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The 2015 Best Home Theater Projectors Report

Posted on August 29, 2015 by Phil Jones

Welcome to our annual competition to determine the Best Home Theater Projectors in each price range.

The best home theater projector report is the result of analyzing all the 1080p 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.

Best in Class Award Winner

Click for this year's winners!

In selecting our category winners – Best in Class awards, and specialty awards, 2015 proved to be a bigger challenge than normal.  Why you ask?  Simply stated, there weren't that many new projectors launched going back to the fall of 2014 and the CEDIA show.  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.  Consider that JVC, Panasonic, and Sony, to name three, still are selling some projectors that were in our 2013 report.

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.

I reported last year that there weren't as many new projectors as usual, well that was followed by this last year, with fewer still.  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.  Speaking of 4K projectors, just as was the case last year, the only 4K projectors in this year's report are from Sony.

Perhaps this coming fall - CEDIA is in Dallas - in mid-October, we'll see some additional 4K competition.  The sooner that happens, the sooner the price of 4K projectors will come down to where most of us can afford one.  I should mention that in addition to three Sony true 4K projectors one other projector now shipping can input commercial 4K content, including the imminent release of the 4K Blu-Ray UHD.  That would be the Epson LS10000.  Three other projectors can handle limited 4K, such as photos you take, but are not equipped to handle the new copy protection schemes used by 4K content, namely something called HDCP (HD copy protection) Version 2.0.  Those other three are JVC projectors.  We don't consider them viable as serious "4K capable".

Best Home Theater Projectors Report Overview

Images above, in order: 

This 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 - $3500, and $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 - $3500 and higher categories, consider them 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, that was obvious.)

The images above, are all from projectors that earned an award this year.  In order of appearance they are (links go to reviews and/or specifications pages):  Sony VPL-HW55ES (Captain Pike), Epson Pro Cinema 6030UB / Home Cinema 5030UB, Optoma HD161X / HD50, BenQ HC1200, Epson Pro Cinema 4030, JVC DLA-4910, Epson LS10000, Sony VPL-VW1100ES.

For that reason, we have two awards in that category this year:  Value, and 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.  The Performance winner, will be the one with the best overall picture, but lacking in other areas, such as particular features (including some really nice ones), or warranty, or in this year's case, lacking CFI - smooth motion.

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 and SIM2, but despite some interest by both of those high end companies, obtaining product just hasn't worked out the past few years.

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 one in this report, but next year, perhaps we'll have 3-5 so perhaps their own awards/class.

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.  We're looking for a shift in the market place with many millennials not bothering with cable, satellite or even DVD/Blu-ray, and some aren't even buying LCDTVs.  They love to watch content on their laptops, tablets or phones.  Of course that's no way to view an action thriller, 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 a year ago, and now, in a new apartment, with a room-mate, they don't have an LCDTV.  They are streamers.  I managed to procure them a "pocket" LED projector to use (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.  The two of them will be writing a review/article of their experience, which I'm looking forward to publish.

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

On the right (links go to the award pages for each projector): 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.

There was a time, about three years back, where we reviewed 15-20 1080p projectors a year, but of late, the number is more like 10 a year.

Why so few?  First, 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 3 and 4 years.  Epson for the first time did not replace their current UB series projectors, (although, in fairness, they came out with a serious performance upgrade for the 5030UB/6030UB which users can easily upgrade (we shot a video clip showing how.)  JVC had no new projectors this past year.  Then there are the quitters:  Mitsubishi exited the projector industry 2 years ago, and Sanyo almost four years ago. (bought by Panasonic's parent).

On the bright side, as noted, there are a total of 3 true 4K projectors shipping, and we'll see a lot more, probably a year from now.  When there are 4K DLP and LCD chips, that will mean a host of new 4K projectors, and I'll be busier again, with home theater projector reviews.

OK, time to talk awards and individual projectors!


About This Year’s Best 1080p Home Theater Projectors Report

For this year’s report, as usual, we’re changing things a bit.  Gone will be a lot of the discussion of how many projectors in each class have this feature or that, instead replaced by some straight forward charts.

We’ve always linked back to the full reviews. This time, we’ll link back to the full review, and if there’s a more recent summary, such those in our recent comparison of four $2000 to $3500 projectors, we’ll also link to that.  More importantly, we have a number of head to head comparisons, not just the 6 in our recent comparison article of 4 projectors, but some others, such as the Epson 5030UB vs the Panasonic, and the same Epson going up against the Sony HW55ES.  In some cases, for convenience we’ll even link to the summary page of the full review as well as the first page.

Rather than having including short summaries of every projector we reviewed, we've cut those out, as of last year.  We feel that the links provided to the ’ Summary Page of each projector's full review, should suffice for those curious about some of the projectors that didn’t make the awards cut.

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

Let's get going!

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