Results of the TSR Laser Projector Shootout
NOTE - If you’d like to discuss the results of this event or are interested in any of these projectors, please contact us at email@example.com or call us at 720-377-3877. Also, we'll be hosting a webinar soon to present and discuss in detail what we learned from the shootout. If you’re interested in attending the webinar, but sure to sign up for our mailing list.
This was one for the history books! Not only was it the largest controlled projector shootout The Screening Room has ever put on, but it was also the most comprehensive shootout the TSR team has ever attended. As you'll see, TSR went to tremendous lengths to make sure this one was fair and definitive.
Most of the credit for the setup and running of the shootout itself must go to Kris Deering. Kris is the owner/operator of Deep Dive AV, a professional calibration and consulting service, and is also a technical editor and contributing writer for Sound and Vision magazine. Kris spent almost an entire week in the dark of our showroom meticulously calibrating each projector, with the final tweaking process open to both the Sony and JVC reps that attended the event. This manufacturer involvement was tremendously appreciated as it helped initiate a dialogue between the engineers who make these products and those of us who deal with them in the field. Kris and our crew were able to spend some “quality time” with each manufacturer and both Sony and JVC were very open to input about what all of us thought could be done to improve their products. All the content that was used for evaluation and all of the settings in each projector were agreed upon by all of the manufacturing reps and Kris to provide examples of a wide range of content to display the capabilities of all the projectors used in the event.
But there is also more to an event than what you see the day-of. And for that TSR’s own Steve Crabb, Dave Carty and Zach Faley did a fantastic job behind the scenes. They not only did most of the event scheduling and physical setup, but also promoted the event online so that interested parties had the opportunity to attend and participate. This effort brought in a huge crowd on Saturday (almost standing room only) and a big crowd on Sunday as well. Tremendous thanks goes out to all who attended, some of whom traveled great distances. We even had a few who sat through our event for both days and pitched in when it came time to set up and break down. We're looking at you, Mark Dalquist!
Photo courtesy of Chris Deutsch, JVC USA.
Since there were so many projectors to get through, we ended up breaking them up into three categories. Because it's practically impossible to fairly represent the subtle differences in image quality between these projectors with photos and video, we're going to share various personal subjective impressions of each of these projectors. The main article represents the "TSR team view" (Steve Crabb, Dave Carty, Zach Faley and John Schuermann), but we'll also be sprinkling in other attendees' impressions, including commentary from Kris Deering (notes from Kris will be in bold).
NOTES ON SETUP: All projectors were calibrated to 100 nits for the SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) test comparisons. Settings were reviewed with the manufacturers for the JVC and Sony projectors; Epson did not have a representative available for the event. The Sony and Epson projectors used their “dynamic laser dimming” to improve their contrast performance for ALL of the comparisons. Sony projectors had various enhancements enabled such as their Reality Creation enhancement, smooth gradation and their HDR Contrast enhancer. Epson’s projector used their dynamic contrast (laser dimming) as well as some of their sharpening features. JVC projectors were shown with native contrast (no dynamic contrast features were used) and all of their sharpening features were disabled. The NZ8/9 had their “e-ShiftX” enabled, but all enhancements were off. The JVCs used their “Theater Optimizer” HDR processing for HDR comparisons. For HDR comparisons, all of the projectors were shown in their higher light output (high lamp/laser, fully-open apertures (if available), no color filters used (for JVCs that featured it). Measurements for the calibration sections of each projector are reported for these conditions with the exception of dynamic contrast, which was disabled for the calibration session. All contrast measurements were taken in these sessions, off the screen, and represent the “native” contrast performance of the projector for that calibration session. – Kris Deering
TSR notes on setup: all projectors were shown sequentially on a 150" Scope Stewart StudioTek130 G4 screen, masked down to 120" diagonal 16:9 for the duration of the shootout. Source components were a Kaleidescape StratoS Movie Server and a Sony UHD Blu-ray Player. Throw distance was typically around 19'.
Let's get to it!
EPSON LS12000 vs. SONY XW5000ES vs. JVC DLA-RS1100 (aka the DLA-NP5)
TSR Crew: with bright content, all three of these projectors looked terrific. The bright scenes from GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE, FARMAGEDDON, and THE MEG all looked sharp and colorful, and it was often difficult to tell much difference between them. Eye candy like the day-glow city battle from GODZILLA VS. KONG looked stunning on all three, as this is the kind of bright, colorful, contrasty material that makes people go “wow.” And “wow” it did. A couple of people thought the Sony looked ever so slightly sharper on scenes with fine detail (like the roof on the farmhouse in the FARMAGGEDON clip, or some of Paul Rudd’s facial textures on the GHOSTBUSTERS clip). We saw what they were talking about – a slight sharpening that made fine details stand out a bit more. Per the discussion with the Sony reps, their Digital Reality Creation (DRC) sharpness enhancement was turned on, but at a low level (mutually agreed upon by Kris and the Sony reps). It’s worth noting that all detail enhancement processing in the other projectors was turned off. How much Sony's DRC affected sharpness we can’t say. However, we did not see much in the way of objectionable artifacts at the low, 20% level DRC was set to. John is particularly sensitive to edge enhancement artifacts, and thought Kris and Sony made the right call here, noting that this setting did create a pleasing effect without looking artificial.
As soon as darker material made its way on screen (ALIEN, BLACK PANTHER, GRAVITY, the darker scenes from FARMAGGEDON, etc) however, some rather pronounced differences became obvious. Even trying to be as fair and diplomatic as possible, to me it was clear that the JVC was appreciably - even dramatically - better than the Sony and Epson projectors.
It’s not just blacks the JVC did better with – it was everything that comes with having better on/off contrast capabilities. Not only did blacks become darker and richer, depth and dimensionality became clearly superior as well. In scenes like what you see in the above screenshot from ALIEN, the Epson and Sony projectors just looked “flat” and desaturated in comparison to the JVC. What was interesting was the reaction from the crowd.
“When the image for the RS1100 came up, the room collectively gasped. There was a lot of "oh wow, look at that" going on, and a lot of chatter. This trend continued throughout the day.” - AVS Forum User 900HP
After Kris let each demo scene play without commentary, audience members were allowed to call out specific shots or scenes to compare sequentially. Please note that our approach was to offer ZERO commentary of our own during the shootout, as we did not want to bias the comparisons. Whenever a dark scene was put up, we could literally hear gasps and exclamations from the crowd whenever we switched to the JVC.
“Each time Kris switched to the JVC the differences in depth, color and dimensionality in dark scenes were dramatic. In the space scenes from FARMAGEDDON and GRAVITY, it became obvious that the Epson really offered “grey levels,” the Sony offered “dark grey levels,” and the JVC offered “black levels” in comparison (I say in comparison, as even the JVC does not offer perfect, OLED-style blacks – one always has the black screen edge to compare to, and it was obvious that none of the projectors are capable of a true black).” - John Schuermann
Color reproduction was nearly identical with all three projectors, most of the differences coming down to varying approaches to HDR tone-mapping (NOT an exact science) and limitations of the color calibration tools in each projector. Motion handling looked about the same on all three. During HDR demos, color saturation looked the richest with the JVC, followed by the Epson, then the Sony.
Interesting too that some in the crowd thought that having a laser light engine would bring performance improvements of its own, but at the end of the day, it’s just a light source. We talked to two people in the crowd who came in to see the Epson and ended up being more interested in the lamp based JVC RS1100 / NP5. The advantage of laser is in long term reliability (or so goes the claim), but not necessarily in picture performance. That was pretty clearly demonstrated in this match-up.
Some comments on the individual projectors:
EPSON LS12000 ($4999 MSRP)
With bright material the Epson held its own against the native 4K offerings from JVC and Sony, offering a nice bright sharp image. Add a laser light engine and HDMI 2.1 to the mix and we understand why this has become such a popular (but hard to get) projector.
“From where I was sitting (about 4 feet from the screen), the screen door effect of the Epson was surprisingly obvious. I say surprisingly since I had expected that the pixel shift capabilities would do more to mitigate this artifact, or that advances in LCD technology might have improved the “fill factor” of the pixels over the years. This is probably not a fair assessment, though, as I was seated far closer to the screen than most people would ever sit.” - John S.
From normal seating distances, the Epson had a slightly “coarser” look to the image compared to the JVC and Sony, but of course without a Sony or JVC to compare to, one would likely never notice it. Many were disappointed in the Epson’s black level performance, as they were really “grey levels.” This was not so noticeable in mixed content (where your eye is biased due to brighter elements also being in the frame), but in truly dark content, the Epson lacked depth and dimensionality.
“Interestingly, I actually liked some of Epson’s HDR tone-mapping “choices” better than what I saw from the Sony, though some of that is subjective. But it was clear that the Epson had the poorest contrast / black levels of the bunch.” - John S.
“When calibrated the Epson was no brighter than the RS1100. Also had worse color accuracy and SIGNIFICANTLY less contrast. This false notion that Epsons are so much brighter needs to die.” - AVS Forum User mpfranks
“We’ve had a great deal of interest in the Epson LS12000 and I’m of two minds about how it performed. It held up better than I had expected (I was seated farther back and was unable to see the screen-door effect John mentioned) but it was still the projector I liked the least of the first three and of the whole shoot-out. If your budget cannot stretch past $5