Epson Home Cinema 8350 projector
The Home Cinema 8350 is back for a second year, it's a pretty bright projector, suitable for family room or dedicated home theater. For sheer brightness though, the Home Cinema 8350 has been overshadowed by Epson's own, 3D capable Home Cinema 3010, and the Panasonic PT-AR100. Price wise it's slightly more than that Panasonic but almost $500 less than the 3010.
Epson Home Cinema 3010, 3010e projectors
New for this year's report are two slightly different Epson 3LCD powered, 3D capable projectors. The only physical difference is that the "e" has wireless hdmi. From a pricing standpoint there's a $200 difference, but it plays out this way. At $1599 the Home Cinema 3010 comes with 2 pair of 3D glasses. For $200 more, at $1799, the Home Cinema 3010e comes with built in WirelessHD, but no glasses. Assuming you assign a $99 price per pair, then you are roughly paying $400 for the WirelessHD capability.
Every projector needs AC power, but usually, that's not too hard to run to your projector. Many ceilings already have electric in them. More difficult, typically, is getting HDMI from wherever your electronics is, to your projector. This often means opening up several walls/ceilings to run cables.
For the person with the existing home theater, who wired it more than 3-4 years ago, with component video, that person already has power by where his new projector goes, so no new wires to run with WirelessHD, and that can save far more than the $400 difference.
But what these two projectors are really about, is being extremely bright projectors suiltable for family rooms, bonus and living rooms, handling both 2D and 3D. Sure, the Home Cinema 3010 and 3010e are also at home in a dedicated home theater, but with roughly 2000 useable, measured lumens, it's about twice as bright as the average home theater projector. Further, calibrated, with great color, its still much brighter than most other projectors - at their brightnest!
3D's impressive, 2D's got really good color. Black levels are decent, nothing exceptional - not an ultra high contrast projector. Warranty with 2 years parts and labor, and a replacement program for both years, is unbeatable in the price range, though there are a couple of projectors with 3 year warranties, just no replacement programs.
Mitsubishi HC4000 projector:
While hundreds of dollars more than the true entry level priced projetors in this class, Mitsubishi's HC4000, is definitely a step up in picture quality from home projectors costing as little as $799. For your extra few hundred (under $1200 is typical at this time), there's a lot of extra performance. What really separated the HC4000 from the competition had been the best black levels around from a low cost DLP projector that doesn't offer a dynamic iris. The HC4000 though has been around, its forth year if you count two years of the HC3800 - it's near identical predecessor.
Placement flexibility is limited, as is typical of low cost single chip DLP's, certainly compared to the few 3LCD projectors under $2000.
Ultimately, though, it's the sharp, crisp picture, with extremely good color accuracy for the price, and good brightness, that makes this projector very popular with both Enthusiasts and Purists lacking significantly larger budgets.
For 2012, however, this Mitsubishi is showing its age. For a few hundred more you can get 3D, and also better black level performance, for example from the Acer H9500BD. The Mitsubishi can be calibrated for slightly better color than the Acer, however. There are a ton of folks out there who love their HC4000 or, before that, the HC3800. That said, it may need to be under $1000 to remain competitive for another year. To our knowledge, it is still (3/2012) selling in the under $1200 range. I quick search showed one dealer down near $1000 (never heard of them), but most are around $1200.
Optoma HD20 projector
Optoma's HD20 projector created a lot of fanfare when it shipped more than two ago. It is still in the lineup as Optoma's least expensive 1080p projector. It streets under $900, though for more typically at big box houses like Best Buy or Wal-Mart. It was the first 1080p resolution projector to be launched with an under $1000 price. ($999, of course, but that was, as noted, quite a while ago). The value of the HD20 primarily comes from its price. You get 1080p resolution for a price that got you 720p three years ago.
Black level performance is very entry level. There's a dynamic AI, but it's behavior's a bit too noticeable, so we recommended this projector with the assumption that you don't use the AI. If it's action doesn't bother you, leave it on, it's that simple. The Optoma HD20 projector, like a few other under $1000 DLP competitors, has both strengths and weaknesses. Of particular note, the HD20 has the fastest color wheel, to minimize the rainbow effect for those who are sensitive. The faster color wheel is no doubt part of why the HD20 is not quite as bright as some others including the Vivitek, Viewsonic, and BenQ), but it does set it apart from other entry level home entertainment projectors for those who are rainbow sensitive.
Optoma HD33 projector
When the HD33 was released last year, it was, at $1499, the first under $2000 3D capable, 1080p projector to ship in the US. We were extremely impressed.
A number of additional 3D capable started shipping since, which tended to make the HD33 not stand out, to the degree anticipated by my review. That is, the brighter Epsons and some others made it hard to stay focused on the some of the Optoma HD33's strengths. This Optoma measured in the 1100+ lumen range, both calibrated and "brightest" (not much difference between the two). That said, it is a projector that seems to be extremely well liked by those that now own one. It lacks the brightness of the similarly priced Acer H9500BD, and also the placement flexibility, but calibrated - "tweaked" is capable of more faithful color accuracy, than that Acer.
If you can get past the placement flexibility (basic 1.2:1 zoom, no lens shift), and not too great lens offset, the Optoma HD33, is definitely a serious contender for those who want the look of DLP, and very accurate skin tones and color in general.
Panasonic PT-AR100 Projector
Hot and new for this year's report is Panasonic's light canon, the 2800 lumen claiming PT-AR100U - sold as the PT-AR100 outside the US. (Guess what "U" stands for?) This dazzling projector is 2D only, and the brightest real home entertainment projector around. Only a couple of Epson 3D/2D projectors, and Panasonic's almost 3 times the price 3D capable PT-AE7000 are close in brightness, and of those, the least expensive is the Epson 3010 about $500 more (but with 3D, and 2 pair of 3D glasses.
For those "focused" soley on 2D, this has to be the big value projector if brightness is a key requirement
Nothing wrong with the performance. The Blacks are entry level for a 3LCD projector with a dynamic iris, but even that's "not so bad", better than some DLP's lacking a dynamic iris.
Add maximum placement flexibility, and 2D only fans in the $1000 price range shouldn't have much challenge deciding if this is the "one". A one year warranty is decent, but there are better for the price.