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AVS Forum's Top 10 Projectors

If you want a true cinematic experience at home, nothing beats a front projector and a separate screen, just like they use in commercial theaters. Such a system can provide a much larger picture than just about any flat panel. On the downside, projectors are trickier to set up than flat panels, and in most cases, the picture washes out with even a little ambient light in the room. You can combat this by getting an ambient light-rejecting screen and/or a very bright projector, but both of these options increase the total cost.


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Lamps & Lumens


Most consumer projectors use a UHP (ultra-high pressure) lamp as the light source, which has a finite lifespan—typically a couple of thousand hours—before it must be replaced. (A few very expensive projectors use LEDs as the light source, which last much longer than conventional lamps, but they're not as bright.) Depending on the projector's design, it's fairly easy to replace the lamp, but they often cost $100 to $300 or more. At four hours per day, seven days per week, you'll need to replace the lamp every 16 months or so—and you'll need to recalibrate the projector every time. Many projectors include an "Eco" mode that drives the lamp less hard to make it last longer, but this also decreases the brightness.


Projector manufacturers specify the brightness of their products in lumens, which is a measure of the total amount of visible light emitted, taking into account the sensitivity of the human eye to different wavelengths. There are various ways to measure lumens, including a procedure developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), so if you see a projector's brightness specified in ANSI lumens, the manufacturer presumably used the ANSI procedure. This spec is most useful in comparing one projector to another, especially if they are both in ANSI lumens—the higher the number, the brighter the image will be on a screen of a given size. If one is in ANSI lumens and the other isn't, it's like comparing apples to oranges—in other words, the comparison is meaningless.


Then there's the specified contrast ratio—the ratio of the brightest white to the darkest black that the projector can produce. This spec is relatively meaningless to begin with, because the measurements are usually performed under ideal rather than real-world conditions. Also, most manufacturers specify dynamic contrast, in which a dynamic, automatic iris opens up for bright images and closes down for dark images. If you measure the contrast ratio with a dynamic iris, you'll get a much larger number than the projector's native contrast. Unfortunately, the operation of a dynamic iris is often visible—the brightness seems to "pump" up and down—so I usually disable the dynamic iris and leave it at a fixed value.


Routine Screening


Don't forget the screen in your budget. Some people think that simply shining a projector on a white wall is sufficient, but it's not. Walls have dips and bumps that can distort the image, and the paint might not be uniform in its reflective properties. There are special thick paints that can be used as a screen, but most people buy a fixed or retractable screen made of a special material that reflects the light from the projector in a very uniform way. As mentioned earlier, some screens can mitigate the effect of ambient room light, which would otherwise wash out the picture.


Of course, you can get a screen in a range of sizes, typically from 80 to 120 inches diagonally or more, and the price varies accordingly; plan to spend around $1000 to $2000 or more for a high-quality fixed screen. (Projector manufacturers often claim that their projectors can fill screens up to 300 inches, but that is wildly overoptimistic in most cases.) Keep in mind that the larger the screen, the less bright the image will be, though the blacks will be deeper as well.


"The larger the screen, the less bright the image will be, though the blacks will be deeper as well."

Also, virtually all projectors have a zoom lens, so they can fill a screen of a given size from a range of distances, which is called the throw range. Conversely, they can fill a screen of various sizes from a given distance. However, there are limits to these ranges, so if you know the distance your projector will be from the screen, you can calculate the range of screen sizes it can fill. On the other hand, if you know the screen size, you can calculate the range of distances at which the projector can be placed to fill it. Many projector manufacturers provide a screen size/distance calculator on their websites.


Ideally, you should place the projector so its lens axis—the imaginary line extending through the center of the lens to the screen—is perpendicular to the plane of the screen. If it's not perpendicular, the image won't be rectangular to match the edges of the screen. Most projectors provide controls in the menu called horizontal and vertical keystone that can electronically correct the shape of the image, but this also reduces the visible detail, so I don't recommend using it if at all possible.


In addition, the projector should be placed so the lens axis is horizontally centered on the screen. You might think that the lens axis should be vertically centered on the screen as well, but many projectors shoot the image upward or downward with respect to the lens axis, so they might need to be placed so the lens axis points at the top or bottom of the screen.


If you can't place the projector as recommended above, many models provide lens-shift controls that move the lens—and thus the image—up and down as well as left and right. This greatly increases the flexibility of placement, and I highly recommend getting a projector with these controls. Lower-cost models have manual lens-shift controls, while more expensive units have motorized lens shift.


Aspect Ratios & Black Bars


Nearly all consumer projectors produce an image with a native aspect ratio (the ratio of the width to the height) of 16:9 or, equivalently, 1.78:1, which is the same aspect ratio as most flat-panel TVs and broadcast HDTV images. But most movies use a different aspect ratio—typically, 1.85:1 or 2.35:1. When played from Blu-rays and broadcast signals, these movies have black "letterbox" bars above and below the active image area within a 16:9 screen.


To eliminate the black letterbox bars, some projector buyers get a screen with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 so the image of a 2.35:1 movie can fill the screen. There are two basic ways to do this. The first is to add an anamorphic lens (which is usually very expensive) if the projector has the processing to accommodate one. The other is to zoom the projector's main lens so the movie fills the screen and the black letterbox bars are "pushed" above and below the screen.


If you use an anamorphic lens and you want to watch something with an aspect ratio of 16:9, you can move the lens out of the way or have the projector process the image so it looks correct. If you zoom the projector's main lens for 2.35:1 movies, you can simply zoom it out to see 16:9. Some projectors provide what are called "lens memories" that store the motorized zoom and focus settings for different aspect ratios, letting you switch between them with the push of a button. For more on these approaches, see the poll here.


The projectors in this buying guide were selected as the best 1080p models available at the end of 2013 by consulting various review outlets such as CNET, Sound & Vision, ProjectorCentral.com, and ProjectorReviews.com as well as AVS reviews and owner threads and a special call out to members for their top picks.


BenQ W1070 (MSRP $1200)


This little gem is well-liked by AVS members for its surprisingly good picture quality and 3D capabilities, though you must buy the active-shutter 3D glasses separately for $100 a pop. And being a single-chip DLP model, some people will see something called the rainbow effect—momentary red-green-blue rainbows trailing bright highlights on a dark background as you move your eyes around the screen. But single-chip DLP also means the alignment of red, green, and blue is perfect, making for a sharp picture. It provides vertical lens shift (not horizontal), which you adjust using a small screwdriver—kind of a pain, but better than nothing.


Note: The BenQ W7000 (MSRP $2000) is another AVS favorite, but it's been discontinued, so it's not included in this buying guide.


Scott Says: If you want a good projector for the least amount of money—and you're not sensitive to the rainbow effect—this is a great choice.





Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8350 (MSRP $1300)


Like the BenQ W1070, the Epson 8350 has been around for a while, and it's still going strong. It offers no 3D capability, but it does provide easy-to-use vertical and horizontal manual lens-shift controls, which makes placement very flexible. Because it's based on LCD technology—as all Epson projectors are—there is no rainbow effect. The blacks aren't that deep, but the colors are excellent, as is the shadow detail.


Scott Says: If you don't care about 3D and you're sensitive to the single-chip DLP rainbow effect, this is an excellent entry-level projector.











Sony VPL-HW30ES (MSRP $2500)


Sony projectors are based on SXRD (Silicon X-tal [Crystal] Reflective Display), Sony's version of LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon). The VPL-HW30ES offers 3D capabilities, but the glasses and IR emitter must be bought separately; if you want those items bundled, you can get the VPL-HW30AES with two pairs of glasses and an emitter for an extra $300. It's also quite bright, which is great for 3D, and the colors are excellent; deep blacks, too. The lens zoom, focus, and shift are all manual with no memories, and it can't accommodate an anamorphic lens. However, its SXRD panels can be electronically shifted to improve red/green/blue alignment if necessary.


Note: Two other Sony models—the VPL-HW50ES (MSRP $4000) and VPL-VW95ES (MSRP $6000)—have been discontinued, so they're not included in this buying guide. If you can find either one at a deep discount, they are well worth grabbing while you can.


Scott Says: This projector gets most things very right and few if any things wrong. A top choice in this price range.





Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5020UB (MSRP $2600); 5020UBe (MSRP $2900)


The Epson 5020UB delivers on its model designation (UB = "Ultra Black"), at least with the dynamic iris engaged. Colors are beautiful, shadow detail is excellent, and it's a bit brighter than the 3020; in fact, it earned CNET's Editors' Choice award. And it's THX certified, which means it conforms to the well-established video standards for color and grayscale out of the box when you select the THX mode. The "e" version includes a WirelessHD transmitter, which has five HDMI inputs (including one MHL for mobile devices) that can be selected and sent wirelessly to the projector.


Note: The PowerLite Pro Cinema 6020UB ($3500) is essentially a 5020UB in a black housing. It comes with an extra lamp, ceiling-mount kit, 3-year warranty (other Epson models have a 2-year warranty), ISF calibration modes, and an anamorphic-lens mode, which is important if you want to fill a 2.35:1 screen, since none of the Epson models have motorized lens controls with memories. It does not offer a WirelessHD option.


Scott Says: This is a superb projector; in fact, it's what I'm using in my home theater at the moment.





JVC DLA-X35 (MSRP $3500)


JVC uses LCoS technology—which JVC calls D-ILA (Direct Drive Image Light Amplifier)—in all of its projectors. Also, they don't use a dynamic iris, and their blacks are among the best in the business, even compared with projectors that do use a dynamic iris. The DLA-X35 is the company's least-expensive model, and it's a beauty, with great colors (after adjustment) and deep blacks as well as motorized zoom, focus, and lens shift with five memories, which lets you easily switch between 16:9, 2.35:1, and three other aspect ratios on a 2.35:1 screen. It's not the brightest projector on the market, and if you want 3D, you must buy the IR emitter and glasses separately.


Scott Says: This projector offers videophile picture quality without spending a fortune, though you should add the cost of 3D peripherals if you like 3D.





Panasonic PT-AE8000U (MSRP $3500)


Another AVS fave, the LCD-based PT-AE8000U is a superb performer, with great colors and 3D. It's also brighter than the competing DLA-X35, though its black level is not as deep, even with a dynamic iris. Better still, it has motorized lens adjustments and memories to recall different aspect ratios.


Scott Says: If you're into 3D, this projector has the brightness you need along with a great feature set.







JVC DLA-X55R (MSRP $5000)


This step up from the DLA-X35 is JVC's least-expensive model with the second generation of its e-Shift technology, called e-Shift2. This feature rapidly shifts the pixels back and forth diagonally by half a pixel, and the color of each pixel in each location can be independently controlled. JVC claims this effectively doubles the number of perceived pixels horizontally and vertically to achieve "4K" resolution (3860x2160). It's not really 4K—leading some to call it "faux-K"—but it does eliminate any visible pixel structure.


Like all JVC projectors, the X55R produces exceptionally deep blacks without a dynamic iris, beautiful colors, and great shadow detail. It also provides five memories for the motorized zoom, focus, and lens shift. Another great feature is the ability to adjust the alignment of the pixels from the red, green, and blue D-ILA panels in 121 independent zones across the screen in increments of 1/16 of a pixel, letting you dial in perfect alignment.


Scott Says: e-Shift2 may not offer true 4K resolution, but it does produce a sharply detailed picture with no visible pixel structure, and everything else that makes JVC projectors so great is here in spades.





Runco LS-5 (MSRP $6995)


Some cinephiles prefer the look of DLP projection—even single-chip DLP with the potential for rainbow artifacts—over LCD or LCoS. For one thing, the image is often a bit sharper and more punchy with DLP, and single-chip models have perfect alignment of the red, green, and blue portions of the image, though the blacks are not usually as deep as the JVC models.


The Runco LS-5 single-chip DLP projector strikes a great balance of performance and price. It's the least-expensive model in the company's LightStyle line that provides both horizontal and vertical lens shift (the lower-cost LS-3 and LS-1 provide only vertical lens shift), though these controls are manual, not motorized with memories. However, it can accommodate a fixed anamorphic lens for 2.35:1 screens. The colors and shadow detail are both top-notch, and the blacks are quite good thanks to its dynamic iris, but it offers no 3D capabilities, unlike all the other projectors in this buying guide except the Epson 8350.


Scott Says: If you want the look of DLP and you don't care about 3D or lens memories, this is a superb choice in this price range.





JVC DLA-X75R (MSRP $8000)


This exceptional projector ups the ante from the DLA-X55R with better contrast, THX certification, and 10 lens memories along with deep blacks without a dynamic iris, gorgeous colors, great shadow detail, e-Shift2, and 121-zone pixel alignment.


Scott Says: It's expensive, but better contrast means this JVC's picture really pops, and THX certification means it comes out of the box conforming to well-established video-system standards.




JVC DLA-X95R (MSRP $12,000)


JVC's flagship is definitely worthy of the title, offering super-deep blacks without a dynamic iris, better contrast than any other JVC model, totally accurate colors, great shadow detail, THX certification, 10 lens memories, e-Shift2, and 121-zone pixel alignment.


Scott Says: If you want the best projector you can buy without being Bill Gates, this one's hard to beat.

Comments (38)

Correction. The Epson 3020/3020e does NOT have lens shift.
Quote:"Scott Says: This is the least-expensive 3D projector with horizontal and vertical lens shift in this buying guide, and it performs well overall."
The Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3020 doesn't have lens shift. i would have bought it a long time ago if it matched my 8350 in that respect.
The Epson 5020 has also been replaced by the 5030, similar to the Sony HW50ES being replaced by the 55ES.
thanks a lot for the breakdown! so much to consider for my projector of choice. disappointed not to see the Optoma HD131xe not on the list. had my cash and mind set on that but since its not on here i feel weary of ordering it.
Nice work on the list! Only thing I would like to see added are lag times for the many folks who play video games in their home theater/entertainment room. I know my Epson 8350 is excellent in that regard. Cheers!
It is truly idiotic to buy or not buy a projector because it isn't on this list. And many of the models have been replaced with new models, specifically the JVCs which many now in a desperate effort to remain competitive ad speak contrast wise with the other manufactures now include a dynamic iris. Somehow Scott managed to highlight Sony's projector the 30, which was replaced a year ago with the 50, which is now replaced with the 55. No mention of the Sony 4K projector for the last two years, the VPL-vw1000ES (replaced this year by the VPL-vw1100ES) which really is much better than any of these other projectors as it should be at $25,000 MSRP. The Panasonic is old, long in the tooth and should not even be considered today against a Sony or JVC. Panasonic seems to have no interest in competing projector wise in the HT class. Scott. I think you are trying to wear too many hats. Are you going to take up brain surgery next and dispel advice on that too?
I realize that many of the models listed here are being replaced with new ones, but the point of this buying guide is to highlight products that have been widely and well reviewed, which the new models have not yet been, if they are even available yet. Plus, this year's models are likely to be discounted before the new ones take their place, so now's a great time to pick up a bargain.
If the 3020 truly doesn't have lens shift, that's my mistake. I'll verify it and correct the text; in fact, I'll probably remove the 3020 from the list in that case.
"AVS Forum's Top 10 Projectors from 2013"...does this imply that AVS members voted this, or that AVS Forum management approved this article?
I'm just saying, this disclaimer does not make it clear how the final selection was done, who was judge and jury.
"The projectors in this buying guide were selected as the best 1080p models available at the end of 2013 by consulting various review outlets such as CNET, Sound & Vision, ProjectorCentral.com, and ProjectorReviews.com as well as AVS reviews and owner threads and a special call out to members for their top picks"
mark haflich, I verified with Sony that the 30 is still available, while the 50 and 95 are not. Also, I didn't include the 1000ES or 1100ES because I decided not to include 4K projectors due to the fact that the standards for 4K (other than resolution) have not been established, which means that any 4K display today will likely be obsolete in a couple of years. BTW, I don't consider the JVC e-Shift projectors to be 4K—rather, I think of e-Shift as an enhancement of 1080p—which is why I included them.
As for the Panasonic 8000, it is a favorite of many AVS members, it is still available, and it is the least-expensive projector in this list (along with the JVC X35) to offer lens memories. Plus, it's brighter than the X35, which is a good thing for 3D. Thus, I believe it is worthy of inclusion in this list.
Naturally, I'm not going to dispense advice on brain surgery. (FYI, your use of the word "dispel" is incorrect; it means to make something disappear.) I dispute your assertion that I'm wearing too many hats; I'm giving advice on audio and video products, a subject I know very well after 20 years as a professional journalist in the field. You may disagree with me, which is fine, but I am well within my comfort zone as an expert.
mtbdudex, the final selection of products to include in this and all the buying guides we are doing is entirely mine, based on research here on AVS and elsewhere. I look at the reviews and recommendations of AVS members as well as reviews on other sites I trust and then use my own experience to come up with a final list of products that I would most recommend to my friends and family if they asked me what they should buy in a given product category. The AVS community is so large and diverse, there is no way of coming to a definitive consensus, especially on a short list of products, so this is the approach I decided upon. I welcome and encourage all members to post their faves in the comments of the buying guides as well.
Only twenty years? I thought it was at least 40 by now. Sorry. I started in this field in 1973 and went pro in 1983. Maybe I mixed you up with Harry and Peter who go back to the 70s but they look so much younger. Still luv ya though.
Scott - I'm Mike Rosinski, your list is a good list, just the last 4 of 5 are all JVC implies some bias......
It will get people started onto the slippery slope of PJ buying, comparing, etc.
Giving them info and a good baseline to gage their choices against.
Where do the new Sony 500/600 series fit in? Can you edit them into the list?
fwiw, I'm still using my 2008 Sony VPL-VW60, $4k back then, in 2015 I'll be shopping again for new PJ....4k, yada-yada
I'm so glad that you included the Panasonic 8000. I have owned and used an 8000 for more than a year (the lamp has 4352 hours on it). I also own two flat panels: a Samsung LCD and a Sony Bravia LED/LCD. I'll put the 8000 up against either of my flat panels! I must mention that calibrating the 8000 is very simple. I watched Panasonic's videos on You Tube, and I've got something close to perfection. I am a neophyte but I know a great picture when I see one! What I don't understand is whether I can remove the black lines and fill my 16:9 screen when playing a Blu-ray movie. Perhaps you can address this issue in simple terms or redirect me to a site that explains it. Thanks for the great reviews. I find your opinions worthy, objective and very useful.
mark haflich, actually, I covered pro audio as a journalist for 10 years before getting into consumer electronics, and I was a professional musician for 10 years before that.
mtbdudex, thanks! I didn't include the Sony 500/600 because I decided not to include 4K projectors. Why? Because I believe they will be obsolete in a couple of years when the rest of the UHD system (aside from resolution) settles down.
palavering, the only way to eliminate the black bars when playing a Blu-ray movie on a 16:9 screen is to severely crop the sides of the image, which I don't recommend.
mtbdudex, regarding the JVC projectors, from what I've seen of them (and I've seen them quite a lot), they produce a gorgeous picture with deep blacks without using a dynamic iris. As a result, they are the best projectors for the money that I know of. It's not bias at all, it's simply what I judge to be the best for the money.
Okay, I've verified that the Epson 3020 does not have lens shift; that was a mistake on my part. I can't recommend a projector with no lens shift, so I've removed it from this buying guide. Thanks to Kilgore, fitbrit, and AaronH for pointing out the error.
I'll just add that I have been using a Sony 30AES in a dedicated movie room for the last two years. Prior to that I was using an Epson ProCinema 1080UB. Granted the 30ES has been surpassed by the 50/55, but I still am very happy with my purchase. The kids love the 3D movies and I am very happy with the image produced. I am using a 100-in Elite Cinetension2 and the room is dark with merlot walls and dark blue/grey ceiling.

It's downright amazing the quality we can get in our homes compared to just ten years ago. 1080p high quality Blu-ray and lossless audio. I rarely venture to the cinemas anymore except for a few event films.

And I have to agree with Scott. 4K/UHD has way to many question marks at this point for the average customer to even think about spending money on them.
mark haflich "The Panasonic is old, long in the tooth and should not even be considered today against a Sony or JVC."
Rubbish, it came out later than the HW30 which is almost indentical to the HW50 (the HW50 only was replaced 2 months ago and mainly differs from the 30 in its reality creation engine), so its a contemporary projector.  One downside (in my opinion) is that it uses a plastic lens, which I find a big downside to the glass ones in the Panasonic.
I've read a lot of what frankly comes over as hate on these forums from people championing JVC or Sony, I did demo a JVC myself, but prefered the Panasonic due to the motion on the picture (not with motion control on), image smoothness and colours (I thought the JVC I saw looked a bit over saturated, from the place I viewed it at I would expect it has been calibrated).  Purchasing the PT-AT6000 (European version) I've been pleased with it, good convergence and no colour shift issues which were stated elsewhere, I guess either I got lucky or they were problems with early production models, everything else is as expected for its strengths. 
Its weakness against the JVC are the black levels, but in the enviroment I am using it (no bat cave available here) the difference would be very small at best, and I actually want the manual lens shift feature.  It well deserves a look and inclusion in this guide, whether Panasonic continue to produce new home theatre projectors or concentrate solely on their business lineup it is a worthy competitor to their competitors current offerings.
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