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Four Great Home Theater Projectors Compared

Posted on July 15, 2014 by Art Feierman

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*Comparisons of Specs
Native Resolution
Brightness (Manufacturer Claim)
Zoom Lens Ratio
Lens Shift No
Lamp Life

WATCH: Introducing the 4-Way Comparison

Here is a brief video introducing this four-way home theater projector comparison. Throughout the subsequent pages, we will have a mix of public and subscriber-only videos comparing various combinations of the four projectors.

Please note that this video lists the price of the Epson Home Cinema 5030UB as $2599. Epson has officially lowered the price to $2499, as of mid-July 2014.

Why these four projectors? Because they are competitors, and all happened to be here at the same time. While the Optoma is obviously more expensive than the others, it is the only one with a solid state LED light engine, rather than using lamps. We all know that makes any projector significantly more expensive, but there are advantages, the most notable one being that there are no lamps to replace. A user of 20-40 hours a week over 5+ years might need, anywhere from one to four replacement lamps, which could cost up to $1000 (for four lamps).

Two other home projectors are also mentioned in this comparison, one of which is mentioned a lot:  That projector is the Sony HW55ES because it is the “big brother” of the HW40ES, and while more expensive than 3 of these projectors it is still a competitor and fits in.   Epson’s Pro Cinema 4030, which is a small step down from the 5030UB (and 6030UB) also gets a mention for perspective.  There are a few other good projectors in the price range, but at least two of these, maybe three, would rank in my top four or five in the $2000 - $3500 price range.

What’s important when comparing?

Of course price is always a huge factor, or we wouldn’t be restricting our conversation to a relatively narrow price range (no under $2000 or over $4000 projectors).

Color Accuracy – We care primarily about how accurate a projector’s color can be, after calibration (or adjustment), but also how good it is right out of the box.

Picture Quality – Superb color accuracy may be the goal, but, at the end of the day, its about a watchable picture, and that includes far more than color accuracy.  Also, two very nicely calibrated projectors might find one is slightly more accurate, but due to the differences, a majority might find the color balance to be more watchable on the other.

To the right:  The type of very dark, night scenes that we use for observing black level performance and dark shadow detail.  Image from The Hunger Games

Black Level Performance – In this price range great black level performance can still be described as the holy grail – something extremely desirable to obtain. As I like to say, the difference between good projectors and great ones isn’t how they handle bright or mid bright scenes, but how they do on the darkest scenes.

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Click Image to Enlarge

Often the difference between a $1000 and a $3000 projector on a typical daytime scene, is insignificant, but on a very dark scene the term “a difference night and day” comes into play. The difference may not be Night and Day different, but when it comes to black levels, it could easily be the difference between dusk and night…

Dark Shadow Detail – Especially on darker scenes you want the darkest details to be visible or you end up with what might look like  larger, flat areas with no definition.  We did not find any dramatic differences in the handling of dark shadow detail among these four projectors, so we’ll hardly mention it, even though there are some differences.  That is, those differences aren’t great enough to be a factor.

4 Home Theater Projectors - Key Specs and Features
BenQ W7500 Epson HC5030UB Optoma HD91 Sony VPL-HW40ES
Brightness 2000 lumens 2400 lumens 1000 lumens 1700 lumens
Contrast 60,000:1 600,000:1 500,000:1 Not Published*
D. Iris Yes Yes Lamp Dimming No
CFI Yes Yes Yes Yes
Detail Enh Yes Yes Yes Yes
3D Glasses Opt. 2 Pair 1 Pair Opt.
Lamp Hours 2000/3000 4000/5000 20000 2000/5000
Official $ 2799 2499** 3999 2499

Dynamic Features – All of these projectors offer several.  Some relate to the appearance of detail and sharpness, some to smoothness of motion, some to obtaining great black levels, etc.   We will focus on those we consider most important.

Cost of Operation and Ownership – This area covers everything from initial purchase cost, what extras come with it that you have to pay extra for with some of these other projectors, the warranty – and support programs, the life and cost of lamps.

* From the chart above:  Sony does not provide a contrast ratio.  Can't blame them, as without a dynamic iris or lamp dimming it would be a depressing number compared to the other projectors, probably well below 10,000:1  We would like to point out that the off/on contrast measured with projectors with irises, etc., can be misleading.  Instead we recommend putting more weight into our "subjective" opinions of how well each projector handles black level performance, especially on very dark scenes where the effect on picture quality is always the greatest.

**Editor's note:  We were advised, mid-July, that the price of the Epson 5030UB las been officially lowered to $2499, from $2599. Factor that in to your calculations.  As usual, we simply just don't have the resources to go through all mentions on many pages to update.

Navigating this Comparison

Click for rundown page of each projector in this 4-way comparison:
Epson Home Cinema 5030UB (and essentially identical 6030UB)
BenQ W7500
Optoma HD91


Skip ahead to the shootouts (or use navigation at the top or the bottom of the page)
Optoma HD91 vs. Sony VPL-HW40ES
Epson Home Cinema 5030UB vs. BenQ W7500
Epson Home Cinema 5030UB vs. Sony VPL-HW40ES
Optoma HD91 vs. BenQ W7500
BenQ W7500 vs. Sony VPL-HW40ES
Coming Soon: Epson Home Cinema 5030UB vs. Optoma HD91


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