The results of this year's ProjectorCentral/ProjectorScreen.com Laser TV and Lifestyle Projector Showdown events are in, and in what looks a lot like a repeat of last year, the Formovie and BenQ brands once again took top honors.
In particular, the Formovie Theater Laser TV UST projector that surprised judges in the 2022 Laser TV Showdown with its excellent performance crushed its competition this year in most categories tested and was most favored by the judges overall, while the Formovie X5 and BenQ X3100i were the judges' top picks among the Lifestyle projectors.
As exhibited in the scorecards below, the Hisense PX2-Pro and Epson LS800 tied for the 2nd Place spot among the Laser TVs, while the high-end Leica Cine 1 took 3rd Place.
Among the Lifestyle models, the XGIMI Horizon Ultra and Hisense C1 took 2nd and 3rd Place honors behind the Formovie X5 and BenQ X3100i based on the judges' overall preferences.
The dual-event held last week at the ProjectorScreen.com headquarters in Pompton Lakes, NJ ended up including nine UST contestants and five transportable lifestyle models, and was conducted entirely under the editorial aegis of ProjectorCentral. Among the USTs were six triple RGB laser projectors and three single laser projectors demo'd side-by-side simultaneously. Images were shown on matching 100-inch diagonal Spectra Projection Vantage ALR UST screens with a 0.5 gain lenticular material that significantly rejects overhead ambient light and offers extremely low lateral spash from screen to screen. Nonetheless, 1-foot deep black barriers were added between screens this year to insure images weren't affecting the adjoining screens.
The five Lifestyle projectors were viewed on Spectra Projection Gamut screens, also at the 100-inch size. These use a traditional matte white reference material with a 1.0 gain intended for dark room viewing. They were placed side-by-side in the same plane to avoid light splash and viewed head on by the roving judges.
Along with Spectra Projection, which generously provided all of the screens used in the competition, sponsors included AVPro Edge and its sister company Murideo. AVPro Edge provided a trove of gear used for signal distribution, including an AC-MX-88 matrix switch that allowed easy network-based switching among five sources described below, and two 4K-compliant distribution amplifiers (a 1-in/8-out AC-DA18-AUHD-GEN2 and a 1-in/4-out AC-DA14-AUHD GEN2) allowing distribution to up to 11 displays simultaneously. The company provided Bullet Train Ultra High Bandwith active fiber optic HDMI cables in lengths up to 15 meters (49 feet) to feed the projectors as well as standard HDMI interconnects for rigging sources and distribution components. Murideo supplied its 8K Six-G signal generator as a source of test patterns, and its 8K Six-A HDMI analyzer, which proved useful as a 4K video monitor to queue content while other material was playing on the test screens. All of the equipment worked flawlessly.
The scorecards and links below list each of the 14 projectors tested and provide basic specs and product images from the ProjectorCentral database.
How We Tested & Scored
Six judges were recruited from the audio/video press to assess the projectors across a range of image criteria, all experienced editors and projector reviewers, most with experience calibrating displays. They included Chris Eberle, professional ISF-trained display calibrator and a display reviewer for Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity (hometheaterhifi.com) as well as Tom's Hardware (tomshardware.com); Andy Grimm, projector reviewer and contributor for Home Theater Review (hometheaterreview.com); John Higgins, an ISF-trained calibrator and Managing Editor, Tech, at Reviewed, part of the USA Today Network (reviewed.usatoday.com/tech); Mark Henninger, Editor-in-Chief for Sound & Vision (soundandvision.com) and a THX-trained display calibrator; M. David Stone, projector reviewer for PCMag.com, and Chris Majestic, YouTube projector reviewer and influencer.
BigPictureBigSound.com, came in to join ProjectorCentral editor Rob Sabin in judging audio quality for the UST Laser TV projectors during a dedicated listening session that followed the main event. More details about the audio testing are below.
Sammie Prescott, Jr. of AV ChromaCal, a professional ISF Level III calibrator and Contributing Technical Editor for ProjectorCentral, calibrated all the units for optimal image quality in advance of the event and was on site prior to and during the event to assist with fine-tuning. To avoid manufacturer hand-picked samples, the vast majority of units used in the Showdown were either plucked from ProjectorScreen.com's inventory or purchased directly at retail for the event.
Both the Laser TV USTs and Lifestyle projectors were judged in three different viewing modes including SDR Dark Reference (1080p content with the projector optimized for a dark theater environment), SDR Day (1080p SDR with lights on), and HDR Dark Reference (4K HDR content in a dark room). Specific clips were selected to challenge the projectors on everything from color accuracy, contrast, black level/shadows, and fine detail to their handling of motion. Sources included 1080p Blu-ray discs played from Oppo BDP-103 and UDP-203 disc players, 4K HDR content from a Kaleidescape movie server and player, 1080p programs from a Roku Ultra streaming media player, and static test patterns from the Murideo pattern generator.
Numerical scores were given on scale from 1 to 10 (with half point increments allowed) for most criteria. The averages for all judges on a given test criteria appear in the scorecards and can be used to identify the strongest performers for that criteria within each viewing mode. The judges were coached to assume that a score of 7.5 to 10 represented excellent to reference quality performance (for a UST projector); 5 to 7.5 was good to excellent, 2.5 to 5 was fair to good, and under 2.5 represented poor performance.
In addition to the numerical scores, each judge was asked immediately following the UST and Lifestyle evaluations to rank his overall top three projectors based on image quality. The breakout of the judges' selections as shown in the scorecards were aggregated to create our top three rankings and identify our winners rather than averaging the different criteria across different picture modes to create an overall numerical score that penalizes close-scoring projectors by pushing them further down in rank. Generally speaking, the rankings identify the top performers in key image criteria, but also reflect the judges' subjective assessment of what rose to the top after several hours of evaluation.
The Audio Tests
Although a standalone surround-sound system or soundbar is always recommended to accompany a projector, UST Laser TV projectors are promoted as a TV replacement and typically come with some sort of integrated audio system. The quality of these systems varies widely and it's important that potential buyers be able to identify which projectors have decent sound and which will likely require an outboard audio solution.
To create a fair playing field, each projector was moved to the same location within the testing room before being auditioned with essentially the same movie/TV and audiophile music tracks. The movies included soundtracks with both subtle ambient effects like rain and highly dynamic explosions or thunder along with sometimes demanding music scores, while the music—everything from EDM tracks to sweet, soaring vocals—helped reveal overall frequency balance, timbral accuracy, and bass extension. The projectors were given a numerical score of 1 to 10 in each of five categories: Bass Performance, Overall Volume/Dynamics, Accuracy/Timbre, Music Imaging, and Movie/TV Imaging.
Each projector was tested in all of its available sound modes to determine the best-sounding mode for movies or music. In most cases the projector's Movie or Theater mode was preferred, even for listening to music. The benefit of spatial processing in these modes to help spread the image usually outweighed the slightly reverberant effect these modes sometimes impart on vocals.
Along with the scores for each criteria, the projectors were grouped into three tiers. Tier 1 projectors represent the best of the group and typically very good to excellent sound, though virtually all Laser TV projectors, not to mention the compact lifestyle projectors we tested, suffer from insufficient bass and limitations on dynamics due to their small cabinets. Tier 2 is a step down from Tier 1, but something you could live with despite some deficiencies (such as a lack of overall volume or dynamic range, which may not be an issue for some people or rooms). Tier 3 projectors may be suitable for watching TV news or sports where dialogue is the main event, but fall short when pressed even modestly with a dynamic soundtrack or music. If you target a projector with Tier 3 sound, plan on adding an outboard solution.
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The scores and tiers in the audio scorecards speak for themselves, though here are some highlights. Similar to our audio results from the 2022 Laser TV Showdown, the Formovie Theater, with its Bowers & Wilkins-designed Atmos sound system, came away the clear winner on sound quality. The Formovie Cinema 3 also sounded surprisngly good given its small cabinet. Most of the other projectors fell into Tier 2, with acceptable to very good sound quality, but often with a limitation on volume/dynamics that may come into play in larger rooms. As in our 2022 Showdown, the Hisense models were among the worst performers for sound quality, eclipsed this year only by the Leica Cine 1, which is based on a Hisense triple-laser platform and seems to have inherited similarly poor audio chops. These projectors sound veiled, lack timbral and tonal accuracy, and are easily overwhelmed by the bass component of any demanding soundtrack or music track.
The audio system for a lifestyle projector designed for portablity and quick setup is even more critical since you're not likely to be carrying around a soundbar to use with the projector. Fortunately, none of the sound systems for the five projectors we tested fell into the dreaded Tier 3, but the XGIMI Horizon Ultra and Hisense C1 proved to be in a class by themselves, with excellent timbre, surprisingly solid dynamics, and a decent amount of bass for their small cabinets. Not surprisingly, both use audio by Harman International, with the XGIMI hosting a Harman Kardon system and the Hisense featuring a JBL-branded design. Along with good accuracy and unveiled, open sound, the XGIMI was a standout for its optional DTS Virtual X sound mode, which provided by far the most spacious imaging among these box projectors. The Hisense C1 was nearly as good overall, and also stood out by being the only projector among 14 in the Showdown whose 3.5mm headphone jack can be configured as a subwoofer output that tracks with the projector's main speakers when you adjust the volume. It was judged as a standalone projector, but if you're able to add an inexpensive sub for at-home setups, it catapults the audio quality to an entirely new level.
The image and audio scorecards for the 2023 Laser TV and Lifestyle Showdowns are below. For specs and images of individual products, current pricing, and access to our reviews where applicable, click the projector model below. You can also read more coverage of the 2023 Laser TV Showdown and Lifestyle Projector Showdown at ProjectorScreen.com.
UST Laser TV ProjectorsBenQ V5000i
Formovie Cinema 3
Leica Cine 1
Nexigo Aurora Pro
Ultimea Thor T60
Lifestyle ProjectorsBenQ X3100i
JMGO N1 Ultra
XGIMI Horizon Ultra