If I was looking to buy an awesome projector, I’d get the $2,600 Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5020. I base this on multiple professional reviews, plus my own experience with it and similarly priced projectors. I review projectors for Sound+Vision magazine, and have reviewed and written about projectors for CNET, Men’s Journal, Home Theater, Residential Systems, and other magazines and websites over the past 12 years.
What Makes a Good Projector?
Of course the best projectors have good picture quality, but what does that mean? All but the cheapest projectors are 1080p, the same resolution as most HDTVs. They almost all also have colors that look realistic. So all that leaves is brightness and contrast ratio.
Brightness, also called “light output” with a projector is crucial. This determines how large of a screen you can have, what type of screen you can have (more on this in a moment), and of course, how bright the image is. Projectors don’t need to be as bright as a television, as they’re not normally used in bright rooms.
Contrast ratio, or the difference between the darkest part of the image and the brightest, is the most important factor when it comes to picture quality. A projector (or TV for that matter) with a low contrast ratio will appear flat, washed out, and boring.
In many cases, the picture quality of the ultra-large LCD TVs is worse than a comparably priced projector.
Presuming decent picture quality, why choose a projector over a TV? First and foremost: size. Even with many inexpensive projectors, screen sizes of 100- to 150-inches are possible. In many cases, the picture quality of the ultra-large LCD TVs is worse than a comparably priced projector. Check out Don’t buy a jumbo LCD TV, buy a projector for a direct comparison.
All high-end, and most lower priced, projectors are 3D capable. All use active 3D glasses, but don’t require a special screen.
There are a few Ultra HD “4K” projectors starting to hit store shelves. These have four times the resolution of “normal” 1080p projectors. At the moment, they’re all exceptionally expensive (over $20,000). Since there is no readily available Ultra HD content, there’s little reason to consider these projectors at this time.
One of the biggest questions people have with projectors is what to use as a screen. Screens can range from free (your wall, or a sheet), to multi-thousand-dollar motorized screens that drop down from hidden compartments in ceilings. Generally speaking, it’s worth spending some money on a screen, as the surface is going to be smoother than any painted wall. Some screens can boost the image brightness, making for a brighter image. Check out screens from Stewart Filmscreen, Da-Lite, Elite, Screen Innovations, dnp, for starters.