Picture Quality - Epson Projector vs. Better Epson Projector
Epson Projectors - Black Levels
I've touched on the big difference already - it's the black levels. While the Home Cinema 8100 has very good black levels for an entry level projector, and is really only beaten in this regard by one, maybe two under $2000 home theater projectors (definitely the $1999 Panasonic), the other possible ultra-high contrast projectors under $2000: Sanyo's just announced PLV-Z4000 (a minor upgrade it would seem, to the aging PLV-Z3000). The Sanyo looks like it may street price for about $1995, which is still a good $500 more than the Epson Home Cinema 8100. It may also be possible to find the Sharp XV-Z15000 around $2000, and it too has better blacks than the 8100. BTW, the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB does have better black level performance than the Panasonic and the Sharp, and I think I can safely assume, the new Sanyo as well, making the Epson 8500UB a first class alternative to these others which are only about $300 less. The Epson Home Cinema 8500UB street prices for about $2299 or a little less.
Immediately below: From Casino Royale (Blu-ray disc), the night train scene. As you can see, the exposures are such that the blacks (letterbox) look about the same, yet the lower image, the 8500UB is brighter overall. That's what happens when the blacks are matched. If we set the images so that the trains were of the same brightness, then the blacks would be far darker on the 8500UB. Also notice the additonal pop and wow - the dynamic look of the 8500, in the trees, especially on the right top. This is what happens on an essentially all dark scene.
One more pair for your consideration:
Again the lower image - the 8500UB - is a bit brighter, yet despite the rather noticeable brightness differences easily seen on the solar panels and the main body of the satellite, with the 8500UB, you can see that the star field is brighter on the Epson, but the blacks are definitely darker. The end result is a much more dynamic looking image at normal exposures.