Home theatre projectors review

Digital projectors bring the movies to your lounge room.
 
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01 .Introduction

Home-theatre-projector

Test results for five home theatre projectors priced between $1399 and $2999

We tested them for:

  • Picture quality
  • Ease of use
  • Standby energy consumption

CHOICE tests are different. We buy the products we test — no freebies from manufacturers. Companies can't buy ads on our site and our work is funded by people like you.

Findings

  • You'll need a fair bit of space to use a projector in a home theatre setup.
  • The most common projector technologies are liquid crystal display (LCD) and digital light processing (DLP).
  • A projector may not be the most suitable display for watching television or playing games as the lamps can be expensive to replace.

Brands tested

  • BenQ PE7700
  • Epson EMP-TW700
  • InFocus IN72
  • Optoma HD70
  • Sharp XV-Z100

Please note: this information was current as of January 2007 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


 
 

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What to buy

  • Optoma HD70 DMD Projection Display - $2399
  • Infocus IN72 - $1399

There's a lot to like about the Optoma projector. It scored best overall and for picture quality, outperforming the more expensive models. It's the lightest and smallest projector in the test and has both vertical and horizontal keystone correction. It does have a relatively high heat output, however, so is probably best used in a well ventilated room.

The Infocus IN72 has been discontinued and replaced with the IN74. The IN72 but may still be available in stores, however, and at $1399, it's a good choice if you're on a budget. The resolution isn't as high as some of the other projectors in this test, but it can produce good colours and the lamp costs less to replace.

Screen scene

Home theatre enthusiasts would argue that the projector is only half the story - the screen is equally important. Projection screens use a blank surface, usually highly reflective fabric, to enhance the brightness of the projected image. A screen can cost thousands of dollars depending on the materials and the complexity of the setup. You may also need to consider installation costs. A specialised screen can certainly add to the cinema experience, but don't feel pressured to spend a fortune.

You can also buy special paint designed to create a video projection surface. And you can project images onto a plain white wall, although you'll probably lose some brightness and detail.

Results tables

          Features5
Brand/model
(in rank order)
Price1 ($) Overall (%) Performance2 (%) Ease of use3 (%) Standby energy consumption4 (%) Native resolution Contrast ratio (x:1) Brightness (ANSI lumens) Screen size (cm) Keystone correction Lamp life (h)
Optoma HD70 DMD Projection Display
www.ambertech.com.au
2399 70 76 64 50 1280 x 720 4000 1000 92-762 15° +/- vertical and horizontal 3000
Sharp XV-Z100
www.sharp.net.au
2499 67 68 68 60 854 x 480 2500 1000 102-762 13° +/- vertical only 2000
InFocus IN72 (a)
www.infocus.com
1399 63 68 65 30 854 x 480 2000 900 150-380 20° +/- vertical only 3000
Epson dreamio Home Projector EMP- TW700
www.epson.com.au
2999 62 58 71 60 1280 x 720 10000 1600 76-762 15° +/- vertical only 3000
BenQ Digital Projector PE7700
www.benq.com.au
2499 59 57 72 30 1280 x 720 2500 1100 94-762 12° +/- vertical only 2000
 

 

  Specifications6
Brand/model (in rank order) Sensor Size (DxWxH, cm) Warranty (years) Lamp warranty
Optoma HD70 DMD Projection Display
www.ambertech.com.au
DLP 11 x 27 x 26 3 1000 hours or 12 months
Sharp XV-Z100
www.sharp.net.au
DLP 12 x 32 x 29 1 3 months
InFocus IN72 (a)
www.infocus.com
DLP 16 x 36 x 36 2 12 months
Epson dreamio Home Projector EMP- TW700
www.epson.com.au
LCD 14 x 40 x 35 2 500 hours or 3 months
BenQ Digital Projector PE7700
www.benq.com.au
DLP 13 x 38 x 31 2 500 hours or 3 months
 

Table notes

(a) Discontinued but may still be available in stores.

1 Price recommended retail as at February 2007.
2 Performance (60% of Overall) a technical assessment of the product's ability to display an accurate picture using a range of standard footage, and a visual evaluation of pictures from standard and high definition sources.
3 Ease of Use (30%) how easy it was to use the remote controls, on-board controls and on-screen displays as well as how easy it was to set up the projector using commonly used controls.
4 Standby energy consumption (10%) the energy used when the projector is turned off using the remote control but is still on at the power point. A higher score equates to lower energy energy use.
5 Features Native resolution the resolution at which the projector can display images without conversion; Contrast ratio measures the distance between the blackest blacks and whitest whites as claimed by the manufacturer. In theory the bigger the ratio the better the picture; Brightness the light output from the projector lamp; Screen size the minimum and maximum widescreen size across the diagonal that each product can project, as claimed by the manufacturer; Keystone correction the extent to which the projector will adjust the image to overcome distortion where the top of the pictue is wider than the bottom; Lamp life as claimed by the manufacturer.
6 Specifications Sensor whether the projector uses a single DLP or three-panel LCD technology; Size the dimensions of the projector including protrusions; Warranty of the projector; Lamp warranty the number of hours of operation or elapsed time period, whichever comes first.

Product profiles

BenQ PE7700

Price: $2499
Warranty: 2 years

Good points

  • Can change air filter
  • Best ease of use
  • Rear infrared sensor
  • Good stabilisation

Bad points

  • Lowest score overall
  • Longest measured boot time
  • Only three months or 500 hours lamp warranty
  • Heaviest projector

Epson EMP-TW700

Price: $2999
Warranty: 2 years

Good points

  • Can change air filter
  • Useful lens shift
  • Rear infrared sensor
  • Good stabilisation
  • Lowest heat exhaust
  • Equal best standby energy score
  • Lowest priced lamp replacement

Bad points

  • Only three months or 500 hours lamp warranty
  • No video cables supplied
  • Relatively large

InFocus IN72

Price: $1399
Warranty: 2 years

Good points

  • Good stabilisation
  • 3000 hour lamp life regardless of mode used

Bad points

  • Shortest claimed projection distance
  • Only 480p resolution
  • Most expensive lamp replacement
  • Relatively large

Optoma HD70

Price: $2399
Warranty: 3 years

Good points

  • Best score overall
  • Best performance score
  • Vertical and horizontal keystone correction
  • Three-year warranty
  • Lightest and smallest projector
  • Supplied component cable
  • Equal highest processor assessment score

Bad points

  • Unbranded remote can be hard to identify
  • Only one rear adjustment foot at left
  • Highest heat exhaust
  • Only OK circle measurement in picture patterns assessment

Sharp XV-Z100

Price: $2499
Warranty: 1 year

Good points

  • Equal highest processor assessment score
  • Equal best standby energy score
  • Sound capability
  • Longest claimed projection distance

Bad points

  • No HDMI input
  • Only one rear adjustment foot at left
  • Only 480p resolution
  • Lamp life. Projector lamps can be replaced by the user and all the products include removal and replacement instructions. Lamp life ranges from 2000-3000 hours depending on the setting you use. If you're watching a lot of TV or playing video games, it could work out to be pretty expensive; lamps typically cost about $450-660 to replace. That's anywhere from about 15-33 cents per hour of viewing. All the projectors count the hours of lamp operation and separate the lamp warranty into a period of time (three months, for example) or hours, whichever comes first.
  • Boot time. The projector lamp needs time to heat up before it can display a picture. For the sake of the life of the lamp, it's a good idea to let your projector heat up and cool down according to manufacturer instructions.
  • Noise. Just as people whispering in the row in front can ruin a night at the movies, so too can a noisy projector fan. The sound produced by the projector will vary depending on whether it's in high brightness or economical mode. The claimed sound levels of the projectors range from 26-33 decibels.
  • Heat output. After an hour playing footage from a DVD on its default settings, the temperature of the projectors ranged from 53°C (Epson) to 82°C (Optoma). That's toasty, so keep small children and clutter away from the exhaust outlet. The projector should also be used in a well ventilated room, or else things could become uncomfortable.

Resolution

The physical size of the projector doesn't necessarily have any impact on the resolution it can display. Three of the projectors have a native resolution of 1280 x 720, which you may see listed as 720p. They're considered high definition (HD) projectors. All products use progressive scanning, but the resolution of the Sharp and InFocus projectors, 480p, isn't a high definition standard. Both projectors performed better than the Epson and BenQ, however, because they could produce good colours, although the Infocus lacked some detail.

The native resolution is the resolution at which the projector can display images without having to scale the picture up or down. The ideal situation is when the video signal matches the native resolution, but in reality you'll be watching video from different sources at different resolutions.

If you're after the highest native resolution possible, you'll now find projectors with native resolutions of 1080, often referred to by manufacturers as True HD or Full HD. They're still very costly - more than double the most expensive projector in this test.

Keystone correction

The keystone effect usually occurs when the image is projected to the screen at an angle. If projected upwards, it results in picture that is wider at the top and looks like a wedge or 'keystone'. All the projectors had controls to overcome this problem. The InFocus lets you correct the vertical image by up to 20° and the Optoma is the only product that lets you correct the image both vertically and horizontally.

Keystone correction can create jagged edges at the edge of screen, since it effectively cuts out some of the pixels to make the image rectangle.

Colour correction

You can adjust the colour of the projected image using the basic colour correction functions of the on-screen display. The BenQ and Epson also include a handy shortcut on the remote control.

You can also adjust individual colours (red, blue and green) but these functions, called gain settings, can be hard to access.

You can set up the projectors in several ways:

  • On the table or floor in front of the screen. You can then choose to store the projector elsewhere, if you wish.
  • Mounted on a ceiling or wall using a permanent bracket. Some brackets tuck away to conceal the projector when it's not in use, although they generally require professional installation. All the projectors had screw placements for mounting and included menu options to change the picture orientation depending on the installation.
  • Reversed on either the floor or ceiling so that the image is displayed from behind on a transparent screen.
  • If you choose a permanent setup, think carefully about the viewing distance between the projector and the screen as this will affect the size of the picture. It's sometimes also referred to as the throw ratio or projection distance. We found all our projectors could easily fill our 279 cm screen within 10 metres using the zoom. The table shows the maximum widescreen projection distances claimed by manufacturers.
  • You'll also need a darkened room, particularly if you position the projector at any distance from the screen.
  • All the projectors were OK to set up, although the Optoma and Sharp had a single stabilisation foot on one side only, which wasn't very useful.
  • None of the products retained their settings when they were turned off at the power point or unplugged, however. If you plan to put the projector away after each use, you'll have set it up each time using either the remote control or on-board controls to bring up an on-screen display.
  • All the products support the 4:3 aspect ratio for general viewing as well as the widescreen 16:9 ratio. They use manual focus and zoom. Automatic functions are generally available in more expensive models.
  • The BenQ and Epson had rear remote sensors that make it easy to change settings from behind the projector.

Connections

  • All the projectors can connect via composite, S-Video and component connections, although the Sharp's component connection is via a VGA adaptor.
  • All the projectors can connect to a computer, provided you have the right cables.
  • Four of the five projectors had an high definition multimedia interface (HDMI) connection - the Sharp was the only product that did not come with an HDMI input.
  • The Epson, InFocus and Optoma let you link the projector to a powered screen so that you can lower the screen using the projector remote.
  • The Sharp was the only projector with its own speakers and consequently has sound input and output connections.
  Projection distances
Brand/model (in alphabetical order) Minimum distance (cm) Maximum distance (cm)
BenQ Digital Projector PE7700 108 1191
Epson dreamio Home Projector EMP-TW700 93 961
InFocus IN72 240 700
Optoma HD70 DMD Projection Display 150 1100
Sharp XV-Z100 140 1230
 

Approximate distances for widescreen projection, as claimed by the manufacturer. Minimum and maximum distances relate to screen sizes.

06.How we test and projector technology

 

How we test

  • To see how the picture quality differs from one projector to another, our tester first uses instruments to measure the colour and intensity of each projector's output and adjust the controls to achieve the best picture possible.
  • He then displays test patterns from a high quality DVD player to measure how much picture is being cut off and/or any apparent distortions (such as circles that aren't round, or wavy lines that should be straight).
  • He appraises just how well the projector produces accurate colour using a specially calibrated high quality monitor as a reference.
  • To check the picture and the colour our tester sets up each projector so the colours it displays are as close as possible to the calibrated reference display. The lighting in the room is kept very low and four experts evaluate the picture quality and rate it out of 10, watching a variety of footage from various movies and recorded live TV at standard and high resolution.
  • The experts pay particular attention to the projectors' ability to produce images without colour banding, rainbow or screen door effects, jerkiness in pans, blurred or vibrating detail, or colours bleeding in high contrast or very intensely saturated parts of the image. They also check that there are no trails behind fast moving objects on the screen.
  • To see how easy they are to operate, the tester uses the remote control, on-board controls and on-screen display to perform several common tasks. He looks for clear labelling, buttons and controls that are easily identified and used without interfering with other controls and logical menus. He pays careful attention to the ease of finding and using the most commonly used controls, as well as how difficult it is to access and use controls that you may only need once in a while.
  • He also uses a power meter to measure the power each projector uses in standby mode.

Projector technology

The two most common projector technologies are Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) and Digital Light Processing (DLP).

LCD projectors generally use three LCD glass panels. Light passes through the panels and individual pixels are turned on or off to create the picture.

DLP uses tiny mirrors laid out on a chip called a Digital Micromirror Device (DMD). The mirrors switch on or off to create shades of grey and the number of mirrors corresponds to the resolution of the projected image. Red, green and blue light is filtered through a colour wheel and directed alternately onto the chip, which switches on and off thousands of times a second.

LCD and DLP have historically had their pros and cons. LCD, for example, can suffer from the 'screen door effect' where it looks as if you're viewing the image through a flyscreen. It can also lack contrast in comparison with DLP technology.

DLP projectors that use a single chip may produce a 'rainbow effect', brief flashes of what look to be red, blue or green shadows. But not everybody will see these artefacts - it depends on the individual. The technology has also been traditionally more expensive than LCD.

Both technologies have been improved over the last few years, however, and you're unlikely to notice a significant difference. The only LCD projector in our test, the Epson, wasn't the worst performer. The screen door effect was apparent, but you're less likely to notice the space between the pixels if you stand further away from the screen.

You may also come across other projector types, such as Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCoS) which is often considered to be superior to both LCD and DLP technologies, although it's considerably more expensive. And some DLP projectors use multiple chips and enhanced colour wheels to overcome the rainbow effect.

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