Ask the Editors: Which Projector Should I Get?


Q: I want to upgrade my Panasonic PT-AE7000 projector. It’s in a room with three windows—one skylight in the ceiling, one in the back wall opposite to the screen, and one on the side. I can control the light from the windows in the walls with black-out shades, but not the skylight.

I do not like a dark-cave theater; I prefer to have some ambient or natural light. The PT-AE7000 does the job at night, but during the day, it’s not so good. The image is decent with the natural light, but not great. I like explosive colors and high resolution. My screen is a dnp Supernova Flex Classic.

I’m considering these models:

Optoma UHZ65 (3000 lumens)
JVC DLA-X990R (2000 lumens)
Sony VPL-VW385ES (1500 lumens)

What do you suggest? Note that I live at a high altitude.

– Francisco Correa

A: The problem is that you want explosive colors using a front projector in a room with ambient light. These two criteria are mutually exclusive. In the presence of ambient light, the image from all projectors suffers from desaturation—i.e., the colors become less “explosive.” So, your first decision must be, which do you want more, explosive colors or ambient light? You can’t have both.

One thing that helps improve the image in the presence of ambient light is an ambient light-rejecting (ALR) screen. I looked up the Supernova Flex Classic on the dnp website. It uses a material called Supernova 08-85, but I couldn’t find the specs for that material. The website claims that the Supernova Flex Classic is designed for “front projection for environments with high ambient light,” and the three applications it is rated most highly for are home entertainment, education, and conference rooms.

The other factor that can help in your case is a high-brightness projector. You’ve identified one—the Optoma UHZ65—but it’s important to know that the specified light output is the highest that the company can wring out of it under extraordinary conditions. In actual use, and especially if you have it calibrated, the light output will be much lower. Of course, you like explosive colors, so perhaps its “vivid” picture mode will suit you, and that mode is likely to have the highest light output.

On the other hand, it’s a DLP-based projector, most of which don’t have good blacks or contrast as far as I’ve seen. Still, that might not matter in the presence of ambient light. It seems you want a light cannon, and all other performance specs (except resolution) take a back seat to that. Therefore, getting a projector with the highest light output might be the best solution for you.

Since you want high brightness, I recommend a projector with a laser light source. You will be running the projector in its high-brightness mode, which will require you to replace a normal lamp quite often. Also, the brightness of a normal lamp drops a lot as it ages. Laser light sources are rated for about 20,000 hours at the highest brightness setting, and their brightness drops much more slowly than normal lamps.

Projector Central has a useful database of projectors that lets you search for various criteria. Since your most important criteria are explosive colors and high resolution, I searched for projectors with UHD resolution (3840×2160), brightness between 2000 and 4000 lumens, and a laser light source. This yielded three models, all DLP-based: The Optoma UHZ65 ($3999, 3000 lumens), Acer VL7860 ($3999, 3000 lumens), and LG HU80KA ($2997, 2500 lumens).

Moving up to a brightness range between 4000 and 7000 lumens, I found three long-throw models, also DLP-based: The BenQ LK970 ($12,999, 5000 lumens), Casio XH-L8300HN ($11,495, 5000 lumens), and Digital Projection E-Vision Laser 4K HC ($19,995, 4500 lumens). There is also one ultra-short-throw model in that list, the DLP-based Dell S718QL Laser 4K UST ($4999, 5000 lumens). But it must be placed less than one foot from the screen, so it might not work for you unless you rearrange your room; it might require a different screen as well. Obviously, the long-throw models are way more expensive than the laser-illuminated projectors in the 2000-4000 lumen range.

Unless you’re willing to spend five figures or rearrange your room, I recommend the Optoma UHZ65 or LG HU80KA. However, I will say again that I generally do not prefer inexpensive DLP-based projectors for their poor contrast and blacks. But I think these models will do what you want in your environment to some degree. Just don’t expect miracles; in ambient light, they will still look less saturated than in a completely darkened room.

Most AVS Forum members prefer a completely darkened room to get the most out of front projection (in which case, I would strongly recommend the JVC DLA-X990R from your list). But perhaps some have other recommendations to address your unusual requirements. If so, I invite them to leave a comment!

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