Home Theater Projector Shootout: Home Theater Projectors under $1,000

If you want to spend less than a thousand bucks on a good home theater projector, here are five of the best new options on the market. This shootout compares five newly released 1920×1080 resolution home theater projectors that are priced between $799 and $999, including in alpha order the BenQ HT3050, the BenQ HT2050, the Epson Home Cinema 2040, the Optoma HD28DSE, and the Viewsonic LightStream PJD7835HD. To start with, here are the prices, warranties, and technology type:

MODEL PRICE WARRANTY TYPE
BenQ HT3050 $999 1 year DLP
BenQ HT2050 $799 1 year DLP
Epson Home Cinema 2040 $799 2 years 3LCD
Optoma HD28DSE $799 1 year DLP
Viewsonic PJD7835HD $899 3 years DLP

 

Which is the BEST Projector?

There is no such thing, at least in this group, as the “best” projector. Why? Because each of our five projectors has unique attributes that may be of more or less importance to you. For example, when one projector has deeper black levels but is not quite as sharp as another, people would disagree on which is the “best.” One projector might do an outstanding job with 2D but its 3D image is lackluster, while a different model has terrific 3D, but its 2D image is less impressive. Which of these projectors is the “best” for you depends on how important 3D viewing is to you.

No single projector in this shootout does everything the best — they’ve all got advantages and they’ve all got flaws. Our purpose here is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each product, and let you decide which one most closely meets your needs.

The Calibration Issue

There is a lot of discussion about color balance and calibration in these reviews. Let’s put this into perspective right up front. There are two truisms to bear in mind:

  1. Most consumers will think the factory calibrated pictures they get from any of the five projectors in this shootout are just fine as they are coming out of the box, without any need for adjustments or calibrations.
  2. The picture quality on virtually all projectors can be improved with a professional calibration.

Projector manufacturers are paying more attention to proper video calibrations than they used to. Some are promoting the fact that they are making a specific effort to target HD Rec 709 standards in their Movie or Cinema factory calibrations. Other vendors have created Cinema or Movie calibrations designed to target HD color standards without specifically marketing them as such. So the good news is that you are much more likely to pull a new projector out of the box, fire it up, and get a picture that blows you away without having to bother with a professional calibration.

HOWEVER. Though vendors are paying more attention to calibration for best video, it is only by the rarest of accidents that a projector comes out of the box perfectly calibrated. Factory calibrations are always approximations, as each unit and (more importantly) each lamp is different. The high pressure lamps used in inexpensive projectors do not emit the ideal 6500K white light; they tend to be biased toward blue-green. The Cinema or Rec 709 factory calibrations help to compensate for the anticipated color errors introduced by the lamps, but there is no way that vendors could afford to custom calibrate each unit for each individual lamp during the manufacturing process.

Bottom line, if you set up two different projectors side by side that have both been “factory pre-calibrated to Rec 709,” odds are the colors will look different. And, odds are, they are both wrong. But they will both look a lot better (that is, a lot closer to the theoretical ideal) than if no attempt at calibration had been done.

If you want your projector to be tuned up to its absolute best potential, a certified technician will need to spend a couple hours dialing it in. And even then, one person’s “optimal” picture may not be another’s. While there are objective targets defined as ideals, there is a lot of room for personal taste when it comes to setting up a video picture to your ultimate satisfaction.

The problem is, professional calibrations can cost $300 or more, which is a huge chunk of change to add to the cost of an $800 projector. Most buyers won’t do that. And for most buyers, it isn’t necessary. Think about this — TVs are just as erroneous as projectors, often more so. But when’s the last time you heard of anyone needing to hire a professional to calibrate their TV before they could enjoy the picture? Probably never.

So take the discussion about color balance and accuracy in these reviews with a grain of salt. They will mean something to serious home theater fans, and the issues are legitimate because people going to the trouble to install a projection system generally want better performance than the typical TV watcher. But all of the projectors in this group have factory defined picture modes that will dazzle and delight most consumers. They give you a big screen experience you can love without messing with any calibration at all. Once you install one of them and get familiar with its features, how much of a stickler you may want to be for fine tuning and technical precision is up to you.

Performance

This section contains meter measurements on the five projectors pertaining to lumen output, brightness uniformity, and input lag.

2D Brightness. For traditional 2D movie and video display, all five of these projectors produce more than ample light for dark room home theater. In their brightest configurations that are still balanced for very good video, four of the five come in so close that it would make no sense to choose one or the other based on brightness. The Viewsonic PJD7835HD is the one exception that puts out more light.

ANSI Lumens in Brightest Cinema Modes

MODEL Lumens
BenQ HT3050 1550
BenQ HT2050 1688
Epson 2040 1725
Optoma HD28DSE 1667
Viewsonic PJD7835HD 2310

 

ANSI Lumens in Standard Cinema Modes (lamps on full power)

MODEL Lumens
BenQ HT3050 1160
BenQ HT2050 1255
Epson 2040 1519
Optoma HD28DSE 1601
Viewsonic PJD7835HD 1616

 

In their preset Cinema modes, the Epson 2040, Optoma HD28, and Viewsonic 7835HD are somewhat brighter than the BenQ HT2050 and HT3050. But even the least bright measurement of 1160 lumens is more than ample light for most dark theater applications.

Eco modes. All five projectors have eco-modes that reduce total lumen output in all modes in the event light output at full lamp power is too much for your needs. Optoma’s eco-mode cuts light by 26%, Epson’s by 34%, and the two BenQ models are reduced 32%. The Viewsonic has two eco modes. The standard Eco cuts light by 27%, and the Super-Eco cuts it by a whopping 78% (a curious option for which we cannot see a high demand).

Zoom lens effect. The 1.3x zoom lenses on the two BenQ models will allow you to reduce lumen output by up to 27% as you move to the telephoto end of the zoom range. Why? As you move the lens from wide angle to telephoto, it reduces the amount of light that is transmitted through the lens. The Viewsonic has a 1.36x zoom that will reduce light up to 23% at the telephoto end. This gives users of these models a bit more latitude for lowering maximum brightness if they need to. Meanwhile the Epson 2040 and Optoma HD28 have shorter zooms of 1.2x and 1.1x respectively. The light output of the Epson and Optoma projectors is not significantly altered by the zoom position.

3D Brightness. Though these five projectors are similar in 2D image brightness, the similarities evaporate entirely when switching to 3D operation. The Epson HC 2040 has a commanding advantage in 3D image brightness over all four of its competitors. It is well over twice as bright as the closest runner up, the Optoma HD28DSE. In turn, the HD28DSE is obviously brighter than the remaining three.

Brightness Uniformity. A theoretically perfect projector will have 100% uniformity, displaying identical illumination across the screen side to side and top to bottom. We’ve never seen one do this. Practically speaking in today’s world, 90% uniformity is excellent, 80% is good, 70% is fair to mediocre, and 60% is poor. These numbers represent ratios between the brightest part of the image and the dimmest. So a projector with 60% uniformity will be 40% less bright in the dimmest area of the image than in its brightest.

For the most part, low brightness uniformity is not noticeable when viewing a video or film image. What you generally get is fading toward the sides or corners that you are not conscious of unless the projector has some visible vignetting. So the flaw is subtle — you are not seeing the picture as it is meant to be seen, but you are not aware that it is wrong. Once you throw a 100 IRE white test pattern onto the screen, the degree of unevenness of your projector’s image becomes apparent.

Our five 1080p projectors in this group yield brightness uniformity measurements as follows:

MODEL Uniformity
BenQ HT3050 73%
BenQ HT2050 67%
Epson 2040 84%
Optoma HD28DSE 71%
Viewsonic PJD7835HD 65%

 

Input Lag. The time lag that exists between the time the projector receives the signal and the time it appears on the screen is called input lag. A lengthy input lag will produce visible lip synch issues and may have some impact on video gaming results. The lip synch problem can be easily overcome with the use of an audio delay that brings the sound and the picture back into synch. But there is no fix for video gaming, so those who are into serious competitive gaming tend to look for video displays with the lowest input lags.

MODEL INPUT LAG
BenQ HT3050 49.7 ms
BenQ HT2050 33.1 ms
Epson Home Cinema 2040 24.6 ms
Optoma HD28DSE 49.7 ms
Viewsonic PJD7835HD 49.7 ms

Set Up / Installation

None of these five projectors have long zoom lenses or extensive lens shift, so your options are limited on where you can place them to fill your particular screen. The BenQ models have a 1.3x zoom lens and some limited lens shift, and the Viewsonic has a 1.36x zoom, so they offer a bit more latitude.

The throw distances for the BenQ and Epson units are almost identical. If you have a 16:9, 120″ diagonal screen, the HT3050 and 2050 will fill it from a distance of 10 to 13 feet, and the Epson 2040 will fill it from 10.5 to 12.75 feet. The Viewsonic gives you the ability to position it slightly closer, from 9.6 to 13 feet. The Optoma HD28DSE needs a bit more throw distance, 13 to 14 feet, to accommodate the same 120″ screen. This can be a good thing since it may allow placement of the projector behind the seating area and a bit further from the audience.

If your screen is something other than 120″ diagonal, you can find throw distance details using the Projector Central Projection Calculator. Here is the Projection Calculator pre-loaded with each of the five models … BenQ HT3050BenQ HT2050Epson HC 2040Optoma HD28DSEViewsonic PJD7835HD. Adjust the screen size and throw distance parameters to suit your needs.

Image offset is another factor to keep in mind. Each of these projectors throws an image that is entirely or mostly above the centerline of the lens. The two BenQ models and the Optoma throw a picture so that the bottom edge is above the centerline of the lens by about 8% of the picture height.

In addition, the two BenQ projectors have a lens shift capability that will let you raise the picture up to another 10% of the picture height (or about 6″ on a 120″ screen). This lets you compensate for minor errors in mounting in a way that the other products don’t, and makes it easier to target a pre-installed screen.

The Epson HC 2040 is unique among the five in that its projection offset is quite a bit lower — the bottom edge of the projected image is located below the centerline of the lens, by an amount equal to about 13% of the picture height, or about 8″ below the centerline on a 120″ screen. The advantage of this placement is that it makes it easier to install on a rack or shelf located behind the audience without having to tilt it to position the image properly on the wall. This lets you avoid the keystone correction that would be required to square up the image if you had to tilt the projector downward, as you would need to do with the BenQ, Optoma, and Viewsonic units.

There are two further issues to be aware of if you plan to place the HC 2040 on a rear shelf behind the seats. First, it will require you to sit at a position of about 1.3x the screen width or closer. You may or may not want to sit that close to the screen, and it is worth sorting that out before you make your final decision. Second, fan noise may be bothersome if the projector is placed immediately behind and too close to the heads of the audience. This is especially the case if the projector is to be run in full power mode.

The downside to the Epson 2040’s lower throw angle is that if you place it on a coffee table it may throw the image too low, or if you invert and ceiling mount it, it will throw the image too high. For ceiling mounting, this is fixed by using an extension drop tube. The HC 2040 will need to be suspended one or two feet lower from the ceiling than would be required with the competing units.

The bottom line is that the lens throw geometry of the BenQ HT3050 and HT2050 favors a ceiling mount or coffee table placement, and its lens shift makes it easier to target a pre-installed screen. The Optoma HD28DSE and Viewsonic 7835HD also favor a ceiling or table mount, but they have no lens shift. All four of the DLP projectors are a bit more problematic for rear shelf placement due to the probable need to tilt the units downward and use keystone to square it up (which is scaling that compromises the 1 to 1 pixel mapping from an HD 1080p source). The Epson HC 2040 is designed to accommodate a rear shelf placement more easily, and if you ceiling mount it, you will need to position it at a greater vertical distance from the ceiling than you would the competing units by using a longer drop tube.

Lamp Life and Replacement Lamp Cost

Lamp life has continued to improve in the industry. Keep in mind that lamp life specs are based on the anticipated time the lamp’s brightness will diminish to 50% of its original luminance. However, high pressure lamps do not degrade on a straight-line basis; they lose about 25% of their power in the first 500 to 1000 hours, and then degrade more slowly after that. For this reason, many serious home theater users replace lamps more frequently than the official lamp life in order to keep their projectors performing their best. If you want to follow this strategy, the lamp replacement cost becomes a factor in your decision.

Lamp Life Specifications

MODEL FULL Power ECO Mode
BenQ HT3050 3500 hours 6000 hours
BenQ HT2050 3500 hours 6000 hours
Epson Home Cinema 2040 4000 hours 7500 hours
Optoma HD28DSE 4000 hours 8000 hours
Viewsonic PJD7835HD 3500 hours 8000 hours

 

Replacement Lamp Prices (as quoted by the manufacturers)

MODEL Price
BenQ HT3050 $249
BenQ HT2050 $249
Epson 2040 $  79
Optoma HD28DSE $179
Viewsonic PJD7835HD $329

BenQ HT3050

The BenQ HT3050 is an impressive projector that succeeds in part by avoiding the common flaws typical of home theater projectors in this price range. It delivers an exceptional picture out of the box that many will find perfectly enjoyable without any tweaking. On our sample, we selected the Cinema mode, and preferred to open up the mid-tones a bit by boosting Brightness to 51, Contrast to 53, and adjusting gamma from 2.2 to 2.1. This is not a recommendation, as your unit and your tastes may vary.

Strengths / Advantages

Pre-calibrated Rec 709 Cinema mode. One of the key features of the HT3050 is its Cinema mode that has been factory set to target Rec 709 standards. No factory precalibration will be ideal for all units coming off the line, but this one gets the picture closer to standards than typical factory settings. The picture looks great standing on its own, and we suspect few users would want to bother with the expense of a custom calibration. It can be improved with further tweaking, but it is not necessary.

Rainbows? What rainbows? The RGBRGB wheel configuration and rapid refresh rate bring rainbow artifacts to an absolute minimum, which for all practical purposes will be non-existent for many users.

Outstanding Audio. The twin 10W stereo speakers blow all the others away. If you want or need your projector to have some robust audio, this is the one to get.

Low Fan Noise. The fan noise on the HT3050 (and HT2050) in full power mode is the lowest and least noticeable in the group in both sound pressure and frequency. It also does not vary in pitch or pressure which is a good thing that is not true of all projectors in this shootout.

Lens shift. While not extensive in range, the HT3050 (and HT2050) lets you shift the lens in order to move the image up and down about 10% of the picture height. This can make it much easier to target a pre-installed screen, or make a small adjustment after you’ve made an error in screen installation after the fact. None of the competing units have this.

1.3x zoom lens. The 1.3x zoom lenses provide a bit more flexibility in throw distance, and the choice of throw distance can be used to fine tune the projector’s light output if necessary.

Black levels. Black levels, while not as deep as the Optoma HD28, are the second best in the group, and are sufficiently deep to produce good snap. Contrast is equally competitive, not quite at HD28 level but solid and nothing to complain about.

Weaknesses

3D performance. The HT3050 has the least bright 3D picture in the shootout. Color saturation is somewhat muted compared to the Epson 2040 and Optoma HD28. Standing alone, the HT3050’s 3D picture is certainly quite engaging and enjoyable, so if you have only a passing interest in 3D, this projector will get you by. But if you are a big 3D fan and tend to complain about the dimness of 3D imagery, the HT3050 would not be the first choice.

Light output. Light output in 2D display is around 1160 lumens in Cinema mode, which is plenty sufficient for most home theater needs. It is only a weakness by comparison with competing units in this group that average closer to 1600 lumens and thus would be able to accommodate more ambient light, should that be desired.

Input lag. The HT3050’s 49.7 ms matches the Viewsonic and the Optoma, but it is not as quick as the HT2050 at 33.1 ms, or the Epson 2040 at 24.6 ms. If you are not into serious gaming this is a non-issue, but if you are, this may be an issue to consider.

Brightness uniformity. The HT3050 and HT2050 both have relatively low brightness uniformity compared to ideal home theater standards. However, they share this limitation with the other DLP models in this shootout, so they are not uniquely poor in this regard. This is a flaw that tends to get lost and unnoticed in a video image, so as flaws go it is easy to live with.

Slow signal lock. The HT3050 is the slowest of the five units to find and lock on a signal. This is noticed typically when loading a new disc. You see a lot of “searching for signal” messages when the Blu-ray player is sending different signals that alternate between 480 to 1080/60 to 1080/24. The practical consequence is that you may never see preliminary notices like the MPAA rating screen or the FBI warning, and you may hear the dramatic fanfare of the movie studio’s logo on your sound system before the video image appears on the screen. However, once the projector locks onto a stable 1080p/24 movie signal it is fine, so most users will consider the initial instability to be a minor nuisance. All of the DLP projectors in this shootout do this to some degree; the Epson 2040 is the only one in this group that rapidly locks on a new signal format.

One-year warranty. BenQ offers a one-year warranty on the HT3050, which is the minimum found in the industry today.

Price and Replacement Lamp. The $999 price is the highest in the group and the $249 replacement lamp price is rather hefty; it is not as bad as the Viewsonic lamp at $329, but Epson’s $79 lamp price stands in a league of its own.

Summary Assessment

The BenQ HT3050 produces a solid and thoroughly engaging picture without the need for pro calibration. Its black levels, shadow definition, and contrast are competitive, rainbows are rare, and fan noise is low, steady, and unobtrusive. The 1.3x zoom lens with lens shift makes it the easiest of the projectors in this group to ceiling mount. Part of the charm of the HT3050 is that BenQ has eliminated most of the common flaws people object to in lower priced projectors.

Furthermore, the weaknesses that it does have do not rise to the level of big problems for most buyers. Its 3D is the least bright and saturated of the competing models, but for those who watch 3D only occasionally this is not a big deal; it provides sufficiently good 3D performance to satisfy the occasional use. Brightness uniformity is lower than ideal, but it is not generally noticeable on the screen. Input lag of 49.7 ms may be a concern for serious gamers, but not for the rest of the world. And its slowness to lock on a signal is a minor nuisance that only happens before the movie gets going.

The HT3050’s price of $999 is the highest in this group, the one-year warranty is minimal, and $249 for a replacement lamp may be a concern for people who plan to put a lot of hours on their projector. But overall, we expect that many will see the particular configuration of benefits offered by the HT3050 to be a very attractive value proposition.

BenQ HT2050

The BenQ HT2050 is built on the same platform as the HT3050, and it also is an impressive projector that succeeds in part by avoiding the common flaws in home theater projectors in this price range. It lacks a few features that are found on the HT3050, including a factory calibrated Rec 709 Cinema mode, stereo sound, horizontal keystone adjustment, MHL-compatibility, and the option to add a soon-to-be released wireless module for an additional $399. But you save $200 by going with the HT2050 instead of the HT3050.

Strengths / Advantages

Rainbows a non-issue. The RGBRGB wheel configuration and rapid refresh rate bring rainbow artifacts to an absolute minimum, which for all practical purposes will be non-existent for many users.

Low Fan Noise. The fan noise on the HT2050 (and HT3050) in full power mode is the lowest and least noticeable in the group in both sound pressure and frequency.

Input lag. The HT2050’s 33.1 ms is quite good. It is faster than the HT3050, the Optoma HD28 and the Viewsonic which all measure 49.7 ms, but it is not quite as quick as the Epson at 24.6 ms.

Lens shift. While not extensive in range, the HT2050 (and HT3050) lets you shift the lens in order to move the image up and down about 10% of the picture height. This can make it much easier to target a pre-installed screen, or make a small adjustment after you’ve made an error in screen installation after the fact. None of the competing units have this.

1.3x zoom lens. The 1.3x zoom lenses provide a bit more flexibility in throw distance, and the choice of throw distance can be used to fine tune the projector’s light output if necessary.

Black levels. Black levels, while not as deep as the Optoma HD28, are the second best in the group, and are sufficiently deep to produce good snap. Contrast is equally competitive, not quite at HD28 level but solid and nothing to complain about.

Above Average Audio. The single 10W stereo speaker does not compare to the twin 10W configuration on the HT3050, but it outperforms the audio on the other competing units in this group.

Price. At $799 the HT2050, along with the Epson 2040 and Optoma HD28, are the three least expensive models in the group.

Weaknesses

3D performance. The HT2050 is just slightly brighter than the HT3050, but one of the least bright 3D pictures in the shootout. Color saturation is muted compared to the Epson 2040 and Optoma HD28. Standing alone, the HT2050’s 3D picture is certainly engaging and enjoyable, so if you have only a passing interest in 3D, this projector will get you by. But if you are among those who complain about the dimness of 3D imagery, the HT2050 would not be the first choice.

No MHL Compatibility. The HT2050 is the only projector in this group of five that does not have MHL.

Brightness uniformity. The 2050 and 3050 both have low brightness uniformity, which they share with the other DLP models in this shootout. This is a flaw that tends to get lost and unnoticed in a video image, so as flaws go it is easy to live with.

Slow signal lock. The HT2050 is relatively slow to find and lock on a signal. This is noticed mostly when loading a new disc. There are a lot of “searching for signal” messages as the Blu-ray player may alternate between 480 to 1080/60 to 1080/24. However, once it locks on to a stable signal it has no problem retaining it. The HT2050 appears to be a bit faster than the HT3050 in this regard.

One-year warranty. BenQ offers a one-year warranty on the HT2050, which is the minimum found in the industry today.

Replacement Lamp. The $249 replacement lamp price is rather hefty; it is not as bad as the Viewsonic at $329, but Epson’s $79 price stands in a league of its own.

Summary Assessment

Much of what was said of the HT3050 can be said of the HT2050 as well. At $799 it is competitively priced and delivers an impressive picture for the money. Its factory calibrations are perfectly watchable as they are, but color in Cinema mode is not dialed in quite as well as it is on the HT3050. Though not required to enjoy the projector, a custom calibration will noticeably improve the picture quality. If you DO plan to spend $300 on a custom calibration, the HT2050 would be the more cost-effective choice over the HT3050 unless you want or need the HT3050’s other features — MHL, horizontal keystone, more robust stereo on-board sound, and the option to add a wireless module.

As with the HT3050, black levels, shadow definition, and contrast are competitive, rainbows are rare, and fan noise is low and unobtrusive. The 1.3x zoom lens with lens shift makes it the easiest of the projectors in this group to ceiling mount. Most of the common flaws people object to in lower priced projectors do not appear on this one. Furthermore, the weaknesses that it does have are not big problems for most buyers. Though slightly brighter than the HT3050, its 3D is similarly low in brightness and saturation compared to the competition, but for those who watch 3D only occasionally this is not a big deal; it provides sufficiently good 3D performance to satisfy the occasional use. Brightness uniformity is lower than ideal, but it is not generally noticeable on the screen.

The HT2050’s input lag of 33.1 ms will look more attractive to gamers than the 49.7 ms on the HT3050. On the other hand, the absence of MHL compatibility will hinder the use of smartphones and tablets as sources, and the HT2050 is the only projector in the group without this feature. The one-year warranty and $249 price for a replacement lamp may be a concern for people who plan to put a lot of hours on their projector. But overall, we expect that many will see the HT2050’s particular configuration of benefits to be a very attractive value proposition for $799. People who buy it will love it.

Epson Home Cinema 2040

The Epson HC 2040 is the best home theater projector yet produced by Epson in this price range. It is the only 3LCD product in the group of five, and in many respects it is radically different than its DLP competitors. It has performance features and advantages none of the others have, along with a couple of unique weaknesses. To the videophile, the 3LCD picture looks qualitatively different than DLP, with both advantages and disadvantages. Preference for one over the other is a matter of personal taste, so we’ll try to describe the differences and let you decide which appeals to you the most.

Strengths / Advantages

3D Performance. The single most dramatic advantage of the 2040 is its performance in 3D. Image brightness is the chronic problem with most 3D implementations, and the 2040 is by far the brightest of the five units in this comparison. When in full power mode it is double the brightness of the next closest competitor, the Optoma HD28, which in turn is twice as bright as the rest of the competition. And even when the 2040 is in eco-mode, its 3D picture is visibly brighter than the HD28 in full lamp. Not only is the 2040’s 3D image bright, it is rich and vibrant in color, and high in contrast. The black level limitations that appear in 2D display do not exist in 3D; instead you get deep solid blacks and ample shadow detail definition. For buyers who are heavily into 3D, the 2040 is the standout choice among the five.

Very Sharp Picture. Perhaps the sharpest image of the five, rivaled only by the Optoma HD28. Sharpness is due in part to the Detail Clarity Processor brought down from the 5030/6030 models. As with any sharpening algorithm, it can be overdone to the point where the picture looks artificially harsh. However, in modest use (we set ours to 30%) it lends a natural refinement of detail and makes the picture look higher in resolution than it does on competing units.

Film-like image. The 3LCD picture on the 2040 has a more natural, analog looking aspect to it than do the DLPs in this group. This is difficult to describe, but there is a qualitative smoothness in the image that will appeal to videophiles.

Input Lag. The 2040 measures 24.6 ms input lag, the fastest of the group, and in fact the fastest projector we’ve measured in a long time.

Frame Interpolation. The 2040 is the only product among these five that has frame interpolation. This optional feature can be set to Low to reduce the occasional camera panning judder in movie projection. If set to Medium or High it will produce too much hyper-reality (the soap opera effect) for movie viewing. However, the High setting works well for stabilizing video of live performances such as concerts or dance, where the more visual reality the better.

Rainbows are non-existent. The 3-chip light engine delivers simultaneous color updates, so rainbow artifacts do not exist.

Low Fan Noise in Eco-mode. The fan noise in eco-mode is identical to the noise on the BenQ models, which is to say the lowest that it gets among these five models.

Lower throw offset. The 2040 has a lower throw offset than any of the DLPs which makes it more suitable for mounting on a shelf behind the seats. This may or may not be an advantage depending on how you plan to install it. Shelf mounting saves you the cost of a ceiling mount and long run cables as well as the work to install it. However, if you do plan to ceiling mount your projector, the 2040 will require a longer drop tube than you would use with any of the DLP models.

Brightness uniformity. Our 2040 test unit measures 84%, compared to the low 70’s or worse on the other four units. So the 2040 is the only model among the five that can be said to have good uniformity.

Miracast, Intel WiDi Option. Epson offers a variation of the 2040 called the Home Cinema 2045. It is $50 more than the 2040, and it includes support for Miracast and Intel WiDi.

Rapid synch on new signals. The 2040 is the fastest of the group to recognize and synch on a new signal format. So when loading a Blu-ray disc, as it initially cycles through varying signal formats for the MPAA rating, the FBI alert screen, and the movie studio logo splash sequences, it displays these without any stumbling around or multiple intermittent “searching for signal” messages. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it is a difference you experience every time you load a new disc.

Price. At $799 the Epson 2040, along with the BenQ HT2050 and Optoma HD28, are the three least expensive models in the group.

Cheap Replacement Lamp. The $79 replacement lamp price is pretty much unheard of, and seriously undercuts the high prices of the competition. At this price, there is a real benefit to be aware of. You can always expect high pressure lamps to lose 25% of their initial brightness during the first 500 to 1000 hours of operation. They will then degrade more slowly until they hit 50% of their initial brightness at end of life. Because of this, serious home theater users with higher priced projectors often replace lamps more frequently than the lamp life would suggest, in order to keep their equipment performing at its best. At a price of $79, you can adopt this practice on the 2040 without serious financial impact.

Two-year warranty. Epson’s two-year warranty on the 2040 beats the one-year programs offered by BenQ and Optoma, but Viewsonic’s three-year deal is the best in this group.

Weaknesses

Black levels in 2D. The most notable weakness in the 2040 is black level in 2D display, which is not as deep as it is on the DLP competition. By comparison, the Optoma HD28 has the deepest blacks and highest contrast. The weakness in black level is most apparent on a 2D image that is mostly black, such as rolling credits, and in predominantly dark scenes where there is a lot of shadow detail. With this subject matter the DLP projectors will render a blacker background and provide better shadow detail definition.

Fan noise in full lamp mode. The 2040 is the loudest of the five models when in full lamp mode. We presume many users will opt for eco-mode, which brings fan noise down to the equivalent level of the BenQ units. The good news is that even in eco-mode the 2040 has a brighter picture than most of the competition.

No lens shift. The two BenQ models have some lens shift range that will make them easier to install. The 2040, the HD28, and the PJD7835HD lack this feature.

Average on-board audio. It’s not bad for a portable unit and it beats the anemic HD28 audio, but the audio on the 2040 pales in comparison to what you get on the HT3050 and even the HT2050.

Summary Assessment

The Epson Home Cinema 2040 is the most impressive home theater projector yet produced by Epson under $1000. It is uniquely outstanding in 3D, easily outperforming the competition with this type of content. Its image with 2D content is bright and sharp with excellent color, clarity, and a natural film-like quality.

The HC 2040’s factory calibrations in its Cinema and Bright Cinema modes are reasonably good and certainly watchable without calibration. However, some tweaking by a knowledgeable user or a professional calibration will improve its ultimate performance. We ended up making some tweaks to the Bright Cinema mode that produced a brilliant and very satisfying image. Its primary weakness is black levels and shadow definition in scenes with an abundance of dark and shadow. Fan noise is also louder than desirable when the projector is run in full power, but it is quiet in eco-mode. Since the projector produces exceptional brightness in eco-mode and we suspect most users will opt for that.

Epson’s consumer friendly 2-year warranty and $79 replacement lamp price, along with the fact that its $799 price is attractive in itself, will make it easy for many to make a decision for the HC 2040.

Optoma HD28DSE

The Optoma HD28DSE is capable of producing what many might consider to be the best 2D picture in this group of five models, but it does not come that way out of the box. When you first fire it up, its factory default calibrations are disturbing. Saturation and sharpness are way overdriven, white is extremely out of balance, and the picture looks quite harsh. However it is remarkably easy to fix with a few simple adjustments. First, switch it from Vivid to Cinema mode. Second, reduce the Sharpness control from 12 to 8. Third, reduce color saturation from 10 to 0. Fourth, reduce Brilliant Color from 8 to 2. Fifth, reduce the DarbeeVision video processing from its factory 80% setting to 20%. And voila, you have a vastly improved 2D video image with solid black levels, sparkling contrast, impressive three-dimensionality, and reasonably well calibrated color that will compete well against any of the competition in this shootout.

Strengths / Advantages

Deepest blacks, best contrast. The HD28DSE carries a contrast rating of 30,000:1 compared to the 15,000:1 ratings on the BenQ models and 22,000:1 on the Viewsonic. In this instance the contrast ratings do translate to a visible competitive advantage. We see marginally deeper black levels, better shadow detail separation, higher overall contrast, and more image three-dimensionality on the HD28 than on any of the competing models. However, we would describe the differences as more subtle than dramatic.

Rainbows are scarce. We see a few more rainbows on the HD28 than we do on the BenQ models, but they are scarce enough that they don’t rise to the level of a concern. By comparison there is more rainbow activity on the Viewsonic.

Very good 3D performance. The HD28 cannot match the Epson 2040 in 3D brightness or richness, but it occupies an impressive second place, surpassing the other DLP models handily in both image brightness and color vibrancy.

Sharp picture. The HD28DSE is unique in that it has the DarbeeVision video processing system which none of the other models have. (“DSE” in the model name stands for Darbee Special Edition). This can be enabled or not as the user wishes. In our experimenting, we find that using the DarbeeVision system in a modest setting of about 20% contributes beneficially to image sharpness and clarity without making it appear unnaturally processed. So it is a significant feature that places the HD28DSE in a tie with the Epson 2040 as the two sharpest projectors in the shootout.

Four corner correction. The HD28 has not only vertical and horizontal keystone correction, but independent four corner correction as well. So if you need to install this unit at oblique angles to the projection surface, it is easy to square up the image. Anyone setting up the projector for permanent use in a home theater should make every effort to position the projector square with the screen to begin with so no keystone adjustments of any kind are required, but if you need this feature it is available.

Weaknesses

Variable fan noise. The fan noise oscillates somewhat and appears to be related to average picture level and internal operating temperature. There is an intermittent higher pitched tone that comes and goes, which does not exist on any of the other units. Moreover, overall loudness of the fan increases and decreases over time. The varying pitch and tone of the fan noise draws more attention than does any fan with a constant pitch and sound pressure.

Factory presets excessive. When first firing it up, the HD28 defaults to a rather bright, oversaturated, very harsh image. The good news is that it is easy to fix as described above.

1.1x zoom and fixed throw offset. With no lens shift and almost no zoom, the HD28 is the most restrictive of the five models in terms of the precision required to install the projector.

Lower than expected lumens. The HD28 has ample firepower for most home theater and home entertainment use and it is competitive with the other units in the group. But it falls noticeably short of its 3000 lumen rating.

Weak onboard speaker. If you listen carefully the speaker will give you an idea what a movie’s audio track is all about, but despite its 10-watt rating it is not very loud even at max volume. Onboard sound is the worst of the five models here.

Input lag. The measured lag of 49.7 ms matches the BenQ HT3050 and Viewsonic PJD7835HD, but it is slower than the HT2050 and Epson 2040. If you’re a serious gamer, this may be a consideration.

One-year warranty. Optoma’s one-year warranty on the HD28DSE is an industry minimum, matching BenQ, but falling short of Epson’s two-years or Viewsonic’s three years.

Price and Replacement Lamp. The $799 price is attractive and the $179 replacement lamp price looks good compared to BenQ and Viewsonic, but it is quite a bit more than Epson’s $79 lamp.

Summary Assessment

After getting rid of the overdriven factory presets, the Optoma HD28DSE turns into a beautiful projector with best in class black levels and contrast. The DarbeeVision system is a unique feature that can enhance the picture if used modestly, but can destroy the picture if used at aggressive settings. The HD28DSE’s Cinema and 3D modes in particular can be enjoyed without calibration, other than the initial adjustments needed to remove the excessive processing. Rainbows occur infrequently enough that they do not amount to an issue of consequence.

3D performance is above average in the group. It is more robust than the other DLP projectors, but falls short of the Epson. The only ongoing annoyance is the unpredictable fan noise. The HD28DSE is best suited for low table or ceiling mounting. Be careful where you put it, as the 1.1x zoom and zero lens shift severely limits placement options for any given screen size and location.

At $799, you get a projector that is capable of delivering a beautiful, relatively bright high contrast 2D image that is highly competitive with the BenQ models, but it needs a bit of tweaking to get it there. The DarbeeVision system gives it an edge in image sharpness/acuity when used modestly. Overall, a great value in an entry level projector.

Viewsonic LightStream PJD7835HD

The Viewsonic PJD7835HD, priced at $899, is in many respects the best home theater projector yet released by Viewsonic. It comes with several pre-calibrated operating modes including Viewmatch, which targets Rec 709 standards. On our test sample, the Viewmatch mode is rather lackluster and slightly biased toward green. We get a far more dynamic, balanced, and exciting picture when switching to Movie mode and adjusting the color temperature to Warm. In this mode the PJD7835HD puts out a beautiful, bright, and very competitive image.

Strengths / Advantages

Brightest of the bunch. The 7835HD is rated at 3500 lumens, and our sample measured 3503 lumens. This is the brightest of the five models in the group. It produces a reasonably well balanced video image at about 2300 lumens, notably brighter than the brightest of the competition. So it offers a unique advantage in combatting ambient light.

Solid red, excellent color. The red primary on this projector is more solid than on any of the competing units which tend to have a touch of orangish hue in the reds. Once calibrated, the 7835HD is capable of extremely accurate color.

1.36x zoom A slightly longer zoom range than the 1.3x on the BenQ models gives the 7835HD the award for the longest zoom range in the group. Practically speaking, it means that you can place the projector slightly closer to the screen for any given screen size than you can any of the competition.

Good onboard audio. While the HT3050 is the king of audio and the HT2050 is in second place, the 16W speaker is a good performer with reasonable volume and no distortion. It comes in third, but very close to the HT2050. It is much louder and clearer than the speakers on the Optoma or Epson units.

Black levels and contrast. Despite the higher light output, the 7835HD is capable of generating solid black levels. They are not quite as deep as the Optoma or BenQ’s but they are very close. Contrast is highly competitive with the BenQ models, matching or edging them just slightly.

3-year warranty. Viewsonic includes an aggressive 3-year warranty in the price, which is something nobody else does.

Weaknesses

Rainbow activity. The 7835HD’s most problematic weakness is rainbow artifacts, which tend to show up more frequently than on the other DLP projectors in this group. This comes from an RGBCYW color wheel rotating at 7200 RPM. Rainbows will tend to be most problematic for people who like to sit close to the screen, a practice that maximizes the eye movement. You will never see rainbows if you don’t move your eyes, so sitting farther back from a screen reduces your cone of vision and thus eye movement.

Fan noise. In full power mode the fan noise is somewhat more present than it is on the BenQ models in full lamp mode, or the Epson 2040 in eco-mode. But you get a brighter picture for that as part of the trade off. It is not as loud as the Epson in full power mode. It is very low in pitch, so it is not terribly distracting. However, as with the Optoma HD28 it does tend to vary up and down apparently in response to internal operating temperatures.

3D picture. Though the 7835HD is quite bright in 2D it loses its brightness advantage in 3D.

Input lag. The measured lag of 49.7 ms on the 7835HD matches the Optoma and the BenQ HT3050, but it is slower than the Epson 2040 and the BenQ HT2050.

Low Brightness Uniformity. None of the DLP projectors perform well on this parameter, but the 65% measured on the 7835HD was a tad lower than the competition.

Replacement lamp. If you want or need a new lamp, the price is a hefty $329, which is noticeably more than any of the competition.

Summary Assessment

Viewsonic is on the move, looking to become a significant player in home theater projection. Their beautiful little PJD5555W, a 1280×800 resolution projector now selling for under $500, was the first model in their line to offer the Viewmatch Rec 709 mode. The PJD7835HD boosts resolution to 1920×1080 and continues their focus on excellent color dynamics.

At $899, the LightStream PJD7835HD is priced in the middle of the group. Its key advantage is extra brightness and it is capable of putting out a superb picture. Its extra brightness comes in part from the white segment in the color wheel. In its very brightest preset modes the extra white light compromises color saturation and rendered an imbalanced picture. But the projector offers sufficient controls to dial in a very appealing trade off that gives you a picture that is brighter than the competition with ample color saturation that is not visibly compromised.

The biggest concern for some buyers will be the level of rainbow activity which is higher than any of the competing units. But if you are among those who are not sensitive to or bothered by rainbow artifacts, the Viewsonic PJD7835HD is a solid alternative for buyers who want a bright 2D picture with great color, black level and contrast.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *