The Art of Home Theater Projectors

Home Theater Projectors – Action at CES -Panasonic Projectors

Time to fill you in, re what I learned at CES about home theater projectors.  As someone pointed out, the last blog mostly focused on pico projectors.  (Hey, they may not be “home theater” but they are “portable” theater, and techically, with some pushing 300+ lumens, they are as bright as some of the home theater projectors we’ve reviewed (at least their best modes).

No, I’m not recommending trading in your  Epson or Panasonic home theater projectorsor JVC or Sony projector, or any others, for a nice little pico, but remember, millions are expected to end up watching TV and movies, and internet, and who knows what else, on the 10s of millions of pico projectors expecting to be sold in the next 2-3 years.

The entire US home theater projector market is about 110,000 units a year – or less than 1% of LCDTV sales.

But, onto the home theater projectors:  I’ll start with Panasonic, and add a blog entry for each brand.

Panasonic – was one of my first meetings.  I’ve been trying to get some straight answers from them since CEDIA.  Are they staying in the market, are they exiting…?   Remember, the PT-AX200U – (it’s almost identical predecessor, the AX100U was the best selling home projector in its day – before 1080p dominated), is now end of life…

Not so, however, the PT-AE4000.  Panasonic is still shipping those and they will be around almost certainly until the fall, when… ta-da…

Panasonic will introduce it’s first 3D projector.   Now, I’m not sure about the “fall” aspect, but darn sure you won’t be seeing it this spring.  From what little I learned, I’m figuring it will show at CEDIA, and ship shortly thereafter.   But, you never know…

And yes, it will be 3D, and no, I don’t know the price, and yes, I suspect it will be in the $5000 or up range, and no, I am not sure, I could be completely wrong, and it could be $1999, or $2999, but I would really, really be surprised, especially in light of the competition.

I expect it will appeal to 3D gamers as well as 3D movie fans, and those just wanting to enjoy high quality 3D content from various sources.

The other good news is that Panasonic does have a 2nd projector in the works,  And folks, it was like pulling teeth.  That is all I learned.  I asked 50 questions, and got nothing more than “there will be a 2nd one” no idea when, or the price.  I’m hoping sooner than the fall, but, considering how tight lipped, who knows.  (So, I’d just not worry about Panasonic projector #2, since we have no clue as what or where, or how much, or why).  (It could be a 720p, it could be an all-in-one – unlikely, it could be something unique and amazing, or mostly a retread of the PT-AE4000.  I could speculate all day, but with nothing to go on, it’s futile.

Next of interest would be  Mitsubishi who again showed its 3D projector, but this time it worked better… (That was a very early engineering sample.)  I know a lot more about the HC9000, than I do about new Panasonic home theater projectors.   -art

News And Comments

  • Dave Kestler

    Art, Was desperately trying to find out if Panasonic would offer a 3-D projector this year. At least now I know it’s in the works. Thanks a million! Your the best!

    • Lisa Feierman

      That was like pulling teeth to even get that admission… Glad to hear they aren’t walking away… -art

  • Dennis

    What are you detailed comments about the HC9000 (e.g., 3-D demo; comparison to other 3-D Demos from JVC, Sharp, LG; brightness and sharpness in 3D, ghosting in 3-D, frame interpoliation in 2-D and 3-D, CMS, 240Hz update rate, release date, price). What other 3-D projectors in 2011.

    • Lisa Feierman

      Hi Dennis – the HC9000 wasn’t as ready for “prime time” as a lot of other 3D projectors at CES. Not surprising since it really didn’t work at all at CEDIA (in 3D), whereas the other 3D projectors (Sony, JVC, etc.) were all shown at CEDIA fairly respectably. So the Mits is a little behind in development, but then the JVC’s just started shipping and the Sony has been – the VW90ES. Demoing at shows is an exercise in futility. Rooms are all different, different content, unknowns about the other supporting gear. I trust only my observations under my controlled environment. That said, I don’t think I’ve seen a JVC or Sony that can really fill a 100″ screen with sufficient brightness, unless you have a near perfect theater, and even then, by the time the lamp gets old… can you say DIM!!!
      I’m screaming at the manufacturers – 2400 lumens minimum for 3D, and probably 3000 minimum for single chip DLP’s using active glasses. Won’t see any of that until next year, if then. They have to redesign their “boxes” to be quiet with much brighter – hotter – lamps inside. And so far LED light sources have not delivered the brightness needed… -art As to other 3D projectors – there will be more – but I’m looking to CEDIA next fall for “next gen” improvements… -a

  • http://N/A Alan Becker

    Dear Mr. Feierman,

    I’m writing to ask your advice. I own an Optoma HD81-LV which I’m having some problems with which will require me to send the unit back to the manufacturer (cost approx. $50 shipping and $110 diagnostics which can be applied to the repair…cost unknown). I’m guessing that I have 1/2 to 1/3 life left on the bulb because I’ve restricted use to watching only movies, at 2 to 3 per week with occasional special events like the New Years Parade, since the purchase Feb. 2008.
    My dilemma is do I replace the Optima with a newer projector like the Epson 8700UB and spend approx. $2000 plus ISF calibration or repair the Optoma @ $160 plus parts and labor and eventual bulb replacement at $350. Since you did the original review of the Optoma and review the new projectors I was hoping you could provide your insight if the newer projectors out perform the first generation Optoma HD81-LV sufficiently to warrant upgrading to a newer model?

    Since other home theater enthusiasts may be facing this same dilemma it might make for a needed and appreciated article in an upcoming issue of Home Theater.

    Thank you very much for your help with this dilemma,

    Alan Becker

    • Lisa Feierman

      Greetings Alan,
      Thanks for moving the comment here, where it can be shared.
      OK, I was a fan of the HD81-LV – the original “light canon”. A touch rough around the edges, but bright, and with that classic DLP look and feel (my best one aspect being particularly rich looking dark colors yet without being over the top…
      I take it your LV was calibrated, since you are “budgeting” for a ISF cal of whatever’s next. For the most part, with minimal effort on your part (you can calibrate contrast and brightness yourself, in a few minutes with no tools, just an image). Beyond that, projectors like the Epson with THX modes are consistently excellent as far as color balance. In almost every case we’re really calibrating here (Mike) to the individual lamp, rather than the projector – the changes are slight. (BTW, 500 hours after your calibration, your lamp had shifted enough to be “off” as much, or even more than a THX mode… lamp changes over time are only curable with regular calibrations… That’s for the rich, and those with the gear and knowledge.

      Now, let’s talk performance, the $$$ you have to sort out. The 81LV’s blacks are if I recall, so so, by today’s standards. very $999ish, and the iris action was a bit rough (I’m going totally from memory – I tend to really remember the flaws of the projectors I like the most. Color was more than capable after calibration! And a great, BRIGHT look and feel.

      The Epson by comparison, will kick the LV’s butt to the moon and back, on black levels, but not look quite as natural as the LV in skin tones, etc. This year’s epson ub that we reviewed was in my opinion, the best Epson yet, in terms of natural feel something I always discuss. Historically Epson’s strengths were elsewhere, not natural feel. oh, fine for 97%, but I run across old DLP owners, who have upgraded to LCD or LCoS and they miss both that, and in some cases, the pop and the wow factor. The LV is dripping with those, in part thanks to the lumen output. The Epson will only be able to, at best approach the LV in brightness, in its brightest mode, compared to the LV’s best… so on the same sized screen you’re going to be “wondering where the lumens went” if you are in THX, or one of the Theater modes… I just don’t know…

      But the Epson gives you more placement flexibilty and lamp that will last twice as long. And a fresh warranty. That LV… will get a warranty on what gets fixed… but not on the rest.

      And – where are you – re – 3D? Interested, if so, waiting’s not such a bad idea, so in that case, hope the LV repair is affordable. If you want to stick to DLP, same price range, consider that BenQ W6000 – also a touch rough around the edges, but a great projector to be watching… And so it goes… -art

  • http://N/A Alan Becker

    Even comparing plasmas or LCDs is nearly impossible unless they have all been calibrated by the same person and in a room without lights to negate reflections. So projectors apparently even for a professional, like yourself, with the ability to sit and compare the projectors side by side, the decision still is very difficult, if not almost impossible. (BTW I don’t believe the HD81-LV has an auto iris.) Originally I was impressed, when I purchased it, with it’s sharpness, natural color and good blacks without crushing shadow image. As far as I’m concerned it will be a few years before I’d consider getting 3D because of the additional costs. (upgrading the DVDO, projector, A/V receiver and 20′ HDMI cable). After taking in your information I think I’ll repair the Optoma. It seems like it is still competitive “if calibrated” with the current crop of projectors.

    Thanks for taking the time to give me your feedback to make the best possible decision.

    • Lisa Feierman

      Hi Alan,

      OK, first, I believe it does have a 16 step auto iris, buried a in, or below the advanced menu. (I peeked at my old review). I mentioned that it is loud -it grinds a lot, but commented (for it’s day) that the black levels were pretty good (even with the Auto Iris off, which somewhere in the review, I probably recommended (iris on manual) due to the loud iris noise when in Auto…

      I generally concur with your decision to wait. (assuming they don’t tell you it’s $800 to repair the 81LV…)

      One of the reasons all my writings are so long is I’m constantly trying to explain to everyone how every thing – ceiling color – wall colors, lighting, size of screen, distance to mount the screen (relative to brightness of the zoom lens, and even viewing cone issues with high power screens. My viewing rooms are both very good. But not necessarily what people have in their homes. Just the fact that both of my rooms have 8 foot ceilings, compared to say rooms with 11 foot ceilings could have a huge impact on the image if the respective ceilings were both bright paint. But mine are black and almost black ceilings… For my testing room, when completed in a few months I’ll even be able to change two of the rooms walls from very dark to fairly bright rooms, by reversing some panels I’m having made. I’ll be able to change from viewing a projector in a dedicated theater mode, to varying degrees of family room, in a couple of minutes.

  • http://N/A Alan Becker

    I for one appreciate your efforts to create as many home environments to assess the performance of the various equipment you review. BTW my ISF calibrator Dave Abrams has the auto iris off. In my opinion that generation’s auto irises tended to lag as well as add noise to the room. From what I’ve read the newer versions no longer have the lagging problems.

    On thing I’d like to see is a continual ranking of equipment to help the enthusiast determine when the time and dollars are right to upgrade their equipment. The foundations are already in place with the shootouts and best in class reviews. Lets say I purchase the best in class 2010. How will that match up with the same best in class 2014. The same might be done for A/V receivers. Should I upgrade my Onkyo SR805 if I don’t intend to go 3D. How about my Panasonic Viera TH-58PE75U plasma. Have the blacks etc. improved so much that this should be upgraded. Not to mention things like scalers (I have the DVDO VP50). Having a continual comparison/ranking will provide a lot of the information needed to help enthusiasts/buyers make these decisions. Maybe there could be a scoring system based on 1 to 100. The 2011 Panasonic hypothetically scores an 89 where the 2007 version was re-ranked at 85. Hypothetically it could have been a 91 in 2007 but in comparison with the 2011 it’s re-ranked. In fact there could be 2 scores, one for performance w/o price consideration and the second with price consideration. The Pioneer Kuro’s are a good example for that. They would be #1 based only on performance but #2 with price considerations. These rankings would help me decide when I should spend money on upgrading my system.

    BTW a pet peeve is the amount of space given to reviewing speakers in the magazine. For me speakers are extremely subjective in being assessed. What one reviewer thinks is great may be average to another. Not to mention the way the end users room will affect the performance of the speakers. So even listening to them side by side at a retailers wont provide the final answer. I actually auditioned several speakers in my home before deciding on my McIntosh XRT28 towers etc.

    Thanks for the opportunity to express my thoughts and once again for you taking the time to help my deciding on a course of action.


    • Lisa Feierman

      Hi Alan,

      Ahh, were it so easy. I tried to develop a dynamic system about 3 years ago. One that would automatically adjust the older projectors, as the bar raises… But it was a disaster.

      The only way to really make it work is to have a very in depth scoring system, and keep everything updated.

      Consider this, going back 3 years or so: Epson sells the home cinema 1080.. A year later, they bring out for the same price, the 1080UB. Brightness remains the same, color handling, and just about everything else, the same, but for the new panels, etc. which dramatically improve black level performance.

      If the 1080 was ranked an 8.5 what does it drop to when the 1080UB comes out, the 6500UB, the 8500UB, and the 8700UB.. Are we still over 5?

      How does price factor. Since the 1080 dropped a lot in price, does it get a higher score than it had before? And that’s one epiphany type feature (contrast),

      Epson increases average lamp life from 3000/4000 hours to 4000/4000 hours. Is that improvement worth 1/5 as much as a big black level improvement, or 3 times as much – depends on what you watch. For a sports only person the lamp improvement (at high power) is important, but the improvement on blacks while watching a game isn’t likely to even be noticeable…

      So by my take, the advent of ultra high contrast projectors as pioneered by Epson UB, JVC, and others, is huge… so any projector drastically inferior at blacks” to, say any Epson UB, has to take a huge hit due to the major tech improvement. IF YOU WATCH MOVIES.

      IN other words the bar, changes at different speeds for different features, and for different uses. A major improvement for one person, is of no consequence or little, to another person.

      ahh, You guys just want oversimplification… It’s like shopping consumer reports… A great resource for people who otherwise don’t do their homework before a purchase. But for those that like to, it’s one resource, and when you’re looking for the very best for you, it’s guidance is often wrong or worthless.

      (example -years ago CR said the old fiat X1/9 was officially Unacceptable, because it didn’t have a shoulder harness. Which is fine in a general sense, unless you look closely.
      Back then that mid-engined two seat sports car (which I owned), was one of only a few vehicles exempt from a shoulder harness. Maybe Consumer reports should have asked why.
      Seems the design of the Fiat, included a roll bar strength roof (impressive on a targa, not a hard top). Fiat even ran commercials back then, of a fiat flipping over sideways several times down moderate hill, landing on its wheels and the driver getting out.. (that was pre-airbag days)..

      There are almost no vehicles sold in the US that today, would fair as well in a roll over. On top of that, the X1/9 was a phenomenal handling car that could keep you out of accidents that other vehicles had no chance to avoid (shorter breaking distance back then, than any other car under that of an exotic, and better handling than a Porsche.

      You really couldn’t be much safer, in another car, (even with a shoulder harness) even though it didn’t have a shoulder harness. Try rolling your SUV over 5 or 6 times. BTW, I think, in the commercial he drove the car, after the roll-overs, before he got out… Yeah, try that in your SUV with a shoulder harness and the 18 airbags, and you’ probably still wouldn’t fare any better. Point is, CR decided – no harness – unsafe vehicle. Yet, in similar situations today, they do not rate vehicles without the maximum airbags (front, rear, doors, and headrests, as unacceptable… Many years later I replaced (time in between) the X1/9 with a miata. I intentionally bought one with driver airbag, not passenger. Had to.

      I didn’t want my daughter to grow up and never have the experience of driving with me in a sports car (top down). Ya see, she was about 3 when I bought the miata… And due to airbag laws, it had become a crime to put any small child in the front seat of a car, without an airbag. She would have had to wait until High school before she was heavy enough to sit in the front seat (and there’s no rear seat).

      So, back to projectors. Sorry. It’s not practical. It would mean nothing, it can’t be done, without being sophisticated. The only way I could think to do it and make it work would require a dynamic system based on the “buyer” completing about 25 – 40 questions about room, screen, etc… what you watch, room lighting control in daytime vs night…

      Over the years, I’ve tried to figure out a practical way, but All I have to do is look at 5 or 6 projectors, to see that it won’t work.

      A practical example. JVC RS60 vs. RS35. A direct replacement, the 60 is supposed to be about 40% brighter, but we find it to be dimmer.
      So, if the RS35 (our top rated projector last year ($9995), is replaced by the RS60, which adds 3D, $2000 more to the price, but drops 20% in brightness.

      Assuming the RS35 got a 92% score, what does the RS60 get, and what does that do to the RS35′s revised score.

      For someone not interested in 3D, they would just have paid $2000 more for a dimmer projector with no real advantages (that the customer is interested in – 3d).

      So, does the RS35 score go up for a non-3D interested person, but go down for someone wanting 3D? IN fact for someone wanting 3D, can any non-upgradable 2D projector worth rating more than a 75?

      I use awards, and a lot of conjecture, perspective, and features/benefits based recommendations – which is to say, I recommend a lot of different projectors even though I have very few favorites.. I recommend what you need, not consumer reports needs, and as soon as you have every review getting 4 or 5 points (there’s a problem right there)… point systems are just murky short cuts that rarely help.

      True, if you saw two projectors one with a 4.5 out of 5, and the other with a 1.8 out of 5, the first one is probably a far better choice (probably), but, I seriously doubt either of us will live long enough to see anyone rate a projector on a 5 point scale and give out anything below 3 points (or 3.5)…

      Speakers – I trust you are referring to speaker reviews in other magazines, since we dont do them… (I guess we are sort of an online magazine, though).

      I disagree. I sold high end audio for years. Like projectors, any reviewer has to make subjective calls. Assuming that every buyer doesn’t have the same requirements, desires, room and content. In projectors, is x% more brightness more important than a slightly sharper lens, or lacking lens shift, or… or…. or.

      It’s the same thing – with speakers – the room MATTERS (the acoustic properties, including size – not the paint color). As does the placement in the room. Where do you sit, how far can you keep the speakers from being up against the wall, or a corner… stands for the speakers (do they need them) Do you have a receiver or amp powerful enough to have the speakers sound really good… Dispersion – what does the sound stage look like – can you identify each instrument in a band not just left to right on the stage, but front to back and higher vs lower seating? If not, why not. It is definitely doable on the finest speakers.
      Can you live without the last octave of base, the last 1.5 octaves… If you want to buy speakers the way many of my readers buy projectors, you simply need the write kind of reviews… While I haven’t stayed on top of audiophilia (my speakers are now 35 years old, and it’s a 44 year old design, and they still sound better (in most cases) than many $20,000 speakers today.) IMF RSPM (reference standard professional monitor) Mark IV. Designed by Irving M. Fried, best known for his initials on these speakers, and his designs when he later launched Fried speakers. as well as other Brit speakers he designed.

      Well, there are magazines that do speaker reviews well, (or did). Check out The Absolute Sound (in the ’70′s my primary reference source, and Stereophile. No doubt there are some great sites too… Anyway, those two used to write and rank audio gear, in the way I believe it should be done (especially Absolute Sound). course they could have changed everything, haven’t picked up a copy of either in at least 5 years… (can find absolute sound at borders – or could before the started tanking, maybe they still have it.)

      But more importantly once you leave the subjectives with speakers – caused by taste, placement, room… It starts getting really objective… like projectors – you can measure efficiency and frequency range, just like brightness and color gamut. But here’s the secret.

      A perfect home theater projector (assuming every other piece of equipment is perfect) will show you an image identical to having been there. Yeah, and in 3D, it means you wouldn’t be able to tell your room from standing next to the cameraman…

      With speakers – it’s faithful production. There are Great speakers, and Great Rock spekaers, and GReat classical ones, and great jazz ones. But any one of those, that isn’t equally good on jazz as classical as rock, as disco, as country, is flawed. A speaker great for one type of sound, usually means it was designed acoustically to meet that one market segment, or, the design is so flawed, that only certain types of music sound good. The almost perfect speaker should sound almost equally perfect regardless of the type of music you feed it.

      So a good reviewer might say – that ZW speaker has some deep bass, but mid-bass is a bit soggy. vocals are a little distant, especially female vocals, and the high end just sizzles.

      There, you’ve got a Rock speaker. If it was a great speaker, the mid-range would be a bit further forward, so that cymbols and such aren’t overpowering vocals. And that mid-bass bump will help rock the house, but it’s going to obsure some midrange detail, expect male vocal voices to lack definition for that reason… and so on…

      etc… see, it’s all the same.. it’s how you do it…

      haven fun… -art

  • http://N/A Alan Becker

    Hi Art,

    I had suggested two numerical rankings to allow for 2D and 3D. I would have the rankings done by a single individual unless there’s a group that does side by side comparisons. Having the same reviewer do each ranking will remove the difference in preferences. When a projector is 2D and 3D it may have high ranking in one group or a lesser ranking in another. 3D should be compared to 3D until such time that the brightness of 3D is compatible with the 2D projectors.

    You said: “Over the years, I have tried to figure out a practical way, but All I have to do is look at 5 or 6 projectors, to see that it won’t work.

    A practical example. JVC RS60 vs. RS35. A direct replacement, the 60 is supposed to be about 40% brighter, but we find it to be dimmer.
    So, if the RS35 (our top rated projector last year ($9995), is replaced by the RS60, which adds 3D, $2000 more to the price, but drops 20% in brightness.

    Assuming the RS35 got a 92% score, what does the RS60 get, and what does that do to the RS35′s revised score.

    For someone not interested in 3D, they would just have paid $2000 more for a dimmer projector with no real advantages (that the customer is interested in – 3d).

    So, does the RS35 score go up for a non-3D interested person, but go down for someone wanting 3D? IN fact for someone wanting 3D, can any non-upgradable 2D projector worth rating more than a 75?”
    So the ranking should be this: The RS35 should be ranked with 2D projectors factoring price. The RS35 3D would be ranked with other 3D projectors also factoring in price. The RS60 should be ranked at whatever position it has earned.

    It will be the buyers job to determine if he/she plans to upgrade to 3D at some point soon and therefore allow for the conversion in what he/she purchases. Those that only want 3D have a clear ranking and those that want 2D also have a clear ranking. The RS35 could be very low in one scale but very high in the other. There could be a column for comments. If there are many comments then the system could use @ # $ % & * + or numbers to represent the applicable comment while saving space.

    For example it would have been helpful to me to know where the Optoma HD81-LV ranked compared to the Epson 8700UB or 9500UB especially in blacks and brightness. For example had the Optoma ranked 3RD but only marginally I’d probably wait to do the upgrade. But if one of the Epsom’s were remarkably sharper, brighter and had longer projected bulb life I might switch. I believe this rating is possible because many functions can be technically measured allowing for comparisons.

    BTW by watching only a movie (2-4) times per week and immediately shutting down the projector and watching special features on my Plasma TV. The drop off of brightness seemed almost negligible