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Shoot-out: 1080p Home Theater Projectors

Evan Powell and Bill Livolsi, October 22, 2009

We currently have six of the latest 1080p home theater projectors in house:

  • BenQ W6000
  • Epson Home Cinema 8100
  • Mitsubishi HC6800
  • Panasonic AE4000
  • Samsung A900
  • Sony BRAVIA VPL-HW15

Reviews on all of these units have been completed, so we can now post a report on how these models stack up against one another.

Shoot-outs are always a challenge, because there is always one more model coming just around the corner that we want to include. For example, we just received the Epson Home Cinema 8500 UB yesterday. We will begin the review on it today, but it won't be completed until later next week. So we are not yet prepared to include it in this write up. We are also awaiting delivery of new units from JVC and others in the weeks to come. Thus, this shoot-out will be updated as we finish reviews on upcoming models.

Three Preliminary Comments

1. Cinema Mode Light Output. If there is one consistent theme in this year's crop of 1080p home theater projectors, it is brighter Cinema modes. These projectors are all brighter than previous generation units when calibrated for optimum video. It used to be that Cinema modes measured in the 350 to 450 lumen range. Almost all of the models we've seen thus far are now pumping out at least 500 to 600 lumens or even more. These brighter images have been achieved with higher contrast as well.

2. Price Volatility. Epson and Panasonic have both been more price aggressive than usual this year, which caught us by surprise. We did not expect to see a model of the quality of the Epson Home Cinema 8100 coming in at $1,599, nor did we expect to see the Panasonic AE4000 at $1,999. These moves will create some pricing volatility in the market in the short term. The assessments we make today regarding price/performance on any given model will need to be revisited quite soon as prices shift and promotional rebates are offered.

3. Comparison Format. Since we've got six 1080p home theater projectors to discuss, we have the logistical problem of comparing any one against the other five and making this an endless article. To simplify it, we will use the Panasonic AE4000 as the basis for comparison, and discuss how each model either exceeds or falls short of the AE4000 in picture quality, brightness, features, and value. This approach will let us highlight the strengths and weaknesses of all six models in the group.

Next Page
PAN AE4000 Notes
Review Contents: Preliminary Comments PAN AE4000 Notes BenQ vs AE4000 Epson vs AE4000
  Mitsubishi vs AE4000 Samsung vs AE4000 Sony vs AE4000

Reader Comments(26 comments)

Posted Oct 15, 2009 5:31 PM PST

By Studio2000

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Thanks for the shootout.

I wish I could see how the Mitsubishi HC3800 compares to these.

Thanks

Posted Oct 15, 2009 10:08 PM PST

By Doniz

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Best of luck to Korea's Samsung. Thanks, but I'll rather go with a Japanese PJ for one-sixth the price.

Posted Oct 16, 2009 9:49 AM PST

By Titus

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Yes, please include the Mitsubishi HC3800 in the shootout.

It is similarly priced as the Epson 8100, and I'm sure many people would like to know how it compares to the Panasonic AE4000, because the price difference is not that big.

The HC3800 seems to be a lot brighter in best mode than the AE4000, but I would have to keystone (135" screen, 8' ceiling) because of the insane amount of offset in the HC3800. I would not have a placement problem with AE4000, but could I use the AE4000 in normal mode and still obtain a better image than with the HC3800 in best mode?

Posted Oct 16, 2009 11:50 AM PST

By Bert

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Could you please do something similar with screens? There are many different screens out there and no real good comparison to make a decision. Thanks...great article.

Posted Oct 16, 2009 12:05 PM PST

By Rich H.

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Love the shoot-outs! I would find it helpful to hear comments on reliability. I realize these are the latest models, but how about comments on repairs or "bugs" in the preceeding years models of these projectors? I'd like to know, for example, if my experience with 4 years of using the Panasonic AE900U with only a single lamp change compares with someone else's experience with a comparable 2005 or 2006 model from Epson, Samsung, or Mitsubishi.

Posted Oct 16, 2009 12:27 PM PST

By jim lord

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Great shootout with lots of good info. Can't wait to see how the Epson 8500UB compares to the AE4000.

Posted Oct 16, 2009 12:48 PM PST

By HiHoStevo

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Thank you for your comparison Evan.... I always enjoy your comments.

I am curious about screen size and the AE4k capabilities.

I am currently using a 135" 1.8 gain 1.78 format screen, but in my soon to be completed new theater I plan on going with either a 150" 1.8 gain 1.78 format screen or with the AE4k's capabilities I had considered a 171" (maintains current screen height) 1.2 gain (not available in the 1.8 gain material) 2.40 screen.

However, your calculator only shows 9fl for the 2.40 aspect screen which I fear is not enough as I am accustomed to the brightness of my InFocus 7210.

Are you using Normal brightness for your calculator or one of the Cinema modes?

thank you,

Steve

Posted Oct 16, 2009 12:53 PM PST

By Mr Bill

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I am in the market right now for a projector. My price range is right about the $2k area. I am looking/debating between the Mitsubishi HC3800 for $1500 or the Panasonic AE4000 for $2k. My question is which is a better picture ? and will last for the long term (at least 4-5 years)? How about warranty, who has a better reputation for service ? Please give me your suggestions ? thanks

Posted Oct 16, 2009 1:04 PM PST

By PatB

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Definitive. I won't have to read about projectors now for a year or so. In fact I didn't even have to read this article past the first couple paragraphs.

You guys, who have access to all the new projectors, needed a criterion model. You chose the new Panny. That means something. Ok, I'll buy one.

Posted Oct 16, 2009 2:18 PM PST

By Dave

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Looks like we will have to wait for the 8500UB to see who is the champ. By the way JVC is now selling RS1s for $2300 on ebay and you can get 8% bing.com cash back. Definitely the best dark room projector under 3k.

Posted Oct 16, 2009 4:33 PM PST

By Heman

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Seeing Mit HC6800 only got the "closest in picture quality to the AE4000 than any of the models in this group." Is it safe to say the quality on HC3800 is not as good as any of the model in this shoot out?

Posted Oct 16, 2009 5:01 PM PST

By Romel

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I thoroughly enjoyed the shootout Evan. However, I found the comparisons lacking consistency. Example, you campared the Panasonic in normal mode vs the BenQ in its cinema mode due to the dramatic advantage in brightness the BenQ has over the Panny when they both are viewed in cinema mode. The Panny still beat the BenQ in contrast, Black level, color accuracy, color saturation and picture quality even though the Panny was viewed in a brighter mode, which typically reduces the color saturation, black level etc.

When comparing the Panny vs the Mitsubishi, the Mitsu has a pretty big brightness advantage over the Panny when they both are in their cinema modes (550 vs 703). I can deduct from your failure to compare the Panny in its normal mode with the Mitsu in its cinema mode, that the Mitsu destroys the Panny when compared in this manner. And, since the Mitsu is much brighter than the Panny when they both are in cinema mode, does the Mitsu not have more snap and sparkle to its pitcure that would give the viewer a since that the Mitsu have more of a "wow" factor to it's picture that would offset the subtle advantage the Panny has in contrast, black level and image smoothness etc.?

The same goes for the Sonny Projector, which has a huge advantage over the Panny in cinema mode. I want to know how the Panny stacks up against these 2 projectors when it's in normal mode while these projectors are in their cinema mode, to determine the Panny's picture quality when more lumens power is needed. Yes, the Panny has more features than any other projector and for it's price, it's almost unbeatable... However, I am still left with unanswered questions because of the lack of consistency in your comparison. This is the best site anywhere, internet or magazine, but please be a little more consistent in your comparisons and you will surely go from A- to A+++ and reserve your spot as the best projector site ever.

Thanks,

Romel

Posted Oct 16, 2009 6:07 PM PST

By Bullvyne

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I probably missed the specfics of the "shootout" in my enthusiasm reading this article, but what size screen (and type) was used in the comparison? I'm in the early stages of finally of building a sports bar / HT room in my basement (16'x45'.) I can't decide on the size and which screen to purchase. Even before this article was posted, I was leaning to the AE4000.

Any "help" would be greatly appreciated and many thanks for this OUTSTANDING website - I've been following "it" for over 6 years!

Posted Oct 16, 2009 8:10 PM PST

By CMS3

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I enjoyed your comparison, but wonder why you didn't include models like JVC D-ILA and Canon's 1080P projector.

I own the first Canon D-ILA projector with a Lumagen scaler, and while happy with it, I am looking for a 1080P with 2.40 capability.

Bottom line, I'd like to know what I will really give up in contrast/picture quality for the much greater lumen output, and I wish you would state which of these image enhancing features can be found on a current scaler.

Thanks -

Posted Oct 16, 2009 9:33 PM PST

By MIKE

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I enjoyed the shoot out. I heard the Pany 3000 had some reliability issues and customer service was lackluster. Some think you are biases toward pant in general. I think Pany have always had well made FEATUE RICH products. Art F. reveiws are definatly more in deph, prehaps to much so for the average consumer. I look to you both as my projector Guru's. You do a great service to the home theater hobbiest and pro. I like everyone look forward to the Epson 8500 review. Lets see if it rocks the boat! Hopefully Epson will see the competitive light and lower their prices closer to the $2000.range, if Epson wants to be in line with the newly anoined value leader, The Panasonic EA-4000! Mike w

Posted Oct 17, 2009 9:31 AM PST

By Romel

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To follow up on my earlier comments, I've notice that when I manually close the iris on my NEC HT 1100 projector to increase the Black level, contrast and color saturation etc., the picture becomes much dimmer and loses its snap/sparkle. In fact, closing my projector iris aperture in an attempt to strengthen its contrast and black levels etc., actually has the opposite effect when looking at the changes with the naked eye. Although, if you measured the actual contrast rating with the professional equipment that the team from Projector Central use, I'm sure the equipment would tell a different story.

I don't really care what the machines says, I believe my eyes. My eyes tells me that a projector that has a slight advantage in contrast, color saturation and black level over another projector that has a significant advantage in lumens/brightness in their best calibrated cinema mode for movie watching, when measured with technical equipment, can appear to have a disadvantage when viewing the projectors with the nake eye. What you actually see is what is important, not what's on a tech machine. Perception is everything and the eyes tell the brain what looks better, not technical equipment.

With that said, the Projector Central's comparison didn't compare the projectors in their economy mode, which will reduce the brightness but increase the life of the bulb, which is important to me. If a projector is too dim in it's economy mode, it can lose it's "wow" factor. This is important information that I wish you guys would report in your comparison. If I had access to the projectors to test this myself, I wouldn't be on this site. However, this is the only site that gives me most of what I need to know about projectors to help me buy. I will be looking to upgrade my projector for a 1080P model soon, and I what to ensure I buy the best projector for my viewing area.

My HT 1100 has a great pitcure when watching DVD's (DVD's look like HD) and HD TV, so I can't image what some of these new models will look like in my basement.

Thanks,

Romel

Lastly,

Posted Oct 18, 2009 8:58 PM PST

By stereowise

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Evan and Bill,

Thanks for all the great info. I am glad to hear you will be comparing the Panasonic PT-AE4000U to the Epson 8500UB. One area that I would like to hear more comparison on is with the internal video processors. The Epson uses the Silicon Optix HQV processor. I am extremely curious to see how the video processing of the Epson compares to the Panasonic. I hope you can give some detailed comparison on this.

Posted Oct 20, 2009 2:20 AM PST

By Steve

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Thanks for the shootout.

I would love to know if the frame masking feature on the AE4000 reduces the amount of excess illumination when projecting a 2.40 image.

Thanks

Posted Oct 20, 2009 4:27 AM PST

By Blue Laine-Beveridge

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In the intro to this shoot-out you state "In this six-way shoot-out, we found that the AE4000 ranked # 1 in the group as far as the picture we'd prefer to have on our screen". Then in the section on the Sony you state "as far as picture quality is concerned, the HW15 rivals the AE4000". Not trying to be a pain, but aren't you saying two different things?

Posted Oct 22, 2009 11:51 AM PST

By Colin

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I'm disappointed with your review. Not enough detail. In the comparison of the new Epson 8100 to the Panasonic 4000 you don't even mention that the Epson is the first projector ever to have 4000 Hour bulb in high and low power. In the 3 months that I have owned my Benq W5000 I have already used 600 hours of bulb life. The fact that the Epson 8100 and 8500 have 4000 hour bulbs is a huge advantage and is not something you should shrug-off in your conclusions.

Posted Oct 26, 2009 9:25 AM PST

By Marshall

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We all would love to have an inexpensive projector with substantial light output. I’d also like mine to do video properly. This means adhering to standards according to SMPTE and ATSC. To the best of my knowledge there is only one unit reviewed here that does that - the Samsung. This projector is so good at adhering to standards it is used widely in Hollywood production and post for color and contrast grading the very video the other projectors are trying to reproduce. You get what you pay for.

Posted Nov 5, 2009 1:39 PM PST

By Daniel Karlsson

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Thanks for the shootout! Greate job and really nice comparisson between the different brands. The Pana 4000 is about 4200 USD in Sweden so I have order one from USA now for only 1995$. Thanks for all the help!

Posted Nov 19, 2009 7:04 PM PST

By elston streeter

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yhis is just the kind of information I needed. My brother and I were looking to upgrade our projectors and this article helps a great deal. One question, up to what size screen does this info apply to?

Posted Nov 29, 2009 5:13 PM PST

By Bartman

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I currently have the AE-2000 which looks great. Is the 4000 much different? Would it be worth it to change projectors?

Thanks

Posted Jan 9, 2010 12:11 AM PST

By Uday Bhatia

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I have been using Pana 3000 since last 8 months.The projector is outstanding & i have used the bulb almost 600 hrs.without any problem.Before 2 months Pana came out with 4000 model at $2000.For a moment i was tempted to swap my 3000 with 4000 but it seems in a another couple of months 3d projectors should be coming out,& of course it will take about 1 or 2 years for the price to be affordable.So i think i made a wise decision to stick to Pana 3000 for the moment.

Posted Feb 6, 2010 1:31 PM PST

By Mitch

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Just about to purchase my first front-screen projector and am totally excited! I've been looking at the Panasonic 4000, Mitsubishi 7000 and the JVC DLA RS15. I know the JVC is a little more money but I can get a deal on it which makes the pricing a little more comparable, any thoughts on which would be my better choice?

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