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.
With the HD20 AI operating, the HD20 can do some very nice dark blacks. But the visible action of ImageAI I find to be sufficiently noticeable that I recommended not using it. After turning it off, you are left with a basic DLP. It's going to do slightly better blacks than the other two $999 projectors, but the rest of the field will best it.
Winner! The PT-AE4000 really should be in the next group of projectors when one speaks of black levels. The black level performance of the PT-AE4000 is noticeably better than than all but one other projector in this class, and both blow away most of the others. The Panny is the most expensive projector in this class, and when it comes to black level performance, this is a true ultra-high contrast projector (though hardly the best). When separating the men from the boys, in black levels, the Panny is definitely one of the men. Nothing wrong with the dark shadow detail either. Not the very best, but close, definitely a bit better than the Epson 8100.
I was disappointed with the black level performance of the Samsung. It really didn't do any better than most of the lower cost DLPs, and it's blacks are no match for the several hundred dollar less Mitsubishi HC3800. Shadow detail, on the other hand, was very good.
While the Sanyo's shadow detail was very good, In the review, I wrote of being slightly disappointed with the black level performance of the Sanyo Z700. Not bad mind you, and better than the least expensive projectors in this class, including the three $999 DLPs. Still, it's not much better than the best of those.
Great black level performance! The Sharp XV-Z15000 is perhaps the best of the projectors in this class. The other one, of course, is the PT-AE4000. I'm not sure which has the edge. I had indicated last year, that the Sharp was at least the equal to the older PT-AE3000, but the PT-AE4000 did slightly improve black levels over its predecessor. Let's call them more different than better worse, and together, they are at the head of the Class.
Not bad at blacks. Definitely no match for the two champs, but should be about in the middle of the rest. Most likely the older Pro8100 is not quite a match for the Epson Home Cinema 8100 or the Mitsubishi HC3800, but it still will best the entry level DLP projetors and should be at least as good as the Sanyo PLV-Z700. Shadow detail, on the other hand was particularly good, at least compared to the competition almost two years ago.
The almost twin to the BenQ W1000, the Vivitek is the better of the two in terms of blacks performance. This is most likely due to the faster color wheel, of the Vivitek, and lower lumens. It should, however come up a little short of the Optoma HD20. Shadow detail was in plentiful supply, as is typical of projectors with modest black level performance.
Below, from Men In Black with the Epson Home Cinema 8100, and below it, Aeon Flux on the Vivitek H1080FD.
Above, two consecutive frames (I can't remember which was first) before/after a lightning flash. Projector: Mitsubishi HC5500.
Bottom Line: If your budget won't let you go over $2,000, and you're planning a room that has good lighting control, and you want really dark blacks, then your two top choices are the Sharp XV-Z15000 and the Panasonic PT-AE4000. If room conditions or other factors reduce the importance of that next step in black level performance, then it's the Mitsubishi and the Epson. The rest are all very entry level at blacks even though there's still enough differences to notice.