Comments on BenQ PE8700, Optoma H77, Toshiba MT800
After posting reviews on these three products the big question is--which is the best? This is a difficult question to answer, but I'll give it a try. I would emphasize that they are all fine projectors. You can't really make a bad decision going with any one of the three. Each has certain features that the other two don't that a buyer might find particularly appealing. So the choice has a lot to do with your personal preferences and needs.
The key advantage of the BenQ PE8700 is its extremely low street price. It is the least expensive of the HD2+ products by a good margin, and because of that it is a tremendous value. It is the only one of the three units reviewed here that offers picture-in-picture and picture-on-picture. Its image quality from standard definition sources is exceptionally good for the money. But it benefits from the use of the DVDO iScan HD video processor, and with that processor added to the system you end up with a truly outstanding image from DVD, and a cleaner picture from other standard definition sources. The DVDO processor is being sold for $1200 through our site at the moment, but even with the cost of that unit on top of the cost of the PE8700, you will end up paying less than you would for either of the other projectors alone. So the bottom line is that you get an excellent overall video solution for the money. On the other hand, while HDTV performance on the PE8700 is quite good, it does not match the capabilities of the Optoma or Toshiba units. Those who are interested primarily in the best possible HDTV and not so much in DVD quality may wish to consider one of the other two units below.
The Optoma H77 is a great product as well. Its unique advantages include manual lens shift and power zoom/focus, which the other two do not have. Lens shift makes it quite easy to position the projector relative to the screen without needing to worry about perfect positioning of the screen mounts. Power zoom/focus may be convenient in set up, but if you are ceiling mounting your projector this feature is of marginal value-you use it once and its done. The H77 is the quietest of the three products, and its HDTV quality is excellent-pristine and artifact free. Like the PE8700, we found that its display of standard definition sources also benefits noticeably with the use of the DVDO iScan HD. The two items of concern that come to mind are that it is the least bright of the three projectors reviewed here, which means the darker the room the better. And you may need to pay a couple thousand dollars more for the H77 than you will the PE8700. (However street prices are fluid and we don't know where they will end up, so all bets are off on this.)
The Toshiba MT800 is clearly the brightest projector of the three. It delivers outstanding HDTV, and thoroughly impressive standard definition imagery via component interlaced signals. We found that the DVDO iScan HD was not a particularly good match for this projector since the iScan bypasses the MT800's formidable onboard video processing capabilities--not a good incremental investment with this projector. The MT800 has a wider variety of picture control options, eight preprogrammed gamma settings, and overall a more comprehensive user interface than do either of the other two units. One downside to this unit is the fan noise, which in Normal lamp mode is a bit higher than the PE8700 and H77, and in High lamp mode is definitely louder than the others. High lamp mode would not be recommended for a smaller viewing space as the fan noise pushes the limit of what some folks might be comfortable with.
Collectively these three projectors are the most aggressively priced of the HD2+ machines. It was easy to include the PE8700 on our Highly Recommended list due to the fact that you get so much video quality for the money. The decision to put the MT800 on the Highly Recommended list now and wait on the H77 for the time being was based upon our findings that they are selling for roughly comparable street prices--a situation that could change at any time. However at equivalent prices, the MT800 edges the H77 as the more formidable projector for the display of standard definition signals, while they are about equal in HDTV quality. The MT800 is clearly the more brilliant of the two as well. Nevertheless, the H77 has lower fan noise and the convenience features of lens shift and power zoom/focus that will be particularly attractive to some buyers. So for these folks the decision to go with the H77 over the MT800 may make very good sense.