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Projectors 101: AVS’ Favorites
By Eric Podolsky, 10/03/12
If there’s one thing that becomes readily apparent from browsing AVS Forum’s wealth of informative threads, it’s that the AVS community takes projectors very seriously. There are few topics onsite that inspire the amount of time and dedication in our members as projectors do, and AVS Forum takes great pride in our wealth of lengthy threads that contain invaluable information submitted by our resident projector experts. There’s no denying that the world of projectors can be a rabbit hole that leads to endless experimenting, testing, and tweaking -- as AVS member damthrill says, “projectors are like the flu: they infect people who come in contact.” That being said, if you want any type of technical information about a given projector model, AVS is the best place on the web to find it, and the best place to become obsessed with it as well.
But before you dive in, make sure you know what you want from a projector first. Member Lone Cloud gives some good advice on how to determine this: “You really need to start by asking yourself what you want to use the projector for - Movies? 3D? Gaming? Sports? Other? All of the above? Then ask if your theater room is going to be pitch black or if it is going to have ambient light sneaking in there. Will the walls, ceiling and floor be light colors (white etc.) or will they be dark, neutral colors? What is the size of the room?” All these factors, combined with your budget, are essential in determining the best projector for you.
Once you’ve got a general idea of the type of projector you’re looking for, you should be ready for AVS’ guiding hand to show you the way to your ideal model. That being said, we realize that sometimes you don’t have the time to sift through thousands of posts to find the information you need. For that reason, we’ve gone ahead and done it for you. If you’re in the market for a new projector, here’s a concise guide to the highest performing projectors in a number of categories. Because there’s nothing more important to your home theater than a good picture.
Best 2D, Deepest blacks:
JVC DLA-RS40, DLA-RS45 or DLA-X30
If using your projector for 3D isn’t a priority, you can’t get much better than these JVC models. The RS40, RS45 (a newer model), and X30 are mostly identical to each other, and hold up to the best of the best in their price bracket ($2500-3000). As AVS member Joesyah raves, “I don't think it gets any better in this price range than the RS45 for pure 2D viewing.” stevenjw agrees on this: “if you only care about 2D viewing, the JVC is the better projector due to the better native CR/blacks without the use of a Dynamic Iris. The JVC has powered zoom/focus...If you watch a lot of darker movies like SciFi/Horror, you'll appreciate its blacks.” zombie10k is also on the same page when it comes to the JVC’s benefits in a dark setting: “when it's lights out and watching 2D movies, there is nothing quite like the JVC, especially if you like dark sci-fi.”
The one weakness these projectors have, though, is their lack of high-quality 3D performance. AVS members all agree, this line is not what you want if you watch a lot of 3D. Ron Jones explains: “These projectors use LCoS technology... [but] do have more 3D crosstalk/ghosting than other projectors in this price range.” That’s not to say 3D looks horrible, but it certainly is not what this line should be bought for. zombie10k remarks that these JVC models boast “extreme 2D performance, the best in class for those obsessed with contrast and the lowest black floor possible. 3D is secondary on these projectors. Some movies look good, some don't, depending on the content.”
This is all irrelevant though, as the JVC’s 2D picture is truly in the cream of the crop for its price range. coderguy raves that his “RS-45 is super sharp even without e-shift. I have owned DLP's like the Mitsubishi HC4000 and it was not as sharp as the RS-45 if you count focus uniformity...these new JVC's are ridiculously sharp for a NON-DLP projector. If someone calls the JVC soft, then you're going to have to call the sub $2000 DLP's I owned soft as well.” The consensus all across AVS is that you can’t do much better than these JVC models if you’re looking for a stunning 2D picture and deep, dark blacks.
Best 3D, Best for your living room:
Epson Powerlite Home Cinema 5010, 6010
While not quite as spectacular as the JVC models when it comes to 2D performance, these very similar Epson projectors deliver some of the brightest, best 3D images you’ll see in this price range ($2500-3500 or so). Though the 5010 is less expensive than the 6010, as toofast68 mentions, “the ultimate quality should be the same in both. You will just have to calibrate the 5010 a bunch more to get the out of the box 6010 THX mode.” And once you’re there, everyone agrees that the quality is stellar, even in a bright room on a giant screen. AVS member Ranger recommends the Epson Powerlites because of their brightness: “Definitely go with the 5010 for family room environment. It is bright, which is good for ambient light and 3D, and it has excellent blacks and contrast.” Ron Jones agrees: “These LCD based Epson models have the brightest usable 3D image and also do a very good job overall at 2D, but are a notch below the JVC. These Epsons have had a few issues, but it appears most have been addressed by the recently released firmware update.”
The Powerlite’s 3D capabilities are what really sets them apart from the JVC models, as its 3D quality is some of the best you’ll find anywhere. stevenjw raves that “Espons are much better at 3D [than JVCs] with less ghosting, no flicker that I can see, and much needed brightness (which IMHO is critical to really enjoyable 3D),” and Deja Vu agrees: “The Epson has almost ZERO ghosting (it needs about 5 minutes in 3D before its good to go, at least on my unit) and is very bright on my 120” screen.”
One of the greatest perks about the Epson’s brightness is its ability to project onto giant screens without a loss in brightness. zombie10k elaborates: “The 5010's 'living room' torch mode can be tamed to around 1400 lumens at D65, and does a great job lighting up an HP screen for ambient light viewing. Then turn it to cinema mode for nighttime viewing. Screen size is addicting; I went from a 92” to a 110” to a 142", and would go bigger if I had the room. The 5010 can easily handle a 110-120" HP.” Indeed, its brightness allows you to watch in the daytime with ease, as mdrums points out: “With lights on and for any 3D viewing, you want the Epson 5010 or 6010. Just a great all around projector.” When all is said and done, you can’t do much better than these models if its quality 3D you’re looking for.
While JVC does 2D and Epson does 3D best, those who value 2D and 3D performance equally may want to check out this puppy, which delivers the best balance of each in one unit. EtherMagic explains: “The Sony really is the ‘Jack of all Trades;’ it does it all. It’s not the best at anything, but it does everything very good. Gaming, 2D, and 3D -- and thats exactly what I am looking for.” ondaedg agrees that this is one well-rounded, versatile machine: “The Sony IMHO is the best all around machine for movies, 3D, and gaming. The cheaper Sony bulbs is also another plus if you put a lot of hours on the projector.” The HW30’s inexpensive replacement bulbs make it very appealing for heavy users, as zombie10k explains: “Consider that the Sony has the lowest price lamp right now...it's hard to believe how inexpensive it is, so you might not feel as guilty for burning up the hours on the projector.”
The only downside to this machine seems to be its lack of contrast, but this doesn’t seem to detract much from its overall performance. zombie10k was skeptical, but the HW30 won him over: “I didn't think the Sony HW30 was going to compete given it's lower native contrast, but overall, I was quite surprised at how well the dynamic iris allows for a competitive IQ.” xb1032 is also a fan, despite its shortcomings: “From what I saw with the Sony HW30, its 3D was MUCH better than the JVC. 2D looked good too, but contrast was lacking.”
No matter though, this projector does everything and does it well, as Ron Jones points out: “The Sony VPL-HW30 is a projector that's not the best at either 2D or 3D, but is fairly good at both. Unlike most 3D projectors in this price range, it does support frame interpolation (for smooth motion) in 3D mode that many, perhaps most, viewers believe improves 3D overall (even though many do not like to use it with most 2D material).” In the end, perhaps Friendly Fire sums up the HW30 best when he says, “the HW30 is better house broken, avoids the JVC legacy bulb drama, and the 3D rocks. I was disdainful of 3D before I got it -- I even had to buy a new Blu-ray player to test it out. Amazing -- talk about immersive...after 8 months with the HW30 I can concur that the best all around goes to the Sony.”
Best under 2K:
For projectors that cost $2000 and less, the W7000 is arguably the best bang for your buck. It does everything well (including excellent brightness and 3D capabilities), and its performance is right up there next to many more expensive units. Member jimmy12 raves that “there is no doubt that the W7000 is a fantastic projector, and given the fact that it is comparable in cost to the HD8600... but has 3D, better lens shift, more placement flexibility (without having to purchase expensive lenses), and is slightly brighter, it's going to be the better projector for a lot of people.” dangc is also quick to point out that its value is second to none considering its high performance: “For me and others that need a bright calibrated image, this new BenQ W7000 may be one of the only games in town unless we want to move up to the big money.”
For all its benefits, the W7000’s biggest strengths are its 3D and its brightness, which makes it great for watching sports, as blee0120 raves: “The w7000 colors are excellent, 3D is amazing, and sports are so much better than my RS55.” curtishd also has great things to say about the unit’s awesome brightness: “As far as black levels, the W7000 is respectable, but the JVC is better. The W7000 easily wins brightness though, and I like a bright picture. As far as it being too bright, you can dial it down and over time the lamp dims, so I wouldn't worry too much about this. The only other issue I had was that the W7000's lens shift is far more limited than the JVC.”
zombie10k does a great job of elaborating on this with some good insight into the unit’s impressive lumens: “The BenQ has a sharp, vibrant image. it's main strength is 3D and an flexible lens shift for HP owners. There is also a 1500+ lumen torch mode that looked pretty good with ambient light on the HP. I would watch Formula One racing with this mode. The contrast is typical of other DLP's in this price range, but not at the same level as the JVC / Sony. The inexpensive W7000 is also guaranteed not to ghost. When the W7000 goes in 3D mode, the image is so rock solid, it looks like 2D mode. When the glasses sync, you see the perfect, non-ghosting image with zero flicker - very easy on the eyes. 4 to 5 plus hour 3D marathons are no big deal.. the brain says 'bring it on.’” For its price, it should be clear that not much can beat the W7000 in overall performance.
Best under 1K:
For those on a budget, this Viewsonic unit provides the best picture on the market for under $1000. Projectors in this lower price range are DLP, and many will have a “rainbow effect” of sorts in their image due to the fact that they use a 4-segment wheel. Unlike those other projectors, the Pro8200 uses a 7-segment wheel, which provides an excellent image for its price range. coderguy explains: “The Viewsonic has less rainbow effect if you are sensitive, even most people sensitive to it would find the Viewsonic to not be bothersome. Other than the 6x color wheels of the Optoma HD33, the Pro8200 is the only one that doesn't have much rainbow effect under $1500 for me. That is why I still own the Viewsonic instead of other DLPs, because of almost zero rainbow effect and zero lag. Many of the 720p projectors only have 3x color wheels, and that is more rainbow effect than even a Mitsubishi or a BenQ, much less the Viewsonic, which has almost none.”
There are plenty of other reasons why this unit is better than its peers, and member rgtaa lists many of them: “I picked this model over the others because it's the cheapest of the bunch in 1080p. It has a three-year warranty, which is the most of the bunch...It's super bright and comes with a carrying case...Also, its 4,000-6,000 hours bulb life beats the heck out of all the others. The Pro8200 is a great portable projector, and the cheapest of the bunch... it's best suited for your living room, travel, and gaming.”
Most notable out of these reasons is the Viewsonic’s brightness, which is definitely rare for a projector this inexpensive. Member plplplpl raves that “this Pro8200 is not just a light cannon, it's a howitzer of lumens. And the colors are vivid -- I crave brightness, so I can't believe I actually turned the brightness down to 25, even in Eco Mode.” coderguy elaborates on this: “I have over 1000 lamp hours on the Viewsonic with zero issues and the lamp is still VERY bright...the Viewsonic is easily the best all-around DLP projector ever made under $1000 when you average all the attributes out (gaming, brightness, sharpness, etc.)...It also has some of the most accurate OOTB color once the lamp gets past 500 hours, and I mean seriously insanely accurate. I am guessing once I measure the saturation tracking that it probably tracks more accurately than most projectors -- that is probably why the color looks so accurate after the lamp is worn in. After lamp wear, It's actually more accurate than every other projector I've owned, except the Mitsubishi HC4000 and Sony VW70 (and they are really close).” That’s some high praise for a projector at this price range. After seeing AVS’ opinions, this unit should be a no-brainer for those projector-hunters on a tight budget.
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