Projector Reviews

Best Home Theater Projector Report – $3500-$10,000 Brightness Performance

Home Theater Projectors - Brightness

Introduction:  There are three key aspects worth considering when considering a home theater projector’s brightness:

The first is how bright the projector is, in its “best” mode (typically that mode bears a name such as Theater, Cinema 1, Movie, etc.).
In “best” mode, a projector typically works at its least bright, but provides its best color and black levels. (Note: when I refer to least bright, I’m talking “modes” and not whether a lamp is on full power or eco-mode.)

The second consideration is how usably bright a projector can get, at its brightest.Not everyone wants only to watch movies, and in a fully darkened environment. Many of us also watch TV/HDTV, and especially sports viewing, and other social events where some ambient light is desirable.

Note, while most home projectors are 25% to 50% brighter in brightest mode than calibrated mode, a few projectors may be two to three times as bright.  Those typically have a big advantage over most of the others.

The 3rd consideration is specific to people who will be watching 3D. It too is brightness related.  Note, that almost all new projectors over $2000 seem to be 3D capable.  Sony JVC, Epson, Mitsubishi, Optoma and Panasonic no longer offer 2D only projectors that sell for over $2000.

Projectors and 3D are a natural fit, thanks to the much greater immersion possible with a large screen.  Feel sympathy for those folks watching 3D on displays smaller than 80″ inch diagonal. Invite them over, give them a thrill!

Expect 3D viewing to be no more than 40% as bright as 2D viewing with the same setup.  The more 3D interests you, the more you want to make sure you have a projector with sufficient power for respectable 3D..

See the chart below for “How We Measure.”

$3500 - $10,000 Home Theater Projectors

Header Content
Lumens Lumens Lumens
Best Mode Brightest Mode Comments
$3500+
JVC DLA-X55R/RS48U 703 872
JVC DLA-X75R/RS56U 658 757 Based on X95 measurements
JVC DLA-X95/RS66 658 757
Optoma HD8300 757 826
Runco LS-5 648 792
Runco LS-10d 1465 1808
SIM2 Nero 3D-2 605 825
Sony VPL-VW95ES 725 1031
Sony VPL-VW1000ES 1176 1269

JVC DLA-X55R

The JVC DLA-X55R, which is also sold with minor trim differences as the JVC DLA-RS48U, has about 700 measured calibrated lumens.  That’s plenty for 2D, on a large screen in a dedicated theater.

We measured just over 750 lumens at “brightest”, which really isn’t enough for my tastes on a typical 100″ diagonal screen. I’m not saying it’s really dim at that size, but, after all, most 3D capable projectors are brighter.  I will concede that I really like the punchy Stage mode for cutting through ambient light.  Stage mode may only bring about an extra 175 lumens to the party, but it sure looks more like 300 extra.

Keep it in the cave. It will look great.

JVC DLA-X75R, DLA-X95R projectors

These are the JVC flagship projectors, with the X95R built of the best components shared by both.  The best black levels I’ve ever seen from a projector without a dynamic iris, which is JVC’s claim to fame.

Definitely these are dedicated theater projectors.

The DLA-X95R we had here measured just over 650 and 750 lumens in “best” and “brightest” modes.  That’s just dandy for typical screens up to about 130″ diagonal.  Again, Stage mode, seems brighter than the numbers would suggest, while looking rather good for a brightest mode.

3D is the challenge.  I know THX says these JVC’s are bright enough for a 90″ diagonal screen with a gain of 1.0.  (I view with a 1.3 gain screen).  By their numbers that would indicate about 117″ diagonal.

By my calculations, using 750 lumens, the JVC will achieve 24 ft-lamberts of brightness on a 100″ diagonal 1.0 gain screen. With a 1.3 gain screen, that would be 31.2 foot lamberts. For reference the minimum standard for movie theaters for 2D viewing is 12 ft-lamberts.   Remember though, you can’t expect 3D  through active shutter 3D glasses to deliver more than about 1/3 the original brightness.  This puts you just over 10, with a brand new lens.  It’s true that the SMPTE (the motion picture technicians say you need less than 4 ft-lamberts, but I have always found that to be absurdly dim.  I always suspected it was a compromise due to the early 3D cinema projectors from being typically dim.

JVC DLA-X95

This is the projector we worked with. We assume the X75R will produce essentially the same brightness, maybe a few extra lumens since its contrast is rated lower. On the other hand, that lower contrast may be due to the components difference. The DLA-X95R is of course, a projector built for the dedicated home theater or cave. Why else spend all that money for the best black levels and put the projector in an environment where that advantage is essentially lost.

A classic home theater projector, the brightness numbers are just dandy, even for fairly large screens, with a calibrated 650 lumens plus, and an extra 100 lumens under the hood, as “brightest” should you want to still have really good color, but tackle a bit of ambient light. That is as long as you don’t worry about 3D brightness. According to THX, with a 1.3 gain screen you can do 3D at about 117 inch diagonal, but only if you buy into the same thing plaguing movie theater 3D, which is too dim. I found the 95 to just barely be acceptable at 100″ diagonal, and personally would have preferred at least another 10 or 15% more lumens even at that.

This is an awesome projector for 2D, with 3D fine enough for those not too concerned about 3D.

Optoma HD8300

This Optoma HD8300 is another classic dedicated home theater with around 700 lumens calibrated and an extra 300 lumens in its brightest mode (992 measured).

Runco LS-5

The Runco LS5 has been around a while, years really, if you count its time on earth sold under the Planar name, until Planar bought Runco 3 or so years ago.  It has been much improved over all this time.

The Runco LS5 is a superb medium sized screen projector.  In most theater environments typical screens like a 120″ diagonal can be handled.  Not much in extra lumens though for ambient light, making it a very desirable projector for some who want a killer picture, but you can only handle modest amounts of controlled lighting for your more social viewing with friends.

Runco LS-10d

This 3 chip DLP Runco LS10d is second to none in this report when it comes to calibrated lumens, from a serious dedicated home theater projector.   It has the second highest calibrated rating, being edged out by the 1/10th the price BenQ W7000, but nice as that single chip DLP’s picture is, the LS10d is definitely playing in different space.  With 1800+ lumens at maximum (mid-point on the zoom), the Runco is bright.  That’s impressive, but it’s the over 1450 calibrated lumens that allows you huge screen sizes in a dedicated theater.  With all those lumens, you could put it in more of a game room than theater if need be.  Perhaps an awesome media room.  Still, to take full advantage of the LS10d projector, you’ll want a cave.

SIM2 Nero 3D2

The SIM2 Nero 3D2 projector is another great small room projector. It is of course, extremely expensive per lumen with a $20,000 price tag.

The Nero is strictly a dedicated theater or cave type projector.  No extra lumens to tackle either intentional, or unavoidable ambient light in your setup.  SIM2 is about other things than lots of lumens, although note that they make a number of brighter, and much brighter projectors.

Sony VPL-VW95ES projector

A healthy 725 lumens calibrated means the 95ES can handle large screens in a dedicated theater.  Its over 1000 measured lumens at “brightest” is just over average, so this projector is best in a theater.  That said, it is still 1000 lumens, so matched with the right screen, it should still do a really fine job in some less than ideal rooms.  I would have liked to try this one in my old “theater” with the rust walls.

Sony VPL-VW1000ES

Sony’s flagship projector not only is the only 4K home theater projector to date, but it’s also the 2nd brightest serious home theater projector in this report, when it comes to putting a gorgeous calibrated image on your screen. With 1176 measured, calibrated lumens at mid-point on the zoom, you could easily call this a light cannon in terms of calibrated projectors.

Need a few more lumens for some ambient light, there’s another hundred lumens available, with still really fine color accuracy. For 2D only, the sky’s pretty much the limit in terms of screen size. 150″ diagonal with a1.3 gain screen, shouldn’t even be a challenge in 2D.

For 3D, the Sony VW1000ES does well, definitely it can tackle a good 110″ diagonal size with decent 3D brightness.