Special Interest Awards
After much consideration, we have decided to award two Special Interest Awards to projectors that are (at least supposedly), only available from local installing dealers. As most of you already realize, projectors sold by local dealers tend to cost consumers more than projectors purchased online. The reason is obvious - local dealers are installation and support oriented (by nature), or certainly should be. Because they sell relatively few projectors compared to online dealers, and have much higher overhead, per sale, they need to charge more (higher profit margins) to stay in business.
This, to us, makes sense. Not everyone is a hobbyist, who has no problems putting in their own ceiling mounts, opening walls to run cables, etc. Many, if not most home theater projector buyers are more of th,: "I want a home theater, and I'm wiling to pay others to make it happen." and "Do it myself? I wouldn't know where to begin." variety.
As such, these two awards below, go to projectors that are not available online, but provide an excellent value proposition (and performance), that makes them particularly good values among the many "local dealer only" projectors out there.
Special Interest Award: Epson Pro Cinema 7500UB
Epson makes two versions of their "UB" projector (for the US market - only one overseas - the TW5000). The Home Cinema 6500UB, which receives our Best In Class award, has already been discussed. Our Special Interest award winner from Epson is their "Pro Cinema 7500UB". For the most part, they are the same projector, with a handful of differences, to, quite honestly "differentiate" them, so that local dealers won't necessarily lose a projector sale to an online retailer.
The Pro Cinema 7500UB offers these "extras", in exchange for pricing that is about 20% or so higher:
Internal support for an anamorphic lens and sled. If you want to go with a Cinemascope screen (2.35:1) to eliminate letterboxing on Cinemascope (most) movies, the 7500UB makes more sense than the lower cost 6500UB, because it doesn't need an external scaler (figure about $800 or more extra, depending on the brand).
Black finish instead of white. For those doing fancier theaters - with darkened ceilings, that's a plus, aesthetically, when the lights are on, and the projector is off.
The Pro Cinema 7500UB is ISF certified - which means two extra memory modes (the Epson already has plenty), but reserved (by password) for a professional calibrator to use.
An extra year of warranty (three total) and Epson's replacement program for all three years (instead of two). That should be worth a few hundred extra for most buyers.
Spare lamp and mount: The 7500UB comes with a spare lamp (we value that at $350), and a ceiling mount (figure worth $100 for those planning to ceiling mount, or worth nothing except as a boat anchor for a very small boat, for those planning to put their 7500UB on a shelf).
Subtract out the value of the warranty, lamp and mount, and the 7500UB likely costs only about $600 more than a 6500UB. For that extra, you should be getting local dealer support that should really be appreciated by those who are of the, "I want to enjoy my theater, not build it," crowd.
The things we like most, however about the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB remain unchanged for the 7500UB:
- Superb black level performance - best in class in this price range.
- Brightness - the 7500UB is brighter than any other 3LCD projector, in both "best" and "brightest" modes, and while some non-3LCD projectors are brighter in their "best" modes, none comes close when you need lots of lumens
- A dynamic looking image - lots of "wow factor"
- Long life lamp - rated 3000/4000 hours (full and low power), which can save some real dollars compared to most projectors claiming 2000/3000 (or less).
Bottom line: The Epson Pro Cinema 7500UB is about as good as you will find for its price, if you are looking for a projector found locally, from an installing dealer. It is also one of the brightest, a real plus for those who want larger screens, or just need to watch some content with significant ambient light present.
Special Interest Award: Mitsubishi HC7000
The HC7000 is, for all practical purposes, the most direct competitor around to the Pro Cinema 7500UB. These two projectors are very close in overall performance, but with the usual trade-offs. We present the HC7000 as another projector, comparable to the Epson. It is one that will be a better choice of the two for some, while the Epson will make more sense for the rest.
The HC7000 is another "ultra-high-contrast" projector, and delivers on that promise with excellent black levels. The HC7000 can't quite match the Epson's black levels, but it is sufficiently close, as to be of little consequence. This Mitsubishi does have an advantage in black level performance over the Panasonic PT-AE3000.
The HC7000 comes with an "industry standard" two year parts and labor warranty.
Perhaps the only potential shortcoming of this projector is that the HC7000 is not one of the brighter projectors in this class. In this regard, it is best when used with typical screens of about 100" diagonal. You can push it a little larger, but not by that much.
On the other hand, there is a great deal to like about the HC7000. It's quiet, almost silent, and is actually quieter in its high power lamp mode, than most projectors can accomplish with their lamps running on low power, and the matching slower fan speeds.
And it's automated - power zoom, focus and lens shift, all very nice touches. Styling is pretty impressive as well, the HC7000 scores very high in terms of "wife approval factor." I should note that it has a little bit less placement flexibility than some others, but enough that shelf mounting should work in the vast majority of rooms. It, of course, has almost infinitely more placement flexibility than the typical DLP projector that it competes with.
The real strong point of the HC7000 though is the overall picture quality. Properly set up, the HC7000 is more than the sum of its parts. The excellent black levels, very good dark shadow detail, and very natural color accuracy (post calibration), combine with a lot of "pop and wow" (for a projector without an abundance of lumens), to provide what I described in the full review, as "one of the most enjoyable projectors to watch." In fact this concluding line in the Overall Picture Quality section of the review, says it all:
"The point here, is that the HC7000 has no significant weaknesses in any areas directly dealing with color and overall picture."
Bottom line: A first class projector for the bucks, for those not planning to go with really a large screen. Sharp, silent, and a great picture - what's not to like.