LED/Laser Home Theater Projector
November 30, 2012
The Pro9000 has an MSRP of $4499, but sells for significantly less at $2999. That puts it on a level with other popular consumer home theater projectors. This year, the consumer home theater market is shaping up around three models: the Epson Home Cinema 5020UB, the Mitsubishi HC8000D-BL, and the Panasonic AE8000.
The major difference between the Pro9000 and the other three projectors is that the Pro9000 uses a hybrid LED/laser illumination system while the latter three use the same high-pressure arc lamps that have been used in projectors for many years. However, that is by no means the only difference between these products. They share very little in common.
Light output. The Pro9000's sustained light output in Theater mode is about 450 lumens. The most comparable modes on the AE8000 would be the Rec709 or Cinema 1 modes, both of which measure right around 820 lumens in full power and 533 lumens in Eco mode. On the HC8000D-BL, Cinema mode measured 626 lumens with the lamp at full power and 454 lumens in Eco mode. The Epson 5020UB's THX mode measures 766 lumens in Normal lamp mode and 575 lumens in Eco mode.
Some people will prefer the Pro9000's Standard mode, at 943 lumens. However, the AE8000's Cinema 2 mode measures 1047 lumens with the lamp set to low power, while the 5020UB's Living Room mode, once calibrated, measures 1294 lumens in Eco mode.
Why is this important? Both the AE8000 and the 5020UB can exceed the Pro9000's Standard mode light output while in Eco mode. Using Eco mode increases lamp life but it also decreases fan noise. Since the Pro9000 is louder than average in its full-power mode and all three of its competitors are whisper-quiet in Eco mode, this can be an important factor to consider in small rooms.
Lumen loss over time. High-pressure arc lamps can lose about 50% of their total light output over their lifetimes, which is used as an argument in favor of hybrid light sources. Over the 120 hours we were able to test the Pro9000, its light output decreased by about 10%. We do not know whether or to what degree it may continue to degrade as the LED/laser system ages.
On the other hand, the light output of a projector using a high-pressure lamp is usually higher than one using a hybrid system. The AE8000's Cinema 2 mode measured 1612 lumens with perfectly balanced color and excellent contrast. So even after losing 50% of its light output, the AE8000 would still be delivering the same amount of light as the Standard mode of the Pro9000 when new.
Contrast. The HC8000D, 5020UB, and AE8000 have deep black levels and excellent shadow detail. All three projectors also have comprehensive gamma adjustment systems to ensure the correct display of highlights and shadow detail. The Pro9000 has a gamma slider, but no in-depth adjustments. It crushes detail in the deepest shadows and its black levels are not really comparable with the aforementioned projectors.
Color. While no projector is perfect, the AE8000, 5020UB, and HC8000D-BL all start out with acceptable default color calibrations. They have reasonably accurate default white balance, on the order of 6500K plus or minus 500 degrees. That's not great, but they require comparatively little adjustment to bring them in line with the 6500K standard. They also feature comprehensive color controls, allowing independent adjustment of RGB gain and bias. All three projectors likewise have full color management systems. The Pro9000 starts off pushing magenta, and the color controls are not precise enough to fully calibrate the projector to 6500K across the entire grayscale.
Sharpness and Detail. The AE8000 has a smart sharpening system called Detail Clarity, while the 5020UB has a similar system called Super Resolution. Even without the smart sharpening system, though, the HC8000D, 5020UB, and AE8000 were incrementally sharper and more detailed than the Pro9000.
Placement flexibility. The Pro9000's 1.2:1 zoom and lack of lens shift make it difficult to compare against the AE8000, with its 2.0:1 zoom and H/V lens shift. The 5020UB's 2.1:1 zoom and H/V shift likewise put it head and shoulders above the Pro9000 in this category. Even the HC8000D-BL, with a 1.5:1 zoom and vertical shift, has a distinct advantage.
Frame interpolation. All three of the Pro9000's competitors have frame interpolation to smooth out judder in fast action and camera pans. The Pro9000 does not.
3D. The AE8000, 5020UB, and HC800D-BL are excellent 3D projectors, and all three have the brightness required to create a vibrant 3D picture. The Pro9000 is not 3D-enabled.
Fan noise. The 5020UB, HC8000D-BL, and AE8000 are quieter in full power mode than the Pro9000 is in Eco mode.
Value. The Epson 5020UB currently sells for $2599. The AE8000 and HC8000 are both available for $2999. The Pro9000 also sells for $2999. While the Pro9000 shares the price point of the other three projectors, the other projectors include features that are missing on the Pro9000.
If you want to compare the Pro9000 to a projector that matches its features and abilities, a good choice is the BenQ W1200. Both projectors are DLP-based, no-frills home theater projectors without 3D capability. Both have relatively limited placement flexibility and no lens shift. Both projectors have onboard speaker systems, picture-in-picture capability, and good but not leading edge contrast. The W1200 is significantly brighter, but after 50% light loss from lamp burn the two projectors have roughly equivalent light output. The W1200 also has frame interpolation and complete color controls, neither of which are present on the Pro9000. And while neither projector has lens shift, the W1200's 1.5:1 provides a bit more placement flexibility than the 1.2:1 lens found on the Pro9000.
The Pro9000's 20,000 hour lifespan beats the 4,000 hours of the W1200, but the price difference between the two would allow you to purchase five additional lamps, giving you 24,000 total hours of runtime. Some lamps may fail early, so call it 20,000 hours as a conservative estimate. And just like that, the Pro9000's major advantage disappears.
This comparison illustrates an important point - the Pro9000 has the capabilities of an entry-level home theater projector, but is priced like a mid-range product. While the LED/laser light engine has some benefits, potential buyers should not be blinded by the thought of never replacing a lamp again. Essentially, you're buying an entry-level home theater projector with the cost of the replacement lamps already built in to the retail price of the projector.