New Projectors: Epson vs. JVC vs. Optoma

Call it the projection paradox. Projector owners are so devoted to their pursuit of a cinematic effect that they're willing to spend thousands of dollars more than the average TV buyer and endure lights-out viewing. Yet all the hot technology seems to go into those sexy flat-panel TV sets that people who don't know a pixel from a pineapple buy at discount stores while they're picking up tube socks and army-size bags of Cheddar Jalapeño Cheetos.

Finally, it looks like projectors might be catching up. This season marks the debut of a new class of projectors designed to operate at frame rates of 120 Hz or faster, more than double the usual 60-Hz frame rate. The faster frame rate, in combination with special video processing, can produce smoother onscreen motion.

Flat-panel LCD TVs with frame rates of 120 Hz and up have been available for a couple of years. Because all LCD pixels remain on during the entire length of a frame of video - something not true of the pixels in plasma and DLP displays - many viewers perceive blurred motion in fast-action programs like hockey or football games when viewed on 60-Hz LCD displays. Going to faster frame rates helps solve that problem. The faster frame rates also allow display manufacturers to add new processing to help eliminate judder, a term that's used to describe a "blurring" effect inherent to film images that involve camera movement, although it can also refer to a jerky motion effect that's an artifact of 24-frames-per-second film transferred to 30-fps video.

But do faster frame rates improve front-projected video? Only a hands-on evaluation of three new high-speed projectors could tell us for sure.

For this article, I tested two models with 120-Hz frame rates: Epson's PowerLite Pro Cinema 9500 UB LCD projector ($3,999) and JVC's DLA-HD550 LCoS projector ($4,999). I also tried the Optoma HD8200 ($4,999), a DLP projector that incorporates Pixelworks anti-judder technology originally developed for flat-panel TVs.

After many hours spent with film-based movies, videosourced sports programs, and a variety of test discs, I uncovered one type of faster-than-60-Hz technology that I loved - and one that I didn't.