3 Best Projector for a Home Theater 2020

No matter what you’re watching today or decide to watch tomorrow, the JVC DLA-NX5 is the best projector for home theater. It has the highest contrast ratio and the best black level of all the sub-$10,000 projectors we tested, along with a true 4K resolution, HDR support, and a wider color gamut. Your 4K movies will have all the pop and depth you demand a premium home theatre experience.

Our pick

JVC DLA-NX5

The best-looking image for all sources

$6,000
The JVC DLA-NX5 produced the best overall image of all the projectors we tested.

The JVC DLA-NX5 Projector for Home theater was the simplest performer with both HD and 4K video thanks to its great contrast ratio, rich color, and excellent detail. The projector’s dynamic tone mapping of HDR signals is superb, so it does the best job preserving all the details in bright highlights. It supports almost all of the wider DCI/P3 color gamut that is currently used for 4K content, so you’ll see richer reds, blues, and greens. Its motorized lens system and built-in picture preset for specific screens make it easy to set up without a professional installer. The DLA-NX5 isn’t a great choice for living-room or other shared-space use (we have other recommendations for that), and it is larger than any other projector we tested (you won’t want to move it once it’s installed), but it does a great job in a home theater room.

The JVC DLA-NX5 home theater projector
Photo: Rozette Rago

The JVC DLA-NX5 Projector for Home theater is that the best 4K projector you’ll get without spending the equivalent of what you’d buy a little car. It had the highest contrast ratio (an astounding 21,494:1) and the brightest highlights of all the projectors we tested, along with almost full coverage of the wider DCI color gamut—so it produced the best HDR image. JVC has moved to true 4K D-ILA panels this year (as opposed to the optical shifting with 1080p panels that the company used in previous projectors), so the NX5 can show every pixel in your 4K movies and games. The automated lens makes it easy to set up, and the projector gives you an accurate image out of the box. In our tests, this projector came closest to replicating the viewing experience of our reference OLED TV on a screen, but it’s the most important, heaviest projector we tested.

The JVC was the last projector that I tested for this update, but it only took a minute to realize how impressive the image was compared to the competition. JVC’s projectors use the company’s proprietary D-ILA technology, a version of liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS), to produce the darkest onscreen blacks of any projector we’ve tested. Although the DLA-NX5’s peak brightness might be similar to that of the other models we looked at, its ability to display darker blacks made the image look that much better in our tests. Bright highlights popped against black backgrounds; on other projectors, the same highlights looked dimmer against a dark gray background. I could see details in nighttime scenes that were not visible on other projectors. Letterbox bars that were a dark gray on the other projectors seemed to disappear into the darkness on the JVC.

The JVC DLA-NX5 4K home theater projector
JVC completely redid the remote this year. It’s more compact but still backlit and easy to use. Photo: Rozette Rago

Most important, the DLA-NX5’s better black level improves the quality of both HDR and SDR content. Even if you don’t watch a single 4K program on this JVC projector, it still produces better-looking images than the competition. Over the next few years, the amount of 4K content will grow and take the place of HD, just as HD did with standard definition, but the DLA-NX5 makes your HD content look as good as possible right now.

The NX5’s great black levels result from a combination of its D-ILA chips and the projector’s dynamic iris. The dynamic iris automatically reduces the amount of light that the JVC produces for dark scenes, making my usual torture test of the hilltop scene in the final Harry Potter film a breeze for it to display. Other projectors that we tested also include a dynamic iris, but the iris was either too slow to react, making the light output change in unnatural ways, or too noisy in use, so you can hear it adjusting while trying to watch a movie.

The DLA-NX5 managed HDR content better than most 4K projectors. It offers auto-tone mapping that, when enabled, did a superb job of preserving highlight details as well as color saturation and overall brightness. Where other projectors made the sun in Pan look washed out, the JVC rendered an accurate mix of vibrant yellows and oranges. This projector also offers more HDR tone-mapping controls than the competition, which lets you tailor the tone mapping to your screen size and gain for the best overall image. The JVC manual even includes recommended settings based on content, giving you a good starting point.

The DLA-NX5 also showed richer, truer shades of red, green, and blue (and all the colors in between) than the other projectors we tested. It displays most of the DCI/P3 color gamut that is currently used for 4K content. It’s also ready for future content, as it can manage a sizable amount of the Rec.2020 color space: 76.6 percent, the second-highest amount in our test. (The leader was at 78.2 percent, while some only covered 54 percent.) This means that the DLA-NX5 can show you more of the colors in 4K content. However, showing these colors will reduce the projector’s brightness. On my 92-inch screen, this wasn’t a problem, but if you have a larger screen, you might want to sacrifice these additional colors for improved brightness.

The HDMI input area on the JVC DLA-NX5
The DLA-NX5 has a pair of 18 Gbps HDMI 2.0 inputs that even have screws to secure long HDMI cables, which can be heavy. Photo: Rozette Rago

The DLA-NX5 features a pair of HDMI 2.0 inputs that accept the complete 18.0 Gbps bandwidth that the HDMI 2.0 spec is capable of. Many other projectors have only a single HDMI 2.0 input or don’t allow the full 18.0 Gbps bandwidth, making them incompatible with some HDR content today and more in the future. Although most people might use only a single HDMI input with a projector (letting their receiver do the input switching), having a pair of HDMI 2.0 inputs is better, especially if one goes bad.

The motorized lens makes setting up the JVC relatively easy. You can control focus, lens shift ( 34 percent horizontal and 80 percent vertical), and zoom (2.0x) from the remote instead of having to reach for dials or buttons on the unit itself. You can also stand at the screen while you make your adjustments, so you can dial in the focus more easily without needing someone else to help you. The projector gives you the option to save multiple lens memories if you have a screen shape other than 16:9, such as a 2.40:1 CinemaScope screen, making it easy to match multiple aspect ratios onto the screen without always revising the lens settings.

A close up of the lens cover on the JVC DLA-NX5 4K projector
The DLA-NX5 lens cover must be removed manually, unlike the Epson 5050UB, which has an automated door. Photo: Rozette Rago

Out of the box, the DLA-NX5’s image looks pretty accurate, and therefore the projector contains options to regulate the output supported your screen. You can refer to a list of about 100 popular screen materials and input the corresponding number to automatically apply the adjustments. Because each screen has its own color properties, this feature allows you to get a more accurate image easily without needing to do a professional calibration. But you’ll still get the most accurate results by having a professional calibrate the projector. (We don’t usually recommend going that far for TVs, but calibration is more useful for Projectors.


Budget pick
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Epson Home Cinema 5050UB

Good 4K performance for under $3,000

$2,994
The Home Cinema 5050UB supports HDR and wide color gamut technologies, but it can’t match the detail or contrast of the best 4K projectors.

If you want a Projector for Home theater that looks great with 1080p content but can also display the improved color and HDR highlight details in 4K content, the Epson Home Cinema 5050UB does a great job for its price. This projector uses 1080p LCD panels with an optical shift to simulate a 4K resolution. It supports HDR10 playback and covers almost as much of the DCI color gamut as the JVC DLA-NX5, just without the full 4K resolution. It offers fully automated lens control and versatile setup options.

The Epson Home Cinema 5050UB
Photo: Rozette Rago

If you want a Projector for Home theater that can take advantage of 4K HDR content but you don’t want to spend what it takes to get the best contrast ratio or a true 4K resolution, the Epson Home Cinema 5050UB is your best bet. This Epson model isn’t a true 4K projector: It uses 1080p panels with an optical shift to show extra resolution, so it isn’t quite as detailed with true 4K content as the JVC DLA-NX5. It also doesn’t display HDR content as well because of its lower contrast ratio of 4,400:1, but it can show extra detail in HDR highlights. Its color-gamut coverage is almost equal to that of the DLA-NX5, and it has fully automated lens control and flexible setup options.

The 5050UB looks very good with 1080p content, making it a good choice for most things you’ll watch today. It does support a wider color gamut, but enabling that function caused light output to drop from 236 nits to 105 nits in our testing, a noticeable difference. We preferred the look of HDR with brighter highlights without the expanded gamut coverage. By comparison, the JVC is brighter even with a wide color gamut engaged. The 5050UB also offers a tone mapping control for HDR to help customize the amount of highlight detail and brightness to match your screen, but not to the same level as the JVC.

The 5050UB is easy to set up, with fully automated lens control (supporting screen aspect ratios other than 16:9 without letterboxing), 2.1x zoom, and generous lens shifting ( 96.3 percent vertical shift and 47.1 percent horizontal).

One annoyance with the Epson 5050UB is that the projector doesn’t automatically detect the type of signal and change to the proper picture mode. I fixed up the projector to view its best in the Natural mode for SDR content and the Bright Cinema mode for HDR, but I had to retain to change it myself from one mode to the other.


Also great
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Sony VPL-HW45ES

If you don't need 4K compatibility

$2,000
The Sony VPL-HW45ES is a 1080p projector that offers a bright image with lots of color and contrast.

If you can’t afford a good 4K projector like one of our picks above, you should get a great 1080p projector like the Sony VPL-HW45ES instead of a poor 4K one. None of the cheap ($1,500-and-under) 4K projectors we tested looked as good as the VPL-HW45ES. Its darker blacks gave the image far more pop and depth than we saw from budget 4K projectors (and similarly priced 1080p models), and it offers accurate colors, plenty of light output, low input lag for gaming, and a flexible lens for easier placement and setup.

The Sony VPL-HW45ES, an also great pick from our review of best home theater projectors
Photo: Chris Heinonen

The VPL-HW45ES’s Reference picture mode produced a very accurate image in our tests. Colors were rich and pure, and skin tones looked real rather than sunburnt. The projector’s good contrast ratio (we measured 4,600:1) maintained deep blacks while retaining shadow details and bright whites. Using our projection screen pick and this projector’s low-lamp mode, you get an image with 65 nits of brightness, higher than the 48 to 55 nits that the SMPTE recommends. In its high-lamp mode, you get an exceptional 155 nits, a result as bright as that of many LCD TVs.

In our tests, with input-lag reduction enabled on the VPL-HW45ES, input lag fell from 106 ms to 22 ms. This is one of the lowest measurements we’ve seen, better than what we’ve gotten from any other projector we’ve tested (and beaten by only one TV). If you’re using the VPL-HW45ES for your gaming sessions and are still losing, you can rest easy knowing that the problem isn’t the projector.

The VPL-HW45ES offers more zoom (1.6x) and better lens shifting ( 71 percent vertical shift and 25 percent horizontal shift) than most cheap 4K models or most cheap 1080p models. That flexibility lets you place this projector in a wide area relative to the center of the screen and still have the image line up correctly. This model lacks the automated lens control you get on our 4K picks; you have to manually adjust the zoom, focus, and lens shifting on the projector itself, rather than the remote control.

The HDMI inputs on the Sony VPL-HW45ES
The Sony VPL-HW45ES has two HDMI 1.4 inputs, but it lacks a 12-volt trigger and an Ethernet port. Photo: Chris Heinonen

The VPL-HW45ES lacks a 12-volt trigger output, so if you have an automated drop-down screen, this projector can’t make it activate automatically. The VPL-HW45ES also lacks Ethernet, so if you own a home control system that uses IP control (such as Control4 or Crestron), you’re out of luck; you need to add a really long IR relay cable to the VPL-HW45ES (or find another solution) to control it via a third-party control system.


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How we picked

budget projectors

All Projector for Home theater use one of three technologies to create an image: LCD (liquid crystal display), LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon), or DLP (Digital Light Processing). DLP offers some advantages over LCD and LCoS—namely, better motion resolution, lower 3D crosstalk, and better overall image uniformity. However, LCD and LCoS projectors generally offer higher contrast ratios that make DLP projectors look washed out and flat when you view the images side by side. (Plus, some people are susceptible to the “rainbow effect” that’s common with inexpensive DLP projectors, when bright objects seem to have rainbow trails.) So, while many of our budget projector recommendations are DLP-based, LCD and LCoS projectors are usually the better choice for a high-end home theater.

Now that 4K content and playback devices are readily available—in the form of 4K Blu-ray players and streaming media devices—our priority has shifted toward home theater projectors that can accept and suitably display 4K HDR signals, although we also considered some lower-priced 1080p models.

In addition to the picture-quality features we describe above, for evaluating 4K projectors, we first considered four basic questions:

Can the projector display 4K resolution on screen?
Does it support and suitably display high dynamic range (HDR) video?
Can it reproduce the wider color gamut used in Ultra HD content? And if so, how much?
Does it have full-bandwidth HDMI 2.0b inputs?
We wanted any 4K projector we tested to support at least three of those features, although some were more important than others.

Strangely enough, whether a projector was “true” 4K turned out to be the least important feature for overall picture quality. Some projectors (such as the JVC DLA-NX5 and Sony VPL-VW295ES) display the full resolution natively with a 4K panel; others (such as the Epson 5050UB) use a process called optical shift, where they manipulate the output of a 1,920-pixel-wide chip with lenses to supply the image. Both methods produce more on-screen detail than you get from a 1080p projector, but they do it in different ways (and frankly, most “4K” content you can watch these days is already upscaled from a 2K digital master anyway).

More important to the overall 4K picture quality is the projector’s ability to accept and properly display a video’s high dynamic range information. HDR is harder to guage on a projector than on a TV. Because a projector’s brightness depends on many factors, including the size of your screen, the throw distance, the screen gain, and the age of the bulb, two people with the same projector can have images with very various peak brightness levels. With identical HDR TVs, the height brightness is that the same. Projectors have to do far more processing of HDR content because of this, so the quality of HDR can vary far more from projector to projector than the quality of an SDR signal might.

We also measured each projector to see how much of the DCI/P3 color gamut it could reproduce. With all the projectors we tested, showing the expanded color gamut caused a reduction in brightness, so even if the projector supports it, you might not want to enable the wider color gamut.

Finally, a projector must have HDMI 2.0b inputs so as to simply accept a 4K signal with HDR. HDMI 2.0b comes in a couple of flavors: 10.2 Gbps and 18.0 Gbps. Most HDR content displays okay at 10.2 Gbps, but some content doesn’t display at full resolution or at its optimal refresh rate unless you have an 18.0 Gbps connection. So to make sure we tested projectors that delivered the best quality for the money, we looked for 18.0 Gbps support.

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How we tested

I fixed up all the Projector for Home theater in my home theater room using a 92-inch Stewart StudioTek 100 screen with a 1.0 gain. I measured all of them with CalMAN 2018 software, and i1Pro2 spectrometer, and a SpectraCal C6 HDR colorimeter using test patterns from a Murideo Six-G to find the most accurate picture mode and adjust it so that the HDR content was tone-mapped as accurately as possible. We served the projectors HDR content from a Panasonic UB820 4K Blu-ray player and streaming content from a Roku Premiere or an Amazon Fire TV. We fed standard Blu-ray content from another Panasonic UB820 player, which allowed us to immediately compare 4K and Blu-ray content on separate inputs from the projector. We also used a Monoprice HDMI splitter to feed identical signals to multiple projectors at once to compare them back-to-back by blocking the output from one and then switching.

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