BenQ W5000 projector
One of the "oldest" projectors in this comparison, it was excellent enough to earn our Best in Class - Runnerup award in this same class last year. The notable difference, is that last year it was one of the most expensive in the group. Thanks to a huge drop in street price, it is now just about the least expensive in this group. The BenQ W5000 offers an extremely sharp image, very good black levels (but not up to the "ultra-high-contrast" competition), and thanks to lens shift, better placement flexibility than most DLP projectors. Last year, it was in the running for the top award, but for some image noise issues, that have since been fixed. DLP projectors have strong supporters among enthusiasts for their film-like image quality. The BenQ provides especially rich colors, and a dynamic image overall. A short one year warranty is a negative.
Epson Home and Pro Cinema 6500UB, 7500UB projectors
These two models replace the older 1080 UB projectors (also one Home, one Pro series). They offer the best black levels of any projectors in this price range, although some other "ultra-high-contrast" projectors come close. Last year the Home Cinema 1080 UB won our Best in Class Award. The differences between these two models are slight. The Pro Cinema 7500 offers ISF certification, internal support for an anamorphic lens, a black finish, an extra year (3 total) of warranty/replacement, and they are only sold by local dealers. The Home Cinema 6500UB costs less and is available on-line.
The Epson's are especially bright in their brightest mode, and also are the brightest of the 3LCD projectors in "best mode" although there are other projectors in this group that are a bit brighter in "best". Sharpness is good. These Epsons offer creative frame interpolation (two of only 4 projectors in this review), and also 4:4 for 24fps content. There are some issues with their creative frame interpolation on movies, so few use it except for sports. Too bad, but not a big deal - they've simply tried to do some things that no one else has even attempted. Placement flexibility is as good as it gets.
Epson Pro Cinema 7100 projector
This is the Pro version of the Epson Home Cinema 6100 listed in the Entry level price group. You are paying more to buy this from a local dealer, but you do get a ceiling mount and spare lamp (but it still nets out to this price group). In addition, the Pro Cinema 7100 comes with an extra year of warranty and replacement (3 years total), and will support an anamorphic lens (few are likely to go that route - if you can afford an anamorphic lens, you'd buy the Pro Cinema 7500UB)! Overall, what you have here is an affordable projector with plenty of lumens. It can handle typical screens up to 110" or even a size larger, in its best mode, and has lumens to spare, even with some room lighting, on larger screens, including my 128", in brightest modes.
Black levels are not up to the "ultra-high-contrast" 3LCD projectors, but are comparable or better than the other 3LCD projectors and almost all of the DLP projectors in this price range. Strong performance for family rooms with ambient light, and a very good image overall.
Panasonic PT-AE3000 projector
Most likely the best selling 1080p projector on the market, and for good reason. It is one of our favorites. It's well thought out, has some very nice features and benefits, such as creative frame interpolation, and a pseudo anamorphic lens capability that allows you to pair it with a Cinemascope screen (2.35:1) without a very expensive external lens. Brightness is average, placement flexibility is excellent, and the warranty is marginal (one year), although currently (2/09) Panasonic is giving away a 2nd year warranty. The Panasonic is one of the more "film-like" 1080p projectors using 3LCD technology. For those who like to tweak, it has excellent color controls and a built in signal generator. Have a blast!
Black level performance is very, very, good. While not the best of the "ultra-high contrast" 3LCD projectors (in terms of black levels), it's still a significant step up from the typical 1080p projector in this price range.
Optoma HD8200 projector
We're still playing with this one, as I write this. The review will be posted in 3/09, after this report. It's a classy looking unit from Optoma. It seems Optoma has finally gotten the message: That with no lens shift, and limited zoom lens, a projector inherently misses out on the majority of buyers. With a 1.5:1 zoom and lens shift, the HD8200 has very good placement flexibility. It seems to be very bright (not measured or calibrated yet), one of the brightest, around, so suitable for larger screens. Black level performance of the DLP based projector, however is just typical of those that are not "ultra-high-contrast" projectors. It does sport a dynamic iris to help out with black levels, but its functionality is a bit noticeable. Very interesting, the verdict is still out.
Sanyo PLV-Z3000 projector
The PLV-Z3000 is currently the least expensive of the "ultra-high-contrast" projectors out there, and that alone, should make it a very popular and successful projector. It currently sells (with rebate) for just a little more than the cut-off of $2100 for this category. That also makes it one of the least expensive projectors in the category. Black level performance is not quite as good as the other "ultra-high-contrast" projectors, but it is definitely much closer to those, than any of the more basic home theater projectors, such as the Epson 6100, or Sanyo's entry level PLV-Z700, and for that matter, better than vitually all of the DLP projectors anywhere near its price.
This compact home theater projector offers excellent placement flexibility. Its image is also very sharp. In best mode it's a little below average in brightness, so keep it to smaller screens. On the other hand, it has good brightness in brightest mode, so it can handle that same screen with a fair amount of ambient light when needed. Sanyo provides a 3 year warranty.