Well, it's been 3 months since CEDIA. From it, we learned that there was three new contenders for best LCD PJ. Here is my take on the status of those projectors.
As you can guess, this "review" includes the Sanyo PLV-Z2, the Sony VPL-HS20, and the Panasonic AE500U (L500U). Primarily, my opinion is based on the feedback I've read here utilizing last year's specs vs. performance as a guide to make some educated guesses about unconfirmed performance differences which still remain between these units. Assuming you understood what I just said, here we go. (If not, who cares. I'm full of it anyway).
The resolutions of these machines are basically identical. Yes, the HS20 has some extra resolution, but for source material that is less than 1080, the extra resolution could be considered useless. DVD, 480p, and 720p material will all look as good or better if confined to 720 lines of horizontal resolution (e.g., using straight-thru mode). The step-up to 768 lines will not improve these source resolutions -- while it may even hurt them. (If this was not true, then 1:1 pixel mapping would not be so coveted by HS20 owners)!
If the HS20's scaler is REALLY good, then 768 lines may make a marginal improvement while displaying 1080-lined source material. If not, mapping 1080 down to 720 will probably produce equivalent results. The only place the extra lines truly come in handy are for computer resolution(s) that utilize 768 lines. (In this regard, Sony appears to remember that digital projectors were born as computer peripherals. And, they recognize that many owners want the leading edge of computers to provide the source material for their computers).
The edge goes slightly to Sony, but for non-HTPC owners this edge is negated and they become pretty darn equal.
Last year, the HS-10 was rated at 1200 lumens; the Panasonic 300U was rated at 800 lumens; and the Sanyo PLV-Z1 was rated at 700 lumens. But this didn?t appear to tell the real story. In a review from Projector Central, the following conclusion was made:
When it comes to lumen output, believe it or not the PLV-Z1 is the brightest of the three machines after calibration. Though it is rated at only 700 ANSI lumens, we measured actual lumen output in high brightness mode at 646, and in low power/cinema mode it came in at 503. That is somewhat brighter than the after-calibration readings of either the L300U or the Sony HS10, both of which have higher lumen ratings as per manufacturer's specifications. (More reason to ignore published specifications!)
This review is certainly not -- gospel -- since the modes being compared were not specified. However, I strongly believe that it refers to each particular machine's best mode for viewing video -- where color and contrast are held more important that brightness. Certainly, Projector Central said (in the HS10 review) that the HS10 could output near 1000 lumens -- but that was without the filter and Cinema mode. And, most people reported that this mode was pretty disappointing in terms of color accuracy and contrast. Also, the picture was "washed out" looking.
Certainly this year could be different. The filter is no longer required on the HS20 but the Sanyo's and the Panasonic's ratings also went up slightly. To me, the real indicator is that the HS20 is only rated -- by Sony -- about 15% higher than last year. If we use the review above and the manufacturer's own ratings from last year to project this year's performance, it seems likely that the brightness of all three machines will be VERY similar again (though the HS20 might prove to be slightly brighter this time). That could be significant for some, however this forum seems to point out that it takes more like a 50%+ gain before you should start bragging about brightness improvements.
The addition of MLA -- included only on the Sony -- should also boost brightness ratings. But the small shootouts (which have included the HS20) have not mentioned that the HS20 was brighter. To me, this is significant -- because, if the HS20 were noticeably brighter, I think it would have been clearly noticed by now! (The exception would be where Tom Huffman measured his HS20 significantly brighter than his HS10. Still the measurements are in doubt -- because the scale appears wrong. More importantly, he did not conclude that it was brighter than the Sanyo or the Panasonic). In fact, no one has reported this.
Here's something else I'm considering: The Sony uses a 180W bulb vs. ~130W bulb in the other two machines. With the extra heat/light that a 180W must produce, I have to wonder if polarizer failure might be more likely on the Sony LCD panels. Sure, a good cooling system could counter this additional threat, but it has been reported that venting issues were the cause of many HS10 problems (including bulb failures?). As support for this statement, here's a March 10, 2003 quote from ProjectorCentral.com:
NOTE: By the way, we have found no evidence of product reliability problems with the HS10. Following our request last month for user feedback on this product, a small army of HS10 users wrote in to describe their experiences. The vast majority of users reported no problems at all. Overwhelmingly users were delighted with the unit. Of those who did have problems, almost all of them were found to be related to ventilation and overheating problems in the user's environment that were under the user's control. After discussing these issues with the owners, we received updates back from them saying that correcting heat dissipation and intake vent clearance issues resolved their problems.
Part of the issue with venting on the HS10 is that exhaust heat could get back into the unit!
The lens of the HS10 is recessed into the bezel a couple of inches. Covering the lens is a plastic lens hood that is flush with the front bezel and provides a continuity of the faceplate. The lens hood keeps dust out of the light engine. It also prevents hot fan exhaust from being sucked back into the unit through the lens opening?without the hood in place some of the heated exhaust exiting the front bezel makes a U-turn and goes back into the projector.
The HS10 exhausts heat out the front bezel. The good news is that it can be mounted closer to a rear wall without worry of too much heat build up around the unit. The downside is that since the heat is directed into the light path of the projected image, the heat itself could conceivably induce a slight shimmering effect in the projected image when ceiling mounted. If you encounter this situation you may want to attach a deflector to mitigate the problem. If you do, take great care not to inhibit the flow of air from the exhaust vent.
These observations about the HS10 combined with the knowledge that the HS20 uses the same case, lead me to believe that cooling may not have been improved this year. Yeah, the new unit is quieter -- so the fan must be different. But, do you believe it cools better AND is quieter? (I'm skeptical, but we can certainly hope).
That said, I would expect all three machines to be fairly equal in brightness -- with the POTENTIAL for the HS20 to become the winner. However, the AI modes on the Z2 and 500U may be an equally dynamic method for increasing the excitement of the picture and ultimately offset the value of the HS20's extra brightness in most light-controlled environments.
The Sony may have the advantage, but the Sanyo may run cooler and last longer. Both seem like good candidates for the winner. (Panny sounds like it's too loud in bright mode, so it loses here).
All three machines are rated at 1300:1 contrast. None of the comparisons have shown that one is better than the other in real world tests. However, the HS20 and the Z2 have the IRIS feature which does provide greater flexibility. Loser Panasonic without IRIS.
Color saturation and accuracy:
Everyone says the machines are great in this regard. No winner/loser.
The Sanyo and the HS20 have been reported very quiet. The 500U has been reported somewhat noiser -- since AI must be used to create it's best CR. Loser Panasonic.
Panasonic is the only one that has this. However, no one has reported that it helps -- now that all machines have a 720+ line resolution. No advantage.
Only Sanyo has this and it provides greater flexibility in mounting. Could be a real advantage for Sanyo! However, if you can mount perpendicular to the screen, this feature is unnecessary.
Powered Zoom and Focus:
Sony is the only one that offers this. Advantage Sony (especially if you display varied formats and don't have an elaborate masking system).
DVI for the Sanyo and Panasonic. Sony adds HDMI. Advantage Sony -- if you want two digitally inputted devices (outboard switch unnecessary). This could become particularly advantageous if HD-DVDs force the use of digital interfaces. Advantage Sony.
The Z2 costs about 2/3rds what the Sony costs. I expect the 500U to be similar to the Z2 -- but it's not released in the U.S. yet. Clear advantage Sanyo. It's here, It costs less.
Panel misalignments reports seem to be cropping up all over the place for the HS20. Though I only recall 1 machine from each brand being sent back, the HS20's panel alignment complaints seem like a bad omen. Still, it's too early to tell, but Sanyo has the best warranty as the best cushion. Advantage Sanyo. Disadvantage Panasonic.
Certainly, there are other elements to consider but these are the most important to the average consumer. Furthermore, I think the average consumer doesn't use a HTPC to drive their projector. They will input DVD, HDTV, and SDTV. Certainly, many will add video games and use computers, but I would guess this is the exception.
With that in mind, it seems apparent that the Panasonic leaves the most to be desired -- especially with only a one-year warranty. I have a lot of respect for this company, the quality of the products they've released in recent years, and the price competition they've created as a result. But, in this case, I can't see any way for the 500U to win this race. They lost too many of the battles above and didn't win any! (FYI: I would pick the L300U -- if not for these units).
That leaves the Z2 and HS20 to vie for top honors. Certainly, the HS20 has better (digital) inputs, the potential for a marginal improvement on 1080 source material, and an unconfirmed possibility to produce the most brightness. However, the later two advantages will be marginal -- at best -- and a switchbox can be purchased if necessary. Still, if you display a wide variety of input formats (16:9, 4:3, PC, games, etc), the motorized zoom and focus could really come in handy. Also, the fact that the native resolution more closely matches the computer world means the HS20 is probably is the best choice as a computer peripheral, home theater, and gaming screen. So, if the extra price doesn't bother you (and with all those toys, it probably doesn't), this unit is probably going to be the best choice.
However, I want something to use as a MOVIE THEATER. Sure, I also want to watch HDTV on it occasionally while being ready for HD-DVDs when they are released. For day-to-day TV viewing (SDTV/HDTV) and playing games, I think the price difference would be better spent on a large CRT TV (or rear projection TV). That way you don't have to waste expensive bulb time on "everyday" enjoyment. Also, you can sit and talk in a light-friendly environment.
So for me, the price savings from the Sanyo -- combined with the better warranty make it the better bargain. Add to that, the flexibility of the lens shift, the fact that the Z2 has AI -- and -- the IRIS (HS20 only has IRIS), I think the Z2 presents itself as strong competitor. In fact, so strong, that I think my money will be better spent on the Z2.
As I said at the beginning, I'm full of it. I really don't know what the heck I want for sure, but I think I'm getting close. So, I wanted to get some thoughts down on paper. Then, I decided to share them with you. Let me hear what you think!
Edited to correct conversion errors. I created this in Word. Apostrophes, quotes, and double quotes pasted into this editor as questions marks!