I spent three days in the grueling Florida sun (Orlando 92-95 degrees, 60% humidity), searching for interesting new projectors and related gear for home theater. OK, I was in doors most of the time, but hiking to offsite meetings at nearby hotels had me pretty withered.

That’s probably more than you wanted to know, so let’s get to products.

In no particular order here’s some of the more interesting things I saw:

Optoma: They are getting close to releasing their HD81, a genuine 1080p resolution single chip DLP projector. Suggested retail price is probably going to be $9999, when they ship in August (if they can hold to schedule). That should make it the first (relatively) affordable 1080p projector.

I’m dying to get my hands one for review, but they say that they won’t have review units until probably mid July. Alas!

I should note that they had a demo theater set up in their booth, (fully darkened) and were showing Phantom of the Opera, off of the Toshiba HD-DVD player. Damn, it looked really good. I love the extra sharpness of 1080p and can’t wait to put a 1080p projector in my own theater, because I like to sit fairly close.

Optoma also showed their HD7300, an enhanced version of the excellent HD7100, with the same 1280x720p resolution. The HD7300 features a separate outboard processor box from Gennum, which sits with the rest of your equipment so you only have a single digital cable between the processor and the projector. The Gennum processing should prove to be even better than the stuff that drives the HD7100. Shipping very soon.

ProjectionDesign – This one is strictly for the rich and famous. If the Optoma HD81 looked great, the Action 3 from ProjectionDesign, is off the charts. It’s another widescreen 1080p projector, but this one is a 3 chip. And, with 2500 lumens, it has amazing brightness, easily handling a large screen. An almost $25,000 price tag, though will scare off all but the rich, the famous, and hard core semi-rich-crazies.

Widescreen “business” projectors offer more lumens for those home theater folks who need more brightness.

I’m a big fan of higher power widescreen projectors that can tackle some ambient light, for daytime viewing. Unfortunately today’s normal home theater projectors are mostly designed for fully, or near fully darkened rooms. Sure, some have “dynamic” or “family room modes”, brighter modes to help, but not really enough to watch a football game with light coming in the windows…

So it’s nice to finally see a few bright widescreen projectors that are better suited for brighter rooms, but can also do a passable job for movie watching, these could prove to be very popular with gamers, sports addicts, typical TV watchers, etc., and some will fully satisfy movie watches as well. Consider:

Optoma: has their new EP1690 widescreen projector. Similar to their award winning HD72 (my favorite under $2000 home theater projector), it is rated 2500 lumens and has a 2500:1 contrast ratio. If you have ambient light to deal with, you won’t see the difference between it’s 2500:1 contrast and the HD72’s 4000:1, but you sure will appreciate the extra lumens.

Sanyo: Sanyo introduced their PLV-75, and improved version of their almost “ancient” PLV-70, which had been around since about 2001. With 2200 lumens, optional interchangeable lenses and a selling price under $4000, it should do very well for the sports fan, or others that don’t want to always watch in a dark room. Look for our review early September.

Mitsubishi: Wow! The almost brand new WD2000U (list price $5999) looks to be selling for around $4000! Although primarily designed for business applications, It offers 3000 lumens and a 2000:1 contrast ratio. That’s definitely enough contrast for decent movie viewing, and more than enough for HDTV and HD-sports. I’m looking to review the WD2000U later this summer! It uses the same 1280×768 Darkchip2 DLP chip found in popular lower powered, and highly rated, projectors like the Optoma HD72 and Mitsubishi HC3000. Note, we are now reviewing the HC3000 and should post the review around 6/27. The WD2000U, is loaded – with power zoom and focus, lens shift, and 4 optional lenses.

Although non-HD, Mitsubishi says they are selling a very healthy number of their tiny LED powered Pocket Projector.It fits in the palm of your hand, and produces a whopping 25 lumens! The market for these is gamers, cell phone and other portable device users, etc. It needs a dark area, and works best projecting images of 15″ to 30″ diagonal. Weighing just 1 pound, it sells for $799, and for now is exclusively sold at CDW. Very cool, and the LED lamps last up to 10,000 hours!

Panasonic: No word yet on what and when they will replace their best selling PT-AE900u, but they have come out with a new model every fourth quarter.

But Panasonic did show a new, killer HD projector, in the form of the PT-DW5000U. (Shown here)

It is a widescreen version of their extremely successful single DLP chip PT-D5500U. It offers dual lamps for brightness and redundancy, is liquid cooled, has power everything, many lenses, and 4500 lumens! This is a $10K plus machine destined for movie theaters for showing advertising and movie trailers, sports books, sports bars, etc., needing power and widescreen. They demo’d it in their suite at Infocomm and it was truly impressive. I will be reviewing this unit shortly. Panasonic indicated that one was supposed to ship out to me a few days ago.

How about more moderately priced projectors?

Here are a couple of “All-in-one” projectors:

Toshiba and 3M: Each showed DLP projectors that look identical, except that the Toshiba ET20 is black (the 3M folks call it the Darth Vader helmet), and the 3M is white. Both are All-in-one projectors, with built in DVD player (optional) and speakers. Both use an exceptionally short throw lens allowing a 6 foot diagonal image with the projector less than 40 inches back, allowing them to be placed on a table only a few feet from the screen! The Toshiba has Silicon Optix HQV processing, so should deliver an extremely high quality image. Typical of “All-in-one” projectors, it is WVGA 854×480, so not true HD. Toshiba rates it at 1100 lumens.

What else is coming?

Not everything shows up at Infocomm. The biggest show for home theater is the Cedia Show in mid-September, this year in Denver.

At that time we’ll all get a good look at what are sure to be two of the best selling projectors this fall – as mentioned earlier, Panasonic’s replacement for the PT-AE900u (an under $2000 home theater projector), which will likely be called the PT-AE1000u, or PT-AE1100u. The other “hot property, will be Sanyo’s new PLV-Z5. Both will likely ship in the fall, but, of course the manufacturers aren’t talking yet.

In addition, look for a whole bunch of new single and three chip DLP 1080p resolution home theater projectors, including Christie, BenQ, and several others. Don’t give up on LCD either, we may see one or two 1080p LCD projectors at Cedia, but I don’t anticipate any shipping until first or 2nd quarter of 2007.

That’s it for now. -art