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.

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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.