Hi aligborat. You've certainly done your homework.
* It seems like people are having to get 2, or even 3 of these before they find one that is reasonably free of issues. Is that the norm, or is the first projector typically good from the start?!
I had one with "a random issue". Sony's 3 month exchange program more then made up for it. I literally got a replacement projector shipped to my door in a couple of days, with a return label for door side pickup of my old projector. And I have the piece of mind that if another "random issue" crops up withing 3 months, I can exchange it.
* Are the newer projectors more or less likely to have issues?
I bought mine about a month ago and it had a "random" issue.
* Despite these faults it seems like people are generally very pleased with their decision and wouldn't change it if they could.
Yes, I am very very pleased.
Finally, if anyone compared any similarly priced projectors before settling on the Sony, I'd love to hear some impressions.
Besides of course wanting a great, bright image, I also wanted a quiet projector. I didn't find any projector, at any price, that was as bright AND quiet as the Sony. The JVC's are a bit dimmer and a bit louder. The Lumis 3D solo is brighter but noticeably louder.
One knock on the Sony is that it doesn't have a CMS system. This hasn't been an issue for me, since it is reasonably well calibrated out of the box, and I intend to purchase a $600 eecolor box which will allow for a much more precise calibration then the "standard" color/gamma controls that come with other projectors.
Hope this helps, and good luck!