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Best projectors of 2016: The best 1080p and 4K-ready projectors from £450

Big screen TVs are ten a penny these days, but what if you hanker after something greater – something bigger and better? A projector might be just the box-office ticket. Modern models are cheaper and better than you’d think and can create huge images far bigger than the equivalently priced LCD or OLED TV.

But which one should you buy? Here you’ll find our selection of the best projectors you can buy in the UK right now, from portable marvels to home theatre beasts, all tried and tested – and if you’re not sure what features you should be looking for then read on to get the low-down with our handy buyer’s guide.

Buyer’s guide: What features do I need?

To the untrained eye, one projector looks very much like another. However, there’s a whole world of technology inside these plain-looking boxes that you need to be aware of before making your purchase.

First, resolution. If you’re looking to buy a projector for watching movies, make sure you’re buying a Full HD projector (with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080). Data projectors tend to be cheaper, but typically have resolutions of 800 x 600 or 1,024 x 768 which won’t display Blu-ray movie content at native resolution.

If you want 4K, expect to pay big bucks. We’re starting to see 4K-capable projectors, but projector tech is lagging behind TVs and there aren’t many on the market, so these tend to cost well north of ?5,000. “4K-enhanced” projectors like the Epson EH-TW9300W are cheaper, but while these do a good job they’re not true 4K machines, relying on pixel shift upscaling to deliver an approximation of 4K resolutions.

What’s the difference between DLP, LCD and Laser projectors?

Most modern home theatre projectors are based on one of three different technologies today: DLP, LCD and laser light source. Of these, DLP projectors are the most common, the most compact and tend to deliver the most bang per buck, while LCD projectors tend to be bulky and slightly more expensive.

DLP projectors do have a downside, though. Because they display colours sequentially, they suffer from what’s called the “rainbow effect”, where small areas of the image appear to splinter into small rainbows when you shift your gaze from one side of the screen to the other. Some people are less sensitive to this than others, though, so if you haven’t experienced a DLP projector, make sure you get a demo before spending your money.

If you want the very best quality, however, a laser light source projector is what you want. Laser light source projectors – typically combined with a three LCD image engine – deliver the best contrast and brightness, but tend to cost ?7,000 and up.

Do I need optical zoom and lens shift?

After resolution and technology, the most important consideration is your room and how you’re going to set up and connect the projector. Here, you need to consider throw distance (how far you place the projector from the screen for a given screen size), optical zoom and lens shift capabilities, all of which will have an impact on projector placement.

Optical zoom allows you to enlarge or reduce the screen in size without moving the projector, while lens shift lets you move it up, down, left and right without losing quality. The cheaper the projector, the more limited these options will be. If space is really tight, you might want to consider a short throw or ultra short throw projector, which can create big images on your screen or wall from incredibly short distances – as little as 10cm for a 50in image in some cases.

The downside is the projected image tends to suffer more from geometric distortion.

Other things to consider:

  • Lamp life: Most cheaper projectors rely on UHP or metal halide lamps, which have a limited life span and whose brightness deteriorates over time. For a little more cash, an LED light-source projector will last longer and need replacing less frequently
  • Brightness: Rated in ANSI lumens, but not all that important in home cinema projectors beyond about 2,000 lumens. The brighter the projector, the easier it will be to see the image in daylight without the curtains drawn, but a brighter projected image typically comes at the cost of poor black level response and a greyish picture
  • Noise: Most projectors have fans inside and not all are particularly quiet.

    How quiet a projector is is a major consideration, especially if it’s to be positioned near your seating position

The best projectors you can buy

1. BenQ W2000: The best all-round projector under ?1,000

Price when reviewed: ?799

If you want realistic colours to go with a sharp cinematic image, the BenQ is the projector you want. It may not produce the brightest image at a maximum 2,000 lumens, but with its pre-calibrated Rec.709 picture preset and crisp 1080p resolution, this projector delivers the most wonderfully natural and balanced array of colours.

Top quality images aren’t the W2000’s only talent, however. It runs very quietly indeed, produces a soft whooshing and no annoying buzzing, while a full complement of connections and 20W stereo speakers (with surprisingly decent output quality) means it’s a practical and flexible device as well. What’s really surprising about this BenQ, though is its 1.3x zoom and vertical lens shift capabilities, unusual in sub-?1,000 projector, and which make setup that little bit easier than most in its price range.

Key specs – 1080p resolution, 2,000 lumens, 15,000:1 contrast ratio, 1.15:1 – 1.5:1 throw ratio, 1.3x zoom, single-chip DLP, six-segment colour wheel (RGBRGB ), UHP lamp, 6,000-hour lamp life

2. ViewSonic PJD7720HD: The best projector under ?500

Price when reviewed: ?479

TVs are getting cheaper all the time and so it seems are Full HD projectors. ViewSonic’s latest offers a sharp, watchable 1080p picture and yet costs less than ?500.

So what’s the catch? Not image quality, which for the money is amazingly good. The PJD7720HD employs a six-segment, RGBCYW colour wheel and a single DLP chip that produces a crisp and well-balanced image.

It’s very bright, too, rated at 3,200 lumens, which means you can watch it without having to completely black-out your room (although doing so will improve image quality). This is a budget projector, though, and it does have its downsides. The first is connectivity, which is limited.

You only get two HDMI inputs, a pair of 3.5 analogue audio inputs and one 3.5mm output. Usefully, one of the HDMI ports is hidden beneath a flap, so you can hide away a Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV stick, but annoyingly there’s no USB socket to power it. The ViewSonic’s fan is also pretty loud, its remote control lacks a backlight, and setup can be tricky with limited optical zoom.

However, that image quality, for less than ?500, is stellar. Key specs – 1080p resolution, 3,200 lumens brightness, 22,000:1 contrast ratio, 1.49:1 – 1.64:1 throw ratio, 1.1x zoom, single-chip DLP, six-segment colour wheel, metal halide lamp, 10,000-hour lamp life

3. Philips Screeneo 2.0: The best short-throw projector under ?2,000

Price when reviewed: ?1,400

This Philips is an ultra short throw model, designed not only to replace your TV, but also your soundbar and subwoofer.

Its 1080p, single-chip DLP light engine fires the image backwards against a curved mirror, which then fires it up and out of the top of the unit onto your wall or screen. It’s an arrangement that means it can create huge pictures from very little distance. Position the Screeneo 2.0 10cm away and it will produce a 50in display; from 42cm away the screen size rises in size to 120in.

The Philips has a range of connections to rival most LCD TVs, too, plus built-in 26W 2.1 speakers and Bluetooth connectivity, so when you’re not watching your favourite movies, you can hook up your smartphone and listen to your Spotify playlists. The image is susceptible to the tiniest variations in wall or screen flatness, but it’s bright enough to watch during the day without having to completely black out your room. For smaller or awkward sized rooms it’s pricey, but ideal.

Key specs – 1080p resolution, 2,000 lumens brightness, 200,000:1 contrast ratio, 0.21:1 throw ratio, single-chip DLP, six-segment RGBRGB colour wheel, UHP lamp, 10,000-hour lamp life

4. Optoma HD28DSE: Amazing 1080p performance for under ?1,000

Price when reviewed: ?700

Optoma’s compact projector has its weaknesses: it produces an irritating buzzy whir when it’s first fired up, and it doesn’t have the greatest range of lens adjustment, offering no vertical lens shift and only a tiny amount of optical zoom (1.1x). If your room is small or awkward in shape, it isn’t the best of choices.

However, the HD28DSE has an ace up its sleeve: Darbee Visual Presence image processing. This uses “stereoscopic depth information from a human-vision-based model” to enhance the clarity and contrast of a video source and boost it to unheard of levels. It works, too, adding an incredible solidity and texture to the projected image that almost makes it look like you’ve changed from 1080p to 4k.

The processing is adjustable and takes a bit of twiddling to get set up just right, but once you’re there, the image quality is astonishing, and it’s coupled with a punchy, colourful presentation that makes films a joy to behold. A brightness of 3,000 lumens also means it’s usable in daylight as well as when the curtains are drawn. For the money, it’s simply brilliant.

Key specs – 1080p resolution, 3,000 lumens brightness, 15,000:1 contrast ratio, 1.48:1 – 1.62:1 throw ratio, 1.1x zoom, single-chip DLP, UHP lamp, 8,000-hour lamp life

5. Epson EH-TW9300: Almost 4K performance for half the price

Price when reviewed: ?3,209

Proper 4K projectors are too expensive for most, and start at a heady ?5,800, but if you want the big-screen, UHD experience, there is another way. “4k Enhanced” projectors like the Epson EH-TW9300 use three-chip, transmissive LCD technology combined with pixel shift upscaling to approximate 4K output. The result isn’t as sharp as a native 4K projector, but is a step up over standard 1080p projectors such as the BenQ W2000, producing a cracking picture with deeper black and more intense colours.

There is a downside: the EH-TW9300 is larger than DLP projectors tend to be, so you’ll need to have it permanently installed, but it runs very quietly, and come with a bank of convenient setup features, including a fully motorised 2.1x zoom and extremely flexible lens shift capabilities (96.3% vertical, 47.1% horizontal), which make it a doddle to set up. Overall, the EH-TW9300 is the next best thing to a native 4K projector, at roughly half the price. Whether it’s worth this still-high price is up to you.

Key specs – 4K enhanced resolution, 2,500 lumens brightness, 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, 1.35:1 – 2.84:1 throw ratio, 2.1x zoom, three-chip LCD, 5,000-hour lamp life

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