I've figured out how much you need to spend on a projector for it to be better than the cinema – and it's a lot

JVC DLA-NZ800 projector with a light coming from the lens in a dark room
(Image credit: Future)

For the last week, I've been involved in the testing of JVC's latest high-end home cinema projector, and it taught me an unavoidable truth – if you want a home cinema projector that delivers the full cinema experience, then you need to be willing to shell out some serious cash. 

It's hard to say that without sounding like a total snob, and I recognise that I'm privileged to spend time with a lot of high-end home cinema gear without having to spend a penny of my own money, but it's the truth. The JVC DLA-NZ800 (review coming next week as part of our Home Cinema Week event) cemented this view for me. Watching some of my favourite films on this projector was, in some ways, better than when I watched them in the cinema.

Obvious cinema woes aside – noisy patrons and uncomfortable seats, mainly – the real benefit of using these super premium projectors is that they can deliver a better picture experience than you'll get in many cinemas. I watched two of the biggest releases from the past year on this projector, Dune: Part Two and Oppenheimer, and while the IMAX experience reigns supreme for sheer scale, the picture experience on the JVC is a close contender. 

Most notably, it's the far superior black depths. This is something that I often find myself complaining about on my frequent cinema trips. In most conventional cinemas it's commonplace to see illuminated greyish hues instead of black, or just a dim and illegible picture that lacks defined dark details. Admittedly, the projectors found in most cinema screens are a far cry from the ones we test, and they're designed to serve a different purpose; however, the performance gap is inescapable. 

Dark-coloured suits and the black and white sections of Oppenheimer looked convincingly black with this projector, and were an improvement on when I saw the movie in the cinema. I was convinced I could never watch the film in any other way, due to how good it was in an IMAX, but clearly I was getting ahead of myself; I just needed a very expensive home cinema. 

The contrast on display with this projector is what's responsible here, as the bright and dark parts of the image are delivered with precision and impact. This ensures that black depths and dark details are carefully crafted, as well as adding bucket loads of subtle three-dimensional solidity to the image, making me feel like I could reach out and touch whatever is on screen. 

Better yet is the level of detail on display. This JVC is capable of 8K via the new eShift X system and, for once, I'm not complaining about 8K. It's an ingenious system that digs out finer details in everything from the Fremen's stillsuits to the granular textures in the sand dunes of Arrakis in Dune: Part Two. There is a clear difference in picture performance, which we'll dig further into in our full review, so I won't spoil the results in full, but the bottom line is that I'm convinced it's a definite improvement over the picture quality found in the majority of cinemas, albeit in a much smaller size.

There are specialist cinemas cropping up with higher specifications, such as the Dolby Cinemas that feature more capable projectors with Dolby Vision HDR support and Dolby Atmos sound systems. However, these are few and far between. The average multiplex will struggle to compete with a projector like this one in my mind.

So let's answer the unavoidable question, how much do you really need to spend on a projector that bests your local big-screen? To be frank, it may well be about £15,000 – which I recognise is a ludicrous figure to most of us, but remember we're talking about serious enthusiast projectors here. You can get a perfectly good picture from a projector that costs a fraction of the JVC DLA-N800's price, and we recommend many models in cheaper price ranges such as the Epson EH-TW9400, yours for around £2500, or the Sony VPL-XW5000ES, which will set you back £5000. However, we're talking about outdoing the cinema here, so the price is expectedly high.

There are already a few options to choose from at this elevated price point. One of our favourite models is the Award-winning Sony VPL-XW7000ES, which currently floats around the £13,000 mark, while the latest model from JVC sits at £16,000, so £15,000 is an average figure. You can, of course, go even further up the chain with the JVC DLA-NZ900, which retails at £26,000. We haven't tried that model yet, although I'm willing to bet it's probably pretty special.

So am I expecting the average person to shell out £15,000 on a projector? Of course not. Thankfully, there are plenty of good projectors to be found at much cheaper prices, as you can see in our round-up of the best projectors. But if money is no object in your quest to create a home cinema that can better the high street cinema experience, then I think this might just be the threshold. 


Check out our pick of the best projector deals

And read our full Sony VPL-XW7000ES review

Lewis Empson
Staff Writer

Lewis Empson is a Staff Writer on What Hi-Fi?. He was previously Gaming and Digital editor for Cardiff University's 'Quench Magazine', Lewis graduated in 2021 and has since worked on a selection of lifestyle magazines and regional newspapers. Outside of work, he enjoys gaming, gigs and regular cinema trips.

  • F8lee
    Well, for the Hollywood celebutard crowd for whom 15K is chump change, and who no doubt have dedicated projection rooms in their mansions, this equipment seems like a good fit.
    However, given the ever lower quality of the puke that Hollywood et al put out each year, I cannot imagine investing that kind of money to "view it better" - a bad story plot or poor acting are not made better with blacker blacks and all that...
  • jebo_4jc
    The logic of the article is faulty. It's correct that competing with an IMAX or Dolby cinema experience requires something like a high end JVC projector.

    However, I have a very modest Epson at home. It cost me less than $2000 including the screen. I calibrated it myself using information found online. Since installing it, I have been regularly disappointed with the quality of "regular" cinema theaters. If you're not sticking with IMAX or Dolby specialty viewings, themselves which cost extra for the upgraded experience, a modest at home setup can be better than regular cinema.
  • Fandango Andy
    I have never seen a £15k home projector so have no idea how good they are but have questions about how they compare to cinema projectors.

    The main one is size. I have a local cinema with pretty disappointing size screens, but they are bigger than anything I have ever seen in a home setup. My goto cinema for about 20 years was in central Birmingham and has huge screens, even before they added IMAX. A few years ago I defected to a different chain, not quite as good as the old one but still better than most, but they also have iSense and Dolby which are not far off IMAX. Even if this fancy home projector can compete for quality, how does it compare for size, and does anyone really have space for a 50 foot wide screen?

    Secondly, as I alluded to above, the quality of cinemas.is massive. To say a home projector is better than cinema conjures an image. It's like saying a car is faster than a racing car meaning it's faster than a 60s car from a classic race series, but when you say racing car the person you are telling pictures the car Max Verstappen takes for a spin on a Sunday.

    While I'm sure it was fun for the person doing the test, I'm not sure it really has much merit in the real world. Cinema and home cinema are very different experiences.
  • Ian AV
    The best cinema I have ever seen is at Microsoft's store in New York in their private levels, that me and my family were invited to. Full IMAX in a sound deadened room, no echos, no external sound, nothing unless intended. No commercial cinema is anywhere close. It needed two projectors to get the IMAX to work. Picture was out of this world, and we got a preview of the latest Starwars to be released at the time amongst others of our choice. I wanted one, but when I enquired once home £1m was just a shade too much! However, our sound system was better in my view, more dynamic and real, but it is were I spent a lot for music reproduction to obtain the dynamics of live music but with more finesse also keeping excitement, adding Atmos for movies. There's no substitute for power for unrestrained dynamic range and realism. At home we don't just watch movies, we are part of them. Gun shots dont sound like guns going off, they are guns going off. Skyfall has never been better, the Skyfall scene is like we are under siege ourselves.