Home Theater Projector Comparison Report: Best in Class Awards for 2012-2

So, with this BenQ being just as bright, having slightly better blacks, and comparable placement flexibility, you may be asking why the Acer scored a top award, and the BenQ had to settle.  That’s easy:  The Acer costs less, and offers 3D as well, so there’s a real value component.  That said, if I wasn’t into 3D, and wanted to put one of these two in my home theater, I’d definitely choose this BenQ W6000.  It calibrates better, for more accurate color (a weakness of the Acer), offers better blacks too.  It’s the one I’d definitely choose for a really good room – a home theater, cave, something along those lines. In the family room, where the extra blacks aren’t going to be very noticeable, and if you aren’t the type of person who has adjusted the color mode on your LCDTV, the Acer’s color will be just fine, even if the BenQ’s is better.

Ultimately the BenQ had to earn another signficant award.  It is the DLP projector to own for the bucks, for your home theater (assuming no 3D), especially if you are intending a larger screen – 120″ diagonal isn’t even a challenge for it, in a good room.  150 inches could even work, if you’ve got the space.  True, the Acer’s just as bright, but in a really good room, the BenQ has the more critical image.

Both are great in a family room, but you get that 3D from Acer, and a lower price point as well.

Now if BenQ had only thrown in 3D for the same price, they might have taken that top award from the Acer… Wait a minute, BenQ did, they created the 3D version the W7000.  Thing is, at around $2500 it’s literally “in a different class”.

2D, BenQ W6000 – definitely on your short list, especially for large screens, dedicated theaters, and in family rooms where you need to deal with more than the minimal ambient light.

Special Interest: Entry Level Value - 2D Only: Viewsonic Pro8200 Projector

In home theater space, overall, most projectors tend to have a shelf life of a year, and the rest, of two years. By that I mean, bring out a new projector, and 12 months later, its replacement has arrived. Now rarely does that mean an all new projector, but rather, some improvements, usually small ones. Mitsubishi’s evolution from their HC3800 to the HC4000 is a good example, or Epson’s Home Cinema 8500UB to the 8700UB. In other cases, though the manufacturer leaves a model on the market for 2 years. Panasonic’s PT-AX200U was a example (now replaced by the PT-AR100U), and this Viewsonic Pro8200 is another good example.

Last year we considered the Pro8200 to be about as good a DLP projector for home as you could find at $1000 or less, and it sold right around that $999 price point.

This year, the Viewsonic Pro8200, however, is selling for right around $800, some dealers right at $799, others just slightly higher – the direct authorized dealers seem to be the ones just a few bucks higher.

Before I forget, this Viewsonic, has built in sound!

Of course, if you are planning to watch an action flick, it’s not going to cut it, due to lack of any real bass. It does have a fairly warm (not tinny) sound. What I really like though is the provided audio output! This makes it easy for you to add a powered subwoofer to your system to round out the sound with some low end, so that Star Wars can begin properly. Low cost powered subwoofers start, I believe around $50 or so.

Black levels were not impressive, there’s no dynamic iris. You get your basic DLP native blacks, whiich were the standard, until dynamic irises came along. While I could argue that it is perhaps the single notable weakness of the Pro8200, consider that none of the sub-$1000 projectors are really significantly better, and definitely not in a family room or bonus room with a decent amount of ambient light. Black levels are just not the a big priority on entry level projectors.

The Pro8200 does give you more placement flexibility than the others, thanks to a 1.5:1 zoom. That makes this projector more similar to the Acer H9500BD, or the Epson Home Cinema 3010, for front to back placement, but like the Epson, it lacks lens shift.

Finally, if you want to compete at the entry level end, price is important, and equally so, is cost of ownership. The Viewsonic may well be the best in the whole Under $2000 Class. It offers a three year warranty, one of only two in this class. Lamp life is another cost strength, with Viewsonic claiming 4000 hours at full power, and 6000 in eco mode. This is a great family room projector. You can drop it in a theater as well, but, I figure if you are going to the trouble of having a theater, you’ll want a step up projector, at least.

Last year I said this: “Viewsonic Pro8200 just seems to combine the best elements found in most of the other sub-$1000 projectors, into one that comes out on top.” Well, as it turns out, the field of under $1000 home entertainment projectors hasn’t changed much, with the real action in new projectors this year around $1500 this year (and $2500+). This Viewsonic Pro8200 may be the same as last year, but at 20% less selling price, it reaffirms its overall value. A great first projector, and a very respectable one for those on limited budgets.

Like the Panasonic PT-AR100U, this is first and foremost a family room type projector, and thanks to its speaker it’s also a somewhat portable projector (backyard, anyone?). Though brightness is a key strength, the more expensive Panasonic has it beat. On the other hand, many of you will appreciate the Pro8200 projector’s DLP look and feel.

Also helping cement the Viewsonic Pro8200 projector as our Best In Class 2D Value, are the great warranty – 3 years, and the especially long life lamp, rated at 4000 hours at full power and 6000 hours in eco-mode!

Best In Class 3D and 2D Projector (Tie): Acer H9500BD

This Acer H9500BD was one of the biggest surprises in this year’s Home Theater Report. Acer of course has been around a really long time on the business and education projector side, but never made a real impression on the home theater side. It’s been a good 4 years since we reviewed a crossover Acer called the PH530, but let’s not worry about long ago.

Acer’s come a long way since then, with the H9500BD, offering 1080p resolution, 3D as well as 2D, lens shift, and impressive black levels.

The Acer H9500BD which sells for a street price of about $1300 or less, offers more bang for the buck than any of the other  3D capable DLP projectors near the price. This Acer projector gives you a zoom lens with good range: 1.5:1, which when combined with lens shift – (yes, both vertical and horizontal), makes it tie as placement flexibility champ – of the DLP projectors under $2000, (never mind only those under $1300) projectors.  That other DLP projector is the 2D only BenQ W6000.

This Acer H9500BD, can, therefore be rear shelf mounted as well as ceiling, or placed on a table top. Just check the distances vs. screen size if you want to rear shelf mount.

Ultimately though, this award is more about the picture, and the feature set, than placement flexibility. And my enthusiasm when it comes to picture, starts with black level performance. OK, last year we had projectors like the Epson 8700UB, and the Panasonic PT-AE4000 (last year’s Best In Class winner in this category), with what I refer to as “ultra high contrast” projectors. That Panasonic offered really impressive blacks (especially for around $2K), and the Epson, even better. This year, however, those two Best In Class projectors have been replaced in their respective line-ups, with 3D capable projectors and price tags in the upper $2K range, in a more expensive “class”. Without them, this under $2K class has lost two of its black level champs.

The Acer H9500BD, offers the best black level performance of all the 2D / 3D projectors we considered in the under $2,000 price range for this year’s report. It is probably close to last year’s Panasonic PT-AE4000, at blacks, though I reviewed them about two years apart. It bests the blacks of the Epson Home Cinema 3010 (more on that later), without any visible difficulty. The difference isn’t drastic but definitely enough to make a real difference to a “black level” fanatic like myself.

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