Best Home Theater Projector Report 2013: $2000-3500 Projectors

As of April 4th we are still adding sections to this report, adding images, and comparisons.  The companion, Guide to buying the best projector for you, will be out by mid-month.  -art

$2000 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projector Highlights

Below is a short paragraph or two highlighting key aspects of each $2000-3500 projector considered for this review.

A note about BenQ first. BenQ no longer offers any home theater projectors that sell for more than $2000. The W7000 has been moved to the Under $2000 projector class.

Right:  Epson Home Cinema 5020 UB – Are you ready…?

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Epson Home Cinema 5020UBe and 5020UB

For convenience in our review we referred to the 5020UBe we have here as a 5020UB. These two white cased Epson 3LCD projectors with 2.1:1 manual zoom lenses, and exceptional black level performance differ only in two things.

The Home Cinema 5020UBe adds wireless HDMI capability, and due to that, sells for a few hundred more than the HC5020UB’s $2599 street price.

These projectors are light canons.  While calibrating at 678 measured lumens is very good, but hardly breathtaking, having 2000 lumens for huge screens, or good 3D viewing on medium sized screens (over 100″) separates these Epson projectors from almost all of the similarly priced competition (only the Panasonic PT-AE8000U is in the same brightness class).

More on the “e” in a moment.

The Epson UB projectors are known for black level performance superior to anything at their price or less. (The only two serious challengers in that regard, the Sony HW50ES and the JVC DLA-X35, both net out about $900 more than the Epson.

These two projectors offer excellent placement flexibility, CFI for smooth motion, Super-Resolution – a dynamic “detail enhancement” feature, and of course a dynamic iris for those great, dark, blacks.  Epson’s excellent 2 year warranty comes with 2 years of fast replacement program, something all its competitors lack.

The Home Cinema 5020UBe I have here calibrated beautifully, and the Epson seems to have best in class dark shadow details as well.

This year’s “e” the HC5020UBe, has a more sophisticated HDMI transmitter than last year.  It should handle just about everything you can throw at it. Place it by your gear, and it will transmit the HDMI directly to the projector.  No need to run HDMI cables (which can be expensive, btw). Opening walls to run wires will always cost more than the extra money for the “e” version.  This year’s transmitter now has 5 HDMI inputs, and a Digital audio input…

There are competitors that may have a feature you want that the Epson lacks (Lens Memory, really would be the only major one), but assuming you don’t need that, these Epsons are a great value (2 pair of 3D glasses included), tough to compete against.

Epson Pro Cinema 6020 UB

Everything I just said immediately above, regarding the Home version of the Pro Cinema 6020 UB remains true, except:

The Pro Cinema 6020 UB comes finished in black case.  It it sold by local dealers for $3499. $900 more, you say?  Not so fast, for that extra $900 here’s what you get:  A spare lamp, ceiling mount, two pair of 3D glasses, a third year of warranty, and a 3rd year of fast replacement program.  And you are buying from a local dealer, so you can assume you’re getting local support as well.

We received a Pro Cinema 6020 UB for “review”.  There was no need to go through the full process, as for anything we deal with in our reviews, other than the items just mentioned (including the black case), everything else should be identical.  For confirmation. I did measure both projectors THX modes with default settings.  Darn if there wasn’t a 6 lumen difference (out of 700).  That’s well within our margin of error.  When I compared the “brightest mode” same thing, this time I got a 13 lumen difference, except that the brighter projector in THX was the dimmer one at “brightest”.

James Bond at night – another HC5020UB image, but let’s call this one a Pro Cinema 6020 UB.

Like the Home Cinema 5020 projector models, the Pro Cinema 6020 UB is perfectly happy in both dedicated theaters, and in brighter “family room” type environments.

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Mitsubishi HC7900DW projector

The first of two rather similar projectors, Mitsubishi’s HC7900DW is the “family room” version, finished in white.  Mitsubishi, for years, has made many excellent home theater projectors, 3LCD, DLP and LCoS, but one thing most have had in common is that they best serve small to medium sized screens.  The HC7900DW has a manual 1.5:1 zoom lens, and vertical lens shift.  Separating the HC7900DW from most of the pack is a great 3 year warranty, that’s pretty hard to find around $2500 or less.

Typically Mitsubishi projectors just aren’t as bright as the “typical” competition.  No worries, if you want a 130″ screen, look elsewhere, but this projector is perfectly at home on screens more like 100″ diagonal.

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Brightness is very similar to the JVC DLA-X35W (also white) that we reviewed.  701 lumens for the HC7900DW, packed in with the Epsons, and the  JVC.  Not much extra though, we could only squeeze out about 1020 watchable lumens. There’s more, but to get a measured 1315 lumens the High Bright mode is so green you wouldn’t want to have to use it.  Ugh!

3D was very clean. Speaking of 3D, The $2499 price doesn’t include glasses or emitter. The emitter is $99. As to 3D glasses, Mitsubishi doesn’t offer any.  The HC7900DW uses universal glasses, many of which are pretty affordable these days.  Gamers this is a nice gaming projector.  Lag times are pretty good, at 34 ms. but could be a tad faster.

I like the HC7900DW a lot.

I’m sensitive to rainbows, which the HC7900DW handles well for me, with a color wheel that can run at 6x.  That makes it a favorite DLP projector.

Still, I’m a big screen kind of guy who loves good 3D content, which means the HC7900DW doesn’t have enough muscle for my personal taste.

Mitsubishi HC8000D

Technically, this HC8000D is the home theater projector, the HC7900DW, the family room projector.

This one comes in black.  Mitsubishi sacrificed some brightness with the HC8000 to produce a better overall picture, with improved, and impressive blacks for a DLP projector at it’s $2999 price. Yes, the HC8000D is 3D capable, yes, like the HC7900DW, the 3D emitter is $99 additional.  Yes, the HC8000 can use universal glasses.

Here comes the 3D difference.  The HC8000DW offers you an alternative to the universal glasses.  They have their new premium $99 glasses that claim a brighter image without any crosstalk issue.  That’s really important for a relatively low powered projector.

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The HC8000D calibrates to 465 lumens at mid point on its 1.5:1 zoom lens (still enough for a 110″ diagonal screen).  As seems to be the thing with Mitsubishi projectors, they all have a “maxed out” mode called High Bright, which I take to be a “Native lamp” mode, since they don’t let you adjust it it can’t be improved enough to be watchable.  At mid point on the zoom we measured 888 lumens in “brightest” (watchable) mode.  That’s definitely below average, reaffirming the HC8000D best suited for smaller screens.

As a DLP, you would expect, and get an especially sharp image, one of the reasons DLP projectors are so popular.  This projector may have manual controls, and few frills, but it puts an excellent sharp DLP look and feel image on your screen.  Well, as long as your screen isn’t too large.

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