Best of the Year 2019

The year 2021 may be described by some as a COVID recovery period for the projector industry as it watched industrial and educational customers come back after a year of lock-down, and saw consumer projector demand continue following 2020's hurry-up-and-stay-home surge. For manufacturers, keeping products flowing through the factories and the ports presented unprecedented challenges thanks to ongoing parts and labor shortages.

Nonetheless, if you look at our 2021 list of ProjectorCentral Best of the Year Awards, culled from the 2020 and 2021 model year products we reviewed in the last 12 months, it's clear that the lingering pandemic could not prevent the ever-onward march of technology and innovation. You'll find several themes encapsulated in this year's selections. On the commercial side of the business, perhaps the most notable trend was seen in manufacturers squeezing ever-more laser-driven lumens out of smaller boxes, particularly in the 6,000- to 10,000 lumen medium-to-large venue sector. The idea of an 8,000 lumen projector appearing in a footprint not terribly much bigger than that of an office briefcase and weighing less than 40 pounds was unheard of just a couple of years ago, but here we are. At the same time, the cost of tapping that kind of firepower for a lecture hall, conference room, or worship sanctuary has become ever-more affordable.

It was also a fascinating year for consumer projection. Manufacturers continued to embrace brighter, late-generation LED technology for more portables and lifestyle projectors designed to appeal to a broader audience. More notably, they released new laser projectors for both the high-end and, critically, mid-priced sectors of the home theater market. Toward year end we were nearly buried in sophisticated new UST living room projectors that our review staff will be picking through well into 2022, some from Asian brands new to the U.S. market. A few tri-laser models are the first consumer displays of any type to claim reproduction of the full Rec.2020 color gamut built into the HDR10 production specs. Perhaps even more exciting for serious home theater enthusiasts were the first traditional long-throw laser models priced below $3,000, a sweet spot previously reserved for high-performing lamp projectors. The year 2021 also saw the emergence of a new generation of ultra-fast gaming projectors that can finally compete on input lag with flat-panels and make projection gaming a viable alternative for serious gamers.

We can't be sure yet what's to come in 2022, but if I had to guess, I'd say the new products coming our way will be best reflected by the words "brighter," "smaller," "lighter," and (I hope) "cheaper." Keep ProjectorCentral bookmarked and subscribe to our email blasts, and we'll keep you posted on all the new developments. —Rob Sabin

AAXA P6X headon BoY

AAXA P6X LED Portable Projector

Intended Use: Portable home theater, business presentations
Price: $359
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ProjectorCentral has favorably reviewed AAXA's pico projectors dating back to 2010, but you'd have had to go back to 2017 for our last AAXA review until this year, when we evaluated two models. The 1080p resolution M7 and the 1280x800-resolution P6X are both high-def, mini-powerhouse LED projectors that run on battery power and provide brighter images at larger sizes and better resolution than we expect from portables at this size. But the P6X, with its attractive $359 price point, slightly smaller footprint, and much lighter 1.8-pound weight (vs. 3 pounds for the M7), delivers stellar value and still fits the profile of a classic pico (vs. what might today be called a mini-projector). It's rated for 1,100 LED lumens, (which reflects the perceived rather than measured brightness), and we measured 698 ANSI lumens in our tests. The result was an impressively bright image up to about 80-inches diagonal, with good sharpness and acceptable color fidelity. AAXA skips the fancy Wi-Fi streaming, Bluetooth capabilities, and automatic powered focus you get on more expensive competitors. But you get vertical keystone correction, a little built-in speaker and a headphone output to feed an outboard sound system, and a nice jack-pack that includes HDMI, USB, and SD card inputs. All-in-all, the P6X is just a solidly built projector that travels easily in a backpack or briefcase and puts a big, bright picture on the wall without costing a lot. (Read the full review).

BenQ TK700STi rightangle BoY

BenQ TK700STi Gaming Projector

Intended Use: Gaming, Home Theater
Price: $1,579
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The introduction by Texas Instruments of a more advanced 4K DLP chipset resulted in an important step forward for gaming projectors in 2021, with several manufacturers able to introduce models featuring both high refresh rates up to 240 Hz and input lag as low as 4 milliseconds. That rivals most TVs and competes well with gaming monitors. The TK700STi was among the first to appear with this capability, which allows 4K/60 Hz or 1080p/60 Hz support with 16 ms lag, 1080p/120 Hz at 8 ms, and 1080p/240 Hz at 4 ms. What's more, that gaming performance is delivered here in a rare, 4K-capable short-throw package that casts a 100-inch image from just 6.5 feet. BenQ throws in a Wi-Fi streaming stick that uses the capable Android TV platform, and the relatively high 3,000 ANSI-lumen rating from this lamp-based model means you can game or binge-watch with some lights on. You sacrifice wide color gamut—the TK700STi tops out at a rated 97% Rec.709—but you still get HDR10 and HLG high dynamic range playback. At its $1,599 street price, the TK700STi is an excellent, affordable projector for gamers and home theater aficionados who need a solidly performing short-throw throw option, or who can't permanently install a projector and need to pull something from the closet and plop it on the coffee table for a game, sports, or streaming night. (Read the full review).

BenQ x1300 front angle BoY

BenQ X1300i LED Gaming Projector

Intended Use: Gaming, Home Theater
Price: $1,299 MSRP
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Along with allowing for low input lag and high frame-rate gaming, BenQ went further than other brands in 2021 by tapping its experience with high performance monitors to migrate new game-centric features into its projectors. The resulting models, the 1080p-resolution X1300i and the upcoming X3000i with 4K, are groundbreaking projectors the company hopes will fulcrum projection into a gaming community that never considered the option. To begin, the X1300i is surprisingly bright for a solid-state LED projector at 3,000 ANSI lumens—not the overstated "LED lumens" we often see. That allows for game play with lights on while eliminating concerns about lamp replacements. The icing on the cake are the special game settings geared at different types of play, for example, an FPS mode for shooters that brings up shadow detail and virtually heightens surround sound cues to insure you don't miss a hidden enemy. A built-in Android TV streaming platform and a cool, cube-like form factor also help set this new series apart. (Read the full review).

BenQ v7050i left open BoY

BenQ V7050i UST Laser Projector

Intended Use: Home Theater
Price: $3,499
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BenQ was a bit later than other major brands in delivering an ultra-short throw living room laser projector to the U.S. market, but the V7050i proved to be a very solid entry. Priced to compete in the middle-market with other single blue laser+phosphor designs, it distinguished itself with a motorized lens cover and features including BenQ's onboard Android TV streaming stick. But the main course proved to be excellent image quality for this category characterized by a sharp lens, good contrast and HDR rendering, and good color accuracy at high brightness. All together, it added up to our highest Editor's Choice Award honors. (Read the full review).

EF12 front angle BoY

Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12 Laser Projector

Intended Use: Home Theater
Price: $849
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We saw a bunch of new compact, LED mini projectors hit the market in the last 18 months, but none brighter than Epson's EF12 thanks to its use of MicroLaser technology instead of LEDs. The cube-like projector is rated for—and delivered—1,000 ISO/ANSI lumens, all with equal white and color brightness thanks to the 3-chip LCD architecture. Epson also incorporated the Android TV platform for wireless streaming and Chromecast support, and built-in stereo speakers tuned with Yamaha's AudioEngine technology that delivered some of the best sound we've heard from a small-enclosure compact. Granted, it's only 1080p resolution (as with most lifestyle projectors today) and the measured input lag was too high for any serious gaming. But it's a great projector for movie and TV binge-watching on a wall, or for projecting a workout session. And thanks to its horsepower, this is one mini-projector where the 150-inch maximum rated image isn't just a silly pipe dream. (Read the full review).

Epson HC 2250 Head on BoY

Epson Home Cinema 2250

Intended Use: Home Theater
Price: $1,000
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Epson's update to its entry-level 1080p home theater projector line-up in late 2020 included this gem that checked all the boxes: High brightness with a 2,700 ISO/ANSI lumen rating; an integrated Android TV streaming platform that includes a rarely-seen authorized Netflix app; and Epson's usual good out-of-box, 3LCD image quality. The HC2250 costs a little more than some of the competition, but we can't see how anyone just starting out in projection or looking for a nice little projector for backyard movies wouldn't be thrilled to pull this one out of the closet. (Read the full review).

FujiFilm FP Z8000 review hero BoY

Fujifilm FP-Z8000 UST Laser Projector Review

Intended Use: Business, Retail, Staging & Rental, Museums
Price: NA
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Fujifilm wowed us in 2020 with the introduction of the FP-Z5000, a 5,000-lumen specialty ultra-short throw projector with an amazing two-axial, rotatable periscope lens that can be positioned in a huge number of variations to accommodate the most challenging of projector placements. Not to rest on laurels, the company listened to market demands for higher brightness to better combat ambient light and, along with bumping the output to 8,000 ANSI lumens, made a number of ergonomic and feature enhancements in the FP-Z8000. Given the remarkable lens, these projectors don't come cheap, but they remain a technological achievement with the ability to solve problems that would stymie any traditional UST. (Read the full review).

Hisense l9g frontangle BoY

Hisense L9G TriChroma UST Laser Projector

Intended Use: Home Theater
Price: $3,998
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The year 2021 saw a number of UST laser projector introductions, but Hisense, one of the earliest pioneers of the "laser TV" category, made the biggest splash with its L9G projector and UST screen combo packages. With its three-laser architecture, the L9G offers full Rec.2020 wide color gamut, broader than any consumer TV can do and beyond what's even found in today's HDR content. But the projector also proved itself in our testing with its overall excellent image quality on both SDR and HDR playback, and the chameleon-like ability to provide bright images for lit rooms or a fine, well-tuned image for dark-room home theater. (Read the full review).

JVC DLA NZ7 frontleftangle BoY

JVC DLA-NZ7 D-ILA Laser Projector

Intended Use: Home Theater
Price: $8,999
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JVC announced a major update to its respected line of LCoS-based projectors this fall when it replaced its three top lamp-based models with laser-driven versions. The DLA-NZ7, also sold as the DLA-RS2100 in JVC's pro series targeted at installers, is the entry-level laser model. We were relieved when our evaluation proved that it performs as well as we've come to expect from the brand's lamp projectors, including the world-class Frame Adapt dynamic HDR tone-mapping that was carried over from the prior line. Forward-looking features like full-bandwidth HDMI 2.1 ports that handle 8K signals are also thoughtfully included. Though hardly inexpensive at $9,999, the NZ7 still comes in at about half the cost of the least expensive laser projector from LCoS rival Sony, actually making it an excellent value in its product class. (Read the full review).

LG HU810PW FrontTop BoY

LG CineBeam HU810PW Laser Projector

Intended Use: Home Theater
Price: $2,959
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The HU810PW, with a $2,999 MSRP, along with the similar but slightly more featured AU810PB at $3,999, broke new ground by bringing high performance home theater laser projection to a previously unseen, middle-market price point. Designed for both dark room theater as well as brighter environments, the HU810PW in particular proved to be an awesome value, with an accurate and highly adjustable image combined with 4K DLP resolution and effective dynamic HDR tone-mapping. Direct competitors have since been released or are on the way now for home theater aficionados, but upon its arrival, this was the projector we'd been waiting for to break the chains to aging lamp technology, and it remains one to aspire to for enthusiasts on a budget. (Read the full review).

LG BU60PST Left Facing BoY

LG ProBeam BU60PST 4K Laser Projector

Intended Use: Business, Education
Price: $3,999
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LG raised our eyebrows in 2020 with its first 4K business projector, the 5,000-lumen BU50NST, then followed it up in 2021 with the 6,000-lumen BU60PST. Along with a surprisingly compact and light form factor for such a bright projector—it measures approximately 15 x 12 x 6 inches and weighs just under 22 pounds—it remains, by far, the least expensive 4K-resolution projector in its brightness class. Throw in built-in Wi-Fi and LG's webOS browser, and it's an even better deal. (Read the full review).

Optoma UHZ50 product image2 BoY

Optoma UHZ50 Laser Gaming Projector

Intended Use: Gaming, Home Theater
Price: $2,799
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Despite laser taking over the vast majority of commercial projector sales in the last few years, it's been a slower uptake for home theater, where the technology was restricted for a long time to cost-prohibitive high-end home theater models and then the first-generation living room UST projectors. We saw a glimmer of trickle-down hope in 2020 with Optoma's GT1090HDR, an affordable ($1,499) 1080p projector that delivered high brightness and good image quality, along with impressively low input lag for gaming. This was followed up in late 2021 with a 4K version in the UHZ50. With a $2,799 street price and even lower input lag and high frame rate capabilities for gamers, it's surely going to usher a slew of enthusiasts out of the lamp era for good. (Read the full review).

Optoma UHD35 front BoY

Optoma UHD35 Gaming Projector

Intended Use: Gaming, Home Theater
Price: $1,349
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Released in March, Optoma's UHD35 was among the first generation of projectors to dangle the carrot for notoriously picky competitive gamers: 16.7 ms input lag for 4K/60 Hz signals, and high refresh rate capabilities that allows for 8.9 ms at 1080p/120 Hz or a ridiculously low 4.2 ms for 1080p/240 Hz from PCs. This is combined in this budget lamp model with a high 3,600-lumen brightness rating and respectable home theater image quality, all at an attractive $1,299 price point. (Read the full review).

Panasonic PT MZ880 front left BoY

Panasonic PT-MZ880 Laser Projector

Intended Use: Business, Education, Museum, Worship
Price: $7,499
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In the last couple of years, Panasonic has bolstered its line-up of medium-venue installation projectors with new models that squeezed higher brightness out of smaller, and typically less expensive, packages. The brand's 3LCD family was supported in 2021 with the introduction of the PT-MZ880 series that tops out with 8,000 lumens at WUXGA resolution and brings with it the usual slew of Panasonic features, including several intended to optimize image quality such as a Daylight View sensor to improve legibility in the bright rooms the projector is designed to work in. Setup options are extremely flexible with a choice of seven lenses, but if you can live with the standard 1.7x zoom that normally ships with the projector, you'll enjoy an attractive $7,499 street price that makes this combo, by far, the least expensive option in its 8,000=lumen laser brightness class. (Read the full review).

Panasonic RCQ10 white right=BoY

Panasonic PT-RCQ10 Laser Projector

Intended Use: Business, Education, Museum, Worship
Price: $14,849
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The PT-RCQ10 launched in November 2019 and we reviewed it in early 2021; it remains the brand's most advanced, single-chip DLP installation projector. It boasts 10,000 lumens and a WUXGA imager, but along with the 4K signal compatibility found in most of its models now Panasonic also included Smooth Pixel Drive pixel-shifting, resulting in the placement of 2715x1697 pixels on the screen. That makes this piece exceptionally 4K-ready. The RCQ10 also demonstrated excellent color and contrast for its high brightness, and comes with extensive setup and adjustment options. Furthermore, as with the PT-MZ880 honored above, if you go for the standard zoom lens, it's a pretty awesome deal for its brightness class at just over $15K. (Read the full review).

sony vplgtz380 front BoY

Sony VPL-GTZ380 SXRD Laser Projector

Intended Use: Business, Signage, Higher Ed, Museum, Simulation, Home Theater
Price: $80,000
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It's hard to overstate Sony's technical accomplishment with the VPL-GTZ380, which began shipping at the beginning of 2021 as Sony's new flagship commercial and home theater projector. With 10,000 lumens of output, it is the brightest-ever projector to utilize the company's native 4K SXRD LCoS imagers—fully doubling the brightness of its predecessor. But it is the projector's advanced dynamic image processing that makes the magic by managing that brightness with the kind of finesse you just don't see with projectors that have this kind of firepower. In particular, HDR viewed in a dark room was spectacular on the GTZ380, with the kind of zing to highlights you only get from flatpanels, but without the oversaturation and blowing out of detail that's required to get that effect from a typical HDR projector strained to its limit. At the same time, black level and contrast are world-class for a 10,000-lumen projector. At a cost of $80,000 plus the lens, the GTZ380 will be a highly considered decision for both the business interests and home theater aficionados it's targeted for. But it's safe to say there's nothing else out there right now quite like it. (Read the full review).

sony vplvw325es white topangle BoY

Sony VPL-VW325ES SXRD Projector

Intended Use: Home Theater
Price: $5,499
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Along with looking at Sony's new flagship VPL-GTZ380 this year (see above), we reviewed their latest entry-level native 4K projector, the lamp-based VPL-VW325ES. And we liked what we saw. It was perfectly tuned for an accurate SDR image, and Sony's new "X1 for projector" image processor eeked as much contrast and black level out of the SXRD chips as you can expect from a projector that features no mechanical iris. The projector's deep native blacks, effective HDR, and great out-of-box color easily earned it our Editor's Choice Award and a place on this year-end list. And Sony's offering of a white version that blends into ceilings along with the basic black option should earn it a place in the heart of your resident interior designer. (Read the full review).

ViewSonic px701 4k right BoY

ViewSonic PX701-4K

Intended Use: Gaming, Home Theater
Price: $900
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ViewSonic's PX701-4K, released in February 2021 and currently available at an attention-grabbing $900 street price, is the least expensive 4K/HDR home theater projector you can buy and a great value play for those seeking a late-generation 4K gaming projector. To begin, it's equipped with the latest DLP imager to enable low input lag down to 4.2 milliseconds with 1080p/240 Hz signals (or 16.8 ms for 4K/60 or 1080p/60). It's got a long-life, 6,000 hour lamp in Normal power mode driving a relatively high 3,200 ANSI lumen brightness rating, and a modest 1.1x zoom lens along with a few extras like four-corner correction and automatic vertical keystone for quick setups. Not surprisingly given the price, it does make some sacrifices in its range of connection ports and the lack of some features like frame interpolation and 3D playback. And even after calibration, colors weren't as accurate as on some other budget projectors. But its generally good image quality and low price make it a great option for someone breaking into 4K. (Read the full review).

XGIMI Aura Front BoY

XGIMI Aura Laser UST Projector

Intended Use: Home Theater
Price: $2,349
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XGIMI was already building a name for its LED lifestyle projectors such as its Halo models when it launched the Horizon series this year with both a 1080p model and the Horizon Pro 4K model we reviewed in July. That projector's highly advanced automatic setup features impressed us, but it took the brand's attempt at a 4K laser-driven UST projector at year end to earn our Highly Recommended Award for what proved to be exceptional value at its $2,499 street price. It's not without its limitations at that price—more expensive products that share similar blue-laser+phosphor architecture offer wider gamut, better out-of-box color accuracy, and more controls to better tune the image. But the performance we got with some minor tweaks was still very good, and the Aura produced a sharp, high contrast image that belied its cost, especially when mated with an appropriate ALR UST screen. (Read the full review).


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