BenQ W6000 vs. Epson Home Cinema 8500UB
Battle of two technologies. In this comparison, we have my favorite mid-priced Epson projector, the Home Cinema 8500UB, going head-to-head, with the BenQ W6000 an extremely bright, and impressive new replacement for last years' W5000. Disclosure: I currently own the older version of the Epson 8500UB - in my 2nd theater. Not that many years back, I owned a BenQ PE8700, then the PE 8700+ (different DLP chips), then followed those both with the even better PE-8720. In case you haven't yet figured it out, I'm a fan of both companies' projectors.
It's DLP against LCD. Each has its strengths and weaknesses compared to the other, but both are truly impressive for the money. Both are first class projectors for the money. The Home Cinema 8500UB projector took top honors, our Best In Class award for the $2000 - $3500 price class, while the W6000 projector picked up one of the two Runner-up awards. We're talking serious product here, for serious enthusiats as well as the casual home theater viewer.
4/23/2010 - Art Feierman
BenQ W6000 vs. Home Cinema 8500UB - An Overview
I really am impressed with both of these projectors. I often muse about what projector I would buy if I had to give up my much more expensive JVC. I'll discuss that toward the end of this page. I mentioned above, the awards won by these two. I should also point out that while the BenQ W6000 is a rather impressive improvement over last year's W5000, it won the same award as last year. Although the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB only improved slightly compared to its predecessor, the 6500UB. It was enough to hold the top spot. The key thing to note this year, is that this year it was close enough that I did give the W6000 some really serious consideration for the top award (Best In Class).
The BenQ W6000 is an extremely bright DLP projector, it has a dynamic iris to improve black levels. It also has adjustable lens shift, a real plus for a lot of people. With DLP projectors, lens shift is typically only found on more expensive models. That is something that is now changing. The zoom range of the lens, though somewhat limited, compared to many LCD and LCoS projectors is better than last years, and the combination of more zoom and lens shift, dramatically improve placement flexibility.
The W6000, like many previous BenQ projectors, definitely possesses those rich, deep, darker colors and sense of depth that DLP projectors are well regarded for.
The Epson Home Cinema 8500UB replaces the older 6500UB, and is the 3rd generation of Epson UB projectors. The Epson 8500UB is an LCD projector, and the one with the overall best black level performance (tied with it's almost identical twin the 9500UB). The Home Cnema 8500UB offers truly dazzling placement flexibility. If you can't make this one work in your room, you are probably going to have to give up, and staple a a flat panel TV to your wall instead.
Black levels of the Epson are, simply stated, the best of any projector in the mid-priced Class. Sharpness is good, but it is still in the "average", as opposed to "sharper still" classification we use in this report. The Epson projector, in "best" mode, is the brightest of the 3LCD projectors in this report (tied with other Epson variations), but there are projectors that are brighter. In "brightest" mode, however, the Epson has some real competition this year, starting with the even brighter BenQ W6000! The Epson's picture always impresses. It's not the most natural looking, but it makes up for that with that "pop and wow" look. The purist may look elsewhere because of that, but most enthusiasts report to be, well, very enthusiastic, as numerous owners have told me just that. (Of course, purists, too, will love the Epson's black level performance.
Time to get into the head-to-head. Let me just say, whichever of these two particularly good projectors works best for you, you should end up at least really pleased.
Immediately below, a side by side comparison, the Epson image is smaller so that the two would be about equally bright:
These two projectors are not even similar where it counts. The Epson wins hands down, but, that said, the BenQ can prove to be surprisingly flexible. The Home Cinema 8500UB has a 2.1:1 zoom and lots of lens shift, that should allow ceiling or shelf mounting, in almost any room. By comparison, the BenQ W6000 has only a 1.5:1 zoom range. BenQ was pretty smart about it. Since they do have vertical lens shift, it is practical to shelf mount the W6000. Most DLP projectors have relatively short throw zooms, so they place fairly close to the screen (typically 11 - 13 feet from a 100" screen). That almost certainly means that you can't place them far enough back to sit on a shelf.
The BenQ W6000's zoom, however is longer throw than most DLP projectors, and can sit as far back as 17.7 feet back from that 100 inch diagonal screen. The Epson can be as far back with that same 100" diagonal screen as 20.9 feet, thanks to it's zoom with greater range. Despite the Epson's advantage, my guess is the well more than half of the folks thinking about rear shelf mounting, will find that the BenQ will work for them.
Lens shift also favors the Epson, with greater range. Both projectors offer vertical and horizontal lens shift, though, for most, it's the vertical lens shift that counts. BenQ, though will less vertical range, still allows the projector to be placed vertically, anywhere between the bottom and top of the screen surface. That should work for just about everyone. If, though, you have a very high ceiling, and are ceiling mounting, with the Epson, it can mount higher, so you would need a shorter pole hanging down.
Both home projectors have manual lenses this year. In the past, the equivalent BenQ projectors had motorized lens functions. This year, I tend to think of BenQ as surrendering the cost of motorized lens features, in exhange for other benefits, such as more range for the zoom lens. Works for me!
The BenQ's zoom lens is center mounted (keeps life simpler for mounting), while the Epson's lens is offset. Not a big deal, just pay attention to your math, if you are mounting the Epson, in terms of offsetting the mount so that the lens is even with the center of the screen. Alternately, you can use a little of the Epson's horizontal lens shift. Doing that, however, will reduce the maximum vertical lens shift a bit.
The BenQ has internal support for an anamorphic lens. The Epson 8500UB does not, but their almost identical, but more expensive version, the Pro Cinema 500UB does.
The BenQ control panel is on the top, while the Epson has it on the right side (when looking from the front). Both projectors can change out their lamps without unmounting from a ceiling mount. Both projectors have their input panels in the back. The selection of inputs and outputs is pretty much the same, both have two HDMI 1.3 inputs, composite video, S-video, an RS-232 for command and control of the projector, and a 12 volt screen trigger. Both have one component video input with the usual three color coded RCA jacks. Both have an HD15, the standard connector for analog computers, which can double as a second component video source with an adapter. Both have one 12 volt screen trigger. The BenQ also has a USB port.
The first image below is the BenQ W6000, and below it the input panel of the Home Cinema 8500UB.
Both have filters. The BenQ however really requires little maintenance. They recommend dealing with the filter only once every 1000 hours of use. Epson asks for more frequent care.
Comparing the Projectors Picture Quality
The BenQ W6000 originally came and left here, before the Home Cinema 8500UB shipped. I shot side by side images comparing it to the older 6500UB. The thing is, I was not happy with the W6000's dynamic iris operation on that early unit, I found it too often, to be annoying. Since I was working with a pre-production unit, and gave them some feedback, BenQ had the time and was able to make improvements to the W6000 before shipping the final product (with firmware 1.0). They sent me a 2nd W6000 just over a month later (if I recall correctly, without looking it up), with the new firmware. As I have noted, the new firmware really improved the iris action. As it turns out, at that time, I had the 8500UB (actually a 9500UB, but they are identical for our practical purposes here), so I also took comparison images between the W6000 and the 8500UB.
Black level performance
The BenQ W6000 is an ultra-high contrast projector by my standards. It's at the lower end of the performance range in terms of black levels, but still a step up from a lot of other projectors, including some costing a good bit more. Compared to the Epson though, it's got a ways to go. The Epson simply reigns supreme in this regard, among the under $4000 projectors. The BenQ does well enough that you can be not overly concerned about blacks and that lets you put some focus on things like color, sharpness, and brightness.
The Epson is simply better at this. As my regular readers know, I am definitely big on great black level performance. While it may not be a big thing in a nice daylight scene, when things get dark, black level performance separates the men, from the boys, or maybe, in this case, the men from the young adults. The BenQ is very good, the Epson is simply better. Consider these images (Epson on the left):
Note the size differences on the side by sides. I had to reduce the image side of the Epson (left) to partially make up for the big difference in brightness. (I also had the W6000 with BC off, and lamp on low, for these shots).
The same image as above, but more overexposed now it's easier to appreciate the difference in blacks on your computer screen, though you would never view it this overexposed:
The BenQ W6000 is a projector that has rather excellent dark shadow detail. That compares very favorably with the Home Cinema 8500UB which I have often said "isn't the best at shadow detail". Shadow detail is indeed a particular strength of the BenQ, compared to the Epson, although the Epson isn't bad. Shadow detail performance is therefore pretty much a reverse compared to black level performance, where the Epson is "best in class", and the BenQ only very good. Personally I'd rather have the black level performance, and a slight loss of shadow detail, than the other way around. Still, the BenQ shadow detail is impressive.
Above, Epson on the left, BenQ on the right. Look for details around the blinds, and behind his head on the left
The BenQ W6000 isn't particularly great, right out of the box. With Brilliant Color off, the image is pretty good, but a touch thin on green. With it on, it's way strong on reds and still thin on greens. By comparison, the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB has it's THX mode (something new for this year), which is almost dead on. The Epson wins this easily, though the BenQ does well.
Once however they are calibrated, the BenQ's color improves and puts the two projectors on an equal footing. Which one has the better skin tones, most accurate colors, etc., will probably be determined by which one gets the better calibration.
Here are a few side by side comparisons. Again, the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB is on the left, and the image is smaller to compensate for the Epson being less bright (in best mode).
Overall Look and Feel of the Picture
The BenQ W6000 has what I describe as a classic DLP look to the image. It's hard to accurately describe, but I always seem to come back to those projectors as having particularly vibrant darker colors. That fits the W6000 for sure. It's like those dark full colors should come across as oversaturated, because of their richness, but properly set up, they never look oversaturated or over the top. Just rich.
On relatively bright scenes, the BenQ looks very good post calibration, and not as different from the Epson as it does with scenes with a lot of dark areas heavy in color.
The Epson 8500UB just looks more "regular" the colors don't quite jump out at you the same way, but the Epson image is also a very dynamic one, that I describe as having a lot of pop and wow.
So, both have a good, dynamic look, but due to the different color handling, they still look rather different. Which is better? In this case, the one that works best for you, in your room. Buy the one you like, if its image pleases you more. Other than black level performance, these projectors are, in terms of picture quality, more different than better/worse.
The W6000 projector got a good boost in brightness compared to the older W5000. The Epson is simply no match for it when comparing best modes, with the Epson topping out at about 500 best mode lumens compared to the BenQs 866 lumens with Brilliant Color off. While many implementations of Brilliant Color tend to be a little too "over the top" to be even considered as a "best" mode, the W6000s Brilliant Color on implementation (measured 1039 lumens) is particularly good.
For those wanting the most natural film-like look, you'll still want Brilliant Color off, but many people will be perfectly content with Brilliant Color on, in terms of overall picture quality. That the W6000 with BC on, looks a lot more natural than my new Samsung 40" (120hz) LCDTV, in Standard mode (nevermind Vivid mode), says a lot. You'd have to drop the Samsung down to it's Cinema mode to look as natural as the BenQ even with BC on... Go figure. In other words, the typical watcher will favor BC on, for the extra almost 20% more lumens.
OK, so, if you want to use best mode, the BenQ easily crushes the Epson.
When you do want some lights on intentionally, or can't fully darken your room, then the BenQ again has a big advantage in lumens, 1750 to 1309, even though the Epson is the 3rd brightest in the class, and much brighter than most of the others. The thing is, the BenQ in brightest, is really, really heavy on green, and you can't really adjust color in that mode.
The good news is the BenQ, in Standard mode (not brighest), still manages 1250 lumens, and it does them with very good color. In fact, at 1250 lumens the BenQ in Standard has better color than the Epson can do at 1309. The Epson remains shifted towards green, but not nearly as much as the BenQ's "brightest" mode. Drop the Epson down into LivingRoom mode, and you are still around 1175 lumens and have very good though not exceptional color. Thus, these two projectors can do 1175 and 1250 lumens respectively, with some pretty impressive image quality, and a lot more, if you don't mind a lot of green.
And the Sharpness?
The BenQ is extremely sharp, and fits perfectly in our "sharper still" classification, while the Epson, though not bad at all, fits into the "average" category. Those are the only two categories we use for 1080p projectors. You'll notice any sharpness differences more on pure digital content, say HDTV, than a movie (other than animations). The BenQ W5000 is stunningly sharp on all that great digital programming on channels like Discovery HD, not to mention sports broadcasts in 1080i. (Remember some HDTV channels are using 720p, thus not as sharp.)
A clear win for BenQ, but you only get to truly appreciate the difference if you have had a chance to view an average projector side by side with one of the "sharper still" projectors.
I'll put it this way, since I am constantly playing with projectors in both sharpness categories: For movie viewing I don't consider the difference between a good "average" sharpness projector like the Epson, and a "sharper still" like the BenQ to be an important issue at all.
Knowing, however, how sharp the BenQ looks on that Discovery HD and other top quality digital content over 1080 HD, I would say that I would appreciate the difference between BenQ and the Epson (or my similarlly sharp JVC), and occasionally long for that touch of extra sharpness.
In other words, with a projector like the Epson, the vast majority should be perfectly happy with its sharpness, as you won't miss that little extra, that you've never seen. Pixel convergence is a key reason the 3 panel LCDs aren't as sharp as the single chip DLPs. There is variation among the Epsons but misconvergence is always easy to see if you are standing near your screen. At normal seating distances, you shouldn't notice separating colors, but it does add that bit of softness.
On film you would barely notice the difference, but on all digital content, like Discovery HD, the BenQ will be immediately and visibly sharper, in a side by side comparison.
Creative Frame Interpolation
Epson's got creative frame interpolation (CFI) and it's their second generation. the BenQ does not. Epson's current iteration of their CFI, works very well with 30/60 source material, but I'm still not sold on its performance with 24fps content typical of movies on Blu-ray disc. This year's implementation is smoother on movies than last years' projector, and close to the Panasonic in performance (theirs may be the smoothest).
The Epson system now converts 24fps to 96 with CFI rather than trying for 24 to 120 like it did last year. It also knows when to quit... If it starts getting overwhelmed it can now turn off (briefly) it's CFI functions. That makes sense.
Imagine trying to smooth all the fast motion in the Bourne movies, especially the last two, where the camera itself appears to almost never stop moving, and when it does it's a second or two here, and another second 15 minutes later... In other words, the effect is constant movement, by every object in the scene. Even if a CFI could remove the motion blur, you'd end up with the same movie, as if the cameras were all now stationary. I assure you, that the director of Bourne would not be happy, after he went to all that trouble to create the effect, for you to remove the dominent visual trait of those movies.
The BenQ does support simple frame interpolation taking 24fps to at least 48 fps, (2:2) with no creative frames.
The Epson offers a dynamic sharpening feature called Super-Res. It works, but ultimately, the BenQ is still a touch sharper. The more you turn up Super-Res, the more likely you'll start spotting some of the "trade-offs" the less desireable artifacts that are the result of the sharpening. This is typical. Remember the old saying: "All things in moderation!" That works particularly well when using dynamic features.
Home Cinema 8500UB vs. BenQ W6000 Bottom Line
This year, the BenQ has some respectable placement flexibility, so the lack of same (last year's W5000) allowed a lot of readers to say: "Won't work in my setup." That's not likely to be the case this year, even though the Epson has the placement advantage..
Sharpness, and sheer horsepower (brightness), are the real strengths of the BenQ W6000. Color is really good after calibration, I mean, really good!
The Epson, cannot match the sharpness of the image, and definitely cannot match the brightness, even though being one of the other brightest projectors in this group. On the plus side, though, it's color accuracy is even a tad better, and its black levels are outstanding. That's the Epson's big advantage, vs the BenQ's brightness advantage. On average and bright scenes, they both look great. Go with a very dark scene, and the very respectable black level performance of the BenQ W6000, still provides a very good image. The Epson though, on that same dark scene, is better. And the difference is quite noticeable. Now if you watch nothing but romantic comedies you might not run into very many very dark scenes, but most of the rest of us, will.
And the Epson's blacker blacks wins the day. Oh, it's got other advantages - a CFI that is at least, good for sports, a better warranty (2 years with replacement program, vs. a basic 1 year regular warranty), and it's THX mode guarantees a picture at least as accurate as you will get calibrating the W6000. Finally, the Epson and BenQ as of this timeframe (April 2010) seem to be selling for about the same price. That makes the Epson the less expensive to own, thanks to the longer life and lower cost lamps. I won't do the math again, I've done it several times in this report, with Epson vs. other projectors, and it is discussed in the review as well. The bottom line in cost is that for someone watching a lot - movies, HDTV, sports, it could save many hundreds of dollars over several years of use.
I favor the Epson overall, but, I certainly like, and definitely could live with the W6000 as well. I'm confident of that having owned older BenQ models. Now let's overlay some reality. In my smaller room - with a 100" white surface (Epson Ensemble), I've already got the first generation Epson UB projector. It's perfect for the room and screen size. I could put the BenQ in there, but quite honestly, it's pretty much too bright for movie viewing in that room, in the dark. Still, I could have BC off, and put the lamp on low, and it would be just fine.
In my larger room, though, The BenQ will work, because it can be placed far enough back in my 21 foot deep room to sit on my rear shelf. My screen is 128" so that's 28% further back than a 100" screen, and that means the front of lens can be 1.28*17.7 feet = 22.6 feet back - a couple of feet to spare. On the other hand, as I've often said, the Epson just doesn't have the muscle in best mode. It's just 500 lumens is barely enough for movie watching, when the lamp is new, but, wait until it's lost 20 - 30 - 40% of it's brightness. The image will be noticeably darker than in a movie theater. The minimum for movie theaters is the SMPTE standard of 12 ft - lamberts. With a new lamp, the Epson, on a screen the size of mine, has a maximum of only about 10.5 lumens assuming a screen gain of 1.0, and by end of lamp life, would be down to a rather pathetic 5.25 ft lamberts. I don't even like 12 ft lamberts a lot. I favor 16 or so for normal movie viewing. My Firehawk G3 has a relative gain of 1.25 which helps, but not that much.
So, the point of this excercise is to remind you that you need to focus on the projectors that will work for your setup, your viewing requirements, budget, etc. Ultimately there is no best projector for everyone. Save yourself time and aggravation, and focus on those that have the capabilities that work best for YOU (and the family)!