Where Have All The NEW Home Theater Projectors Gone – Long Time Passing?

The Pro Cinema 4030 offers 2000 lumens and a three year warranty, it was the one of the few under $3000 projectors announced.

CEDIA news of new home theater projectors this year must be a major disappointment to most home theater enthusiasts.  I personally can’t recall a previous CEDIA in the last decade or so, with as few new projectors announced.  I’m definitely bummed!  It’s a good thing I wanted to learn a lot about smart Home Automation at CEDIA, so we can start covering it.  If I only had meetings this year with projector manufacturers, I could have been out of Denver in an afternoon!

What is stunning, is the lack of newly announced lower cost home projectors.  I’m talking under $2000, and it’s almost as bad in what I call the sweet spot of the market – projectors from $2000 to $3500 (in US prices).

Unless you are looking at $20,000+ projectors, the announcements of new home theater projectors were pretty much limited to three companies:  Epson, JVC, and Sony.

Where have all the other major projectors gone?  Major no shows at CEDIA this year:  Optoma, BenQ, Vivitek, Acer, Viewsonic – none exhibiting, although most had a few people taking meetings.  Business must go on (of course).  Those five names are five of the biggest when it comes to under $2000 projectors.  Optoma and BenQ in particular dominate the DLP market in lower cost projectors with the others hot on their heels.  Optoma in particular has probably more sub $1000 projectors than everyone else, yet not a new one this show!

Where on earth was Panasonic?  Sorry, no replacement for the PT-AR100U, nor the PT-AE8000U, so I guess we’ll have to wait another year.

Sanyo?   There’s a good old name we could always count on for a couple new projectors every year, but no, Matshushita (Panasonic’s parent) bought them a few years ago, resulting in the disappearance of the Sanyo projector brand.  (Sanyo batteries and solar are still out there I believe).

So what’s left?   Runco had a couple of new offerings including their LS12, a 3 chip DLP based on the LS10 that I previously reviewed, but with 3D added and other refinements, but then that’s $20,000+, so not too many will get excited about that one, except out of curiousity.

JVC – usually we can count on JVC replacing all their home theater models every year, but not this time.  This time around they left their bottom of the line models (still $3499), the DLA-X35 and DLA-RS46 in their lineup.  That makes their least expensive new models priced right at $5000.  That’s not going to help those of us without some decently deep pockets.  JVC did launch new higher end models, the $7999 and $11,999 respectively DLA-X700R / DLA-RS57U and the DLA-X900R / DLA-RS67U projectors.  (There are also two minor variations such as the DLA-RS6710U which has a few extras and is sold only through one distributor and their dealer channel.

Sony, did better at serving “the poor” home theater shoppers.  At least they have upgraded to the VPL-HW50ES to the new VPL-HW55ES projector.  That VPL-HW55ES is officially a $3999 projector but comes with spare lamp, and two pair of 3D glasses, so we figure that makes it a just under $3500 projector.  And of course Sony announced the VW600ES, their most affordable true 4K projector ($14999!)  Pricey, but consider the picture quality and resolution:

This heavily cropped close-up gives you an idea of what 4K can bring to your party! Projector: Sony VPL-VW600ES.

And so finally, that leaves us with only one major player out there with new offerings for those with budgets under $3499, and that, as those of you following my blog are aware of, is Epson.

Epson rolled out projectors in virtually every price range.  A couple of weeks before CEDIA they announced the Home Cinema 2000 and Home Cinema 2030 which we already reviewed.  That’ this fall’s only major brand new projectors under $1000 ($899 and $999 respectively).

Full Frame of Billy Joel concert with Tony Bennett. Projector: Sony VPL-VW600ES

They are similar but only the Home Cinema 2000 is available online.  But Epson wasn’t done.  They left the online Home Cinema 8350 in the lineup, but for the Pro side, sold through authorized local dealers they came up with a brand new projector, the Pro Cinema 4030 at $2499 with glasses, spare lamp, ceiling mount and 3 year warranty…   Around the same price but without the extras (except the 3D glasses) is the 5020UB replacement, the Home Cinema 5030UB, at $2699, and the Pro version the Pro Cinema 6030UB, under $4000 with all the extras.  Finally, They introduced three “family room” super bright home projectors, the Pro Cinema 4855WU, 6550WU and Pro Cinema 6900WU, with 4000, 5200, and 6000 lumens respectively.  That’s almost a new class of projectors for media rooms and for dealing with ambient light, with emphasis on 2D, and bright, rather than 2D/3D and home theater oriented.

But still, Even with Epson’s official 7 projectors, only one sells for under $2000!

Mind you this isn’t 2010, where we saw some drop off due to the global recession.  The world economy is moving along modestly, so what’s the excuse?

I’m not sure.  Are the low end folks afraid of 71 inch and 80 inch LCDTVs?  Shouldn’t be, projectors have always been a niche market.  Last year in the US, I believe the rough numbers were a little under 125,000 home projectors (pico projectors would not be included in that), compared to more than 2,000,000 business/education projectors, and 20 million LCDTVs and Plasmas.  So, it’s not like the home market is some huge untapped market, that no one wants to “own” (other than Epson apparently).

With home projectors moving out of the dedicated theater/cave, one would think there would be a surge in new projectors to fill the identified need for brighter, more general viewing projectors than dedicated movie projectors.  Sadly in the lower price ranges all we have a a few new “cross-over” projectors that have started shipping over the last few months.

Perhaps the problem is the manufacturers themselves.  For the decade or so that home theater projectors have been around (in under stratospheric price ranges), mostly the players have battled amongst themselves.  Texas Instruments’ DLP folks have been doing battle against the 3LCD projectors dominated by Epson, and vice versa.

Perhaps the players in the industry should launch a Home Projector Alliance, where instead of battling among each other as to which technology is better, they invest some money in educating the consumers to the advantages of projectors over LCD and Plasma TVs!

Consider three reasons why projectors should “rule”:

3D on a 42, or 65 inch LCDTV or Plasma TV is pretty pathetic.  It’s 3D, but the sense of immersion you get when you visit your IMAX or other 3D theater is  gone.  Folks, it’s the greater immersion that makes 3D potentially wonderful.  Why aren’t the projector companies screaming:  “You will have an even better 3D experience in your home, than even in the theaters. 3D on small screens just doesn’t cut it, as many LCDTV owners have learned.  Time to step up to the real world!”

Sony's VPL-VW600ES - Lowest cost true 4K projector, 1700 lumens and amazing!

True 4K resolution:  What’s with 4K?  Like anyone needs 4K on a 40 or 55″ LCD TV (seriously!) Ok 4K might be useful if you plan to sit 3 feet away from a 55″.  Projector owners are the ones who will appreciate and revel over 4K when the prices reach most of us.  Perhaps next CEDIA we’ll see 4K not only under $10,000 but perhaps in the $5000 – $8000 range?  We can only hope.  Meantime, only Sony is making 4K panels.  Tsk Tsk!

Beyond the “Cave” and Theater:  The other thing these manufacturers have to share with the population of LCDTV buyers is that you no longer need a near perfect room to enjoy it all! A few years ago, few projectors measured over 1200 lumens in any mode.  Today, projectors with 1500, 2000, 3000 and even more brightness are being designed for your bonus room and family room, your media center…  Today there are bright projectors and new screens that make watching a projector even in some pretty scarily bright rooms a reality!

Finally, many of us with projectors are enthusiasts.  We mostly try to convince our friends that they should buy a projector, but we try to make them enthusiasts too.  As a result we talk performance, not experience.  We make home projectors sound complicated while Best Buy and Costco make LCDTV’s easy.   So we too are in part to blame.

Projector Reviews:  This will be an interesting 5 months in terms of reviewing.  Normally from CEDIA until end of February, I only review home projectors.  My other guys tackle business and education projectors but I normally have 20 or more projectors to review in that time period, and then do our annual report.   This year, the count is low.  So as not doing any duplicates, all I’ve got on my agenda, is 6 Epsons, 3 JVCs, 3 Sonys and a Runco so far.  Folks that’s a half load.  I imagine I’ll bring in a couple we haven’t gotten to, including BenQ’s W1500, and perhaps a couple of low cost Optoma projectors we haven’t gotten around to (mostly 720p gaming projectors).  Even so, that’s a “light load”.  I’ll mostly be waiting for projectors to arrive, than having them stacked up waiting their turn.

Well, if you think you are frustrated by the lack of choices this fall, I’d be downright depressed, if it weren’t that there are those of $3500 and up projectors, and those tend to usually be the most enjoyable.  Thankfully, I’m sitting here with the Sony VW600ES 4K projector running in the background, which goes a long way to keeping my faith in front projection.  Well, hang in there. I’ve already posted a “First Look” Review of the Sony VW600ES, and I’m told the first of the Epson projectors will arrive in the next 4-5 days.  I’m going to have to wait patiently though for the JVC’s which aren’t due for at least another month, and ditto for the Sony VPL-VW1100ES.

Well, hang in there.  And there is some hope.  The Taiwanese companies – Optoma, BenQ, etc. often put out new projectors on what seems to be a random basis, perhaps they’ll surprise us with a couple of entries before we finish our holiday shopping. -art

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