Best In Class (tie): Sony VPL-HW50ES
I think the Sony VPL-HW50ES (click for full review) is one great projector for the money. Sony's improvements going from last year's HW30ES to the HW50ES today, were stellar. More importantly, though is what Sony has delivered for a net price of under $3500. The HW50ES color, calibrated produces a beautiful image with excellent and natural looking skin tones. Black levels are about as good as it gets in this price class, with only the Epson 5020UB and 6020UB being a slight bit better, maybe! It likely will depend on the scene. There are definitely many scenes when the two projectors are essentially equal. Certainly there's not enough difference between this Sony's, and the two Epsons' (sharing this award) black level performance f or it to affect a buying decision.
About the only feature missing that I think would be a great addition is Lens Memory, but this Sony lacks the power lens functions necessary for that. Folks that's pretty much all of my complaints.
Let's mention brightness. Sure, those Epsons do have a lot more "brightest mode" lumens, which will really help in a family room environment, but in most situations this Sony is easily bright enough with almost 1000 calibrated lumens. That makes the VPL-HW50ES the brightest calibrated serious home theater projector featured in this report other than the two $20,000+ projectors, Runco's LS-10d and Sony's own VPL-VW1000ES!
If 2D is your only thing, this HW50ES has enough calibrated lumens to handle a normal 150" diagonal screen.
3D, of course, isn't near as bright, but certainly the Sony VPL-HW50 ES looks reasonably bright on a normal 1.3 gain 100 inch diagonal screen, and can be pushed to perhaps 120" diagonal. The competing JVC DLA-X35 simply can't play in the same league in terms of brightness, especially when it comes to 3D.
For those who would like a large screen, but also really want to enjoy bright enough 3D, budget allowing, consider a two screen solution. A nice really large screen for 2D, and behind it fixed to the wall, a higher gain screen for 3D viewing. Not as perfect, sure, but it will deliver the brightness. That's how my theater is set up.
Competitively, the big decision was Epson vs. Sony. Although brightness and other features vary, I see it this way. In each of the last few years, the Epson "UB" projector was our winner in this price class. this year, I have to personally concede, that price being equal, this Sony I consider the slightly better choice, at least the one I would pick of the two, for a dedicated theater. Those Epson's would have the advantage in a family room, with their 50% brighter "brightest" mode, but when it comes to best color, the brightess advantage is all Sony in this case. As you can see, there are plenty of trade-offs. I found Sony's Reality Creation to be the best dynamic detail enhancement feature I've seen.
Assuming both Sony and Epson projectors will well work in your environment, let me conclude this way: I'd say the Sony VPL-HW50ES is the best projector in this class. And if both Sony and Epson cost the same, I'd say the Sony is the better value. But with about a real $800 difference, favoring the Epson at this time, it's probably the better value proposition. Ultimately, you will have to make that call, which will likely be based on budget and specific features that relate to your needs.
Ultimately, the Sony is a great projector, with the type of overall picture quality we all appreciate. A well deserved win for the the Sony VPL-HW50ES.