Projector Reviews

2011 Home Theater Projector Comparison Report-10

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.

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:
Optoma HD8600
Sharp XV-Z15000
Sony VPL-HW15