Which Projector Do You Recommend? Ask the Editors

projector

Q: I’m looking for a new 4K/UHD projector with 3D and HDR. My room is around 16×16. I might be building another room; I’m not sure yet, but the maximum size would probably be around 20×20. The current room has some windows, so I have some ambient light during the day, but I do have blackout curtains on most of the windows. In addition to movies and TV, I will also be using it for gaming. I’ve been looking at the Sony VPL-VW285ES, VPL-VW385ES, and VPL-VW675ES, but if you know of any that are better, please let me know.

– David (thecrowandsting)


A: The Sony projectors you mention encompass a wide range of prices, from $5000 to $15,000, so I’ll stay within that range. All three models support 3D and HDR (HDR10 and HLG, not Dolby Vision), and they all have a native resolution of true 4K (4096×2160)—no pixel shifting like most other consumer 4K/UHD projectors. Also, all provide motorized focus, zoom, and lens shift, and the VW385ES and VW675ES includes lens memories to store settings for different aspect ratios. I recommend getting a projector with that feature if you’re not going to add an anamorphic lens to the setup.

The VW675ES has the best specified dynamic contrast ratio of 350,000:1 with a peak luminance of 1800 lumens, and the VW385ES is spec’d at 200,000:1 with 1800 lumens. Sony does not specify the contrast ratio of the VW285ES, but the peak luminance is spec’d at 1500 lumens. (For more on the VW285ES, see our first look here and full review here.) According to the Sony website, the VW285ES and VW385ES incorporate new SXRD imagers that deliver better native contrast than previous generations, which argues for one of those over the VW675ES.

On the other hand, an argument against the VW285ES and VW385ES is that their HDMI ports operate at a maximum bitrate of 13.5 Gbps, which is slightly less than HDMI’s current top speed of 18 Gbps. That might not seem like a big deal, and for 4K HDR movies at 24 frames per second (fps), it doesn’t matter. However, 13.5 Gbps can’t support 4K HDR content at 60 fps, which could be a problem. For example, if you have an Apple TV 4K streamer that is set to output everything as 4K/60 HDR (its default setting), the VW285ES and VW385ES can’t display it. (A recent firmware update to the Apple TV 4K lets you set the device to output content in its native format, which skirts this problem in most cases.) In any event, I much prefer to have the maximum bitrate for maximum compatibility with source devices and signals.

Does the VW675ES support the maximum HDMI bitrate of 18 Gbps? I can’t find that particular spec on the Sony website, and I’ve found two reviews that differ on that point—one says it does, and the other says it doesn’t. The only current Sony 4K projector that I know supports 18 Gbps is the VPL-VW885ES, which lists for $25,000. (The VPL-VW5000ES probably does as well, but it lists for $60,000, and it uses the previous generation of SXRD chips.)

Other options in your price range include projectors from JVC—the DLA-X590R ($4000, 1800 lumens, 40,000:1 native contrast), DLA-X790R ($6000, 1900 lumens, 130,000:1 native contrast), and DLA-X990R ($8000, 2000 lumens, 160,000:1 native contrast). All three use an imaging technology similar to the Sony models, generically known as LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon). JVC calls it D-ILA (Direct Drive Image Light Amplification), and Sony calls it SXRD (Silicon X-tal [Crystal] Reflective Display).

BTW, JVC has two distribution channels for its projectors, and they are known by different model numbers in each channel. However, other than the color of the ring around the lens, they are identical. The DLA-X590R is equivalent to the DLA-RS440U, the DLA-X790R is equivalent to the DLA-RS540U, and the DLA-X990R is equivalent to the DLA-RS640U. I will continue to use the X-series model numbers in this article.

All the JVC projectors support 3D and HDR (HDR10 and HLG, not Dolby Vision), and their HDMI ports support a bitrate of 18 Gbps. Also, they all provide motorized lenses and lens memories. However, their imagers’ native resolution is 1080p. They simulate 4K/UHD resolution by quickly shifting the pixels back and forth between two positions, a process JVC calls e-Shift. This is not true 4K/UHD, but it looks surprisingly close, especially from a normal seating distance. The only JVC with true 4K (4096×2160) resolution is the DLA-RS4500, which lists for $35,000.

Like the Sony projectors, the JVC models have a dynamic iris that increases the contrast by responding to the overall brightness of the image at any given moment. However, JVC projectors are well known for their high native contrast ratios and deep blacks, which do not depend on a dynamic iris. Notice that the JVC models specify native contrast, while the Sonys specify dynamic contrast that includes the effect of the dynamic iris. I don’t know the native (non-dynamic) contrast of the Sony models, but the dynamic iris on the JVCs increases the specified native contrast by a factor of 10, making it much higher than the Sonys. I prefer a high native contrast without using the dynamic iris, because I can sometimes see the iris working, which I find distracting.

One more possibility is the Epson Pro Cinema LS10500 ($8000, 1500 lumens, infinite contrast). Like the Sony and JVC projectors in your price range, the LS10500 uses a version of LCoS that Epson calls 3LCD Reflective or LCoQ (liquid crystal on quartz).

Unlike the Sonys and JVCs I’ve been discussing, all of which use UHP lamps as the light source, the LS10500 uses a laser/phosphor light source that offers several advantages. Its specified lifespan is up to 30,000 hours; UHD lamps must be replaced every few thousand hours at a cost of at least a couple hundred dollars. Also, the laser can be modulated to produce super-deep blacks—it has no dynamic iris—which is why Epson specifies “infinite” contrast. With actual images, the black level is very low, but it isn’t actually zero.

A high-performance, laser-illuminated projector for $8000 is quite a good deal. The only laser-illuminated projectors from the other companies are the JVC DLA-RS4500 ($35,000) and the Sony VPL-VW885ES ($25,000) and VPL-VW5000ES ($60,000). Sony also offers several laser-illuminated ultra-short-throw (UST) models, including the VPL-VZ1000ES ($25,000), LSPX-W1S ($50,000), and soon-to-be-released LSPX-A1 ($TBA). However, I’m not considering UST models here.

The LS10500 has all the other features you’re looking for, including 4K, 3D, and HDR (HDR10 and HLG, not Dolby Vision). However, the maximum HDMI bitrate is only 10.2 Gbps, which doesn’t support 10-bit HDR content at 60 fps; heck, it can’t even support 10-bit 4:4:4 color at 30 fps. Like the JVCs, its imaging chips have a native resolution of 1080p, and the pixels are quickly shifted back and forth to simulate 4K/UHD; Epson calls this 4K Enhanced. It also offers motorized focus, zoom, and lens shift along with lens memories for different aspect ratios without an anamorphic lens.

With regard to gaming, the JVC projectors tout a low-latency mode for just that purpose. I was unable to find anything about that on the Sony or Epson websites. I’m not a gamer at all, so perhaps other AVS Forum members can shed some light on this issue as it relates to the Sony and Epson projectors.

If you don’t have complete control over ambient light, you should get a projector with as much light output as possible. In addition, an ambient light-rejecting screen might be a good idea, though you could install blackout curtains on the rest of the windows instead. And keep in mind that the larger the screen, the dimmer the image will look at a given light output, since the light is spread out over a larger area. Many projectors are spec’d to fill screens up to 300 inches, but that’s way too big for most of them.

Given all of this, I would recommend one of the JVC projectors, especially the DLA-X990R for its high light output and native contrast. (If you can afford the Sony VW675ES for $15,000, you can certainly afford the X990R for $8000!) Their resolution is pixel-shifted 1080p—what some call “faux-K”—but they provide 18 Gbps HDMI, lens memories, and great native contrast and blacks. I prefer laser illumination over UHP lamps, but I also prefer 18 Gbps HDMI and deep blacks over true 4K resolution. For me, the benefits and tradeoffs tip the scale toward the JVCs.

Of course, many AVS Forum members have strong opinions about which projectors and screens they prefer, and some might well disagree with me on this. I invite any of them to share their views in the comments.


Many of the projectors mentioned here are available from Amazon. Here are links to the Sony models that are available from the e-tailer, along with the prices I found there.

Sony VPL-VW285ES: $4998.00 on Amazon
Sony VPL-VW385ES: $7998.00 on Amazon
Sony VPL-VW675ES: $14,998.00 on Amazon
Sony VPL-VW885ES: $24,998.00 on Amazon

JVC does not authorize online sales of its projectors. Here is the company’s statement about online sales of each model mentioned in this article:

“JVC Visual Systems Division sells this D-ILA projector only through authorized distributors, dealers, and custom installers that offer quality support before and after the sale. JVC expressly prohibits its authorized resellers from selling this model over the Internet. JVC is actively pursuing legal action against businesses in violation of its policy for copyright infringement, misrepresentation, and fraud. For you protection, and to receive authorized support, JVC recommends that its customers not purchase this model through unauthorized Internet channels.”


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