In the $2K to $5K range, that means that the more expensive BenQ HT5550 (with a $2499 list price and better black levels) gets to go up against the Epson HC5050UB – basically the same projector, feature-wise, as the HC4010, but with much better black level performance. Otherwise, the HT5550 would have ended up in the $1000 – $2499 Class, and therefore not “doing battle” with the projector I consider its single most direct competitor. Got it?
Note: Our classes are organized by List Price (or, in more than a few cases, what the manufacturer sells that projector for on their own site – when their on-site price is below list price). Also, when we speak of “street price,” we are referring to the typical price when the projector is sold by authorized dealers. There’s always some low baller, and sometimes they offer gray market goods, and therefore not full US warranties, so I prefer not to let those folks distort the normal selling price for purposes of our evaluating value.
I do consider the street pricing, if significantly lower, in making decisions relating to awards, but, even if that won’t affect what price Class the projector is placed in. In other words, in the $1000 to $2000 class, the fact that one projector sells for $1200 and another for $1900 will affect our rankings, as it should! But, if the list price is $1999 and a few dealers are at $1799 – that would have little impact.
Entry Level Projector Compromises: To state the obvious, the projectors in the Entry Level Class – Under $1000 – are loaded with trade-offs, (that’s even true for most more expensive ones, but especially true for these entry-level/near-entry-level models).
Some things, these projectors can do rather well, and other things, poorly. That’s only fair. One of my favorite lines has long been: “If they did everything well, they wouldn’t be ‘entry-level,’ would they?”
Lots of trade-offs is what makes good reviews subjective. My picks are subjective, and they reflect my well-known biases, or, if you prefer – my priorities. Bias isn’t a bad thing, it’s just one more piece of information, if you know what the biases are. I proudly announce mine. Consider one bias that I will now remind you of, in these awards – I’m big on black level performance in home theater projectors (although not near as concerned about black levels with “home entertainment projectors” – none of which really have good black levels anyway). To me, when you put a projector in your cave or home theater and get to a really dark scene in a movie, that’s what separates a great projector from a good one. Another reviewer might not give as much weight to black level performance, instead having biases for extra brightness, or color accuracy, or sharpness, etc.
There are plenty of under $2000 projectors that do a great job on bright and average lit scenes, as good as many significantly more expensive projectors, but the differences on very dark scenes are technically not the difference between “night and day” but can be extremely dramatic. To me, achieving excellent black levels, for example, is more important than a small improvement in sharpness. Other reviewers might disagree. I will at least try to always point out, for example, that “why this projector beat out that one for such-and-such award was the great black levels, vs, lower price, or quieter operation” where applicable. I recall years ago, Evan Powell (of Projector Central fame) and I often disagreed on how much to weight better black level performance.
The Truth: There are no single best home theater projectors or home entertainment projectors – at any particular price point.
Our goal is to help you find and choose the best projector at your budget, for what you need: one that works in your room conditions, for the type of content you watch, and for what you think most important (that subjective stuff again).
That’s why our awards vary so much: Because it’s not always this one is better than that one, but this one is better than that one, if your situation is… (fill in the blank).
Since last year, there has been another generation of 4K capable projectors. We have been seeing and reviewing new 4K UHD DLPs, 1080p 3LCD pixel shifters (very similar to 4K UHD in a practical sense), and LCoS projectors as well. As a result, they are plentiful in the $1000 – $2000 Class, in the $2000 – $5000 Class, and the over $5000 class. 4K capable projectors have come a long way in the past 3 years. Four years ago, the only thing out there were some very expensive Sonys (that also happened to be native 4K, a step up from 4K UHD DLPs and 1080p pixel shifters).
Thanks to the new “lower resolution,” smaller DLP chips that now dominate the 4K UHD DLPs, we have 4K capable projectors in all price Classes but Entry Level, and street pricing is getting very close to $1000 on a couple of models.
Mixing 4K capable projectors with 1080p projectors that are not makes for some interesting decisions – for example:
At $1999, there’s a pure 1080p Sony – the VPL-HW45, then there are 4K UHDs like that BenQ HT3550 or the Optoma UHD51A (1920x1080x4), 1080p pixel shifters, like the Epson HC4010, for around the same price. Decisions get murky – the Sony, for example, is the least natively sharp of the three (as expected, being the lowest in resolution – no pixel shifting), but it has a really excellent picture. The Epson and BenQ and Optoma both handle 4K, but the Epson does less pixel shifting and is loaded with features, the Optoma and BenQ are natively higher resolution… but as I often point out, when looking at the image on the screen, thanks to all kinds of image processing, you may find the 1080p pixel shifter seems sharper (my term for that is “perceived sharpness”).