The Panasonic AE4000 lamp is $400 USD and the Epson 8500UB is $300 USD. The estimated lamp lives are, for the AE4000 2,000 hours in normal mode and 3000 hours in eco-mode and for the 8500UB 4,000 hours in both modes. I’ve been using eco-mode exclusively and don’t see any great improvement using normal mode so I don’t see switching. Please consider that lamp lives are statistical averages. One lamp might last 5,000 hours and the next one dies after 500.
Another projector you might consider is the: Epson Home Cinema 8100 Projector Review
Michael knows a hell of a lot more about this than me but after reading about projectors for a year and a half I came to the same conclusion he has stated. That $2,000 gets you to 85% of the best possible performance. So unless you have nothing better to spend your money on . . . .
I was seriously considering buying a JVC with an MSRP of $5,000 since it was one of the best out there for under 5 digits. But the more I read the more I realized that like music the room plays a pivotal role in HT projector and screen use. So instead of spending all the money on a projector I split my budget between a projector and curtains. Might seem crazy to buy $2,000 light absorbing curtains to cover all but the back wall but as I see it those curtains will enhance the PQ of every projector I ever own. I’ve already painted the ceiling flat black which is good enough for now because even burgundy walls shine like beacons in the reflected light from the screen. But when the curtains are up if the flat black ceiling has to much sheen I will for about $150 order some sheets of telescope flocking to line the ceiling out 5’ or so from the screen.
Even if you can’t or don’t want to make the whole room black at least doing the area nearest (say 5’ out) to the screen is a big improvement. Also dark curtains surrounding the screen can create a very nice “movie-theater-like” look.
I considered a DIY screen but from everything I read people who went the DIY route and later switched to a dedicated screen would never go back. Not to say a DIY screen won’t get you a great picture and for the size your looking at there are lots of options (I was limited by size) so if paying $150 for a DIY screen helps you get the projector you want it would be a good choice. However, if you start paying upward of $500 then you really should consider getting a screen you won’t ever want to upgrade and I think the best bang for the buck is Carada.