Home Video Projector Shootout:
Three 1080p projectors under $1000

Bill Livolsi, October 15, 2013

This year we've seen lots of action in the sub-$1000 home theater market, and several of those projectors turned out to be exceptionally good for the price. Three of the best garnered quite a bit of attention -- the BenQ W1070, Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2030, and Optoma HD25. These three projectors are the strongest values in today's budget home theater market. All feature native 1080p resolution with full HD 3D capabilities. All cost less than $1000. But that's about where the similarities end.

While the W1070, 2030, and HD25 are all outstanding projectors for the money, they are all outstanding in their own ways, and their particular quirks mean that one person's perfect projector is another person's dud. Here is how to figure out which projector is right for you.

Update December 13 2013: As the Optoma HD25 has now been discontinued, this shootout has been updated to include its replacement, the Optoma HD25E.

Evaluating This Year's Projectors

Part of the difficulty in deciding between the BenQ W1070, Epson Home Cinema 2030, and Optoma HD25E is that they have similar specifications despite looking very different in actual use. All three projectors have similar light output, with bright modes producing a touch less than 2,000 lumens, and their contrast ratings are 10,000:1, 15,000:1, and 20,000:1, respectively. But the specs tell you nothing about how these projectors actually look.

The big question is always the same: "which projector should I buy?" And the answer, as always, is "it depends."

Rather than spend the next 2,000 words nitpicking each projector on a point-by-point basis, we've distilled each projector down to its essence by picking the best projector for each of several popular applications. By approaching your projector purchase from the angle of "what do I need my projector to do" rather than fussing over specifications, you will end up with a product that better suits your needs.

THE GAMER: Optoma HD25E

If you care about video games, there's no beating the Optoma HD25E. The HD25E's 17 millisecond input lag makes it the gamer's top choice, coming in a half-frame quicker than the W1070 at 24 ms and a full frame faster than the Home Cinema 2030's 34 ms top speed. Accurate out-of-the-box color makes calibration essentially optional, and the HD25E has excellent dynamic range for a sub-$1000 1080p projector. All of these factors add up to a wonderful gaming experience that's hard to match without spending a lot more money. Better yet, a 3,500/6,000 hour lamp life makes the projector inexpensive to use during extended play sessions--lamp replacements will not be a frequent occurrence.

The HD25E falls short when it comes to calibration, as it has only single-axis RGB controls rather than separate gain/bias adjustments. Additionally, the four preset factory image modes are locked, and there's only one User mode, so only one calibration can be saved at a time. These limitations make the HD25E less attractive for home theater use, but do not detract from its performance as a gaming projector.

The Optoma HD25E doesn't just replace the HD25; it also improves upon it. The HD25E uses a different lamp than the HD25, and replacements cost $179 instead of $399. Maximum light output in Bright mode is now 1725 lumens, compared to 1185 lumens on the old model. And the speakers are now 8W stereo instead of 5W stereo, though the difference isn't very dramatic in actual use.

THE THEATER BUFF: BenQ W1070

The BenQ W1070 ties with the Optoma HD25E for excellent 2D image quality; both projectors offer superb color and dynamic range. The W1070 also includes a 1.3:1 zoom lens with a limited amount of vertical lens shift, which is unique among the projectors in the group. This makes the W1070 ideal for a ceiling mount and just plain easier to mount all around. The projector also has a 6x speed RGBRGB color wheel, so only the most sensitive of viewers will get even a hint of rainbow effects; this is as good as it gets for single-chip DLP projectors and contributes to well-saturated color and a naturally balanced image. The W1070 uses DLP Link's inexpensive 3D glasses, making it affordable to stock up for those times when you have a large audience in your theater.

The W1070 has full calibration controls, including RGB gain/bias adjustments and a complete color management system. It also has two ISF user modes, which provide additional memory locations for user-defined settings. Those can come in handy when you want your projector to look its best both during the day and at night as ambient light levels change.

With a 24 ms frame delay, the W1070 has little input lag, but it does not have the fastest gaming performance -- that honor goes to the Optoma HD25E at 17 ms. It also lacks a VESA 3D sync port and is thus the only projector in this group limited solely to DLP Link glasses. Its factory settings are less color accurate than those on the HD25E, so calibration is something that serious movie buffs will want to invest in. But all in all, If you can do it yourself, a well-calibrated W1070 is the strongest option when it comes to pure 2D home theater performance in the sub-$1000 price category. Hiring a professional to calibrate it will cost a few bills more.

GOODBYE TELEVISION: Epson Home Cinema 2030

While all three of the projectors in this group offer good value for the money, the Epson Home Cinema 2030 is in a class of its own even among the budget kings. For the same sub-$1000 price as the other two projectors, the 2030 claims a longer run time of 5,000 hours with the lamp at full power, versus 3,500 hours on the W1070 and HD25E. More importantly, replacement lamps for the 2030 cost only $99 (versus $249 for the W1070 and $179 for the HD25E), making it an obvious candidate for heavy usage applications like TV replacement. It doesn't hurt that the 2030's two-year warranty is twice as long as the competitors' one-year warranties, either.

The 2030 is the only projector in the group with an MHL-enabled HDMI port, which allows for the use of media devices like the Roku Streaming Stick to create a compact TV replacement system complete with media access without running a ton of cables. The projector's relatively high black level is less of a concern in a living room-type installation where ambient light is omnipresent, but at night the projector's auto iris can bring back a reasonable facsimile of black level performance.

The Home Cinema 2030 is an LCD projector, so there's no spinning color wheel to worry about and zero chance of rainbow artifacts. The 2030 uses Epson's excellent radio-frequency 3D glasses, though none are included. Glasses cost $99 per pair, which is more than the typical DLP Link 3D glasses used by the W1070 or HD25E, but the 2030 uses radio-frequency sync by default whereas the HD25E requires an adapter and the W1070 cannot use anything except DLP Link. As such, 3D eyewear can get pricey for a large group, but the quality of that eyewear is very high.

The Home Cinema 2030 does have a few weaknesses. It has a tiny 2W speaker, whereas each of its competitors has more robust audio output. The projector's lensing is unique (a less kind term would be "non-traditional"), and installing the 2030 can require more thought than installing either the HD25E or the W1070. While the W1070 and HD25E have a mild upward throw angle that makes ceiling mounting easy, the Epson 2030 projects a portion of the image below the centerline of the lens. As such, ceiling mounts will likely require a long extension tube. In standard video operating modes, input lag is 100ms (6 frames), but switching to "Fast" processing reduces that to 34ms (2 frames) which is still usable to most gamers.

TAKING IT ON THE ROAD: Optoma HD25E

The differences between the HD25 and HD25E are relatively minor, but in combination they manage to steal the portable crown from the W1070. Here's why.

The W1070 is still lighter than the HD25E by about half a pound, and it still has a placement advantage with its 1.3:1 zoom lens and vertical lens shift, though the shift range is small and the zoom advantage minimal. But the HD25E's stereo 8W speakers are louder than the 10W mono speaker on the W1070, and the HD25E's superior out-of-the-box color gives it a hassle-free setup.

The HD25E produces 1440 lumens in Cinema mode, about as much as the W1070 produces in Dynamic. The Epson Home Cinema 2030 is still brighter, but the Epson 2030's unconventional lensing (a portion of the image is projected below the centerline of the lens) makes it difficult to set up on the fly without tilting the projector and applying keystone correction, making it ill-suited to portable use. And while the HD25E's $179 replacement lamp can't match the $99 of the Epson 2030, it's also not as expensive as the $249 lamp in the W1070.

DEDICATED 3D THEATER: Optoma HD25E

Previously, we recommended the Optoma HD25-LV for dedicated 3D theater due to that projector's high brightness. We measured 1124 lumens from the HD25-LV during 3D viewing, a 40% premium over the HD25. The HD25E fares much better than its predecessor, and our test sample measured around 900 lumens during 3D use. Using a total 3D transmission figure of about 12.5% (this depends on which glasses you use) and a screen gain of 1.3, that gives you a 100" diagonal 16:9 image at just under 5 foot-Lamberts, which is above the 4 fL threshold for acceptable 3D viewing in a darkened environment. In other words, it is possible to watch large-format 3D on the HD25E without giving yourself a headache.

The HD25-LV is still brighter, however, and if you have the extra cash we'd still recommend it over the HD25E for this application. But for less than $1000, the HD25E is our pick.

Reader Comments(13 comments)

Posted Jul 30, 2014 11:51:15 AM

By Michael Smith

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
@Paul Palmeiras, I know this is likely too late to help you, to answer your question, even though the 1080st uses the same lamp and is closer which would give a brighter image, the lens is different and likely has a smaller aperture due to the wide angle, so the less light is allowed through the lens keeping the brightness the same.

Posted Nov 13, 2013 9:48:26 AM

By Paul Palmeiras

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
Concerning to the observation about 3D brightness of these budget projectors, I have a question: as the BenQ 1080ST is basically the same as the w1070, does it's short throw configuration makes benefits in terms of brightness due to its closer position to the screen?

Posted Nov 12, 2013 8:56:40 AM

By chilipepper

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
I am curious as to how would you rate the Mitsubishi HC4000 vs. the Optoma HD131XE and the BenQ W1070 for a 92" screen in a dedicated darkened theater? They are all at the same price point right now. Is the fact that Mitsubishi is getting out of the PJ business worry you at all for getting replacement lamps in the future?

Posted Nov 3, 2013 7:05:36 AM

By Charles L.

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
Excellent shootout even without the new Optoma models. The new models don't believe significantly change the results. Optoma would still be #1 for gaming(lag didn't change). The BenQ still wins #1 for 2D dedicated theater(calibration ability still isn't any better on the new Optoma's). With the lowered bulb cost and bumped lumen output, the Optomas may give the Espon a run for it's money for #1 living room PJ. The BenQ still wins for portable use(but one of the newer Optomas should be considered if you give presentations on a large format screen). For a dedicated 3D theater, the newer brighter Optoma's would be a decent fit, but would definitely still recommend spending a few hundred more if large format dedicated 3D is your main usage(for non-dedicated large format 3D, I've been happy with my HD25-LV).

P.S. Based mostly on the advice of this site, I went with the Optoma HD25-LV for my set-up. Large screen(135"), ambient light issues at times(but well controlled overall), heavy gamer(lag killed the Epsons and a VeiwSonic model I had in my list), and 3D(with the RF glasses, I never tried DLP, all I can say is "wow").

Posted Oct 24, 2013 9:05:34 AM

By Jason D

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
Great shootout. Thanks for the info. Much appreciated!

Posted Oct 23, 2013 11:41:43 AM

By Robert Hill

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
When you review the new Optoma projectors, if you can measure color lumens as well as white lumens it might help explain the differences between the models. The -LV models may have a white segment on the color wheel.

Posted Oct 17, 2013 10:50:34 AM

By Bill Livolsi

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
Gaming Fan, Robert Hill, David - Unfortunately, the switchover from HD25 to HD25e occurred while we were writing this article, and we were not informed of the line-up change until after we'd completed our shootout. We do have an HD25e on the way and we will update this article once it arrives and we have a chance to test it out.

Posted Oct 16, 2013 12:19:43 PM

By Gaming Fan

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
This isn't a fair comparison at this point. Optoma has the HD25e (replaces the HD25) and there is the HD25-LV, which is already mentioned. Lets not forget the HD131XE

I have recnetly purchased the HD25e and it's great for my home theatre, and the 3D was solid to say the least. I am not a "professional" projector reviewer, but I have to say that so far I am impressed with the 2D and 3D output, as our many guest who come and watch a movie.

I think this comparison would have been more beneficial if it used the current optoma line...

Posted Oct 16, 2013 9:24:25 AM

By Busterbvi

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
I would also like confirmation on this as I am about to invest in one of the above and good 3D is crucial.

Posted Oct 15, 2013 5:42:40 PM

By David

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
Bill -

Great article and comparison for "us" affordable home theater projector buyers. One point, however. I think that Optoma has replaced the HD 25 with the HD 25e that puts out 2800 lumens versus the 2000 lumens of the HD 25, so the 3D performance should be improved...

Posted Oct 15, 2013 5:10:05 PM

By Robert Hill

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
The HD25 is no longer listed on Optoma's website, being replaced by the HD25e. It addresses two limitations, the high bulb cost and lack of lumens in 3D. There is also the HD131XE. Optoma is secretive about the differences between these 4 versions of the HD25 and it would be great to see the real brightness difference in 3D.

Thanks

Posted Oct 15, 2013 4:54:30 PM

By EeeTee

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
Whoops - my bad. Projectorreview.com compared the Epson 3020, not the 2030 to the Optoma HD25-LV.

Too many similar model numbers...

Posted Oct 15, 2013 4:47:39 PM

By EeeTee

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
None of the above for 3D?

At projectorreviews.com, Art compared the Optoma HD25-LV vs. the Epson 2030 and said - Quote - "But the Epson easily outmuscles the Optoma in terms of 3D brightness."

Art is highly critical of dim 3D but found the Epson brighter than even the Optoma HD25-LV.

Who's right?

Post a comment

Commenting on this article is easy and does not require any registration. Your email address is necessary for you to activate your comment once it has been submitted. It will not be shown to other site viewers. ProjectorCentral reserves the right to remove any comment at any time for any reason. Foul language is not permitted, nor are personal attacks. All comments should remain on topic.

Name:

Email Address:(used only to confirm your comment)

Your Comment:

(Enter the numbers as they appear to the left)