Best Home Theater Projector Report 2013: $2000 and Under Projectors 2

Optoma HD23 projector

The Optoma HD23 is a single chip DLP projector with respectable brightness, but not a light cannon. In the US it seems to be exclusively sold by Best Buy, for $999 last time I looked. The HD23 has a fairly typical feature set for a low cost DLP projector. No lens shift, and a limited range zoom of 1.2 which is common.

The HD23 claims 5,000:1 contrast ratio for better than the most entry level blacks but accomplishes that with their ImageAI processing rather than a dynamic iris. The ImageAI does slightly improve black levels, but is rough around the edges. It’s a bit noticeable, so use it if it doesn’t bother you. Over all, black levels are entry level, making this a projector better for the family room than a cave.

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The Optoma HD23 has the power needed for a respectable sized screen in a family room environment. 120″ diagonal would not be unreasonable at all, as we measured over 700 lumens calibrated and over 1400 in an very acceptable “brightest mode.”

There is one unusual special feature, which is something right out of the LCDTV playbook. The HD23 projector offers “Superwide” a hybrid sized solution for minimizing the letter box. Obviously it’s cropping off part of the picture, but it’s an option some might care for.

All considered the HD23 is a good value for a 2D only projector. The highlight is not any of the usual special features, but rather a really good, sharp image, with very good color. The HD23’s “pop” comes from that color, rather than having more lumens.

Optoma HD33 projector

When the HD33 was released last year, it was, at $1499, the first under $2000 3D capable, 1080p projector, to ship in the US.  We were extremely impressed.

A number of additional 3D capable models started shipping since, which tended to make the HD33 not stand out, to the degree anticipated by my review.  That is, the brighter Epsons and some others made it hard to stay focused on the some of the Optoma HD33’s strengths.  This Optoma measured in the 1100+ lumen range, both calibrated and “brightest”  (not much difference between the two).  That said, it is a projector that seems to be extremely well liked by those that now own one.  It lacks the brightness of the similarly priced Acer H9500BD, and also the placement flexibility, but calibrated, last year, it did more accurate color than that Acer.  Since then, Acer upped their game by adding missing color controls.

If you can get past the placement flexibility (basic 1.2:1 zoom, no lens shift), and not too great lens offset, the Optoma HD33, is definitely a serious contender for those who want the look of DLP, and very accurate skin tones and color in general.

The Optoma HD33 has very good build quality, a solid feel, and in general, since I already mentioned the Acer, compared to this HD33, the Acer is a definitely “rough around the edges” in terms of features.

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Panasonic PT-AR100U Projector

Back again (a two year cycle – at least) is Panasonic’s light canon, the 2800 lumen PT-AR100U This “brilliant” projector is 2D only, and about the brightest real home entertainment projector around, although more competition is around the corner.   Only a couple of Epson 3D/2D projectors, and Panasonic’s almost 3 times the price 3D capable PT-AE8000, are close in brightness, and of those, the least expensive is the Epson 3020 at about $500 more (but with 3D, and 2 pair of 3D glasses).

For those “focused” solely on 2D, this is a top value choice, for those that need lots of brightness.

Nothing wrong with the performance.  The blacks are entry level for a 3LCD projector with a dynamic iris, but even that’s “not so bad”, better than some DLP’s lacking a dynamic iris.

Add maximum placement flexibility, and 2D only fans in the $1000 price range shouldn’t have much challenge deciding if this is the “one”.  A one year warranty is decent, but there are a few better warranties around for the price.

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Sharp XV-Z30000 projector

What a difference a generation makes. Sharp’s XV-Z30000 is a major change from their Z17000, the first affordable 3D capable 1080p projector to hit the streets. The XV-Z30000 projector is completely reworked with motorized 2:1 zoom replacing a shorter range manual zoom.

We hit a placement problem with this Sharp projector – not physically, but with this report.  Due to the XV-Z30000 showing up twice on Woot, the most recent time when was checking prices for this report, we placed the Sharp projector in the under $2000 price range.  Now as I finish writing this report, it seems to be back up in the $2100+ range.   Sorry have to go with what I started with, or would have to redo all the awards, to move it back up.  This happens with about one projector per annual report.

The XV-Z30000 offers Lens Memory, the least expensive projector we’ve ever reviewed that gives you a good way to own Cinemascope shaped wide screen.

Brightness of the XV-Z30000 is technically just average, although the average 3D projector is a good bit brighter. 532 calibrated lumens is healthy enough, however to fill a typical 110″ screen. Brightest mode is almost 1100 lumens and the Z30000 projector still manages over 1000 lumens after Mike further tuned it for improved color.

Black levels are very good, they are what we call “ultra-high contrast. The Sharp has dual irises, and it gets the job done. Only the Acer H9500BD and BenQ W7000 of the under $2500 projectors in this report can rival the Sharp’s blacks. Add to that the Sharp’s excellent dark shadow detail abilities.

Although I’m a big fan of having a lot of brightness behind them, I can’t help but really enjoy watching this projector. Also of note, it seems to be quieter than most of the competition. Oh it’s still a touch noisy, at full power, but, it might be acceptable for those most noise adverse when most of the projectors in the price range would not be except in their eco-modes.

Out of the box the color modes are mostly a bit cool, but still pretty good. Calibrated, we couldn’t get the Z30000 to be as good as we would like, but we do know the reason. The Sharp XV-Z30000 was reviewed before we started calibrating not just the grayscale, but also the individual colors. With a CMS calibration that should allow the Sharp to deliver the last 5-10% of accuracy. Combined with the DLP look and feel, this should result in a rather excellent final picture.

The most surprising thing about the Sharp XV-Z3000 is perhaps that this $4999 projector is selling for close to $2000! Impressive value.

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Viewsonic Pro8200 projector

The Pro8200 is back again, as well.  This year it is priced at $799 most places online. That’s not much change from last year’s pricing, but this Pro8200 is still a good value  Its lack of  dynamic iris leaves it with pretty basic black level performance, not quite up to the much more expensive Mitsubishi HC4000, or BenQ W1070, but should be fine matched to the right folks.  And those would be folks with brighter rooms – family rooms, etc. We measured about 1650 lumens at brightest, and over 1400 calibrated.  In those brighter rooms that can’t be fully darkened, the black level advantage of some competitors will be lost, further cementing the value of this Viewsonic Pro8200.

Right, Viewsonic Pro 8200 projector tackles some NFL football.

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This Viewsonic is part cross-over.  Thus, it’s not suprising that it has a decent speaker.  That’s cool for taking the Pro8200 out back for a movie night with the kids.  There’s even an audio out, so you could feed a separate audio system, or, perhaps better for that outdoor movie night, a small powered subwoofer, to add some respectable bass to the overall sound.

The color wheel seems in the “middle of the pack” in terms of speed.

The Pro8200 offers a 1.5:1 zoom for better placement flexibility than the usual under $1000 DLP home projectors.

Add to that,what is the best warranty I’m aware of, of any under $1000 home projector – three years parts and labor!

This Viewsonic when first releases was a couple times more expensive, and overpriced. Last year Viewsonic got serious and brought the price down to where the competition gets nervous.

Vivitek H1080FD projector

The Vivitek H1080FD is back again, for the 4th time.  It first appeared in our 2010 report, and now sells for drastically less than it’s original, roughly $3000 pricing, however it has been recently replaced by the H1085 version. For that reason, no point in getting into many details, that are likely to change when we review the H1080FD’s replacement.

This Vivitek projector is typically sold sub-$1000 and should officially be $899, even if there seem to be some online resellers in the $1000 range. This single chip DLP projector has good color and it delivers over 800 calibrated lumens to your screen! The H1080FD is a light cannon that delivers over 1800 lumens in a respectable looking “brightest mode”. The Vivitek is ready to take on some far from great rooms, even on some nicely large screens.

Right, from Men In Black, projected with the Vivitek H1080FD

For those of us who are rainbow sensitive (a small segment of the population), the Vivitek projector’s 3X color wheel is a bit slow, so we’re more likely to see rainbows.

How the new H1085 is improved over the H1080FD I can’t say, but I can tell you that the color on this Vivitek is pretty good for a projector in its price. I did mention in the review that a couple of not much more expensive projectors are a little better. Rainbow effect notwithstanding, the H1080 is a very solid entry level projector, which should assure us that the H1085 with some improvements, should be very interesting.

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