When it comes to home entertainment, televisions have long had a death grip as the focal point of your living room. For good reason: They're all-in-one, generally easy to use and require little work to set up. The gamut of smart TVs has only fortified the reign of the television.
Except, for some people that's not exactly the case. If you're looking to build a home theater and you really want to go all out, recreating a movie theater in your own home, you might want to go with a 4K projector instead.
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Using a projector can actually be a better experience than using a TV in the right environment. You can get a richer picture with more details, while still being able to use things like your Fire TV or games console. But is it for you, and if you do decide to get a 4K project which ones should you look at? That's what this guide is for, friends.
4K projectors: Why would you want it?
TVs, we all love 'em. Televisions are extremely versatile. We can put plonk them in different types of rooms with different levels of lighting and you'll still get a good picture. In the world of TVs, resolution has become the primary statistic. After that, it's considerations such as LED, LCD, HDR and contrast - things you're probably sick to death of hearing about.
The world of projectors is a little different. That's because the environment you put your projector in is extremely important. The darker the room, the better the projector comes across.
If you can get a dark room, the benefits of a projector start flooding through. To be upfront: Resolution isn't as important in a projector, but we'll get into that in a bit. The benefit of a projector comes across in the details.
You're going to see more threads of hair, you're going to see darker blacks and you're going to see more vibrant colors. You're getting a better picture than even the best 1080p TVs on a picture larger than what you can get from a TV. We're talking the possibility of a 100-inch screen with tons of detail... if you can pull it off.
If you're looking to create a home theater and have a great environment in which you can put your projector, you're not going to find a better picture than a 4K projector.
4K projectors: What is true 4K?
Let's be honest: The jump to 4K hasn't been as visually impressive as the jump from standard definition to high definition. Some people believe that all those pixels on our modestly-sized TVs just doesn't make that much of a difference.
But what about the massive size of a projector? Well, it's actually a little complicated. Turns out that making a true 4K projector is massively expensive, which means 4K projectors at thousands and thousands of dollars.
4K projectors have since come down in price, but a lot of that is due to tricks that manufacturers play. Projectors tend to use DLP, LCD or other kinds of image chips to create the picture you see. Each of the pixels created by these chips are smaller than the pixels on a TV, which means you need more of them, which is why prices are higher.
Instead of smashing 3,840 x 2,160 into the projector - as a 4K TV does - projector manufacturers have come up with a different method. They basically take a couple lower-resolution imaging chips and offset them.
For example, Epson uses three 1,920 x 1,080 LCD chips. Each one has its pixels slightly offset, so that they all come across as separate pixels. All of this moves so fast that your eye can't tell, and instead assumes that it's a higher resolution image than 1080p. Projectors using these types of methods are pretty upfront, and will use terms like 4K Enhancement or 4K Precision to explain what it is. They will also list the resolution of the lower-resolution chips - rather than a 4K resolution.
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4K projectors: Other things to consider
The other thing you need to know in the world of projectors is that resolution doesn't really matter. What really matters is all the other things that contribute to you getting a great picture from your projector.
This is stuff like making sure your room is really dark, but it's also making sure you have a good projector screen to display on. You can do it on a wall if you wish, but you're going to see an image that's up to 70% dimmer if you do.
You need to be aware of the space in which you put your projector. The distance from the wall, the age of the bulb and the projector's ability to spit out high dynamic range information all matter more to your picture quality than its resolution.
Best 4K projectors
With all that said, there are a handful of good options for you to consider for your new home theater systems.
Optoma's projector is definitely the smartest option on the list, and that's because it's the only option that works with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. That means you'll be able to use either to control your projector. So get ready to call on Alexa to pause things.
While the Optoma uses 4K Enhancement, it does pump out 8.3 million pixels. There's also a brightness of 2,400 lumens and a contrast ratio of 500,000:1. There's also HDR 10 support for your high dynamic range needs.
There are two HDMI ports with HDCP 2.2 support, which means you'll be good to go with all the latest 4K game consoles and media players. Speaking of game consoles, you're going to get 60Hz refresh rates with HDR for your games on this one.
Sony VPLVW285ES 4K
If you're looking for true 4K, there is no better option than this Sony projector. It is true 4K at 4096 x 2160 resolution (none of that enhancement stuff here). That means if you've got some good 4K movies and TV shows, you're going to be getting the most out of them.
However, that 4K joy comes at a cost. There's only 1,500 lumens here, which lags behind that of the Optoma. Additionally, the black levels here aren't as good as JVC's and the color gamut isn't the widest, but you are getting a very detailed package.
Additionally, gamers have complained about not being able to get 60Hz refresh rate consistently. One big plus: This thing is easy to set up.
JVC DLA-X590R 4K
JVC's best projector isn't true 4K - it uses it's own 4K Enhancement technique called 4K e-Shift. However, you're still going to get some good colors from the JVC, even better than the true 4K Sony projector on this list.
You'll get 1,800 lumens and Advanced HDR with HDR 10 support, which means you should see a wider color gamut than some of the other projectors on this list. JVC's proprietary D-ILA tech also helps give this projector some of the darkest blacks in the segment, which is going to help you get a more accurate and vibrant picture.
Some caveats here are that the lamp isn't exactly bright enough to fully take advantage of those dark blacks unless you're in a great environment. It's also a fairly large projector, which means if you've got a rig it may not fit in it.
LG's first 4K projector is going for a sleek compact look but is hoping to pack in as much power as possible. You've got a 4K resolution of 3840 x 2160 pumping out at a whopping 2,500 lumens and HDR 10 support.
The big sell here is the versatility. Thanks to that brightness, it's much easier to set it up in any room in your house. This is something you may actually do because you can pick up the CineBeam, move it to another room and easily set it up.
The CineBeam can project in four different modes. You can sit it down on the floor and flip its lid up to watch on the wall. You can lay it down on a table and watch it on the wall - or sit it up and point it to the ceiling. And, finally, you can hang it from the ceiling and watch it on the wall - aka The Classic Method.