It gets old using this expression, but, for years, better black levels have been the "holy grail" for home theater projectors. Truth is, all of these 1080p projectors have at least decent black level performance. And almost all over $3000 projectors qualify as ultra-high contrast.
Of note, only the top end JVC accomplishes truly great black level performance without resorting to using dynamic irises (a topic for another time). Epson, on the other hand, relies on a dynamic iris, but delivers blacker blacks than any other projector I've seen, anywhere near its price.
The point of this non-feature, but rather, level of performance discussion, is that once you get up to these projectors, blacks are starting to get very black. What that means is that when choosing between these projectors, you may still focus on getting the best black level performance, but the incremental improvement is now less important to many, than other abilities, such as lots of brightness, especially good skin tones, easy placement, better warranty and support.
Those projectors we define as being ultra high contrast include:
Under $2000: Panasonic PT-AE4000, Sanyo PLV-Z4000
$2000 - $3500: All but the Mitsubishi HC6800 and Vivitek H5080
$3500+: All projectors listed
Lens shift is all about a projector's placement flexibility. Projectors with adjustable lens shift definitely provide more placement options. Since virtually everyone wants their projector setup, up high, rather than just putting it on a table, lens shift is needed to allow you to place a projector on a shelf (in the rear of your room), instead of restricting it to ceiling mounting. This is a huge plus for many owners. First, it puts the projector behind where most people sit (rather than overhead or just in from of the viewer), which helps in making the projector's fan noise less noticeable. The other advantage for most installations, is that running cabling is usually simpler, and less expensive than ceiling mounting. This is true for several reasons. In most homes, people are likely to have power readily accessible on most walls, on the other hand, most likely people will find that they don't have a power source in the ceiling. Running power to the ceiling to power the projector tends to be an additional, potentially significant expense. Further, if one has high ceilings getting cabling, as well as power, up there, becomes a lot more complicated than to a back wall.
Another disadvantage of not having adjustable lens shift, is that without it, the projector must be mounted at exactly the right height, instead of over a wide range. As it turns out, those projectors without adjustable lens shift, are designed to be mounted above the screen top. That offset is typically about 18 inches above the top of the screen surface for a 100" screen, and more or less, depending on the screen size. In more than a few cases, people with normal or low ceiling heights (8 foot or less) find they can't use a projector with that much offset. For those going with really large screens, say over 120 inch diagonal, you may need a ceiling height of 9 feet, or more. I receive more than a few emails from folks telling me they really had their heart set on this projector or that (without lens shift), but that they couldn't mount it high enough due to ceiling height.
All projectors with lens shift have vertical lens shift, while not all have horizontal lens shift. Vertical is the important one for most. Horizontal comes into play if you can't mount the projector with the lens centered relative to the center of the screen horizontally. Thus, horizontal lens shift can be important if there is a reason the projector must be mounted slightly to either side.
Adjustable vertical lens shift means you can mount the projector over a wide range of height relative to the top of the screen. Most typically, a projector with lens shift can be placed anywhere from a couple of feet above the top of the screen, all the way down to below the bottom (talk about flexible). A few projectors have less shift range, although all, to my knowledge, can at least be mounted as high as the top of the screen. I won't get into horizontal lens shift here (it's dealt with in the various reviews), but below is a short breakout of all the projectors as to whether they do, or do not have adjustable lens shift.
Most projectors today, except for the more entry level DLP projectors have at least vertical lens shift. All projectors in our mid and top classes have lens shift.
Creative Frame Interpolation
Creative Frame Interpolation (CFI) has been a hot topic around here for the last three years. Today, about half of the projectors in this report offer CFI.
Two years ago, only four projectors in the report offered CFI. Now just about all of the new top of the line models offer it, except for the Runco LS-5, and some lower priced ones as well. The least expensive CFI equipped projectors this year, are under $2000.
While a few people are really enamoured with the idea of CFI, I like it to a point. I think it's great for most sports, and for some other content. With most CFI implementations, I don't like the effect on standard 24 fps film based movies. At its best, it does improve sports viewing, and improve slow panning, but at its worst, it creates visible artifacts, sometimes annoying ones. For you to consider: If a projector smooths out a fast action scene, the scene can become too tame. The director knows what the scene is going to look like without CFI, but if they saw the effect of CFI, they just might say "hmm, the action now seems muted." In other words, CFI may well damage the "director's intent." Only the Panasonic, of these projectors, can do anything with a normal movie shot at 24fps on film, and there are times when it is over the top. One tendency is to make film movies look more like "live digital video" or as some call it, "the soap opera effect."
On the other hand, if your projector offers CFI, no one says you have to use it for content when you don't like the effect.
This year I've seen a couple of CFI's that are virtually free of any of the live digital video look when viewing movies. The Mitsubishi HC9000D is my take on what a great CFI looks like, for movie viewing, if one wants to smooth out 24fps.