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Best Home Theater Projector Report - $2000-$3500 Brightness Performance

Posted on November 6, 2013 by Art Feierman

Home Theater Projectors - Brightness

Introduction:  There are three key aspects worth considering when considering a home theater projector's brightness:

The first is how bright the projector is, in its "best" mode (typically that mode bears a name such as Theater, Cinema 1, Movie, etc.).
In "best" mode, a projector typically works at its least bright, but provides its best color and black levels. (Note: when I refer to least bright, I'm talking "modes" and not whether a lamp is on full power or eco-mode.)

The second consideration is how usably bright a projector can get, at its brightest.Not everyone wants only to watch movies, and in a fully darkened environment. Many of us also watch TV/HDTV, and especially sports viewing, and other social events where some ambient light is desirable.

Note, while most home projectors are 25% to 50% brighter in brightest mode than calibrated mode, a few projectors may be two to three times as bright.  Those typically have a big advantage over most of the others.

The 3rd consideration is specific to people who will be watching 3D. It too is brightness related.  Note, that almost all new projectors over $2000 seem to be 3D capable.  Sony JVC, Epson, Mitsubishi, Optoma and Panasonic no longer offer 2D only projectors that sell for over $2000.

Projectors and 3D are a natural fit, thanks to the much greater immersion possible with a large screen.  Feel sympathy for those folks watching 3D on displays smaller than 80" inch diagonal. Invite them over, give them a thrill!

Expect 3D viewing to be no more than 40% as bright as 2D viewing with the same setup.  The more 3D interests you, the more you want to make sure you have a projector with sufficient power for respectable 3D..

See chart below for "How We Measure."

$2000 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projector Brightness

Header Content
Lumens Lumens Lumens
Best Mode Brightest Mode Comments
$2000 - $3500
Epson HC5020UB 678 2142 "Light cannon!"
Epson Pro Cinema 6020 678 2142 HC5020UB numbers
JVC DLA-X35/RS46U 703 951
Mitsubishi HC7900DW 701 1022 Brightest "watchable" mode
Mitsubishi HC8000D 465 888 Brightest "watchable" mode
Panasonic PT-AE8000 602 2178 "Light Cannon!"
Sony VPL-HW50ES 992 1300 Brightest UHContrast calibrated
ViewSonic Pro9000 448 725 1380 lumens max - marginally watchable
Vivitek H5080* 1218 1391

Below are brief comments on each projector, as they relate to brightness.

Epson Home Cinema 5020UB and 5020UBe projectors

Although these two Epsons (are reasonably bright calibrated with almost 700 lumens), and are more than capable of tackling a pretty large screens in that mode, the real power is in their pretty respectably good looking "brightest mode" where you'll find more than 2100 lumens.

Thanks to the horsepower, these Epsons are perfectly at home in either dedicated theater or family room.

When it comes to 3D, there are three modes, THX 3D, Cinema 3D and Dynamic 3D.  The THX offers the best color, and is reasonably bright on smaller screens.  Hit the "brightest" 3D mode, though and these Epson UB projectors look pretty darn good on a 124" diagonal screen, something few projectors can claim.

Epson Pro Cinema 6020 projector

Exactly what we said about the Home Cinema 5020UB and UBe above. When it comes to brightness performance there are no differences between the black cased Pro Cinema 6020UB and the two white Home Cinema 5020UB projectors.

JVC DLA-X35 and DLA-RS46 projector

These JVC's are fine projectors, but brightness is not their primary strength.  The JVC DLA-X35 and its twin, the RS46, are the brightest in the JVC lineup, and therefore perhaps the best choice among the JVCs for a family room. Keep in mind that, of the other eight projectors in this class, only one other projector is less bright when comparing brightest modes, and at that, by less than 10%.  On the other hand, of the remaining seven projectors, six can claim to be over 35% brighter, with three projectors over twice as bright.

These JVC projectors are available in both black and white cases. White (the one we reviewed) is the color of most non-home theater rooms.  Still, if you are going that route - family room, living room, etc., it's likely you'll find better choices where brightness is needed.

Mitsubishi HC7900DW projector

Once again, Mitsubishi is building less bright projectors.  I've even called them "condo" projectors.  But, this HC7900DW is a very competent projector with 700 calibrated lumens, and just over 1000 at brightest.

This is the "family room" version of the two Mitsubishi projectors listed here.

Small screen, in a family room, sure.  Clean 3D, classic DLP look and feel, and a sharp image, so take this projector seriously if it has the power for your setup. For 3D, this Mitsubishi uses standard universal glasses.  Its 3D brightness should be in line with other DLP projectors in that another DLP 30% brighter should be 30% brighter in 3D.

Mitsubishi HC8000D projector

Very similar to the HC7900DW, the HC8000D is geared strictly for the dedicated home theater or cave, rather than the "family room".

"Small screen" is the HC8000D's middlle name.  With only 465 lumens calibrated, it can handle a 100" screen or a little larger, but it only measured 888 in the brightest watchable mode.  (The HB mode is too over the top, too green to watch, and it can't be recalibrated).

Small home theater?  Great choice, of course DLP sharp, and like the HC7900DW, very good 3D.  This one though, likely is about as bright at 3D as the HC8000D despite the lumen rating difference.  That's due to the proprietary 3D glasses that only work with the HC8000D, that are brighter than the universal glasses that the HC7900DW uses.

Panasonic PT-AE8000

This is our #2 light canon in the class.  The PT-AE8000U can slug it out lumen for lumen, in terms of brightness with the Epsons, for brightest in the class.  Calibrated the PT-AE8000U is pretty bright at just over 600 measured lumens, about 10% less than those UB projectors.  Still, for all practical purposes, they are very close.

3D with the Panasonic, is comfortable with screen sizes in the 120" diagonal range, or a touch higher.

Family room, bonus room, or cave, this Panasonic PT-AE8000U projector, when it has too, has the brightness to get the job done as well as any.

Sony VPL-HW50ES projector

Far brighter than its predecessor, Sony's VPL-HW50ES clocks in with almost exactly 1000 calibrated lumens.  That's a "wow" level of brightness for a dedicated theater, calibrated, especially for a projector with a picture at this level.

Although no match for the 3LCD projectors, when comparing brightest mode, its 1300 'brightest" is most respectable.  I had this projector here extensively, and found I could do 3D larger than the usual 100" size with decent brightness. Still, it was definitely running out of steam on my screen's 124" size while watching 3D.  Definitely not as bright as the Epsons and Panasonic in terms of maximum usable brightness, but it can hold its own with just about any other high quality home theater projector.

ViewSonic Pro9000 projector

The Pro9000 is capable of home theater usage but should avoid the "family room" and ambient light. Let's not discuss calibrated mode, which at about 450 lumens, is about tied for the least bright, as the projector doesn't calibrate well. But as the Pro9000 doesn't calibrate very well, it can crank out almost 1400 lumens. This would definitely be family room kind of brightness, but the picture quality is very marginal. Unfortunately a good "brightest" mode is only about 725 lumens, which makes it the least bright in the class.

Vivitek H5080 projector

The Vivitek was calibratred with Brilliant Color on in "best" mode, so not surprising the brightest mode is only slightly brighter (about 15%).  That makes the H5080 a really bright home theater projector, and with almost 1400 lumens at max. It's ready for almost any family room type environment.  Of course as a 2D projector, there is no 3D brightness issue.

From a brightness standpoint, the Vivitek H5080 is a very good choice for DLP fans, who want to tackle tougher rooms than the typical 1000 lumens maximum of so many DLP's.

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