Best of the Year 2023

Our examination of the thirty or so products for which we do hands-on reviews each year always results in an instructive, hindsight perspective on where the industry was for the year and where it's headed in the year to come. One year ago, our 2022 list was populated with a combination of new high-end home theater projectors, a goodly number of UST Laser TV projectors that helped to define that then-emerging category, and a smattering—just a trio, really—of what we've now come to define as Lifestyle projectors. For our 2023 Best-Of list, the 16 products selected show how that Lifestyle category has matured, both with more projectors represented and with the design sophistication and engineering that these new-gen models demonstrate. Manufacturers, several of them still relatively new to the U.S. market, have recognized and embraced the idea that there's a growing demand for "pop-up" projector installations. We are seeing more portable or transportable projectors that can be pulled from a closet or a shelf in the living room and used to cast a big image to a bit of blank wall space for an impromptu movie or videogame night. Or which are designed to throw a picture on the ceiling while you relax in bed, or let you watch an exercise video on something other than a postage-stamp TV.

While this is clearly not the hardcore home theater application endorsed by A/V enthusiasts, the success of these models suggests a pent-up demand for bigscreen imagery from a fresh target market. This is an audience of everyday consumers more interested in products that eliminate the traditional projector pain points, whether it's the complicated connections and wiring, the fiddling associated with getting a projector situated just right, or the need to add some sort of external sound system to have passable audio for watching a movie or TV drama. In response, the best lifestyle projector-makers are applying increasingly advanced technology to deliver near-instant set-up, high brightness laser and LED light engines that require no lamp replacements, and excellent on-board audio systems. You'll see this reflected in a number of entries below, along with a couple of fresh Laser TVs that made the list, several commercial models, and one very serious video processor—the only product reviewed last year that wasn't a projector.

This doesn't mean that the things on this list are the only excellent products we reviewed throughout the year—a number of well-built and well-featured commercial and consumer projectors are highly recommendable but didn't make our Best of the Year list. What these items do have in common, however, is that each in some way cut through the clutter in their crowded market segments to rise up and make a statement, whether by virtue of form factor, technology, or their approach to the market. Enjoy the read, and stay tuned as we head into 2024 and discover together what the new year has to bring.—Rob Sabin


Anker Nebula Mars 3

Anker Nebula Mars 3 Portable LED Projector

Intended Use: Lifestyle/Home Theater
Price: $980
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Anker Nebula's clever Mars 3 is a good example of the "outside the box" design sense that is driving the latest generation of lifestyle projectors into the mainstream. With a solid-state light engine putting out 1,000 ANSI lumens of brightness and an integrated Android TV streaming platform, the 1080p-resolution Mars 3 functions well for an evening of entertainment at home. But it's real appeal comes from the fun grab-and-go form factor and outdoor-friendly packaging that boasts IPX3 water resistance, 0.5 meter drop resistance, and 0.7 mm dust resistance. This is coupled with a powerful, built-in 185 watt/hour battery that allows you to watch movies, TV, and play video games for up to five hours or listen to music for up to fifteen hours. Read the full review.



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ASUS ProArt A1

ASUS ProArt A1 LED Projector

Intended Use: Art/Photography
Price: $990
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ASUS teamed up with Portrait Displays, maker of the Calman calibration software used widely by display professionals (and reviewers), to put out the world's first Calman-certified projector. No, it's not some fancy and expensive home theater model, but rather a highly affordable 1080p DLP projector with a bright, 3,000 lumen LED light source targeted at artists and art educators who value color accuracy above all else. It boasts an impressive claim of <2 delta E average color accuracy out of the box while covering 98% of the sRGB and Rec.709 color spaces, where dE represents the variance from a perfect result—anything under 2.3 is said to be impossible to discern even to the trained eye. Our expert reviewer's more stringent testing did reveal some anomalies, but overall the ProArt A1 lived up to its promise, and respresents good value at its $1,299 street price. Read the full review.


Barco G50-W8

Barco G50-W8 Laser Projector

Intended Use:Education, House of Worship, Museums, Theme Parks
Price: n/a
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Barco, best known for its overbuilt, large-venue workhorse projectors, embraced the industry trend toward more lumens out of smaller boxes in its new WUXGA-resolution G50 series installation projectors, thus opening opportunities to place a Barco in locations where earlier models would be obtrusive. Along with shrinking the chassis down to one-third smaller than its G62 line, Barco also accomplished best-in-class energy efficiency with a projector that, in the 7,500 ANSI lumen G50-W8 we reviewed, puts out 19.4 lumens-per-watt compared with 13- to 15-lumens-per-watt for most competition. Along with the G50-W8, two other models are available in the 6,300 ANSI lumen G50-W7 and the 5,400 ANSI lumen G50-W6. Read the full review.


BenQ GP500

BenQ GP500 LED Projector

Intended Use: Lifestyle/Home Theater
Price: $1,799
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BenQ had an exceptionally innovative year in 2023, placing three well-deserved projectors on this "Best Of" list. The GP500 is the company's attempt at an affordable, transportable 4K lifestyle projector designed to be plucked from the closet and plopped down for a movie or gaming night, or hauled off to your summer vacation rental along with the boogie boards. A solid-state LED light engine rated at 1,500 ANSI lumens makes it respectable for dark to moderately lit rooms, and good out-of-box color means you'll be looking at solidly accurate images. Auto focus and keystone makes for quick-and-easy setups, and the 360-degree audio system ensures a good sonic experience, even if you're sitting off-center. Respectable input lag of 25 ms for 1080p/60 or 4K/60 signals also ensures good gaming. Read the full review.



BenQ HT4550

BenQ HT4550i LED Projector

Intended Use:Home Theater
Price: $2,899
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2023 was fairly quiet for introductions of classic dark-room home theater projectors, with more emphasis placed by manufacturers on lifestyle and high-brightness gaming models. But BenQ pushed the envelope with its excellent HT4550i, which uses a solid-state LED light engine rated at a bright 3,200 ANSI lumens. It proved to have excellent color accuracy as well as extensive controls for calibrating a near-perfect image. Along with the ability to hit 100% DCI-P3 color gamut for HDR content, it includes support for both HDR10+ and 3D content. Read the full review.



BenQ X3100i

BenQ X3100i LED Projector

Intended Use:Gaming
Price: $2,399
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BenQ introduced its ground-breaking X-series gaming platform two years ago now with the 1080p-resolution, X1300i, followed up in 2022 with a 4K version in the X3000i, and has now issued an update to that in the just-released X3100i. It offers some subtle improvements including a bit more brightness out of the solid-state LED light engine (now rated at 3,200 ANSI), an additional dedicated playing mode for racing games, and a working Netflix app from its integrated, Android-based streaming dongle. Also new is a thoughtful SettingXchange feature that provides the ability, as time develops, to download image settings to further optimize specific popular game titles. Low input lag down to 5 ms for 1080p/120 signals puts it into the top tier of gaming projectors. A good showing in this year's Laser TV and Lifestyle Projector Showdown, where it tied for first among the Lifestyle models, reinforces its excellent image performance. Read the full review.



Epson LS650

Epson EpiqVision Ultra LS650 Laser TV Projector

Intended Use:Home Theater
Price: $2,799
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Epson's LS800 flagship laser TV projector, itself a 2022 ProjectorCentral Best of the Year winner, is currently said to be the best-selling living room UST by retail volume. This is for a few good reasons including super-high brightness, a class-leading 0.16:1 UST lens, a mass-market friendly approach to image tuning and ease of use, and effective point-of-sale marketing. Although the LS650 follow-up is more a spin-off of the company's 1080p-resolution LS300, updated with Epson's 4K PRO-UHD pixel-shifting and processing, it brings a still-robust 3,600 ISO21118 lumens and much of the design sensibility and consumer-friendly approach of the LS800 to a more affordable price point. Read the full review.



Fujifilm FP-Z6000

Fujifilm FP-Z6000 UST Laser Projector

Intended Use: Museums, Theme Parks, Immersive Exhibition
Price: n/a
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It's hard not to look at the Fujifilm projectors, with their unique rotating, periscopic lens, without being awed by the audacious engineering. The FP-Z6000, a WUXGA projector with 6,000 ANSI lumens, is the follow-up to the 8,000-lumen Z8000 and a replacement for the 5,000-lumen Z5000 that started it all. The lens and build quality contribute to a higher price than you'll pay for any traditional UST projector with a mirrored lens, but thanks to the ability to rotate the lens plus some seriously generous lens shift, there are things you can do with the Z series that you just can't do with other projectors—including hiding the unit unobtrusively above a dropped ceiling so only the lens is exposed. These are also a great fit for rental & staging operations, where the flexibility and ease of setup can make a difference for clients, particularly for traveling shows and exhibitions. Read the full review.



JMGO N1 Ultra

JMGO N1 Ultra Laser Projector

Intended Use: Lifestyle/Home Theater
Price: $1,649
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JMGO broke new ground in the lifestyle projector category in 2023 with this impressively engineered, RGB triple-laser lifestyle projector. From the unique, swiveling gimbal mount and top-notch auto-setup features to its 4K resolution, wide color gamut, good contrast, Android streaming platform and Dynaudio sound system, it's a full-featured package that sells for a surprisingly affordable price. It's bright, too—rated at 2,200 CVIA lumens and measuring a respectable 2,670 ANSI lumens in our tests. Other transportable box projectors with advanced laser and LED light engines have now followed in its wake, including the BenQ X3100i and the XGIMI Horizon Ultra, both of which are recognized in this list. Read the full review.



Leica Cine1 100 leftfacing open

Leica Cine 1 Laser TV Projector

Intended Use: Home Theater
Price: $9,993
Review Pending | View Projector Details

As you'll read in our imminent review, the Leica Cine 1 was one of the year's highlights. The company best known for its fine cameras and optics fitted a Hisense RGB triple laser projector platform with an outstanding lens to achieve the sharpest image we've seen to date in a UST projector, one that was also called out for its excellence by the six independent judges who participated in this year's Laser TV Showdown. Stellar cosmetics built around an aluminum casing with a sliding, motorized dust cover help give it an air of chic, while the insides deliver good performance and a number of impressive features that include 3,000 ANSI lumens of brightness, Dolby Vision and HDR10+ dynamic HDR processing, and a Google TV smart streaming platform with integrated Netflix. It's not cheap at nearly $9,000 for the 100-inch fixed lens version, but the Cine 1's arrival on the market signals the notable emergence of a luxury segment in the UST Laser TV market.



LG BU70QGA

LG Electronics ProBeam BU70QGA Laser Projector

Intended Use: Digital Signage, Education, House of Worship, Museums
Price: $5,499
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LG's business projector division remains a small but disruptive player in the commercial installation projector market, offering well-featured laser projectors touting unusually high value, particularly in the full 4K-resolution segment where the BU70QGA resides. This latest flagship model represents LG's brightest projector to date, with a 7,000 ANSI-lumen rating, and is the first to integrate LG's Signage webOS platform that allows the use of both integrated and third-party apps to manage digital signage content. It's also got a built-in camera and auto-focus, on-board Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as well as a flexible 1.53 to 2.45:1, 1.6X zoom to aid installation. Read the full review.



LG BU70QGA

LG Electronics CineBeam PU700R LED Projector

Intended Use: Lifestyle/Home Theater
Price: $1,432
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LG responded to rival Samsung's 2022 release of its cylindrical Freestyle lifestyle projector with 2023's CineBeam PU700R, an elliptically-shaped model that upped the ante with 4K resolution/HDR and 1,000 ANSI lumens from its LED light engine vs the Freestyle's 1080p res and meager 234 ANSI lumens (as measured). It's much more expensive, of course, but does take this concept of an easily-aimable, quick-to-setup display into the realm of high performance projection. Among the included niceties are integrated mood lighting, a webOS streaming platform, and LG's air-mouse equipped "Magic Remote." Read the full review.



madVR Envy Extreme MK2

madVR Envy Extreme MK2 Video Processor

Intended Use: Home Theater
Price: $15,995
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High end video processors have always been a luxury item for serious home theater fanatics, providing everything from best-in-class upscaling of signals to, more recently, advanced HDR tone-mapping intended to boost performance above and beyond what even the best projectors can do out-of-the-box. MadVR, in this update to its previously lauded Envy Extreme processor, has expanded the notion of what a video processor can do and executed it to the fare-the-well, adding things like advanced dynamic aspect ratio control, ultra-tight calibration for ultimate color accuracy, and the best frame interpolation technology we've seen to date that smoothes the judder and blurring associated with film-based content without imparting the dreaded "soap opera effect." The Envy Extreme MK2 is an expensive toy, but one whose virtue is immediately obvious when it's paired with today's state-of-the-art projectors. Read the full review.



Optoma ML1080ST

Optoma ML1080ST Portable Laser Projector

Intended Use: Business/Digital Signage/Home Theater
Price: $1,149
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2023 saw increased incidence of discrete RGB triple laser architecture among new UST laser TV entries and even among transportable, cost-effective lifestyle projectors. But nothing prepared us for the truly diminutive size and affordability of Optoma's 1080p-resolution ML1080 and the short-throw sibling we reviewed, the ML1080ST. You might argue about the value of full Rec.2020 color gamut for home theater projectors for a world in which there remains essentially no content accurately mastered for it. But when you're able to cram that wide-gamut capability into a 6.18 x 2.68 x 5.3-inch (WHD) box that weighs only a couple of pounds, it opens up opportunities to make a splash with eye-catching business presentations and digital signage, among other applications. The ML1080ST's 550 ANSI lumens may ultimately limit it to controlled-light environments, though it does appear brighter than that number implies. But its the wide gamut, along with the typical laser-projection benefits that include a 30,000-hour max sealed light engine, elimination of lamp replacements, 24/7 operation, portrait mode, and 360-degree orientation, that combine with its tiny form factor to make it attractive for a large variety of installations. Read the full review.



Optoma ML1080ST

ViewSonic X2-4K LED Projector

Intended Use: Gaming/Home Theater
Price: $1,599
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The 4K-resolution ViewSonic X2-4K distinguishes itself on a couple of fronts, first by being a relatively high output solid-state LED projector designed for gaming and home theater. But it is also the first "Designed for Xbox" gaming projector, having endured 63 various tests by the Xbox gaming team and meeting their criteria for technical specifications and branding. It's the first projector we've tested with the ability to play 1440p/120Hz from Xbox Series X consoles, and offers extremely low input lag, down to 5 milliseconds for 1080p/240Hz signals, from gaming PCs." Sweet industrial design, with splashes of day-glow green, announces its stature even before you turn it on. Read the full review.



XGIMI Horizon Ultra Left View 800

XGIMI Horizon Ultra Hybrid LED/Laser Projector

Intended Use: Lifestyle/Home Theater
Price: $1,599
Review Pending | View Projector Details

XGIMI, a successful Chinese manufacturer focused mainly on portable and transportable lifestyle projectors, has been making an impression on the U.S. market with well-engineered products developed largely in-house that feature groundbreaking technology. None has so far been more impressive than the Horizon Ultra, a 4K DLP projector with an advanced hybrid LED/laser light engine that combines an RGBB LED architecture with an additional red laser to boost red brightness and saturation. The result is 95.5% DCI-P3 gamut in a compact box projector that hits 2,300 ISO21118 lumens of brightness. Additionally, XGIMI has fine-tuned at least one picture mode for accuracy to the industry-accepted Rec.709/D65 production standard used to master SDR content. Advanced setup features like super-fast auto-focus, auto-keystone, and obstacle avoidance, along with an excellent Harman Kardon on-board sound system, round out a very impressive and attractively priced package. Keep an eye out for our upcoming review later this month.