$2100 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projectors
BenQ W5000 projector
Ahh! If only the W5000 had even better black levels (but then, it would be the far more expensive W20000). Still, the W5000 performed very well. Remember, it was one of the first projectors reviewed in this group. At the time I wrote: "Again, the BenQ W5000 is extremely impressive. Okay, black levels are not best in class (that honor falls to the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB), but the W5000 is just about next best, competing directly with the Sony VW40 for that honor. Shadow detail is excellent, both before and after adjustment."
Epson Home and Pro Cinema 6500UB, 7500UB projectors
Without a doubt, the Home Cinema 6500UB (and we assume, the 7500UB) have the best black levels of any projector in this mid-priced collection. Shadow detail, typical of Epson, is not quite as good as the best. The Epsons blow away the non-ultra-high-contrast projectors in black levels, and manage to best, by at least a noticeable amount, the other ultra-high-contrast projectors.
The Home Cinema 6500UB has a ways to go to catch the JVC RS2, in terms of black levels. The Epson's black levels however are excellent, with only two or three projectors able to do better, and none in its price range! As you can see in the two side by side pairs below, the Epson has a very distinct advantage over the Panasonic PT-AE3000.
I found the Epson to approach the superb black levels of the JVC RS1 (we hadn't reviewed the RS10 yet), on very dark scenes without bright areas, but on mixed scenes, the dynamic iris can't fully do its thing so the far more expensive RS1 (and RS10), pull away on those scenes. Still, if you want better black levels, you will be spending twice as much, and the differences will not be particularly significant, relative to these Epson's, compared to even the closest competition in this class.
The combination of black level performance and shadow detail yields a projector with an extremely dynamic picture - lots of "pop and wow", and the best in class, in this regard!
Epson Pro Cinema 7100 projector
The Pro Cinema 7100 should perform the same as the Home Cinema 6100. No match at all compared to the Epson UB projectors, but fairly typical, and one of the best non-ultra-high-contrast projectors. Shadow detail, as is Epson typical, is not the best, but "close enough".
Mitsubishi HC6500, HC7000 projectors
I'd put the Mitsubishi HC6500 about even with the Epson Home Cinema 6100 (in the entry level class), in terms of black levels. That is, it is very good for a non-UHC (ultra-high-contrast) projector. If the HC6500 was sold online, no doubt it would be priced into the entry level category, but since it's not, it appears here. It is still one of the least expensive projectors in this class, so you do get your money's worth in the form of that extra "local dealer support". Enough said about that.
Shadow detail is described in the review as peforming "very well". The overall combination of black levels and shadow detail make it one of the best of the non-UHC projectors.
That brings us to the Mitsubishi HC7000, which is almost identical to the HC6500 except for the newer LCD panels, etc. The HC7000 is their UHC model, and has the performance to prove it. Depending on the type of dark scene, it either matches or beats the Panasonic PT-AE3000, placing it about even with the Sony VPL-HW10, but still trailing the Epson UB projectors. When we consider shadow detail, not surprisingly, the HC7000, like almost all of the UHC projectors, comes in as "very good shadow detail, but not the best".
All considered, the HC7000 may well be the second best in this class, although the Sony and Panasonic are certainly not far behind. The HC7000, though not overly bright, does have a lot of pop when handling dark scenes. (I really like it!)
Optoma HD8200 projector
Very good shadow detail is the HD8200's strength, but black levels are its weakness. The HD8200 actually can perform rather well in terms of black levels but for the very visible dynamic iris, which tends to jump (up or down) in brightness, several seconds after a scene change. I found that annoying enough that I couldn't watch the HD8200 comfortably with the dynamic iris engaged, and that cost it dearly in terms of black level performance.
Panasonic PT-AE3000 projector
I have to place the Panasonic PT-AE3000 as tied for second best of this group, trailing only the Epson UB projectors. At times the difference between them, as can be seen in side by side comparisons, can vary from very slight, to fairly significant. The Panasonic has a slight edge on shadow detail compared to the Epson UBs. The other stiff competition for the PT-AE3000 is the Mitsubishi HC7000, a notably more expensive projector (available from local dealers only). Even (to my surprise), the Sony VPL-HW10 can't quite match the Panasonic. The other similar, ultra-high-contrast 3LCD projector in the group, the Sanyo PLV-Z3000 definitely comes up a bit short of the Panasonic, though it easily outperforms most of the other projectors.