Home Theater Projector Shootout:
Home Theater Projectors under $1,000
If you want to spend less than a thousand bucks on a good home theater projector, here are five of the best new options on the market. This shootout compares five newly released 1920x1080 resolution home theater projectors that are priced between $799 and $999, including in alpha order the BenQ HT3050, the BenQ HT2050, the Epson Home Cinema 2040, the Optoma HD28DSE, and the Viewsonic LightStream PJD7835HD. To start with, here are the prices, warranties, and technology type:
|Epson Home Cinema 2040|
There is no such thing, at least in this group, as the "best" projector. Why? Because each of our five projectors has unique attributes that may be of more or less importance to you. For example, when one projector has deeper black levels but is not quite as sharp as another, people would disagree on which is the "best." One projector might do an outstanding job with 2D but its 3D image is lackluster, while a different model has terrific 3D, but its 2D image is less impressive. Which of these projectors is the "best" for you depends on how important 3D viewing is to you.
No single projector in this shootout does everything the best -- they've all got advantages and they've all got flaws. Our purpose here is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each product, and let you decide which one most closely meets your needs.
There is a lot of discussion about color balance and calibration in these reviews. Let's put this into perspective right up front. There are two truisms to bear in mind:
1. Most consumers will think the factory calibrated pictures they get from any of the five projectors in this shootout are just fine as they are coming out of the box, without any need for adjustments or calibrations.
2. The picture quality on virtually all projectors can be improved with a professional calibration.
Projector manufacturers are paying more attention to proper video calibrations than they used to. Some are promoting the fact that they are making a specific effort to target HD Rec 709 standards in their Movie or Cinema factory calibrations. Other vendors have created Cinema or Movie calibrations designed to target HD color standards without specifically marketing them as such. So the good news is that you are much more likely to pull a new projector out of the box, fire it up, and get a picture that blows you away without having to bother with a professional calibration.
HOWEVER. Though vendors are paying more attention to calibration for best video, it is only by the rarest of accidents that a projector comes out of the box perfectly calibrated. Factory calibrations are always approximations, as each unit and (more importantly) each lamp is different. The high pressure lamps used in inexpensive projectors do not emit the ideal 6500K white light; they tend to be biased toward blue-green. The Cinema or Rec 709 factory calibrations help to compensate for the anticipated color errors introduced by the lamps, but there is no way that vendors could afford to custom calibrate each unit for each individual lamp during the manufacturing process.
Bottom line, if you set up two different projectors side by side that have both been "factory pre-calibrated to Rec 709," odds are the colors will look different. And, odds are, they are both wrong. But they will both look a lot better (that is, a lot closer to the theoretical ideal) than if no attempt at calibration had been done.
If you want your projector to be tuned up to its absolute best potential, a certified technician will need to spend a couple hours dialing it in. And even then, one person's "optimal" picture may not be another's. While there are objective targets defined as ideals, there is a lot of room for personal taste when it comes to setting up a video picture to your ultimate satisfaction.
The problem is, professional calibrations can cost $300 or more, which is a huge chunk of change to add to the cost of an $800 projector. Most buyers won't do that. And for most buyers, it isn't necessary. Think about this -- TVs are just as erroneous as projectors, often more so. But when's the last time you heard of anyone needing to hire a professional to calibrate their TV before they could enjoy the picture? Probably never.
So take the discussion about color balance and accuracy in these reviews with a grain of salt. They will mean something to serious home theater fans, and the issues are legitimate because people going to the trouble to install a projection system generally want better performance than the typical TV watcher. But all of the projectors in this group have factory defined picture modes that will dazzle and delight most consumers. They give you a big screen experience you can love without messing with any calibration at all. Once you install one of them and get familiar with its features, how much of a stickler you may want to be for fine tuning and technical precision is up to you.
|Review Contents:||The Best Projector||Performance||Installation Notes||Lamp Life and Price|
|BenQ HT3050||BenQ HT2050||Epson HC 2040||Optoma HD28DSE|
Buy the BenQ HT2050 online here:
Buy the BenQ HT3050 online here:
Buy the Epson Home Cinema 2040 online here:
Buy the Optoma HD28DSE online here:
Buy the ViewSonic PJD7835HD online here: