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Projector or Flat Panel: Things to Consider When Choosing a Display

Posted on December 3, 2023 by Phil Jones
Flat Panel or Projector - Projector Reviews Images

Sony is a leading manufacturer of 4K Home Theater projectors and premium flat panel displays. As LCD and OLED TVs get more and more enormous, many may wonder why Sony still even makes home theater projectors. In this article sponsored by Sony, we will discuss why Sony continues to produce both options and help you determine which type of display best fits your needs.

Suppose you are looking for a truly massive cinema screen that exceeds 180”. In that case, it is obvious that for most customers (except for the uber-rich), a projector system is the best solution. However, most home theater screens range between 85” and 120” and when you’re talking about those size screens, the choice of what to buy to outfit your dream home theater room may not be so cut and dry.

Back in 2021, when enormous 85”+ flat panel TVs started dipping into price points in the range of affordability for regular consumers, we wrote an article asking if home projectors were still a good buy for home video enthusiasts (you can read the article here). At the time we wrote that 2021 article, we were in the height of the pandemic. Most of us were staying home, and lots of us were missing the immersive, cinematic theater experience. We were anxious to recreate cinema magic in the home (without all the Coke spilled on the floor). If you wanted to buy a 100” flat panel TV like the Sony XR10092 back in 2021, it retailed for a whopping $20,000 - the cost of a Kia Soul.

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Two years later, in 2023, many of us are happily back in the theater, scarfing popcorn with an indecent amount of buttery topping (that is suspiciously not called “butter” by any major theater chain), watching Barbie or Oppenheimer. But - we’ve had a heady taste of the home theater experience, where the Milk Duds are cheap, we never have to share an armrest, and the bathroom breaks are whenever we want. A 65” or even 75” TV in the living room just won’t scratch that movie theater itch. We want life-size actors and bigger than life-size explosions.

The home theater landscape has continued to evolve because manufacturers like Sony never stop innovating. Since 2021, massive, high quality flat panel TVs have gotten even more affordable. So, it’s the perfect time to revisit the question we asked back in 2021 and ask - if you want to create a true, immersive home theater experience at home, should you buy one of the new massive flat panel TVs or should you buy a projector? We’re going to help you make the best choice for your circumstances.

Both Display Solutions Deliver Outstanding Picture Quality

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Sony premium flat panels and 4k home theater projectors deliver class-leading picture quality

As we said earlier, Sony manufactures state-of-the-art flat panel displays and home projection systems, and there’s a reason why both types of display still exist. Whether you buy a premium large-screen flat panel or a premium home theater projector, any Sony display can deliver a cinematic, accurate, realistic image - a true immersive cinematic experience for your home.

Modern Sony 4K laser projectors are bright and nearly maintenance-free, so they can be used in environments where previously flat panels were the only viable solution. With older projector models, you might have felt like you couldn’t run the lamp for hours daily because of the substantial chunk of change to replace the bulbs. Content had to be “bulb-worthy” when you only had a limited number of hours to use a projector!

All Sony projectors now use a reliable laser light source which offers 20,000 hours of use at optimal brightness. With one of these modern projectors, you can settle down to watch the extended versions of the LOTR movies back-to-back (and maybe even add The Hobbit) or a college football game day marathon without worrying about the cost of maintaining a bulb.

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If you watched the projector for 8 hours a day, five days a week, the laser light engine would last about a decade! In addition to a cost-effective laser light source, today’s projectors feature other innovations that overcome former projector obstacles. The VPL-XW5000ES is not only brighter, it’s about 20% smaller in volume and 30% lighter than its predecessor, VPL-VW915ES so it blends easier into any room. An improved cooling system means the VPL-XW5000ES runs quietly without any obtrusive fan noise.

Projectors also have a reputation for poorly displaying HDR video - some projectors just aren’t bright enough or don’t have the contrast ratio needed to display optimal HDR. Even at the entry-level, Sony’s VPL-XW5000ES projector features an Object-based HDR Remaster and Dynamic HDR Enhancer so you will get the most realistic picture, with depth and texture, while at the same time processing HDR content scene by scene for bright 4K HDR images even in movies with dark scenes.

So, when deciding which type of display is best for your media room or home theater, there are several things you will need to consider.

The Dollar Per Inch Crossover Point

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When screen sizes exceed 100", for most customers, a projector like the XW5000ES is a better option. 

Most of us live in regular-people houses or apartments and if you’re a movie lover or sports fanatic who wants to create the most immersive big-screen experience in the home, you probably want to set up in a media room or theater space with some ability to control the lighting situation (if you have a wall of floor to ceiling windows, a flat panel TV is likely your best bet).

Let’s say you have the space for a 100” image AND you want a 100” image AND direct lighting isn’t a concern - the second question to ask yourself: how much is that ultra large screen experience going to cost?

An 85” flat panel TV is a large image, but anyone looking for a really large screen is looking for a MASSIVE-size screen that is measured in feet, not inches. This is why Sony manufactures a lineup of premium, native 4K home theater projectors, and its entry-level projector, the VPL-XW5000ES, sells for around $5,000.

Back in 2021, a 100” flat panel TV cost almost $20,000. Today it’s “only” $8,000, but that’s still significantly more than the cost of a Sony XW5000ES - even when you throw in a 100” screen. If you want a flat panel display larger than 100”, you’ll pay the price of an ultra-luxury vehicle to go get it.

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The Crossover Point where a projector becomes a better value is about 100"

Currently, when it comes to flat panel TVs vs. home theater projectors, there’s a “crossover” point where the price-per-inch starts to favor one method of display or the other. Once you reach that crossover point (and today it’s around 100”) – a projector offers the best value to performance ratio. Back in the days when I was at Sony, I remember doing training on 85” TVs that retailed for $40,000.

The cost of ultra large screen flat panel televisions continues to drop, making a big screen flat panel TV even more attractive. You can buy a premium 85” TV for less than $2,000. If you are happy with a screen size under 85”, you can do some quick “cost per inch” cocktail napkin math to calculate options and the cost per inch is going to be better for a flat panel TV. That “crossover point,” where the cost starts to favor one type of display over the other, is constantly shifting.

Looking at the cost of ultra large flat panel TVs today, it’s easy to see how the cost of a massive display isn’t a straight line that gently goes up as the screen size increases. When you start pricing REALLY BIG flat panel displays, the ratio of cost per inch starts to shoot straight up like Maverick making the run up the side of the mountain in the newest Top Gun movie. To go up just 15” – the price QUADRUPLES. Definitely the budget equivalent to pulling 10Gs, the typical consumer might pass out!

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Sony Crystal LED display produces an amazing image, but they cost significantly more than a projector

If you have the space, and you want the biggest display possible, are you willing to pay for a premium for the ultimate solution? If you are lucky enough to have unlimited space AND an unlimited budget, you should check out a Micro LED wall. With a bezel-free design, you can stack multiple panels of a Sony Crystal LED modular display system in any configuration for a large, custom solution to fit any space, with zero worries about the ambient light in the room.

However, most of us don’t live in a multi-million-dollar Palm Beach compound, so an 8-figure budget (plus the hefty cost of yearly maintenance) is out of the question. Still, a Micro LED wall is exciting technology and the cost continues to creep down every year. Maybe in 10-15 years (or sooner?) a custom Micro LED wall WILL be the solution we recommend for you? Keep checking back!

Ultra Large Flat Panels: Placement and Installation Challenges

In the future, the crossover point might even be 120” or even larger – which is fine, but we still have to ask ourselves that third question, how are you going to manhandle a massive, fragile flat panel TV up your stairs and into your space?

Sony’s latest 100” beauty, the XR-98X90L, is on sale right now, today, for only $7,999. It has all the bells and whistles you’d expect (and more!) from a premium flat panel TV, including Sony’s flagship processor, wide dynamic contrast, accurate colors with XR Triluminos colors, and smart features like Google TV and Google Assistant.

Some people might think a projector is too complicated and a flat panel TV is “easier” with apps like Netflix and Disney Plus built-in and onboard sound, everyone knows how to use a TV, after all. However, as you move into larger sizes (greater than 85”), it’s usually easier to transport and install a projector in many applications.

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Massive flat panel TVs are heavy, fragile, and difficult to transport and install

In a lot of situations, a flat panel might be the right choice (especially under 85”), but for very large sizes, other factors might lead you to consider a projector instead. It's great that TVs are getting more and more budget-friendly, but space and cost aren’t the only things to consider.

As flat panel displays get bigger, they get harder to transport and install. For example, Sony’s XR-98X90L is big. I mean, really big. You’re going to need a small team to move it, the carton weighs nearly 200 lbs. and that carton is nearly 8 feet wide. The TV without the stand weighs about 150 lbs., and the TV itself is over 7 feet wide. Imagine installing a TV that’s the same width as Shaquille O’Neal is tall!

If you are moving it to the first floor of a house, that might be manageable. You’re definitely going to have some issues squeezing the carton into a standard elevator if you live in an apartment building and that carton is definitely not going to fit up a typical staircase.

If you do manage to maneuver what’s basically a large, flat piece of breakable glass into the right space, you’re going to need a large, rugged stand to handle the sizable weight or a heavy-duty wall mount if you want to hang it on the wall. A 100”+ flat panel display requires an exceptionally strong cabinet or a reinforced wall. The specialized cabinet that can hold a TV of that size alone might cost more than a Sony 4K projector!

Even if you have enough wall space to dedicate to a massive flat panel, and are you willing to have that wall always dominated by that display? When you turn that big flat panel TV off, you are going to have to stare into the yawning abyss of a 98” black hole on the wall. That big flat-panel TV will always take up a big space, even when it’s off. As a solution, when a projector is paired with a retractable screen, it allows the image to disappear when it’s powered off.

Sound System Integration

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Several companies make acoustically transparent screens where you can hide massive sound behind a massive screen

Let’s shift gears and talk about how a projector-based home theater system can deliver a better audio experience. While there are customers who will utilize the tiny sound systems built into their flat panel TVs, real entertainment junkies want massive thundering sound to complement a huge image.

If you’re picturing the perfect immersive home theater, you’re dreaming of couch-shaking bass, the full-throated roar of a crowd, and heart-stopping surround. Modern flat panel TVs are slim and sexy - but too slim for speakers big enough to generate a real, immersive experience. If you buy a big flat panel TV for a movie-like experience or optimal game night, you’re definitely going to buy a sound system to match.

When you put that spiffy sound bar or high-end center channel under your TV, that’s where the sound is going to come from - under the TV. When the actors speak on the screen, their voice will come from UNDER the TV. With a projector, you can install a nice set of speakers and/or a center channel BEHIND an acoustically transparent screen so that when the actors speak, the sound seems to come directly from their mouths. The difference is amazing and so much more realistic, which is why there are speakers are behind the screen in most professional theaters. If cinematic sound is the ultimate goal for your dream home theater, a projector might be the better solution.

Summary

There are definitely many factors to consider when purchasing the right gear for your perfect home theater. As we’ve seen since our last article in 2021, flat panel TVs just keep getting larger and more affordable, but the elevator and stairs in your building just can’t innovate to keep up! If you want a great image at 75”-85” inches, Sony has some amazing flat-panel TV options for you at budget-friendly prices. But - when you go from measuring your images from inches to feet - you see why Sony continues to be an industry leader in the projector category.

A screen probably weighs less than 30 lbs. and can be hung on regular wall anchors. Remember the “black hole” issue of a big flat panel screen turned off? You can make a projector screen completely disappear when not in use (it can rise from the floor or drop from the ceiling, as desired). Another advantage of a projector screen - you can start “small” with a 120” screen and later upgrade to a larger 145” screen. The picture’s zoomable, so it’s a relatively cost-effective investment to increase your screen size by 20%. You could never do that with a flat-panel TV.

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A projection system will continue to be the best option for a truly massive picture in your home 

Of course, when you buy a projector, you WILL need a screen (especially a ceiling light-rejecting screen to help subdue any ambient light in the room). The total outlay for a projector and screen can be less than $6,000. When you compare the cost of a 100” flat panel TV to an entry-level 4K projector and 120” screen – again the cost per inch starts to rapidly favor a projector. Unlike the back-breaking weight of an enormous flat-panel TV, a projector screen can be easily installed in less than an hour by a single person.

While TVs are getting bigger, there’s definitely a reason why projectors continue to exist and continue to be popular choices for a home theater solution. When looking at cost per inch, the bigger the image, a projector is the most affordable and easy-to-install option.

If you want the biggest screen possible and your budget isn’t unlimited, a projector offers the largest options in the most portable form factors (at least until sometime in the future when you can buy a Micro LED wall system at any big box store). Regardless of whether you decide on an ultra-large flat-panel TV or a home projector, you should always consider a Sony solution.

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2023-2024 Sony XW Series Projector Lineup

Sony offers a total of five 4K HDR home theater projectors, starting with the XW5000ES ($6,000 SRP) and moving up to the flagship GTZ380 which is $80,000 (minus the ARC-F Lens). The Sony VPL-XW5000ES (2,000 ANSI lumens) with a retail price of $5999 is still the least expensive native 4K projector on the market.

Stepping up to the VPL-XW6000ES ($12,000 SRP) adds an upgraded, motorized ACF (Advanced Crisp Focused) lens with picture position memories along with an additional 500 ANSI lumens of brightness and support for 3D. The VPL-XW7000ES ($28,000 SRP) offers comparable optics, and 700 ANSI lumens more brightness.

To learn more about the benefits and differences between Sony’s latest XW-Series, read our detailed overview article entitled  Explore Sony's New 4K SXRD Projectors: VPL-XW5000ES, VPL-XW6000ES, and VPL-XW7000ES. We were given the opportunity to review the Sony entire 4K Home Theater projector lineup, and we were impressed with the performance of every model.

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Why choose between a flat panel and a projector when you can have both?

Below is a list of questions you ask yourself, and if any of the answers are No, a projector is probably the better option for you.

  • Do I want a screen smaller than 100”

  • Do I have an exceptionally large budget?

  • If you live on a higher floor, can you carry a massive box up several flights of stairs or fit it in the elevator?

Still can't decide? Why choose one display over another when you have both? When I wanted to increase the video display size in my family room, I didn't buy a bigger flat panel; I hung a larger motorized screen in front of my 75-inch OLED. The family uses the smaller flat panel for casual viewing, and we fire up the projector when watching our favorite TV shows, movies, and sporting events.

Regardless of your needs, Sony offers a display solution that will work in your specifc environment. Check out the Sony Premium Home website to learn more about Sony's display options.

One of the great things about Sony is that they provide different solutions so you can find the option that perfectly fits your lifestyle, your home, and your wallet. So, in conclusion, for those that are measuring their display in feet instead of inches, a projector like the VPL-XW5000ES is a sound decision.

© 2023 Projector Reviews

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