Projector Reviews

Best Home Theater Projector Report 2013 – Image Quality

Home Theater Projector Image Quality

The goal of this Image Quality section of our home theater report, is to allow you to quickly read over our findings for different home theater projectors. A portion of the content below will be snippets from the original reviews. That seemed to work well in past year’s report, so we’re sticking with it.

Right, Epson Home Cinema 3020e: Iron Man 2

Click Image to Enlarge

For image quality, our primary concerns will be:

Out of the box color (without adjustment)
Naturalness of flesh tones
Black levels and shadow detail
Projector brightness
Image sharpness
Overall image quality
 ( “feel” of the projector). My partially subjective opinions on “film-like performance”, ease of watching, and for lack of a better term, “wow factor” (some projectors just look good, and others make you think “awesome”, even though they may technically be very, very similar).

Let’s get started!

1080p Home Theater Projectors - Overall Picture Quality

Below a “snapshot” of how we feel about each of the roughly 30 projectors considered in this year’s report.  Depending on what I consider noteworthy, comments may touch more on some aspects of image quality than others.  I might rave about black levels with one projector, paying less attention to the actual color balance.  The goal is to give you a feel for how each projector does.  Consult the full reviews for more detail. In some cases the focus is on 3D and relative brightness, in others, great 2D viewing…

$2000 and under 1080p Home Theater Projectors

Acer H6500

While operationally both this Acer and the H9500BD below are a bit “rough around the edges”, picture quality is reasonably good for the price.  This is a very entry level 1080p home theater projector.  I don’t consider this an enthusiast’s projector, rather a nice projector for movies, HDTV, sports in particular, and gaming.  As to the color I said this in the review:

“It has acceptable color for most non-enthusiasts, and it can handle at least a little more ambient light or other room “flaws” than any of the most direct competition, and a lot more than the rest.”

Although still a good deal less expensive, which should protect Acer sales of the H6500, the advent of the BenQ W1070 recently, for $999 will likely have some potential H6500 owners finding the extra hundreds for the competition.

Acer H9500BD

Definitely my favorite “rough around the edges” projector. But it’s the picture that counts, and the H9500BD at the moment has the best black level performance around for the under $1500 street price.  In fact few under $2000 projectors even come close to it.  Color was OK, when first reviewed, but since then Acer has upgraded firmware, expanded color calibration controls, and is now capable of a much more accurate picture than before, making it true enthusiast’s projector.  Just make sure you can survive the “rough edges”, as mentioned in the review. This projector definitely needs the ability to save more than one memory’s worth of settings.

BenQ W1070

Picture quality and color accuracy in particular is one of the reasons this BenQ W1070 is the proud receipient of our Best In Class Value Proposition award.  The W1070 calibrates very well.  We said this in our review of the W1070 projector:  “On everything but the darkest scenes, the BenQ produces a really enjoyable, watchable picture,” also regarding how it looks right out of the box: ” Impressive, especially for an entry level priced 1080p projector. While we did calibrate the projector, it looks pretty good even in default modes such as Cinema and User 1, as well as Standard.”

Blacks could certainly be a lot better, but I’m not aware of any sub $1000 projector that is truly better.

BenQ W7000

The DLP BenQ W7000’s image quality has always been rather excellent post calibration.  This is one of two projectors this year, that I feel we slighted in this year’s Best In Class awards.  It was a Runner-Up last year, but this year I let the Sharp XV-Z30000 take the honors – but not because of superior image quality, rather more for the Sharp’s feature set.

The W7000 is a 3D and 2D light cannon, and it really has a lot of “wow factor” when viewed.  Black levels are excellent for the sub-$2000 price.

Epson Home Cinema 8350

From the original 8350 review:  The Epson Home Cinema 8350 is impressively good out of the box. Color temp (grayscale balance) is very close to 6500K. Not bad at all, in fact better than most projectors out of the box performance. What really surprised me though was Dynamic mode, which also defaults to 6500K. I’m pretty sure this is the best looking default Dynamic (or Vivid) mode Epson has produced.

Also of note, from the review summary:   Picture quality is very good. The color on this Home Cinema 8350 looks just great. Mike did a great job of calibrating it, but, the bottom line is that it almost always looks good. The Epson isn’t quite as forgiving of poor quality content as some others, but I’m not talking great differences. On HDTV and Blu-ray, it impresses. 

Even by today’s standards, the picture quality is very good. Black level performance is above average for the not much more than $1000 selling price.  The 8350, picture wise is rather forgiving. Brightest mode has a bit too much green, but better than many, and alternate “bright” modes are downright good!

Epson Home Cinema 3020 and 3020e

I could say mostly the same thing about these Home Cinema 3020 projectors when it comes to color and image quality: Really good right out of the box, and they calibrate well.  Despite having a dynamic iris, black levels are the HC3020 and HC3020e’s weakest image aspect, yet, the Home Cinema 3020’s blacks aren’t any worse than most other under $2000 projectors.  As an added benefit, the iris action is very smooth.  It’s just that there are a few that really beat the Epson there, including the W7000, Acer H9500BD, and the Sharp.  Well, at least two of the three sell for more, and the one that sells for less – the Acer, although it has much better blacks, its iris action is sometimes too easily noticeable.

Really nice color, and an overall forgiving picture helps the HC3020 and HC3020e tie the Acer for a Best In Class Runner-Up award.  Add to that being essentially the brightest 3D projectors under $2000, and the value proposition is a good one.    They put the “wow” into 3D by having enough brightness for vibrant 3D, but these Epson projectors really will rock the house in 2D, with plenty of great color, even with a fair amount of ambient light around. Really only the Panasonic can out msucle these powerful HC3020 projectors, and not by any significant amount.

Mitsubishi HC4000

An old favorite projector of ours, the HC4000 is certainly getting old.  With little change in four plus years (counting the HC3800 before it, which was almost identical), and prices still not dropping below $1000, you can buy brighter projectors for less, even with 3D, but the DLP based HC4000 was never really about bright. It was always about a classic DLP look and feel in terms of picture quality, with perhaps the best black levels among the under $2000 projectors that lack a dynamic iris.

As time changes this has become more of a projector suitable for family rooms on moderate or smaller screen sizes, and less than great lighting control.  I always liked the HC4000 and it’s won it’s fair share of awards, but consider it seriously threatened by the slightly less expensive BenQ W1070 on the DLP side, and by far brighter 3LCD projectors for a bit more money.

Optoma HD20

The HD20’s “out of the box” picture quality is rather good. From a color temperature standpoint, the HD20’s “best” mode is almost dead on the ideal 6500K, but that number doesn’t account for green being a bit down from red and blue. Still, very watchable.”  That’s one of the things we pointed out in the original review now more than 3 years ago. The HD20 just won’t go away.

One strength of the HD20 we noted, that’s still true, is that it had about the best black level performance of the entry level DLP projectors we’d seen at the time.

I’m not sure that it is still true, and there are more feature laden projectors for around the price, but the HD20’s strength is a really good picture, especially after some minor adjustment.  And, don’t forget, it’s a classic DLP projector with the rich dark colors that seem to be a DLP strength.

Optoma HD33

Out of the box:  “Cinema is a touch thin on red, but skin tones still look very respectable.”

Ultimately I summarized the HD33’s image quality rather nicely on that page of the review: “The HD33 looks and cooks like a DLP projector, and while a bit rough around the edges, seems to always put up a clean, enjoyable image on the screen. Darker scenes have that richness that I associate with DLP projectors.”  Note, the rough around the edges title fits the Acer projectors better these days.

“Generally scenes look very natural. As I said elsewhere, the HD33 is rather forgiving.”

Don’t get me wrong.  Blacks may not be great (consider the price, though), but this projector is also very nicely at home in a decicated theater.

Panasonic PT-AR100U and PT-AR100 (non-US version)

Back again, the PT-AR100U is a projector so bright, (remember it is 2D only), that it can still produce a rather impressive image, even with ambient light levels that would choke a lesser projector.  A great family room/ bonus room/ whatever room you have available, projector, the overall image quality is really rather good!  Out of the box I reported as being “downright impressive when it comes to out-of-the-box image performance.”

“After calibration, skin tones, which were already rather good using the REC 709 color profile, got even better.”

Blacks were OK for the price point, but no better. This is a projector built for your family room, or other tough environments, including sports bars.  It’s got the horsepower to cut through a fair amount of ambient light and still put up a good looking image without being washed out like much of the competition.  Check out our video on the PT-AR100U and also our videos about family room projectors and screen selection.

Viewsonic Pro8200

This is a straight repeat from last year:  Out of the box, we reported that Brightest mode looks pretty good (for a bright mode).  Standard looks best “out of the box”, just reduce saturation a bit.  None of the modes, without adjustment was close to the targeted 6500K, but that didn’t stop them from all looking reasonably good.

Once calibrated:  “Skin tones aren’t as perfect as I would like, but most won’t notice…Daytime scenes, really do look good, the brightness and vibrant colors do the trick. The darker scenes are where the Pro8200 no longer impresses.” That said, none of the sub $1000 projectors are impressive on really dark scenes.  Folks, that’s why people pay the “big bucks” for ultra high contrast projectors with much better blacks. None but a handful of projectors under $2000 can do a significantly better job.  Most of those are a lot more expensive.

All considered, when it comes to picture, it’s pretty good for sub $1000, and for that matter, properly set up should look a lot better than your typical LCDTV (not to mention screen size – which – at least for projectors – matters – a lot!)

Vivitek H1080FD

I said last year that these lowest cost 1080p projectors are the ones most likely to end up in the hands of folks who just want to fire’em up and enjoy.  Considering the H1080FD projector: “The out of the box color is pretty good, which is a very good thing, since the Vivitek lacks the tradtional R,G,B brightness and contrast controls for doing a grayscale balance.

That said:  “Skin tones are very good. There is a very slight, almost paleness to faces like Gandalf’s in LOTR, due to the touch less red than there should be. When viewing, the projector doesn’t really feel like it’s a little thin on red, as the image has a good bit of contrast, and a lot of punch.”

The Vivitek H1080FD’s black level performance is not impressive, and while none of the sub-$1000 projectors is very good at blacks, this Vivitek comes up a little short of the Optoma HD20, BenQ W1070 and the Viewsonic.  I may be quibbling, these are slight, but discernable differences.  If you have any ambient light happening, you probably couldn’t spot those differences at all.

Ultimately this projector has a picture for the LCDTV family, that wants something much bigger and has the room. For those not interested in calibrating or tweaking, the Vivitek produces a good looking picture.