High End 1080p Home Theater Projectors Compared

As you wish, readers! That’s our motto!

We have had many requests to see the Epson Home Cinema 8500 UB and the Panasonic PT-AE4000U head-to-head, so we’ve put together a video comparison just for you! We are also including a lesser known (perhaps ‘underdog’) DLP projector; the Vivitek H5080 to the shootout.

So, let’s start with the video (view it here or below). Then we will move on to some additional analysis of what we saw in our shootout.


Video Timeline Breakdown : Hammer Time


  • 0:00 – 0:21 – Introduction to yellow shirt
  • 0:22 – 0:40 – Epson Home Cinema 8500 UB overview
  • 0:45 – 1:00 – Vivitek H5080 overview
  • 1:00 – 1:20 – Panasonic PT-AE4000U overview
  • 1:20 – 2:00 – Three projectors compared for color in default dynamic range
  • 2:05 – 3:15 – Lens shift and zoom capability, and additional features on Panasonic PT-AE4000U
  • 3:15 – 3:40 – Close up video from the Panasonic PT-AE4000U
  • 3:40 – 5:30 – Lens shift and zoom capability on the Vivitek H5080
  • 5:30 – 6:00 – Close up video from the Vivitek H5080
  • 6:00 – 6:40 – Lens shift and zoom capability and features on the Epson Home Cinema 8500 UB
  • 7:00 – 7:25 – Close up video from the Epson Home Cinema 8500 UB

High End 1080p Projectors : Pros and Cons

As you can see, Rodney looks ravishing in yellow! And he’s given a nice rundown on the primary differences between the three projectors. Feel free to share your own opinions below, and here is a cheat sheet for shoppers of pros and cons between the three 1080p projectors.

Epson Home Cinema 8500 UB projector review

Epson Home Cinema 8500 UB

Pros: 2-year warranty with no specified hour limitation*, 120hz, THX color mode, (best in class) 200:000:1 contrast ratio, broader zoom range than Panasonic AE4000 and H5080

Cons: Manual (but not cumbersome) lens shift and zoom, x2 HDMI inputs (versus x3) , mid range MAP price at $2499 ($200 rebate may apply. See here for latest promotions and best price.)

* There is no specified limit to the number of hours you can use the Epson Home Cinema 8500 UB within the 2-year warranty period. This won’t be an issue for most users, but to those who use the projector over 2000 hours in the first year or two, it can provide some peace of mind. The Panasonic AE4000 has a 1 year warranty standard, with an additional year of warranty with mail in rebate. Both the AE4000U and the 8500 UB have a 90-day lamp warranty. Vivitek offers just 30 days on the lamp and 1 year on the projector.

Vivitek H5080 projector review

Vivitek H5080

Pros: Two (2) optional lenses available for short or long throw if needed, DLP technology (a plus for some buyers) with lens shift (not common on a DLP projector), very good color out of the box.

Cons: 60hz, 25000:1 contrast (lower than AE4000U and HC 8500 UB), limited lens shift and zoom, cumbersome lens shift controls, highest MAP price at $2999.

Panasonic PT-AE4000U projector review

Panasonic PT-AE4000U

Pros: Power zoom, lens shift, and focus, very good zoom and lens shift range, preset for recognizing aspect ratios (video from AVForums explains feature here), 100,000:1 very good contrast ratio, lowest MAP price at $1999.

Cons: Slightly red color space out of the box (possibly due to red rich lamp technology), warranty limited to just 2000 hours of use.

[ For a complete comparison chart of specs, click here ]

Projector Shootout : In Person Opinions

During the shootout, our Projector Experts shared their opinions about the three head-to-head. We were given a demo Vivitek H5080 projector that several took home – out of the goodness of their hearts – to review. The H5080 won over over most all of those who took it home. One or two even reported that it was among the best DLP home theater projector they have seen to date.

In our shootout, the Vivitek H5080 got the most positive reviews of the three for color representation with out of box settings. The H5080 was also lauded for its 120hz-like clarity, even though it’s a 60hz unit. There were others who gave the Epson Home Cinema 8500 UB the nod (including myself) for color. Color wise, most felt the Panasonic PT-AE4000U was pushing red (possibly because of the ‘red rich’ lamp technology). Whatever the out of the box settings were, all three are fine tuneable, including a “THX” mode on the Epson Home Cinema 8500 UB and a bunch of tweak-friendly features on the Panasonic PT-AE4000U.

As for features, the Panasonic PT-AE4000U, has all the right moves. Power zoom and lens shift are nice features to have (even though some may only use them once) and the menu includes lots of tools for tweakers. It also featured the widest lens shift range, though it appeared to be second to the Epson HC 8500 UB on the zoom range. The THX setting also looks nice on the Epson 8500 UB, and will be a plus for some buyers. If you have a very short or very long room, the Vivitek is one of the only home theater projectors in this price range that offers optional lenses.

Panasonic PT-AE4000U, Epson Home Cinema 8500 UB, and Vivitek H5080: All Good

The short story, as it usually is, the that the average home theater buyer would be happy with the picture quality of any of the three high end home theater projectors we included above. The decision for most buyers will probably come down to the more technical elements like throw distance, and desired features like 60hz or 120hz frame rate, number of HDMI inputs, or a coolness factor like power zoom and lens shift. And for those who are flexible about features, at least you have this low rez youtube video to help you choose! No problem. You are welcome!

Projector Showroom Updates Coming Soon!

We will soon be adding the Epson Home Cinema 8500 UB, BenQ W1000, and the Optoma HD20 to our HomeTheaterPeople.com showroom. Also the new brand new LG Electronics CF181D has just been added to our site as well as the showroom.

Home Theater Buyers Guide

[ this is a reprint of our Projector People Post home theater tech story ]

Happy Snowfellow

Ho! Ho! Ho! The Holidays are here again! And the decade will end on a particularly joyous year for the home theater enthusiast on a budget. Why? Well, you could say it’s because our best selling new projectors are aggressively priced right out of the gate. Or you might also say it’s because there is so much wonderful HD content out there. Or maybe it’s just because the newest projectors produce the best looking video you’ve ever seen on a 120-inch screen. Whatever reason resonates, this is a great year for big screen, home theater projection. So, let’s move on to some of our usual holiday buyers guide. You’ll get some tips for saving money, and fast and easy tech information that’ll help you pick the best home theater projector for you.

Projector People : Savings Places

Before we get into our technical guide, here are a few pages that might lead to savings for you. Our demo projector inventory (usually very limited use projectors), rebates and promotions, Deal of the Day, and other specials we may featured are linked below.

SAVINGS TIP: Due to manufacturer regulations, authorized resellers have to be a little creative in order to offer you our best price. So add your projector to your cart to see the lowest prices on most projectors. Or, request a quick quote for a Sanyo product to see the lowest price. Packages are also a good way to find additional savings. Call for the most up to date pricing or to create a custom package.

Projector Brightness

As usual, we will start with brightness. Brightness is an important specification, but not much has changed over the past year. In general, dedicated home theaters (ceiling mounted projector in a room with controlled lighting) are still your best space for achieving a flawless image, even with a low lumen projector. Media rooms, backyard theaters, converted garages and basements will most likely require a projector with more brightness to get the best image. But really, about any new home theater projector is going to be bright enough in most environments. Still, we have put together a chart for brightness in general conditions. Call a Projector Expert if you have special considerations in your space.

Home Theater Projector Brightness Recommendations
Room Type Recommended Brightness
Small Theaters* 900 – 1500 lumens (or more)
Large Theaters** 1200 – 2000 lumens (or more)
Outdoor Theaters 1500 lumens (or more)
Media Rooms*** 2000 lumens (or more)

* Dedicated space with controlled lighting and a screen under 100-inches.
** Dedicated space with controlled lighting and a screen over 100-inches.
*** A media room as defined here is a space with windows that is used for multi-purpose entertaining.

SAVINGS TIP: If you see higher lumen ratings on a low priced projector, there is usually going to be a trade off for contrast, video processing and/or optics. When buying, ponder the importance of image quality versus image brightness. Do you want a flawless image in a dedicated space? Or a more flexible media room projector that will work with the lights on? The more expensive projectors will offer you both brightness and image quality, but may lack portability. Ask a Projector Expert for more about what is right for your viewing habits.

The Reigning Resolution

HDTV Logo

Last year we said ‘if you can afford 1080p HD, then get 1080p HD.’ This year, there are plenty of ‘budget’ 1080p options. So the question becomes, entry level (low priced) 1080p or high end (higher priced) 1080p projection? Our 720p category has all but disappeared, with just one or two strong products left on the market. So, the answer to which resolution is right for you, is in most cases 1080p. No chart needed for that. However, there are certainly more questions to be asked about the technical differences between high and low-end 1080p projectors. For that, I am going to share a few blog entries where we cover the details in depth.

Three Helpful Blog Entries

Compare Three $999 High Resolution Projectors
BenQ W1000, Optoma HD20, and Vivitek H1080FD featured in this article. Brightness, contrast, and more are explored. Click here to read »

Compare Three High End 1080p Projectors
Panasonic PT-AE4000U, Epson Home Cinema 8500UB, and BenQ W6000 discussed within. Brightness, contrast, and more are explored. Click here to read »

Compare Entry Level $999 1080p to High End HD Projectors
Video comparison and information about the differences between the two categories. Click here to read »

Price Breakthroughs This Year

This has been a breakthrough year for low prices in home theater projection. Projectors have broken two price barriers. Entry level true HD 1080p home theater now under $1000 (at $999) and high-end home theater for as low as $1999. That’s good news for buyers that have been watching and waiting for lower prices. For those who prefer suggested products mentioned directly, here’s a quick breakdown of products in the three home theater categories.

    Entry Level Home Theater : $999
Mid Level Home Theater : $1199 – $1499 High End Home Theater : $1999 – $2499 YouTube
Video of Home Theater Projectors

If you’d rather just see the projector in action, we’ve got some video for you. We have recently added the Panasonic PT-AE4000U, BenQ W6000, and Vivitek H1080FD to our Home Theater Showroom. We’ve also taken some video of the Vivitek H1080FD, Panasonic PT-AE4000U (low quality), and Optoma HD20. We will be adding more as soon as we have a chance to do some head-to-head shootouts.

For more video, visit us on YouTube or test new projectors in our Home Theater Demo Room.

New 1080p Home Theater Projectors Compared : Featuring Panasonic PT-AE4000U and Epson Home Cinema 8500 UB

Panasonic PT-AE4000U

What’s the latest in 1080p HD home theater projectors? The biggest news to date has been the introduction of the $999 true HD home theater projectors. But recently big players like Epson and Panasonic have announced new, upgraded products coming out soon. The new products have higher-than-ever contrast ratios, some improvements on cool features, and very aggressive pricing.

New $999 Entry Level Projectors

We have already done some comparison of new entry level $999 1080p projectors (here and here). We haven’t had a chance to put together any hands on comparison of the projectors because there is limited availability on most of the popular models. We have had some inventory of the Optoma HD20 projector recently, but they sell very quickly. The Vivitek H1080FD and BenQ W1000 models have not come into stock yet, so we have only seen the pre-production models in person as of the date of this story. So, for now, let’s focus on the more recent news from the higher-end of the home theater projector spectrum.

New Higher End Home Theater Projectors

To start, we will compare the initial specifications of what we think will be the most popular new high end 1080p projectors; the BenQ W6000, Panasonic PT-AE4000U and Epson Home Cinema 8500 UB. I say initial specifications because there are sometimes technical tweaks made before their final releases and those changes can alter the specifications. So, here’s a chart of the initial specs for what we suspect will be the big players in high end home theater.

Comparison Chart : New 1080p Home Theater Projectors

Projector Panasonic PT-AE4000U Epson Home Cinema 8500UB BenQ W6000
Resolution 1920 x 1080 1920 x 1080 1920 x 1080
Panel/Chip 3LCD D7 3LCD D7 DLP
Brightness 1600 lumens 1600 lumens 2500 lumens
Contrast 100000:1 200000:1 50000:1
HDMI Inputs 3 2 2
120 Hz Yes Yes No
Lens Powered zoom (2x)/Powered focus Optical zoom 2.1:1 1.5:1 Manual Zoom, Manual Focus
Lens shift H 40% & V 100%, manual H 47% & V 96%, manual Manual Lens Shift (see here)
Noise 22 dB (economy mode) 22 dB (economy mode) 32 dB
Warranty 1 yr. pj, 90-days lamp (2 yr. after rebate if applicable) 2 yr. pj, 90-days lamp 1 yr. pj, 90-days lamp
Street Price $1,999 MAP $2999 MSRP $2,799 MSRP
Expected Release Dates Late October Late October/Early November Available now  
Full specs Panasonic PT-AE4000U full specs Coming Soon BenQ W6000 full specs

As you can see, much like last year (and the year before that) we are seeing dramatically higher contrast ratios, lower introductory prices, and more high performance features.

Lower Projector Prices: More Hollar for Your Dollar

Every year we write a sentence like this; “Last year you would have paid $$$ for a projector of this quality,” and this year is no different. The Panasonic PT-AE3000U and Epson Home Cinema 6500 UB came in at an aggressive (at the time) $2999 price point last year. This year, you’ll pay $1000 less than last year for a projector with higher contrast, better video processing, and some cool new features.

However, with this aggressive introductory pricing, we don’t expect to see these prices dropping again anytime soon. The fact that these came in this cheaply initially is probably due in part to pressure from the release of the $999 1080p DLP projectors.

Contrast Ratios: Say “Hello” to Six Figure Contrast Ratios

How is a 60,000:1 contrast ratio different from a 100,000:1 contrast ratio? Not quite as dramatic as it sounds, but there is a visible (palatable) difference in the picture quality. A higher contrast image actually feels crisper than a lower contrast image. But in reality, both a 60,000:1 and 100,000:1 contrast ratios look very good. In three years we will compare the new 1,000,000:1 projector the 100,000:1 projector and see how dramatic the difference is.

For now, these high contrast ratios really separate the business “crossover” projectors from true home theater models. Unless you are a serious videophile, or visually particular, you’d most likely be happy with anything over 10,000:1 contrast in your home theater.

New Features: Panasonic PT-AE4000U

We’ve had the introduction from Panasonic on their new product, so we are more familiar with the new features of the PT-AE4000U than the new Epson’s. So we should have more information on the new Epson features coming soon.

Projector Central did a comprehensive review of all the new features on the PT-AE4000U (read here). We also took some video of our tech session with Panasonic and are including it below. Two interesting new features for videophiles are the automatic lens memory and new video adjustments.

[

Panasonic PT-AE4000U : A Technical Introduction from Projector People on Vimeo.

This was recorded with a mini HD camera and without a tripod. There are shaky bits throughout. To save yourself time, click here for a breakdown of content by minute for this video.

The Unsung Midrange 1080p Projectors

Mitsubishi HC3800 projector

While the new high-end projectors attract most of the press these days, there are also some interesting options available in the ‘mid-range.’ What keeps us from calling these high-end projectors? Essentially its lower contrast ratios, less advanced video processing (like no 120hz), and some missing features. So if you don’t have the funds for a $2k projector, but you want a little more than the $1k projectors have to offer, a mid-range projector might just have all you need and will save you a little cash.

Two new mid-range projectors coming soon are the Epson Home Cinema 8100 and the Mitsubishi HC3800. The HC3800 is getting rave reviews from Projector Reviews and Projector Central. And though we have yet to see the Epson Home Cinema 8100 in action, it’s likely to benefit from Epson’s technological strides in home theater and be a very nice low price alternative in 1080p. It’s also 3LCD which is preferred by some buyers – and most of the other low cost alternatives utilize DLP technology.

What’s Left in 720p Projectors?

Panasonic PT-AX200U projector

Not a heck of a lot. And the price points are not really dropping because there just isn’t any more room to do so. Our Panasonic PT-AX200U started out at $999 when it was introduced, and has stayed consistently around that price. With features like lens shift and unique gaming mode – if it remains in production – it’s still a great projector. Its brightness and native 720p (much of broadcast HD’s native resolution) make it a great match for the football season and sports all year round. And it’s a great projector for gaming too. Epson also has a new “karaoke” projector in their MovieMate line with built-in DVD and speakers with native 720p resolution. Also available in 720p is the underdog Sanyo PLV-Z60.

That’s All for Now, But More to Come!

That’s about all we have to cover today, but there will be more to come on the Epson Home Cinema projectors, and on the Panasonic PT-AE4000U as well. We will keep you posted on any more projector related news, as always.

Projector People Cedia 2009 Round-Up

Aspect Ratios What was the projector buzz at CEDIA this year? $999 true HD 1080p home theater projectors (of course), a new Epson projector with a 200,000:1 contrast ratio, LED technology expands, and the absence of Panasonic. We’re going to run through each of these below, and link to a few more CEDIA round-ups that may also be of interest.

CEDIA 2009 Projector News At-A-Glance

For those who prefer bullets to paragraphs, here’s a bullet point round-up:
  • Sub $1K DLP projectors shipping soon (Mid-September to Early October).
  • New Epson Home Cinema 8500 UB projector (replaces 6500 UB) features 200,000:1 contrast. No MSRP yet. Will be under $3000.
  • New Epson Home Cinema 8100 projector (replaces 6100 UB) improves brightness (1800 lumens) and contrast (35,000:1). Sells for $1599 (plus initial $100 rebate). Ships November.
  • (UPDATED 9/21) Epson Home Cinema 705HD will replace the Home Cinema 720 with a price point of under $750.
  • Watch for price drops on the Epson Home Cinema 6100 and 6500 UB.
  • LED projectors continue to improve, move beyond pocket projecting category.
  • New Mitsubishi HC3800 impresses critics. $1499 MSRP.
  • InFocus to release new ScreenPlay projector. Limited dealers.
  • Sanyo yet to release news of any new Home Theater units.
  • Panasonic PT-AE4000 announced in EU, but no reports of release in the U.S. We hope to have an answer on this soon! (Updated 10/16 : Now released in the USA) (Updated 10/16/09: See comparison of Panasonic AE4000U, BenQ W6000 Epson Home Cinema 8500 UB here.
Read on for details and explanations…

Sub 1K Projectors

Optoma HD20 $999 DLP Projector We have already covered much of the $999 true HD projector story in previous posts (here, here, and here), so we won’t go in to much more detail here. The most frequent questions we hear are “Which one is best?” and “When can I get one?” Since we have yet to see the BenQ and the Vivitek post-production models, we haven’t been able to form any opinions yet. We will give some comparison reports when we have a chance to compare them all. But we do have some information on ship dates. Here’s what we’re expecting as of today. These projectors may come earlier, or later, than we expect. Any pre-ordered items will be shipped in the order they were placed.

200,000:1 Contrast : New Epson Home Cinema 8500 UB

Epson Home Cinema 8500 UB As if a 75,000:a contrast ratio wasn’t good enough, Epson has tightened up those pixels for an impressive 200,000:1 contrast spec on their new Home Cinema 8500 UB. As good as the Home Cinema 6500 UB was, under the light controlled and perfectly calibrated circumstances of CEDIA, the 8500 UB looked like it topped the 6500 UB. Hard to say without a head to head comparison, but either way, the 8500 UB looks like another winner. The only unanswered question is how competitive will the MSRP be? Some would argue they need to get price competitive with the new $999, but realistically, these higher end projectors are more expensive to make. We will soon have the answer, but for now we do know the price will be under $3000. Also from Epson, the Home Cinema 8100, which will replace the Home Cinema 6100 – a higher brightness, lower contrast, native 1080p projector. The 8100 has improved previous brightness specs and contrast to 1800 lumens and 36,000:1 contrast respectively. Neither the 6100, nor the new 8100 offer 120hz, which some might argue is not a bad thing*, and with the lack of 120hz you will pay a little less. It’s reported MSRP is $1599 (plus initial $100 rebate) which is a big drop from the price for the release of the 6100 just a year ago. The Home Cinema 8100 should ship first, and hit the shelves around mid-October. The official MSRP has not been released on the Home Cinema 8500 UB, but it is reported to be under $3000. It should be available for purchase sometime this November. * A Little Ditty About 120Hz It should be noted that some viewers are not fans of 120hz because it creates an ‘artificial’ looking image. I recall watching “Pirates of the Caribbean” on a 120hz flat panel TV and thinking that it looked particularly ‘stage like’ – like a very good reproduction of a PBS Great Performances rather than a motion picture. There purists have a point in their desire to keep the image looking more ‘filmlike,’ but it does appear that this more super-real image is the direction video will be taking in the future. Epson, for example, went to some expense to improve the performance of the 120hz in their 6500 UB unit to satisfy customer issues. But, for now, those who prefer a more traditional image can turn off 120hz on their home theater projector. We’d love to hear what you all think of the 120Hz if you have it. Leave a comment if you have something to share!

New LED Projectors

We have covered the new ‘pocket projectors’ fairly extensively too (here, here, and here). But new and improved versions of first generation products are also coming soon. But there are other categories of LED projectors that we have neglected a bit; LED installation projectors, and small (but not pocket) portable projectors. Optoma PK-101 pocket projector Pocket LED Projectors Optoma has announced their PK-102 pocket projector, which follows the first generation PK-101 we had and tested earlier this year. There have also been some improvements in connectivity, that might make it a more attractive option for sales people on the go. The pocket projectors are still not terribly bright, but they are a cool toy for the early adopter. This category shows a lot of promise in the fun, portable, gadget world. So, if you bought the first generation iPod, this is a product to consider. And it’ll work great with your new iPod. Portable LED Projectors While brightness is improving in these small, but not pocket sized projectors, they still don’t quite have the power to produce an image bright enough to combat ambient light. Controlled environments do these little LEDs well, however, with some really nice, rich images. We have seen some nice units in this category, in particular, a promising LG model like this one that may come to market soon. The model we saw included a USB slot that ran some very nice video off of a USB thumb drive, as well as a mention of a future FM transmitter which could broadcast audio from the projector to a station on your radio. These projectors have a lot of potential. Expect to hear more about these soon. Installation LED Projectors Vivitek and Projectiondesign offered a brighter new LED projector that could arguably used in an installation environment, but realistically, without controlled lighting, the 600 or so lumens provided will not be quite bright enough in a large venue setting. However, in a controlled space ( for example a closed video game or flight simulator) that is used frequently and for long periods of time, the long lasting LED lamp would be a money saver. Again, this category is still developing, but does show a lot of promise.

No News from Panasonic on the PT-AE4000

Panasonic projection was noticeably absent for the display floor this year. At this time, we still don’t know for sure if they will be releasing their new PT-AE4000U in the U.s. The projector has been released in the UK, and was featured at a major EU consumer electronics show just a couple weeks ago. So, what will Panasonic do? And if they don’t release the PT-AE4000 in the U.S., what prompted that decision? The predecessor Panasonic PT-AE3000U was one of our best-selling 1080p unit this past year, and a new Panasonic will be sorely missed. We will, of course, keep you updated as soon as we hear anything.

Other CEDIA Projector News

Mitsubishi HC3800 projector Mitsubishi is creating some buzz on review sites like ProjectorCentral.com and ProjectorReviews.com with their new HC3800. InFocus may be releasing a new ScreenPlay model this year as well, with limited distribution. The InFocus SP8602 will retail at around $4999. Sanyo has not announced any replacements to their PLV-Z3000 or Z700 projectors just yet. That about sums it up for our look at projection and CEDIA 2009. We are linking to a few more round-ups below, in case you are interested in non-projector CEDIA news. More CEDIA RoundUps Home Toys CEDIA RoundUp Stewart Screens, Atlantic technology, and a Mitsubishi projector mention among other featured products. DigitalTrends Best of CEDIA 2009 Vizio LED TV, Sony’s first connected Blu-ray player, bathroom LCD TV, Panasonic VIERA plasma with wireless, $175,000 JVC projector, New Blu-ray Recorders from JVC, iPhone control Ap. Projector Reviews A look at new home theater projectors (or lack thereof) from BenQ, Sanyo, Panasonic, and InFocus. In two parts. Part two coming soon.