I have been through four projectors in the last month and I feel obligated to post my path to home theater happiness. It's been hard to say the least, as I keep mulling over all the trade-offs projectors have, and they ALL have trade offs. I have come up with a bit of a revalation, for me anyway, and the story ends with the W1200, and a few tricks.
I was willing to spend in upwards of $2000 on a PJ to replace my old 720p that blew bulb #3. I just wanted a solid 1080p performer with blacks that looked, well, black. I know all about dynamic irises and I get a little wierded out with how some perform, with the exception of very dark movies where the iris closed down most of the time; ie Harry Potter, Tron, ect. I think it's a downright lie they way these machines are marketed. 200,000:1 is BS because there is not ONE frame where the picture shows Blacks and Whites are this far apart in luminosity (is that a word?). The iris just slides the native contrast from frame to frame making the overall frame brighter or darker to suit its needs. Just my .02.
So initially I bought an Epson 8350. Good warranty, bright, nice colors, fairly clear picture, super quiet fan, but I just could not get over how it handled motion. It was blurry and pixel laden. It literally made me ill and after a while all I could see was crappy movement. I wasn't even taking in the movie, just scrutenizing the bad picture...Now, my children on the other hand never even noticed so they aren't nearly as fussy as I. I boxed it up and sent it back.
Next came a Mits HC4000. Most people seem happy with this and comment on the blacks. The blacks were okay. Seemed the same as my old DLP with Darkchip 2. It too was quiet, and colors were nice. My only problem was I could never get the thing uniformily sharp. It seemed okay in the center, but the ESPN crawler on the bottom of the screen was always out of focus. I expected a sharper picture than my 720p had, and this was not. Even the Dish network guide looked a little off. I must have gotten up to adjust focus on the thing a hundred times. Never happy, I ordered a W1200 in hopes that the optics were better, higher quality, and sharp.
I was lucky to have both the HC4000 and W1200 for nearly a week at the same time. One mounted on the ceiling and one on a table-top. USB and Component cables could easily be flip-flopped for easy comparison. I could run both at the same time, on the same screen, with masking tape over half of each lens. The W1200 on the left and the HC4000 on the right. It was a little wierd at first but I got them dialed in nicely. I watched a good 6 hours of material this way. Sports, movies, nature, blu-ray, and all the time fiddling with the remotes to tweek settings that I got off of the forums and compare.
First thing you will notice is a little delay in the W1200. As long as you can adjust the sound delay on your receiver 126ms then you are fine. Probably not a gaming PJ, but I am more intested in TV/Movies. I had 70 ms delay in the HC4000.
Secondly was overall sharpness. The W1200 was noticable sharper all over. Even in the center. Add to that CFI (low mode) in sports, and the BenQ was much more detailed. This was noticed by everyone in my household. Good job here BenQ.
Fan noise can best be thought of this way: 1,2,3,4,5. The HC4000 is a 1 on low lamp and the W1200 on low (table mounted) is a 2. Mount the W1200 on the ceiling and the fan kicks up a notch to a level 3. Turn the HC4000 to High lamp and you will hear a level 4. And finally the W1200 on high is a 5. I find that anything under level 3 is acceptable and comparable to a refrigerator running in the room. 4 and 5's are too loud according to my wife's delicate ears.
Next thing was brightness. The W1200 was night and day brighter than the HC4000. So much so that the Low setting onthe W1200 is VERY comparable to the High setting on the HC4000. To make the split screen picture uniform, I ran the two PJs this way. There was no way to make the W1200 as dim as the HC4000. This brings me to black levels (dark grey levels in this case). I looked at Arts pictures I believe they are misleading. When the two PJs are adjusted to the same overall lumens, the black levels are completely indistinguishable. Now if you drop the HC4000 to Low, the blacks are marginally better, but at the expense of the light and white colors. This half of the screen then looks less vibrant and lacks the POP of the W1200. I know your eyes should adjust and bring back the POP, but so too will they adjust to the blacks, er, I mean dark greys...Darkchip3 might just be a marketing ploy, I dunno. The noise may be a tiny tiny bit better with it though.
I liked the W1200 except for it's known weakness, black levels. It was almost set to be returned with the HC4000 when I thought I'd try the old ND2 filter trick. I thought, what the heck? The highlights and lights are so strong on this thing what could it hurt? At the worst case it will be brought down to the HC4000 on low lamp mode...But it did more than that...
After some setting tweeks(I will disclose these in a later post), I turned the two PJs back on. The BenQ had appearantly blacker blacks and brighter whites..!!??? Huh? I know contrast hasn't changed but my brain sure thinks it has...The picture came to life. The black bars on the top and bottom were, well, black...Okay, blackish. Not JVC black, but not bad.
I had dismissed the ND2 filter as a usable tool on these things but with the W1200 it is a must have. Especially for movies that you know will have a lot of dark material. It just made my old PJ darker all over, but the super bright whites of the BenQ actuall favor the change and it seems to tame the clipping. With time and bulb age the filter may have to come off, but for now it's gonna stay.
Finally, for those of you on the fence between the BenQ and the Mits, the BenQ was noticable the better in my own situation. I have a totally light controlled room, dark walls, with subtile ambient lighting and a white 93" screen and minimal gain. PJ was 11'6" and seating the same. The filter is a Tiffen 67mm ND2 that I use in photography.