Projector Reviews

Special Interest Award (tie): Planar PD8150

Here’s another excellent DLP projector. The Planar PD8150 offers the best black levels of any of the DLP projectors, and its out-of-the-box color accuracy is one of the best we’ve seen.

A bit of background. Planar is relatively new to home theater projectors – just a couple of years and change. One of their first actions as part of their entry, was to buy Runco, getting them the two top US brands of high end home theater projectors: Runco, and Vidikron. Those two lines are sold primarily though very high end home theater dealers. This allowed Planar the entry into that market, and the Planar branded projectors nicely serve as “entry level” products for those dealers. The PD8150 is the flagship of the Planar line.

Keeping in mind that projectors sold through local dealers will cost you more, but you get more support. With higher end dealers, that support tends to be better still. Thus, the Planar is not a projector for hobbyists, but for those who want a real quality picture, no hassle support, and are wiling to write the check.

With a price of $7999, the PD8150 is anything but cheap. In fact that puts it slightly higher than our Best In Class winner, the JVC RS20 (the projector I just bought for my main theater).

Placement flexibility – normally a real weakness of DLP projectors – is pretty good. The Planar has a good amount of lens shift, and it offers a 1.3:1 zoom lens – a bit more range than the 1.2:1 found on most DLP projectors. The two combine to allow a significant number of users who prefer to rear shelf mount, to use this projector. Those with a 100″ diagonal screen can typically make it work in a room as much as 19 feet deep.

Brightness is a weakness of the PD8150. It’s just above average brightness in its “best” mode, but is not much brighter at its “brightest”. This makes it stronger as a projector for primarily movie watching, than one for those planning to watch a lot of everything else, including sports. Still, it has more than sufficient lumens for smaller screens, handling a 110″ screen for movie watching, without breaking a sweat.

Still, it can’t match the greater brightness of the IN83 that it shares this award with, especially in the “brightest” mode where the IN83 is one of the brightest.

As is typical of good DLP projectors, the image sharpness is excellent.

Post calibration, the Planar is excellent overall in terms of color accuracy, and a well balanced looking image.

It’s got very impressive black levels for a DLP, thanks to use of a dynamic iris. That gives it a significant advantage over the InFocus IN83 above, but it still comes up a little short of the JVC RS10 and RS20, but makes it into that “ultra-high-contrast” class of projectors when it comes to black levels.

Bottom line: As I stated in the review: “I’ve now managed over 50 hours viewing on the Planar – and I never put in that many hours on a review projector, unless I’m impressed.” The Planar is an excellent projector overall, albeit, not a particularly bright one. It has all the positive attributes that many people like about DLP projectors, and black levels that come close to the best. This is a projector that will have a lot of appeal to those not intimidated by its price, and who seek a quality local installing dealer, not only for a great viewing experience, but also want to set up a home theater with the mimimum of hassle.

Complete Home Theater System - Epson Ensemble HD 1080

Last summer, I reviewed the Epson Ensemble HD 1080 complete home theater system. I was so impressed, that it received our Outstanding Product of 2008 award.

The Epson Ensemble HD 1080 system earns the Outstanding Product award!The Ensemble HD is an outstanding solution for those not inclined to design and install their own home theater, but want a great solution, that will work in most rooms, provide really good picture quality, and impressive sound. It was designed to be easy to install, easy to use, and provide an excellent overall value. Now I know there are plenty of enthusiasts who tell me that they can piece together a solution with better picture and, as good as, or better sound, for less, sometimes citing as much as $2000 less, but my feeling is that they are missing the point. The Ensemble HD is not designed for them. It is designed for friends of those people. The ones who want a simple solution. Write a check, have it installed in less than a day, and start enjoying the world of large screen home theater.

I had long since reviewed the Epson Home Cinema 1080 which is the projector in the Ensemble HD 1080, so when Epson came to me to review the Ensemble I said, it only makes sense to review the concept, rather than the technical aspects, as those have already been addressed in the old Epson review. As it ended up, Epson sent a local dealer down to do the full installation in my testing room.

At the end of this section, you will be pointed to the Ensemble HD 1080 review, for those interested. In the meantime, here’s what the Ensemble HD 1080 is all about.

It sells for $6999. That does not include installation. Generally installation should run only about $500 extra. It is sold only through authorized, installing dealers.

The projector, as noted, is the older Epson Home Cinema 1080. This model has just been replaced by the Epson Home Cinema 6100 which is, just slightly better – both projectors offer similar overall performance. The projector sits in a white, curved cradle that is typically ceiling mounted. The cradle also houses the left and right rear speakers. In the front of the room, is a 100″ diagonal white surfaced screen that can be ceiling or wall mounted. The unique aspect of the motorized screen is that the top section, that houses the screen when up, also has the front left, center, and right speakers in it.

There are three other components. The AV Controller, is essentially an AV receiver that also has a standard DVD player (yes, and AM/FM tuner). There is a good sized powered sub-woofer, and an equipment stand that holds the AV Controller, the sub-woofer, and room for at least one other piece of equipment (in my setup, I managed to fit in my cable box, and a Nintendo Wii). To make it all work, it comes with a pre-programmed universal remote control.

To do the wiring, you don’t need to open up a single wall. The Ensemble HD comes with channels, thin, powder coated white, that you can run along your ceiling or walls, that hide the wiring. The powder coating means you can paint over the channels with paint that matches your walls/ceiling, to make it all very neat, and barely noticeable. For my review, however, I wanted to see what a worst case scenario looked like, so I had them not use the channels, and instead open the walls and ceiling as would be done with a normal installation. Even doing it “the hard way”, the total installation time was about 9 hours. The dealer says 4 to 5 hours for an installation using the channels. (Thus the approximate $500 cost to install.)

In those nine hours, over two days, not only did they open the walls, run all the wires, and dry wall them back up again, but they also painted over the drywalling with the matching paint I already had. It’s that easy.

The only critical item I added (besides the cable box), was a Sony PS3 to serve as my Blu-Ray player. Figure almost everyone can buy one of these systems, with a blu-ray player add-on, installation, etc., and still get it done for under $8000 (sale tax in some states will put you over that).

The Ensemble HD 1080 has been in use in our house, as my 2nd theater for more than a half year now, and, well, it’s a big success. While I mostly stay to my larger theater, I do use it from time to time. My wife and daughter – and their friends, all love it. I should note, that for the last 2+ months, I have managed to wangle an Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB to replace the base projector, but, my family never noticed the difference. If you want simple, effective, pleasureable, easy to use, and hassle free…If you want a solution that can be in use the same day, or day after you order it, and the price tag I mentioned doesn’t intimidate you for a complete solution, then check out the full review!