If you are looking to get that big screen home theater experience then a projector should be the choice for you. Many display full 1080p HDTV, have 3D capabilities, and they provide a better value for large screens of over 70 inches versus LED TVs or plasma televisions. These media projectors still work best in darker rooms with a special screen, but newer, brighter models also make them useful in sunlit rooms, outdoors, or on entire walls.
The image quality of each model varies depending on several factors including the technology used, resolution, brightness, contrast ratio, and the screen. You should be aware that to get the best performance you need to purchase a screen large enough to handle the image size you desire. Buyers should also note the lamp life of the projector they are looking at, because eventually they will have to buy a new one to replace it.
Below you will find our list of the top 10 best home theater projectors reviewed. We could have made up the entire list of units costing more than $3000, but we tried to choose models in several different price and performance ranges. If you need more advice or help check out our Home Theater Projector Buying Guide.
The biggest drawbacks to this Sony model are the pricetag and the current lack of 4K content. However, even upscaled 1080p content looks much better than that of a top tier HD projector, so if you want the best you can buy without having to upgrade until far into the future than the Sony VPL-VW350ES will provide years of viewing enjoyment.
It is expensive, but overall while not a true 4K experience, the JVC DLA-X700R provides an image quality as good as any home theater projector you can buy.
There really isn’t any major weakness to the Sony VPL-HW40ES, but there are some cheaper options if price is a concern for you.
Also available is the Epson Home Cinema 5030UBe for $2700 which lets you wirelessly stream full 1080p HD.
We highly recommend the Epson 3500 for those of you looking for a mid-range projector.
The image quality is not quite as good as the models higher up on our list, but the BenQ HT1085ST still projects a very good image and many people rave about the 3D performance. Overall the HT1085ST is a great choice for anyone looking for an affordable home theater projector and needs the short-throw capabilities due to lack of space.
On the downside the color light output is only 1000 lumens which can make colors seem dull or less vibrant. The color adjustments are also less than ideal which makes it difficult to get a perfect balance. You may also notice the “rainbow effect” from the DLP chip set. Buyers should be aware that it does not come with lens shift, so you will have to mount this unit centered up on the screen.
Even with a few negatives, we feel at this price point the Optoma HD141X in an incredible value.
We would really only recommend the Optoma HD26 over the HD141X if you really want a white case instead of a black one. We feel the difference in performance is too small to make a big difference so you might as well go with the cheaper unit.
Home Theater Projector Buying Guide
Purchasing a projector for your own home theater can be a very confusing experience. There are many different styles including portable and pocket-sized models with each designed for a specific setting like classrooms, the office, or home theaters. In this article we are reviewing projectors designed for use as home theater units. Here are some important things to consider when looking for a new home theater projector:
- Technology – There are three main types used in front projectors: LCD, DLP, and LCOS. LCD essentially uses the same technology as flat panel TVs. They tend to be towards the lower end of the price range. DLP stands for digital light processing and uses small chips with millions of tiny mirrors. They handle motion better, but their black levels and contrast ratios tend to be lower than LCD and LCOS units. They also range greatly in quality and price. LCOS stands for liquid crystal on silicon and is somewhat of a hybrid of DLP and LCD. They provide the best contrast ratios and black levels, like what is found on Sony’s version of LCOS called SXRD. They are towards the upper end of quality and price.
- Resolution and Aspect Ratio – The resolution is simply the number of pixels that a machine can display. We recommend getting a high-definition unit on which you will see 1920 x 1080 or 1080p. The 1920 means there are 1920 pixels in a horizontal row while the 1080 refers to the amount of pixels in a vertical column. The aspect ratio refers to the rectangular shape of a video image. Older TVs came in a 4:3 aspect ratio (4 units across and 3 units tall), while HD broadcasts are in 16:9.
- Brightness – The brightness depends on two factors; the light output of the projector and the reflective properties of the screen you are using. Brighter does not necessarily mean a better image, but in a room with lots of ambient light you probably will need a model that puts out more than 2000 lumens. Many top of the line units are not that bright and are designed for use in a dark, controlled light setting such as a designated theater room with no windows.
- Contrast Ratio – Contrast is the difference between the brightest white and the darkest black in an image. The greater the difference the better the image quality and the more contrast it is said to have. In home theater projectors contrast is probably the single most important measurable quality, however manufacturers can measure contrast in varying ways so be careful when just looking at specs of a certain model.
- Installation, Throw Range & Lens Shift – How and where you install the projector in your room will impact the size of the overall image and where the image can be displayed. The throw range is the relationship between the projector’s distance from the screen and the size of the image. Some units require a large throw range to display a large image, but there are some that are specifically built with a short throw range that work well in a more cramped space.
In order to help with flexibility and adjust the image many models now have zoom lenses and lens shift. A zoom lens can make the projected picture larger or smaller by adjusting the optics of the lens. This allows you to get the desired image size from a range of throw distances. For example a lens with a 1.20:1, or 1.2x zoom, means that the max image size is 1.2 times or 20% larger than the minimum image size that can be displayed. Lens shift is the ability to move the projected image up, down, left, or right, while the unit remains stationary. This gives you great flexibility in where you have to install your projector, because you won’t necessarily have to locate it in the center of your screen. Not all models come with lens shift and some only have horizontal or vertical capabilities.
- Lamp Life – The lamp life refers to how many hours of operation the lamp has until it reaches its half-life at which point it will be half as bright as it was originally. Most models also come with an ECO mode which reduces brightness, but increases lamp life. Because a replacement lamp usually costs between $200 – $400, a longer lamp life means less expense in maintaining your projector. Depending on use, plan on having to replace the lamp about every other year.
- Connectors / Cables – You might want multiple HDMI inputs on your machine to allow for multiple sources of video like your cable or satellite box, video game system, or Blu-ray player. Also keep in mind how far you will have to run your HDMI cables from the source to the projector.
- Audio – Many newer projectors either do not come with any audio or it is of a poor quality. You will need to have a separate audio receiver and speakers or surround sound system to get quality sound.
- Screen – Screens are another source of confusion. We do recommend that you get a screen, which could either be a fixed unit or a pull down screen, over just projecting on a flat wall. Some screens have better light characteristics or make a brighter image, while some can make the black level better or minimize the effect of ambient light.
Many movies are shot in a wider format such as 2.35 or 2.40:1. If you want to get that true cinema experience you might want a model that can display in that aspect ratio, just be aware that some projectors require another special anamorphic lens in order to display the wider formats which will cost more money.