Are you are gearing up for the big game, love special effects, or planning some stay-at-home date nights? If so, one of these 4K projectors can light up your home entertainment.
Key Features of a Great 4K Home Theater Projector
Home theater projectors have been niche players in the high definition video entertainment market for years. Flat-Panel LCD/LED HDTVs are constantly getting larger, smarter, and cheaper, putting more pressure on the home theater projector business. But for those of you who haven’t watched the Super Bowl or an action-packed movie on a 100-inch, 4K projection system, you don’t know what you’re missing!
To select the right 4K projector, though, there are a few key things you should consider:
- 4K or “faux” K: Most consumer-grade 4K projectors do not actually project a true, native 4K image. Instead, they employ a technique called pixel shifting. They shift (move) a 1080 p picture very rapidly to simulate a 4K frame. This happens so fast, the human eye can’t perceive it’s not a natively-produced 4K image. The result is a much higher perceived resolution that uses much cheaper hardware. A native 4K projector has a better picture, but it’s very difficult to detect unless you look at the two projected pictures side-by-side.
- DLP or LCD imaging: The projector creates the picture with either a DLP chip or LCD glass panels. Image engine choice is a complex decision as each technology has pros and cons. But the most important concepts are that LCD provides a sharper, more colorful picture, while DLP typically provides better brightness and contrast. DLP projectors also usually last longer—LCD glass panels degrade over time. One downside of DLP, though, is that some people are susceptible to the rainbow effect.
- Brightness and contrast ratio: Light output (measured in lumens) and contrast ratio determine how well you can see color and black level depth when ambient light is present. Most projectors do well when you operate them in a completely dark room. But how does the picture look when outside light is present? Higher lumens and higher contrast ratio improve the projector’s ability to overcome ambient light.
- Throw distance: Not everyone has complete control over where they can put their projector. For example, if you rent, you probably can’t mount a projector to the ceiling and run wires through walls. Also, if a room has a shallow depth, you might not have much distance between the back and projection walls. In these cases, you might want to get a short- or ultra-short-throw projector.
- High Dynamic Range (HDR) support: HDR or HDR10 support indicates the device supports at least a 10-bit dynamic range to encode luminance and color. Basically, whites are whiter, blacks are blacker, and colors pop more on devices that support HDR.
We considered the features above as we chose projectors for this list. Our choices should meet the requirements of most folks who are creating a home theater.
Best Overall: Epson Home Cinema 5050UB
The best 4K projector for most people should have an excellent picture, be bright enough to handle ambient light, and have a throw distance that allows flexible placement options. All of that sums up the Epson Home Cinema 5050UB perfectly!
Epson has been manufacturing LCD-type home theater projectors for over a decade. It basically perfected the technology and led the industry in the production of LCD projector panels. The 5050UB employs the pixel shift technique in a 3LCD configuration (independent red, green, and blue panels combined through a prism) for a 4K picture that is almost indistinguishable from native 4K.
Max brightness comes in at 2,600 lumens, most of which are fully available when in dynamic display mode. A total of six display modes are possible to enhance various viewing conditions. Each display mode prioritizes lumens differently. The dimmest mode is digital cinema, which comes in at just over 1,000 lumens. The contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1 is also excellent, particularly for an LCD projector. It also supports HDR.
The 5050UB has a zoom lens that spans a throw ratio of 1.35:1 to 2.84:1. This allows the projector to create a 100-inch diagonal picture in a range of just under 10 feet to just over 20 feet away from the projection wall. It’s also one of the few projectors that provides both horizontal and vertical lens shift capabilities. Lens shift is a physical manipulation of the lens angle that eliminates the keystone effect, so the projector doesn’t have to be in the center of the projection screen. This means you can put the 5050UB projector on a shelf in the back left or right corner of the room and achieve a near-perfect 16:9 rectangle!
If the HDMI cables are a challenge, consider the Epson 5050UBe variant. It’s basically identical to the 5050UB, but it supports WirelessHD (WiHD) and 4K wireless HDMI.
Premium Pick: Sony Home Theater VPL-VW295ES
The Sony VPL-VW295ES utilizes a sophisticated Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCOS) technology that merges the best features of LCD and DLP into an elegant (and expensive) hybrid solution. This projector is within the value segment of the native 4K projector category, and yet it’s still quite expensive. But for some people, only a full 8.8 million pixels for each color (red, green and blue) for a total of over 26 million pixels will do. If you want native 4K and you have a bigger budget, the VPL-VW295ES projector is for you.
When it comes to optics, Sony goes all-in on quality and features. This projector faithfully represents. It fully supports HDR and has a low latency imaging engine (for gaming), in addition to the precision of native 4K output. If you’re into 3-D, this is also one of the few 4K projectors that support it.
The Sony is meant for a true home theater environment in which you can control the ambient light, as brightness specs reach just 1,500 lumens. The manufacturer doesn’t list the contrast ratio. This is probably because it’s not very relevant—the LCOS technology provides the high contrast goodness of DLP without the rainbow effect. However, the VPL-VW295ES is sufficiently watchable, even with a bit of ambient light in the room.
The zoom lens on the Sony provides a throw ratio that ranges from 1.36:1 to 2.79:1. This means you’ll need to place it between 10 and just over 20 feet to throw a 100-inch diagonal picture. The Sony also features both horizontal and vertical lens shift to help dial in a perfect rectangle, regardless of its location.
Best Value: Viewsonic PX727-4K
The Viewsonic PX727-4K provides a feature list similar to the Epson Home Cinema 5050UB at a much lower price point. To do this, it uses lower-cost DLP technology and pixel shifting to achieve a 4K picture that looks great.
The Viewsonic sports a brightness of 2,200 lumens and a respectable contrast ratio of 12,000:1. It also uses HDR to provide a crisp picture comprised of excellent shadow definition and vibrant colors. This value-oriented projector sacrifices lens shift capability, though, so you’ll need to get the projector lens centered on the screen. The modest zoom lens results in a shorter throw range of just under 11 to just over 13 feet that projects a 100-inch picture.
Best Ultra-Short Throw: Vava 4K Ultra-Short Throw Laser Projector
The Vava 4K Ultra-Short Throw (UST) projector segment is just now getting into reasonable-price territory. An Indigogo campaign funded the Vava, but it’s scheduled to begin shipping to backers very soon. Several projector manufacturers have announced products for this year, but few have come to market. Vava is leading the way in price, features, and availability.
You have to place the Vava just 7.2 inches away from the wall to achieve a 100-inch picture, or you can move it out to 16.7 inches for a 150-inch picture. Setup is easy and requires only a small table positioned below the projection surface. A Harmon Kardon sound system provides room-filling sound right from the projector!
The Vava projects a clear, bright picture with up to 2,500 lumens, and a decent 3,000:1 contrast ratio. It also supports HDR. While the VAVA is a DLP projector, it uses a laser light source that’s rated for an incredible 25,000 hours of operation!
The Vava is also a smart device that combines Wi-Fi and ethernet connectivity with an Android App Store to enable most video channel apps. The Vava is perfect for those who want a super-easy setup or have limited placement options.