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Best Home Theater Projector Report - Under $2000 Brightness Performance

Posted on November 6, 2013 by Zachary Zanger

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 to watch movies only, 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 and under Home Theater Projector Brightness

Header Content
Lumens Lumens Lumens
Best Mode Brightest Mode Comments
Under $2000 [Calibrated]
Acer H6500* 620 2128 Best mode is not calibrated
Acer H9500BD 1106 1502
BenQ W1070** 1711 1786
BenQ W7000 1571 1942
Epson HC8350 467 1378
Epson HC3020 1362 2031
Mitsubishi HC4000 950 1151 Brightest watchable
Optoma HD20 747 996
Optoma HD23 713 1412
Optoma HD33 1114 1148
Panasonic PT-AR100 647 1914
Sharp XV-Z30000 532 1018
Viewsonic Pro8200 1108 1653
Vivitek H1080FD* 806 1777

Here are our measured brightness numbers for the Entry Level class projectors.

The Brightest Mode measurements (like Best Mode) are taken with the lens set to mid-point on the zoom.

* These projectors have recently been replaced with updated versions:  Acer H6500 by the H6510, Vivitek H1080 by the H1085, and the Vivitek H5080 by the H5085.  At the time of this publication the Acer H6510 has just arrived for review, but too late to be reviewed to replace the H6500.

** BenQ is now shipping an additional projector, the short throw W1080ST.  We have also received this projector for review.  This will be our first true short throw home projector.

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

Note: The images below are from each respective projector in its brightest mode.

Acer H6500 projector

The Acer we determined really couldn't be calibrated. Mike sent it back to me with only basic adjustments such as brightness and contrast, and of course the measurements.
So, uncalibrated the best mode Mike could find put out a respectable 620 lumens with good color, but definitely not calibrated color. At it's brightest, this basically cross-over projector mustered 2128 lumens making it one of the 4 brightest projectors in this year's report that measured over 2000 lumens.

Definitely not an "enthusiast" projector, this is just a good low cost, entry level choice that's fine for all kinds of general viewing. Think picture quality more along the lines of the average, right out of the box LCDTV. All that brightness at its brightest will come in very handy for gamers, who should consider this Acer H6500 to be a good gaming projector for the bucks, and a light canon for general "family room" use.

The Acer H6500 in its brightest mode, "Bright Mode" (note, strong on greens).

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Acer H9500BD projector

Last year we were really impressed with the H9500BD despite the lack of full calibration controls, and the inability to get really excellent color.  Since then Acer has updated the firmware, and expanded the controls.  A few weeks before this report published Acer sent me a brand new H9500BD to compare with our previous findings. I had Mike calibrate it, and I can say that it calibrates much better now, with over 1000 calibrated lumens.

If you want even more lumens, there's just over 1500 under the hood in the Acer's brightest mode.

For 3D, as seems to be the case typically, DLP projectors don't seem quite as bright as 3LCD projectors with similarly bright 2D measurements. Still the Acer has plenty of lumens to work with.

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BenQ W1070 projector:

For a $999 projector the W1070 calibrates very well, yet produces over 1700 measured lumens if calibrated with Brilliant Color engaged.  That makes it the brightest calibrated projector of the 14 home projectors reviewed by us that sell for under $2000.  There's a brightest mode too, but as it's essentially the same brightness, no matter.

Brightness combined with really good color is one of the keys to our awarding this projector Best Value Proposition of all the 3D capable projectors covered in this under $2000 price class.

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BenQ W7000 projector

Last year, the BenQ W7000 one of the brightest projectors around.  Fear not, it's just as bright today.  The difference is there are a lot more very bright projectors.  Still, the W7000 maintains its "light canon" status with only two projectors in the under $2000 group being brighter, with the W7000 within 10% of the brightest. Those two are the Epson Home Cinema 3020, and the low cost Acer, neither being near as high performance is areas such as black levels, so with less appeal than the BenQ for movie enthusiasts.

This projector does great on larger screens.  Viewing movies on most screens smaller than 130 inches with good light control will let you run in "best" mode, with lamp in eco mode! This year the W7000 is routinely selling below $2000 for the first time.  Last year it slugged it out with more expensive projectors and still picked up a key award.

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Epson Home Cinema 8350 projector

This is one of the older projectors still around (but far from the oldest), now in its 3rd year.  Of course it's selling for far less than two years ago. While its calibrated brightness is the lowest in the class this year, it's still enough for a 110" diagonal screen.  Almost 1400 measured lumens at brightest, though, is pretty impressive.  The HC8350 was once about as bright as you could find.

The HC8350 makes a good lower cost, and highly flexible projector for the theater, but has the lumens to play in your family room.

Epson Home Cinema 3020 projector

When it comes to brightness, the Home Cinema 3020 is one of the light canons in this group.  It's the 3rd brightest calibrated and the second brightest in "brightest" mode.

Only the really low end Acer H6500 can best it at "brightest", and by less than 5%.  This is your portable if needed," tackle just about any decent room situation and end up looking great" projector. 3D appears brighter than any other projector in this group!

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Mitsubishi HC4000 projector

Way past its prime, perhaps, the HC4000 was once considered fairly bright.  With the advent of much brighter projectors that support 3D, the HC4000 is still above average in terms of calibrated picture, but in this price range there are plenty now that are a good deal brighter when you need maximum lumens.  Mitsubishi has this thing about a High Brightness mode, which kicks out a lot more lumens than the numbers above.  We've just never considered that unadjustable HB mode to be really watchable.

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Optoma HD20 projector

The first of the under $1000 1080p home projectors, Optoma sells a ton of these, it's still a a hot item despite being 3 years old.  Its faster than the cross-over competition color wheel, makes it the best choice of the sub-$1000 projectors for the rainbow sensitive.  The HD20 is considered a family room projector first, with about 750 calibrated lumens suitable for cutting through a little ambient light or off-white surfaced walls. With just 1000 lumens at brightest though, it's still just average.  The HD20, of the lower priced projectors best matches with a smaller screen, but in that living room or family room type setting.  Oh, it's just fine in a dedicated home theater, but we still think a home theater projector should have better blacks than some of these entry level models.

Optoma HD23 projector

One of the few new 2D only projectors we've reviewed in the last year. Without the "baggage" of having to be bright enough for 3D projection, consider the Optoma HD23 to be a 2D light cannon. I wouldn't call it a light cannon if it had 3D, but the point of such cannon designations is to indicate which projectors can deal with larger screens, and/or significant ambient light. Certainly no projector in this report can put a 3D image up on a screen that's as bright as the 1400 plus measured lumens of this DLP projector.

For best picture, the 700 or so calibrated lumens is what you need in a proper room for a 130 inch diagonal 2D image (1.3 gain). In other words, the HD23 is a very nicely bright, and reasonably affordable 2D projector. No brightness issues.

Optoma HD33 projector

The HD33 was the first under $2000 3D capable home theater projector.  It's very nicely bright with about 1120 (approximately) calibrated lumens, but even at "brightest", there's no significant boost - less than 40 extra lumens.

Very respectable blacks let you put this projector in a dedicated theater, on a large screen, or it can do a nice job on more of a mid-sized screen in a family room, just not a lot of extra horsepower for social lighting.

Some things don't change.  The HD33's 3D looks really clean, and with pretty good color for 3D, but could be brighter. Best held to small sized screens (under 100" diagonal) if you really want your 3D to pop.  Of course there's plenty.

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Panasonic PT-AR100 projector:

This is the major 2D only light canon in this class.  One could quibble here and there, but overall, we can say that the PT-AR100U is, at its brightest, is every bit as bright as any projector in this report. Calibrated, with its color filter in place, it's a very average 650 lumens, which is still enough to fill a pretty large screen in a dedicated theater or cave.

But, it's those almost 2000 lumens (the conservative way we measure), that set it apart from most projectors.  This is a projector that has a real ability, when paired with the right screen, to tackle some really tough rooms.

I recommend you check out the PT-AR100U video, and the Choosing the Right projector for the Family Room video, the Panasonic is shown tackling a room with plenty of sunlight.

This is your definitive lower cost, high power, 2D only, family room projector.

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Sharp XV-Z30000 projector

Whether price wise the Sharp XV-Z30000 belongs in the under $2K group, or the $2K - $3.5K class, the important thing is that it is a very average projector when it comes to brightness. A bit less than 550 calibrated lumens (mid-point on its zoom lens) and just over 1000 lumens in a quick-cal "brightest" measured mode.

From a placement standpoint, the XV-Z30000 projector is one of only two projectors in the under $2000 class with a wide range zoom (2:1). That means there are noticeably more lumens under the hood, if you can setup the Sharp projector near it's closest (wide-angle) zoom position. In that case you get just shy of 1180 lumens.

The Sharp therefore can easily tackle 110" diagonal screens (calibrated) and with optimized mounting, perhaps 120" diagonal The Z30000 has the horsepower in "brightest" mode to tackle some intentional ambient light. Consider this Sharp to be a best in the cave/home theater projector.

The only brightness related issue is that the Sharp really doesn't have enough lumens to tackle 3D on screens larger than about 100" diagonal.

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Viewsonic Pro8200 projector

Back again, this 3rd year projector - selling for under $800, the Pro8200 is still competitive. This is a solid single chip DLP with a good picture combined with some serious lumens.   The Pro8200 offers over 1100 calibrated lumens and right about 1650 calibrated ones.

That's not surprising, the Viewsonic is closely related to several Viewsonic business projectors, so its brightness is no surprise. Keep in mind that it's nice to have 1100 calibrated lumens.

Vivitek H1080FD projector

Lots of lumens here, but a slower color wheel is in part responsible. For those of us sensitive to the rainbow effect, one of the other low cost DLP's may be your better choice if you don't need the all the Vivitek's lumens.   Lumen wise, not a thing wrong with 800 calibrated lumens, and the Vivitek looks really good doing it.  You get over double the brightness at "brighest", so this too, is a cross-over light canon.

If your rainbow sensitive, there are better choices.

Definitely a family room projector first, but you can put it in a theater if it's a good fit for your priorities.

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