The 2016 Best Home Theater Projectors Report

Posted on September 22, 2016 by Art Feierman
Welcome to our annual competition to determine the Best Home Theater Projectors in each price range. The 2016 Best Home Theater Projector Report is the result of analyzing all the 1080p and 4K home theater projectors we have reviewed in the last two to three years, that are still  current models.  From that we pick out our Best In Class award winners. Please remember, that while there are many good, and a few great projectors out there, what's most important is which is the best home projector for you, your tastes and environment.
Best in Class Award Winner

Click for this year's winners!

In selecting our category winners – Best in Class awards, and specialty awards, 2016 continued the recent challenge, of too few projectors to review.  It's a good thing we are considering those projectors from previous years that are still current.  And believe me, they sure are not hard to find.  The short version is that in the past five years, I believe the average life of a home projector model has more than doubled, with most staying on the market for two years or longer.

The current year’s projector “season” started last September with announcements of new products at the annual CEDIA show in the US, and IFA in Europe.

BTW I often speak of this as the 1080p Projector Report, which is what it was called a few years back.  This year's report (as with previous ones) does not look at the lower cost (typically under $700) 720p projectors, but it does now include 4K projectors.  In terms of 4K projectors, just as was the case last year, the only true 4K projectors in this year's report are from Sony, but there are more "Faux-K" projectors -as some call projectors accepting 4K content, but lacking 4K panels (chips).

This Home Theater Projector report unlike past ones, is being published in pieces, a couple of pages at a time.  This due to the late start (I took a vacation), followed by the CEDIA show, which had some impact in how I wanted to present things.

Best Home Theater Projectors Report Overview

Images above, in order:  JVC DLA-RS400U/X550, Sony VPL-HW45ES, Epson Home Cinema 5040UB/Pro Cinema 6040UB, JVC DLA-RS600U/X950R, BenQ HT3050

Last  year we changed the organization.  Instead of just 3 Classes, we added a fourth, and also a special category.  The classes this year are:  Under $1000 (aka:  Entry Level), $1000 - $2000, $2000 - $4000 (previously $2000 - $3500), and $4000+ (previously $3500+).   Since all the projectors in the under $1000 class are inherently significant compromises in performance, compared to the $1000 - $2000, and especially to the $2000 - $4000 and higher categories, consider them very Entry Level.  But because they are entry level projectors, expect some to be very good at somethings, but then, not so good at others.  If they were good at everything, they wouldn't be "entry level."  (OK, how's that for restating the obvious.)

In some "Classes" we may award a winner and a runner up, or we might give an award for Best  Value, and one for Performance.  The Value winner would be the one with an impressive feature set, lots of good things it can do, but perhaps not the overall best picture of the group, but more bang for the buck!  The Performance winner, will be the one with the best overall picture, but could be lacking in other areas, such as particular features (including some really nice ones), or warranty. It may have the best picture, but you may be paying a lot for it.

While few of us can afford them, there are very high end projectors I'd like to review, most of which start over $30K.  The problem is, those high end manufacturers don't seem to like their projectors reviewed, unless its in the Robb Report.  I think they are reluctant to provide to humble reviewers like myself, perhaps out of fear that one of us might say, “nice $50K 1080p projector but this $8K projector is pretty close in overall performance.”  Well, I'll keep asking Runco, Barco, and SIM2, but despite some interest by both of those high end companies, obtaining product just hasn't worked out the past few years. I'm also trying Barco, now that they purchased european projection design, who offers home projectors.

Next year, I'm also looking at some other changes.  Expect an award for Gaming projectors.  Also small LED projectors "pocket" projectors are finally starting to show up in 1080p resolution.  We have more than one in this report, but not enough for a separate "Class" of projectors.

In addition to that, more and more of these projectors - especially under $2000 are now sporting MHL capable HDMI ports.  Simply stated, they will work with streaming sticks, like ROKU or those from Amazon, Google, etc.

This ties to the current shift to "cutting the cord"  with many millennials not bothering with cable, satellite or even DVD/Blu-ray.  Many aren't even buying LCDTVs.  They love to watch content on their laptops, tablets or phones.

Of course that's no civilized way to view an action thriller designed for the "big screen", so we expect a significant number of millennials to perhaps opt for one of those small, but high resolution, pocket LED projectors, to occasionally take out for viewing the content that begs for a large immersive image!  My daughter moved to NYC two years ago, has a roommate.  No LCD TV in her apartment  They are streamers.  I managed to procure them a "pocket" LED projector to use and review (with MHL of course), when they wanted to watch on something larger than their phones or laptops.  They just plug in one of their streaming sticks, and put on Netflix or other content.  Lisa has writing  reviewed of the Optoma ML750 in her Millennials series, and is now finishing a related review for Optoma's newer short throw version, the 750ML.  The Optoma's a great little projector but not at least 1080p, so not covered in this report. But, I digress.

In this report we’re focused on projectors that appeal to people who’s interest is into high quality pictures for movies, sports and HDTV. That said, we do test most of the home theater projectors for their lag times, and mention how they should do at gaming.

This Year's Crop of Projectors

Shown in the player to the right: The Sony VPL-HW55ES, Epson Home Cinema 5030UB, Sony VPL-VW600ES, BenQ HC1200, and Epson Pro Cinema 4030, LG PF85U (the LG has not won a major award in this report, but does represent the 1080p "pocket" LED projector category, of which there will be a lot more coming.  These links take you to the award pages for each respective projector.

Fewer projectors reviewed this year.  Again, the market is maturing, Manufacturers no longer feel the need to replace every 1080p projector every year.  Consider.  Panasonic's two projectors have been around for 4 and 5 years (are they even still in the HT projector biz? or just unloading old inventory).  Epson though, after keeping their 5030UB/6030UB around for almost 3 years, now has a completely new 5040UB and 6040UB.   JVC launched three new projectors last year.  Those will not be replaced for another year.  Then there are the quitters:  Mitsubishi exited the projector industry 3 years back, and Sanyo almost five years ago. (bought by Panasonic's parent).

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Another year goes by, and still no true 4K DLP chip, even their 4 megapixel chip (half of true 4K chips) hasn't shipped in any projectors as of this publication, but we've seen some prototypes, including at CEDIA 2016.  TI has been showing prototypes of projectors using a new 4 megapixel chip with pixel shifting going back to CES in January 2016.  Pixels are still far twice the size of true 4K, but smaller than those of pixel shifting 1080p projectors.

If you are not familiar with pixel shifting, here's the under 30 word description:  Instead of a projector "firing" each pixel one time, it's fired twice, shifting diagonally 1/2 pixel, up to the right.  This overlap + processing, allows more detail to be revealed.

OK, time to talk awards and individual projectors!

Most commentary will be focused on the why a projector picked up a Best in Class award.


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