Projector Reviews

Home Theater Projector Comparison Report: Best in Class Awards for 2012

As you read about each award winner and runner-up, the images will be from the projector you are reading about.

This year, things have gotten more complicated, by virtue of a significant number of 2D and 3D capable projectors. The reason is that there are some projectors that are great at 2D, but either lack 3D, or perhaps have 3D, but their 3D is very disappointing (ex. if very dim, or too much crosstalk.) Based on the emails and blog comments I get, most of our readers seem to be at least very interested in 3D capability, many insist on it, but then, also I get a fair amount of: “3D is not of interest to me”, “I don’t care about 3D”, and also: “I’m not worried about 3D for me, maybe for the kids”.

For this reason, you will see certain of our Best In Class type awards that say 2D. That could include, specifically, great 2D only projectors, but also projectors great at 2D, but relatively weak at 3D, compared to the competition.

The Panasonic PT-AR100U and the JVC DLA-X70 would each be a good example of projectors we might highly recommend for 2D usage, one lacking 3D, and the other – where 2D performance is great, but 3D can’t match most of the competition. This paragraph has been written prior to selection of the winners, so you never know how this will turn out, until you scroll down.

Best in Class Award 2D only: PT-AR100U

Panasonic’s PT-AR100U would have been even more fun if it also had 3D, but then, it certainly wouldn’t be selling for $1199 (a Panasonic promo had it down to $999 through the end of March). There may be plenty of excellent low cost projectors out there to consider, but the Panasonic PT-AR100U really shines – it is just brighter than all the rest, making Panasonic’s PT-AR100U the king of the the family room / bonus room environment.

It is the official brightest “light canon” that’s a true home projector, not some souped up biz projector crossing over.  Cross over projectors are usually bright, but picture quality is definitely compromised compared to this Panasonic

So, want a real home projector? One that can tackle some serious room lighting? And do a good picture at the same time? Whether $1199 or $999 street price, it seems to be a class of one. It’s got, typically 25% to 60% more brightness than the competition when considering the various modes.

The Panny calibrates well, final skin tones look really good. Can you do better if you are a purist? Well, you could consider a competing DLP, a few do get somewhat close in brightness, but have that slightly different look and feel. That said, the Panasonic projector has better placement flexibility than every other projector we could think of within $200 of its selling price (higher or lower), except for Epson’s 8350, which matches it in this regard, but cannot slug it out in brightness.

You can even put the PT-AR100U in a dedicated home theater, and it will do fine there. I prefer projectors with a bit better blacks: “ultra-high contrast” projectors, if you’ve got the cave, but then, only a couple costing up to a few hundred more dollars, can actually best the PT-AR100U, at black level performance.

The PT-AR100U projector is a gamer, too, with lag times in the 30ms range. It’s not the fastest around (we do see some 0 lag projectors – those are always DLPs), but our gamer bloggers are hard core, and say a projector with lag times like this, works just fine.

At first I expected the projector to be selling for around $1500, and was definitely concerned about its value proposition. At the lower price points though, there’s no question about the value.

Didn’t take long, though for Panasonic to adjust their dealer costs, etc., to result in a list price $1999 projector that sold for just $999 until recently.

There are a couple of competing, and lower cost, DLP projectors we like, that also are 2D only. One of those may appeal to you. That said, for most first time buyers, (plus those buying their “next’ projector in this budget range, those who are not purists, but are needing a projector in the low price ranges), this is the projector that should at least start at the top of your shopping list.

Best In Class - Runner-up (2D Only): BenQ W6000

Here we have another projector back for a second year. Last year though, the W6000 picked up an award in the mid-price tier, the $2000 – $3500 Projector Class.

This year, the W6000 seems to be selling around the $1500 price point, based on a quick online search.   Last year we commended the W6000 as being an exceptionally bright single chip DLP projector, with a very sharp image, and very impressive (though not the best), black level performance in that price range.  Black levels were comparable, perhaps a touch better, than the Panasonic PT-AE4000, not as good as the old Epson 8700UB, the reigning black level champ in the price range last year.

This year, you get the same projector, for about 60 cents on a dollar compared to last year’s price.  It was worth the $2000 plus price less than a year ago, and it is, by my take, easily worth the roughly $1500 today.

The only projector we considered this year, in the under $2,000 price range, that might be able to give the BenQ W6000 a run for the money in terms of black levels, is the Acer H9500BD.

Since the H9500BD is 3D capable, Acer had to make it fairly bright.

The BenQ W6000, though was the brightest canon around last year, so can pretty much match the Acer, lumen for lumen.  With Brilliant Color on, this BenQ came in close to 1050 lumens, and their BC implementation is not as strong as most, meaning not as big a jump in brightness, and meaning not as “over the top” as Brilliant Color tends to be under close inspection. When you need all the lumens, the W6000 is slightly brighter than the Acer.