1080p Home Theater Projector Comparison Report – Image Quality11

Sony VPL-VW85

I really liked this Sony, but for a touch of red: It’s those reds, darn! Despite that small extra touch of reds evident in most skin tones, I’d say skin tones look extremely good. Understand how we work here. Mike takes the projectors and calibrates them. Very slight differences in how a calibrator approach things give slightly different results. While, for example, the color temp numbers are right on, slightly different individual color settings will provide similar, but different final tonal balance.

Vivitek H9080FD

The Vivitek really did a great job: Once calibrated skin tones turn out to be excellent. I didn’t say much more about them, rather spent most of the wordage trying to explain why a projector with great color has one of the worst looking sets of photos, in the review. I do believe something about the LED light source is driving my camera crazy, but it looks great on the screen.

Black Levels & Shadow Detail

In this section, I’ll discuss the combination of black level performance and shadow detail as one. Overall, some of these projectors do a little better (after normal adjustment), than others, in terms of shadow detail. That said, I consider those differences to be rather minor. Of far greater concern, is the black level performance. Often, after calibration, it is the black level performance that really separates these projectors from each other, far more so than other attributes. Thus – to a large degree, great black levels continues to be the quest for the “holy grail” of projector performance. Note, for those of you not familiar, the old CRT home theater projectors (from years ago), due to CRT technology, do essentially perfect black levels. All these fixed display projectors (3LCD, DLP, LCoS), by comparison, cannot produce a true black, so the quest to get as close as possible, still dominates home theater projector design.

I’ll be referring to what I call “ultra-high-contrast” projectors quite a bit in this section, so a quick warning: I’ll start referring to those as UHC projectors from time to time, to save keystrokes.

$2000 and under 1080p Home Theater Projectors

Only two of the projectors in this group qualify as what I refer to as “ultra-high-contrast” projectors. The Panasonic, an LCD projector, and, the Sharp XV-Z15000 a DLP projector. The Panasonic does have the best blacks and very good shadow detail, compared to other projectors in this class.

BenQ W1000

The BenQ had perfectly good shadow detail, and the worst black levels of the 10 projectors in this class. Let’s face it, the BenQ is also the brightest projector in the report this year. The BenQ W1000 breed of projector is going to be found hanging around in family rooms and bonus rooms. The presumption is you need all those 2000+ lumens because you’ve got to deal with some real, ambient light. While better black levels are always a good thing, and provide a better picture, when there’s a decent amount of ambient light present, it’s going to negate almost all of the advantage of a projector with much better blacks. In other words, if you are using this as expected, the black levels are acceptable.

Epson Home Cinema 8100

Epson certainly cranked up the spec on the contrast, so everyone was expecting a substantial improvement in blacks. Turns out they only improved slightly since all the improvement was from the dynamic iris. Ultimately, this year’s 8100 can do a slightly blacker black on the darkest scenes, but there’s no noticeable change in most mixed scenes. That said, the 8100’s black level performance, is very good, but still a little shy of being a UHC (ultra-high contrast) projector. The Epson is easily superior to projectors like the low cost DLPs as well as the Sanyo PLV-Z700, the Samsung, and probably a little better than the Viewsonic. On the other hand, it definitely still comes up short of the true UHC Panasonic PT-AE4000

Epson’s never been great on dark shadow detail. Seems they always lose a tiny bit. Well, that helps give their image all that pop and wow, but the Epson Home Cinema 8100, ultimately, comes up a bit short of most of these other projectors, in regard to shadow detail.

Mitsubishi HC3800

Not sure how Mitsubishi did it, but the HC3800 has really good blacks for a basic DLP projector without a dynamic iris. It just blows away the other four DLP’s in this group, that lack dynamic irises. Of the DLP projectors in this class, only the iris equipped Sharp does a bit better in blacks. The Mitsubishi HC3800 may not quite be able to do as black as black as the Epson on the darkest scenes, but on most, mostly dark scenes, the HC3800 can best the Epson. In other words, these two are comparable, but different. The HC3800’s dark shadow detail is very good.

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