Home theater projectors have advance rapidly in quality over the last decade while prices have plummeted. Inexpensive home theater projectors are better than ever and some of them are terrific. So it's time to ask an obvious question: how do today's moderately priced home theater projectors compare to the expensive high-end brands?
We've got two projectors on hand that created a fascinating side by side comparison--the Runco XtremeProjection X200i and the Epson Pro Cinema 6030UB. Runco's X-200i is a premium DLP-based home theater projector priced at $14,999 including a standard lens. The Epson Pro Cinema 6030UB at $3,499 is not in the same league pricewise, but we could not resist the temptation to put the 6030UB up against the Runco X200i to see how it would fare against a (presumably) much more substantial product.
Some important comments on set up
The Runco X-200i is very bright as home theater projectors go. It is rated at 1430 ANSI lumens when fully video-optimized in its lowest light output configuration, and we measured ours at 1378 lumens. It doesn't have any dimmer operating modes, and no eco-mode to reduce lamp power. Realistically, the X-200i is made for larger than average home theaters with screen sizes in the 150" to 180" diagonal range.
The first step in any side-by-side picture quality evaluation is to equalize two things--the projected image size and the average light level on the screen. Since the X-200i won't go any dimmer than almost 1400 lumens, the Epson 6030UB must be put into its bright Living Room mode which also puts out about 1400 lumens when the lens is at wide angle. (Note: All of the 6030UB's optimized theater modes--Cinema, THX, B&W Cinema, and Natural, are programmed to output around 800 lumens. Using any of them against the X-200i will cause the 6030UB to look quite dim by comparison.)
Another important factor in setting up this test was the impact of the 6030UB's zoom lens on its light output. The 6030UB has a long 2.1x zoom lens compared to the X-200i's 1.3x lens. From any given throw distance, the 6030UB will throw both a smaller and a much larger picture than the X-200i is capable of. So it's easy to use the 6030UB's zoom to match the image size to anything the X-200i is producing. However, if you go too far from the wide-angle end of the lens on the 6030UB, it begins to curtail light output. At the midpoint of the zoom lens, you've lost 20% of the projector's light potential. That means Living Room mode, which is about 1400 lumens at wide angle, is about 1100 lumens at the lens midpoint. That is enough to make the 6030UB's image look less vibrant as compared to the X-200i.
The bottom line is that if the projectors are placed in the same rack at the same distance from the screen, the 6030UB at wide angle will project an image that is much too large for the comparison. So it is necessary to place the 6030UB closer to the screen to allow the use of the wide-angle end of the zoom. In our testing, we projected two 5-foot wide images side by side on a 10.5 foot wide Stewart Studiotek 100. The Runco X-200i was 11 feet from the screen, and the Epson 6030UB was 8 feet from the screen. With this set up we were able to achieve parity in both image size and image brightness.