Full HD Projectors

The Bulb Issue

Projectors have one consumable that needs to be replaced: the bulb. After an average of 2 000 hours of use, it has to be changed and a new bulb will run you several hundred dollars. Two thousand hours might not seem like much, but if you watch three two-hour films a week, you won't need to change your bulb for six years.

If you are a real gaming buff and want to connect your console though, using it for two hours a day will result in changing the bulb after three years.

For everyday use, it's still worth sticking to a traditional TV and keeping the projector for special occasions. After all, you don't need a twelve foot screen to watch tomorrow's weather forecast.

This roundup includes products released within one year preceding the publication date of this article. The product selection consists solely of review units made available to Tom’s Guide by vendors. While the products listed here do not constitute a comprehensive listing of all products in the category, they do represent a broad range of what is available to consumers in this category. We will quickly update this roundup with new products as they become available to Tom’s Guide, and soon add data relating to product specifications and test dates. In other words, these roundups are a work in progress. Please check back frequently to see what’s new.

It's easy to split the market for video projectors into two very clear segments, with HD Ready (720p) models on one side and Full HD )1080p) models on the other.

Full HD projectors are the top-of-the-range options for most manufacturers.  They usually include the most advanced technologies--which has a very obvious effect on the price.  Nasty surprises aside, you won't find any bad choices in this sector of the market, and all of the projectors we've tested create an excellent image, especially when you use a Blu-ray disc as your source.  The differences between one model and another are more to do with small details like color handling, ease of use or upscaling, where even a small advantage can allow one particular projector to edge ahead of the competition. 

Two rival technologies are at war: some use DLP technology, but others use LCD.  The two systems work in different ways and produce different results.  DLP fans enjoy deeper blacks and the total absence of ghosting, but LCD projectors can produce larger images at the same distance from the screen, and don't produce the 'rainbow effect', which leads some users to see flashes of red, green and blue when watching DLP projections. 

Here are the technical differences:

DLP - Digital Light Processing: This system is based on three elements: a light source, a color wheel, and a DMD (Digital Micromirror Device) chip.  The color wheel is divided into segments of three different colors--red, green and blue--and as it spins, it splits up the white light from the lamp.  These color fragments are then reflected by the tiny mirrors on the DMD chip, whose position varies by up to 10° to send a particular image towards the projection lens.  Your eye then reconstructs the colors of the final image by fusing all of the colors reflected by the mirrors.  For example, when these mirrors rapidly reflect red and green light, you will see yellow.  The number of mirrors in the chip is equal to the resolution of the projector.  For example, a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels requires 921,600 mirrors.

LCD - Liquid Crystal Display: This system is comprised of a lamp, two prisms and three LCD panels.  The first prism is in charge of separating the light the lamp emits into the three components of red, green and blue.  Thanks to a series of mirrors, the separate light rays each hit an LCD panel which, depending on the position of its cells, may or may not let the light through.  A last prism placed between the panels recombines the three light beams and sends the image through a projection lens.

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  • lafery
    Its called a spellchecker and you might want to consider using it...
  • smit1219
    Seriously...you're going to release a projector article and not do a cost/performance page? The Optoma ($999) is rated at 3 stars while the Sony ($2999) is rated at 5 stars. I would certainly hope that the extra $2K buys something....

    As it is with all technology, the Optoma is a tradeoff between cost and features. I have it, and I enjoy it. If I had $3K would I have bought the Sony? Maybe...but there ought to have been some consideration of the entire set of offerings with some kind of price to performance ratio. The article lays out features and some opinions well, but does a poor job of actually reviewing the relative value of each projector.
  • Tomsguiderachel
    smit1219Seriously...you're going to release a projector article and not do a cost/performance page? The Optoma ($999) is rated at 3 stars while the Sony ($2999) is rated at 5 stars. I would certainly hope that the extra $2K buys something....As it is with all technology, the Optoma is a tradeoff between cost and features. I have it, and I enjoy it. If I had $3K would I have bought the Sony? Maybe...but there ought to have been some consideration of the entire set of offerings with some kind of price to performance ratio. The article lays out features and some opinions well, but does a poor job of actually reviewing the relative value of each projector.

    I think what you're saying is that these two projectors are not comparable--they are in entirely different categories. This is absolutely true. We will be adding all new projectors to this list so eventually the entire product category will be there. Right now, these two projectors are not meant to be compared directly.

    Thanks,

    Rachel Rosmarin, Editor of Tom's Guide
  • Tomsguiderachel
    laferyIts called a spellchecker and you might want to consider using it...

    I appreciate the suggestion but it would be even more helpful if you pointed out specific errors. That way we can fix them.
  • jeraldjunkmail
    http://diyprojectorkits.com

    1080P projectors for under a grand anyone?
  • waxdart
    I bought a projector years ago. Few cans of beer and Its all HD from then on.

    Save that good money and spend it on beer.
  • morbid justice
    Stay away from Sony. I had one and it was fine...until I had a problem. I called for assistance and they told me to give them my credit card and they would give me a number and address to send it to. Then they would inform me after they have it how much it will cost to fix. So, give me your money and after I have it in my possession and you have paid for the shipping to me I'll tell you how much I want to fix it and oh...btw...you also have to pay shipping and handling to get it back whether we do anything to it or now.

    So, I bought a Panasonic. DTV fried it...they promptly sent me another one. I've had it for almost two years now and love it! Sony's customer service is really, really bad...research it. For some reason they have this arrogance based on how good their product used to be....years ago. Their competition is spanking them. I think they are spending too much time crying about someone making a copy of their movies, IMHO.

    Oh, and as far as LCD vs. DLP. My wife and I were looking at some $20K DLP's before we bought the Panasonic. We both walked out of the viewing room with a headache. DLP causes what I think they call a "rainbow" effect to which some people...such as my wife and I are sensitive. Other than that, it gives GREAT blacks and color. Watch a DLP before buying one. Yes, I know, they have new technology..blah...blah..blah. The $20K one we were looking at almost two years ago was the latest and greatest. The more affordable one's are now using the same technology. I haven't looked at DLP's recently, but I'd be surprised if they improved that much.

    Just try before you buy...if possible. Unless you are over sensitive....it's very hard to go wrong either route.
  • d_kuhn
    In this case - where there are only a couple of projectors reviewed - it might make sense for the author to suggest that there are a couple EXCELLENT sites on the net where prospective buyers can read reviews on many models.

    I've been running a Panasonic AE700U since around 2004 - bulletproof as long as you keep her power clean (toasted one bulb at 900 hours - lightning storm and no surge supression - my bad). By all means look at the Sony, but also consider the Panasonic AE3000 & AE4000's ... or the Epson 8000 series... or any of a number of other top shelf 1080p displays in the 1k-4k price range.

    One thing to keep in mind with projectors... you do tend to get what you pay for.
  • killakenny
    $2000 on a bulb can get you another projector
  • Nossy
    Well, technically the Sony uses a different kind of LCD technology called LCoS. I'm not too sure if that model uses that technology, probably does, but there are a few differences between LCoS and regular LCDs like the one in Panny AE3000 and Mits 6500.

    There are pros and cons on each. LCD PJs are by far the most popular because they are the most cost-effective PJs. They have a moderate to good lens shifting and are generally good for 90 to 120 inch screens. The lens shift allows a more flexible placement of the PJ and are better for rooms that does not require you to place the PJ on the center of the screen. The newer LCDs provide good blacks and great color reproduction.

    DLPs has come a long way, but they have the least flexible lens shifting range, so basically, the PJ has to be nearly at the center of the screen (horizontally). The rainbow effect has been minimized, but some can still see it. They have very good color and black reproduction though.

    LCoS are an advanced LCD that I think only Sanyo and Sony offers it. They have excellent lens shifting options, good image quality, and black levels. But the PJs itself tend to be bigger than LCDs counterpart. So some Sony PJs can be 1.5x to 2.0x bigger than other LCDs PJ.

    So...in a sense, don't go with DLPS if your room won't permit it because it's not very friendly with lens shift. You can't go wrong with LCD PJs, but if you want the best performance, LCoS is probably the way to go. But I'd recommend a Sanyo not...Sony.
  • Nossy
    And lets not forget that the PJ is only half the cost. If you already spending 3-5k on a PJ, you might as well choke up another 2k for a screen like a Da-Lite, AND since the PJ does not come with speaker, you have to get AVR and a speaker set. And yes a dedicated screen and kick-ass sound system will make a very big difference.
  • loud
    TomsguiderachelI appreciate the suggestion but it would be even more helpful if you pointed out specific errors. That way we can fix them.


    "an tremendous improvment"
  • michaelahess
    Sanyo PLV-Z700, a wonderful piece of technology and it only cost $1200 after rebate. I regularly play my games on my 106" screen from my PC in the other room, it's far cheaper than any good 55" LCD/Plasma as well and looks better than my Hitachi Ultravision 42" Plasma!
  • The biggest issue with many LCD-based projectors is that over time the LCD panels start to degrade from the brightness and heat of the lamp and you get color shifts (usually going towards yellow or green or looking washed out.) I've owned an Optoma HD70 DLP2 projector for nearly three years and haven't had any problems with (no probems with the "rainbow" effect.) I had no problem ceiling mounting it. It's still on the original lamp after nearly 7000 hours which is very impressive since it's only rated for 2000-3000 hours. Also the replacement lamps are more resonably priced at $250 compared to $300-400 from many other manufacturer's. From my own experience and the reviews on most of Optoma's projectors, I recommend their products.
  • wayneepalmer
    Anyone thinking of buying one of these might want to hold off for a little while yet.

    The biggest problem these things have is that all of them require a very expensive projector lamp bulb that has only a few thousand hours of life and maximum longevity depends on properly handling the cool down cycle after using the unit.

    There is just hitting the high- end business market a new technology projector using high-output LED bulbs that not only don't require this cool-down cycle (they don't get very warm), but that use far less power, and have a lifespan in the 60,000 hour range.

    I have been watching for this for a while. Being the owner of an older home that was built in 1927 (very much pre-TV without an open wall space in the right spot), I have been wanting to maximize my space usage by having a projector unit verses a large (even if it is flat) monitor.

    I want to be able to have the screen up (above the faux fireplace when not using it) and then bring it down for a big enough PC monitor to actually surf the web from my chair (being able to actually read what is on the screen from 12 feet away), having the whole movie theater experience when I want it, and still having room for 15 or so people to sit and chat in what is a modest sized room is my goal and a projector would do the trick - but, I don't want to have to spend $200 to $400 every year or so to replace the bulbs.

    As soon as the LED projector price gets down to around $2500 (they are about $20K right now) or less, I'll buy.
  • invlem
    We purchased a Panasonic PT-AE3000 this summer, quite frankly the picture is nothing short of spectacular. Projectors have advanced in leaps and bounds in the last few years and what you get now for the price is amazing. There's nothing better than watching a 1080p blu-ray on a 120 inch screen. Stack 4 60" TV's together and you can only imagine the picture you get, its as close to a movie theater as you can get (sometimes better considering its conveniently located in your house :D )

    As for the bulb life, our previous projector had a life of 3,000 hours and last us 6 years before the bulb went this summer. After 6 years it was so obsolete we bought a new projector instead.

    I assume the same will happen with our current projector, 6 years from now 1080p will probably be old school.
  • wayneepalmer
    We currently have a 32" flat panel (maybe 40 inches is about the biggest standing or wall unit we can comfortably place in our room - our type of bungalows have lots of wall sconces, built in picture framing, coved ceilings, and not much in the way of significant flat wall space).

    We are using it an average of 6 hours a day both as a TV and as a monitor for our living room PC (my wife likes to play arcade games for hours at a time). At that rate Invelm, I imagine we'd only make it for a year and a half, maybe 2 years so the bulb cost seems a bit high. I want one but, I'll wait for the LED prices to come down.
  • Nossy
    Every technology has its pros and cons. LCD has problem with fast moving film, 120hz looks kinda freakish. They have very bright contrast and can have very saturated colors. Plasma, well, I'll have to admit that they have superior picture quality (Best plasma > Best LCD), but they will suck up electricity like crazy. A 1080p 58inch plasma will suck up around 700-800 watts, so you'll have to put the energy cost into perspective also.

    Yes PJs do have a limited lamp life, but the good news is that it is replacable. The downside is, the PJ is only half the cost of a good "theatrical" system. AVR and speakers, plus a good screen are the other half of the cost. AND depending on how bright a PJ you buy, you'll mostly watch it in the basement or in a cave.

    True LED flat panels like a Sony XBR8 or Samsung flagship 950 model are probably the best IMO, BUT very costly.