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Your 2016 Holiday Guide To Five Great Home Theater Projectors Under $2500 - Part 3

By Art Feierman

2016 Holiday Guide - Under $2500 - Page 3: Epson Home Cinema 3700, Viewsonic PJD-7720HD, Sony VPL-HW45ES

I planned for there to be two more great projectors left, for your consideration, but at the last minute, I decided to add a sixth projector, primarily to offer a traditional home entertainment projector that’s a couple hundred dollars below the two lowest cost projectors in the guide. Let’s start with Epson’s “hot off the presses”, Home Cinema 3700, which just starting shipping this month  Yep, brand new. One is inbound for review as we are publishing this guide.  We liked its predecessor, but this one has some real improvements.  Then I’m going to sneak in that really low cost projector, the Viewsonic PJD-7720.

Then we will get into what is perhaps the most elegant home theater projector under $2000, Sony’s VPL-HW45ES. Yes, it’s their entry level dedicated home theater projector, but their idea of “entry level” is a whole different level than most of the competition’s definition.

Epson's Home Cinema 3700 - Extra Bright, Great Color

Epson HC3700

As noted the $1499 list price Epson HC3700 is too new for us to have reviewed in time for this Holiday Guide.  In fact, our review unit should be arriving right after Thanksgiving and our review hopefully published, before Christmas 2016 (no promises, we’re backed up here).  For that reason, the images here are from the older HC3500.

OK, here’s another projector that has been set free – no dedicated home theater required.  If you have a media room, basement, spare bedroom, living room or den with just decent lighting control, you are in business, but for best performance in brighter rooms match with a suitable screen.

3000 lumens – both color and white lumens.  If you had a fully darkened room, that would easily be enough for a 15 foot wide screen!

Got a room as bright as the one pictured above?  Pair this Epson with the right screen, and you’ll still be able to enjoy your favorite sporting event!

Epson includes some of their advance image processing from higher end models into the HC3700 (and its slightly different siblings, the $1299 HC3100, and the $1699 HC3900.)  But it’s the combination of the power, and rich colors that just look right, in most modes, plus improved black level performance (contrast) compared to it the older version that also improves the picture.  Want to stream, or use mobile devices?  MHL is on board, on HDMI 2 for just that purpose.  A pair of 10 watt speakers, may not rival a $500 sound system, but it sure will get the job done.  And, since they are built in, that also makes the HC3700 relatively portable, so plan some of those back yard movie nights for the family.

All that blinding brightness (and great color) is just what you’ll need for your upcoming Super Bowl party, because friends don’t make friends watch sports (especially the Super Bowl) in a dark room.

You’ll find the Epson Home Cinema 3700 available online both from projector specialists, and the likes of Amazon, but if you prefer brick and mortar, you’ll find it in big box houses (i.e. Best Buy, Walmart), Epson authorized dealers, and more.  Epson’s lamps are long life, lasting years, and perhaps the least expensive out there, so “no problem.”  Then there’s Epson’s great two year warranty, with two years of rapid replacement program.  It all combines to making owning this Epson – Epson Easy!  (I hope that’s not “too cute.”)

Viewsonic PJD-7720HD - Entry level price for a true 1080p projector


As I warned, I’ve added a 6th projector, to this guide.  Viewsonic has been the low cost leader when it comes to true 1080p resolution home projectors for the past five years.  This PJD7720HD is the entry point into Viewsonic’s full HD resolution home projectors, and it’s aggressively priced with a street price no higher than $549.  And that, folks, is why I decided to sneak it into the guide at the last minute.  Not everyone has $750-$900 for their first projector.  This, folks, is a classic “cross-over” it can be considered a portable business projector as easily as a home entertainment projector, as there are few differences between the features found on both types.  For example, 3200 lumens is a plenty for business or classroom use, and it’s also plenty for putting up a large image at home, with more than a little ambient light in the room.

The PJD7720, is not only full HD 1080p (1920×1080), but it’s a seriously bright home entertainment projector claiming 3200 lumens.  And, for an entry level projector, it has a surprising number of features.  For openers, there are two HDMI, the HDMI supports 1.4, and with it, current 3D standards such as Blu-ray 3D.   In addition the 2nd HDMI, called Port-All, supports MHL for streaming sticks, just like the more expensive 7836HDL.  Where Viewsonic saves you a couple hundred plus dollars compared to its big brother, are primarily by providing a lens with more limited zoom range (1.1:1) instead of 1.3:1) for a little less placement flexibility.  And it has 300 lumens less. It also lacks a built in media player (which is true of most home entertainment projectors).  Lastly, and noteworthy, this Viewsonic comes with a 1 year parts and labor warranty.  By comparison, the PJD7836HDL comes with a 3 year parts and labor warranty.  3 years P&L is as long as it gets in the under $1000 (or under $4000 for that matter) price range, while the 7720HD, only comes one year, (which is the most common warranty for under $1000 projectors), so it’s still a typical warranty compared to the competition.

That folks, is how you save about $250 give or take.  You’ll still get to enjoy a near identical image on the screen…  You thrifty ones might even decide to go with the PJD7720HD instead of the more expensive Viewsonic, and take the savings, and buy a screen with it!

Note:  Sorry, no images of the 7720HD here, because we haven’t gotten to look at one yet (other than trade shows).

The PJD7720HD, really will make a rather wonderful big screen experience for you or your family, at a rock bottom price for a dazzling picture.  And it’s not afraid of rooms with a fair amount of ambient light.

Sony VPL-HW45ES - Serious Home Theater Projector with Gorgeous Color


Here we go, it’s back into the cave time, or dedicated home theater, with the Sony HW45ES projector which typically sells for $1999 making it the most expensive projector in this holiday guide.

Don’t get me wrong, the HW45ES puts out 2000 lumens, so it can leave the home theater for a living room, but let’s say that it deserves a great room, because you deserve an amazing picture to watch.

I don’t believe there’s another projector around the price, that can rival the natural looking accurate colors this Sony produces.  Very good black level performance (something that calls for a dark room to appreciate) is impressive, for a projector without a dynamic iris.

Oh, Sony does offer the step-up HW65ES – with dynamic iris, for improved blacks, but folks, it’s exactly twice the price!  The value lies here.   Still, the HW45ES is really about the picture.  How impressed were we?  In this year’s Best Home Theater Projector Report, we simply gave it top honors in the under $2000 Class:  Best In Class!  That’s right, there are some great bright room projectors out there, but for the bucks, I can’t think of any current projector better in a proper home theater, without spending at least 50% more.

The Sony has a 1.6:1  zoom, a lot of lens shift, and more, just what you need for easy mounting in a theater.  It offers Sony’s Reality Creation, their take on advanced image processing/detail enhancement.

And naturally, it has good 3D, but glasses are optional.  (No worries, good 3D glasses today are less $20 a pair.)

Clean image, natural skin tones, about as perfect color as you could hope for, right out of the box, without any adjustment, lots of picture modes, so you have what you need – i.e. Reference, Bright Cinema, Bright TV, Photo, Gaming, and several more.

Of course feature sets vary and there are some others around the price with a few features this Sony lacks, but I repeat:  I can’t think of another projector listing for around $1999, that will produce as beautiful a picture in a respectable home theater environment.

"Wrapping it Up"

Tis the season – to move that 50” LCDTV into the breakfast area, pick out one of these great projectors, and get serious about enjoying movies, sports and HDTV, or maybe you are looking forward to gaming on a 100 inch plus display!

That wraps up our Holiday Guide to some great under $2500 projectors.  Got a bigger budget, check out our second guide, for those spending upward of $2500 for a projector.

Either way, score a projector or give one to someone special this holiday season.  And before I forget:

Happy Holidays from Projector Reviews! -art

PS.  For those that wonder how Santa’s going to get all this gear to you, and gifts to the other billions on the planet, here’s a link to a classic:

For Your Holiday Pleasure: The Physics of Christmas I discovered this online almost twenty years ago, and it still blows me away!

The Tiny Projector That Could - Fill a 100" screen: Qumi Q3 Plus

True, we haven't reviewed the new Qumi Q3 Plus, but we have reviewed two other Qumi's in the past, including it's predecessor, the Q2.

A few Qumi Q3 Plus highlights to get excited to find one of these as a stocking stuffer, or under your tree:

Street price - under $400!  BTW if this is the projector that is going to rock your world, check it out here on Amazon!

Click Image to Enlarge

The Q3 Plus, is a 720p HD LED projector.  True, that's the lower of two HD standards, but that's "the good stuff" considering an under $400 street price.

Its 500 lumens really can properly light up a 100" diagonal screen (or white wall) in a darkened room.  Perhaps the best question is how they pack that into a 1 pound projector along with:

  • A built in rechargeable battery that can power the projector for up to two hours.  That's impressive, but also
  • A built in power supply - so no separate "power brick" with extra weight!
  • 2 (small internal speakers)
  • tripod mount screw, and fold down front foot
  • Bluetooth - to feed the audio to larger powered speakers
  • Built in media player and over 5 Gig of space (more than enough for a movie).  And memory is expandable.
  • MHL and mirroring - for streaming, working with portable devices...

All considered, this Qumi is the brightest, smallest, most feature laden "pocket" projector around.  Oh what fun!  For you, for family, for friends.

Perhaps the Qumi 3 Plus is the best stocking stuffer this side of diamonds!

A Screen that can handle ambient light: EliteScreen's Aeon CineGrey 3D

Elite screens announced their first Aeon screen just over two years ago.  The Aeon series screens are cosmetically interesting.  There’s been a  growing trend away from fixed screens with wide black borders of velour, to borderless screens like this Aeon, which Elite calls Edge Free.    Optional is a fine 10mm (.4 inch) black edge trim.  You likely would opt for the edge if the wall behind the screen is lighter colored to create a fine defining edge.

Elite Screens Aeon Edge Free - manufacturer's image, they say no "photoshopping" done, real lighting


That’s cool, certainly  if frameless is your taste, go for it, but even more important are the screen surface options.

Elite’s Aeon screen offers a choice of two different surfaces depending on your viewing needs.  There’s the traditional matte white, which will work great in your theater or cave, or  Cinegrey 3D, Elite's ALR (ambient light rejecting) surface, which is ideal in a media, family, or living room environment as it is optimized to “reject” ambient light.  This can make a huge difference.   I personally considered this surface for my upcoming living room installation, but unfortunately, my room calls for a motorized screen – call it the “spouse factor”, and the Aeon Cinegrey 3D screen is only available in fixed screen configuration!  Darn!

Elite Aeon Screen

Elite Aeon Screen with included LED RGB lighting kit (Photo taken with iPhone at trade show)

Pricing is, to say the least – aggressive!  A huge, 120″ 16:9 Aeon screen with the 1.5 gain Cinegrey 3D surface retails for a impressively low price of $749, while a 100" is only $574. Considering the special surface, that’s great.  Of course if you only need a classic 1.1 gain matte white surface, instead of the ALR, the MSRP is only $560 on the 120"...   Pick the one that works for your room and viewing tastes!

You might even want the ALR surface in your dedicated theater as well.  If you are mostly a movie person, and therefore lights and ambient light is minimal, the traditional matte surface is probably all you need, but if you also want controlled ambient light from windows or lights, for social gatherings, choose the Aeon ALR, as it will negate a significant portion of the light coming in, especially from the sides.

Elite Screens is one of the best selling (and affordable) brands of projection screens available in the US.  They have been importing their screens from Asia since the early 2000's, and have a truly extensive lineup of screen types, sizes and frames, including some advanced screen surfaces such as their ALR.

I have one Elite screen (their HC Gray) that I use in my testing room.  I have been considering adding one of these CineGrey 3D screens to my home theater, so I can really light up the room when viewing sports.

Viewsonic's PJD-7836HDL: The Affordable Bright Room Home Projector

This is the other projector in this guide that we haven't reviewed yet, but once again, we reviewed it's predecessor, in fact just six months before this guide published and this Viewsonic just started to ship.

Viewsonic has been driving the competition crazy for years!   It was perhaps 5, maybe six years ago, that the first generation of low cost 1080p projectors hit the market.  Everyone was rolling them out price mostly just above or below $2000!   Not Viewsonic, though, their first in this series, the 7820HD, rocked the industry for being just $999.

I recall being a the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, with a number of manufacturers saying "What the *%!(^$@ are they doing, we're supposed to make money when we roll out new higher res products?"

Click Image to Enlarge

We piled awards on that first 7820HD projector.  Viewsonic still isn't done torturing the competition, for their prices are still as competitive as any, but they're serving up a 3 year warranty when the other guys are mostly 1 year, (OK in fairness, there are some two year warranties in the price range.)

The images in the player above, are from our review of the PJD7835HD that this Viewsonic replaces.  Expect even better.

3500 lumens!  OK I hate to use this now overused expression, but 3500 lumens is HUGE!  This is one serious projector for a street price between $800 and $900!  When I say serious, here's a projector that can play in relatively bright rooms that previously were the domain of only LCD TVs and not projectors.

Yep, this really is great news: As there's no more reason to settle for 65" or 71" diagonal TVs, this projector is not only ready to take those TVs on, but you can watch your sports, HDTV and movies twice the size and then some, compared to those little TVs.  We recommend pairing with the right screen of course.  So you might just want to check out the two "bright room" screens in our other guide.  Amazing, without breaking the bank.

The new PJD7836 has MHL (an upgrade from the older version), and some pretty big sound built in, so no problem streaming your favorite content. Or go "old school" with cable or satellite, but of course for the best picture, you'll want a Blu-ray player (nice that those start at under $50 these days).

Sports fans, this Viewsonic will rock your world - try DirecTV's Sunday Ticket GameMix and watch 2, 4, or 8 games at once, and because you've got a big screen, you can see all the action - even with 8 games going! (Yes, you can read the numbers on the uniforms, easily see the ball, and the various ticker info across the bottom of each game!)

If you want to run your projector in the real world (family rooms, etc.), rather than a fully darkened cave, aka "dedicated home theater," and if the PJD7836HDL fits your budget, this may be your perfect gift to you, or the whole family.  (Besides, a Maserati won't fit under your Christmas tree, Hanukah bush, etc...)

OK, we're not done yet.  Two more projectors to go, so check out the next page, where we feature our smallest entry:
Epson's Brand New Home Cinema 3700 - a "step-up" 3LCD Bright Room projector loaded with impressive features, and

Sony' VPL-HW45ES - My idea of the best serious home theater projector under $2000!

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