Entry Level Home Theater Projector Comparison - General Performance
This section will consist of comments relating to the four home theater projectors in the following areas:
Ease of Use
Each of these projectors offers about the same level of difficulty to take out of the box, plug in, and connect the cables. If you are totally clueless about component video, HDMI, and other connections, I'll suggest you read the manuals, and the startup guides. Ultimately there are only 2 - 3 things to plug into a home theater projector, if that many, beside the power cord.
Many buyers will have a home theater surround system that may or may not switch video sources for your projector. If it does, you probably will have only one source - the receiver, being plugged into the projector, plus power. If you don't have a receiver, you will plug your DVD player, cable/satellite box, and possibly game machine orVCRs in separately.
From a standpoint of remotes and menus, each of these projectors, once set up, requires little adjustment. Most notably you may want to change settings in going from movies, to the type of viewing where you are likely to have some light on in the room, like watching sports, or playing a video game. All four of these projectors allow you to change directly from the remotes, from modes like Cinema or Movie to TV or Bright, or Dynamic (the terms will vary from model to model)
When It comes to the menus and navigating of them, I would have to consider the Epson the best, followed by the Optoma and BenQ. However with the BenQ, you don't get any access to "advanced" color controls, etc.
The limited advanced menu features is a strength and a weakness of the BenQ W100. It is the "plug and play" projector of the group. It works best for people who don't want to fiddle with settings, tweaking, etc., but just want to plug in and watch.
The matching Remote control is downright excellent. I may be biased, as I own the top of the line BenQ projector, the PE8720, and it uses the same remote, (but mine has more buttons). The remote is great! It's large, buttons are well spaced out (even for large hands), the backlight is very bright, and buttons are organized intelligently. And also important, the remote has lots of range. I could bounce the signal off of my screen and have the projector pick it up easily over 30 feet away (total). Nothing worse than a weak remote that requires you to turn around to adjust the projector (assuming you are sitting in front of the projector, which should be true with three of the four projectors (except the InFocus).
Menus are plain looking, and very deep in terms of layer of menus, not what I consider ideal. There are a great number of adjustments you can make, in almost all areas, so while you learn your projector, keep the manual handy. (It's manual is on CD, and is a pretty good manual - that's a complement - however a hard copy manual would be a real plus.
The accompanying remote is small, and LED lit, it even can double as a LED flashlight (not a bad thing at all, I used that function many times, while taking notes). Overall I found the remote to be excellent, with one reservation that applies to the remote and the control panel, and for that matter, InFocus'es methods of navigation.
Let me explain. Most remotes rely on a menu button, plus four arrow keys for navigation, an Enter button, and usually an escape, or other button that moves you back up toward the first level menus. This is true of the other three projectors. Not so the InFocus. They use a 4 button system instead of 7.
Once you bring the menu up, there are just up and down arrows and an enter. To move back up a level, you have to select "Previous" off of the menu you are on. This takes longer, and generally is a mild pain, by comparison. I think it also tends to force InFocus to have more menu levels. It's not more difficult to understand, it just has you doing a lot more clicking, to get the same job done. For example you might be on an advanced menu, on the 8th item down where you just made an adjustment. Now you want to go to the previous menu, so you hit the up arrow 7 times to get to previous, then hit enter. With the others, one button does it.
That said, you will spend the vast majority of your life watching content, not playing with the remote, so don't let this be a deal breaker if the InFocus otherwise looks best for you.
Nothing wrong at all, with the menus, or their organization, however, the remote is weak, in terms of range, and the backlight not very bright. Since the remote is well laid out, the backlighting shouldn't be a problem, as it's not that bad, and you'll quickly learn where the most often used buttons are. (You'll also learn quickly that any button lights up all the buttons).
It's the range that bothers me. When I reviewed the unit, most of my watching was in my viewing room - which is fairly large, and my screen is 128" diagonal. I did not completely fill the screen, but I still couldn't consistantly get a good bounce off of the screen to the remote sensor on the front of the projector - that was about 25 feet total. I found the range to be pretty much limited to 20 feet total. (note my screen is a gray surface - with a white surface screen, the bounce may be longer).
Lamp Life and Replacement
This is basically a cost of operation issue. First I should note, that just because a projector claims a 2000 hour life (for example) don't necessarily expect it to last as long as claimed. There are several reasons.
1. Manufacturers tend to be optimistic - it's a game - "who's got the longest lamp/lowest cost of operation
2. The lamps themselves are not that consistant. A significant percentage of 2000 hour lamps may fail at 1500 hours or less, and others may last 2500 or more. (however must projectors will not let you significantly exceed the claimed life - what does that tell you).
3. You have to take proper care of your projector. Want the lamp to last half as long as best possible - its easy , don't clean your filters. Most projector manufacturers want the filters taken care of every month! As they clog, the projector starts running hotter, and failures happen sooner. So it's up to you, to get maximum out of your lamp.
Each of these projectors has a low and bright lamp mode, however in some cases, the setting is manual, and in others it is tied to other settings. For example, with the Optoma H27, if you want to run "AI" (artificial intelligence) on, the lamp will automatically be on bright, so it can dim the lamp as needed for darker scenes to maximize black levels. With the Epson lamp is automatically in low power on the Home Theater Black 1 and 2 settings but full power on all the other settings...
Officially, here's how they are rated:
Optoma H27 - Full power: 2000 hours, 3000 hours in low power (see below under brightness, about best modes and "AI").
InFocus IN72 - Strangely, this is the only projector that has the same lamp life rating whether at full or low power. InFocus claims 3000 hours, and when I asked, said you can expect it to last longer in low power operation. Note, to replace the lamp on the IN72, you will have to remove the pedestal, or, if ceiling mounted, unmount the projector.
BenQ W100 - The BenQ claims 3000 hours in full power, and 4000 in low power, now that is nice and affordable.
Epson Home 20 - 2000 hours in full power, and 3000 hours in low power, but the Epson has the least expensive lamp, with a $199 list price.
The projectors range from a claimed 850 lumens (Optoma) to 1200 lumens for the Epson, but that doesn't give you a full idea of how they peform.
In reality, all four projectors were extremely close in their best (and dimmest modes), with the Optoma being the least bright, measuring just under 300 lumens, the other three: BenQ 388, IN72 359, Epson 386, Optoma. Note, the Optoma produces close to 400 lumens with AI engaged, but, that also kicks the lamp into full power mode when needed.
So, you will find the Optoma to be just a little less bright in low power, but comparable with AI. The brightness differences between the other three are really only enough to be noticeable in side by side comparisons.
I normally don't meaure the brightest modes, as we focus on movie watching, but for your enlightenment, the Epson definitely measured the brightest, which may make some of you choose it if you are heavy into watching sports or gaming.
After that, the BenQ and InFocus stay pretty close, with the BenQ maintaining a slight advantage, and the Optoma in brightest mode remains a little less bright (understand a 20% difference in brightness is very slight. If you were viewing a projector, and left the room for a minute and came back in, and the projector was then set to produce 20% less lumens, it is extremely unlikely that you would be able to tell at all. But if you watched the setting change, you would notice a small drop in brightness. (Imagine being in a room with five 100 watt lights going, and then turning 1 of them off - that's a 20% reduction, but the room lighting would only be slightly dimmer.
Bottom line on brightness - for maximum brightness - for non-movie watching, the Epson is the brightest, a step down, the BenQ and InFocus, lastly the Optoma.
For best quality movie watching, they are all about the same, since the H27's best mode has AI enabled.
General Comments - Inputs
For a photo view of the input panel of each of these projectors, visit the first page of their respective reviews (the links are provided below).
Inputs: Some variation from model to model. All have S-video and composite video, but we're more concerned here with the higher resolution inputs - component video, digital, and computer analog - consider:
Optoma H27, has a digital input (DVI) that can take either digital, or a computer signal, plus one additional computer input (analog) and one component video input. Thus you could hook up a digital source, a computer, and a high quality component video input.
InFocus IN72 - The InFocus takes top honors, by a slight edge. It offers their proprietary M1 connector which supports either digital, computer or component video. It also has a separate HDMI (digital input), and a component input. Like all but the Epson, the total count is 3 high resolution inputs, but only the InFocus and the Optoma can use one input for a digital source and still hook up an analog (normal) computer.
Epson Home 20 - This is the only one of the four projectors that lacks a digital input, which is too bad, as that's the direction things are moving. From a practical standpoint, however, a component video input is roughly comparable. The Home 20 has one component video input, and a computer input that can be used for an analog (normal) computer, or for a 2nd component video.
BenQ W100 - This projector is fairly well connected. It has a DVI for either digital input or a computer input, plus two sets of component video. One downside. If you want to hook up a computer, you won't be able to also have a digital source. (external, optional swtichboxes or special cabling, notwithstanding)
We could go on, and on, but remember you can visit the separate reviews of each of these projectors to read more details about each: