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

1080p Home Projector Highlights

Below is a short paragraph or two highlighting key aspects of each under $2000 projector considered for this review.

$2000 and under 1080p Home Theater Projectors

Acer H6510BD

This first one is tricky.  When I started writing this page, I had planned on still including the H6500 we reviewed last year.  This year’s H6510BD has been improved, and I learned on 3/18, that one was being rushed to me.  Sorry, no chance to do a full review before this report, in fact it won’t be calibrated until after I publish the report.  Still, I did want to update to the H6510BD, looking at the improvements over last year’s entry level 1080p projector from Acer.

With an official street price (MAP) of $799, the Acer H6510BD is certainly one of the least inexpensive 1080p projectors available today.  Like the H6500, the H6510BD, is pretty bright, no, this one should be a “wall melter” of a home projector.  With a 3000 lumen claim, no question we have to consider this Acer projector to be a real light canon, in home projector terms.  Contrast is claimed at 10,000:1, an impressive number for entry level, still, this projector is no match for the H9500BD which probably has the best blacks of any projector around $1500 or less.

The H6510BD is a 3D capable projector, and even includes 2D to 3D conversion for those interested in “pushing their luck” I haven’t seen any 2D-3D projector conversion yet that I’d use for normal movie or other viewing (except for maybe home videos).  The Acer is a “crossover” projector with its heritage on the business side, with a 2 watt speaker (more native home, entertainment projectors with speakers are more likely to have 5, 7, 10 or even two 10 watt speakers.  A two watt isn’t going to do much for movie watching, but fine for Jeopardy.

Acer H9500BD projector:

The Acer H9500BD appeared and was reviewed in time for last year’s annual report.  We were truly impressed with the overall performance, but were slightly disappointed by the lack of a full set of color controls.  There were a number of features that were “rough around the edges”, including some issues for those who use a PC rather than a blu-ray player, receiver, etc.  Acer came through.  From hearing from readers, Acer got around to most things that legitimately weren’t right.  But they did more than that.  They expanded the color controls plus other improvements.

The Acer H9500BD tackles (easily) a dark scene from Narnia: Dawn Treader

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Since this was one of the top award winners last year based on what we reviewed, I wanted to see if all those updates resulted in a better projector.  I’ve been watching it, the last few days.  I was almost immediately believing that after Mike’s calibration this time, this Acer projector definitely looks a little better than last year’s.

The Acer H9500BD is still a bit rough around the edges, for example, it’s a bit ruder than most projectors while finding and locking on to HDMI signals (which are most things these days).  While it’s a slow process due to HDMI copy protection (HDCP), and projectors often change brightness, irises reset when resolutions change etc.  But the Acer likes to put some bright flashes of red and sometimes other colors while all this is going on.  You know what? That means nothing when you are watching content.  Still, by comparison, the competing Epson just flashes a small status in the corner – much more polite.   The iris could be a little less noticeable, it tends to yo-yo, noticeably brightening or darkening sometimes with only slight changes in a scene like a person with a light shirt walking around a room. That’s probably the one issue I still have.

What makes the H9500BD rock, is the combination of DLP picture, and the best blacks I’ve seen around $1500 or less.  The Acer is straddled by two BenQ DLP’s in price which are interesting alternatives, but the Acer, may be the least expensive projector for a really serious enthusiast.  Lens shift too.  Range is limited but, nothing like having lens shift for a proper setup.

Overall, the H9500BD is a lot of value for the price.  It’s pretty bright overall, and also offers very respectable 3D, one pair of glasses included (white!)

BenQ W1070 Home Theater Projector

We published our projector review of BenQ’s W1070 just after New Year.

This $999 DLP projector looks good!  Especially for the price.  And it comes impressively loaded.  A modest amount of vertical lens shift separates it from most other low cost DLP projectors.  The under $1000 competition is almost all devoid of any lens shift at all, and that certainly makes it easier to ceiling mount.   The zoom lens is a 1.3:1, which is a little more range than most other lower cost DLP projectors.  At less than 6 pounds, here’s a solid home theater/entertainment projector you can take with you.

The W1070 projector is 3D capable (glasses not included), and does a very nice job.  The projector is physically one of the smallest home theater projectors out this year.  It has an internal speaker, the usual pair of HDMI inputs, and a very annoyingly basic remote that lacks backlit buttons.

Black Levels are good for sub-$1000, but are not “ultra-high-contrast”.  Still, the W1070 easily bests the more expensive Epson Home Cinema 3020 at black level performance.  The W1070 has to be considered a “light canon”.  While it doesn’t quite get to 2000 lumens (by our conservative testing), calibrated it is more than 1500!  And it calibrates particularly well. Skin tones in particula,r look vivid.

BenQ W7000 Projector

The BenQ W7000 is back, again, for the second year.  This BenQ projector is more expensive, but now under $2000 street price 3D capable projector, and a pretty bright one at that.  Strengths include DLP sharpness, lots of lumens, clean 3D, and, minor as it sounds, a great remote control.

Real lens shift and a 1.5:1 zoom lens give this projector tremendous placement flexibility compared to most other under $2000 single chip DLP projectors. Like the W1070 above, it is a light canon.  This BenQ W7000 projector beats 1500 lumens calibrated, and at maximum, makes it to 2000 lumens!

Black levels are definitely better than the W1070, as this I consider to be a real “ultra-high-contrast” projector even if its black level performance is not up to the best in class.  If there’s one downside, it’s the trade off for all that brightness.  The W7000’s lamp is rated 2000 hours at full power, 2500 in eco.  Today many competitors are 3000 or 4000 at full power, and 4000 or 5000 hours in eco, so lamp expense need to be factored in.

A bit older 3D capable projector, the W7000’s 3D glasses are infra-red, not RF, and heavier than the newest projectors’ 3D glasses.

Epson Home Cinema 8350 projector:

The Home Cinema 8350 is back for a third year. It was a pretty bright projector when it first shipped, but overall, is no match for the Epson Home Cinema 3020 projectors in terms of brightness.  Of course this Epson lacks 3D, where that extra brightness is really needed.   It is definitely usable in both family room and dedicated home theater environment.

What is noteworthy is that this Epson has the full lens shift that the HC3020 projectors lack, plus a 2:1 zoom, compared to the more expensive 3020’s 1.6:1 zoom.  No contest, this mainstay of the Epson line only really has one other competitor with similar placement flexibility.

Warranty – always an Epson strength, is 2 years parts and labor, with a 2 year replacement program.  And to keep the rest of costs down, the lamp is rated 4000/5000 hours.  Finally, the Home Cinema 8350 draws less electric than most other projectors.  Out here in California, land of ridiculous electricity prices, that can make a difference.

Epson Home Cinema 3020, 3020e projectors

New for this year’s report are two slightly different Epson 3LCD powered, 3D capable projectors.  The only physical difference is that the “e” has wireless hdmi.  From a pricing standpoint there’s a $200 difference, but it plays out this way.  At $1599 the Home Cinema 3020 comes with 2 pair of 3D glasses.  For 300 more, at $1899, the Home Cinema 3020e comes with built in WirelessHD (the ability to send your HDMI wirelessly instead of running cable.)

Right, the Epson 3020e showing off projecting a transition frame from Monday Night Football.

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Every projector needs AC power, but usually, that’s not too hard to run to your projector.  Many ceilings already have electric in them. More difficult, typically, is getting HDMI from wherever your electronics are, to your projector.  This often means opening up multiple walls and your ceiling, to run cables.

For the person with the existing home theater, who wired it more than 3-4 years ago,with component video, that person already has power by where his new projector goes, so no new wires to run with WirelessHD, and that can save far more than the $300 difference.

Both versions are extremely bright projectors, with the same brightness specs (and everything else but the wirelessHD).  They are suitable for family rooms, bonus and livingrooms, handling both 2D and 3D.  Sure, the Home Cinema 3020 and 3020e are just as at home in a dedicated home theater (except, they are white), but with roughly 2000 usable, measured lumens, it’s about twice as bright as the average home theater projector in terms of maximum brightness.   Calibrated, with great color, these two Epson projectors are still much brighter than most of the competition!

3D’s impressive, 2D’s got really good color.  Black levels are decent, nothing exceptional – these Epson Home Cinema 3020 and 3020e projectors are not ultra high contrast, like the more expensive 5020 UB series.

A warranty with 2 years parts and labor, plus a replacement program for both years, is about unbeatable in the price range, though there are a couple of projectors with 3 year warranties, just no replacement programs.

Mitsubishi HC4000 projector:

It is time Mitsubishi replaced this aging projector.  The Mitsubishi HC4000 has had better than typical black level performance for a lower cost DLP projector.  It had always been the best of those without a dynamic iris.  That may still be the case, but today, there are less expensive DLP projectors with dynamic irises. The HC4000 though has been around, for about four and a half years if you count two years of the HC3800 – its near identical predecessor.

Placement flexibility is limited, as is typical of low cost single chip DLP’s, certainly compared to the few 3LCD projectors around its roughly $1100 street price.

Ultimately, though, it’s the sharp, crisp picture, with extremely good color accuracy for the price, and good brightness, that has, in the past, resulted in this projector’s popularity with both enthusiasts and purists lacking significantly larger budgets. We still like the HC4000, but would be much happier if it was now under $1000.   It finds a tough competitor in the BenQ W1070, which costs less, is brighter, and comes with 3D.

Optoma HD20 projector:

Optoma’s HD20 projector created a lot of fanfare when it first shipped about three years ago. It is still in the lineup as Optoma’s least expensive 1080p projector. It streets under $800 just about everywhere, though probably more at local big box houses like Best Buy or Wal-Mart.  It was the first 1080p resolution projector to be launched with an under $1000 price. ($999, of course, but that was, as noted, quite a while ago). The value of the HD20 primarily comes from its price. You still get1080p resolution for a price that only you 720p three years ago.

Black level performance is very entry level. There’s a dynamic AI, but its behavior’s a bit too noticeable, so we recommended this projector with the assumption that you don’t use the AI. If its action doesn’t bother you, leave it on, it’s that simple. Of particular note, the HD20 has one of the fastest color wheels in the low price range, to minimize the rainbow effect for those who are sensitive. The faster color wheel is no doubt part of why the HD20 is not quite as bright as some others (ncluding the Vivitek, Viewsonic, and BenQ), but it does set it apart from several other “entry level” home entertainment projectors for those who are rainbow sensitive.

The HD20 has come down from $999 to typically selling for $700 to $800, which is great, but we look forward to its replacement.  There’s a new HD25-LV (LV in the past has been Optoma’s moniker for their brightest home projectors).  The HD25-LV, unfortunately was not shipping in time for this report.  We hope to get our hands on one, in the next couple of months.  The HD25-LV was just announced.

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