The 2018 Best Home Theater Projectors Report

Welcome to the 2018 Best Home Theater Projectors Report, our guide to help you find the home theater or home entertainment projector that’s right for you. As usual, 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 projectors (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. We will, however, be publishing a separate report of 1080p and lower resolution Pico and Pocket projectors in the coming months.

What To Expect In This Year's Report

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 the HC2040/HC2045.

This year, for the second time, 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, only seen it at trade shows, etc., and possibly have written a first look review (reviews written without having the projector in-house).

Home Theater Report Award Graphic
See List of Award Winners!

I’ve also decided to allow all the still current projectors reviewed in the 2016 and 2017 report to compete again in this 2018 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.

HC5040UB_ghostbusters-1080p_city_aerial
Scene from the end of Ghostbusters 2016: 4K with HDR, lots of pop to the image. Good blacks although scene too bright for the iris to be very effective

Example – the Epson 5040UB, which was excellent last year and had little competition. This year, there’s definitely more competition, but the 5040UB is still with us, and still one of the most competitive projectors around. It would be a shame to exclude such projectors just because they are a year or more old. Certainly the aforementioned Epson and several other older projectors picked up awards again this year!

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, and since last year’s report, we did bring in the UHD60 but not for a full review.

One final exception that I mention is a particular low-cost projector that we didn’t review, but did review its very similar predecessor. It’s included because it is one of the best selling under $1000 projectors out there. That would be the Optoma 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 started an Under $1000 class for Entry Level.

Now, we have that Entry Level Class called “Under $1000.” Next up is the $1000 – $2500 class. In addition to that, in this 2018 Best Home Theater Projectors Report, we changed the next “class” up to $2500 – $5000. Moving to more expensive projectors, the next class is now $5000 to $20,000. Finally, we’ve got a $20,000+ class, which, at this time, is only populated by three Sony models.  (We’d love it if JVC sent us their top of the line, for comparison!)

Our classes are organized by List Price (or in more than a few cases, what the manufacturer sells that projector for on their own site, when at a lower price). Also, 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 goods and therefore not full US warranties, so we won’t let them distort the normal selling price for purposes of evaluating value.

I do consider the street pricing, if significantly lower, in making decisions relating to awards, but, even if that won’t affect what price class the projector is placed in. In other words, in the $1000 to $2500 class, the fact that one projector sells for $1200 and another for $1900 will affect our rankings, as it should! But, if the list price is $1999 and a few dealers are at $1799, that would have little impact.

Entry Level Projector 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?”

And that folks, is the same concept that makes reviewing and awards subjective. My picks are subjective, and they reflect my well-known biases, or if you prefer – my priorities. 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 from a good one.

There are plenty of under $2000 projectors that do a great job on bright and average lit 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 no single best home theater projectors or home entertainment projectors – for everyone shopping around a particular price point.

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).

Since last year, there have been a great many new 4K capable projectors. As a result, they are plentiful in the $1000 – $2500 class, and in the $2500 – $5000 class. Two years ago, we only had a few 3LCD and LCoS projectors that could accept 4K – basically Epson, JVC, and Sony. The 4K UHD DLPs started rolling out over a year ago, but we’ve brought in about a dozen in the past 12 months.

Thanks to the new “lower resolution,” smaller DLP chips this year, we have 4K capable projectors in all price classes but entry level, and street pricing is getting very close to $1000 on a couple of models.

Mixing 4K capable projectors with 1080p projectors that are not, 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 (2716×1528 x 2), and a 1080p pixel shifter, the Epson HC4000 around the same price. 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 (Nikki and Chris, two of our reviewers, are millennials), aren’t bothering with cable, satellite or even DVD/Blu-ray. Many of you love to watch and stream 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 plugged in one of their streaming sticks and put on Netflix or other content. Lisa reviewed the Optoma ML750 in her Millennials series. Since then, we’ve received a couple/few full 1080p pocket projectors to review! Those are the ones that will be included in that separate report mentioned at the beginning of this page.

In this report, we’re focused on projectors that appeal to people whose interest is in 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 if they are fast enough for serious gamers, playing high-speed games.