Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Projectors are higher than TVs. There, I stated it. I imply, the image high quality on a projector is not as nice as a TV on the similar worth. And also you want a darkish room. And so they’re kinda loud. However how else are you imagined to get a 100-inch picture for beneath $1,000?

Dwelling theater projectors vary in worth from a couple of hundred to tens of 1000’s of {dollars}, however you needn’t spend that a lot to get a high-quality picture. However what options do you want? What know-how is finest? How do you decode UHP, ANSI, LCoS, DLP and numerous different abbreviations and acronyms?

Effectively mates, buckle up and switch down the lights, you’ve got come to the suitable place. We will reply these questions and some you won’t have identified to ask. However if you wish to skip all that and simply get our suggestions, try the best projector for home theater in 2020.

1. Beautiful lumens

One of the essential specs for projectors is “lumens,” which describes how a lot mild a projector can create. This, in flip, determines how vivid the picture is and the way huge you can also make it. There are a variety of issues with this spec. For one, apart from the distinct “ANSI lumens” there is not any agreed-upon approach to measure lumens. One firm’s 3,000 is likely to be one other’s 3,500. Most producers do not specify ANSI lumens, which might be simpler to check throughout manufacturers.

You possibly can evaluate broad strokes nevertheless. Usually talking a 3,000-lumen projector might be brighter than a 2,000 mannequin. However should you’re making an attempt to decide on between 3,000 and three,100 lumens, good luck. Even when these numbers had been correct, that little of a distinction most likely will not be seen anyway.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

So what number of lumens do you want? Effectively there are some concerns we’ll get to, however usually talking you most likely will not remorse getting the brightest projector you possibly can. Different elements, like coloration accuracy, distinction ratio, and extra, are very important, however for an preliminary sweep of doubtless promising projectors, see what sort of lumen output is accessible in your worth vary. It is price preserving in thoughts that you may normally flip down the brightness of a projector, however you possibly can’t flip up an in any other case dim projector. That’s, until you make the picture smaller. 

To offer you a tough thought, a 2,000-lumen projector will create a vivid, watchable picture on a 100-inch display in a darkish room. A 1,000-lumen projector might be “effective” however will not actually punch. 3,000 and over might be very vivid, maybe an excessive amount of so for some viewers. These are all very tough numbers which, once more, are exhausting to check because the specs themselves are suspect. Should you take a look at our critiques, and what outcomes we have gotten with measurement gear, it would offer you a greater thought what you are . 

If that is frustratingly obscure recommendation, that is sadly the state of issues.

2. Laser, lamp or LED?

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A UHP lamp within the wild.


Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Projectors create mild and picture individually. A lightweight supply creates the sunshine, which is then targeted on an image-creating chip. Fashionable projectors use certainly one of three applied sciences as mild sources: LEDs, lasers and UHP (ultra high pressure) lamps.

UHP lamps, that are mainly high-powered mild bulbs, are by far the most typical. These are able to making a lot of sunshine and have the added bonus of being pretty cheap. The draw back is that they degrade over time. A UHP projector won’t ever be as vivid as that first time you flip it on — till you substitute the lamp. 

This growing older is a gradual course of although. We have reviewed a number of that, in sure modes, have lamps that may final 15,000 hours earlier than you could substitute them. So should you watch the projector for 4 hours each night time, meaning the lamp will final over 10 years. Costs range, however sometimes a brand new lamp will run you $100-$300. Costlier projectors have dearer lamps. Go determine.

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One in every of Sony’s laser/phosphor mild engines.


Sony

Comparatively new to the house theater projection scene are LED and laser light sources. These are cooler than UHP lamps in each senses of the phrase. LEDs and lasers in projectors operate in related methods and a few projectors use each, so for our functions we’ll group them collectively. They’re way more environment friendly than UHP lamps however value much more to create the identical quantity of sunshine. Should you had a $1,000 lamp-based projector and a $1,000 LED or laser projector, the UHP-lamp projector goes to be brighter. There are many reasonably priced LED-based projectors accessible as we speak however they’re normally fairly dim. That most likely will not be the case perpetually, however it’s proper now.

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Casio’s laser/LED mild engine.


Casio

I completely perceive the enchantment of LED/laser, particularly since they’re typically rated for 30,000 hours. Not having to exchange the lamp, aka spend cash on one thing you’ve got already spent cash on, is totally comprehensible. Nonetheless, the worth/efficiency ratio of UHP lamp projectors nonetheless cannot be beat. Having to spend ~$150 each 5 to 10 years does not appear outrageous. You even have a a lot wider vary of UHP projectors accessible, from many various firms.

3. Chip tech

After the UHP lamp/LED/laser creates the sunshine, some type of chip manipulates that mild into an precise picture. There are three know-how sorts in the case of projector chips: DLP, LCD and LCoS. We go into these applied sciences into higher element in DLP vs LCD vs LCoS: Projector tech pros and cons, however this is a brief checklist of the highlights:

DLP

  • Obtainable from quite a few manufacturers
  • Widest vary of costs, from funds to high-end
  • No movement blur (aka sharpest image)
  • Distinction ratio solely common
  • Coloration is usually mediocre, although that is not inherent within the know-how.

LCD

  • Price range to midrange projectors, largely from Epson
  • Movement blur
  • Distinction ratio is usually poor.
  • Coloration may be higher than most DLP projectors.

LCoS (SXRD and DILA)

  • Mid- to high-end projectors together with Sony and JVC
  • Movement blur
  • Finest distinction ratio
  • Coloration is usually excellent, however that is extra to do with being present in higher-end projectors.

The picture chips are some of the complicated, but additionally most fascinating, elements of projectors. Regardless of dozens of firms making projectors, the chips are virtually all made by simply 4 firms. Each DLP-based projector makes use of a “mild engine” made by Texas Devices. This consists of the chip and the colour wheel (to make all the colours you see). The way it’s applied in a case, the general airflow, what lamp is used, how the settings are tweaked and extra, are sometimes accomplished by the projector maker, aka the title on the skin. Some firms simply use a reference design and slap their title on it. Others may use the bottom reference design, after which tweak it to their specs. That each one stated, two DLP-projectors that value the identical, however are from two totally different firms, are going to look extra related than totally different. In all probability not equivalent, although. There’s nonetheless so much that may be tweaked.

For LCD, Epson is by far the largest title. Decrease-end fashions sometimes have very poor distinction ratios. It is simply more durable to get black stage with LCD, one thing that is true with TVs as properly. Nonetheless, Epson has come a good distance lately. Its Home Cinema 2150, for example, had a greater distinction ratio than many competing DLP projectors. They’re all three-chip designs, as in there is a separate chip for the red, green and blue elements of a picture, so it is doable for them to have higher coloration in comparison with many DLP projectors, which normally depend on a spinning coloration wheel. This largely varies per projector, nevertheless.

When it comes to total image high quality, LCoS is normally the winner. The 2 largest producers of LCoS (or liquid crystal on silicon) chips are Sony, as SXRD, and JVC, as D-ILA. These are present in dearer projectors, even the most cost effective being a couple of thousand {dollars}. Their distinction ratios are considerably increased than both DLP or LCD. They’re all 3-chip designs, in order that they sometimes have glorious coloration as properly.

4. Placement

Now that you have the essential tech down, it is price contemplating the place in your home you are going to put the projector. Which may restrict which projectors you should purchase, as some won’t match the place you need them to. 

Reasonably priced single-chip DLP projectors sometimes have little or no, if any, lens shift. This implies that you may’t regulate the peak of the picture with out transferring the projector. These items additionally sometimes have an upward throw angle, that means the underside of the picture is at or above the highest of the projector. Due to this, they should be mounted both on the ceiling, or on a espresso desk. It is troublesome, if not inconceivable, to position them behind a sofa on a stand and nonetheless have a normal-looking picture.

Many LCD and almost all LCoS projectors have lens shift, in order that they’ll work in way more locations.

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Inserting a projector within the middle of the display, vertically, is just doable with both lens shift, or no upwards throw. The overwhelming majority of cheap projectors don’t have any lens shift, and many upwards throw.


Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

You additionally want to contemplate how far again you must place the projector to create a large-enough picture. Projectors have a restricted zoom vary, although some are higher than others. To create a particular measurement picture, aka the scale of your display, there might be a restricted vary of distances that may work — a spec sometimes listed as throw distance. For cheap projectors, this “candy spot” might be as slim as a couple of toes. Larger-end fashions is likely to be far higher. Usually these numbers, together with a distance calculator, can be found on a producer’s web site.

Learn extra: Projector setup tips: How to get the biggest, best image for movie night

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Six things to know about home theater projectors



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5. Other features and what they mean

Just like TVs, projectors have numerous features to mire you down in acronyms and marketing. Some of these features have real value, others, not so much.

Automatic iris: A mechanized iris is a common feature found on both inexpensive and expensive projectors. During dark scenes, the iris closes down, making the entire image darker. On bright scenes, it opens back up for maximum brightness. This is a bit of a cheat, as the contrast ratio at any one moment is the same (and almost entirely determined by the image-creating chip or chips). However, it can make an average or poor black level, and the corresponding gray-ish shadows, less noticeable by making them, and everything else to be fair, darker during dark scenes. Some versions of this technology are slow, meaning it takes a moment for them to catch up to the video, resulting in a noticeable pulse to the brightness of the image. If you don’t find the iris’s action distracting, there’s no real downside to having one or using it. Not a huge benefit either, though.

auto-iris

BenQ

Dynamic lamp: Another way to achieve the same dynamic dimming of the image brightness is by reducing the power on the lamp. This has the added benefit of extending its life. Just like with the iris, on certain content you might notice the projector dimming on dark scenes. On other projectors, you might notice the fan speed ramping up and down at the same time. Like the auto iris, this doesn’t improve the native contrast ratio, as in the contrast during any single moment on screen, but it does help a bit to make darker scenes appear somewhat darker. As long as you’re not bothered by it, there isn’t any downside.

4K: Great picture quality is reliant on many factors, including contrast ratio, brightness, color, and yes, of course, resolution. The latter, being the easiest to understand and quantify, typically gets far too much weight when comparing projectors. 4K on a 100-plus inch screen is very cool, but it is just one aspect of a projector’s overall performance. Personally, I’d take a bright projector with accurate color and a great contrast ratio over a dim projector with a poor contrast ratio that happens to be 4K. 

And unlike 4K TVs, which are quite affordable these days, 4K resolution projectors are still relatively expensive, starting at around $1,500.

3D: Many projectors are still 3D-capable, though they rarely come with the glasses. If you’re super into 3D, you’ll be able to find lots of options. If you’re not already into 3D, I can’t imagine now is the time you’d get into it.

Lens shift: As mentioned above, being able to adjust the height of the image separate from the height of the projector is very handy. It allows for a wider range of placement options without having to resort to the quality-ruining potential of digital keystone adjustment. So lens shift is certainly a benefit, though if you already know exactly where your projector is going, and don’t need lens shift to put a projector there, it’s not a big deal.

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Lens shift dial on the BenQ HT2050A, one of the rare DLP projectors with such a feature.


Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Short throw: This isn’t really a feature as much as a category of projectors. A much shorter throw distance means so you can place them closer to a screen for the same size image. For certain rooms it’s very useful. The opposite would be a long throw projector, which, as you’d guess, means you can place it much farther from the screen than a typical projector.

Motorized lens: This can mean motorized focus, motorized zoom or both. Not vital, though handy. Motorized zoom, especially if you can save preset sizes, means you can fill a wider-than-normal screen for movie nights, then zoom down to just fill a 16:9 portion of the same screen for TV shows.

Game mode: For gamers, a mode that lowers the input lag can help tremendously. First-person shooters, racing games, platformers, really anything that requires precise timing between button pushes and what’s happening on screen. Not all game modes are made equal. DLP projectors often have low input lag, and especially low for game modes. LCD and LCoS projectors are more varied.

HDR: More and more projectors are offering HDR-compatibility. Don’t expect a lot. Done right it can look a little better than the non-HDR version of the same content on the same projector. It’s just not as big of an improvement as it is with televisions.

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Even bright projectors today have less than 200 nits.


AJA

6. Don’t forget cables

Most new projectors have a USB connection that will let you power a streaming stick which plugs into an HDMI input.

Otherwise, you’re going to need to run a long HDMI cable. These don’t have to be outrageously expensive. Make sure they’re able to handle the resolution and frame-rate you want over their distance. If you’re sending 4K, for example, you’re going to need a better cable than if you’re sending 1080p.

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Monoprice SlimRun AV optical HDMI cables.


Monoprice

One option to consider is fiber optic HDMI cables. These have HDMI connections at either end but send the signal optically. These are typically thinner than long-run copper cables. Monoprice has some options for around $2.50 per foot, compared to $0.70 for an equal-length, equally-capable copper cable.

Another option is wireless. These are typically more expensive than cables, and might not offer the resolution/frame-rates you’re looking for. Some will drop the signal if you walk between the transmitter and receiver, and won’t work if placed in a cabinet.

There’s plenty of other stuff to consider in your projector purchase but that sums up the basics. For more details, check out CNET’s reviews of home theater projectors.


As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarinesmassive aircraft carriersmedieval castlesairplane graveyards and more. 

You can follow his exploits on Instagram and Twitter, and on his travel blog, BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-sized submarines, along with a sequel.






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Author

Geoffrey Morrison