Where Are the 4K Home Theater Projectors?
While 4K TVs proliferate, 4K projectors lag behind.
This opulent home theater, featuring a Meridian 810 4K projector, was designed by First Impressions Theme Theaters and installed by ISI Automation International.
August 14, 2013 by Grant Clauser

There also seems to be a middle ground between the traditional 1080p projectors and the current 4K projectors, and that’s JVC’s e-Shift (currently in version e-Shift2). e-Shift is a technology that applies video processing to JVC’s 1080p D-ILA projectors to fill in the extra space and create 4K resolution on the screen. It’s not quite real 4K because the image chips themselves are only 1080p, but the screen resolution and pixel density resulting is 4K. “Our approach was to offer the best performance possible with what was readily available for consumers to enjoy, says JVC’s John Havens. JVC projectors with e-Shift are priced from $5,000 to $12,000. (Read a review of a JVC e-Shift projector here.)

JVC’s DLA-X75R 4K e-shift2 D-ILA Projector.

While most homes, even large ones, aren’t going to order 20-foot screens, 4K on a smaller screen still has some benefit. The main benefit is that it allows the designer to break the standard seating distance rules. “The pixel density is so great, you can sit a lot closer,” says Forsythe.

Are 4K Flat-Panel TVs Confusing the Market?

When I asked SIM2’s Fabiano if the market race toward cheaper 4K flat-panel TVs was confusing the consumer, he responded unequivocally: “Absolutely.”

“Everybody is searching for the key word so they can keep their shareholders happy. We don’t have to make anybody happy but our customer,” he adds (SIM2 is privately owned). “3D was another one of those key words,” he says, suggesting that consumers didn’t go for that either.

Is content the problem?

Short answer: Yes, but…

Many of the projector makers I contacted told me that the lack of content was a big part of the reason there’s no major push for 4K home projectors. Why make a product when there’s nothing to show through it?

“Based on the content we have available today and for the foreseeable future, there’s really no need [for the average theater] to have a 4K pixel density,” says SIM2’s Fabiano. “When you force a projector to display anything else—the processor has to fill those 8 million pixels—it’s manufacturing a resolution that doesn’t exist in the content.”

Content may be an excuse for some projector manufacturers, but it certainly isn’t holding back LG, Toshiba, Samsung, Sony, Sharp, Seiki and other makers form offering 4K televisions.

While part of the content problem is the delivery method (disc, download, stream), a universal format is still outstanding. The resolution of today’s flat-panel TVs (3840-by-2160) is different from the 4K digital cinema format used by movie studios, commercial theaters and the small selection of 4K projectors (4096-by-2400 or 4096-by-2160). Bridging these differences requires scaling, processing, masking and other technical challenges not yet solved. While there are a handful of 4K movies available for owners of Sony 4K TVs (the Sony 4K video server only works with Sony 4K TVs), that’s hardly a universal solution. “[Professional] 4K content is not easily translated into a home theater viewing experience,” says JVC’s Havens. “Once it becomes seamless to the consumer, it will be an easy transition.” However, that time hasn’t come yet. “When the time comes that a [4K] standard is developed, we’ll be at the forefront,” he says. “Right now, we feel we bring to the table a very good solution for getting toward a 4K experience in the home theater.”

Even current 4K flat panel TVs, which use HDMI 1.4, can’t pass through a 4K signal at 60 frames per second (which is necessary if we want 3D 4K) or 10-bit color.

Sony’s FMP-X1 4K Movie Server only works with Sony’s 4K TVs.

Until there’s a seamless system for viewing 4K content on 4K projectors (or 4K TVs, for that matter), video processing is key. “The ability to make HD content look better on a 4K device is very important,” says Sony’s Floyd. (For more on 4K video processing go here.)

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Grant Clauser - Technology and Web Editor, Electronic House
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.

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