Best Video Projectors Roundup

We have seen the latest push by the LED TV industry towards massive 80-inch and 90-inch LED TVs – with Sharp in particular delivering massive LED TVs at relatively affordable prices. Mind you, do not expect some superior picture; these huge LED TVs are nothing more than ‘average’ HDTVs with a massive screen.

The truth is that if you were thinking of going big, there is no better way than to invest in a home theater video projector. Today’s home cinema 1080p video projectors will let you go bigger than these 80-inch or 90-inch LED TVs while enjoying better picture quality, better value for your money, a more cinema-like experience, and a much wider product choice at all price brackets.

It is here that this review comes in — by presenting what in our opinion are the best video projectors for overall value presently available for home entertainment.

Thinking of going big…

There is no better way than to invest in a home theater video projector!

Today’s video projectors have become much more affordable than ever. If you can afford a 50-inch or 55-inch premium HDTV, then you can afford a front projection setup capable of bright 100-inch big screen 1080p projections. In addition, rest assured that nothing compares to the enjoyment and immersive experience possible when watching your favorite Blu-ray movies and live sports events in life-size projections in your home.

It is true that a front projection setup has its limitations. You would not be able to enjoy the best image quality unless your viewing takes place in a completely darkened room; but then this is just the same as in movie theaters. If you are still uncertain if a video projector setup is right for your home entertainment application, we strongly recommend going through the various video projector guides appearing under this section to better understand the pros and cons of a front projection setup, as well as the differences between DLP and LCD video projectors.

It is not that today, performance of video projectors is much dependent on projection technology – at least not within the home entertainment environment, but we still think it is worth knowing the strengths and weakness of each.

We also cover the issue of business vs. home theater projectors. Most multi-media projectors are being marketed as ‘cross-over’ models suitable for both home and business; yet there are differences between the two worth taking note of if you want to enjoy the best viewing experience in the home theater. This video projector review roundup covers projectors intended for home theater and home entertainment only.

Best Video Projectors: Top picks for overall value at the different price brackets

While with massive 80-inch or 90-inch LED TVs you do not have much choice, with video projectors,  the vast selection on offer can make choice a major issue for those in the market for a home theater projector.

Going for your most favorite brand is a key factor in feeling comfortable with your purchase. However, it is wise to discover what is available from other major brands; after all, most video projectors are capable of doing a good job independent of the brand name or price bracket.

High in your priority list when planning a projector purchase should include lamp replacement costs and lamp life, warranty period, customer support, and the built quality of the video projector under consideration.

Remember also that the end quality of the projected image is also dependent on the type of projection screen you will be using. Invest in the best quality projection screen you can afford; for information on choosing the right projection screen, please refer to the relevant projection screen guides on our site.

Major brands in the area of video projection include Epson, InFocus, Panasonic, Optoma, Sharp and Sony.  All have their own range of valid products worth considering, but our pick for the best home theater projectors go to Panasonic with the PT-AE8000, Epson with the Home Cinema 3020e, and Optoma with the HD33; we review each of these models to discover more.

Panasonic PT-AE8000 2D and 3D 1080p Video Projector: The flagship model with an affordable price

Panasonic has been in the video projector market since around 2000 – during which its popular lineup of AE-series projectors has seen a continued and extensive improvements. It is no surprise the Panasonic AE-series of home theater projectors has proved to be among the best pick year after year for big screen home entertainment enthusiasts looking for the best picture performance.

The same holds true for the latest model from Panasonic, the PT-AE8000. This in our opinion is the best home theater projector ever released by Panasonic. At close to $2,900, the new Panasonic do not come cheap, but here we are talking about a flagship model. This new Panasonic home theater projector has brought significant improvements in all areas of picture quality thanks to a new dual-core 3D processing video engine, over the equally superb AE7000 from 2011.

Main Specs:
  • 3-LCD video projection technology
  • Full 1080p resolution,
  • Active Full HD 3D,
  • 2400 ANSI-Lumens light output,
  • 500,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio rating,
  • 480Hz video processing and 120Hz frame interpolation
  • 2 x Powered zoom and horizontal/vertical lens shift mechanism
  • Lamp Life: 4000hrs in standard mode; 5000hrs in eco mode
Key Feature Enhancements Include:

Enhancements over the cheaper AE7000 include features like 3D motion remaster that helps eliminate the so called Mach-Dvorak effect in active shutter 3D systems with fast moving objects due to the lag between the alternating left-eye and right-eye images; the result is a more natural 3D motion effect. Directly related with 3D image projections is a 3D depth control to better fit the 3D image depth within the viewing range present in the home for a more pleasant 3D experience; this helps reduce possible headaches resulting from a too aggressive 3D depth some film makers opt for. Equally important for 3D is a noticeable boost in image brightness thanks to the projector higher brightness rating of 2400 lumens over the previous model. This higher brightness is necessary in 3D to make up for the loss in brightness due to the active shutter 3D glasses.

Mentioning 3D glasses, this Panasonic home theater projector comes with two pairs of free 3D glasses. At $99 each, extra 3D glasses do not come cheap, but these Epson glasses include a unique convenience feature that enables the viewer to view a projected 3D image in 2D should s/he prefers so – simply by moving the power switch to the respective position setting.

Overall Performance:

The new model enjoys a videophile-grade picture quality with both 2D and 3D; overall picture performance is one of the best, one that leads to a more film-like image in 2D and a more natural 3D motion.

This Panasonic video projector is capable of a bright image even in 3D; support an excellent dynamic contrast range capable of deep ink blacks despite the boost in brightness, while still preserving subtle shadow detail; includes a more precise gamma control; and accurate color that is almost spot on to the HDTV standard.

The Panasonic frame interpolation implementation is one of the very best you can find on video projectors – with clean smooth motion, minimal lag, and practically artifacts free. Panasonic uses 120Hz frame interpolation, meaning 24p movie content would show correctly without judder – an artifact present when displaying 24p content over a 60Hz video frame rate. The process requires the system to generate four extra frames for each existing movie frame. This is the same as with 120Hz and 240Hz refresh rate LCD TVs. We discuss the subject of higher refresh rates, judder and motion bur reduction in our guide: Motion Blur Explained.

One important aspect in the closed environment of the home theater is fan noise. This is a low noise projector even when set to standard mode, with noise from the fan being audible only with the sound off and from up to around 4-feet away from the projector.

The only few complaints we have about the PT-AE8000 relate to convenience issues rather than video projector picture quality. Most important is that the menu system leaves space for improvement, in particle with respect to the lack of onscreen help. Less important is the absence of a fine control for the lens shift mechanism; control here is manual via a small joystick. This is more of a desirable feature than an essential requirement since once you set the projector in a home theater environment, you would not be making use this adjustment anymore.

The bottom line:

This is the best Panasonic home theater projector you can get hold of, with superb film-like picture performance in 2D and 3D. It does not come cheap, nor you will get away with a cheap lamp replacement ($350); but at its present reduced online price, it represents a strong preposition and a cheaper option to true big screen entertainment in the home theater – delivering massive 100-inch plus projections with a superb picture quality that lacks nothing in comparison to today’s’ premium yet smaller plasma and LED TVs.

Epson Home Cinema 3020 and 3020e Video Projector: The best living-room projector solution

The Epson Home Cinema 3020/e falls within that premium category of more affordable video projectors for home entertainment; in fact, at under $1,900, it is among the most affordable premium 1080p 3D video projectors for the home market.

The new 2012 model follows on the footsteps of the successful 3010 model released last year – a model that is still extremely popular today. Main upgrade over the 3010 is a marginal increase in the image brightness (from 2200 lumens to 2300 lumens), better 3D performance, and a somewhat better out-of-the-box color accuracy.

In the case of the 3020e model, you also get an improved wireless HD. The 3020 and 3020e are in effect the same projector with the only difference being the presence of build-in WirelessHD to send full 3D HD signals across your home without the use of wires; just connect your projector to a power outlet and there you go! However, for this added convenience, you are paying around $300 for which you would not enjoy any improvement in picture quality over the 3020 version.

We have to remark here that though these are being labeled by Epson as ‘Home Cinema’ projectors, these Epson video projectors are not strictly speaking designed for the dedicated home theater where viewing under a completely darkened environment would call for a deeper shade of black than that possible with a 40,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio rating.

It is this difference in projector performance that in our opinion renders the Panasonic PT-AE8000 featured earlier on in this review, as the best ‘affordable’ pick for the dedicated home theater room.

Mind you, this may or may not be an issue in your home theater depending on the level of light you maintain during viewing. Many would prefer to dim the light rather than go for a totally darkened room when viewing movies. If this is the case, then opting for a flagship projector like the Panasonic would be a waste of money since as we explain in our contrast ratio article, the perceived level of image contrast would in effect fall drastically with the presence of even low level light in the room.

In these circumstances, a projector like the Epson Home Cinema 3020/e would more than suffice even in the home theater. For sure, this lower dynamic contrast ratio rating is not an issue in the living room where generally there is a much higher level of ambient light. In either case, here we are talking about a video projector that is more than a $1,000 cheaper than high-end models.

Main Specs:
  • 3-LCD video projection technology
  • Full 1080p resolution,
  • Active Full HD 3D,
  • 2300 ANSI-Lumens light output,
  • 40,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio rating,
  • 1.6 x manual zoom with no lens shift mechanism
  • Lamp Life: 4000hrs in standard mode; 5000hrs in eco mode
  • 10W stereo speakers build-in
  • Wireless HD on ‘e’ models supporting up to 5 HDMI connections
  • Dual-Split screen support via two separate HDMI sources.
Key Feature Enhancements Include:

There is not much of an improvement in terms of features over the 2011 version expect that the 3020 can do all the 3010 did but significantly better. This applies to both 2D and 3D picture performance, with improved color accuracy and solid overall picture quality.

However, the real improvement is with 3D and with Wireless HD performance. 3D performance on Epson’s first 3D video projector was far from perfect, with a lot of crosstalk in its default setting and that necessitated a reduction in brightness to minimize this crosstalk issue. The new Epson hardly exhibit any 3D image crosstalk especially when you set the 3D glasses brightness to low. Significant is also the improvement with the Wireless HD link which now supports five wireless HDMI ports instead of the one on the 3010; the only drawback here is that with the wireless HDMI inputs, you cannot apply different setting for the five wireless inputs as instead is the case with the wired HDMI inputs.

Overall Performance:

Despite the rather lighter shade of black in comparison to higher-end models from both Epson and Panasonic, the Epson Home Cinema 3020 and 3020e are both capable of excellent performance in general home entertainment applications, with bright big image projections, superb out-of-the-box color accuracy, and solid shadow detail. Unlike the Panasonic PT-AE8000, the Epson 3020/e is not the video projector for videophiles but its overall picture quality is almost there at almost $1,000 cheaper.

Though as stated, the Epson is not the ideal projector for the home theater, thanks to its auto iris system that adjusts the projector brightness output in line with the gamma and black/white levels of the projected content, the 3020/e still delivers solid image projections even the the darkened room. Unfortunately, its iris control mechanism is a bit noisy, which can be annoying during low passages of sound if the projector is close to the viewer.

Frame interpolation is missing from these Epson projectors, meaning that 24p movie content will suffer from judder, but this is a feature often missing from most video projectors at this price bracket. On the other hand, unlike most 1080p video systems, these video projectors are capable of doing a relatively good job with standard DVD material.

Apart from the noisy iris we referred to above, the only other complaint we have with this Epson projector relate to a rather slow menu response, which can be annoying when setting up the projector.

The bottom line:

If you are after enjoying the biggest picture for your dollar, the Epson Home Cinema 3020 and 3020e deliver an affordable big screen option capable of solid picture performance both in 2D and 3D. Add the convenience and flexibility of wireless HD connectivity, built-in speakers, and dual-split image projections, and there you have a great big screen option for your home entertainment solution.

Optoma HD33: Where 3D and 1080p meet at a most affordable price

Optoma is the video projector brand that like LG in the HDTV market, aims to deliver feature-rich projectors for the more budget-restricted home consumer. It was the brand that delivered the first 1080p video proctor under $1,000. And with the HD33 priced at under $1,300, Optoma is the brand that is delivering among the cheapest 1080p video projectors with 3D support. Even lamp replacement, which at under $250 on this Optoma projector, is some $100 less than what you pay for a lamp replacement for most projectors from major brands.

Do not let the cheaper price tag mislead you. Here we are not talking about some cheap 3D 1080p projector. The HD33 is capable of solid 2D performance with accurate color, good detail and a very deep level of black; the latter is typical of DLP projectors. Even in 3D, performance of the Optoma HD33 is surprisingly very good for such an affordable 3D projector, with good color saturation, minimal image crosstalk, and a 3D shutter glasses system that thanks to its RF link, never loses synch (as is the case with some IR based glasses), when the viewer looks too far to either side of the screen or while talking to some other person in the room while watching a movie.

As expected, this projector misses on a number of higher-end features like an auto iris control and lens shift mechanism, but we still believe this represents the best value 1080p 3D video projector for big screen home entertainment on a budget – with an overall performance that is in line with that of more expensive models from the competition.

Main Specs:
  • DLP video projection technology using TI 1080p DLP chipset
  • Full 1080p resolution,
  • Active Full HD 3D,
  • 1800 ANSI-Lumens light output,
  • 4,000:1 full on/full off contrast ratio rating,
  • 1.2 x manual zoom with no lens shift mechanism
  • RF Emitter for 3D included (RF glasses sold separately at $100 each)
  • Lamp Life: 3000hrs in bright mode; 4000hrs in standard low power mode
Key Feature Enhancements Include:

The Optoma HD33 continues to build on the excellent HD20, the first 1080p video projector to break the sub $1,000 price tag. As expected, with 3D being a feature one now expects to find on mid-range models, the main upgrade over the HD20 is 3D; yet there is more!

The projector is capable of great clear, sharp images both in 2D and 3D, and albeit the presence of some digital noise that becomes evident mainly in large expansive areas of solid color (typical of most home theater projectors at this price bracket), the Optoma HD33 is capable of a solid overall picture performance both with HD or SD content. The HD33 also comes with one of the most accurate out-of-the -box settings for color and grayscale tracking.

Unlike the more expensive Epson featured in this projector roundup, the Optoma HD33 comes with 120Hz frame interpolation that works both with 2D and 3D to help reduce judder with 24p content and enhance motion smoothness with live sports events and TV shows. Optoma frame interpolation, called Pure Motion comes with three pre-sets to adjust the resultant smoothness effect.

As with other DLP projection systems, the Optoma HD33 makes use of a high speed rotating color wheel rotating to generate color information. The HD33 uses a six-segment color rotating at 3-times-the refresh rate when the refresh rate is 120Hz  (frame interpolation on) and 6x-speed at 60Hz refresh rate when frame interpolation is switched off. The use of such high-speed rotating color wheels in DLP projection systems helps eliminate the rainbow effect completely (except for the most sensitive of viewers).

Overall Performance:

We have already stated that overall picture quality is great irrespective of the lower price of this projector. Moreover, the picture smoothness so typical with DLP, makes the picture looks even better.

Despite the slightly lower brightness level of this projector, image still looks bright in 2D; in most cases you have to set the projector lamp setting to standard to reduce the brightness level to a more manageable level in a totally darkened room.

In 3D, some may consider this projector as being a bit dim especially when compared with the brighter 2000+ lumens output projectors. However, this depends on the ambient light level in the room; we think that in a darkened room, the 3D image brightness is just right while ensuring a deeper level of black.

Even more important than image brightness in 3D is image crosstalk; the Optoma HD33 exhibits almost a 3D crosstalk free image; the result is superb 3D performance with clear separation between the left-eye and right-eye images.

What suffers with the HD33 at this lower price bracket is not picture quality inasmuch as convenience. Top in the list here is lack of flexibility with projector placement due to the restricted zoom range and the lack of lens shift mechanism; the latter however is missing on most projectors at this mid-range category.

Equally disappointing is the remote; the backlight is too bright to read the labeling adjacent to the buttons in a dark room  while the icons printed on the buttons are difficult to interpret.

One other minor issue with the Optoma is the rated projector brightness. As we have stated, it delivers enough brightness even in 3D; what we find disappointing is that it does not deliver it full rated 1800 ANSI-Lumens output in any of its 2D preset modes.

The bottom line:

The Optoma HD33 represents among the best value options at the lower price bracket – delivering a relatively inexpensive 2D and 3D video projector capable of solid overall picture that is exceptional good. In particular, its 3D picture performance is among the best you can expect irrespective of price.

If you want to go for big screen entertainment on a budget – whether that being in the living room or DIY home theater dedicated room, the Optoma delivers.

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