1080p Projectors – Why Pay More?

Panasonic PT-AE2000U

Falling prices on 1080p home theater projectors have buyers wondering, “What’s the difference?” as they research high-definition home theater projectors. We thought we would point out some of things to keep in mind when comparing the features and basic specifications.

The Basics

Some of the differences among popular 1080p projectors are the same old stuff. Brightness and contrast are the biggest differentiators. Brighter projectors and higher contrast ratios are more expensive, and explain the cost difference in many cases.


The very popular Panasonic PT-AE2000U is 1500 lumens, which is brighter than the lower priced (and also popular) Mitsubishi HC4900’s 1000 lumens. That means in lights-on situations, the brighter projector will suffer from less wash-out, although both will still be viewable in some ambient light.

Black Level / Contrast

contrast illustrated by degrees of blackness in tires

Black levels are a very important measure in a home theater projector. Today, most projectors designed for home theater have contrast ratios of over 2000:1. Just about any 2000:1 contrast or better model will satisfy the average viewer. However, more particular viewers may prefer models with contrast levels of 10,000:1 or better.

[ Image: Black detail on the Panasonic PT-AE2000U ]


Now for some of the features that buyer’s don’t know they need until they have them. These kinds of features usually account for a couple hundred dollars difference, and might be worth well more than that!

Throw Distance

In short, the throw distance is a measure of how far back from the screen a projector must be mounted to achieve the optimum image size. The standard throw distance for a home theater projector is aproximately 13-17 feet. If your projector is mounted outside of the best possible range you will want to look for a projector with a longer throw, or a zoom lens. The Panasonic PT-AE2000U offers a 2X lens which means it would be a better choice in an installation from 25-30 feet.

Zoom Lens – Lens Shift

lens shift illustrated with the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB

Installing a projector can be a real challenge. But certain features like zoom lens and lens shift can significantly simplify the process. If a friend of yours installed a projector in his home theater 3 or 4 years ago, he had to do some serious planning before he got started. Without lens shift, the projector had to be mounted directly center to the screen (or slightly offset if the lens was not centered) and he probably had just a couple of feet of leeway in the distance between mount and screen. Thankfully, lens shift and zoom lenses allow for MUCH greater flexibility.

Note: Keystone correction is not recommended in permanent installations and should be avoided if possible. Some home theater projectors do not include keystone correction functionality.

[ Image: The Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB with lens shift in action. ]

Connectivity: HDMI 1.3 vs. 1.2 Compatibility

A multitude of connectivity is not a major issue in permanent installations since so many users will be connecting to the projector with just one cable (component video or HDMI). However, if the projector is used in multiple locations as a part of a media room, connections like S-video and even composite video are nice to have. Multiple HDMI inputs are also a nice feature for users who want a direct connection from source to display for obvious reasons.

Note: HDMI 1.3 (aka Deep Color) is a newer standard for HDMI and it carries more information than HDMI 1.2. The difference in the quality of the image may be noticeable to some users and there may be future compatibility issues with HDMI 1.2 connections.