The 2017 Best Home Theater Projectors Report

Posted on September 2, 2017 by Art Feierman

Welcome to the 2017 Best Home Theater Projectors Report, a guide designed to help you find the home theater projector that's right for you. We've made some major changes to this year’s report, making some new additions and cutting out some old.

For example, we are not looking at “standard” lamp-based projectors with less than 1080p resolution in this report. Sure, we know that plenty of lower resolution 720p (and some lower) are still sold, and are the bulk of the under $500 market, but we have the ability to review only so many projectors a year (we do business and education projector reviews too). We never review enough of the lower resolution lamp-based ones to do real comparisons.

But – for a twist, we’re going to consider lower resolution Pico and Pocket projectors in this report, primarily because there are still too few 1080p ones. I was hoping to have enough “pocket” LED projectors this year for it to have its own category, but since we didn’t, they're included in this report. We are scheduling a Pocket LED Projector Comparison Report for October/November of this year (2017), as we have three more Pocket LED projectors to review.

What to Expect in This Year's Report

The images in the slider above are from the following projectors (in order): Optoma UHD65, Epson 1440, AAXA M6, Epson HC4000, and BenQ HT3050

Best in Class Award Winners

See this year's List of Winners!

For openers, I’m changing a major previous rule. In the past, the only projectors we included were those we reviewed and virtually identical projectors. A classic example of this would be Epson’s Home Cinema 2040 and 2045 models. They were identical in all ways but for the addition of wireless and an extra $50 cost, so we gave an award to both HC2040/HC2045.

This year, we’re stretching things a bit further. I’m allowing now-discontinued models to be represented by their replacements when I know that the differences are very minor, and where the replacement is slightly better, even if we haven’t reviewed the newer one.

This allows us to include a couple of great projectors that time simply did not allow us to review, and where even spending the dozens of hours to do the review seemed time-foolish, because the only differences might be minor or in just one small area of performance. Examples of such projectors are JVC’s RS420 and RS620, which we are allowing to participate, though we didn’t review either projector. We reviewed their predecessors last year – the RS400 and RS600. The primary differences in this case, the newer models offer HLG – Hybrid Log-Gamma (HDR for streaming), in addition to the widely used HDR10 standard. The same is true for the Sony VPL-VW675ES, replacing the VW665ES. The difference – again, the addition of HLG.

I’ve also decided to allow all the projectors reviewed in the 2016 report to compete again, in this 2017 Home Theater Projectors Report. Many projectors are now in 2-year or even 3-year cycles, so if we don’t allow last year’s winner to compete in a class, but it’s still current, then we might end up giving an award to a newer, but less capable projector. Example – the Epson 5040UB, which was excellent last year and had little competition. This year, there's definitely more competition, but as there is no replacement for the 5040UB, we’d be ignoring what might be the best projector in its class.

Then, there’s the Optoma UHD60, a lower cost, non-identical twin to the UHD65, which I reviewed (and really liked). The differences: the color wheel, and therefore the lumens. I’ve seen the UHD60 in action, just haven’t brought one in. I can make a lot of assumptions, and will, in including it in this year's report.

One final exception – there’s a particular low-cost projector that we never reviewed but should have, because it’s one of the very best selling home projectors on the market. We had reviewed its predecessor back in 2014, but that's too long ago to include in this report. That extra projector is Optoma’s HD142X.

Change in Class

We routinely change the price points for the classes as best seems to suit the group of projectors we are dealing with. For example, a few years back, our “Entry level” class included projectors under $2000. Since then, because of changes in the market – especially lower prices in general - we now have an Entry Level Class called "Under $1000," and a "$1000 to $2000" class. For this 2017 Best Home Theater Projectors report, we changed last year’s "$2000  - $4000" class to "$2000 - $3500." Moving to more expensive projectors, the next class is now "$3500 to $8000," while last year, it was "$4000 - $10,000."

By the way, the classes are organized by List Price (or in some cases, what the manufacturer sells that projector for on their own site if it is less). When we speak of "street price," we are referring to the typical price when the projector is sold by authorized dealers. There’s always some low baller, and sometimes they offer gray market, so we won’t let them distort the normal selling price for purposes of evaluating value.

In considering all the projectors in this report, I don’t think it would have made much difference if I had used “street pricing.” That said, I do consider the street pricing, if significantly lower, in making decisions relating to awards, even if that won’t affect what price class the projector is placed in. In other words, in the $1000 to $2000 class, the fact that one projector sells for $1200 and another for $1900 will affect our “rankings.” But, if the list price is $1999 and a few dealers are at $1799, that would have little impact.

Compromises: To state the obvious, the projectors in the Entry Level class – Under $1000, have a lot of trade-offs, (as do most more expensive ones, but this is especially true for entry level models). Some things they do well, and other things poorly. That’s only fair. As I like to say: “If they did everything well, they wouldn’t be 'entry-level' projectors, would they?”

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And that folks, is the same concept that makes reviewing and awards subjective. My picks are subjective, and they reflect my well-known biases. Bias isn’t a bad thing, it’s just one more piece of information. Consider one bias that I will remind you of in the awards - I’m big on black level performance in home theater projectors (but not near as concerned with home entertainment projectors, none of which really have good black levels anyway). To me, when you put a projector in your cave or home theater and get to a really dark scene in a movie, that’s what separates a great projector for a good one.

There are plenty of under $2000 projectors that do a great job on brighter scenes, as good as many significantly more expensive projectors, but the differences on very dark scenes are technically not the difference between “night and day” but can be extremely dramatic. To me, achieving excellent black levels, for example, is more important than a small improvement in sharpness. Other reviewers might disagree. I will at least try to always point out, for example, that “why this projector beat out that one for such-and-such award was the great black levels, vs, lower price, or quieter operation" where applicable.  

There are not any best projectors – for anyone with a specific budget. Our goal is to help you find and choose the best projector at your budget, for what you need: one that works in your room conditions, for the type of content you watch, and for what you think most important (that subjective stuff again). That’s why our awards vary so much,  because it’s not always this one is better than that one, but this one is better than that one, if your situation is… (fill in the blanks).

Finally, last year we had a special class for 4K content capable projectors. That group covered projectors from $2700 to $60,000 – because there was just a handful, with the least expensive “true” 4K projector priced at $9995, the Epson UBs and laser, and the JVCs.

This year, with the addition of the DLP 4K UHD projectors, we have a lot more. We have 4K capable projectors in all price classes but entry level. I’m now comfortable with letting those that are 4K capable (at a given price point) slug it out with similarly priced projectors that can’t do 4K, but may have other advantages. That will lead to subjective calls in terms of awards.

It makes for some interesting decisions – for example:

At $1995 there’s a pure 1080p Sony – the VPL-HW45, then there’s the Optoma UHD60 – a 4K UHD (2716x1528 x 2), and a 1080p pixel shifter, the Epson HC4000. Decisions get murky – the Sony, for example, is the least natively sharp of the three (as expected, being the lowest in resolution – no pixel shifting), but it has an excellent picture. The Epson and Optoma both handle 4K, but the Epson is loaded with features, the Optoma is natively higher resolution… Well, that’s why we give out more than one award in each class.

For Our Millennial Friends, The "Cord Cutters"

These paragraphs are for our Millennial friends, who are “cord cutters.” 

If we civilized folks can’t convince you that Avatar, or Gone with the Wind, Game of Thrones, the Superbowl, Breaking Bad, or Beauty and the Beast (the new version was truly excellent, by the way), shouldn’t be watched on something as small as a phone, tablet or laptop, let me at least get you to agree that they probably would be more fun, more intense, etc., on a drastically larger screen.

So, perhaps you might consider a small projector you can quickly set up when you have something worth watching on the big screen. We know many of you Millennials aren’t bothering with cable, satellite or even DVD/Blu-ray. Many of you love to watch content on your laptops, tablets or phones.

You may want to consider perhaps opting for one of those small, but high resolution, pocket LED projectors, or other home entertainment projectors to occasionally take out for viewing the content that begs for a large immersive image!

When my daughter moved to NYC three years ago and lived with a roommate, they had no LCD TV in her apartment, no cable, no antenna, no satellite. They were 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 what their phones or laptops could provide.

They just plug in one of their streaming sticks and put on Netflix or other content. Lisa has reviewed the Optoma ML750 in her Millennials series, and is now finishing a related review for Optoma’s newer short throw version, the 750ML. Since then, we’ve received a couple/few full 1080p pocket projectors to review!

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, in our individual reviews we do test most of the home theater projectors for their lag times, and mention how they should do at gaming.

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