Home Theater Projector Comparison Report - Best in Class Awards for 2011
08/19/2011 -Art Feierman
1080p Home Theater Projectors Our Award Winners:
Class: Medium Priced 1080p Home Theater Projectors: $2000 - $3500
Best In Class Award: Epson Home Cinema 8700UB Projector
Once again, an Epson Home Cinema projector with a UB designation takes top honors in this price range. Unlike the "entry level" awards above, though, in this class we have some new winners.
To start out, the Epson is the value projector - its price is at the very low end of this price class. Yet its performance is right up there with the most expensive projectors in this class. Not necessarily, better at everything, but certainly more bang for the buck, and comparable.
Black levels alone however, won't win a Best In Class award. This Epson gets the award despite only a modest improvement in blacks from the previous year. It's all the rest of the things the Epson does that also make it award worthy, that push the Epson to the top:
Brightness is much better than average. Actually the Home Cinema 8700UB with about 500 calibrated lumens in "best" mode is about average brightness for a "best" mode. Still, that's well below the brightest, yet a lot brighter than the dimmest. The thing is, when you need maximum lumens, then the Epson is one of the brightest projectors anywhere near its price. Only the BenQ W6000 musters up a noticeably brighter image when in "brightest" mode. (And the BenQ's color, at maximum brightness isn't as good as Epson's).
Brightness and black level performance isn't everything. Shadow detail of the Epson is only OK, it's definitely not one of the stronger performers when it comes to revealing dark shadow detail. That said, Epson more than makes up for that, with a very dynamic image with lots of "Pop and Wow" factor!
The Epson calibrates very well, and the final measurements are very good. Colors look really good, although the Epson is a touch less natural looking than some competition. As such, while it may be a favorite of many enthusiasts, it's possible that the true "purist" will look elsewhere.
Placement flexibility is about as good as it gets, with the longest range zoom lens, and lots of lens shift.
Warranty - the Epson comes with what has to be the best 2 year warranty in the business - if it fails under warranty (two years), Epson will ship out a replacement unit, next day, and pay all freight. While there are a few longer warranties,only Epson's Pro series - with the same warranty but one extra year (of warranty, and replacement program), really can be considered a truly better warranty overall.
The Home Cinema 8700UB has an impressive feature set. Epson keeps the mechanics simple with manual zoom, focus and lens shift, while a number of competitors have motorized some or all of those features. Getting beyond the placement flexibility, other strengths that are reflected in our award decision process, include the low long term cost of operation the 8700UB due to a very low cost lamp ($299), and one that lasts twice as long as some competitors, and longer than any. The Epson offers about average audible noise levels. In full power it should be fine for almost everyone, but if you are sitting very close, and consider yourself particularly noise adverse, there are quieter projectors (Mitsubishi 3LCD projectors come to mind).
Key dynamic features, in addition, of course, to the dynamic iris, include CFI (creative frame interpolation) for smoothing out fast moving objects, and pans. Their CFI seems improved compared to last year's model, though still not the least noticeble, so I don't use it on movies, although folks used to modern LCDTVs with CFI on (like my daughter) hardly care. Also worthy of note, Super-Res, a dynamic sharpening tool that really does seem to give the 8700UB a feel of being a sharper projector. Just remember, dynamic features, while improving some things, often create minor artifacts in related areas, such as making faces appear a bit too contrasty. Using these dyanmic controls in moderation, however, works out very well.
In summary, the Epson Home Cinema 8700UB scores top honor in this mid-price class. Why? Great placement, excellent picture quality, with THX mode is outstanding, right out of the box. Great blacks, improved dark shadow detail - now very good, and a slight weakness in previous UBs. Brighter than average. Selling for just over $2000, the only really serious threats in this price class, are for projectors about $1000 more - including the JVC DLA-HD250 and the Sony Pro1.
Best in Class, Runner-Up Award (tie): JVC DLA-HD250
The JVC DLA-HD250 is their least expensive home theater projector, and in that regard, it breaks new ground for JVC. This projector, at $2995, is a full 1/3 less expensive than their least expensive previous model, the DLA-RS15. Note, that there are two versions, the DLA-HD250, and the DLA-HD250Pro. The difference they are sold by two different divisions, and that the Pro costs $4 more! (I guess that works out to about $1.33 per extra letter).
The HD250 is a truly excellent projector. It offers black levels (without dynamic iris) that overall, are superior to the Epson above. Shadow detail is very good, and more importantly, color is also very good. This HD250 lacks a color management system for tuning individual colors, so there's a limit to what a calibration can do. That said, skin tones are generally extremely good, although reds can be a touch strong - giving skin tones a slight sunburned look on occasion.
Warranty is a typical two year warranty, with no replacement program. Placement flexibility is excellent with 2:1 zoom and plenty of lens shift - and all of it motorized.
This projector could be described as a slightly detuned version of last year's RS15, or more accurately, the year older RS10, which, like the HD250 does not have creative frame interpolation for "smooth motion".
It performs almost identically as well, to the original RS1 (which I owned and loved until I bought my RS20), which cost about twice as much. Not loaded with features, but still great performance for the money.
Best in Class, Runner-Up Award (tie): Sony VPL-VWPro1 Projector
The Sony VPL-VWPro1 is Sony's lowest cost LCoS (SXRD) projector to date. Generally people just refer to it as the Sony Pro1. Like the JVC, here's another projector hovering around the $3000 price point. Very good black levels, but not quite up to the Epson, and trailing the JVC, they still get the job done. While not the best in class for blacks, call the Sony Pro1 "close enough" that other things can take precedence. I like the Pro1 for several reasons. It has an impressive feature set, well beyond the JVC, including a color management system, and creative frame interpolation.
The Pro1 measured out a dazzling 763 lumens after calibrated. This is something new. Year after year I've chided Sony for offering projectors a notch less bright than the JVC's. They've been gaining though, and now, the Sony comes out slightly on top. Not in "best" mode, where they measured within 10 lumens calibrated, but in our adjusted "brightest" mode where it belts out about 15% more lumens than the JVC, almost hitting 1000 lumens with the zoom at mid-point. The highest we measured, with zoom at wide angle was 1044 lumens.
The Sony's iris can be used in dynamic mode, or you can set it manually, for those who don't care for dynamic irises but still want to be able to lower blacks (and everything else).
In the review, I indicated that given a choice between this Sony, and the Epson 8700UB, if they were the same price, I'd probably have to go with the Sony. That there is a big price difference, however, is a key reason the Epson took the top honors. That said, this Sony performs extremely nicely, but at the top of our this price class.
Special Interest Award: BenQ W6000
Demoted this year, the returning BenQ W6000, drops from a runner-up Best in Class award, to a Special Interest award. Why? The BenQ still definitely trails the Epson in my mind, and the JVC and Sony's while more money, are more refined in picture. But, the BenQ W6000 does do an impressive job, and it is the brightest of all of those just mentioned, in "brightest" mode. Given, it's not the best color even compared to those other's "bright" modes, this projector can put up a really good looking 1000 lumens (twice the others) and far more in "brightest" mode, for those big screens or when you want or are stuck with a fair amount of ambient light. Anyway I slice it it's still a great DLP projector for the bucks.
The BenQ W6000 can be a killer family room projector, just oozing with lumens compared to almost all the competition, but also has everything you want for a good home theater projector - ultra high contrast black level performance, a very sharp image, and really nice color, with a rich look so typical of good DLP projectors.
The lumens and sharpness make this a great projector for sports fans, great in a family room, but it also has great blacks and calibrates for a great looking DLP style image, making it a fine choice for a dedicated theater as well.
Don't sell the W6000 short. It would be considered one of the best in class even if it wasn't as exceptionally bright as it is.