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New front-projector Ratings: Bigger bang, fewer bucks

Consumer Reports News: March 28, 2011 04:58 PM

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Although flat-screen plasma and LCD TVs keep getting bigger, nothing can bring the excitement of watching a movie in a theater home closer than a high-def front projector paired with a large screen—100 inches or more—and a high-quality surround-sound system.

In our just-posted front-projector Ratings (available to subscribers), you'll see that the good news is that many top-rated models cost about the same amount as the largest top-rated flat-panel TVs. For example, our top-rated 1080p projector, a model from JVC, costs about $2,800, while two CR Best Buy picks—both 1080p projectors from Mitsubishi—cost just $1,300 each. All are capable of producing excellent high-def picture quality when paired with high-quality sources, such as a Blu-ray player or an HD cable or satellite set-top box.

For those willing to live with very good (as opposed to excellent) overall picture quality, prices are even lower. Our Ratings include a handful of models priced at $1,000 or less, including a 720p projector from Optoma for just $825. Even these models were capable of providing a satisfyingly bright, detailed image of 110 inches or even larger. (For our tests, we used a 110-inch Da-Lite screen with a matte finish.)

The latest front-projector Ratings, which covers 25 models, include a mix of brands and technologies. The top four models, two from JVC and two from Sony, all use LCoS technology and were among the most expensive projectors we tested. But some LCD- and DLP-based models also did well.

Just remember that in addition to the projector, you'll have to buy a projection screen (generally $400 to $800, depending on size), plus a sound system. And projectors use fairly expensive bulbs (typically $300 or more) that need to be replaced after every 2,000 or 3,000 hours of use. Also, they perform best in a very dark environment. As such, front projectors are best suited for watching movies or special events, such as a big game or concert; they aren't the best choice for use as an everyday TV.

If you're in the market for a front projector, let us know what model you're choosing and whether it will be used in a dedicated theater. I built a theater in my basement a few years ago thinking it would be my personal retreat (see photo below), but I now use it more frequently to entertain my six-year-old son and his playmates when bad weather keeps them inside. As a result, I now know way more about animated movies than is perhaps healthy for an adult. Let us know about your experiences.

Jim's Basement.jpg

James K. Willcox

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