Home Theater Projector Shootout:
Home Theater Projectors under $1,000

Evan Powell, November 13, 2015

If you want to spend less than a thousand bucks on a good home theater projector, here are five of the best new options on the market. This shootout compares five newly released 1920x1080 resolution home theater projectors that are priced between $799 and $999, including in alpha order the BenQ HT3050, the BenQ HT2050, the Epson Home Cinema 2040, the Optoma HD28DSE, and the Viewsonic LightStream PJD7835HD. To start with, here are the prices, warranties, and technology type:

MODEL
PRICE
WARRANTY
TYPE
BenQ HT3050
$999
1 year
DLP
BenQ HT2050
$799
1 year
DLP
Epson Home Cinema 2040
$799
2 years
3LCD
Optoma HD28DSE
$799
1 year
DLP
Viewsonic PJD7835HD
$899
3 years
DLP


Which is the BEST Projector?

There is no such thing, at least in this group, as the "best" projector. Why? Because each of our five projectors has unique attributes that may be of more or less importance to you. For example, when one projector has deeper black levels but is not quite as sharp as another, people would disagree on which is the "best." One projector might do an outstanding job with 2D but its 3D image is lackluster, while a different model has terrific 3D, but its 2D image is less impressive. Which of these projectors is the "best" for you depends on how important 3D viewing is to you.

No single projector in this shootout does everything the best -- they've all got advantages and they've all got flaws. Our purpose here is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each product, and let you decide which one most closely meets your needs.

The Calibration Issue

There is a lot of discussion about color balance and calibration in these reviews. Let's put this into perspective right up front. There are two truisms to bear in mind:

1. Most consumers will think the factory calibrated pictures they get from any of the five projectors in this shootout are just fine as they are coming out of the box, without any need for adjustments or calibrations.

2. The picture quality on virtually all projectors can be improved with a professional calibration.

Projector manufacturers are paying more attention to proper video calibrations than they used to. Some are promoting the fact that they are making a specific effort to target HD Rec 709 standards in their Movie or Cinema factory calibrations. Other vendors have created Cinema or Movie calibrations designed to target HD color standards without specifically marketing them as such. So the good news is that you are much more likely to pull a new projector out of the box, fire it up, and get a picture that blows you away without having to bother with a professional calibration.

HOWEVER. Though vendors are paying more attention to calibration for best video, it is only by the rarest of accidents that a projector comes out of the box perfectly calibrated. Factory calibrations are always approximations, as each unit and (more importantly) each lamp is different. The high pressure lamps used in inexpensive projectors do not emit the ideal 6500K white light; they tend to be biased toward blue-green. The Cinema or Rec 709 factory calibrations help to compensate for the anticipated color errors introduced by the lamps, but there is no way that vendors could afford to custom calibrate each unit for each individual lamp during the manufacturing process.

Bottom line, if you set up two different projectors side by side that have both been "factory pre-calibrated to Rec 709," odds are the colors will look different. And, odds are, they are both wrong. But they will both look a lot better (that is, a lot closer to the theoretical ideal) than if no attempt at calibration had been done.

If you want your projector to be tuned up to its absolute best potential, a certified technician will need to spend a couple hours dialing it in. And even then, one person's "optimal" picture may not be another's. While there are objective targets defined as ideals, there is a lot of room for personal taste when it comes to setting up a video picture to your ultimate satisfaction.

The problem is, professional calibrations can cost $300 or more, which is a huge chunk of change to add to the cost of an $800 projector. Most buyers won't do that. And for most buyers, it isn't necessary. Think about this -- TVs are just as erroneous as projectors, often more so. But when's the last time you heard of anyone needing to hire a professional to calibrate their TV before they could enjoy the picture? Probably never.

So take the discussion about color balance and accuracy in these reviews with a grain of salt. They will mean something to serious home theater fans, and the issues are legitimate because people going to the trouble to install a projection system generally want better performance than the typical TV watcher. But all of the projectors in this group have factory defined picture modes that will dazzle and delight most consumers. They give you a big screen experience you can love without messing with any calibration at all. Once you install one of them and get familiar with its features, how much of a stickler you may want to be for fine tuning and technical precision is up to you.


Review Contents: The Best Projector Performance Installation Notes Lamp Life and Price
  BenQ HT3050 BenQ HT2050 Epson HC 2040 Optoma HD28DSE
  Viewsonic PJD7835HD

Reader Comments(11 comments)

Posted Aug 14, 2016 10:41 AM

By Brandon

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So upgrading from a w1070, I purchased a BenqQ HT3050. I wasn't thrilled with it for a few reasons. Not any brighter than my 1070 with 2200 hours on it (I'm big into 3D); very slow signal switching (just an annoyance); and noticeably more image noise. So I purchased a 2045. Well the 3d is (imo) not anywhere near 4x as bright as the 3050 or 1070 for that matter. Noticeably brighter but not by much. And the blacks/shadow detail are crushed compared to the BenQ's. Not to mention ghosting, and reflective glasses (panny vieras). On a 100" screen, 3d is better on the benq's imo and the brightness difference is maybe 1.25 times more to my eyes anyway. Both these projectors have many positives I haven't mentioned, but after trying all three on a hdmi switch back and forth; taking pics and comparing; I beleive I'm sticking with the w1070 and selling the other two...

Posted Jul 18, 2016 6:45 PM

By Evan Powell, Editor

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Jim, most projectors with zoom lenses lose light output as you move them back from the screen and adjust the zoom to the longer throw end of the zoom range. The BenQ 2050 and 3050 lose 27% of their light output when moving from the most extreme wide angle position to the most telephoto position, which is not unusual. This is because the zoom effect is caused by increasing the distance between the front and rear lens elements. The light path in the lens through which the light needs to pass is lengthened, and therefore the amount of light that can make it out of the lens is constricted. So your assumption that the projector is just as bright for any given screen size regardless of the throw distance is not accurate. To get the brightest possible picture, place the 2050 as close to the screen as possible.

Posted Jul 18, 2016 6:11 PM

By Jim

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I've ordered an HT2050. I'm confused about the zoom range. I'm using a 100" silver ticket, white fixed frame screen. Your articles explains how zooming in and out affects light output, but I can't follow it. In order to place the projector as far back as possible over my living room, I planned on zooming the image "down" to fit inside the borders of the 100" screen. Is this increasing or reducing light output vs placing the projector closer and zooming "up"? I would think, given the same size screen (100" for example), moving the projector forward and backward, while simultaneously using the zoom lens to keep the image the same size, would net the same light output. Thanks!

Posted Apr 21, 2016 5:21 AM

By paul

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Hi, I just got from Amazon 2 projectors listed here to try out and kept Epson 2040. First of all - none of those projectors is perfect, it is true. One huge benefit 7835HD has is its zoom and throwing angle - it is an ideal device to hang your screen from a ceiling in a medium size room and have projector in front of your seating position, 100" screen gets filled from 7ft or so, it is very convenient. Now, a reason it goes back - i am not sure if i had a wrong unit or they all are like that, but quality of the focus ring was horrible. Lens shift and moves when you adjust focus ring and you never get that feel that you are in perfect focus. Quality of the lens is also so-so.

Huge operational plus of the Epson device is - when you adjust its legs it automatically adjusts keystones making screen perfectly square. For some reason most reviews kip that - but for a device that will be used from a cofee table it is a huge thing - i do not have to adjust screen manually every time, it does it itself using built in level. Very smart.

I am not a picky person, i know some folks avoid adjusting keystones but epson 2040 was way, way sharper and perfectly in focus compared to 7835HD.

Speaking of brightness and fan noise - 7835HD wins in full brightness mode hands down. If you need to use projector in the living room with windows - it is a better option. Fan is acceptable and image is bright with ambient light on. If you do such stunt with Epson 2040 it starts blowing its fan like a turbine and image is so-so, not much brighter than in ECO mode.

BUT! Eco mode is what matters for a room with not much light , as most people will use it in this mode. That was the final reason for me to return 7835HD. Eco fan mode on 2040 unit is LESS loud than ECO mode on 7835HD. Also, to my surprise, only color mode on 7835HD to be brighter then Epson`s was its brightest contrast mode that distorts all colors. Only natural color mode you can watch movies on Viewsonic is a 'standard' mode with 'warm' color balance, as was noted in the review. In this mode it produces great picture with vary nice colors.

With Epson i noticed that I like almost every mode it has, i see some differences but did not see anything drastically distorted. So, if you turn on Dynamic mode on 2040 and then go to menu and switch lamp power to ECO - you get NICE and BRIGHT image, and that image is brighter than standard ECO mode on a 3500 lumens 7835HD! It was odd to see, but i had both projectors fired up from same source via hdmi splitter and it was indeed so.

That was the point that made my decision.

Only downside of Epson is that it needs different kind of 3D glasses, but in 3D it is actually visibly brighter then viewsonic as well, noticeably brighter.

Posted Apr 12, 2016 3:15 PM

By Landis

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Just installed the 2040 last night and was amazed at how good it looked in full light on Eco mode. My wife sitting right next to it said she couldn't hear the fan. If left in normal mode it seems a waste. I wonder why people pay more unless you're able to spend a great deal more and I wonder how much the human eye can really tell as far as the difference. The 3D was as advertised and reviewed. So clear and easy to watch with the $20 Samsung 3D glasses I bought on Prime. My previous Viewsonic PJ1165 was not as good as this one. I whole heartedly recommend this product!

Posted Dec 30, 2015 2:42 PM

By Jon Busch

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I am surprised that the light level measurements (lumens) are so muh less than manufacturers claim. I'm a motion picture technician by trade and I want the kind of light (measured in Foot-lamberts that are considered ideal - that being 16 Footlamberts. How does that correlate to lumens? I've got an old Mitsubishi 1000, rated at 1500 lumen and it's much dimmer than what I want. The 2040 reviewed doesn't appear to have more light according to your tests yet you claim brilliant color. What do I need to get movie theater brightness?

Posted Dec 1, 2015 8:06 PM

By Mike

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how do these compare to say a Epson home cinema 3500 which can be had refurbished from Epson for ~ $1,000

Posted Nov 16, 2015 1:54 PM

By Joe Smith USA

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How would the Optoma HD28DSE compare to the Sony 55ES if you were watching on a 110 inch screen 15 feet away?

Since Optoma also has Darbee, it may even do some things better. Probably won't have as good a black as the Sony 55 but otherwise I have a feeling it is a much better buy for under 1K

Posted Nov 15, 2015 5:52 PM

By Zak

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3D is just amazing and much better than movie theaters.

Posted Nov 14, 2015 9:21 AM

By Noam Cohen

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The Epson 2045 replaces an aging Runco CL510 in my theater. I am loving it. On a DIY 'Black Widow' screen it is vibrant - and even black levels become quite good. 3D is a blast. $79 Lamp is a low end game changer.

Nice shoot-out. Thank you.

Posted Nov 14, 2015 7:53 AM

By Noam Cohen

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Thank you for this thorough examination.

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