Best Home Theater Projectors Report: Physical Tour

Here we provide brief information regarding how the home projectors are physically laid out, placement flexibility, and more.

Projector Physical Appearance

I’ll tackle two areas in the Physical Appearance section, first, general layout. We can assume, unless otherwise noted, that all these projectors have adjustable feet (at least one pair), control panels on the top, and inputs on the rear. The lenses are typically mounted offset to one side or the other, so I will only mention it if it is a centered lens (easier for installation). Some have motorized zoom and focus, most have lens shift (manual or motorized), etc. All this is documented in each review, so in this section, a short paragraph, and a link to the appropriate page in the original review.

Speaking of appearances, the image above is a “beauty shot” of the Epson Pro Cinema 6010.

The projectors in this report vary a great deal in styling, anywhere from ugly box to highly stylish. Most of us don’t care what a projector physically looks like with the lights on, but some do. Then there’s the “wife factor” – “that thing’s too big and ugly to go in my room”. I’m not a judge of aesthetic beauty, so I’ll just make a brief comment or two about some of the projectors of note:

All projectors this year have their inputs in the back with the exception of the Sonys

1080p Projectors under $2000

Acer H9500BD: A new entry, with a definite “cross-over” look, grays and silvers, a “box”

BenQ W1200: A box but a better looking one. Dark front, a other dark trim, mostly white.  I like it.  Two powerful speakers, audio out.  Very solid feel.

BenQ W6000:   A black, more brutish box, some rounded edges but the huge lens shield is the attraction. Joystick lens shift control

Epson Home Cinema 8350: Decent looking – another box, with minor trim

Epson Home Cinema 3010, 3010e:   Much better, centered lens, whiter than most white projectors, very ‘family room”, , control panel on the side

Mitsubishi HC4000: Small-Medium sized, it is styled with a dark finish, a protruding lens with hood far to one side. Some say it looks really cool, but doesn’t do that much for me.

Optoma HD20:  Sort of almost cute, white with some of Optoma’s curves and angles that give it a bit of a Euro look.

Optoma HD33: Pretty much a similar, bigger projector from Optoma, still white nice front curve.

Panasonic PT-AR100: A bigger white box, lacking contrasting trim, lens shift hides behind panel on the front, control panel on the side

Viewsonic Pro8200 Black finish matte like finish in front, glossy in the back – more styling than most other lower cost projectors.  10 watt speakers. Physically similar to the BenQ W1200

Vivitek H1080FD: Another small DLP projector finished in white, it is a good size larger than the Optoma HD20, and almost identical to the BenQ W1000 it is similar to.

$2000 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projectors

BenQ W7000 projector: It’s what we said about the W6000:  A black, more brutish box, some rounded edges but the huge lens shield is the styling :attraction.

Epson Home Cinema 5010 and 5010e:  Mostly white, centered lens, black trim around front vents, makes a nice two tone look, lots of soft corners and edges, a dramatic improvement over the older 8350, 8700UB series.  I like the black in the front for bouncing less light back to the screen than an all white front. A perhaps insignificant thing, but the idea is good.

Epson Pro Cinema 6010 projector: See the comments immediately above. It’s the same pretty much everything, is finished in black.

JVC DLA-RS45 (aka X70R): Large, shiny black piano finish, silver trim ring, control panel in the back.  No great style but looks serious and classy

LG CF181D: Like all the other LCoS projectors in this report, it’s fairly large, and a bit massive looking, especially compared to some of the smaller DLP projectors. It’s finished in black, with a sort of split level look due to a “trim ring” that’s recessed that goes around the front and sides. It is one of the tallest projectors in this review. The LG’s front is curved from side to side, giving it a little style, but it’s still a black box, if a nicer looking one than most, with its curved front.

Mitsubishi HC7800D: Black, piano finish, some lines and curves – a little style.  The lens is recessed and off center.

Panasonic PT-AE7000:  Dark grey/black matte finish, hidden joystick for lens shift, side control panel. Clean, rather than pretty or cool.

Sony VPL-HW30ES projector: The Sony looks good. It is moderately large, narrow and deep. The front has angles moving back to the sides, with the center area dropping back. The centered lens isn’t recessed per se, but is recessed to the parts of the front that come out the most.  Side control panel and inputs (left side if facing the projector)

Vivitek H5080: Looks very much like an Optoma, comes out of the same factory I believe. Black, shiny. some sloping lines.  Another slightly dressed up box.  Bright trim ring.  The H5080 has a centered lens.

$3500 - $10,000 Home Theater Projectors

JVC DLA-X70R: Large, shiny black piano finish, silver trim ring, control panel in the back.  No great style but looks serious and classy.  Deeper than wide with just a little silver trim and a bit of sculpting, make it clean and good looking. The center mounted lens is not only recessed, but a door slides to protect it when powered off.

Optoma HD8300 projector: Clean, flat black finish nice grill with recessed and centered lens. Looks good. Limited control panel, has 2nd “convenience” remote

Runco LS-5 and LS10d: Definitely the most unusual looking projectors in the whole group. The projector is basically round! It’s a bit wider around the top than the bottom so the sides slope inward. The black piano finish looks good. If it weren’t for the slightly protruding centered lens, and the cables, you might not figure out it’s a projector. For me the verdict is still out on the styling. Cable cover

Sony VPL-VW95ES: Very nice looking for one of the largest projectors covered in this report The top is finished in a shiny black with tiny blue speckles (that just add a touch of blue to the color when hit by a lot of light). The front is nicely curved back toward the sides. As I mentioned when reviewing it, the styling is wife friendly, or should be if the size isn’t a concern.

OK, the beauty pagent is over, time to get back to some important aspects of these projectors.

Projector Control Panels

No point into going into the control panels here, other than to note that the Optoma HD8300 lacks a control panel instead has a 2nd, smaller remote.

Input/Output

All the projectors in this review have a number of things in common. All, but those mentioned in the first section, have their control panels in the back (the ones with the input section – cable connections – on the side, are the Sonys. JVC had been on the side for years but switched to the back last year.

All of these projectors have at least two HDMI inputs. All the 3D capable projectors have HDMI inputs are HDMI 1.4a.  I do not believe that any of the 2D only projectors have HDMI 1.4a, but I did not consider that a key feature so did not confirm.

All have at least one component video input. Today we all tend to use HDMI, but for those replacing older projectors who only have component cable run, it’s good to know they are still able to use their cabling.

All the projectors but one, have an analog computer input. That exception is the JVC RS45. Why it lacks it, other than marketing, is beyond my grasp.  As I see it, its a way of differentiating the RS45 from their more expensive projectors. Mac owners won’t mind, they’ll use HDMI, as can some PC users. There are other work arounds, that are more of a nuisance.

Screen Triggers: Most projectors have one, some have two (two lets you raise/lower a motorized screen with one, and control an anamorphic lens sled or screen masking system with the other). Today, however, screens and sleds and masking systems can be controlled with IR or RF remotes in most cases, so screen triggers aren’t critical.

RS232 (service port) All the projectors have one. This allows your projector to interface to a room control system or PC for control. In some cases, the port can be used to download firmware upgrades. Sorry, I haven’t followed which can/can’t do downloads, but very few manufacturers ever offer firmware downloads.

Menus

Please see the individual reviews for details and screen shots of various menu pages. Some projectors have great menu layouts, some have type small enough to be a problem for some to read, but, the bottom line is that you almost certainly wouldn’t change your mind about which projector you will by, based on the menu system! For that reason, while it’s a very minor factor in deciding award winners, we won’t take your time up comparing the menus.  The number of user savable memories, and how they work are good things to look into that we don’t get into here.

Remote Controls

Remote controls have several attributes worthy of discussion. Basically: The layout and ergonomic considerations (large small, one handed use, or two), and especially, effective range.

Each remote is discussed in the individual reviews. While you may or may not like a projector’s remote, I seriously doubt anyone will change their purchase decision because of a remote’s abilities. Hey, if you love your projector, but hate your remote, it’s just one more excuse to go out and buy a nice universal, programmable remote to control all your equipment! The JVC remotes are favorites, I really like the Epson remotes but for the backlight button placement. The Sony is a nice, simple layout, and a great remote.  Sony’s are feature laden and also really nice.  Lastly, the BenQ remotes for the W7000 and W6000, all come to mind as remotes you won’t have to complain about.  Some of the others are afflicted with issues like limited range, small buttons, cramped buttons, buttons with soggy feel, and backlights that are too dim or too bright.

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