Projector Reviews

1080p Projector Comparison Report-Special Features

Ultra-high-contrast projectors

The phrase is ours, here at I started using it three years ago, to describe the projectors that, one way or another, end up with black level performance meeting a subjective standard that I define. It represents the projectors that have contrast and black level performance that is at least a step up from the rest, but most importantly, it describes those projectors whose black level performance is so good, that very dark scenes (and some mixed scenes) are still sufficiently good, that other factors become increasingly important. That is, you reach a point, and might say something like: “The blacks are pretty darn good. I’d like them better still (of course), but, ya know what? I would rather have a slightly sharper projector with these blacks, than a projector this sharp, but with better blacks. Or the trade-off might be color accuracy, brightness, etc. The point is, these projectors all have impressive black level performance, even if there is a good deal of difference between the best and least of them.

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. In fact, so good, that only a few projectors just three years ago, could match the worst of today’s 1080p projectors. However, there have been two notable technology shifts. 3LCD projectors have improved in native contrast with new polarization techniques and other improvements, and one LCoS manufacturer has simply managed to redesign their LCoS panels allowing contrast and black levels that are magnitudes better than previous LCoS projectors. That would be JVC. Epson was first of the ultra-high-contast projectors when their 1080 UB launched. For them, they are shipping 3rd generation “ultra-high contrast” projectors. Today, all four of the major 3LCD manufacturers in home theater space are using dynamic irises, polarization, and inorganic LCD panels on their top of the line units.

Of note, only JVC accomplishes great black level performance without resorting to using dynamic irises (a topic for another time). Despite the lack of a dynamic iris, their two top of the line models are unmatched at black level performance.

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.

We consider the following projectors to fit the description of ultra-high-contrast

BenQ W6000
Epson 8500UB and 9500UB
InFocus SP8602
Mitsubishi HC7000
Panasonic PT-AE4000
Planar PD8150
Sanyo PLV-Z3000
Sony VPL-WV85

In addition, these projectors come close enough that I often think of them as ultra-high contrast. Since my measure is subjective, that means that there are times I’m satisfied with their black performance, and other times I wonder if perhaps I should have raised the bar a bit more:

Black performance a bit more

Optoma HD8600
Sharp XV-Z15000
Sony VPL-HW15

Lens Shift

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.