in "best" mode operation for movie viewers wanting a great image.
When it comes to pulling out all the stops for HDTV, TV, and especially sports, we switch to "brightest" mode. The Sanyo does very well here, with a measured 1046 lumens. That makes it the next brightest projector in "brightest" mode, behind the assorted Epson projectors in this group of 11 mid-priced projectors in the comparison. Still, while the Sanyo is slightly above average, the Epson's are the brightest in this class, measuring 1309 lumens, almost a perfect 25% more.
All considered, the Epson is easily, significantly brighter, be it "best" or "brightest" modes. And don't forget, their lamp is rated 4000 hours at full power. Sanyo doesn't quote lamp life, so we assume the "industry standard" of 2000 hours at full power.
Keep in mind, while you can probably never have too many lumens available for watching a football game with lights on, for most potential buyers, it comes down to screen size. Figure that the Epson will do about as good a job in brightness as the Sanyo, if the Epson is projecting onto a screen about 20% or so larger (in diagonal measurement) than the PLV-Z3000. In other words, the Sanyo will do every bit as good a job on a 100" diagonal screen, as the Epson, can, on a 110" screen (yes, its about a 20% difference in surface area, not the diagonal size, that is in play). Since most people buy screens of 110" diagonal or less, the Sanyo still works well for those sizes, especially smaller than 110". I'd say the Sanyo in general pairs best with a 100" screen. Certainly, though if leaning towards going with a larger screen, or if you have lighting control issues in your room, the Epson has the distinct advantage, though not an overwhelming one.
What about sharpness:
The Sanyo and Epson projectors are pretty much even when it comes to sharpness. I truly believe that they are about equal overall, but there will be differences from one Sanyo to another, and one Epson to another.
My theory is that pixel alignment accuracy (getting the images from the three LCD panels to converge perfectly) affects perceived sharpness. There is always some variation in pixel alignment from one projector to the next with any 3 chip projector be it 3LCD, DLP or LCoS. If you get a Sanyo, with particularly accurate pixel alignment, it would appear a touch sharper than an Epson with not quite as good an alignment. The reverse would also be true. To the question of which is sharper, let's call these two a tie. We are talking very slight differences from one projector to another, unless you end up with a projector with blatantly poor pixel alignment (one panel off by at least a full pixel). You would notice a really bad projector as one where you would have no trouble at all spotting red or green fringing around whites (when they come up against a dark area), from Normal Seating Distance! (Every 3 chip projector has visible pixel misalignment if you are viewing from say 2 feet from a 100" screen.)
Creative Frame Interpolation
Both The Sanyo PLV-Z3000 and the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB offer CFI - creative frame interpolation. There are perhaps, more differences, than similarities, between their implementations.
Of the 3LCD projectors sporting creative frame interpolation, and frame interpolation, Epson was the most ambitious in terms of what they have attempted, with Panasonic being similar, but Sanyo only went halfway. Both the Epson and the Sanyo add a creative frame between every original frame when dealing with 1080p or 1080i /60 source material. Both do a reasonably good job, and both work nicely for sports viewing, which is one area where CFI can really be appreciated.
Where they differ is in how they handle movies. Today, movies on Blu-ray, are almost all provided at 1080p/24fps. Epson can use its CFI to create 3 slightly different frames between each original (down from 4 on the previous model), taking 24fps up to 96fps. The PLV-Z3000 by comparison does not offer CFI for 24fps source material.
Alternately, both the Epson and Sanyo, offer basic frame interpolation to increase the frame rate from 24fps to 120fps (called 5:5 cadence) (Sanyo), or to 96fps (called 4:4) (Epson), but do so simply by duplicating each frame 5 (or 4) times. The end result is that this method does not smooth out the motion of fast moving objects. Still the higher final framework does work to deal with one type of motion blur, which is normally associated with eye movement and some people's sensitivity.
Theoretically that gives the Epson the advantage overall, but Epson's handling of CFI for 24fps source material has issues, sufficient that we recommend not using that ability, due to significant artifacts. Epson, as of this writing, is working on a fix, but we haven't seen it yet. Additionally, the Epson when it "sees" a 24fps movie, delivered over 1080/60 (most movies on high def channels), it deconstructs the 60fps back to the original 24fps, and then applies its problematic CFI to the 24fps. That is just as bad, if not worse than, working with a 24fps movie on disc.
Epson provided an improved CFI early into the life of the old 6500UB, but the CFI for the 8500UB is further improved. It is better than the Sanyo on sports, and, the Sanyo still can't use CFI for movies, or other 24 fps content. A win for the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB.
Anamorphic Lens Support
Sanyo supports 3rd party anamorphic lenses, Epson does not. (There, something simple for a change!) The Epson Home Cinema 8500UB however, has an almost identical twin, the Pro Cinema 7500UB (sold only through authorized local dealers). The thing is, the Pro Cinema 9500UB is definitely hundreds more than the Home version, and (even after netting out the value of the free spare lamp and free ceiling mount included with the Pro version), and is therefore about $1000 more than the Sanyo.
The PLV-Z3000 was the least expensive ultra high contrast projector that supports an anamorphic lens, last year, but the Panasonic which shifted lower in price, now hold's that honor.
If you are considering the Epson, but do want to use an anamorphic lens, it is certainly cheaper in the long run to go with the Pro version.
I should note that typically, you will spend more on an anamorphic lens and motorized sled, than for these projectors. (Typically lens and sled together, cost from $3000 - $5000).
Anamorphic lenses are finally becoming more popular, but most using them are owners of high end projectors (over $10K), but it is filtering down into the $3000 - $10,000 range. A recent discussion with a well known moderately priced screen manufacturer - Carada - now leads me to believe, that, at least in 1080p space, as many as 10% of home theater owners/buyers are at least seriously considering an anamorphic solution, though that's slanted because of the high incidence of anamorphic lenses on more expensive installations. In this price range, it's likely to be no more than 1 or 2 percent of new systems
Sanyo PLV-Z3000 vs. Home Cinema 8500UB Bottom Line:
The trade-off between these two projectors is primarily one of price versus performance. Overall I consider the Home Cinema 8500UB to be the better projector. It has a distinct advantage in terms of brightness, and a very visible advantage in black level performance, although the Sanyo's black level performance is still very good. Still, the Epson's black levels are more typical of $5000+ projectors and better than many of those.
Price is not much of an issue. Yes, you'll probably pay $250 - $350 more for the Epson, but with the savings on lamps, over time, if anything the Epson is almost certain to cost less of the life of the projector.
When it comes to wanting an anamorphic lens, of course that eliminates the Epson (or requires you spend about $800 more for an outboard processor to support the lens, or about the same to go with the Pro Cinema 9500UB). For those who really value CFI, at the moment, the two projectors offer about similar performance for sports, with the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB having a slight edge. While I'm not a big fan of CFI with film based movies, if you are working from 24fps on blu-ray, the Epson can apply CFI, the Sanyo cannot.
I should note that the Sanyo also offers a larger selection of assorted dynamic features. There are so many combinations, of course, that it's essentially impossible to look at more than a few combinations when we review a projector. The Epson has a smaller set of dynamic features, although this year closes the gap a bit with their Super-res feature. Our opinions are based on the end results of those features we decided to use as part of our "best" mode viewing. See the individual reviews for more details.
The image below, from The Dark Knight shows the Epson projector on the left, Sanyo projector on the right.
Choose wisely, you are likely to want to live with whichever you select for a number of years. If, on the other hand, you are already a hard core enthusiast, you might just be considering these two as just a temporary projector as you seek an even higher level of performance. If you work on the assumption, for example, that performance levels found in more expensive projectors like the JVCs, Sony VW85, InFocus SP8602, etc., are where you want to be down the road, then the two should cost about the same.