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Your 2015 Holiday Guide To Five Of The Best Home Theater Projectors Over $2500

By Art Feierman
Once again, the holidays are upon us.  This is prime season for folks to fulfill their dreams by buying great home theater projectors - and home entertainment projectors, and enjoying movies and TV like never before!  Today we serve up what we consider five of the very best home theater and home entertainment projectors selling for $2500+.  And we feature some great screens and accessories too! The US market alone for these projectors is over 200,000 projectors a year. I expect well more than half, however, are purchased between early September and Super Bowl, as everyone gears up for sports, and people hunker down for a winter of enjoying great movies (it's Oscars season, btw)  in the comfort of their homes on their home projector.  A great experience (in many ways superior to your local theater) can be enjoyed at home whether in a dedicated theater, living room, family room, or cave. Also visit: Your Holiday Guide To Five Great Home Theater Projectors Under $2500

Images above:  In order - Epson Pro Cinema 1985, JVC DLA-RS4910 (just replaced by RS400, aka X5000), Epson Pro Cinema LS10000, and the Sony VPL-VW600ES (replaced by VW665ES)  (This Sony image is from true 4K content), and Epson Home Cinema 6030UB

Forget those tiny 40", 55" and 75" LCDTVs:  They belong in the 3rd bedroom or maybe a bathroom or kitchen.  Serious sports and movies demand 100" screens and larger.  If you haven't tried it, you just don't know what you've been missing!

In this case:  Bigger is Better!  Hey, you millennials - watching movies on your phones:  I'll deal with you later!

In our annual Best Home Theater Projectors report published this past summer, we featured two of these projectors.  Two more of these projectors are replacements for older award winning models included in that report, (the new models are the Sony VPL-VW665ES and the JVC RS400), and one is a high brightness projector (Pro Cinema 1985) that's adapted from a business projector (the Powerlite 1985) that we've previously reviewed (and which won a top award in our spring Education report.

Our list includes some projectors best in a dedicated theater type setup, but also projectors that will work in tougher rooms, facing tougher challenges in terms of lighting.  Also, I’ve included info about a great projector screen from Screen Innovations that manages to absorb lots of ambient light, allowing projectors to “shine” in rooms that otherwise are not very suitable.  It’s one of two screens we decided to feature in this guide, the other being an Elite screen that also can deal well with some ambient light, but not as effectively as the SI (but for a lot less money).

Our first projector for your consideration is one of those new bright projectors - designed to let you enjoy the big screen without having a dedicated home theater.  Let's get started!

Epson Pro Cinema 1985 - Extra Bright for the Living Room

Meet Epson's Pro Cinema 1985.   I'm currently working on the review of this projector, so let me tell you what impresses me the most.

The Pro Cinema 1985 is a true light cannon, sporting 4800 lumens maximum, and roughly 4000 lumens with some really good color.  That makes it officially about 8 times as bright as one needs in a fully darkened home theater.  It's just the ticket for:

Can you say "Living room" or "Family room"?

With a street price of right at our entry point of $2500 (technically $2499, but why quibble), paired with the right screen, the PC1985 will produce some wall-meltingly bright imagery.  If your room has some good lighting control then matching it with a suitable screen will truly dazzle.

Click Image to Enlarge

But, if you have a near impossible room, such as my living room, which has sunlight pouring in, in the afternoons, then the screen becomes even more important.

Of the images in the player above, all but the 2nd and 3rd were taken using a 1985.  But those two were taken in my "projector hell" of a living room on bright days, using my own projector, another Epson that is only slightly brighter (by less than 10%).

My solution (the PC1985 was not available at the time), was to put in the far more expensive Pro Cinema G6550 which is only a tad brighter at 5200 lumens max.  The great thing about the Pro Cinema 1985 is that it's less than half the price of my "G".  My G has some expensive features most won't need, like interchangeable lenses and edge blending).  Personally I'm jealous, because the PC1985 is physically much smaller, and therefore less noticeable in my living room.  That the PC1985 has a white finish is a real plus in most bright rooms, as they tend to have light or white ceilings.  Of course if you are just setting up the PC1985 on a table, white still looks good!

The Living Room mode on the PC1985 is just outstanding for sports viewing.  It's a little cooler - a touch thin on reds which I, and many people prefer for sports and TV viewing, than is standard for movies.  Epson's got your movie mode too, and it's almost as bright.

The PC1985 is built for handling brighter rooms, and ambient light means reduced black level performance, negating much of the advantage of pure home theater projectors (which simply can't do battle with the 1985 when any significant amount of ambient light is present.  That said, the PC1985 does have a dynamic iris to improve black levels on those darker scenes.

Tis the holidays, so you want a projector easy to set up, and no hassle down the road.  In that regard you simply can't beat the Epson warranty and support - 3 years parts and labor, and should a warranty problem develop, Epson's rapid replacement program will simply replace your "downed" projector with another one, so you are back up and running in a day or two - no waiting for long repairs.  Nice!  (BTW though, that warranty is for the 6030UB, the lower cost 5030UB has the same warranty features but only two years worth.)

Speaking of niceties, the Pro Cinema 1985 comes with a spare lamp, so for most users, it will be 4,5,6 years before you even have to worry about buying a new lamp.  Did I mention that you get a ceiling mount included as well.  Basically just add screen and source, and you're in a whole new world of experience.  Your friends with 60" LCDTVs will be insanely jealous!

All considered, if you don't have dedicated theater, but want to truly enjoy the big screen experience say at 120" diagonal, start here.  (Or just maybe you can afford that 120" Visio LCD TV that's $129,000...which was shown at CEDIA recently - I certainly can't!)

Just add in the appropriate screen for your room conditions (such as the SI Slate (featured on the next page of this guide).   And the best part is if you go with a motorized screen, you won't be staring at a bit blank gray surface when not watching TV - the curse of all LCDTVs.

With the Epson Pro Cinema 1985, great color, great huge screen experience, without the need for a dedicated room, can now be yours.

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Rant: Bigger IS Better--When it Comes to Picture Size - Hey, Millennials...

I know I sound like a broken record:  For you younger folk, a "record"  would be what music came on before streaming music, iTunes, CDs and  long ago, cassette tapes and 8 track tapes - in that order.)  Hey, I'm only teasing, we all know "vinyl" has had a resurgence, at least among serious music listeners.   Yes, it is true - you can get by in life with a 50 or 65” LCDTV in your media room, or family room, but the big question is: Why on earth would you want to?

Seems silly to me when you could be watching on a 100” or 125” screen!  Maybe it’s time for you to create a real home theater environment, but even if that’s not practical, some of today’s awesome projectors such the Epson just mentioned, are designed to work in almost any room that has some sort of reasonable lighting control – “man cave” not required.

OK, Hey you Millennials:  I'm still trying to get a handle on this: Movies and TV on phones and computers?

It seems millenials in particular (including my daughter) often watch movies, TV and Youtube on their tablets, and smart phones. First a tip to you who do: Sorry "kids," Star Wars on an iPhone 6 just doesn't cut it.  Seriously???  I have desperately tried to come up with an analogy as silly as watching Star Wars or Mockingjay on a phone, but I'd almost given up.  Wait, I've got it:  As silly as trying to fill in the Grand Canyon using a table spoon.  Crazy!

And with that thought, I convinced my daughter (who has been helping with Projector Reviews since she started high school), to adopt a projector.  Oh, not one of these $2500+ ones, but an Optoma ML750 pocket projector that sells for around $600 (It's featured in our other holiday guide).  Mind you she and her roommate have no LCDTV!   Want to find out what she thought about the experience of using a projector instead of a computer of phone?  check out her review of the portable Optoma ML750:

OK, I’m done with my rant.  But since we're now talking about screens, and before we turn our attention back our next projector recommendation, let's take a look at one in particular:

I do get that it’s convenient, but geez, somehow watching the new Jame Bond flick Spectre, on a 5 inch display seems seriously pathetic.

True, a 50” is far, far better, but why stop there, it’s still a massive compromise.  You still go to the movies right?  You know what I mean about being immersed in a movie!  Well, that 50” definitely lacks the immersion of “the big screen”.   Thinking about watching Star Wars  on a 70” LCDTV – ok a nice try, but…really?

The good news is we’ve identified five excellent projectors for your consideration to take your viewing of movies, sports, general HDTV and your own content to the next level.

A Living Room Screen from Elite: ezFrame CineGrey 5D

The ezFrame CineGrey 5D screen is a fixed wall screen designed to work well in almost any environment.  It is, in particular an affordable screen to pair with the Epson PC1985 discussed above.  While not as ideal as another screen we'll talk about for really bright rooms, this one is particularly affordable and versatile, and will work well in rooms where ambient light isn't completely out of control.  It offers 1.5x gain for impressive brightness from a "grey" screen.  It is particularly good at rejecting side ambient lighting.

The best part is that this fixed screen is downright affordable, with list - not street - prices starting at under $800 for a small 84" diagonal, but even larger sizes are reasonably priced!

ezframe screen in room with ambient light

Elite's ezFrame CineGrey 5D is designed to work well when more than a little ambient light is present!


Pair the ezFrame Cinegray with a bright projector for LCDTV type contrast even with a significant amount of ambient room lighting.  Installation is very easy as is mounting it to your wall.   Using this Cinegray allows "everyday consumers" to seek the holy grail of big screen performance without paying the high cost. The ambient light rejecting CineGrey 5D eliminates ambient light while enhancing picture color clarity and contrast. The 1.5 gain surface presents a neutral color balance with better contrast than white matte screens. It also has 3D polarization should you have a projector that needs it (most 3D capable projectors do not).  This screen, it should be noted is also a very viable choice for  a dedicated home theater.

Pricing is most reasonable:  the 100" fixed wall version has a list price of $999 while a 120" is $1141.  The important thing to note though is that those are list prices.  Elite screens are typically sold at rather significant discounts from list!   Elite, of course offers their Cinegray surfaces in motorized screens as well, they cost more, but not drastically so.  That means you can go motorized, and not have a screen (or LCDTV's) large gray surface staring back at you when you aren't watching.

In your home theater room or "cave," thanks to this screen's light gray surface, it overall lowers black levels, making good projectors look better, and better projectors look great!

Bottom Line:  A well priced performance screen suitable for theater, or living room!  It will pair particularly well with a projector like the Epson Pro Cinema 1985 discussed above, but it is versatile, and Elite also says its texture is fine enough for quality 4K projectors.

Want more info on screens? We've got a two-part video series about Choosing the Right Projector Screen (Part 1 and Part 2) that you may find helpful.

Just remember, once you decide to use a projector in rooms that aren't very dark, your screen selection becomes extremely important.  Even in a theater, you may want a screen that can deal with some ambient light - after all, you might be watching sports with friends and not want the room really dark.  Some folks have sconces on the sides of their theaters, which can left on at low levels but dealt with, by the proper screen.

OK, let's talk about another couple of projectors...

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