The following is a summary of the reviews we have conducted since last fall on 1080p projectors under $7,000, including several updates. Each summary includes the highlights and limitations of each model, and relevant comparative notes.

A Key Observation: All of the 1080p models we have seen are extremely good projectors. Whichever model you decide to get, you are going to love it. The following summaries discuss differences between the projectors, but this needs to be kept in perspective. Often the differences in picture quality are subtle, and they need to be seen side by side in order to detect them at all. That means that any one of the 1080p models shown in a theater by itself, with no standard of comparison, is going to look very impressive to just about any consumer.

So ... do yourself a big favor and don't get too bogged down in the details. Be practical. Pick a model that (a) fits your budget and (b) can be installed easily in the room you've got. Then fire it up, and sit back and enjoy the best home theater performance you've ever seen.

BenQ W10000 (DLP)

Advantages:

  • Superb contrast and black level
  • Very sharp HD image.
  • One of the brightest models in this group in video optimized mode.
  • Vertical lens shift with two picture heights' range that is best suited to rear shelf mounts
  • Dead-silent fan for quiet, cool operation
  • Picture-in-picture, an unusual feature in this group.
  • Three-year factory warranty, matches the best in the group.

Issues:
The BenQ W10000 has a short 1.15:1 zoom range, which limits installation options. The projector needs to be placed between 1.8x and 2.1x the screen width. If all seating is at a distance of less than 2.1x the screen width, it can be placed on a rear shelf or bookcase behind the seats. Otherwise, a ceiling mount is required. The vertical lens shift range of 2x picture height is good for rear shelf mounting, but restrictive for ceiling mounting. A drop tube may be required in order to position the image where you want it on the wall.

The lens is powered zoom/focus, but the zoom range is too limited to resize various aspect ratio sources to fit 4:3 or 2.35 screens.

Adjustments to overscan and gamma can only be made from the service menu. So you may want to call an ISF-certified technician to calibrate the projector.

At current street prices, the overall price/performance proposition is weak relative to the competition.

Summary:
The BenQ W10000 is a great performer, with a stunning high contrast image and great detail. Placement flexibility is limited, and professional calibration is suggested. Shop carefully for best prices.


Epson Powerlite Home Cinema 1080 (3LCD)

Advantages:

  • $2999--least expensive 1080p projector at this time
  • Very sharp HD image, comparable to DLP competition.
  • Minimal pixelation--not visible at normal viewing distances.
  • 2.1:1 zoom and ample H+V lens shift for maximum installation flexibility.
  • Very high maximum lumens for sports viewing or bright rooms
  • Excellent standard-definition deinterlacing and scaling
  • White casework often preferred for mounting on a white ceiling.
  • HDMI 1.3 compatible.

Issues:
Good contrast and color saturation overall, but black level and shadow definition is weaker than the competition.

Long zoom range is handy, but you sacrifice 45% of the projector's lumen potential at the telephoto end of the lens. The projector is not bright enough to satisfactorily fill a large screen if it is installed at too great a distance. Whenever possible, use the half of the zoom range that is toward the widest angle setting.

Connection panel has one HDMI, one component, and one VGA port. Decent connectivity, but not as extensive as other models.

Fan noise, while not loud, is more apparent than on most other models.

Unit must be taken down from ceiling mount for air filter maintenance and lamp replacement.

Summary:
The Epson Powerlite Home Cinema 1080 is the least costly way to get into 1080p front projection thus far. Outstanding value for the money. While it does not have the dynamic range or the black level of the DLP and LCOS competition, it makes 1080p more accessible to consumers simply due to its aggressive price.

See current dealer prices on the Epson Powerlite Home Cinema 1080


Epson Powerlite Pro Cinema 1080 (3LCD)

Advantages:

  • Sold by professional installers that provide calibration, as well as home theater design, installation, and training services.
  • Three-year warranty, best in the group.
  • Spare lamp and ceiling mount included in purchase price for potential 6000-hour runtime before another lamp purchase is necessary

Issues:
All of the issues cited for the Epson Home Cinema 1080 apply to the Pro version as well. The Pro 1080 has a black case rather than the Home 1080;s white case, making it more visible against a white ceiling than the Home 1080p.

Summary:
The DIY home theater enthusiast on a budget will not want to spend the extra money for the Pro 1080 over the Home 1080. The Pro is intended for the consumer who wants to have full design and installations services that can deliver a turn-key home theater with no muss, no fuss.


JVC DLA-RS1 ("D-ILA" LCOS)
Editor's Choice

Advantages:

  • Outstanding contrast and black level, the best in the group
  • Outstanding color accuracy and saturation, the best in the group
  • Excellent sharpness/detail with HD material (comparable to DLP competition, and just shy of the razor sharp Mitsubishi HC5000)
  • Very high lumen output potential, among the brightest in the group in video-optimized operation
  • Manual 2.0x zoom lens and 2.67 picture heights of vertical lens shift provides excellent installation flexibility
  • D-ILA technology delivers pixel-free image
  • Almost perfectly calibrated to D65 out of the box.
  • Good connectivity: two HDMI, one component

Issues:
The most expensive of the 1080p models in this group, but with premium price comes premium performance.

No powered zoom/focus/shift like some of the competition. A non-issue unless you have a 4:3 or 2.35 screen and want to control the size of different aspect ratio materials with zoom lens adjustment.

Summary:
The JVC DLA-RS1 is the top performing 1080p projector in this group, but it is $2,000 to $3,000 more than the competition. If it is in your budget range, there is nothing better anywhere near its price range, and thus it wins an Editor's Choice Award.

See current dealer prices on the JVC DLA-RS1U


Mitsubishi HC5000 (3LCD)

Advantages

  • Sharpest HD image we've seen on a 1080p projector under $10K
  • Excellent color saturation
  • Flawless deinterlacing
  • Brighter than average lumen output in the group.
  • Powered 1.6x zoom/focus and 2.5 picture heights of vertical lens shift for very good installation flexibility
  • Powered lens allows optional 2.35 CIH image management without anamorphic lens
  • Can be ceiling mounted or rear shelf mounted with ease.
  • 5,000 hour lamp life in eco mode, and bright enough to fill a 120" screen in eco-mode.
  • Almost silent fan, even in full power mode.
  • Available in either black or white case to match your room décor.
  • Minimal pixelation, not visible at normal viewing distances.

Issues:
Black level and shadow detail are comparable to the other 1080p LCD offerings. Performance in these areas is very good by historical standards, but falls short of what is being achieved by the DLP and LCOS competition.


Summary:
The finest home theater projector yet produced by Mitsubishi, and an exceptionally competitive offering with the sharpest HD image in the group. For most theaters there will be ample lumen output to run in eco-mode to gain the advantage of the 5000-hour lamp. While black levels are not as deep as the DLP and LCOS competition, this only becomes apparent in side by side viewing. Standing alone, the HC5000 produces a beautiful, thoroughly absorbing image.


See current dealer prices on the Mitsubishi HC5000BL


Optoma HD81 (DLP)

Advantages:

  • Very bright in video optimized mode, excellent for very large screen theaters.
  • Maintains excellent black level and contrast despite high lumen output.
  • Very sharp image
  • Subtle pixelation, but not visible at normal viewing distances.
  • Outstanding connectivity, best in the group, due to separate video processor
  • No air filter to clean or replace, significantly reduces maintenance.
  • Excellent standard three year warranty-longest in the group.
  • Street prices have dropped, and it is a superb value for the money.

Issues:
The only serious limitations on the HD81 are the short 1.2x manual zoom lens and no lens shift. But the short, bright lens is part of the trade off to get the very bright lumen output. Nevertheless, the lens configuration virtually mandates a ceiling mount installation. The projector must be located with precision relative to the screen in order to avoid tilt and keystone correction.

Fan noise in full lamp mode is higher than average, and heat output is higher as well due to a 300W lamp. Both of these factors argue for installation in a larger room with a larger than normal screen, say up to 150" diagonal. However, if operating in low lamp mode, fan noise and heat are non-issues

Summary:
With the recent street price reductions, the Optoma HD81 is now a highly competitive option in the group, much more so than it was when first released. Accordingly, we have just re-rated it, giving it the full 5 stars for Value. Picture quality in general is first rate, with excellent sharpness and color dynamics. If you are planning to ceiling mount your projector, give this one strong consideration. If you want a rear shelf mount, look elsewhere.

See current dealer prices on the Optoma HD81


Panasonic PT-AE1000U (3LCD)
Editor's Choice

Advantages:

  • Excellent sharpness/detail with HD material (among the best)
  • Outstanding, clear, noise free DVD and other SD sources
  • Pixel-free due to "Smooth Screen" technology
  • Powered 2x zoom provides maximum installation flexibility
  • Powered zoom enables 2.35 Constant Image Height image management without needing an anamorphic lens.
  • Good connectivity: 2 HDMI, 2 component
  • Very low fan noise.
  • Low street prices. Only the Epson Home 1080 is less expensive.
  • Three year warranty effective as of 4/18/07--matches the longest warranty in the group.

Issues:
Brightness is a very ample 500 lumens with the zoom lens set to wide angle. However, it loses 45% of its brightness at maximum telephoto. Caution should be used in designing the layout. The AE1000 will easily illuminate a 120" screen from 12 feet, but not from 24 feet.

Black level and shadow detail are comparable to the other 1080p LCD offerings. Performance in these areas is very good by historical standards, but falls short of what is being achieved by the DLP and LCOS competition.

Summary:
Wins Editor's Choice Award due to a combination of four compelling competitive advantages: (1) low price, (2) excellent installation flexibility, (3) a sharp, competitive HD image, and (4) a uniquely outstanding, noise-free image with DVD and other SD sources that clearly beats the competition. Of these, the AE1000's performance in SD was the deciding factor for us. However, if you are primarily concerned with HD performance and don't care as much about SD, then other models in this list have as much or more to offer than this one.


See current dealer prices on the Panasonic PT-AE1000U


Sony VPL-VW50 "Pearl" (LCOS)

Advantages:

  • Excellent black level and contrast.
  • Excellent color saturation.
  • Pixel-free (feature of LCOS technology)
  • Quiet fan
  • Powered 1.72x zoom and 2-picture height lens shift allows for reasonably good installation flexibility
  • Powered zoom enables 2.35 CIH image management without needing an anamorphic lens.
  • Good connectivity: 2 HDMI, one VGA (RGB/component), one component

Issues:
In most cases, rear-shelf mounting will be preferred. Since vertical lens shift is limited to two picture heights, most ceiling mount installations will require an extension tube drop unless it is a low ceiling to begin with. This is the largest of the 1080p projectors in the group, and suspending it mid-air may prompt aesthetic objections from others in the household.

Not one of the brightest 1080p models in the group-about 400 lumens in optimal video calibration with lamp on high, and zoom lens set to wide angle. Loses 25% of its light potential when the lens is set to maximum telephoto position. Loses another 35% in low lamp mode, which most users won't want to lose, so plan to run in full lamp power mode.

In this group of 1080p projectors, the Sony has the softest image with HD content. Some people call this a "film-like" image. Others prefer a sharper picture. This is a matter of personal taste and preference.

Summary:
The Sony Pearl is capable of producing a dazzling, rich, dynamic image with black level, contrast, and color saturation as particularly strong characteristics. In these aspects it outperforms the LCD competition. Weaknesses include HD image softness, limited lumen output in some video-optimized operating modes, and limited vertical lens shift which limits options for ceiling mounting.

See current dealer prices on the Sony VPL-VW50 "Pearl"