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The last time my friends came over for movie night, we decided to take the entertainment outdoors. Blankets and lawn chairs were hastily arranged to form a makeshift viewing area around a king-size sheet, that had been pulled tightly against a fence. Flames licked marshmallows roasting over our outdoor fire pit while we passed around hot toddies and black coffee until we were all delighted and settled in for the film.
We had gathered to watch Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but on this night, a star attraction threatened to steal Tarantino’s thunder: the elegant home theater projector we mounted on a stool had thrown up a 100-foot screen against the fence, casting the Oscar-nominated film in full, 4K glory.
Not all projectors are created equal. While there are a number of companies making decent portable projectors these days, some are better served for Powerpoint than motion pictures. With the ability to transmit images from your computer, tablet or media player onto a screen or wall, the best projectors eliminate the need to crowd around your device or connect to a TV, while offering up a wider, more versatile viewing experience.
But a projector is only as good as its capabilities, and while any basic model can be used for your conference, church service or office presentation, to get the most out of your TV shows, movies and gaming, you’ll want to upgrade to a 4K home theater projector.
What You Need to Know Before Buying a 4K Projector
There are many factors to think about when choosing the right projector for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
As the name suggests, the best 4K projectors display 4K content with better clarity, contrasts and detail than HD projectors. Images are sharper and more vivid, with the projectors capable of reproducing more shades and tones along the color gamut. The best 4K projectors also feature powerful processors that faithfully reproduce the source material the way it was created, letting you see a show or film the way the creator intended, with more accurate and life-like images.
The newest 4K projectors are packed with performance-minded upgrades, like different viewing modes that enhance and adapt images based on what you’re watching (say, fast-moving sports versus a nature documentary), HDR capabilities, and new technologies that help eliminate banding, blocking, and the dreaded “rainbow effect.”
Designed for indoor and outdoor use, these projectors also offer adjustable brightness settings and enhanced tone mapping in the dark, so you always get a clear picture no matter the time of day — or where you’re sitting in the room. Whites are bright without being blurry, and darks are crisp and clean, without blending into the background.
The best 4K projectors are great for gaming too, especially where players need to see and discern every last detail. By casting a larger screen, a projector provides a larger, more immersive viewing area for gamers to make their moves.
Keep in mind, a 4K projector will only display content in 4K if that’s how the source material was created. Still, everything from the Super Bowl to The Simpsons airs in 4K these days, so this is a home entertainment component worth picking up.
We’ve found 4K projectors that can throw a screen size up to 300 inches. You’ll want to start by casting a smaller screen (around 100 inches), as the picture quality may change the more you extend the projection.
These aren’t exactly short-throw projectors either, so they’re best-suited for larger spaces rather than small studios. Most brands recommend sitting at least 10-12 feet away from the image, to get the best view of all the 4K pixels working together to create your immersive home theater experience.
1. BenQ 4K HDR-PRO Home Projector
The BenQ TK850 projector offers real 4K UHD resolution, with more than eight million pixels working to deliver sharper images, greater clarity and more true-to-life details. BenQ says the projector covers 98% of the Rec. 709 color gamut (basically a standard for color displays in HDTVs), and HDR mode ups the ante when it comes to contrasts and visuals that pop.
Choose from five brightness settings to find the right levels for your screen size and gain. The projector casts up to a 120″ screen and works great as part of your home theater set up in your living room or den.
We tested the projector outdoors too, and images were still clean and well-defined, even in the sun. A quick adjustment of the settings for nighttime, drew out vivid brights and crisper blacks, against the darker environment.
PROS: A dedicated “sports mode” lets you feel like you’re part of the game, with enhanced audio and motion. Long, 15,000 hour lamp life.
CONS: The projector comes with a decent 10-watt chambered speaker but to really amp up the audio experience, you’ll want to connect to external speakers or a soundbar.
2. Epson Home Cinema 3800 4K Projector
Whether you’re watching sports, streaming a movie, or gaming, this Epson projector delivers pristine 4K content with incredible brightness, image mapping and color accuracy.
Epson says it uses an “advanced pixel-shifting technology” for a better 4K experience, with less banding or blurring. Their 3LCD technology, meantime, displays 100 percent of the RGB color gamut. What that means: more accurate images with brighter whites and deeper blacks (and a wider range of all the colors in between).
Get up to a 150 inch projection and up to 5000 hours of lamp life (when used in eco mode).
We used this to watch the Super Bowl and the action on the field came through sharp and colorful, with great contrasts and no “rainbow effect.” It was easy to read the text and stats on screen, too.
PROS: Supports 4K HDR2 gaming at a full 60 fps.
CONS: Not a short throw projector.
3. Optoma UHD50 True 4K Home Theater Projector
Movie buffs will want to invest in this feature-packed projector from Optoma, which throws up a powerful display that truly displays your content on the big screen.
The home theater projector dazzles with more than eight million pixels and a wider color gamut that displays 100% of colors in the Rec.2020 standard for ultra high-definition TVs.
Optoma’s “UltraDetail technology” makes real-time adjustments to image clarity and sharpness, so you always get the cleanest, more detailed image. What that means: pick out more of the subtle details that basic projectors might miss, and get razor sharp images that better mirror real-life (or what the creator intended).
Get up to 15,000 hours of lamp life with this projector. That’s an average of four hours of viewing every day for more than ten years.
PROS: Delivers the largest screen size on our list. Easy connectivity to all gaming consoles, computers, smartphones and more.
CONS: Takes a little bit of time to set up.