With the World Cup looming and Hollywood blockbusters becoming ever more like CGI-enriched amusement park rides, there's never been a better time to buy a projector. And whereas in the past, the best projectors were decidedly costly, now only some of them are.
We've got the pick of 4K UHD and 1080p full HD projectors for your big-screen entertainment.
What is the best projector?
Putting aside the more luxe options, we'd say that 'pound for pound' Acer's V7850 4K projector is the best you can buy. It's got UHD resolution with HDR, can be had for around £2,000 and gives razor-sharp results despite being compact and easy to setup.
Home projector buying guide
The TV market may have almost entirely emigrated to 4K, but home projection has been a little slow to follow, as manufacturers struggle to find ways to develop viable ways to make the best projector without bankrupting you, the consumer.
Until recently, the only serious option for buyers looking for a huge 3840 x 2160 pixel image was to buy one of Sony's a native 4K SXRD models, which were uniformly large and, shall we say, a touch on the pricey side. The other path was a 'faux 4K' projector from Epson or JVC. These used pixel-shifting techniques to produce a 4K picture using 1080p hardware.
That's all changing now, as a breakthrough from Texas Instruments opens the floodgates for compact 4K DLP projectors which don’t require a second mortgage. However, the best projector for you, in terms of price and performance, may still be a full HD one.
TI’s DLP UHD solution is ingenious, though a little controversial. While the DLP DMD (Digital Micromirror Device) itself only has 4.15 million mirrors, insanely fast switching coupled with image processing enables it to project an 8 million pixel image. The technique is called XPR (eXpanded Pixel Resolution).
Some enthusiasts argue that as a result XPR projectors aren’t really native UHD at all. But it’s officially recognised by the Ultra HD Alliance so suck it up, haters.
Even more importantly, the tech gets two thumbs up from us. The image is demonstrably more detailed than that from regular HD projectors. If there is a catch, it’s that the technology doesn’t support a wide colour gamut. It works within a conventional colour space, often referred to as REC.709.
For those who are purists, we have also included native 4K options, and some full HD models, across a wide range of price points.
The best 4K and HD projectors, in order
Acer hits the UHD sweet spot with this high performance, relatively low cost beamer that gets just about everything right.
Small enough for coffee table use, it’s reasonably bright at 2100 lumens, and looks peachy. The gloss white cabinet, with offset copper-coloured lens assembly, looks premium, while the supplied remote control illuminates bright blue. Connections include two HDMI inputs, one of which is v2.0 HDCP 2.2 compliant. There's also VGA in/out, and an audio minijack.
The projector, built around a single Texas Instruments XPR (eXpanded Pixel Resolution) 0.67-inch 4.15 million DMD, is HDR compatible and has an RGBRGB (Rec.709) compliant colour wheel. It uses a conventional lamp light source. The zoom ratio is 1.6x; you’ll need a throw distance of 3.5 metres to cast an image between 70- and 110-inches.
Images are razor sharp. This single chipper gives a blisteringly sharp picture, while Acer’s Super Resolution image enhancer adds an extra boost when required. Black level performance is a tad limited, but this doesn’t prevent images from looking dynamic.
For the best results, partner with a Sky Q set top box; the combination of 2160p resolution and SDR dynamic range produces images which really pop.
The projector also looks great with regular HD sources. Motion handling is aided by AcuMotion frame interpolation. Operating noise, especially in the Silent mode, is whisper quiet.
There’s an onboard sound system, but at 2 x 5W, it’s probably not a real alternative to a home cinema system.
Overall, the V7850 is a great all-round UHD projection proposition.
A UHD projector for well under £1,500, the UHD40 from Optoma is a cracking deal. It's pretty easy to setup, thanks to vertical lens shift, decent zoom range and acceptably versatile short throw lens, and the images it produces are a good notch above an HD projector of comparable price.
Naturally, you do get what you pay for to an extent, and this has nothing like the sheen of more expensive UHD projectors, while the HDR, while nice to have, doesn't pop like it does on the best 4K tellies and projectors.
However, for the price, and with viewing modes to suit most occasions, the Optoma UHD40 is a steal.
The high-spec UHZ65 is very much aimed at yer proper AV enthusiast. Optoma's second projector on our list comes in an all-black livery, and features a laser light source, which means near-instant on and maintenance-free longevity – Optoma quotes 20,000 hours usage – about two and a half years of non-stop beaming.
Despite that, as you can cast a 120-inch image from just under 4m away, the UHZ65 should suit most room sizes, not just oligarch's cinemas.
Another XPR (eXpanded Pixel Resolution) DMD model, this one boasts an UltraDetail edge enhancement mode which can be used to give a subtle boost to low level detail.
Brightness is high at 3000 lumens, and enough to deliver a really dynamic image. Contrast is rated at 2,000,000:1. Operating noise is a constant 29dB, but disappointingly there’s isn’t a silent mode to drop this lower.
The projector is HDR compatible. When detected, the projector locks to the HDR setting and cannot be changed, although you can tweak image parameters such as brightness and contrast. Top tip: Cinema mode is best for regular SDR content.
Key to the projector’s performance is Optoma’s PureEngine image processing modes. PureMotion smoothes out panning shots while Pure Color bumps saturation. These are adjustable to taste. While 4K content looks great, the projector also does a spectacular job with HD.
Connections comprise two HDMIs and VGA, plus an optical digital output and minijack stereo in/out if you don’t want to use the 4W sound system, which you won't. There’s also a USB port to power to an HDMI dongle. The backlit remote lights up bright white.
It’s pricey to be sure, but the UHZ65 is a cracking 4K laser projector with first class image processing and excellent upscaling. And the black livery won’t look out of place in a properly dark home theatre room.
Epson's EH-TW6700W is an excellent full HD projector in terms of its images, and also benefits from superlatively easy setup.
That's because as well as horizontal and vertical lens shift and a good zoom, it comes with a wireless box with four HDMI inputs, plus HDMI and optical audio outputs. Just plonk the projector 4-3 metres from your screen or wall, plug your sources into the box, run audio out to your sound system of choice and you are sorted.
Yes, you may have to turn the box on and off a few times to get it connected, but it always works eventually, without a rage-inducing level of hassle. It's still always preferable to having to run a super-long, thick HDMI cable from your media area, or having it all sitting next to the projector, with a cable running back to your speakers.
In terms of HD image quality, the Epson is very hard to fault for its price although, of course, there is no 4K HDR futureproofing to be had here.
Acer’s VL7860 is the most affordable UHD laser projector yet. Like the pricier Optoma UHZ65, it combines a maintenance-free laser light source with a 4K DLP image engine. And let me tell you, that is a potent combination.
The design is slick, with gloss white and silver grey casing. The lens is offset, with on-body controls positioned behind the lens assembly. The remote control is backlit a bright blue.
Acer suggests the laser light will run undiminished for 20,000 hours use in standard mode, or 30,000 hours if you go Eco, so you’ll never have to worry about buying expensive replacement bulbs. Setup is relatively straightforward and the projector will cast a 110-inch image from just 3.5m.
Image quality is very high for the price, especially when you use the Super Resolution mode to max out fine detail. It's reasonably bright too, running at 3000 lumens in Standard mode, and dropping to 2,400 lumens in Eco mode.
While the Acer is a tad noisy at 30dB, Eco mode reduces fan noise to 26dB, while a Silent setting drops to 24dB. The good news is there’s no much of a penalty to go for the Silent mode.
The projector is also compatible with HDR, although don’t expect this – or any projector, really – to offer anything like an HDR TV when it comes to spectral highlights. Instead it seems to just adjusts brighter scenes for a high average picture level, or emphasises shadow detail. There’s a sliding scale of HDR adjustment, but anything other than ‘1’ causes bright highlights to blow out. Rainbow fringing, a trait of DLP projection, is largely absent.
Connections include two HDMIs, (one HDMI v2.0 4K capable), and a PC VGA D-sub in/out. There’s also a USB 5v port to power an HDMI streaming dongle (Amazon Fire TV, Now TV stick etc). A 3.5mm audio output is also included, though no digital outs.
Overall, a high value 4K model that’s well worth auditioning.
Take this projector and one darkened room (it's not so good in daylight) and you have the nearest thing to your own, personal cinema for under £10K (if you shop around).
Using Sony's Sony’s SXRD tech, the VPL-VW550ES puts out proper, native 4K. With something on the visual cutting-edge, like Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Captain America: Civil War, the imagery mustered up by Sony's native 4K, HDR projector is little short of uncanny. It also does a very solid job with older films and sport – Christiano Ronaldo has never looked so sinewy and waxy.
With motorised lens shift – no fiddling with little levers and knobs here, thank you – and a short throw, it's easy to get a 100-inch image up without needing ceiling mounting.
The lack of brightness means HDR performance isn't comparable to the best tellies, but 4K HDR sources certainly pop and even SDR sources still look vibrant. This handsome Sony also works something not far short of a miracle with upscaled HD, and whether it's 4K Blu-ray, a 4K Netflix stream or upscaled HD, the overall effect is never anything short of cinematic. Motion handling is easily good enough for the most sumptuous big-screen footie viewing, too.
Connectivity includes two HDMIs with HDCP 2.2 for 4K HDR, ethernet, PC and USB.
The LX-UH1 is a surprise new addition to JVC’s projector stable, in so much as it it uses DLP XPR technology rather JVC's own D-ILA chippery. Presumably this is because adopting 4K DLP is a lot less costly than developing a native 4K solution using D-ILA (it’s first and only UHD D-ILA model, the DLA-Z1, sells for £35,000). The LX-UH1 is altogether more affordable.
The LX-UH1 has an RGBRGB colour wheel. Brightness is quoted at a moderate 2,000 lumens, with a dynamic Contrast Ratio of 100,000:1.
As we’ve seen on other DLP models, the colour gamut is limited to Rec.709 color space, however it claims compatibility with both HDR10 and HLG HDR formats. The projector uses a standard lamp light source, rather than laser, so expect to replace the bulb over time.
The projector has two HDMI inputs, one of which is 4K HDCP 2.2 compatible. The LX-UH1 has a 1.6x wide zoom lens, which should suit most average living room spaces. JVC has a reputation for high quality image processing, which should make this an intriguing DLP debut.
The LX-UH1 is temptingly priced at t £2,499, and available either black or white finishes. It's definitely one to watch.