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Your Holiday Guide To Five Great Home Theater Projectors Under $2000

By Art Feierman
Tis the season – not just for the holidays, but for sports and movie viewing. What better way to upgrade your viewing experience than a new home theater projector or home entertainment projector, for you and your family? Also visit: Your Holiday Guide To The Five Best Home Theater Projectors Over $2000

Above, from left to right taken with: Epson Home Cinema 2030, Optoma HD141X, and the Panasonic PT-AE8000U.

Why are you watching movies, sports or even Blacklist, on some tiny 50” LCDTV?  Get a projector!  Enjoy 100” diagonal and larger.  Remember that 19” TV you replaced with a 42” a decade ago?  Why not enjoy another increase in size equal to that.

Sure, a 32” TV is a good size for the powder room, while a 42” is nice for a kitchen.  But 100” or 120” diagonal is what you really want to get properly immersed in content.  Watching Cosmos on your phablet?  Really?  Frozen on a 37”?  So sad.  The Hobbit on a 50”?  That should be a crime!

Home entertainment projectors start at about $600 for a nice entry level projector, but even those can provide far more viewing pleasure for many folks than $2000+ invested in an LCDTV.   By the time your investment in a home projector approaches $2000, in many ways you’ll enjoy a better viewing experience than your local Cineplex, and in the event of your having a family, it will save you what, perhaps $50 - $75 per visit, for a family of four, vs. one blu-ray disc for $20, and some microwave popcorn.  Payback is easy!

Before I make our five recommendations spanning the price range from about $600 to $2000, let’s stop long enough to consider what it takes for you to add the complete experience to your home, and where you will use it.

The vast majority of us home projector owners watch inside the house, but some will want to take a projector outside for that summer movie night – especially if you have small children.  Keep that in mind.  For general use though:

  • You’ll need a projector.
  • You probably also need a sound system to go along with it. (unless you have one)
  • You need a screen or a white or near white wall to shine the projected image on.

Projectors come basically in two flavors, and two resolutions:

  1. Home Entertainment – designed for less than ideal rooms – you know – normal rooms, they are very bright!  Typically they have some sound (speakers built in) and tend to be less sophisticated, and produce a less “video phile” picture quality.  Still most of these will “knock your socks off” compared to normal 60” LCDTV viewing, not to mention offering a far larger, more immersive picture and experience.  LCDTV is so “old school.”  Many of today’s new home entertainment projectors are “smart” which we’ll discuss further down.
  2. Home Theater Projectors – What separates these from home entertainment is in part the commitment to a superior picture quality.  In order to achieve that, these projectors are optimized for rooms with very good lighting control – the proverbial home theater or “cave”, but any room that can be darkened at night, and has walls and other surfaces that aren’t too white, is usually suitable.

Let’s start with the first of our five featured projectors worth considering.  They appear in no particular order:

Epson Home Cinema 2030 and Home Cinema 2000

Expect to spend $800 to $1000.  This two projectors are almost identical, but sold though different types of dealers.  What do they offer?  Built in sound, 3D, a zoom lens.  Bright image suitable for watching in your favorite bonus, family,or living room.  These Epson’s also offer very acceptable performance for those who like to game, and take their gaming seriously.

You’ll find the slightly less expensive HC2000 online while the HC2030 is sold locally, at such places as Best Buy, small dealers, and others.   Both sell for less than $1000!

Claims to fame:  Very bright, good 3D (both models come with 2 pair of 3D glasses), and really good color picture right out of the box.  Epson is the largest seller, by far, of home projectors in the US.  They provide a great two year warranty, that goes beyond the usual in support.  If there’s a warranty issue, they’ll simply replace the projector (via 2nd day shipping) and pay all the freight.  Even if your new Epson projector becomes your main TV and you watch it, say 40 hours a week, Epson’s long life, and affordable lamps would last you at least two years.  But ultimately, it’s about the picture, and good color and bright image are the primary strengths!

Click Image to Enlarge

You should know, that in this day and age, many “home theater projectors” are bright enough to double as home entertainment projectors, but few home entertainment projectors can rival the picture quality or features of even lower cost home theater projectors which start around $1000 for entry level.  The sweet spot of home theater projectors tends to be from just under $2000 up to about $5000, although you can spend 10 times that much easily of course, if you are a top 1%er or a fanatic.

After all, whatever you invest on your home system, will be a small fraction of say what you spend on a car.  If you’ve got a family of four and take them to the theater, buy popcorn and a drink, you’ll start appreciating how quickly you can pay to have your home system instead!

Sound for Your Home Entertainment/Theater System

OK, awesome picture, what about sound for your home entertainment/theater system?

When it comes to audio, know this:  Many lower cost home entertainment projectors have built in sound.  Still one or two small speakers in a small projector won’t give you that shake the foundations of the world bass that you’ve come to expect from action and sci-fi flicks whether Transformers, Harry Potter, Train Your Dragon, or Bourne Legacy.  On the other hand, the sound’s probably just fine for watching 30 Rock reruns.

Most of you will want some better external sound.  How much does that cost?  Figure anywhere from under $200.  If you are really into music, and want more than just loud and powerful, and demand some first class hi fidelity, you can spend up to $1000 for sound, but, if you are that into music, you probably already have that sound system!

For most folks though, a $199-$399 HTIB (Home Theater in a Box) should do the trick.  That will usually get you surround sound speakers, subwoofer, a “receiver” and either a DVD or Blu-ray player.  Where to find such things – online, Walmart, Target, Best Buy…everywhere!  A nice surround sound system is to your home theater or home entertainment environment what a sound bar is to an LCDTV.  It elevates the experience – dramatically.

Gamers Rejoice!

Let’s say your passion is gaming, but you are on a really tight budget. I’m talking serious gaming that requires very fast response times, which could be anything from Call of Duty, to auto racing, to World of Warcraft.  Some projectors are just faster at responding than others.  While all of the five projectors recommended here are at least acceptable, our next choice, is an extremely affordable projector that’s very suitable for serious gamers, and for that matter, for its price, rather impressive for movie and TV viewing: the Optoma HD141X (next page).

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