The Latest Trends in Home Theater Projectors and Home Entertainment Projectors

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Greetings projector fans!

This is a busy time of year for the home theater projector and lower-cost home entertainment projector space. We have just released our 2019-2020 Best Home Theaters Projectors Report, which covers both categories – starting with projectors under $500 and going up to those costing more than a Toyota Camry.

In addition, this week is the CEDIA 2019 show: the most important electronics show for home theater projectors each year in the US.

With that in mind, here is what we see as the trends you will want to know about:

4K Capable Ultra Short Throw Projectors

4K capable ultra short throw projectors are here to finally provide the really big screen in your living room, family room, and other “common” areas of your house. That is to say, not in a dedicated, really dark home theater, or “cave.” Pairing these projectors with the latest in ALR technology – ambient light rejecting screens – is a game changer. Check out a couple of our photos of the LG HU85LA ultra short throw projector. This is a 4K UHD, DLP projector that sits only inches from your screen.

Here it is paired with Screen Innovations ALR screen designed for UST projectors. Like I said: Game Changer!
Here it is paired with Screen Innovations ALR screen designed for UST projectors. Like I said: Game Changer!

HDR Coming to Lower Resolution Projectors

More 4K related: HDR coming to lower resolution projectors? You bet! For the most part, it is Optoma who is driving this interesting concept. While a couple of projector manufacturers are adding HDR-type modes, essentially trying to emulate HDR without the HDR data, there is another way!

What Optoma started doing, and just announced more projectors with the same abilities, is to start with a 1080p projector without pixel shifting, but including HDR. Now, the only place you will find HDR data these days in content, is on 4K content. What these Optoma projectors do is accept 4 K content, get the HDR data, and scale the picture resolution from 4K down to basic 1080p.

By doing things this way, these projectors will not look any sharper then a 1080p projector that lacks the ability to bring in 4K UHD, but they will be able to produce the more dynamic-looking HDR, giving the picture more pop. Keep in mind that HDR likes lots of lumens. No surprise, then, is that the typical 1080p Optoma has with this capability claims at least 2,000 lumens.

Is the world ready for HDR at 1080p? Perhaps, but in a perfect world, to do it right, we should be receiving 1080p content – i.e. over cable, satellite, streaming, and disc, with the HDR in the 1080p data, and not add to the price of these lower cost projectors by requiring more processing to handle 4K. Still, it’s an interesting idea. We recently wrote about Optoma’s HD27HDR – one of the projectors I’m describing.

More HDR

Yes, even more 4K related trends: Most new 4K capable projectors launched in 2019, (but not all), now support not only HDR 10, but also HLG, otherwise known as Hybrid Log Gamma. This is a second software/firmware-based form of HDR, intended primarily for broadcast, but likely will also be used for some streaming over 4K content with HDR.

For most folks, the lack of HLG at this time isn’t an issue – but, if it does catch on for streaming, it could be big in a couple of years. Be aware of whether the 4K capable projector you are considering supports HLG. In the meantime, HDR10 is the widely used HDR that all 4K UHD movies are encoded with.

Even Better HDR

Speaking of HDR and its performance, one trend is highly improved HDR with Tone Mapping, Auto Tone Mapping, and other techniques. This means that most of today’s newest 4K capable home theater projectors are doing a better, brighter, less-dim job on HDR content than previous models that are just a year or two old.

One of the best examples is the improvement from Epson’s now discontinued HC5040UB, which often came across as on the dim side. The Home Cinema 5050UB that replaces it is definitely more vibrant.

The Epson HC5050UB projecting in HDR.
The Epson HC5050UB projecting in HDR.

Let’s Talk Gaming

2019, going into 2020, your choices of available options for good gaming projectors continue to increase. While some manufacturers are still not too focused on gaming, and do not offer low input lag that serious gamers insist upon, we are seeing a trend of new generations of projectors that are simply faster in this regard as compared to the models they replace.

Most new Sonys and Epsons are quoting 27ms input lag – impressive. Optoma does even better on some of their models. Others are still barely acceptable at 55ms or so, and there are still some really poor gaming projectors out there that are much slower. Still, each generation brings more good gaming projectors to the market, and 4K gaming is HOT!

Ambient Light Rejecting Screens

This image is of the Elite Screens CineGrey 3D ambient light rejecting screen we reviewed a few years back.
This image is of the Elite Screens CineGrey 3D ambient light rejecting screen we reviewed a few years back.

The popularity of ALR screens continues to surge, as more people are buying projectors to place in typical family and living rooms. No surprise there! The interesting aspect is that we are starting to see ALR screens for ultra short throw and standard projectors that are motorized, or pull up types. This, of course, solves the problem of having a big gray or white rigid screen sitting on a wall when the projector is not in use.

We projector folks with dedicated theaters laugh at friends with their 71” LCD TVs on a wall, looking ugly when not turned on. Motorized screens prevent that same situation with existing with projector setups. Screen Innovations has led the charge with the first motorized ultra short throw ambient light rejecting screens, the Solo and Solo 2.

Elite and others are readying their own. The next ones to ship will likely be roll-up type screens. With these, the screen comes out of a box and rises up, instead of a traditional motorized screen, where the case is at the top and the screen “rolls” down. Game changers! But, pricing will be important. Fortunately, there should be lots of competition, which translates to lots of choices for projector fans.

Pocket and Pico Projectors

The AAXA 4K1 is a pocket projector that is included in this year's Best Home Theater Projectors Report.
The AAXA 4K1 is a pocket projector that is included in this year's Best Home Theater Projectors Report.

Pocket and Pico projectors continue to get brighter, better, and some cases, higher resolution. There is also a lot to be aware of, in terms of the least expensive models, some of whose specs often seem to be extremely unreliable. For example, you can buy under $100 projectors that sounds like they are as bright as 2,500 lumen projectors, but may only put out 1/10 the brightness. When shopping for under $200 projectors, use caution – do not get tricked.

Another aspect of some of these really low cost projectors is how they claim resolution. You might believe you’re buying a native 1080p projector, but then find out that its native resolution is more in line with projectors being sold 15 to 20 years ago, including those with DVD resolution – remember DVDs from the ‘90s before HDTV was around? These projectors may tout a claim that they “Support 1080p,” but the native resolution might only be 1/5th the resolution of 1080p, and folks, it’s not going to look anywhere close to what a real 1080p projector will do in terms of sharpness.

“Be careful out there.” Many of these projectors are highly popular on Amazon (where most are sold in the US). You will find some with really wild claims, as well as others that are more reasonable, and legit. We published a Best Pico and Pocket Projectors Report last year, and will be publishing another report this year at the beginning of November, so if you’re looking for reliable information about these types of projectors, look no further than us here at Projector Reviews.

Laser and LED Projectors

Prices keep coming down, and we are seeing some LED projectors of interest at price points below the range for laser projectors.

We are used to the LED light sources in pocket projectors, but now home entertainment projectors like the Optoma UHL55 ($999 street price), which we recently reviewed, are stepping up to provide solid-state performance at less than half the price of any home-oriented laser projectors.

Although laser projector prices are also dropping, laser projectors designed for home use are almost all 4K capable projectors, so the price points start at over $2,000, with most of those being in the $3,000 to $6,000 range.

Navigate to the 2019-2020 Best Home Theater Report

This article was created as a companion piece to the 2019-2020 Best Home Theater Projectors Report. Click Here to navigate to the next page of the report.

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