Projector Reviews

Best Home Theater Projector Report 2013: $2000-3500 Projectors 2

JVC DLA-X35 / RS-46 projector:

This year’s “entry level” for JVC, is the DLA-X35, aka the DLA-RS46.  It is an LCoS 3D and 2D capable projector, and anything but true entry level.  With an official price, this projector is supposed to only be available from authorized dealers, generally local ones.

Power everything! Zoom, focus, and lens shift all being motorized allows the JVC X35 to have Lens Memory, a feature that provides owners with the option of going with a “wide screen.”

As always with JVC’s lowest series projectors, the DLA-X35 does not have the full color management system found on the more expensive JVC projectors.  As with predecessors, we’ve never been able to get the color quite as accurate as with a number of close competitors, but it still looks pretty darn good.

Katniss “the girl on fire” in The Hunger Games, projected by the DLA-X35 projector.

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Calibrated brightness is just over 700 lumens which means means as a 2D projector, with controlled lighting, a very large screen is possible.  We’re talking 130 inch diagonal as quite doable, as an example (1.3 gain screen).  For dealing with ambient light, though there’s only about 250 more lumens available. That makes this a projector much happier in a good environment such as a home theater, than as a typical living room or family room. The DLA-X35W comes in white finish, and the DLA-X35B in black for those with rooms with dark ceilings. Color and picture are a bit pumped up in brightest – Stage mode, which does a good job of cutting through limited ambient light, and still look punchy.

3D is much improved over last year, but save it for those of you with smaller screens. By my reckoning, the DLA-X35 does a respectable job up to 100″ diagonal. Things start getting dim above that. This JVC lacks the “4K” e-shift2 system of the more expensive projectors (naw, it’s not true 4K).

JVC’s are very popular among enthusiasts, and I agree. While the X75R and and very pricy X95R with their truly superb black level performance are what most owners of the X35 (and earlier versions) crave, know that the X35 still must be considered a sweet ride, with a refined picture, for a far more reasonable price.

Panasonic PT-AE8000U Projector

Panasonic’s PT-AE8000U Home Theater Projector is basically an nicely updated PT-AE7000U with most notably, some real extra lumens.  This LCD projector can slug it out for honors of brightest projector in the class.  Black level performance is also improved, however, while very good to begin with, and better now, it still isn’t quite up to the three best in this class.

Where the Panasonic really excels is in fancy features.  It’s  hobbiest’s dream.  It’s CFI is especially good.  Those who love to tinker around will have fun with the waveform generator, also you can do split image for before/after comparisons for some controls.  Very cool.  Warranty, always an area of complaint for me, is much improved as well.  With registration, the Panasonic offers a third year warranty. Technically a promo, the offer has an expiration date. The only limitation to the warranty is Panasonic’s hour limit.  For heavy users – the 40 hour a week crowd, the warranty will end long before three years is up.

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Unlike most of the competition, the Panasonic PT-AE8000 has Lens Memory. Panasonic was the first company I recall offering it.  This is the feature for those that want a Cinemascope shaped screen, such as 2.35:1, not the 1.78 which is the normal 16:9 of HDTV.  Until a few years ago, you needed an expensive anamorphic lens to use a wide screen.

Calibrated lumens is in the 630 range, much heftier than in the past.  Large screens are now within reach of a properly calibrated Panasonic.  The brighter modes don’t offer as good color, but acceptable when you need it all for ambient light.

When it comes to 3D, although the PT-AE8000’s total lumens match the Epson’s, the Epson projectors are a little brighter through their respective glasses.  Not a huge difference, the Panasonic is probably the second brightest in the group, with the Sony not too far behind.  Speaking of 3D glasses, the Panasonic’s are the lightest ones I’ve seen yet.  They are the first to clock in just under 1 ounce.  27 grams if I recall from the review.

Sony VPL-HW50ES projector

What a difference a year makes.  Last year we enjoyed Sony’s HW30 but were hardly enthralled, but this year’s VPL-HW50ES is dramatically superior, and yes, a bit enthralling.

Right: Harry Potter projected with the HW50 ES projector. Both skin tones and blacks are impressive!

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The HW50ES calibrates beautifully, for great color and natural skin tones, but last year’s HW30 did that too.  Out of the box color was pretty good but not so good that you won’t get more value by calibrating it.  Or try our settings on the HW50ES review’s calibration page.

Much improved black levels, a real boost in brightness, and Reality Creation – Sony’s dynamic detail and sharpness enhancement, which (oversimplified) upscales to 4K and back. Like the JVC, this isn’t 4K, but it is “smarter” than previous functions so the end result is it does the best job of detail enhancement I’ve seen, including the JVC’s e-shift2 and Epson’s Super-Resolution.

A manual 1.6:1 zoom is respectable, although for some that want to place on a rear shelf, the HW50ES might not work in a lot of rooms.  Plenty of lens shift, both horizontal and vertical, like the zoom and focus, are manual.  The HW50ES does stutters a touch more on slow pans at 24fps than many others, but rarely should that be an issue.

3D is rather good, and with 1300 measured lumens under the hood at brightest, still with pretty good color, it looks comfortable on a 100″ diagonals screen doing 3D.  You an push even larger in screen size for 3D, but there are limits.

Just shy of 1000 calibrated lumens is outstanding.  Want a 130″ screen for 2D viewing?  Not even a challenge!

A three year warranty, longer than most projectors under $3500 is nice to have.

ViewSonic Pro9000

Viewsonic Pro9000 is the first true home theater projector we’ve reviewed with a laser-led light source. It’s great that you’ll never need to replace a lamp, but the high cost still, for such light engines takes what otherwise is a step up from entry level projector performance. Black levels are good, but just shy of our subjective “ultra-high contrast” designation.

The Pro9000 has one basic flaw. It doesn’t calibrate well, so while the color is probably fine for the non-discriminating LCDTV buyer, it isn’t the quality level one expects at this price point. For that reason it’s a tough rationalization considering the relatively high price.

Vivitek H5080

A very serious projector that’s best in a home theater, but pretty capable in a family room type environment.  This single chip DLP offers up over 1200 lumens calibrated, and a couple hundred more lumens at its brightest.

Good, but not great, “out of the box” color accuracy, nonetheless, its very watchable without calibrating it.  It just still improves a good bit with calibration.

Skin tones, post calibration are excellent!  A classic DLP when it comes to that rich look and feel of the image. Black levels are only very good – borderline being “ultra-high contrast”.  This projector has to be selling well, just for the great overall DLP color/look/feel.

The thing is, street prices for this projecor have plummeted.  Another month or two perhaps the Vivitek H5080FD would qualify for the under $2000 price class, where it should be a fearsome competitor.  As it is, try to remember, that this Vivitek is currently selling for near the low end of this Class – down near $2000.  By comparison, this year is a bit weird, as just about all the other projectors in this Class start at $2500 or more. We didn’t find an award for the Vivitek in this report, but then every projector it had to compete with in the mid-Class, sell for from a few hundred, to more than $1000 more.  It certainly can be considered a great, but more expensive competitor to lower cost projectors like the Acer H9500BD.