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Many AV enthusiasts believe that the best way to enjoy a true home theater is by using a projector rather than a flat-panel TV. A projector can generate a much larger image than any TV, often at much lower cost than the largest flat panels. On the other hand, a projector normally requires a very dark room to look its best, though an ambient light-rejecting (ALR) screen can help if you want to be able to watch with some light in the room.

Speaking of screens, selecting the one that's best for you is a topic worthy of its own list, which I'll post soon. For now, those considerations are not included here.



There's a lot to consider when shopping for a projector; here are some important things to think about:

1. DLP, LCD, or LCoS?

- In very general terms, single-chip DLP projectors tend to be the least-expensive option, followed by LCD, then LCoS, and finally 3-chip DLP, though of course, there is some overlap.

- LCoS projectors tend to have the best black levels and native contrast.

- LCD and DLP projectors tend to offer more light output than LCoS models.

- DLP projectors tend to exhibit less motion blur than LCD or LCoS models.

- DLP and LCoS projectors tend to have a higher "fill factor" (less space between pixels) than LCD, resulting in less "screen door effect."

- Single-chip DLP projectors can exhibit the "rainbow effect," in which viewers see momentary rainbows, especially in dark images with bright highlights, such as streetlights or car headlights in a night scene. Some people are more susceptible to this than others.

- LCD, LCoS, and 3-chip DLP projectors do not exhibit the rainbow effect.

- If you're considering a single-chip DLP projector, try to watch one for a while to see if you're bothered by the rainbow effect.

- In single-chip DLP projectors, the red, green, and blue components of the image are perfectly aligned or "converged" because there is only one chip rendering all three colors. In LCD, LCoS, and 3-chip DLP models, the three color components might not be perfectly aligned. Most offer convergence controls, but they might not completely correct all convergence errors.

2. Light Output

- The maximum light output of a projector is measured in lumens or ANSI lumens.

- Like the power ratings of audio amplifiers or AV receivers, manufacturers measure light output in such a way that they obtain as high a number as possible, which might not reflect real-world usage.

- In single-chip DLP projectors, the maximum brightness of white light is often much higher than adding together the maximum brightnesses of red, green, and blue. The difference between white and color light output can potentially result in dimmer colors than the light-output spec would seem to indicate. This not an issue with LCD, LCoS, and 3-chip DLP projectors.

- The higher the light output, the larger the screen that can be used with the projector, and the easier it is to use the projector in a room with some ambient light.

3. Throw Distance

- This is the distance between the projector and screen. In general, the greater the throw distance, the larger the image will be. Also, the larger the image, the less bright it will be from a given projector.

- Throw distance is determined by the size of the image you want to project and limited by the size of your room.

- Most projectors have a zoom lens, which allows a range of throw distances.

- Zoom lenses are normally specified with a zoom ratio—for example, 1.5x means that the largest image size is 1.5 times as large as the minimum image size. The larger the zoom ratio, the more flexibility you have in throw distance.

- The range of throw distances offered by different projectors is best identified using an online calculator, such as this one on ProjectorCentral.com.

- One option is an ultra short-throw (UST) projector that is placed on the floor, in a cabinet, or on the ceiling very close to the screen, which typically measures around 100 inches diagonally. This mimics the appearance of a large flat panel and can look quite good in some ambient light if you use an ALR screen.

4. Lens Shift

- This function shifts the image horizontally and/or vertically to align the image with the screen.

- Very inexpensive projectors often do not provide any lens shift.

- I strongly recommend getting a projector with horizontal and vertical lens shift, which makes placement much more flexible.

5. Lens Memories or Anamorphic Lens?

- The native aspect ratio of virtually all home-theater projectors is 16:9 (1.78:1), which is the aspect ratio of modern television images. However, projectors are often called upon to generate images of different aspect ratios, including 1.85:1 and 2.39:1, which are the most common aspect ratios for movies.

- When a 16:9 projector displays a movie with a wider aspect ratio, there are black "letterbox" bars above and below the active image area. Some of the projector's pixels are used to reproduce the black letterbox bars, leaving fewer pixels to be used in the image.

- If you get a 2.39:1 screen, there are two ways to fill it completely with the image of a 2.39:1 movie: adjusting the zoom, lens shift, and focus controls or using a separate anamorphic lens.

- Adjusting the zoom, lens shift, and focus so the screen is entirely filled with an active image "pushes" the black letterbox bars above and below the screen.

- In some higher-end models, the zoom, lens shift, and focus settings are motorized and can be stored in one of several "lens memories" and recalled for content with different aspect ratios.

- An anamorphic lens optically stretches the image horizontally, while the projector electronically upscales the image vertically, creating a 2.39:1 image that uses all the pixels in the projector's imaging system. A projector must have anamorphic capabilities to use such a lens.

- The anamorphic lens can be mounted on a "sled" that moves the lens into and out of the light path, or it can be permanently placed in the light path, and the projector's processor compensates for it with content of different aspect ratios.

- Buying a projector with lens memories is generally less expensive than using an anamorphic lens, which can cost thousands of dollars all by itself.

- Using an anamorphic lens for widescreen movies generally produces a brighter image because all the projector's pixels are used in the image. However, it also requires electronic scaling, which can generate visible artifacts. It can also exhibit optical distortion on the left and right sides of the image.

- This consideration applies only to 2.39:1 screens; if you get a 16:9 screen, you will have to live with black letterbox bars when watching movies.

6. 4K/UHD or HD?

- There are only a few 4K/UHD projectors on the market for home use, and they are more expensive than 1080p models.

- Sony's 4K projectors have been the only ones in the market with true 4K resolution—that is, 4096x2160, the same as digital cinema. The recently announced JVC DLA-RS4500 also has true 4K resolution.

- Several companies, including Digital Projection, Optoma, SIM2, and Vivitek, have announced projectors that use the new 4K/UHD DLP chip, which has a resolution of 3840x2160 using a "pixel-doubling" technique. None of these projectors are available as of this writing.

- Epson and JVC offer projectors with 1080p imagers that quickly shift the pixels back and forth diagonally by half a pixel, resulting in what some have called "faux-K." JVC calls this e-Shift, while Epson calls it 4K Enhancement. This technique displays 4 million pixels on the screen; 1080p displays 2 million pixels, while true 4K and UHD display over 8 million pixels.

- If you're shopping at the high end of the budget scale, I recommend getting a projector with true 4K/UHD resolution.

- The biggest advantage of a "faux-K" projector is that it will accept and display a 4K/UHD signal while remaining less expensive than a true 4K/UHD model, and the image can be somewhat more detailed than 1080p.

- If you're budget is more limited, a 1080p model is fine.

7. HDR or Not?

- High dynamic range (HDR) and its inseparable sibling, wide color gamut (WCG), are still in their infancy and, in some ways, not fully baked.

- This is especially true for projectors; there are no standards or even recommendations for peak brightness or color gamut. Also, the peak brightness you experience depends on the size of your screen.

- There are currently two main HDR formats: HDR10, an open, free-to-implement standard, and Dolby Vision, a proprietary, licensed system from Dolby. HLG is a third format that could become important in broadcast content, but content using it is not really available much right now.

- Only a few projectors implement HDR10—several Sony and JVC models as well as the Epson LS10500—while none implement Dolby Vision as of this writing. The new Sony VPL-VW675ES (US) and VPL-VW550ES (Europe) are expected to support HLG with a firmware update.

- The maximum light level that most current HDR-compatible projectors can generate is often no more than some conventional projectors. And because of the way HDR works, the overall image brightness on real-world content is often lower, though the picture quality is generally considered to be better than SDR.

- Because there are no HDR-performance standards for projectors, I don't think it's time yet to get an HDR-compatible projector, though it certainly does no harm if you have the budget for it.

8. Lamp, Laser, or LED Illumination?

- Most home-theater projectors use a UHP (ultra high-performance, originally ultra high-pressure) lamp for illumination.

- Lamps change in brightness and spectral profile over time, dropping to half brightness after only a few thousand hours of use; they are also expensive to replace, often costing several hundred dollars.

- Some high-end projectors use lasers as the light source. They are typically rated to last 20,000 hours or more with very little change in brightness or spectral profile, but the laser light engine typically can't be replaced.

- Most laser-illuminated home-theater projectors use a blue laser that causes a yellow phosphor to glow; the yellow light is separated into red and green that, along with the blue laser light, illuminates the red, green, and blue imaging chips. This is called a hybrid-laser or blue-pumped phosphor (BPP) system.

- Laser-illuminated digital-cinema projectors use red, green, and blue lasers; these units are very expensive, but they can be used in the highest-end home theaters.

- A few expensive projectors use red, green, and blue LEDs as the light source; like lasers, they are rated to last 20,000 hours or more with very little change in brightness or spectral profile, but the LED light engine typically can't be replaced.

9. Pay for Calibration?

- A professional calibration can cost several hundred dollars, so if your projector cost less than $1000, it's not worth it. Simply adjust the basic user controls using something like Disney's WOW disc, and the projector will look as good as it can without a pro calibration—which is often pretty darned good. For more on how to do this, click here.

- If the projector is over $1000, a pro calibration is more worthwhile, because it occupies less of the total budget.

- I'm a big advocate of viewing content as the creator intended, so a full calibration is important to me.

10. Budget & Recommendations

- As mentioned earlier, I strongly recommend getting a projector with horizontal and vertical lens shift, which gives you flexibility in placement. The least-expensive projectors often don't provide lens shift, so in general, I recommend spending at least $1500.

- The prices given here are all MSRP; street prices are often significantly less.

- If your budget is up to $3000, some good choices include the BenQ HT4050 ($2000, single-chip DLP); Epson Home Cinema 3100 ($1300, LCD), 3700 ($1500, LCD), 3900 ($2000, LCD), and 5040UB ($3000, LCD); and Sony VPL-HW45ES ($2000, SXRD/LCoS). All but the Epson 5040UB are 1080p with manual zoom, lens shift, and focus. The Epson 5040UB offers motorized lens adjustments and lens memories, pixel-shifting resolution enhancement from 1080p imagers, and HDR compatibility, and it can accept 4K/UHD video signals.

- If your budget is in the $3000-$6000 range, some good choices include the Epson Pro Cinema 6040UB ($4000, LCD), JVC DLA-RS400U ($4000, D-ILA/LCoS), and Sony VPL-HW65ES ($4000, SXRD/LCoS). The Epson and JVC have motorized lens adjustments and lens memories; the Sony has manual lens adjustments. The Epson and JVC offer pixel-shifting resolution enhancement from 1080p imagers and can accept 4K/UHD video signals; the Sony is 1080p. The Epson offers HDR compatibility; it's basically the same as the 5040UB with a black case, mounting hardware, and extra lamp.

- If your budget is $6000-$10,000, some good choices include the Epson LS10500 ($8000, LCoS), JVC DLA-RS500U ($7000, D-ILA/LCoS), JVC DLA-RS600U ($10,000, D-ILA/LCoS), and Sony VPL-VW365ES ($10,000, SXRD/LCoS). All have motorized lens adjustments with lens memories, and all can accept a 4K/UHD video signal. The Epson and JVC models offer pixel-shifting resolution enhancement from 1080p imagers; the Sony is true 4K (4096x2160). The Epson is HDR compatible and employs a laser-hybrid light engine.

- If your budget is over $10,000, some good choices include the JVC DLA-RS4500 ($35,000, D-ILA/LCoS), Sony VPL-VW675ES ($15,000, SXRD/LCoS), Sony VPL-VW1100ES ($28,000, SXRD/LCoS), and Sony VPL-VW5000ES ($60,000, SXRD/LCoS). All have a native resolution of true 4K with motorized lens adjustments and lens memories. All can accept a 4K/UHD video signal and are HDR-compatible. The JVC DLA-RS4500 and Sony VPL-VW5000ES employ a laser-hybrid light engine.

I'm sure that AVS Forum members have many opinions about all of this, so I invite you to share them in the comments. What are your most important considerations when shopping for a projector? What models do you recommend at different price points?

Please do not click on the Quick Reply button at the bottom of this article, which will quote the entire article in your comment without you knowing it. Wading through the entire article in the comments is quite annoying! If you want to quote a portion of the article, click on the Quote button and delete everything that does not pertain to your comment. Otherwise, use the Quick Reply comment editor at the bottom of each page, which does not quote the original post. Thanks!
 

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I would add #11, find a good dealer, they have the training and expertise to produce a wonderful result. Having watched Scott's HTG, i became familiar with John Schuermann of The Screening Room. Thank you Scott and thank you John.
 

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What a great article! Thank you. This article could have saved me hundreds of reading hours on AVS. Projector lag spec is worthy of mentioning for anyone online gaming via projector.
 

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Beware the ultra zooms : far away dim, close in a bit brighter.

Glass optics are expensive, coming from the DSLR Nikon Cannon world.
You can buy an inexpensive 70-200mm lens for $300 or a semi-pro for $2000.
The semi-pro beats the consumer version in brightness, edge to edge clarity and detail.

A single purpose 200mm only prime lens absolutely smokes the either of the zooms.
Bright and sharp corner to corner, but it's going to cost you $5000 !

The latest Benq HT5060 DLP is setting a trend and offering multiple lens options at a reasonable price.
Shawn
 

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Excellent and well written article. As I consider moving to a projector, perfect timing also. I look forward to an article on screens.
 

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Beware the ultra zooms : far away dim, close in a bit brighter.

Glass optics are expensive, coming from the DSLR Nikon Cannon world.
You can buy an inexpensive 70-200mm lens for $300 or a semi-pro for $2000.
The semi-pro beats the consumer version in brightness, edge to edge clarity and detail.

A single purpose 200mm only prime lens absolutely smokes the either of the zooms.
Bright and sharp corner to corner, but it's going to cost you $5000 !

The latest Benq HT5060 DLP is setting a trend and offering multiple lens options at a reasonable price.
Shawn
It's the Benq HT6050 DLP, and I have one in for review with two of the lenses (short-throw and standard zoom), so far it's been phenomenal to watch movies on.
 

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Hi Scott. Love your weekly podcasts, I've watched everyone in fact.

I'm interested in why you think HDR10 is a 'standard'?; particularly given your Stacey Spears conversations in episode 316.

I thought 'HDR10' is a non official nomenclature used to describe a disparate set of, per manufacture,algorithms attempting to replicate actual standards: st2084 etc, rather than paying Dolby a royality?

What have I missed?

Best wishes
Lemme jump in for a second... what you missed is an opportunity to not quote the entire OP. Please don't do that.

As for HDR10 vs. Dolby Vision... DV is no more a standard than HDR10 is. Indeed, it could be viewed as less of a standard because HDR10 is required for Ultra HD Blu-ray, and is offered by all the streaming services. So far, Dolby Vision has not appeared on UHD-BD. Then there's the small issue of two top TV makers (including the world's #1 TV maker) not supporting Dolby Vision—it'll be interesting to see if that changes at CES 2017.

Scott likely has a better answer than I, but at the end of the day what matters to me (in terms of whether or not to consider it a standard) is that HDR10 works on all HDR TVs (now that Vizio supports it) and is required on Ultra HD Blu-ray. That's enough to make it an actual standard, IMO.
 

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Has 3-D completely disappeared from projectors or do some manufacturers still offer it?

Great article Scott. Very valuable reading for anyone thinking of buying a projector.
 

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Has 3-D completely disappeared from projectors or do some manufacturers still offer it?

Great article Scott. Very valuable reading for anyone thinking of buying a projector.
3D is still available on many projectors, even inexpensive models offer it. I recently watched Pacific Rim on a BenQ 1085ST and it looked great. Sin City 2 on the BenQ HT6050 looked unbelievable.
 

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What a great article! Thank you. This article could have saved me hundreds of reading hours on AVS. Projector lag spec is worthy of mentioning for anyone online gaming via projector.


Nice summary! Definitely agree with this statement as input lag is a big factor for many of us who also use our projectors for gaming.
 

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Lemme jump in for a second... what you missed is an opportunity to not quote the entire OP. Please don't do that. [oops]

As for HDR10 vs. Dolby Vision... DV is no more a standard than HDR10 is. Other than it's adherence to ST.2084 - and it's 10 years of tone mapping research equalling per frame dynamic meta data, which means it's proscriptive - and thus more of a known quantity for the purchaser - and NOT per manufacture baked in - and thus inconsistent for the purchaser.

(Indeed, it could be viewed as less of a standard because HDR10 is required for Ultra HD Blu-ray,

and is offered by all the streaming services. There's a good reason that dolby vision is being used in cinemas and not 'HDR 10'.


So far, Dolby Vision has not appeared on UHD-BD. [as manufactures are not interested in dolby vision disks that are baked in at 10000 nits and can adjust down to fit your TV's dynamic range, which means as you buy brighter TV's the disks would actually improve! - They are much more interested in a consumer buying a 1000 nit HDR disk and then a 2000 nit HDR disk, and then a 3000 nit etc of the same film. Disappointing blatant doubling/treble dipping there Mark.]

Then there's the small issue of two top TV makers (including the world's #1 TV maker) not supporting Dolby Vision—it'll be interesting to see if that changes at CES 2017. [When purchasers refuse to buy into HDR10 and demand DV they'll change their tune.]

Scott likely has a better answer than I, but at the end of the day what matters to me (in terms of whether or not to consider it a standard) is that HDR10 works on all HDR TVs [it works variably across these sets - again episode 216 for the limitations of HDR10] (now that Vizio supports it) and is required on Ultra HD Blu-ray. That's enough to make it an actual standard, IMO.
I can certainly see that it is in the interest of manufacturers to support a consumers view, that they are buying a quality product for their premium dollar; rather than it's cowboy country out there with each manufacturer / film company making it up as they go along. (Again the variability in the construction of HDR10 disks (in episode 216) is striking. Consumers are being hood winked here.

On a different note - nice cr100/cr250 in your picture - envious!
 

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BenQ 4050 is def not $2000. I know projector central says the MSRP is $2k but it never sold anywhere near that price and even BenQ has it listed at $1400.




I might have added a category for sub $1k projectors. I know a lot of enthusiasts scoff at that price point but projectors like the BenQ 2050 and Epson 2040 have really solid picture quality and are fantastic alternatives to a flat screen television that virtually anyone can afford. I employ a BenQ 2050 myself and came to that decision even after 'auditioning' several more expensive alternatives.
 

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BenQ 4050 is def not $2000. I know projector central says the MSRP is $2k but it never sold anywhere near that price and even BenQ has it listed at $1400.

I might have added a category for sub $1k projectors. I know a lot of enthusiasts scoff at that price point but projectors like the BenQ 2050 and Epson 2040 have really solid picture quality and are fantastic alternatives to a flat screen television that virtually anyone can afford. I employ a BenQ 2050 myself and came to that decision even after 'auditioning' several more expensive alternatives.
Totally, I own the 1085ST and use it all the time. Image quality is shockingly good for the money.
 

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3D is still available on many projectors, even inexpensive models offer it. I recently watched Pacific Rim on a BenQ 1085ST and it looked great. Sin City 2 on the BenQ HT6050 looked unbelievably great.
Great, thanks Mark. I'm glad to hear that 3D is not yet dead when it comes to projectors. When the time comes to replace my trusty old JVC RS20, I'd really like to get a replacement that does both "true" 4K and 3D so that I can watch the ten or so 3D movies that I have in my collection.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
BenQ 4050 is def not $2000. I know projector central says the MSRP is $2k but it never sold anywhere near that price and even BenQ has it listed at $1400.

I might have added a category for sub $1k projectors. I know a lot of enthusiasts scoff at that price point but projectors like the BenQ 2050 and Epson 2040 have really solid picture quality and are fantastic alternatives to a flat screen television that virtually anyone can afford. I employ a BenQ 2050 myself and came to that decision even after 'auditioning' several more expensive alternatives.
I certainly understand that many projectors (and other AV products) sell for much less than their list price/MSRP, which is why I stated that caveat in the OP. Regarding sub-$1000 projectors, in my experience, few if any provide horizontal and vertical lens-shift controls, which is why I didn't include them. IMO, these are very important for most installations. Of course, that doesn't mean they don't produce a good image, but if many/most buyers can't place them in exactly the right spot, their picture quality is moot. The Epson 2040 has no lens shift, while the BenQ 2050 has vertical lens shift only, and it's only +/-2.5%, which isn't much.
 

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I certainly understand that many projectors (and other AV products) sell for much less than their list price/MSRP, which is why I stated that caveat in the OP. Regarding sub-$1000 projectors, in my experience, few if any provide horizontal and vertical lens-shift controls, which is why I didn't include them. IMO, these are very important for most installations. Of course, that doesn't mean they don't produce a good image, but if many/most buyers can't place them in exactly the right spot, their picture quality is moot. The Epson 2040 has no lens shift, while the BenQ 2050 has vertical lens shift only, and it's only +/-2.5%, which isn't much.
Oh-- the mention about the price of the BenQ 4050 wasn't meant as a critique. I know it was originally listed at $1999 but I have no idea why as BenQ clearly never intended to sell it for that price. Most MSRP are at least accurate for a period of time no matter how short that period might be.


As for my suggestion: fair enough. Although I will say that I was a complete projector noob less than a year ago and managed to research, buy, mount and square my BenQ 2050 without any trouble. Prior to the holidays I was eye balling 70" LCDs and wondering how to afford such a beast and, perhaps more importantly, how I would put up with the myriad of issues I have with LCD picture quality (I've long been a plasma fan). Purchasing a projector had never really occurred to me as cost and setup seemed insurmountable obstacles in my mind. After all, I wasn't building a dedicated theater. Then I read a rather old article at CNET that talked about projectors as a TV replacement and suddenly: inception.


The reason I mention this is: I consider myself a movie/video-game/HT nerd and I STILL never considered a projector. I've spent my hard earned money on the best plasmas and fancy surround sound systems to enhance my movie experience and I STILL never considered a projector. I've been a member on this forum for years and I STILL never considered a projector... and I'm 100% positive I'm not the only one.


As I said before, there is a stigma around projectors that they are expensive and difficult. That they're only suited for a dedicated theater and the truly dedicated HT aficionado. What I discovered is that this couldn't be farther from the truth. Projectors have reached a price and performance threshold that now anyone can enjoy a big screen experience at home. My BenQ projector cost less than HALF what my 55" plasma cost just a few years ago. My projector plus screen and surround sound system cost less than a comparable quality flatscreen would cost today.


I guess what I'm trying to say is that I see value in not just preaching to the converted but also in reaching out to those that have only a passing interest in this stuff. So many people that have been over to my place to watch a movie or a game remark afterwards that they would love to have something similar. When I tell them that the cost and setup is well within their reach I see the wheels start to turn. This is a hobby for the dedicated, yes, but I also see it as a hobby that more people could and should be a part of if they weren't scared off by all the presumed obstacles we the converted inadvertently toss up-- whether it be high dollar displays or complex multichannel surround setups.


Anyways. Off my soapbox now. Lol!
 
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One more thing to add: if you are a big video gamer, consider input lag. Even if you are not a gamer, high input lag can also produce lip sync issues on TV and movies.

Generally JVC's projectors have horrifically high input lag (in the range of 120ms or higher; I can testify to this in that I've played games on a few JVC projectors and the input lag is atrocious, vis a vis, Mario does not jump immediately after pressing the jump button).

Generally, Sony projectors have low input lag (considering that the majority of their overall business relies on selling Playstaton consoles, this is not surprising).
 

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9. Pay for Calibration?

- A professional calibration can cost several hundred dollars, so if your projector cost less than $1000, it's not worth it. Simply adjust the basic user controls using something like Disney's WOW disc, and the projector will look as good as it can without a pro calibration—which is often pretty darned good. For more on how to do this, click here.

- If the projector is over $1000, a pro calibration is more worthwhile, because it occupies less of the total budget.

- I'm a big advocate of viewing content as the creator intended, so a full calibration is important to me.


I just bought the Epson 5040UBE and wanted to know for calibration, which disc would be better:


1) Disney World of Wonder (WOW)
2) Spears & Munsil’s HD Benchmark
3) Joe Kane’s Digital Video Essentials
 
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