BenQ PE8720 home theater projector
I give this one a Wow! Overall, it is impressive enough that I bought one for my theater just over a year ago, and have never regretted the purchase. Where to start - image sharpness is definitely a cut above, with only a couple of $10,000+ 720p projectors able to match or beat it. Placement flexibility: A 1.35:1 zoom isn't a match for the LCD projectors with their 1.5:1 or 2:1 zoom ratios, but the 1.35:1 zoom, combined with a moderately long throw distance, and lens shift, makes the BenQ PE8720 viable for shelf mounting by most people. I have mine ceiling mounted in the back of my room, and I would guess that, from a distance perspective, more than half of potential buyers will find that option viable in their rooms, if they prefer shelf to ceiling mounting or table top use.
Out of the box color and gamma are both very good - make that very, very good. It can be improved, but this projector tends to "blow away" anyone seeing it for the first time (as all my friends will attest). Black levels are excellent - a whole step up from, say Optoma's new Darkchip3 HD73, or this category's runner-up, the Optoma HD7100 (also with Darkchip3). The BenQ uses a non-dynamic iris (it doesn't change frame by frame). For best movie watching, the iris is mostly closed and black levels are superb. The PE-8720 is moderately bright (not exceptionally so), still for movie watching on my large gray surface Firehawk screen, I willingly give up that last extra improvement of blacks by only slightly closing the iris, in exchange for the extra lumens.
Even with the iris slightly closed, black levels are really great. Shadow detail is very good as well. Add a professional ISF calibration to the PE-8720, and I question if you can really find a better 720p projector (other than 3 chip DLP's and an occational $10,000+ single chip projector).
A three year warranty with first year replacement program covers owners like a blanket, as that is one of the best warranties in the industry. The BenQ sells for around (under?) $3500 these days, so is one of the most expensive 720p projectors available online, but worth it.
Optoma HD7100 home theater projector
This one has been rumored to be "going away" for months, and was the projector I almost bought, when it came out just over a year ago. Like the PE-8720 it has lens shift, and its zoom lens has range that falls between the BenQ, and the lower priced DLPs. There's still some pretty good placement flexibility all considered (but not a match for the typical LCD home theater projector). It seems the HD7100 is available online for under $2500 these days, making it signficantly less than the BenQ.
The Darkchip3 DLP HD7100, although no match for the BenQ in black levels, does have comparable shadow detail, and in my opinion, has always been exceptional in producing rich colors in the darker ranges, that really jump out. When I compared the HD7100 side by side with the BenQ PE8720, that struck me repeatedly - I'd notice a very dark red or blue more easily on the Optoma, whereas the BenQ just didn't have dark colors that stood out quite as well.
Look shortly for the HD7100's replacement, the HD7300 which should be a step up, and slightly more expensive projector. The HD7300, like Optoma's 1080p HD81, uses an outboard processor box designed by Gennum, who does the same for some high end projectors including Marantz models. I'll be curious to see if the HD7300 has improved black levels that can come close to the BenQ. The HD7100 is a great "bang for the bucks" projector if you favor DLP and need some placement flexibility.
Planar 7060 home theater projector
Sold through local dealers only, this reasonably priced Darkchip3 DLP projector performs extremely well. Planar is an Oregon company, currently employing a number of former key InFocus personnel, and it does remind me of the InFocus IN76, but with the advantages of the Darkchip3 processor for better blacks and an overall more dynamic image. The price, while higher than the HD73, reflects the higher selling prices you expect for a projector from a local, installation focused dealer. Want the advantages of working with a local dealer, and don't mind paying a few more bucks? Then the Planar 7060 may be just right for you. I should note that the picture above doesn't do the 7060 justice. It happens to be a phyically very attractive projector.
Sanyo PLV-80 commercial widescreen projector:
From a purist standpoint the PLV-80 can't match most of the DLP projectors (and some lower cost LCD projectors), but it does a good job, and is far, far brighter than anything else out there in terms of 16:9 projectors without spending twice the price.
This is a light cannon, and is suitable for family rooms with ambient light. In the home, you could say it is a niche player, for only those that need extremely bright, but there you have it. It will be the best choice for those needing a ton of lumens. Keep in mind this is an LCD projector, so pixels are more visible than the DLP competition. It's just that in brightness, it has no competition without spending almost twice as much.
Don't let the picture on the right fool you. This is a physically large commerical projector. Like the PLV-80, this Panasonic is for those folks who are dark room impaired. With 5000 lumens, there is nothing else like it under $10,000, and typically it sells for closer to $10,000 than $5000! Point it at a 110" screen and it won't particularly mind a lot of light, even some unshaded windows. It's got the big price tag, but delivers the horsepower. A 3x color wheel may mean a few more people will be susceptable to the rainbow effect (most home theater DLP projectors now use 5X color wheels). Picture quality is very good, especially considering this is a "commerical grade" projector not designed for home theater.