Once you hit the $2,500 and up price range, it's all about performance. Every single projector we evaluated at or above that price point includes near-flawless 3D technology, with great image sharpness and quality. Just one projector, however -- the Sony VPL-HW50ES (*Est. $3,500) -- is so good that experts just can't stop raving about it.
"Black levels were among the best I've seen in a home theater projector," writes Ty Pendlebury at CNET. Straight out of the box, color accuracy is said to be so close to perfect any variation was too slight to see. Bill Livolsi at ProjectorCentral.com also praises the VPL-HW50ES's "razor-sharp, crystal-clear, perfectly color-balanced" picture with "outstanding contrast and black levels." The projector has the ability to throw out lots of light for use in lit spaces, as well as the ability to dial back brightness to accommodate dark home theater rooms -- all without harming basic picture performance.
3D performance is also excellent, most reviews say. Unlike less-expensive projectors, the Sony VPL-HW50ES supports an enhanced refresh rate (240 Hz), and that helps keep 3D performance flicker free. Some ghosting is observed, but it rarely gets to the point of being annoying, says Thomas J. Norton at Home Theater magazine. The ability of this video projector to output a lot of light comes in especially handy when viewing 3D content; 3D glasses cut down apparent brightness noticeably, and some 3D projectors struggle to produce a bright enough 3D image as a result, but that's not issue at all here. 2D to 3D conversion is part of the feature set, and performance of that is about as impressive as is typical -- in other words, not very.
Set up is easy. As noted, presets are generally very accurate, so unless you are obsessed with absolute perfection, calibration is not really needed, and menus for those that like to tinker are easy to navigate. Room placement is easy as well, thanks to the ample zoom range and lens shift.
The Epson Home Cinema 5020UB (*Est. $2,600) and the Panasonic PT-AE8000 (*Est. $2,800) make up the Sony VPL-HW50ES's closest competition. Both LCD projectors offer great color performance, sharpness, excellent 3D images and brightness, competing on a near-even footing with the Sony VPL-HW50ES. However, the Sony projector does trump both when it comes to black-level performance, making it the better choice for picture perfectionists. The difference in cost between the VPL-HW50ES and the competition is hard to ignore, but Sony softens the blow a bit by including two pair of 3D glasses and a spare lamp in the box -- a value of around $650.
For 3D fans, the Epson Home Cinema 5020UB does offer the advantage of using RF technology for its 3D glasses. That technology is less prone to losing sync if the viewer looks away from the screen, even momentarily. While the IR glasses used by the Sony VPL-HE50ES and Panasonic PT-AE8000 do re-sync pretty quickly, some find the brief loss of the 3D effect to be annoying.
The Epson Home Cinema 5020UB 3D projector also comes in a version that offers wireless HD connectivity. While some might appreciate the less clutter that the Epson Home Cinema 5020UBe (*Est. $2,900) provides, most critics say that the $300 premium it commands over the "basic" Epson 5020UB is best used for other things.