Home Theater Projectors Fit Most Budgets and Rooms
There are some great values and nifty features to be had, from 3D to 4K to LED, no matter how much you're willing to spend.
January 24, 2012 by Steven Castle

Better Projectors: $3,000 to $10,000

Additional features, better video processing with frame interpolation, higher contrast and certifications like ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) and THX, can be found on projectors in the $3,000 to $10,000 range.

You can also get into LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) display technology such as JVC’s D-ILA (Direct-drive Image Light Amplification), which provides smooth film-like images and great blacks for high contrast.

You can get in on the action with JVC’s new DL A-X30 (RS45 in the custom market), which boasts a 50,000:1 contrast ratio for $3,500 - or step up to the $8,000 DLA-X70R (RS55): 80,000:1 contrast ratio and near 4K (3840 x 2160) images via JVC’s eShift technology, which essentially creates two 1080p images, diagonally offset to fill in the blanks, to explain in simple terms.

So near-4K resolution is possible — for $8,000, which is way less than what you’ll spend on the few true 4K projectors available today.

There are also plenty of 3D projectors in this price range. “A lot of people are thinking now if I build a home theater, what are the possibilities,” says Mike Holmes, vice president of the JVC Consumer’s Home Entertainment Division. “People are looking for projectors primarily for sports and movies. The fact that a projector does 3D is the cherry on the sundae.”

Best Projectors: $10,000 and Up

What should you expect from a projector that costs $10,000 or more?

“Precision elements in a display,” says Michael Bridwell of high-end projector manufacturer Digital Projection International (DPI). This includes high lumens and high contrast ratios, a lot of lens shift (both horizontally and vertically) for installation flexibility, a lot of fixed and zoom lens options, and superior processing capabilities, the latter of which makes a big difference when producing 3D images.

Many projectors in this class are of the three-chip DLP variety, which uses a chip for each red, green and blue (RGB) element of the color spectrum. You might also find some LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon) projectors in this category.

At the highest point of the high end, CinemaScope capability becomes de rigueur. Most CinemaScope-style projectors use anamorphic lenses on a movable sled to create 2.35:1 (aspect ratio) images; although DPI recently introduced a dVision Scope 1080p ($55,000) that shows images in a native 2.35:1 mode (2560 x 1080). The projector can move from HDTV’s standard 16:9 to the wider 2.35:1 modes by increasing the horizontal resolution.

Another increasingly common technology: long-lasting and super-efficient LEDs, in place of traditional lamps, which are expensive to replace.

LED is one of the few revolutionary things that has happened to projectors, Bridwell says. “They’re extremely efficient, remarkably quiet and the color gamut is massive.” LED projectors also have the ability to shut off to create true, deep blacks — the sign of videophile-quality images. Colored (RGB) LED engines canbe especially effective in single-chip DLPsbecause they eliminate the need for a spinning color wheel. DPI’s single-chip DLPs using LEDs range from $13,000 to $60,000, starting with the M-Vision Cine LED.

LED projectors’ biggest disadvantage is light output. “They cap out at around 1,000 lumens,” Bridwell says. In November DPI introduced a higher-lumen LED dVision projector for the simulation market and plans to follow with a residential version this year.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

LED Revolution

Michael Bridwell of high-end projector manufacturer Digital Projection International thinks that energy-efficient and long-lasting LED lamps will change the video projector market, especially in the more value-minded entry-level segment. LEDs are already used widely in small, portable Pico projectors. And because the LED engine lasts as long as the projector, you should never have to buy expensive replacement lamps. “LED is long-term,” Bridwell says. “It will become ubiquitous on lower-end products.”

But Epson, which sells at that price point, isn’t convinced. The company has yet to introduce one of its LCD projectors with an LED lamp. The lower brightness of LEDs has restricted the use of these projectors to dark environments. The premium paid for an LED projector is another hurdle. “LED just doesn’t yet have the value for the price,” says Jason Palmer of Epson.

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