The Top Projectors of 2012
We give you our run-down of the most interesting projectors released this year
There has never been a better time to buy a projector, regardless of whether you’re at the higher end or looking for a budget model.Thanks to a combination of technological innovation, economies of scale and good old-fashioned competition, we have seen budget models that can deliver incredible performance combined with prices that are hard to believe. At the other end of the scale we've reviewed a high end model that incorporated an LED light source into a 3D projector and Sony became the first manufacturer to bring native 4K into the home. We also saw the launch of a completely new light source that used an LED/Laser hybrid that may well revolutionise the projector market in the near future. In fact when we look back, it’s quite possible that 2012 will be remembered as an important period of transition, so here are the projectors that really caught our attention this year.
Sony VPL-HW50 - RRP £2,800
There was certainly no mistaking the VPL-HW50's pedigree, with its attractive curves and styling, it could only be a Sony product. Despite its price point, the build quality was excellent, the remote well designed and the connections adequate. It also came with two pairs of active shutter glasses included and our only complaint was that the lens controls were manual, precluding the addition of a lens memory function. The HW50 had a reasonable set of features with only the location of the 3D menu worth complaining about. There were a number of preset picture modes, including two designed for use in a well-lit environment. However the Reference picture mode was the best, offering a genuinely impressive level of accuracy out-of-the-box. There were calibration controls to help fine tune this performance and we were glad to see that RCP (Real Colour Processing) had been improved from last year.
The 2D performance was excellent and when properly set up, the HW50 was able to produce a bright and accurate image, whilst also delivering suitably deep blacks that resulted in an impressive dynamic range and contrast ratio. When you combined this with the accurate image and superb video processing, the HW50 could produce fantastically detailed images that really did enthrall, regardless of whether you were watching standard or high definition material. The same level of performance applied to 3D, with the HW50 producing bright and accurate images that were largely free of crosstalk or other artefacts and displayed an immersive level of dimensionality. The Reality Creation feature was something of an acquired taste, working well with computer animation but giving live action content a slightly processed look. The motion handling was good but could have been better with some smearing and loss of detail on camera pans. The VPL-HW50ES possessed all the strengths we have come to expect from Sony, it had the well-engineered looks, the great build quality and the impressive performance. It wasn't perfect but our complaints were minor and at this price point, it really should be on anyone's short list.
Panasonic PT-AT6000 - RRP - £2,899
We felt a distinct sense of deja vu when we saw Panasonic’s new PT-AT6000 but whilst they kept the chassis design of the previous year’s departing model, they added enough new tricks underneath the bonnet to satisfy consumers. The unit had plenty of source connections but not including any 3D glasses seemed a little mean in our opinion. Set up was easy but we would have liked to see motorised lens shift controls over the rather fiddly manual joy stick but on the plus side the zoom and focus were motorised and the lens memory functionality is again included for scope screen users. A slight disappointment with this year’s model was the lack of any completely accurate out-of-the-box picture presets, with even the Rec709 mode suffering from an over-saturated green. However, in actual viewing this didn't necessarily distract and most users would be happy enough. For those who wanted accuracy, the projector could be calibrated to a high degree, although the odd Colour Management System was carried over from previous models, requiring a workaround to make sure the colour calibration is accurate.
Once calibrated the PT-AT6000E offered some of the best 2D images we had ever seen from a Panasonic LCD projector. Black levels and shadow detail were impressive and a big step up from last year's model. With the Dynamic iris switched off we were able to obtain a stable gamma which helped shadow detail without any signs of clipping. Colour performance was also excellent in the calibrated modes, with strong primaries and excellent gradation. As with any LCD projector there was an amount of image blur on fast moving objects and pans, but actual motion within the frame was free from judder. 3D performance was also very good and although we did see some very occasional instances of crosstalk with difficult scenes and material, it was never distracting and we had to go looking for it. At this price point and given the incredibly tough market the PT-AT6000E is competing in, we thought Panasonic had a winner on their hands and recommended you check it out.
JVC DLA-X35 - RRP - £2,899
The DLA-X35 used the same chassis as previous JVC models with a centrally mounted lens and ventilation grilles at the front left and right. The build quality was reasonably good but savings were obviously being made and there was no motorised lens cover. The X35 came in a choice of black or white and there was a matte finish used this year. At the rear there were a standard set of connections and included was a black plastic remote, that was backlit and well laid out. The X35 came with JVC's new RF glasses and a small RF emitter that could be discretely connected and hidden away at the back. The setup was very easy thanks to the generous zoom and shift and the Lens Memory function was a very useful feature for those with 2.35:1 screens. The menus system was the same as before and was well designed and easy to navigate but once again there was no colour management system (CMS). The out-of-the-box performance was reasonably good and once calibrated the greyscale was capable of a reference performance. Due to the lack of a CMS the colour gamut wasn't quite as accurate but it was still excellent, although there appeared to be some restriction on the saturation of green. Overall the image accuracy was excellent but with almost every competitor now offering a CMS in their budget models, JVC really need to step up.
The performance in 2D was superb, with the X35 delivering deep blacks, great shadow detail and an impressive dynamic range. The contrast ratio was excellent and coupled with the image accuracy and some superb video processing, the resulting pictures looked natural and highly detailed. The motion handling was good, especially with 24p but there was the occasional smearing on fast pans that we have come to expect from D-ILA panels. There was plenty of brightness for our blacked-out home cinema but if you have white walls the X35 may struggle and you'll rob the projector of its inky blacks, so bear that in mind. The 3D performance was a definite improvement on last year and the X35 delivered bright, vibrant and detailed 3D images that created an immersive three dimensional experience. The motion handling was good and the images were free of artefacts and other distractions like flicker and crosstalk. The JVC DLA-X35 was another great entry level projector from the Japanese manufacturer that built on all their usual strengths like superb blacks and detailed film-like images, whilst adding an expanded feature set and improved 3D. If you're in the market for a budget projector you owe it to yourself to demo the DLA-X35; it delivers the best 2D images at this price point and also holds its own when it comes to 3D.
Epson EH-TW8100 - RRP - £2,249
The EH-TW8100 used the same chassis as the more expensive EH-TW9100 and was well constructed with a nice sense of build quality. The centrally mounted lens used manual controls, which obviously meant no lens memory, putting the cheaper TW8100 at a slight disadvantage to the JVC and Panasonic projectors. There was a good selection of connections at the rear, including two HDMI inputs, whilst setup was reasonably straightforward and the remote control well designed. The TW8100 didn't come with any 3D glasses but was compatible with Epson's latest that use the new RF standard. The menu system was clear and concise, making it very effective to use and it included an excellent set of calibration controls. The out-of-the-box measurements were impressive in Natural colour mode, with a very good greyscale and an excellent colour gamut. The chosen gamma also measured close to our target of 2.4, so even if you don't get the TW8100 calibrated it is capable of delivering an accurate performance. After calibration the TW8100 could deliver a reference greyscale and gamma performance and a near reference colour gamut, which was impressive for a projector at this price point. The TW8100 was capable of putting out 1,200 lumens in its calibrated mode and had excellent black levels for a LCD projector, along with a very good contrast ratio and level of shadow detail.
The video processing was very good, with the TW8100 passing all of our tests and delivering an excellent performance in most areas. Motion handling has never been a strong point of LCD projectors but whilst there were occasional artefacts, the TW8100 was generally very good and handled 24p content extremely well. The 2D performance was very impressive thanks to the image accuracy, delivering a picture that was far better than we expected from a projector priced at this level. The 3D performance was equally impressive with good motion handling and very little crosstalk, resulting in an immersive experience that was thankfully free of distracting artefacts. The consumer truly is spoilt for choice at the moment but if you're looking for a projector that combines exceptional value with a great performance, then the Epson EH-TW8100 should be at the top of your list. It certainly holds its own in a competitive market and whilst there are minor issues, you'll be amazed at what can be achieved at the sub £2,500 price point.
Acer K750 - RRP - £1,850
The Acer K750 had the classic white and silver look of a data grade projector; it was small, compact and designed to be mobile. Whilst constructed of plastic, the build quality was actually quite good and had a robust feel. There are a basic set of connections at the back and the K750 came with a reasonably effective remote that had a back light. Setup was relatively straightforward but the lack of lens shift meant that careful placement was necessary. The menu system was well laid out and there was a reasonable set of calibration controls, which could deliver a relatively accurate picture. The greyscale was actually capable of a reference performance but even with a colour management system, there were errors in green that could not be corrected. This is presumably a by-product of the LED/Laser hybrid light source. The video processing was reasonably good, especially with high definition content and despite being aimed at the data grade projector market, we actually found that the K750 was capable of producing a very watchable picture. Since the K750 was a single chip DLP projector it could deliver some very detailed images and it also handled motion superbly, with 24p material in particular showing movement that was smooth and judder free.
Of course DLP also has its limitations and one of those is black levels, which were mediocre, appearing more like a very dark grey and shadow detail was also limited. The big selling point of the K750 is the LED/Laser hybrid light source, which was capable of lighting up a reasonably large screen without any issues and still delivering images with plenty of impact. It's also worth remembering that the LED/Laser hybrid light source won't dim like a regular bulb, so the K750 should be able to maintain those levels of brightness during its lifetime. The other advantage of using a LED/Laser hybrid light source with a DLP projector is that is should eliminate rainbows and whilst this is mostly true, people that are very susceptible might still see them occasionally. The Acer K750 was primarily aimed at the data grade projector market and as such there were limitations that didn't make it ideal for use in a home cinema. However the LED/Laser hybrid light source certainly has potential and if it can be used effectively in a projector aimed squarely at the home cinema market, it could finally mean the end of traditional bulb based projectors.
Sim2 MICO 150 - £19,000
In terms of looks the M.150 was a bit of a departure for Sim2, eschewing their usual sports car curves for something a little more 'boxy', although the gloss black chassis with its glass top and side ventilation grilles still had plenty of Italian flair. Aside from the looks, it was business as usual with the M.150, which sported an impressively large lens that was centrally mounted, a standard set of connections at the rear and included Sim2's usual remote control. The M.150 used an external emitter and active shutter glasses made by XpanD, although it didn't come with any included. Setup was very easy thanks to the centrally mounted lens and the motorised lens controls. The menu system was clearly laid out and easy to navigate and the out-of-the-box settings delivered a reasonably accurate performance. However Sim2's LCC software remained as powerful a tool as ever and after calibration we were able to measure a reference performance in terms of greyscale, gamma and colour gamut on the M.150. The video processing was equally as impressive, passing all our tests and delivering images that looked good no matter what the source content.
In terms of 2D performance, the M.150 knocked it out of the park, thanks in part to the superb image accuracy and excellent video processing. The inherent advantages of DLP meant that motion handling was second to none and the superior optics and single chip design delivered a breathtakingly sharp and detailed image. The absolute black levels might not be as deep as some other projectors but the shadow detail and dynamic range within an image were wonderful. Thanks to the LED light source there was no need for a colour wheel, which almost completely eliminated any rainbow artefacts. The LEDs also have the advantage of retaining their brightness and consistency over their minimum 30,000 hour life expectancy. We found the 1,000 lumens on the M.150 to be more than sufficient, delivering bright images on our large review screen. Of course, what set the M.150 apart from the competition was its 3D capability and in this capacity it also didn't disappoint, delivering a breath-taking 3D performance. The only slight area of weakness was in terms of brightness, where the use of LEDs put the M.150 at a disadvantage to brighter bulb-based projectors. However, whilst the M.150's 3D images may have lacked punch, they had the obvious advantage of being able to maintain the same level of brightness for the life of the LEDs, which won't be true of the competition. Sim2 had finally delivered on LED's early promise and in the M.150 they had produced a projector that delivered a reference performance in terms of both 2D and 3D.
JVC DLA-X75 - £6,999
We found this a difficult review to put together, not because the JVC was a bad product but because what we had to cover was yet another stellar performer at the higher end price point. It had everything we now expect from a high-end model, whilst adding in a few nice new features like E-Shift 2, more lens memories, better 3D emitter and glasses that are now RF. It also produced an improved 3D performance over last year’s model which brought it in line with the competition. Going through the two weeks of testing we didn’t find anything we didn’t expect, we had superb black levels, stunning shadow detailing and image depth. Calibrated colour performance was outstanding and the cinematic images the X75RB threw out were the same jaw dropping quality we have come to expect over the years. There was no revolution here, it is definitely a case of evolution and that is not a bad thing. The X75 kept the plus points of last year’s reference level performance and added a few new bells and whistles along the way.
It was a tougher market place this year and that perhaps explains why the only competition at this level came from the VPL-VW95ES, a model that Sony released last year and have stated it will remain that way with no signs of a replacement. The Sony was a very, very good performer but the X75 just moved things along with a small increment in performance and 3D to now match the VW95ES. Are there any models a little further down the price scale that could match what the X75 does? Er, no, would be the honest answer. So overall, we had a replacement for last year’s Reference projector that delivered to an even higher standard, improved the 3D and turned in a stellar performance. The JVC DLA-X75RB was our reference level projector for yet another year and deservedly so on both performance and price point.
Sony VPL-VW1000 - £17,000
The Sony VPL-VW1000 was an amazing technological achievement, that delivered a 4K digital cinema projector into the home. The only problem was that it will be some time before you could take full advantage of it. For the next two years at least, the main video source for the VW1000 would be 1080p, so the projector would stand or fall on the quality of its scaling and video processing. Thankfully in this regard, the VW1000 delivered the goods with some wonderfully detailed and film-like images which, due to the projector’s brightness, delivered plenty of impact. The Reality Creation image engine proved to be a genuine asset, scaling 1080p content up to the full resolution of the VW1000’s 4K panel without adding any unpleasant artefacts. When watching film content, the projected image was well defined but also retained its grain structure and never became overly ‘digital’. The motion handling was surprisingly good and unlike earlier SXRD projectors, there was far less smearing on camera pans and the resulting images were reminiscent of DLP.
For a Sony projector, the native blacks were also quite good and the manufacturer had clearly capitalised on recent advances in this area. We were delighted to discover that the VW1000 was also a very capable 3D performer that delivered vivid and saturated colours with motion handling that was smooth and well defined. The 3D was also almost completely free of crosstalk or any other distracting artefacts and was easily among the best we had seen to that date. As you would expect from a flagship projector, the VW1000 had a host of useful features including Sony’s new lens memory function and a very flexible panel alignment control. The remote has was well designed and the two pairs of active shutter glasses included were more tolerant to tilting your head than previous Sony models. The menu system was concise and sensibly laid out and the Reference picture preset proved to be quite accurate out-of-the-box. Whilst the VW1000 could deliver a reference greyscale after calibration, we were surprised to discover there was no Colour Management System. However the VW1000 was an incredible technological achievement and one that Sony should be proud of.
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