Projectors with 720p resolution are perfectly fine when budgets are tight and the very best image quality is not a must. But if you have a few more dollars to spend, you can get greatly improved image quality and full 1080p HD resolution without putting yourself completely into the poor house.
The least expensive projector in this class is also the oldest, the Optoma HD20 (*Est. $700) . It earns a Highly Rated tag from ProjectorCentral.com and a Hot Product award from ProjectorReviews.com. Largely positive reviews can also be found at PCMag.com, Audioholics.com and elsewhere. User feedback at Amazon.com is abundant and mostly complimentary.
No one says that the Optoma HD20 will outperform more expensive projectors, but to get that better performance, you'll need to be willing to spend much more. That said, achieving this price point in a 1080p projector doesn't come without some compromises.
One thing most reviewers note is that black levels, while good, are easily eclipsed by better -- and more expensive -- projectors. The limited zoom range and lack of any lens shift limits placement options. Brightness is good, though not top of class. Since this is a DLP projector, those few people prone to seeing that technology's rainbow effect might be happier with a projector that uses different technology.
Still, the Optoma HD20 is a reasonable choice for a living room, family room or any other room where light control might not be perfect. Lighter than perfect blacks aside, picture quality is excellent, with most reviewers pleased with color performance right out of the box. Connectivity is also above average and includes two HDMI inputs. But, in the end, the most powerful positive is cost, and most say that the HD20 is a tremendous value -- especially now that street prices have dropped to around $700, which is on a par with the cheap 720p projectors discussed elsewhere in this report.
The ViewSonic Pro8200 (*Est. $900) is another video projector in the class that's worth considering. One advantage that this DLP projector holds over the HD20 is its even higher brightness -- so bright that we've lost track of the number of times reviewers and users have trotted out the phrase "light cannon" to describe it.
The Viewsonic Pro8200 draws lots of user praise for its sharpness and clarity. We did see some gripes regarding color, at least right out of the box. But a patient owner -- or one willing to spring for a professional calibration -- can get things looking pretty good. Those expecting deep blacks in a projector at this price point shouldn't be, but the other side of the coin is that brightness -- once again -- is more than high enough to make the Pro8200 a good video projector for use in better lit spaces. We saw some complaints about motion artifacts, but also comments that in most cases those are more likely to show up in test patterns than in live images.
If you have just a bit more to spend, critics say that the Epson Home Cinema 8350 (*Est. $1,300) is the top video projector in this price/performance class. This is another home theater projector that's been around for a while but that remains current. ProjectorReviews.com gives the Home Cinema 8350 a Hot Product award based on its value and performance. ProjectorCentral.com's Bill Livolsi is more impressed and grants the Epson Home Cinema 8350 the site's Editor's Choice award for 2010.
Picture quality for the Epson Home Cinema 8350 is excellent overall. Though decent out of the box, a few user adjustments produce terrific blacks and great colors at all but the highest brightness mode. Some defects are noted in that brightness mode (called Dynamic) -- which is exceptionally bright -- but that's not unusual, and the Epson Home Cinema 8350 actually outperforms lots of projectors in that regard. All of the preset modes also have an Eco mode that drops light levels to conserve lamp life.
The Epson Home Cinema 8350 is an LCD projector. Because of that, you don't have the placement issues that DLP technology introduces, and placement is made easier still by the large amount of zoom and lens shift available. Using LCD technology also means that those few who do see DLP's rainbow effect won't have to worry about it with the Home Cinema 8350.