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Your Holiday Guide To The Five Best Home Theater Projectors Over $2000

By Art Feierman
The holidays will soon be upon us1.  It’s no surprise that this time of year is when home theater and home entertainment projectors are flying off the shelves. While I don’t have any accurate numbers to share, I’m led to believe that this season, US consumers will purchase a whole lot of home projectors.  Perhaps as many as 100,000 projectors over the extended holiday season.  I can’t speak at all, for international sales numbers. Also visit: Your Holiday Guide To Five Great Home Theater Projectors Under $2000

Images above: Epson Home Cinema 5030UB, Sony VPL-HW55ES, JVC DLA-RS4910 (aka DLA-RS49, aka DLA-X500R), Epson Pro Cinema LS10000, and the Sony VPL-VW600ES (displaying true 4K content - heavily cropped).

Join the party. Take your life to the next level.

Hopefully you will be one of the lucky 100,000!   But be nice.  If you get a home theater projector, don’t make your friends jealous, instead invite them over to help you enjoy.  Wait!  That too, will almost certainly make them jealous.

In our annual Best Home Theater Projectors report just a few months ago, we had two amazing projectors in the $2000 to $3500 street price range, share our Best In Class award.  Similar in many ways, they have their differences as well, but I don’t think there are any better projectors around, without a huge increase in spending.

Our list includes some best in a dedicated theater type setup, but also projectors that will work in tougher rooms.  Also, I’ll tell you about a projector screen 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.

Our first projector for your consideration is the least expensive, but it’s performance far exceeds its price point:

Epson Home Cinema 5030UB

The Home Cinema 5030UB is almost certainly the best selling home theater projector over $2000, and for a whole list of reasons.   The first reason, and certainly not the least important, is that this projector probably has the best value proposition – we’re talking awesome price/performance, of any over $2000 projector.  This is one of the two Best In Class award winners I mentioned, the other being a Sony we’ll also talk about.

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The Home Cinema 5030UB, and it’s almost identical UBe version (the UBe adds Wireless HDMI), is the latest in a long line of Epson “UB” projectors.  (UB stands for “ultra-black.”)  We’re talking best in class black level performance.  If you want blacker blacks (the holly grail of home theater projectors) so that dark scenes look really  incredible (massively superior to LCDTVs), you’ll have to spend at least twice this Epson’s price – which happens to have a street price these days, of $2299, including 2 pair of 3D glasses.

OK, besides those great blacks, this is one bright projector, claiming, and producing about 2400 lumens at maximum.  The HC5030UB even post calibration can fill a 125-130” screen with a bright image.

Use the Home Cinema 5030UB in your cave or dedicated home theater, but if you don’t have one, use its Living Room mode to get far more brightness out than it’s best mode – which is THX (the Epson is THX certified).  Thanks to the brightness, 3D is also brighter than virtually all of the competition – a wondrous thing, considering that 3D is never near as bright as regular 2D viewing.  The 5030UB is a rare "home theater" projector that's just as at home in media and family rooms as in a theater.

The last image - a close up of Katniss, is already heavily cropped so you can appreciate the achievable sharpness.

Out of the box color performance is great, but for perfectionists the projector calibrates beautifully with excellent color accuracy.   Add to all of that, a great feature set and what’s probably the best combination of warranty and support in the industry.

The Home Cinema 5030UB should be on everyone’s short list if they are shopping for a projector under $4000, especially since it’s barely half that price.

Bigger Is Better--When it Comes to Screen Size (or Projector Screen Size)

A moment please, for my favorite rant:  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 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 great projectors are designed to work in almost any room that has some sort of reasonable lighting control – “man cave” not required.

OK, here’s something I’m still trying to “get”:

It seems millenials in particular (including my daughter) often watch movies, TV and Youtube on their phablets, and smart phones.

OK, I’m done with my rant.  But since we're 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 upcoming release of The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay 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 Interstellar on a 70” LCDTV – 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 Serious Screen from Elite

While all five projectors featured in our Holiday Guide are first and foremost Home Theatre Projectors, that is, at their best in a dedicated theater or "cave", everyone of them is bright enough to be used in a respectable media room or family room.  One though, the Epson Home Cinema 5030UB is bright enough really can be considered to be equally at home in a family room or a theater.  The important word is "respectable".  To maximize the viewing experience in brighter rooms than dedicated theaters, the screen choice is important.  

Both of the screens featured in this holiday guide to projectors, are screens suitable for both environments.
Let's start with the less expensive of the two. The second will follow later, on page 3.


The Elite Edge Free Aeon Screen

Above: Two images showing Elite's Aeon's Edge Free screen with the optional - only $89 I'm told - LED lighting kit.  The middle photo is a formal product shot from Elite,  but showing the optional fine black edge.

Elite screens first announced their new Aeon screen this earlier this year.  The Aeon series screens are cosmetically interesting.  There's been a small but 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.

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 Elite's Ambient Light Rejecting surface, which is ideal in a media, family, or living room environment as it is optimized to "reject" side 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 ALR Aeon screen is only available in fixed screen configuration!  Darn!

Pricing is, to say the least - aggressive!  A huge, 120" 16:9 Aeon screen with the 1.5 gain ALR surface retails for a impressively low price of $999.  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.   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.

From what I've seen of the ALR in action at trade shows makes me want to review it, perhaps add one to my home theater primarily for sports viewing!

Want more info on screens? Check out our Projector Screens directory for some general information, plus the full collection of our projector screen reviews. We've also got a two-part video series about Choosing the Right Projector Screen (Part 1 and Part 2) that you may find helpful.

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