Just as 4K TVs (also called Ultra HD) are making a big impression on flat-panel TV buyers, 4K projectors are sprouting up, albeit more slowly than TVs, for people interested in a really big, cutting-edge viewing experience in their home theaters. Still, it’s a trend worth looking at, as it can take your home theater to a new level of sophistication.
As total display size (either on a flat-panel TV or projection screen) gets larger, so do the individual pixels that make up that image. When a viewer sits close enough to a very large screen, these pixels may become visible. Instead of a smooth, lifelike image, the viewer sees a matrix of dots and jagged edges. 4K displays offer four times the resolution of 1080p displays. More pixels means smaller pixels, and a smoother, non-pixelated image. This is not the only benefit of 4K. The Ultra HD format also allows for a wider color gamut, which means more finely tuned colors.
Overall, the main advantage of 4K is that you can view a huge image without any apparent picture degradation. This is going to be especially important as more content becomes available in 4K resolution. Many major movies, and even some popular TV programs, are being shot natively in 4K, which means your 4K home theater system will be able to reproduce it without needing to be reformatted for 1080p.
Sony is currently leading the charge in 4K projectors for the home and offers two true 4K SXRD models, one for about $25,000 and another for $15,000. JVC also offers several projectors that can accept and display video in 4K resolution, although these projectors don’t actually use 4K imaging chips (a process called e-shift creates a 3840 x 2160 image from three 1080p LCoS chips).
Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that there are only a handful of 4K projectors available. Ultra HD video content is in equally short supply (but it’s growing). Currently there are two places you can find 4K video: on custom hard drive servers supplied by Samsung or Sony, or on streaming services such as Netflix. Netflix is now offering the popular political drama House of Cards in 4K and other titles will be coming (including the follow-up to Breaking Bad). Both Sony and Samsung offer hard drive devices with stored movies for playback on their 4K TVs. There’s been industry debate over the development of a 4K Blu-ray format as well. What about broadcast? Well, there have been some industry developments, but considering broadcasters’ inability to even deliver 1080p over the air, 4K over the air is unlikely anytime soon.
For now, 4K, both in home theater projectors and as a home theater concept, is still a bit of a work in progress. If you opt for a 4K projector, you’re getting an awesome product, but for most home theater uses, you’re probably not missing out on much, yet.
Other projector manufacturers, including SIM2 and Meridian, offer 4K DLP projectors that cost more than $100,000 and are intended for use in very high-end home theaters with commercial theater-size screens. Digital Projection Int’l. recently announced an Insight 4K projector that uses a laser instead of a traditional lamp. This makes the projector incredibly bright (12,000 lumens) while keeping it energy efficient. Also, a laser light source never needs to be replaced, unlike a bulb.