Imaging Devices

Projectors Awards – Q1 2013 : Panasonic PT-AT6000E, BenQ W1200, Epson EH-TW 4400

3/19/2013 9:45:20 AM

Recent tech advances have made these kings of home cinema more impressive and more affordable than ever. The medal winners are…

Product of the year

Best projector $3,750+

Panasonic PT-AT6000E: $4,500

It may not quite be Apple and the iPhone, but the now-annual launch of a new Panasonic flagship projector has become something to really look forward to in this neck of the woods. And as the new PT-AT6000E proves, the excitement is nearly always justified.

Panasonic PT-AT6000E, the best projector $3750+

Panasonic PT-AT6000E, the best projector $3,750+

The exterior may remain fairly familiar but on the inside much has changed. Designed once more in collaboration with Hollywood filmmakers and the Panasonic Hollywood Laboratory, the projector boosts brightness from 2000 to 2400 lumens, while claimed contrast ratio goes from 300,000:1 to 500,000:1. There’s also a 3D dual-core processing engine, the addition of Frame Creation 2, Panasonic’s motion processing and 2D-to-3D conversion. New 3D glasses now communicate with projector via a built-in IR transmitter.

Thanks to a motorized lens and a well though-out lens-shift arrangement, it only takes a minute or two to get your picture in the right place. Choose one of the three HDMI inputs and you’re soon enjoying staggeringly good HD pictures.

The out-going 5000 majored on detail, depth and realism in a way that truly brought films and TV to life. The new 6000 series manages to raise the bar again. Thor really stretches a machine’s capabilities and color palette, and fed with a Blu-ray copy of the film, the 6000 responds. It delivers natural shades and deep, insightful blacks. Motion is smooth too, and even standard-definition content holds up well.

A new dimension to 3D images

Watching 3D content feels more comfortable on the PT-AT6000E, too. Crosstalk does seem reduced, fast motion holds up better and only in the most complex images does some instability surface. That said, you can adjust the strength of the 3D effect.

Regardless, there’s not a projector on the market that can match the all-round appeal of this Panasonic. Detailed, dynamic and confident with any content, it’s evolution not revolution but a very worthwhile update. And hey, it works for Apple…

Best projector up to $2,250

BenQ W1200: $1,500

You could have paid two, or even three times as much for a projector of this quality a few years ago and it probably would have been harder to set up and less flexible in use.

Living with it: the BenQ’s built-in speakers make it handy for applications (such as gaming) where sound quality is less than critical

Living with it: the BenQ’s built-in speakers make it handy for applications (such as gaming) where sound quality is less than critical

BenQ has bossed the budget projector market for a while now, and despite ever more affordable, and still capable, models emerging such as the $1050 BenQ W1060 – the W1200 remains the best marriage of affordability and performance that we’ve found in this price bracket.

It’s easy enough to get up and running. While more expensive projectors give you even more control of the lens position, the BenQ, complete with adjustable feet, has a good degree of position flexibility.

What’s more, there is plenty of potential for picture Tweakery. Happily, it works more than competently with a minimum of adjustment. Projecting Avengers Assemble, one of our favorite discs of the year for sound and picture performance, the BenQ W1200 delivers the vivid color palette in style.

If you’ve got the room for a big-screen projector but don’t want to splash much cash, then this is the perfect answer

It’s there in black and white

Contrast levels are impressive for a $1,500 projector, dark blacks delivering reasonable detail from deep, faithful shades, and whites looking pretty clean. Tricky blocks of color prove reasonably free from noise, too.

This may not be a 3D projector, but there’s an impressive sense of depth from standard 2D images thanks to the overall level of detail retrieval and sharp, clean edges.

Our only real gripe is that we’re not totally convinced by fast motion. With the motion processing turned on, we’re left unconvinced by the slightly unnatural effect, but turn the processing off and motion can be a little jumpy. This isn’t unusual in projectors more expensive than this one, however, so we are happy to cut the BenQ W1200 some slack.

If you’ve got the room for a big-screen projector but don’t want to splash much cash, then this is the perfect answer. Pair it with an affordable Blu-ray player and, preferably, an amp and speakers though this projector does have mini built-in speakers for a complete home cinema system at a knockdown price. Tempted? You should be.

Best projector $2,250-$3,750

Epson EH-TW 4400: $3,000

While the projector market hasn’t been the most dynamic in the last 12 months, it’s still some achievement to win a category Award two years on the bounce. And that’s exactly what the Epson EH-TW 4400 projector has done.

Epson EH-TW 4400, the best projector $2,250-$3,750

Epson EH-TW 4400, the best projector $2,250-$3,750

A price cut last year brought it back into contention at this price point a whole $1,500 cheaper than we originally saw it and it remains the projector to beat.

In terms of spec, don’t expect the Epson to turn up and make a mockery of everything else. Instead it nods confidently as we rattle off the list of necessary projector specifications. There’s a claimed 130,000:1 contrast radio, 1600 lumens brightness and a quiet 22dB fan, plus (two) HDMI, S-Video, RGB and composite inputs.

Setting up projectors nowadays tends to be a doddle and this Epson is a good example. There are no motorized controls, but you’ll find zoom and focus controls on the lens, plus simple lens shift wheels to move the image around. A quick run through a THX disc and all’s well. And that’s before we mention the picture.

Colors are punchy but natural, while impressive contrast gets the most from bright hues and darker scenes

Clarity and contrast

The Indiana Jones Blu-ray box set picture is clean, sharp and free from digital noise. Colors are punchy but natural, while impressive contrast gets the most from bright hues and darker scenes. Scenes in bright sunlight show this best, with colors sitting happily alongside solid and detailed darker shades.

Motion is handled confidently for the most part, with only the trickiest of scenes seeing the Epson image-thrower losing a little grip – this is so often where projectors fall down a touch.

There may not be a new champion in this category for 2013 but we’re more than happy in our reigning champ for $3,000 this is a top-quality projector.

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